Those of us who have spent time building up on our record collection may never dream of giving it all away, but that is exactly what Getintothis’ Banjo did.
It is widely held that the sense that most triggers memory is smell, that a particular scent can prompt memories more than sight, sound, taste or touch.
Personally, I disagree. To my mind, music does this far better than smell could ever hope to do. I only have to hear an old song that I haven’t played for over 20 or 30 years and I find I can suddenly remember all the words and can happily, if discordantly, sing along. And not only that, but a single listen instantly triggers memories that can move me backwards through time.
In the grooves of our record collections are contained happy memories, old friends and lost loves.
In fact so many memories are triggered by music that albums can function as a kind of time machine – to play a track from almost any record in your collection is to be transported back to where you were when you first heard or first fell in love with the music it contains.
One listen to Shouting Out Loud by The Raincoats and I am again a teenager in my bedroom, the song’s sense of new rules being written and infinite possibilities laying ahead exactly matching my feelings and the spirit of youth.
I can play Primal Scream’s Higher Than the Sun and again experience the chilled bliss of a post clubbing session with friends, the record’s extraordinary sounds perfectly articulating my emotional and physical state at that time.
Indeed, as Morrissey once sang, back when he made proclamations that didn’t make you wince, we ‘don’t forget the songs that made you smile, and the songs that saved your life. Yes you’re older now, and you’re a clever swine, but they were the only ones that ever stood by you’.
Growing up, I quickly became a music obsessive. I bought my first single at the age of nine and my first album at the age of 10. These thin pieces of plastic became my education, my friends and my joy. I was hooked. Further purchases were few and far between at this tender age, but there was a slow drip of records into my collection, birthdays, Christmas and the like being fruitful times.
Then, when I left school, punk exploded, bringing with it a flood of new records and bands. Having my first job meant I was able to indulge my habit and me and my friends took part in some competitive record collecting. Who had the first Joy Division EP? Who had the UK Subs album on blue vinyl? Who bought the most records last month? I was quite happy spending all my disposable income on gigs and records, I would far rather have had another record in my collection than a pound in my pocket.
Post-punk continued the boom in the number of bands and the number of records they released, and my collection grew. This was all in the days when we would buy an album and play it to death, so that we knew all the songs, all the lyrics and the order they were played in. In these Internet enriched times, we can download more music in a week than we will listen to in a month and, as a result, brilliant albums can be almost glanced over, given a few plays only, before jumping onto the next one.
All this continued over the 80s and 90s and my collection of vinyl grew and grew. It moved with me from flat to flat, house to house. When moving, special consideration had to be given to where my records could be stored. They took up a huge amount of space, by now there were around 2,000 albums and a further 2,000 12” singles.
I had got to the stage with some bands where I was something of a completist. For example, I had to have all the different versions of all Nitzer Ebb singles, right down to promos and even cassingles (remember them?). I would scour second hand shops like Scene of the Crime to fill the gaps in my Spiritualized or Play Dead collections, hands expertly whizzing through the racks of records with a practiced ease, stopping only when they found something I wanted.
I could take any record off the shelf and tell you where and when I bought it, what tracks were on it, who played on it and who produced it. CDs only added to this and gave me further formats to collect.
And then…something happened. Personally I blame the Internet. A group of us installed Napster onto some of the University PCs and left them downloading overnight, returning the next day to burn our ill-gotten booty onto CDs and pen drives. Then I found other ways of downloading and my home internet got better and better, quicker and quicker.
I bought my first MP3 player, marvelling at its size and futuristic look. This was technology that worked for me and fitted in with my lifestyle. iTunes and the like provided me with near instant access to thousands of albums from the comfort of my own home.
Rather than taking over the walls of my house, my new and increasing MP3 collection would fit handily onto a series of external drives. My iPod meant I could carry thousands of albums around with me and listen to them whenever I wanted to. My beloved record collection was becoming neglected, an anachronistic throwback to earlier times.
Eventually I came to a decision. Rather than let my collection sit unused on shelves, relegated to the loft or even be put into storage, I decided to give it away. I didn’t want it to warp or go mouldy due to lack of attention and love, that wasn’t a fate I could visit upon my carefully built collection.
I suppose I could have taken it apart and sold my records individually on eBay, and made myself a pretty penny into the bargain, but I didn’t want to break up the family. I wanted them to go somewhere where they would be loved and played and be looked after.
So I called up a friend who was still in love with records and gave him the lot, all 4,000 plus of them.
A lot of people I tell this to wonder how I could do such a thing, how I could give away something that I spent so many years building up, something that I loved so much and that once identified who I was as a person. But in truth, it was almost a relief to let them go.
I was talking to DJ Dave Haslam recently about him selling all of his records as one collection, and he calls collecting ‘the tyranny of stuff’. Being a collector can take over your life to one degree or other and it can be a release to simply let it go.
Haslam recalls talking to Pete Tong about his decision to sell his record collection. Tong expressed his horror at this, but when asked where his collection was confessed that it was split over his homes in the UK and America, and that most of it was in storage and he hadn’t even laid eyes on it for years. What is the point of owning a record if it is just boxed up and shrink wrapped, in a lock up in a different country? Let it go.
To be honest, I still acquire music as much as I ever have, and I still buy CDs, from the few bands I still collect. But most of my collection these days is in bits and bytes, stored and backed up on storage drives, played on iPods and off USBs. It takes up next to no space, is portable and, if a catastrophe were to happen, is easily replaced.
But, and this is the important thing, I still listen to as much music as I ever have. And that, when all is said and done, is what’s important. It’s not the collecting, cataloging or storing, it is the listening that is the most crucial part of being a music fan.
The beauty of music lies in its power to evoke old memories and to soundtrack new ones. I have no doubt that future listens to Etherwood’s new In Stillness album will evoke memories of hot, sunny summer days, as that is what it soundtracked. An older me will probably return to the album in years to come and nostalgic tears will prick my eyes, as I look back fondly on the long hot summer of 2018, accompanied by an album of the best drum & bass in the world.
These days I am much less of a collector of things generally, but I am still very much a fan. My Kindle has taken away the need for my collection of books, I no longer keep tickets stubs and I am able to walk past gig posters without wanting to tear them down and blu tac them up in my bedroom.
That said, I don’t feel that the way I relate to music has changed at all over the years, just what I listen to my music on.
So do I miss my records? No, because despite having given them all away, I can listen to any of the music I have ever bought almost on demand, despite not owning it on vinyl anymore. And I do, I still listen to music every bit as much as when my record collection threatened to take over all available space in all available rooms.
Yes I gave my records away, but if you were to try to take my music away from me, you would have to prise it out of my cold, dead hard drives.