Vinyl fans are on the right track

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It’s Record Store Day today and events are happening across the country. MISCHA ALLEN finds out why there’s still plenty of passion for vinyl

It used to be the case that you’d save your pocket money to get the latest release from your favourite band. You’d patiently wait for weeks before the day it arrived in your local record shop and then excitedly take your copy home for that first play.

Whether it was the artwork on the cover, the sleeve notes of an album or the ritual of putting the stylus on the record and hearing that familiar sound, buying and playing new music was a big event.

Now you can switch on your computer and in a few clicks can download whatever song you want.

But more and more people, missing the old magic of real records, are turning back to vinyl.

Vinyl album sales went up by 40 per cent last year and their resurgence is celebrated today on Record Store Day.

The event began in 2007 in America, putting the spotlight on independent record stores that have survived the move into a digital age.

One such shop is the brand new Pie & Vinyl on Castle Road in Southsea. Opened just over two weeks ago, it’s the brainchild of friends Rob Litchfield, 32, and Steve Courtnell, 33.

They weren’t enjoying their jobs (Rob sold barbecues and Steve worked for Estée Lauder), so they decided to do something they were passionate about – and set up their very own record cafe.

Steve says: ‘We’re both passionate about music and the idea came to mix food with a record shop because we were wary about just opening a record shop. So we tried to do something different.’

He adds: ‘I’m not a massive fan of Starbucks, but it has its own record company.

‘Music and eating have always been linked since the time in New York when jazz and blues started. Our concept involves pie and mash and vinyl records.’

The new cafe/record shop has had lots of messages of support on Twitter and Facebook and a steady flow of customers. So it seems they are meeting a demand.

Steve explains: ‘Southsea has needed a record shop for a long time. There are vintage shops and old-fashioned sweet shops, now there’s a record shop.

‘It’s about keeping it fresh and exciting.’

Only stocking vinyl that has been released in the past two years, the friends want to keep the music on their shelves up-to-date. Many new releases have an MP3 download included.

Steve adds: ‘It’s obviously better and it’s more of an experience because you get the MP3 and the artwork as well.

‘It’s a look back to the past and working with the future.’

Steve and Rob both remember what it was like to save up to buy new releases at a record shop.

Now they believe it’s important to help people find that passion for music again.

Rob says: ‘I never lost the passion and the urge to buy it. It was never dead, it’s just evolved. But with vinyl you can have the artwork and the story behind it.

‘I remember queuing up and waiting for a release date when one record came out, getting my brother to drive me into Portsmouth to buy it.

‘It used to make the BBC news and they would have 12 o’clock release times.’

He adds: ‘But you have to adapt and that’s what the record industry is seeing.’

The idea of a cafe where you listen to and buy music isn’t a new idea.

Steve says: ‘There have been coffee bars that sell vinyl, often records imported from America.

‘It all started with jazz. It’s about listening to and cherishing music again and believing in it. A record is something tangible you can hold.

‘It makes you appreciate it more. Now we live in such a throwaway culture, but here people can talk about music. It’s not just about pressing return on a computer.’

To celebrate Record Store Day today, Pie & Vinyl has invited local bands to play acoustic sets throughout the day.

They include B of the Bang, The Retrospective Soundtrack Players, Andrew Foster and The Day Of The Rabblement.

Events are also happening across the country and yesterday the Official Charts Company launched a new weekly rundown of sales from 100 independent shops in the UK.

Artists such as the Arctic Monkeys, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Coldplay and Gorillaz are releasing limited edition vinyl to celebrate the day.

Many independent record shops have suffered in recent years, but there is optimism that they can survive and thrive in a hi-tech world.

One such shop is Sweet Memories Vinyl Records in Fratton, which is one of the biggest online retailers of vinyl records.

Nick Courtney, who has run the business for the past 17 years, believed the future would be selling vinyl to collectors over the internet. He wasn’t wrong.

Nick says: ‘I went on the internet and I learned how search engines work and how to get to the top.

‘Without that it would be very different because you’re generating about 100,000 times more interest.

‘I don’t just sell in Portsmouth, I sell to 60 different countries. Vinyl is a better product and it’s nicer with the artwork – and it sounds better.’

Nick believes that vinyl is experiencing a comeback because it’s the original format and people want something to collect again.

National chain HMV is now trialling the return of vinyl records in some of its stores.

Nick adds: ‘It will always come back. With digital downloads and MP3s there’s no product.

‘With MP3s, you actually own nothing.

‘I think there’s a gap in the market for vinyl to return and people will be more interested in what’s at number one again.’

‘All it takes is someone big who has a lot of interest. It was wrong to remove it in the first place.’

With more customers in Russia than in Portsmouth, Nick has the online world to thank for his success.

But Steve and Rob at Pie & Vinyl are clearly hoping that there’s also a big local market who will come to their business to eat and buy vinyl.

Other shops in the area are also catering for record fans out there, including Soundz and Dresscode in Southsea and Reflex Records in Gosport.

Nick may use the internet to make his living, but he’s obviously still a traditionalist at heart.

He says: ‘Without vinyl, the magic and fun is taken out of music.’

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