Sometimes you forget how much you’ve missed something until you get it back.We have a Dual turntable in the house. It belonged to TLC’s dad, so it’s something of an heirloom. It’s always been a pleasure to use. Solid, dependable, sturdy. Until last year when it suddenly, inexplicably stopped working.
It would power up, and rubbing the pad of my thumb over the stylus gave a pleasing scrapey noise through the speakers. But the platter wouldn’t turn. The belt was in place, and that was the extent of my engineering knowhow. When teamed with an old Sherwood amp that would suddenly, inexplicably drop out, the idea of getting the old player back up and running seemed a bit… well, onerous.
It was thanks to docoDom that the situation changed. He’s always been a vinyl junkie, and kept going on at me to either fix the Dual or buy a new turntable. A nice idea, but as I’ve said, it had a bucketful of sentimental value attached. I needed to get it fixed, but it would be an expensive pain to sort out.
The boot up the patoot that got me moving was the vintage Realistic receiver that Dom bought back from the States. Hooked up to his Technics deck, it looked great, sounded great and dammit, I wanted one. I had been well and truly outgeeked, and it would not stand. Gadget greed kicked in. To me, my eBay.
The Realistics, I discovered, were outside my price range. If nothing else, the cost of getting them shipped over from the US was (haha) unrealistic. But I found a lovely little Sony receiver in Kent, up for peanuts. I put on an acceptable bid, and waited to win.
With one minute to go on the auction, I was outbid. By a pound. Oh, how I swore, Readership. Oh, how the heavens shook that day. There was major-league pouting, I can tell you.
The following week, I was contacted by the seller of the Sony. The joker that had outbid me had refused to pay the asking price. Did I still want the amp?
Did I? Does the Pope defecate in the woods? Hell, yes, I wanted it. The deal was done. I cackled with glee. We were in a pub at the time and I was eBaying on my phone. TLC was underimpressed.
But now the onus was on my actually getting the turntable working. Turns out there’s a renowned specialist a five minute walk from work. Amazing what you can find out when you spend five minutes in a focussed fashion on the internets. I took the Dual to the doctors. Poor thing was unwell. A new motor and a belt for the speed control were needed. I bit the bullet, paid the tithe and three days later, on the day that the new receiver arrived, the fix was in. After a year of prevarication, a week of effort had provided us with a working vinyl setup.
Listening to music on vinyl is, of course, a very different experience to firing up Spotify and hitting play. It’s vaguely ritualistic, and forces you to concentrate on the music in unexpected ways. The process of taking the record out of the sleeve, gently cleaning it, spinning the platter up, the soft kathunk as the needle drops…it’s almost kinky.
The hiss and crackle, however minor, somehow draw you into the music. And of course, you have to get up and turn the darn thing over every twenty minutes or so. It’s realer, more apparent. There’s a sense of ownership that comes from playing a record–because of course, I own it. I’ve gone to a shop and bought it. Much as I love Spotify, I don’t own any of the music. If I have an internet outage, or if I chose to stop paying the membership, all the music is gone. The vinyl will always be there.
Clive and I recorded a podcast on the concept album last night (you’ll hear it in April, Listenership) and we touched on the subject of the value of music. It was easy to pluck the music we needed for the discussion legally from the internet (hell, most of it was on YouTube). Does music have value when it’s so easy to find and play? Does it simply become a soundtrack, holding music, noise in the background to stop us from sitting in silence? Well, clearly not, as so many of us spend our time with earbuds jammed into our listening holes. But in an era when the notion of side one and sde two are as quaint as the cinema intermission, it’s nice to be reminded of the differences in musical dynamics that vinyl offers. Sometimes, it’s good to think a little about what to pull out of the rack to play next, or to listen to the silence after the needle lifts.