The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Collector's Corner: No 1 in a (sort-of) series


 I have been collecting vinyl records (LPs, 7-inch and 12-inch) on and off since I was a teenager.  The odd thing is that I do not own, and have never owned, a record player so I cannot, as yet listen to my records.  My friends think that this is hilarious, but to me there is something magical about this old format that does not easily translate into collecting CDs and even less for digital files.

I remember the first album I bought was in the 1990s, called "Masters of the Universe" it was a compilation of Pulp tracks from the 1980s and it had a weird, warped image of the band on the front cover.  It wasn't available on CD so I guess this is the reason I bought it.  I think I borrowed my Dad's record player to listen to it.  My Dad always had a box of records which very rarely came out - I think this is what might have convinced me that they were something sacred, as well as the sense that listening to a record involves a sort of ritual.  Taking the record carefully out of the sleeve, placing it carefully on the turntable (free of dust) and lining up the stylus.  

My recent spate of album buying was triggered by an article which talked about how albums from the 1970s and 1980s sounded better on vinyl.  I was getting obsessed with discovering music from the 1980s and most of the CDs you can buy nowadays have been re-mastered from the originals.  Many say that this has removed the thrill of the original and it made me wonder if that was true - or just nostalgia talking.


A chance finding in Help the Aged charity shop started my quest; passing the racks, usually filled with unwanted Val Doonican or ABBA albums, I saw a compelling image; a smartly dressed man, with his hand almost touching a screen of light.  The album was called 'Metamatic' by John Foxx.  I had never heard of John Foxx but a little research revealed that he was the original lead singer with Ultravox, famous for their new romantic hit 'Vienna.'  When I went back to buy the album, it was still there so I saw that as a 'sign' it was meant for me to find.  It has since opened up to me a whole new musical world - the 'post-punk' and 'new pop' sounds of the late 70s and early 80s. Unlike the Ultravox of 'Vienna' fame, Foxx's Ultravox were spiky, sarcastic, angry, and, as conveyed by the cover of their 1977 debut album, a little bit scary...


This leads me onto another reason for collecting LPs, the artwork. Well, you get the same artwork on the CD booklet, however the size of the LP gives the design a different aura and feel to the smaller size of the CD booklet. The different textures too are interesting - some LP covers are highly shiny, others are more of a matt texture. The most successful covers for me reflect the mood of the music. Take 'Sulk' by the Associates (1982) - the cover is super glossy, almost over-bright; singer Billy Mackenzie and instrumentalist Alan Rankine sat amongst strange exotic plants looking fantastic... or are they? It is evident that they are sitting on a couple of dust sheets and are pulling strange facial expressions, trying a bit too hard. It kind of makes it a little bit tacky too which suits the glossy, melodramatic songs they were making at the time. This is one of my favourite albums for all those reasons.


There are several ways for me to collect records. From charity shops, Ebay, and the monthly record fairs that are held in Town Hall square in Leicester. Ebay is good for getting the exact album you want but I prefer the charity shop for the unexpected find - ploughing through piles of albums and finding one you want is a time consuming experience but you feel that you have earned it. I guess I enjoy the process of discovery as much as the collection.

A few highlights from the collection:

'Poor Old Soul' by Orange Juice which has a 'traditional' Scottish flavour:


A Scritti Politti single which, true to their (then) Marxist principles, does not have an A and B side but instead all four songs share equal status:


And finally, before I started my collection of vinyl I did not realise that they used to produce albums with pictures printed onto the surface of the record.



I have decided to buy myself a record player as a treat for writing up my two PhD case studies so then I might be able to test the theory about vinyl sounding better than the CD or digital version, however in some ways I fear that I will become too precious about my collection and not be able to use them for fear of wearing them out. I imagine I am not the only person to experience this dilemma!

Apologies for the photographs, I had not realised that LPs would react badly to the flash.

1 comment:

Mike Simpson said...

LPs (and to a lesser extent, vinyl singles) offer a huge range of quirks and gimmicks that are simply not available to CDs.

Not just picture discs but shaped discs, coloured vinyl, gatefold sleeves, printed inner sleeves and booklets. Also free stuff likes badges, posters and stickers although you will only find those now by buying from specialist dealers.