How do you listen to music? Over the past couple of years music streaming has become normal. It is hard to believe that MP3s have been around since 1995, even harder to think that CDs have been with us commercially since the early 1980s. So why are we finding that more and more people are turning to a media that many declared to be dead and obsolete to sell, buy and store their music collections?
That media is vinyl and by the looks of it, we love it. According to most statistics sales of vinyl increased by about 30% last year while sales of CDs declined by about between 10-14%. Surely this is nonsensical? Is this the last stand of a technology that people are hanging onto for nostalgic reasons? With these questions in mind and that fact that this year’s Record Store Day is upon us, I spoke to one person who thinks it’s more than that. Maria Harris is the owner of Chesterfield’s newest (and only) record store. Her shop Tallbird Records (yes, the name is in reference to Maria’s vertical advantage) has opened on Soresby Street, with the aim of filling the yawning gap in Chesterfield’s music retailing.
Since moving to Chesterfield 8 years ago Maria’s seen long term independent store Hudson’s fall on it’s sword and HMV have pulled out of the town out after their financial issues. So why does she think she can succeed where larger and more established names have failed?
“I like to think I’ve tapped into a market that neither HMV nor Hudson’s capitalised on. Namely the resurgence of interest in vinyl“, says Maria.
She does have a point. The vinyl counter in HMV Chesterfield was almost non-existent and Hudson’s during my not so distant past (honest) doesn’t stand out in my memory. I have to admit, it is a comfort to know that my hometown has a music shop again.
Its hardly like Chesterfield is struggling to bring a bit of culture to it‘s inhabitants, its a stop off for many a comedy and theatrical tour, it has a vibrant night life and coffee shop scene but not having a record shop is an all together different problem.
“The shop provides a focal point for people in town who are interested in music and I like to think it’s helping, in some small way, to bring together a little community of like minded souls. One of the things I’m regularly told by my customers is that the shop is just what the town needed”, Maria continues.
That couldn’t be more right. In a time when music has become almost a commodity where we sell our old CDs to nameless, faceless websites like a stockbroker dumping a bad deal its good to know that the rise in popularity of this old technology is bringing back the connection between the artist, the retailer, the listener and the locality.
Maria adds, “I guess being an independent shop in the centre of town adds a bit of variety to the retail on offer, which is largely made up of chain shops. It’s also the only shop in town that you can go to too get some decent sounds.”
It is also nice to see some variety in the frontage of the premises as you walk around Chesterfield’s centre. Like many towns, Chesterfield has had it’s invasion of look-a-like shops that all follow the standardised lay out and approach of focus group lead marketing. Tallbird Records’ simple logo has reflections of the mod scene with it’s heavy contrast black and white motif and the colour scheme of the shop follows suit with red walls and cosy but not cramped layout.
Maria’s musical addiction began early, “I was always completely fascinated by music and especially at an early age by vinyl and turntables.” This is confirmed by her parents who claim her first words were “lecord-plalla”. To be so obsessed at such an early age must’ve been a sign that Maria is now following her calling?
Maria stills owns her first record, complete with modifications by her younger sister.
“I went out with my father when we were on holiday in 1973. I had intended to get Lynsey De Paul’s single ‘Wont Somebody Dance With Me?’ but Woolworths had sold out, so I plumped for a copy of ‘My Friend Stan’ by Slade instead” she recalls.
That’s a pretty decent start on anyone’s record buying carer, especially when most kids of this generation have stated out knowing nothing better than the bland, liquidised splurge of today’s charts.
Here comes the bad news, “Shortly afterwards my younger sister got her sticky mitts on it and used it as a teething ring! I still have the record, complete with her teeth marks!”
With parents hailing from Kent, being born in Singapore and growing up in Malaysia you could say that Maria’s early life was fairly eclectic and looking through the stock in the shop you can see that reflected in the albums on offer.
“We do stock a diverse range. Everything from country and folk to northern soul and metal”, says Maria.
Every record collector needs a sound base to their collection though? Surely there has to be certain albums that every music fan has got to have?
“It’s all a matter of taste isn’t it? Personally I’d say no collection is complete without a copy of Parallel Lines by Blondie. The back catalogues of the Smiths, the Beatles, David Bowie and Joni Mitchell but I doubt someone into metal or prog rock would agree!” she exclaims.
With such a diverse range on offer there’s always going to be the reliable sellers.
“There are certain titles that despite being fairly common place always sell within a few hours of putting them out. Things like Dark Side of the Moon, any Smiths albums, Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, The Who’s Quadrophenia”, Maria says.
Don’t be tricked into thinking that this is a retro only shop though; the ethos of variety extends to new releases as well. There are plans to see if a new CD section is to be added stocking releases that the supermarkets won’t have on the shelf.
Maria comments, “It is difficult for a little shop to complete with Tesco, Asda and the online businesses like Amazon on chart products.”
We all know that bulk buying of things like vegetables, shampoo and butter can be a good thing but surely not music? Music is more than food, it’s an art form and I think a lot of people have forgotten that lately.
This brings us on to sleeve art. When I was a kid I can remember looking through my Dad’s LPs and being amazed at the covers of albums like ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ by Elton John for example. The time and effort that went into designing, drawing and the colourisation in that sleeve was incredible! That’s something lacking of late but that’s another area that vinyl is dragging back into the minds of the collector.
“It think it was going that way when CDs were at their height but with the resurgence of vinyl there has been some really amazing sleeves designed recently”, says Maria.
It can only be a good thing that bringing back an album as something tangible, something that should be held and treasured and looked after, it’s important that music isn’t seen as something disposable.
“The [sleeve of] latest Wooden Shjips album springs to mind. The new St Vincent album sleeve is a work of art too. There’s great attention to detail on most new vinyl releases now”.
With this in mind, does Maria think that CD’s will become as collectable and desirable in the future?
“Anything’s possible I guess!” was her reply. Probably not then…
When I asked Maria about her own collection, I asked if there was an album that she didn’t own but would love to have?
“My long term goal is to own a Beatles album signed by the Fab Four; I doubt I’ll ever be that rich though! I’d like to get back all the records I owned before I decided to sell them in the 80’s to get the CD versions instead! All the really collectable ones and the memorabilia that I’d amassed…” she reminisces, but there’s a reason for the Maria selling her old treasures.
“I’d just had my first child and I thought motherhood was more important than records. Which it is, but only just…”
– Matt Churchard
Contact Maria at:
10 Soresby Street