Sunday, May 11, 2008

Flying the flag for vinyl

George Ginn in his shop in Brighton, The Record Album

The internet and supermarkets have been blamed for putting our nation's record shops under threat. Downloading has become the norm for a generation of music fans more familiar with MP3 players than turntables.

Many Sussex owners have been forced to make tracks to a new career. But Andy Robbins spoke to one man who refuses to dance to the industry's tune.

As Bob Dylan once sang, the times they are a-changing. The record industry is in the midst of one of its biggest shake-ups since the compact disc revolutionised the way we listen to music.

Downloading is rapidly becoming the most popular way people get hold of their tunes.

Listeners no longer have to put up with half-baked album tracks just to get the hit singles.

Within minutes of hearing a song on the radio you can have it on your iPod with a few clicks on a computer mouse.

But an MP3 player would be about as much use as a ticket to the moon for Brighton record shop owner George Ginn.

The 78-year-old has staunchly refused to bow to the industry's fickle fancies and has remained true to his love of vinyl.

Downloads and discounted music on supermarket shelves has forced many independent record shops to close their doors for good.

But The Record Album, opposite Brighton railway station, shows no signs of turning up its toes.

The thousands of rare vinyl records which cover almost every inch of space in the shop remain as much a draw today as they did when it was first established, in North Road, Brighton, in 1948.
Mr Ginn took control of the shop in 1962 when he got rid of all the stock and started from scratch.

He said he is confident there will always be a place for shops like his which provide a unique service and experience unlike anything on the internet.

He said: "Nothing can compare with visiting a record shop and finding things you weren't even looking for.

"I've been interested in music since the war and took over the shop as soon as I could. I couldn't do anything else now."

But with more and more stores being forced to shut, could stores like The Record Album be next on the hit list? Not according to its owner, who said the shop's specialist stock is one of its biggest draws. At The Record Album you are more likely to find a rare version of the Rambo soundtrack than a copy of the latest Amy Winehouse CD.

Mr Ginn said: "It is getting difficult and a lot of record shops have shut, but I'm quite upbeat about the future. I intend to fly in the face of adversity.

"So many shops are falling by the wayside, but I'm single-minded and nothing is going to deviate me from my path. I've always steered a steady course."

So strong is The Record Album's worldwide reputation that people have visited the store from as far as Japan, South Korea and Australia.

It even has a number of celebrity fans who have pored over the tens of thousands of records crammed into the tiny shop in Terminus Street.

Britpop star Damon Albarn and Hove DJ Fatboy Slim have both paid visits to the shop.

Mr Ginn admitted he often does not recognise the famous faces who come through the door and is not a fan of modern pop music.

He does, however, remember one notable visit by Australian band The Avalanches, whose debut album Since I Left You was created from more than 3,500 vinyl samples.

Mr Ginn said: "They had a gig in Brighton, and one of their friends recommended a visit here before they left Australia.

"They spent most of the day in here and went out with about 50 records."

The attraction of vinyl has continued to grow, according to Mr Ginn, who said he has seen an increase in young people visiting his shop.

It is music to the ears of the self-confessed analogue fan who detests CDs and refuses to stock them at The Record Album.

He said: "Scarcely a day goes by without someone coming in and saying they've bought themselves a new record deck. The sound is far superior than anything you will get by listening to a CD.

"CDs just provide 70 minutes of digital racket.

"People buy them and put them on while they are doing other things, but with a vinyl record you have to listen to it properly.

"You can sit and read the liner notes while you listen to one side, before you have to get up and turn it over to listen to the other side.

"I won't touch CDs at all. Vinyl is definitely the longest-lasting of all the formats. They come and go but vinyl has always reared its head.

"As for downloading, if I had the know-how I would put a virus into the whole thing."

Brighton would appear to buck the general trend which has seen hundreds of small record shops bite the dust.

Rounder Records, in Brighton Square, has been going strong for more than 40 years, Resident in Kensington Gardens continues to pull in the crowds and other small shops continue to enjoy brisk trade.

But it is not all good news for independent record shops elsewhere in Sussex. Steve Brewer pulled down the shutters at Round Sounds in Burgess Hill one last time just before Easter, after 16 years spent working at the shop - eight as owner. His decision followed the closure of his Haywards Heath store in 2003.

He said the effects of downloading and the supermarkets muscling their way into what was previously a niche market had a crippling effect on trade.

It was a similar story for Neil Shoubridge, who closed the Jingles record shop in Railway Approach, East Grinstead, at the end of March after 15 years in charge.

He said his profits had plummeted by about a third in the past two years.

Mr Shoubridge said: "It was a sad day when I made the decision to close. Last year was not great. I was hoping Christmas might make up for it, but that just didn't happen.

"The supermarkets have distorted the value of music. People now think they can come in and spend £7.99 on a classical album which the supermarkets don't stock.

"The public doesn't seem to understand that the reason people like Tesco and Asda don't stock these sorts of albums is because they can't sell them at that price."

The closure of Jingles came as a huge blow to lifelong music fan Mr Shoubridge, who said he has many fond memories of his youth spent hanging about in record shops.

He said: "I do see a future for independent record shops, but they will have to target the specialist markets like heavy metal or indie bands.

"I have missed it a lot since I closed the shop as the music industry is something I've got a lot of love for.

"It is a shame that kids will eventually miss out on shops like these.

"The traditional experience of meeting up with people in record shop seems to be on the way out. It's all about coffee shops these days."

Source [The Argus]

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