Like a lot of people, I first got into music through my family as a kid. My dad is a Beatles nut, so the fab four served as an idyllic start to my musical education. She loves you.. I am the Walrus… Get Back and so on, I was instantly hooked.
Side dishes came in the form of essential 60s pop/rock n’ roll, with The Kinks, The Carpenters, The Mamas & The Papas, The Hollies, The Monkees, Simon & Garfunkel and The Beach Boys to name but a few.
At sixteen I bought my first record, Carry on up the Charts by The Beautiful South. Purely on the back of the excellent One Last Love Song, which popped up on MTV about sixteen thousand times a day. I got more than a few jibes about this from college friends, but I didn’t give a shit that the band wasn’t cool, I just liked the music.
Then came Britpop which definitely was cool. Suddenly came a genre that was all mine, a group of bands that mixed exciting new sounds with the sensibilities of classic rock. Oasis, Blur, The Bluetones, Pulp, Supergrass and Suede. The Divine Comedy, Lightning Seeds, Elastica, Manic Street Preachers, Kula Shaker and Gomez. I could go on and on. They sang about stuff I was going through and mirrored my hopes and fears. They excited me, scared me and confused me; made me want to pore over lyrics, study album covers, read books, watch documentaries and become a collector. So I did.
Later came watershed discoveries that literally made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. A heady realisation that I’d only been scratching the surface. That music needn’t be put into boxes, anything was possible. Stunning tracks by The Beatles I’d missed the first time around. Breathtaking material by bands such as Mansun, Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Grandaddy, Led Zeppelin, Pixies and Pet Shop Boys.
Then came the incomparable electricity of seeing my heroes in action. Oasis at Knebworth, The Bluetones, The Webb Brothers & Doves at The Edinburgh Liquid Rooms. Mansun & Blur in Glasgow, Radiohead in London. Super Furry Animals at The Barfly in Cardiff, Franz Ferdinand & I Am Kloot in Amsterdam. Just some of the memories I’ll always hold dear.
Through the years my record collection continued to mushroom as I dove in and out of the genres. Enter The Temptations, Sly and The Family Stone, Public Enemy and Beastie Boys. Then Kraftwerk, Massive Attack, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Iggy (with and without The Stooges). Take a bow Ben Folds Five, Belle And Sebastien, The Rolling Stones and Roxy Music. Not to mention Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Pink Floyd, The Stone Roses, Fleetwood Mac, Jeff Buckley, R.E.M. and Westlife (just kidding).
My adventures in music collecting had by now become an addictive voyage of discovery, with movies, literature and people I’d met all contributing along the way. My good friend Derek turned me on to Ramones and The Smiths. My Flemish neighbours Vicky & Steven opened my eyes to the Belgian artists Deus and Admiral Freebee, while my Beijing colleague and China travel buddy Anthony introduced me to the delights of Ween.
I recall a friend of a friend leafing through my collection one winter’s evening. ‘‘Decent, very decent’’ he said with an admirable nod, ‘‘not many women though…’’ It took a few days for this to sink in… “Shit he’s right! And so my subsequent investigations led to fantastic albums by Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield. Carole King, Tracy Chapman, PJ Harvey, Aimee Mann, The Supremes, Grace Jones…
I’ve spent years trawling through the back catalogues of the great singer-songwriters, including David Bowie, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. Mr. Leonard Coen, Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams, Elliott Smith and Beck. The late Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, Nick Drake, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder (strictly 70s) Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson. Collecting in chronological order to get a feel for how each artist progressed and moved with the times. In it for the mid 80s-wobble and baffling career-low missteps as much as their celebrated triumphs.
When my writing career took off, I was lucky enough to pen album reviews, voice present music news and interview a number of artists. Among these experiences, came a cherished sit-down with a charming, albeit inebriated Johnny Bramwell from I Am Kloot. An intimate one-on-one with the wonderful Kate Nash also lives long in the memory, as does a highly amusing get together with Ricky Wilson and Simon Rix from Kaiser Chiefs.
As a committed record collector, living all over the world presented endless challenges. And yet for years and years I fought tooth and nail to keep my empire intact. I recall the whole lot being transferred to a friend’s attic for a year, then carted off to paid storage for god knows how long. Then I spent a silly amount of money shipping it all over from Amsterdam to the south of Spain. People thought I was crazy and they probably had a point. ‘‘How can you be bothered?’’ they’d say, ‘‘just rip the whole lot and sell it’’.
But for me my record collection was more than just a bunch of CDs, rather an actual irreplaceable part of my life. Nothing beat the feeling of scanning the shelves until the right album caught my eye, or the feel of a disc between my fingers as I sauntered over to the sound system. Leafing through the booklet to double-check a lyric; that low musty smell that brought back memories of lazy Sunday afternoons in Belgium, a legendary night out in Bratislava, or bumping across India in a dilapidated bus.
It’s been quite a few years since I bought a record and I admittedly missed the joy and anticipation of a new purchase. Filing it in just the right place, alphabetical order, chronologically within each artist. I know it was more than a little obsessive, but how could I possibly replace all that with a bunch of files on a computer? Something that could be wiped out with the click of a button.
After years of doggedly holding off, I began tentatively downloading in 2014; a response to life in Beijing where I was simply unable to feed my record-buying impulses. Edging into my late 30s, my consumption of new music finally started to slow down. An unavoidable effect, people told me, of getting older. The weight of work, responsibilities, money, time, divorce… life. I’ll never forget the moment in early 2017 when I realised I had to let go. I was planning my millionth relocation after a great year in Malaga and this time I just knew something had to give. It wasn’t easy boxing all those records up and sending them away. But it had to be done. I haven’t actually lost the music, it is backed up in various places. But I know I will really miss having those albums around, that dying art form trudging sadly towards extinction.
Leighton – April 2017.