Listening Booths, That Snug Beauty of the Past

download.jpgYou never know what you will take for granted. I have a terrible pet peeve about record shops. You have to have a playing table and headset that is not trashed available if you sell used vinyl. Why can’t people respect equipment? Bring back the days of a listening booth or serious listening tables. So much disappeared in the late 1980s when CDs became the preferred mode of recorded transport for your tunes, prior to iPods, and ancient ritual of the record store was phased out, the Listening Booth.  I say bring it back. People will flock you your store if they see you are serious about providing the space, even if it’s stuffed in the corner. Make it appealing. Make no mistake, people are going back to vinyl and music store experiences, downloading is convenient, but shops are tactile and Nana is taking the kids to the record shop.

This magical listening place was where you could take the records you wanted to purchase and listen to them before buying. Some stores had the playing version, and gave you the sealed version. Others let you listen to the one you were buying to make sure it was pressed correctly before you left the shop. It was a ritual, a small cell like in a confessional box and you could listen to them. But with the CD explosion at the end of the 1980s, and the medium being near perfect out of the case, and many people with portable players, less people were buying vinyl, and many of these banks of booths disappeared.

I have been lamenting the loss in these last few years of such a beautiful, claustrophobic cubicle, of sound. A place to set out all the records you want to buy. Since we have gone from just buying new vinyl to buying old and rare editions, it is essential to have a good place to listen for any damage, because you can’t bring it back.

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Most large record shops had at lease one or two rows of these booths at the back of the shop. They were very common in larger cities like New York, Los Angeles, London, and Paris. Nowadays, you have a small setup near the record counter with a player that is usually falling apart and filthy records and no cleaning  supplies. I recommend brining your own record cleaning tools when you go shopping. I find it very sad that most of the record shops have very poor equipment for you to listen with, but I supposed you can’t blame them. Back in the day, people knew how to respect vinyl and treat it well. These days people do not seem to respect equipment. They treat it like a toy.

What’s the answer? Set up your record shop with at the very least two working turntables, if not four. People will not want to wait in queue to check their records and may leave some records behind. I have seen this happen. If one breaks down, you have the others. Even a wee stool would make people happy. Bring back the listening experience in the store, you will get repeat customers if you do.

Now and places with good listening booths or tables to try before buy? There are a few around. Do you have one in your town? Let us know and we’ll add it to the list.

Phonic Records in London, England has a row of good turntables and headsets.

Public Possession, Munich Germany has rows of turntables to listen on

Rush Hour Amsterdam Clean well lit place for vinyl and CDs, quality listening turntables and headsets

Creekside Vinyl in Creekside Vinyl 1a Monks Granary Standard Quay FavershamKent ME13 7BS Record cleaning services, listening area with good tables and headphones. New and used, all records graded.

Rough Trade New York New store with booths. Newer vinyl and CDs, won’t find used here. But great space.

Rough Trade London East London location, good selection new, used, listening space.

Love Music, Glasgow 34 Dundas Street, Glasgow, United Kingdom G1 2AQ 

Worlds Best Record Shops rated

Best Record Stores on the West Coast

Best Record Stores in the UK

Crass: How Does It Feel?

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Crass 1982

My Featured 45 for today is Crass’s, How Does it Feel. Crass is by no means for everyone, but they sure could get their messages across. They always had great cover art and posters from their singles.

In 1982, I was a punky 17 year old on my first trip to the UK. I was vagabonding for a month on my own. I was desperate to see where all my favorite punk bands had been and what influenced them, even if it was just to stand in the same city, hop record shops, and try to get to a show. I had to experience Carnaby Street, Camden Market, Portobello Road, and of course I had to travel and hit up other towns in the UK. I learned that each city had it’s own music scene after talking to local kids, each with it’s own flavor. I liked Joy Division, so off to Manchester I went. I then had to visit with some pen pals. So after that it was Wales.

I’ll never forget visiting with my pen pal. Ah, that ancient teenage custom of meeting people from around the world, before there was Twitter and Snap Chat. You dug around in the back of music Fanzines from the UK, the ones you might find in the import section at the record shop. You found names of people who liked the same groups you did. Hand wrote a letter, said “Hello, I found your name and you like some of the same bands I do. It’s hard to find this music here, I listen to college radio to get it. I’ll tell you about California Punk and Rockabilly, or Goth.” And so weird transatlantic bonds were formed. I would of course learn that not everyone you wrote to was how they presented themselves. That’s another story for another time.

A Discotheque in York

I was in Wales, that ancient city with Roman bits still strewn about it. My pen friend and I went down to the local all ages discotheque, me in all my crazy bizarre finery from the markets in London. Yeah, half my clothes got lifted at a youth hostel. London lesson. At least they didn’t get all the 45s I had picked up you couldn’t get back home. We sat in the disco, she with her Shandy, me with a Pernod and Ribena. Two lads started trying to get our attention. This was new territory for me. Boys didn’t give me the time of day at school or in California in general. The Gingery thing. So I let my pen friend handle it, they were Welsh and I figured I wouldn’t get it. But one wasn’t speaking Welsh, and he was in a soldier uniform. I picked up the accent finally. A Liverpool man. I had just gone through on the one day trip there. But he was speaking in tongues I didn’t get, very intensely. Finally his mate, probably seeing the utter bewilderment, and reminding his friend there was an American, tell me in my ear, “Don’t mind him so much. He’s just been through the Falklands business. He’s still not with us yet.” It was the short, fierce little war between Argentina and the British.

I had been hearing of the Crisis through my travels. I had heard something before I left home, and wanted to find out more. But this was the days of no Internet, and American filtered news, even more filtered than now. It was Ronnie Reagan and Thatcher. All about control. The conflict took place the April before I arrived, and cemented Thatcher for upcoming elections. The whole conflict was a mystery to me, and many tried to explain it to me, many of them older and very British. But the punk rock contingency was having none of it, and protests of the violence were being sung about in the music that was released that summer and fall.

I tried to be patient and sadly the young soldier with drink got far worse, and my friend and I had to make our escape. After that night, I felt terrible that such a young man had to go through such violence, and live with the people who had died because of the actions on both sides. I was determined to find out more about the punk scene in other cities. I had been told to try Edinburgh, and hunt record shops there. Maybe even get into a club. So next day, after dealing with Welsh friend’s bizarre Mum, I boarded a train for Scotland.

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Inside poster art. Crass isn’t for everyone but they got the message across.

The Borders

After surviving the strange heat wave that had hit London a week before, I was warned to prepare for Scottish Summer. On the train I would find out what that was. I was scrabbling about lugging the case, my boots and short skirt, my punky self. Slipping and sliding on the wet floors. Trying to avoid all the leering men I kept encountering. Learning life’s mysteries of older men hunting young 17 year old girls. Definitely not something you tell Ma about when you get back. I  finally found a car with mostly women in it. Everyone was going about the weather. In those days, no WiFi to check the actual weather. But as we got closer to Scotland, you could see the bendy trees and debris flying about. Clouds dark as night. The train got thumped by gale force winds. Finally at the border, there was an announcement. All trains cancelled going in. We had to catch the train going back on the other side. Panic.

My Edinburgh Punk Rock history lesson was thwarted! Yes, it was really 4 years after the scene was really happening, but I still wanted to see the streets and venues these kids went through and fought in. I wanted to get in the record shops!

So after the insanity of trying to cram in on the return train on the other side, with no room for me, I found myself sitting on my case on the platform. A young station master strolls up and I asks when the next train will be. There is no next train, not for a few days maybe. Devastation. The Station Master says, ” I’ll call the Missus.” Apparently everything is solved with calling the Missus in the UK. The man came out and said his wife insisted that I stay with them. I was a bit worried as I didn’t know this person, but he was in uniform and looked very worried about my well being. So I was given my Tae and got on so well with their young child, that I was asked if I had baby sitting experience and sat for them while they went round the pub. The Missus wrote to my Ma to tell her I was alive. Sadly, I had to go back down to London and couldn’t get to Edinburgh after all of the trouble I had been through.

This year, a fabulous adventure of a exhibition featuring Scottish Punk and Post Punk music is going on at the National Museum in Edinburgh, Rip It UP! I cannot travel this year, but if you are, take it all in. Tell us how it is.

Got any great stories from 1976 to 1990 about your travels and experiences in the UK and Ireland music scenes? I would love to hear them. If you know any great Punk and Post Punk bloggers/blogs, give me a line. I would love to feature stories here. Got rare 45 and album poster art to share, send it to me, all credits will be made.

Rip It Up Exhibition at the Scottish National Museum

Achtung! The Turntable as Sibling

 

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This ELAC Benjamin Miracord turntable used to be my Dad’s. It’s ancient, it’s German. And the memories it brought back were really bizarre. Dad had the thing until the 90s. It was the record player I had to learn to play my Beatle I bought at age 8 on, and I had to be supervised. Well, actually, I had my old and busted turntable he rebuilt for me, came from Sears. You know the kind. The lessons on how to treat and handle turntables and records were taught on the important one. But I didn’t have the fabulous speakers he did. So I used to sneak out and play them occasionally when they were out.

My brother had a massive collection of 60s through late 70s rock. Yeah, there were three turntables in the house. He wanted to teach me about music history. But there were rules about that collection. He had some really rare stuff. There was the lecture about why you had doubles. One was the super clean, no scratches one for recording your mix tapes with. One was the everyday playing one you fought to keep dust off. Then there were the rare collectables. I wasn’t allowed to touch the collection. He would set up the record and let me listen. Then eventually he realized I would be too tempted and set up a section of ones I was allowed to handle and play, under supervision. This is also the time before brother left, when tensions were getting bad, that father son time of the late teens. We won’t go into the rest. I think brother thought he might get the BM some day. But Dad never let go of anything.

Cut to the mid 90s. I had hooked up with a boyfriend and started a long partnership that is still going on. We lived in San Francisco and hung out with the extreme misfit crowd of aging punk rockers and goth fiends, the whole piercing and Nomad culture of the American Left Coast was in full swing. It was time to do the traditional, yeah, meet the boyfriend ritual. The heavily tattooed, LA Punk and Flesh Hook Suspension aficionado, body piercing studio owner, Vaughn. You know how that went over. A few years later when Dad realized that this man was in my life and no it wasn’t a phase, he did a really bizarre thing. He offered the sacred Benjamin Miracord turntable to him. We were both kinda shocked. I think it was some way of him surrendering, realizing that I was with this person and he took care of me.

We have lived with the turntable ever since. Sadly last year it died, or so Vaughn said. Hell, it’s a 1965 model. A short time after that, Vaughn decided to start selling off his massive vinyl collection. It was as really weird thing. I tried to talk to him about it. You see, as most of you know, a collection you have had since age 10 or so, is like your child. I have lost two of my collections due to financial hardship and not having places to live where I could really keep one, and a cavalcade of roommates and friends where mysteriously records started disappearing. When I got together with my partner, I figured we liked a lot of the same music and he’d play vinyl if I asked him to. Then of course YouTube arrived and it was: watch music videos, then play the complete album. But suddenly, a mid-life decision happened, and the turntable wasn’t working. So, I assumed it was just the end of it’s vinyl collection life.

In the last few weeks I have walked by the place where the collection lived. I have had some really bad medical news, heart surgery is imminent. I’m really a healthy person, I fit in the jeans size I wore in High School. But it’s been a year of bizarre setbacks. I started really listening to music again, like I did when I was a young shy teen. I have been using my iPhone mainly for playback. But it’s not vinyl. The music was my friend, along with books like the Hobbit and other classic SciFi, and going to rock shows. And record albums were like great, playable furniture. So, as we do in this Mid-Life, we revisit the music. Digital makes it easier to find things these days, convenient. But it’s not tangible like a book. Many records open with lyrics and sometimes fun features Because, really a record album is a book of song, and messages that the musicians share with you. I wondered why the collection really went away. I kept having the conversation with Vaughn.

In the last two weeks, I decided it was time to get playing records again. I asked my partner why he had sold everything. It’s a conversation I should have had last year, but he seemed really raw about it and I just guess I waited. Then all the looming health issue things came up. My declaration recently was, “I want to live through this and have life.” Part of life is music. We talked a bit about it, and I found out he had not sold all of it off, a large chunk, but not all of it. We talked more about it. I decided I wanted a turntable back. And will start going through the box that has been stashed in the garage somewhere.

Helpful insight and encouragement came from Twitterverse. Scottish Post-Punk @ScotsPostPunk suggested a Technica. I started researching. Vaughn looked a bit too. Then he came back and said he thinks he fixed the old ELAC. I told him I still wanted a Technica because I can digitize from there if I want. We are beginning the resurrection. I need the distraction. Have to have that heart surgery. Need something to help get me through it. I have my eye on the Technica AT-LP120BK-USB.

Lesson learned: Never give up on the music, even if you are not a musician. Just because you don’t play doesn’t mean it’s not part of you, part of your light and being. It will always be there as a child. And appreciate when others share and reach out their joy with it. Happy vinyl hunting.