Back to Black: The record revival in Nottingham

Pendulum Records

On the last week of November, more money was spent on vinyl records than on digital downloads of albums. Bethany Johns investigates why Nottingham record stores think analogue has us spinning right round.

Vinyl records have been around since 1948, and since the invention of the cassette tape, CDs and iTunes, seemed like they’d been lost in time.

But according to the Entertainment Retailers Association, last week (November 28-December 4) records outsold digital downloads of albums.

Vinyl sales earned £2.4m, whereas digital downloads made £2.1m- this time last year, digital downloads made over double the amount of money that records did.

Some may be surprised by this given the size and delicacy of a record, especially since the release of Apple Airpods mean you don’t even need headphone wires to listen to a song on a phone any more.

But it doesn’t seem to matter.

It may not be perfect but it’ll have character

Jono works at Rough Trade and attributes the recent success as a reaction against download culture.

“It makes albums a thing again, people like to listen to a full album in the sequence that it was intended.”

He added that while some people say they sound better, that can be extremely dependent.

“If you take a picture with a DSLR camera you know it can be technically brilliant, whereas if you take a picture on an old Polaroid it may not be perfect but it’ll have character.

“There are all sorts of things you get from the sense of a record that you don’t from a digital download, when Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ was released, the LP’s inner sleeve was scented like Patchouli.

“You can’t get that with digital music.”

Nottingham has the only Rough Trade shop in the UK outside of London, as well as at least 5 other independent record shops in the city centre.

Nottingham's Rough Trade store is one of only four in the world.
Nottingham’s Rough Trade store is one of only four in the world.

Joey owns Forever Records, an independent shop based in Cobden Chambers.

“There’s been some good releases this year, and a lot more has been released,” he said. “I think the figures are a little bit misleading as they’re based on track sales but it’s definitely the biggest it’s ever been.

“We’re so used to have a laptop and digital things that people crave a physical collection, and there’s something nice about playing a record, rather than just pressing play.”

Records are now available in a multitude of coloured vinyl, which Joey says adds to the special quality of the records.

“People come in and don’t even have a record player which I find strange, but sometimes they just want a collection.”

Coloured vinyl may make records seem more special. PHOTO: astrangelyisolatedplace, Flickr

He added that he wouldn’t be surprised if record players are a popular Christmas gift this year, especially now that they’re available in Aldi, Tiger and The Works.

“Records are an unusual present and I love seeing them all wrapped up, even if I automatically know what they are.

“They’re quite personal and I think it’s a really nice present, something that’ll last.”

In the UK, sales of records increased five-fold between 2009 and 2014, with the re-release of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black and 25 by Adele topping the list of biggest sellers.

In 2011, The ERA found that in the UK, people are willing to pay an average £16 for a vinyl record, as opposed to £6 for a digital download.

Nick, who owns Plates Records on St James Street, suggests that digital downloads could be cold and inhuman, the care taken to make records give people a deeper sense of feeling.

It helps give people an experience

He holds monthly open decks nights in the Malt Cross pub.

The night encourages people to share their music with others, even if they’re not DJs and have no experience like that.

“They allow people from different ages and backgrounds to connect on something.

“Records aren’t something new, but digital downloading has made music more distant and not as human whereas records allow people to really engage and have a deep involvement with music.

“It helps people to seek out something, and give people an experience- they can openly discover music without being preoccupied with what others tell them.

“It’s sort of passive, they become exposed to music in the stores.”

Plates Records on St James Street
Plates Records on St James Street

He argues that records can appeal to everyone, even those who don’t have players.

“People collect them because someone they know has a player, and they can share them with people.”

Plates becomes much busier in the lead up to Christmas, and certain classic albums sell more during the festive season.

“I think it’s nice in the sense that it can connect children with their parents, they can buy records that their parents would have listened to as children.

“It crosses several generations.”

Records are so popular now that April 24 2017 will mark the 8th annual Record Store Day, which brings together over 200 independent record stores across the UK.