IT'S THE WEEKEND: The Gwent vinyl revival
Rob Price who owns and runs Ponty Rock Records in Abergavenny with a record 'The Story of the Blues', a rare complilation covering Blues artists from as far back as the 1920s
SALES of records are on the up - and for collectors across Gwent, nothing can beat the lure of vinyl and the Saturday trip to the local record shop to look for it. CAIO IWAN reports.
WHY do people still buy newspapers? Is it out of convenience, nostalgia, or both? The truth is, people still buy newspapers even though there are much more instantaneous ways of reading the news. It is the same with music.
Consumers still buy CDs even though downloading music has become the norm among younger audiences. But which is best, the downloaded mp3, or the slightly out-of-fashion compact disc? Vinyl collectors will tell you it is neither. The resurgence in popularity of the vinyl means the long-forgotten LP is back in fashion. It is the vinyl revival.
Paul Hawkins is not just the co-director of record store Diverse Music in Newport, he is also the co-director of Diverse Vinyls and Diverse Records. Together they are one of, if not the, most popular independent vinyl companies in the UK.
Paul estimates 90 per cent of the products they sell are vinyls, with the rest being CDs.
Paul said: "Sales are really good, we've been very busy. Last year, sales have increased which is something of a rarity in Newport these days. It's mainly to do with the internet and the fact that we've now got a solid website and an online presence.
"But if we were like (online retailers) Amazon for example, a customer wouldn't be able to walk through the door and converse. That's our major plus point, we have a store where people can come in and talk to us on top of everything else, which is really important with vinyls."
But what is the appeal of vinyl all of a sudden?
"All kinds of people are buying vinyl for different reasons," Paul added. "But most buy them because of the quality of the sound. A vinyl is a truer representation of the work that gets done by artists in the studios. A CD, or even more so an mp3, is only an approximation of a vinyl.
"A vinyl has a much better frequency rate. In a CD, you tend to miss out on a lot of the bass and treble because you have to squeeze a lot of information onto a tiny disc. The mp3s have gone a step further, and because of that, it's reduced the quality again."
Recent figures shows how sales of vinyls reached 389,000 in the UK in 2012, its highest level for 16 years and a 15 per cent increase from the previous year.
The most popular age group was the 18-24 category, but with 27 per cent of these not even owning a turntable, why do they buy them?
"There are those who think vinyl is 'cool' again - the 'hipsters' - they are mostly younger people who buy them second hand," Paul added. "They may not have a turntable but they just want something to hold. If you download all your music you just don't get that feeling any more. Music is not tangible nowadays.
"Pop artists like Katy Perry and Emeli Sande still produce LPs with nice big pictures on the front. It's a collectible item. A downloaded song isn't. Justin Bieber would make millions if he'd produce one."
It seems there is clearly a gap in the market for similar, younger artists to exploit.
But what about Paul's most treasured vinyl? He mentions a Mobile Fidelity box set by The Beatles. It was an album re-issued in the 1980s after EMI Records got hold of the original master tapes.
"The post production had the best of everything, the best-looking sleeve, the best sound - it's the Holy Grail for vinyl collectors," he added. "It must be worth thousands.
"A vinyl is not really a price conscious product in that sense, it's all about availability.
"It's a waste when people don't play it but there used to be a time, say 10 years ago, when people would buy two - one for use and one just to keep as a collectors' item," said Paul. "But those days have gone now."
Regardless of this, Paul believes there is a vinyl revival. "There's a host of different people jumping on the bandwagon," he added. "People are selling vinyl on ebay so we have to compete with them but it's made people think there's a choice for them out there now."
There are initiatives in place to encourage the vinyl's resurgence into mainstream music outlets as well. Record Store Day is held every April and is an initiative set up in the United States but is being embraced by independent record stores across cities in the UK, including Newport.
Paul added: "It's a celebration of a lost culture, which is a sad thing really. Buying a vinyl is a social thing. You come in to the store and you talk to people, you chat about music.
"That's what it was like years ago. And that's what has been lost in a way to the downloading industry.
"It's quite sad that it's come down to organising retro days for a vinyl," he added.
Dean Beddis, who owns Kriminal Records in Newport Market, has also noticed an increase in interest among younger people but says vinyl appeals to a much wider audience.
"Some buy it for reminiscing and others, like me, are just compulsive collectors," he said. "A vinyl can have value in two ways, it can be of financial value or can be a record which means the most to you personally. I remember when my Gran gave me Machine Gun Etiquette by The Damned at Christmas in 1979. I remember the massive buzz of showing it to my friends."
Rob Price, 50, is the owner of Ponty Rock Records in Abergavenny, but lives in Newport.
He is also the proud possessor of more than 8,000 vinyl records.
"I bought my first record in 1975," said Rob. "It was a single from T-Rex.
"My most treasured records are the ones by Frank Zappa, an amazing artist, who I think is up there with The Beatles and Bob Dylan.
"I've got some particularly rare LPs and singles, and some are worth maybe up to £1,000 each.
"To be honest, it's getting a bit out of hand at the moment Ð prices are doubling, maybe trebling, year on year. I think it's a rarity thing. People can buy new vinyls now, which is good, but they don't have the same expression or depth as the old LPs from the 60s."
The vinyl may still be seen as a blast from the past to some, but to others, it is seen as a glimpse of the future.
'The artwork makes them special'
Collector Gavin Howells said: "It does become a fascination. In my last count I think I had 320 records.
"People say the sound quality is better but I don't think that's true unless you've got a really good system to play the records.
"For me it's the presentation of the vinyl itself, the physical artwork that comes with it, that makes it special.
"I did pay, and I don't know why, £60 for a Pearl Jam single in 2000 but then I sold it on eBay for £150. Not that I'm recommending it, but I think the re-sale market is quite big for it now. Prices have gone absolutely mad in recent years."
Gavin says vinyls now offer an additional mp3 download with the product, meaning consumers can listen to music on two different formats. Is this the future then?
"I think record labels and artists are starting to realise they can appeal to younger people now as well. That's why they're offering downloadable mp3s as well. But a record is timeless, it doesn't go out of fashion."
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