THE Webster family are keenly admiring three large squares of cardboard. Inside each is a flattened lump of plastic. They are clearly excited.
“Holding these feels like holding a piece of history,” says Ria Webster. “It’s a piece of something that’s worth something.”
Ria, her brother Michael Palmer and dad Steve are scouring the Vinyl Record and CD Fair at The Showroom in Paternoster Row in Sheffield city centre. Saturday’s event saw around 300 customers leaf through dozens of carefully arranged racks of jazz, funk, folk, metal, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and (feeling your age yet?) 90s antique or collectable long playing vinyl recordings.
Ria and Michael are both 16 and are very pleased to have located recordings by Talking Heads, Focus and Pink Floyd.
“We both got new vinyl players for Christmas and we’re going round looking for records to play on them,” says Ria. “Vinyl is definitely coming back in and more people our age are discovering it.”
They insist that vinyl can actually sound better than CDs. “It may not have the sound quality but a vinyl record has got a warmth to it,” says Ria. “Any little crackle on a record adds to the authenticity of it and makes it a bit more magic.”
Both listen to internet music via Spotify and the like but recognise the limitations of limitless choice: “You can get overloaded and stare at the search box for ages thinking ‘What am I going to type in now’?” says Ria.
“If you come somewhere like this it’s like a challenge to try and find something yourself,” adds Michael. “And if you find an individual record you want, it’s really exciting.”
Ria, for example has located ‘Stuff It’ by jazz-funk combo Stuff. “I didn’t expect to find that. No-one else I’ve spoken to knew about Stuff really, so seeing the vinyl it’s like: ‘Oh, it does really exist’?”
Dad Steve is smiling in a nostalgic way at all this.
“When CDs came in everyone thought crumbs, they sound quite exciting, the clarity of them, but you kind of get over that, I think. There’s something special about vinyl. You can’t beat a crackle on an old record.”
Dealer Adrian Melling agrees that vinyl is alive and well. “When CDs first came out people were getting rid of their record collection and buying CDs but 12 months later they were mixing and matching and it’s gone on since then.”
Jonathan Harrold, a Sheffield student who’s also just been given a vinyl player by his nostalgic dad, reckons vinyl and digital both have their uses.
“I think funk, dubstep and garage are better on vinyl but electronic stuff is sometimes better on CD,” he advises.
For the older generation, recovering the relics of their youth now they have a bit of money in their pockets is part of the attraction. The artwork and feel of a 12 inch plastic disc in a cardboard sleeve means so much more than a digital download or a bargain Buzzcocks CD case, with words too small to read for 50-year-old former punks.
And although product can be bought or heard via one’s computer, the surprises while browsing the 12 inch stacks at a record fair are a key part of the attraction. “There’s no substitute for the serendipity of flicking through here, where you never know what you’ll find,” says Simon Muter among the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane section.
“I’ve been digging for 20 years or more, since I was a kid really,” says Scott Davies. “I grew up with vinyl, CDs never did anything for me. It’s about finding that unknown – you could find anything here, or nothing.”
The stallholders say young people are taking an interest in their wares because they like the artwork or the sound quality or even the crackles of vinyl.
There’s also the current demographic where modern teenagers are entirely comfortable plundering the back catalogue of their parents, whose own Talking Heads or Stuff albums may have been warped or sold off long ago.
Advertisers have noted all this with their reworking of the ‘Fly Fishing’ by JR Hartley second-hand bookshop search via phone book to the Day V Lately ‘Pulse and Thunder’ 12 inch trance single search via iPhone app.
“You used to have the old boy looking for his book and now we’ve got the guy trawling the vinyl shops looking for his record,” says Adrian Melling.
“My opinion is that people are getting fed up of digital everything and they’re thinking it’s really nice to get hold of something physical.
“Maybe there’s something clicked within our psyche. Maybe we’re saying the world’s going a bit too fast and this is one way of taking it back and slowing down a bit. With a record you’ve got to get up and turn it over.”