The Vinyl Revival: In Conversation With Sav Remzi, Phil Barton and Simone Butler
What makes vinyl so special? We turn to the music pros to find out. Today, we speak with some of the judges of Berwick Street Calling; Sav Remzi, Music Director of The House of St Barnabas and OnBlackheath Festival, Simone Butler, bassist of Primal Scream and Phil Barton, the man behind iconic record store Sister Ray.
Let’s go back to the start. Do you remember the first ever vinyl you purchased?
Simone: My dad worked for Warner Bros when I was young so he used to bring back a huge box of records filled with 7” promos every Friday. Sometimes my brother would get there first and we'd fight over who had what.
But with my first bit of money, it may have been The La's ‘There She Goes’ – if I remember right it was 75p. It was like a perfect song; so simple. I liked the cover too; I think it was all white with just the eye and lips of a woman on it.
Sav: Donna Summer 7” single ‘I Feel Love’ in 1977. I was just 12 years old but I remember being taken by that hypnotic electronic disco sound. Up until then I was listening to my brother’s Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin albums.
The first vinyl album I bought was Blondie’s ‘Parallel Lines’, which always reminds me of a school trip to Cornwall where our physics teacher played it from start to finish on a portable deck, every day, over and over again. Everyone was into that album so no one minded.
Phil: It was a 7" by Mike Batt called "Summertime City". I cringe a bit now but it was a straightforward pop hit of the day and the reason I liked it was because it sounded like my Wombles cassette.
Little did I know that it was the same guy!
One record that makes it on your turntable the most?
Phil: A 7" of the Toys "A Lovers Concerto" always makes me smile.
Sav: The tune I’m playing most at the moment is Labi Siffre’s ‘Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying’.
Simone: It’s a constant turn around of old and new for me. I'm really into the new Iggy Pop album, ‘Post Pop Depression’.
Last vinyl you bought?
Sav: The Vinyl Factory’s special artwork issue of Massive Attack 12”s.
Simone: Actually, it was some older vinyl. I do still like rooting though record shops, especially when on tour. I like to find old stuff I don't have, or stuff that will never be on iTunes or whatever I use. I bought Iggy Pop’s 'Instinct'; it was actually a promo, but obviously found its way into the shop.
Phil: A Bobbie Gentry album called "Touch 'Em With Love". It’s got a version of Jimmy Webb's "Where’s the playground Susie" on it retitled "Where’s the playground Johnny".
Is there any one vinyl you’ve had your eye on that you are yet to get your hands on?
Phil: Could do with another copy of "Field Of Glass" by the Triffids, mines nearly worn out. Also, I’d like another copy of Generation Terrorists by the Manics. Regular, not Pic Disc.
Simone: I spied that red vinyl of Suicide's 'Suicide' on Record Store Day but missed out. I remember the first time I heard that band, I’d actually bought the 12" of 'Dream Baby Dream' not knowing what they sounded like. I just saw the cover with the name written in blood and thought, Jesus, that’s got to be amazing or absolutely terrible, so I bought it. Got it home, put it on and my jaw just dropped. There's just something about a record that makes you want to take it home immediately and play it.
Sav: I like my vinyl, but I’m not a train spotter so I don’t crave for rarity value. I don’t mind a re-issue or a good digital file.
Has your relationship with vinyl changed over the years?
Sav: It has! I guess I went from collecting, to releasing vinyl. I grew up collecting records, then later in ‘89 I opened my own Jazz Club called Red Eye, where Gilles Peterson and Andrew Weatherall tuned me into a whole world of new sounds…I ended up spending a day a week in Soho hunting down the tunes they played in my club.
Then in ’92, I started my own record company Nuphonic, which allowed me to release beautifully packaged Tom Hingston designed, heavyweight vinyl, which was mastered and pressed to the highest standards. A few years later, whilst running the Blue Note Club in Shoreditch from ‘93 to ‘97 I was privileged enough to be given a lot of vinyl pre-releases from the likes of Goldie, Ninja Tune, Talkin Loud and Mo-Wax as they all had residencies at the club.
Since then, I'm back to releasing and buying vinyl just for the pleasure.
Phil: I don't collect it anymore, I just buy it.
Simone: Well, as with anyone living in London, space is an issue a lot of the time. Having moved quite a few times, I definitely don't buy as much as I used to, which is sad. It requires more care and respect than CD’s. The rise of digital music has meant that our music collections have become this invisible entity.
Before I really got serious about playing bass, I DJ’d every week and it was my life; I only used vinyl. I would spend all day in my favourite music shop - it became a social thing, I met the producers, the pluggers, it was a point of contact. You can't do that by sitting at home downloading MP3’s. I would play 4, sometimes 6-hour sets and taking that much vinyl was hard work. I've seen it go from that to memory sticks. A lot of that is pure practicality for DJs, but I feel the skill set has become more visual based for that reason, reading frequencies and cue points rather than sonic reference point in the track. DJ’s who were genius using vinyl are still absolutely jaw droopingly good whatever method they use.
I generally buy more vinyl now, I simply can't buy as much as I would like, but I think its really important not to let it die out. I'm really pleased to be seeing a vinyl resurgence; not just for the huge major labels who can cash in on the back catalogues, but all the new bands coming up from the underground.
With that in mind, where do you see the future of vinyl going?
Phil: It’s going well, lets leave it at that. Fingers crossed.
Sav: It’s a fantastic thing to see young people getting into vinyl, which, strangely for my generation, is considered a ’new format’ to them. I’m glad to see that their music collections won’t disappear forever along with crashed hard drives.
Having witnessed resurgence, it looks like vinyl’s here to stay. It’s the most tactile format, it has substance and longevity, and it sounds better than anything else!
Simone: Who can predict anything these days?! I do see it remaining, and staying a big part of our homes and our music collections. Despite the huge rise of digital downloads, and the closing down of many records shops and musical instrument shops too for that matter, not just in the UK but America and Europe, people still want to remain close to that physicality of music. There is a sense of a certain authenticity with vinyl. It’s analogue, it’s real, and it’s solid so you can touch it.
It’s easy to romanticise about the ritual of putting a record on, starting the turntable and watching the needle in the grooves, letting the sound bleed into the air. Especially with older records, where they are maybe scratched or have imperfections. It's like us as humans, we can relate to it. In a world which is becoming more and more digital, we still have our vinyl. I grew up with it. It would be interesting to ask a 15 year old for their opinion. We all feel nostalgia for what we had when we were kids. I remember looking though my parent’s vinyl collection when I was young; it was a kind of rites of passage. Like they were passing something down to you, and somehow they were gong to impart some kind of wisdom and story for every musty smelling record they let you play.
Are there any particular stores you tend to pick up vinyl from?
Sav: Soho is the home of independent music and vinyl - all the record shops should be supported.
Simone: I like Sister Ray, the staff are great in there. Years ago I worked in Tower Records in Camden, (God knows what it is now) and I literally used to get people coming in saying, “Do you know this song, I heard it the other day in the car, it goes..laalaaa do do laaa”. Seriously, it was actually like that film ‘Empire Records’. So, I really love it when staff are cool in record shops, and not snobby or rude. I like to flick through Reckless Records too when I go past. Buying music is for everyone; it’s for music lovers and has definitely saved my life a few times. That’s why I always wander into record shops; you never know what you might find.
The public vote for Berwick Street Calling is now open. Listen to the ten finalists and cast your vote now.