Blog Archives

Music as occasion

I was listening to Desert Island Discs this morning and the castaway Barbara Hulanicki, of Biba fame, spoke of a memory of playing a record of Chopin with her father, selecting the needle for the record, taking the record out of its cover, placing it on the turntable…

It struck me then, that with the immediacy of music now available at the push of a button, or an iPod shuffle, often experienced alone through the world of earphones, we have sacrificed something else… shared ritual and memory.

I am old enough to remember vinyl. The consensus about the record to be played. Sitting down to listen, maybe sing along. I spent hours that way. Now everyone is plugged into their own device, listening to their own thing. I never thought I would miss vinyl, not in the beginning, in the brave new world of the Walkman and then the CD. But I do. I miss the needle lowering onto the record, the shared experience, the crackle and the bump bump bump at the end when it hits the final groove.

I do miss all that.

Close the curtains and sip some snakebite

I heard two things on the radio today that prompted this post. The first was a piece on the Today programme that went to Manchester to report on what is the new book club: a vinyl record club and more specifically a concept album on vinyl. Rules were: meet in a pub, buy a drink (add an s onto that in my case), proceed to upstairs room of pub, sit down in silence with drinks and listen to entire album – including when the host flipped the record over. She was most insistent on this point. Complete and utter silence apart from the music. Sounds exactly like what I used to do from about twelve years old. I can be pretty accurate about this because it was with The Police’s Ghost in the Machine (1981, best track on vinyl here) that I started the habit. And I have forgotten how great that was, just to sit or lie there and do nothing at all except listen.

The other thing that prompted the post was Simon Mayo playing Carry on My Wayward Son by Kansas on his show. I wasn’t really listening to it in the beginning but, prog rock being what it is, at some point I was forced to stop what I was doing and listen properly. The hallmark of those bands was always that more is more for the arrangement, and sometimes it’s hard to disagree with them. If you saw them live, more was more with more on top, so at least they were delivering against all the promise of the recorded overblown vocals and screeching guitars. And as I spent an awful lot of time listening to metal bands (from to AC/DC to Uriah Heep, through Led Zep and Black Sabbath to Thin Lizzy and Def Leppard) I did wonder for a moment as I stirred dinner why I never had a Kansas album.

Perhaps it was because once you’ve got Rush’s 2112 concept album to deal with you don’t need much else by way of transatlantic rock in your vinyl collection.