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How Daft Punk, David Bowie and teenagers have rescued vinyl
AFTER years of decline, vinyl record sales are on the rise thanks to demand from the under-25s. Business Editor, Andy Richardson recalls some personal memories of a format that once again has the music industry in a spin.
I WAS a consonant away from being born in one of the music capitals of the world.
Manchester was home to the bands I loved most as a teenager; The Smiths, Joy Divison, New Order and The Fall, but my home town Lanchester's biggest claim to fame was to produce Mike Dunphy, lead guitarist and songwriter of indie band Cud.
No matter how fine Cud were, and they recorded some classic tunes, there was no getting away from the fact that I grew up in a County Durham backwater.
Vinyl records and concerts offered a route into a cooler world.
It was only the reassuring presence of older brother Tony that persuaded my mother to let me see The Jam on what turned out to be their final tour.
We managed to meet the band backstage after the gig. I remember waiting in line for lead singer Paul Weller and noticing a lad with a complete set of Jam lps under his arm.
As he got Weller to sign their sleeves Tony and I rummaged through our pockets for something the great man could pen for us. All we had were our gig tickets and a handkerchief.
Mam agreeing to a trip out on a school night was one thing, but there was no way we were allowed to leave the house without a freshly-laundered hanky.
Weller to his credit signed the, mercifully unused, square of cloth.
That treasured item remained pinned to our bedroom wall for years. Sunlight eventually faded the black ink signature to a pale sepia squiggle that left the hanky looking like a miniature version of the Turin Shroud.
The dressing room incident was a wake-up call for us to ditch the hankies and start collecting records to boost our street cred.
Records were relatively expensive in the 1980s, costing up to £2 for a single and between £5 to £10 for an album, which made them major investments for cash-strapped kids.
Unless you did your research from John Peel's radio show; the music press or a braved the withering opinions of a record shop owner, you risked ending up with some duds.
A safer bet was to borrow records and transfer them to a C90 cassette, which was an illegal act as the: "Home Taping is Killing Music" messages printed on inner bags warned. There were even places where, for a small fee, you could take records on a short-term loan. In these days of file-sharing that sounds like something from the Victorian age.
Vinyl's charm couldn't protect it from more portable formats. DJs, and fans of hip-hop and house music kept faith with vinyl but the mass-market turned its back on 45s and 33s in favour of CDs.
In 2001, the emergence of the first iPods suggested that the game was finally up. Why clutter your Ikea shelves with rows of cardboard dust magnets when an entire record collection could fit in a device the size of a Kit-Kat?
By 2007, annual UK vinyl album sales had fallen to 200,000. Compare that with the golden age when 250,000 copes of The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sold in the UK during the first week of its release alone.
In the last 25 years, 90 per cent of independent record shops have shut and High Street names such as Our Price, Virgin Megastores, Zavvi and Music Zone disappeared.
But vinyl has made the most unlikely of comebacks.
Sales are at a ten-year-high and teenagers are dragging their parent's hi-fis out of the attic to re-enact the ancient ritual of standing up after six songs and flipping the record over to side two.
The latest research shows under-25s have been the driving force behind the surge in sales over the past five years. Why are they going to such trouble when streaming services such as Spotify deliver an endless trickle of tunes tailored to your personal preferences?
"My dad told me that records sounded better, and he was right," says Tessa, 17, who's browsing in Stockton's Sound It Out, the last surviving independent record shop in Teesside. She's clutching a seven inch copy of Blondie's Union City Blue while her friend Steph, 17, has chosen ACDC's Back in Black lp. Both records were released more than 30 years ago. The teenage collectors each have record players inherited from family members and talk lovingly about the "warm sound" you get from vinyl.
These two young women clearly know their stuff and are typical of the customers visiting Tom Butchart's Yarm Street shop. Tessa asks Tom if he has anything by Jeff Buckley, and he goes scurrying off in search of a copy of the singer songwriter's landmark album Grace.
"We get people of all ages," says Tom. "But it's mainly youngsters. We have a regular customer who's 13-years-of-age and into 1950s rock n roll," he adds. "
New albums by David Bowie and Daft Punk have boosted vinyl sales in 2013.
"We sold 50 copies of Random Access Memories (by Daft Punk) in vinyl before we'd shifted one CD," says Tom's assistant Stuart Willoughby, from behind the counter.
Sound It Out also stocks the latest releases and regularly hosts performances by touring bands. It is a gem of a place beloved of its regulars and draws visitors from as far afield as the US and Europe.
Music industry body the BPI predicts 700,000 vinyl albums will be sold this year, which would mark the biggest year for the format since 2001.
Record Store Day has been a catalyst for vinyl with labels using the annual celebration of independent shops to release collectable singles.
Perversely, it's vinyl's design flaws that make it so seductive.
Records are delicate things, liable to scratch and warp, so they demand you treat them with love and respect.
The clickety pop sound through the speakers as the needle finds the groove induces a thrill of anticipation which a press of the shuffle button on your iPod can't match.
Furthermore, the limited amount of music that two sides of plastic could accommodate forced artists to be succinct, whereas the 80-odd minutes available on CDs tempted them to pad out 10 strong tracks with half-baked ideas and extended mixes.
In Sound It Out I buy the latest album by Newcastle band Lanterns on the Lake. It's the first new vinyl I've owned in over a decade. Now it's time to get my old hi-fi out of storage.
The vinyl revival offers me one final chance to try and be cool.
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