There’s something about vinyl records that I have learnt to appreciate over last few months, particularly by working with Ross. His amazing collection, which he has passionately put together over the years buying rare issues all over the world, features a wide range of releases, some of them quite popular and easy to find and others very unique items any decent collector would kill for. There are thousands of them; all sizes, colours and shapes, carefully archived all over his house. Some of them even remain unopened, perfectly sealed, just as he bought them years ago. True collectors know what I’m talking about.
Looking back, it’s quite interesting that thanks to his quenchless passion for records is that I actually got to meet him in the first place, 11 years ago. He was shooting Iron Maiden on his Brave New World Tour and happened to be with them in Buenos Aires, the city I decided to lose my Iron Maiden virginity in, back in January 2001. Some of my argentinian friends were inside the hotel the band was staying at, so I went in too and after meeting the whole band in a corridor (long story I might write something about in the future), I ran into Ross, whom I must confess I didn’t know much about at the time. I just knew he was the guy behind all those classic Iron Maiden pictures I was so familiar with. Actually, I remember carrying with me a rock magazine that day, some Iron Maiden special edition issue packed with his photographs, so after hesitating for a bit I finally asked him if it would be much of a problem to sign it for me. He did without perspiring a single drop of ego and after chatting for a while, he asked me if I knew where to buy vinyl records in town.
I asked my local friends and they said we were not too far from a very popular record shop, so we agreed to take him. We walked for half and hour and when we finally got to the place, Ross started sweating like crazy. His face went white and if you looked carefully, you could have seen his body shaking a bit. I asked him if he was alright, he replied: “I need to go back to the hotel! Now!” What? I didn’t understand. Why would he want to go back to the hotel if we had just walked for 30 minutes to get to the bloody shop? “I’m shitting my pants”, he said, “I need you to get me in a cab back to my hotel. Seriously”. I felt like laughing but at the same time, I could relate with that feeling of desperation you get when your body gives you the chills as a warning of what is to come if you don’t hurry the fuck up and find a toilet right away. I’ve experienced many times in the past and it totally sucks balls.
I rushed out of the shop, stopped a cab, got him in and told the driver: “You better get this man to the Sheraton Hotel as fast as you can, otherwise you’ll have a very hard time cleaning your back seat”. He understood perfectly. Later on that day, I met with Ross again and man, he looked relieved. He told me he has just been to Mexico and the food they have had there now had everyone in the band and crew making fluky visits to the toilet. We laughed about the episode (we still do) and at the end he gave me his card, to keep in touch. And we did. Eventually I moved to London, we became friends and I ended up working with him, managing his Facebook page and helping him sort out his archive for his new website soon to be launched. At some point, he asked me to come up with ideas for the FB page and I suggested we should put up pictures of his record collection, as I’ve always thought it’s material worth sharing. He has so many cool records, with amazing covers and inner sleeves, that as a fan it would be just great to have a look at these things, not to mention the fact that inevitably one would end up discovering music and albums that otherwise would be very difficult to come across with.
In the process, I kind of understood what’s really exciting about vinyl beyond the “it sounds better than digital” bollocks. True, it certainly has a distinctive sound but I think that’s partly because the music featured in all those classic records has unique sound of its own anyway; it was produced and recorded differently so anything that has been produced and recorded afterwards, when digital took over, will always feel like it’s missing that characteristic signature. Put simple: if you play me an Arctic Monkeys record on CD and then you take me to another room and play me the same record on vinyl, my uneducated ear probably won’t sense a major difference. Anyway, my point is that you don’t collect records only because of their particular sound, it’s also because of what they embody as a creative form of expression, that most of the times seems to go beyond music itself. This is about the artist that made the cover, about the people who printed it, about the crafting of the packaging and the shape and colour of the vinyl, about the company that made it available to an audience, about what it represented at a given time in history. It’s that complex.
That’s why I’m so excited about my new turntable, the one I’ve got from Fran last week while I was in Madrid. It’s a Vestax Handy Track portable turntable, similar to one I’ve been quite obssesed with since last summer when I saw this 40-year old guy in a park, pouring a glass of wine for his beautiful lady, and then playing an Otis Redding record on his portable turntable while they both enjoyed the unusual british sun on a saturday picnic afternoon. I remember walking past them and standing there for a moment, thinking: “this absolutely fantastic. This guy really gets it”. Seven months after, here I am, with my own portable turntable. I’m only missing the beautiful girl and the sun, but hey, it’s a beginning. Sooner or later they will both get here. In the meantime, I’ve decided to start collecting records, cheap ones to be more precise. That’s right, I have set myself the challenge to find nice vinyls for less than 5 pounds, and let me tell you, I’m doing pretty good so far. Last week I went to JB’s Records, a place I’ve been to with Ross a couple of times in the past, and got myself this beauty…
Five pounds, can you believe it? It was in the sale basket, outnumbered by a bunch of Status Quo albums, waiting for me to come to the rescue. It’s a fantastic record, better than most indie and pop albums out there, although I must say it goes by pretty quick. I need to get use to that. I played it yesterday for the fourth time since I bought it and there’s this one track I keep coming back to, over and over again: the classic “Got My Mojo Working” by the legendary Muddy Waters, which I actually been singing nonstop ever since. It’s just contagious. The rhythm, the melody, the cheerfulness of the piano… it makes you stop doing whatever you’re doing and start dancing. However, what I REALLY like about this tune is – as a brilliant mind rightly described it to me yesterday – Muddy’s motorboating. You know, that part in which he goes: “I got my bbblllrrrbbblllrrrbblrrrbrrrblrrrrr working”. I just can’t stop mimicking it, it’s loads of fun, particularly when cooking breakfast. Try it, you’ll love it.
I also got AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock” for 8 pounds and although it’s not my favourite AC/DC record, it still has good songs in it and was fairly cheap so I took advantage of the portable turntable euphoria and put in the bag, too. It felt good. I’ve been thinking about it and realized that, somehow, this was something I always wanted to do. Every time I bumped into a record shop, I would always step inside and wander around, browsing through records I knew I wouldn’t buy, just because I was interested in looking at the artworks and the materials they were made of, at the shapes and the colours of the vinyls, at the posters and stickers that came inside; I wanted to feel what it was like to be a collector even if it was for a few moment, I was intrigued by this whole culture even though I knew I wasn’t part of it. I never knew exactly how it felt like until I bought these two records, the first ones of my collection, one I’m starting at age 31 in a city that breathes music of all sorts. I will take the weekends to drift around London hunting for nice records but I will try to be realistic and adjust my new-found hobby to my possibilities, there’s no room for foolish obsessions here. The rules are simple: I will always buy records I’m familiar with or that I suspect I might like (buying stuff just for the sake of it will be totally unacceptable) and I must get it for a fiver.
Now, if you excuse me, I have some dancing to do…