Vinyl destination

Can the record fair survive in the age of downloads? A new generation of buyers and sellers is dealing in ultra-rare collectables

It is a Saturday afternoon in west London, and five pounds has purchased entry into the Olympia record fair. The untrained eye sees perhaps as many as 200 stalls, each groaning under the weight of an awful lot of old vinyl and CDs, and in front of which gather men (and they are mostly men) in winter coats on the prowl for a stone-cold, ultra-rare collectable. When they fail in locating one – and they mostly do, stone-cold, ultra-rare collectables being hard to come by – they invariably settle for an obscure bargain in the hope that one day it too shall attain collectable status.

The atmosphere here is palpably different to the kind you'd find in HMV. Where HMV's vacuumed aisles thrum with relaxed browsers, this dusty hall is alive with antennas twitching, a blokey community, certainly, but a competitive one, too, each hoping to outfox the other, with every stallholder not just grateful, but desperate, for the custom.

Their touching patronage aside, the record fair is nevertheless a shadow of its former self this far into the 21st century. One stallholder tells me of the golden age of the 1980s, "when queues snaked around the block to get in". Today, there is no queue, and that's because we live in curiously emancipated times: why pay for music when we can either stream it or download it onto our computers for free?

"This isn't the death of record fairs," insists another trader, Mark Foster, "it's just that it's changed somewhat. We deal with a different customer base now, and collecting has become more marginalised, more specialist. But there will always be people out there wanting to collect music, and always collectors wanting to sell."

Foster has been a weekend trader at such events for over 20 years now. In the 1990s, the bulk of his trade was promo CDs purchased from perpetually cash-strapped music journalists, which the trader would then sell on at the kind of discounted prices the likes of Virgin and Our Price never could compete with.

"But everything is massively discounted now, especially online, and so we've had to adapt accordingly," Foster sighs. "I sell more vinyl now than I do CDs." It is with a smile of relief that he adds, "Vinyl's cool again."

Record fairs are the new antique fairs. That's what every stallholder here at Olympia, and those up and down the country, will tell you. They may deal to an increasingly marginalised clientele, and they may not benefit from a Sunday teatime-slot show on the BBC, but they are populated by increasingly anachronistic diehards who still want to own music in a physical format. Record Collector is their monthly magazine of choice, and its Rare Record Price Guide editor Ian Shirley, a man who spends his life writing about and visiting them (he has just returned from one in Utrecht), suggests it would be wrong to sound their death knell just yet.

"They continue to thrive because they exist primarily for the specialist," he says, "those who want old reggae, old ska, obscure Sixties psychedelia. And, of course, there will always be collectable bands, like Hawkwind, Led Zeppelin, U2, Nirvana and White Stripes."

And even as the nation returns into the grip of recession, a collector will continue to fork out as much money as necessary to feed their habit. They have surprisingly deep pockets. While there will always be Fab Four fanatics happy to part with several thousand pounds for a particular deleted edition of "Please Please Me", collectors perpetually crave all manner of mint-condition rarities. For example, a 1978 four-track Joy Division EP called An Ideal for Living can go for £1,000, while an original 1977 edition of Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen", complete with promotional cardboard box, last month fetched £11,100 – not at a fair, but online.

The internet has in many ways changed the face of fairs. Where once traders would proudly display their most prized items out front, they are now more likely to sell to the highest bidder on eBay instead. They nevertheless remain a fertile ground for bargains, and Ian Shirley insists that their appeal is actually broadening.

"OK, so the average customer is still male and in his forties, but a whole new generation is coming through the doors. Take the indie band The Horrors. They are rabid collectors and go to fairs all the time hunting out old psychedelic rock on vinyl." They clearly found it, too: their most recent album, Skying, was directly influenced by music they found at them.

David Hepworth, editorial director at The Word magazine, more accumulator of records than collector, says that he finds himself sharing his own recently revived passion for vinyl with people 40 years his junior.

"The kids of several friends of mine have been getting into old vinyl specifically because they aren't making it anymore. But then," he argues, "vinyl always did have a fetishistic appeal that CDs never quite managed. If a band like Blur put out a record on seven inch now [as they did last year, entitled 'Fool's Day', limited to 1,000 copies], it's 20 quid automatically."

And its price will spiral immediately thereafter, a fact that greatly pleases Mark Foster.

"As traders, we spend most of our time at car boot sales and second-hand shops, or buying private collections, always on the lookout for that next rarity." A recent acquisition is Dirk Bogarde's 1960 album, For Lyric Lovers, accompanied by the Eric Rogers Orchestra. "Could get as much as 15 quid for that," he says, acknowledging that he doesn't always make quite as much profit as he'd like. "But it's the passion that drives us."

And so the antiquated record fair, down but not quite out, will likely cling on for dear life a little longer yet.

"First and foremost, they are social events, a chance to meet fellow collectors and obsessives," says Ian Shirley. "You don't get that online, not properly, and so I don't think fairs will ever fully die out. I certainly hope they won't. Too many things die out these days."

For more information on record fairs nationwide, visit vip-24.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as Doctor Who and Clara behind the scenes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cheery but half-baked canine caper: 'Pudsey the dog: The movie'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor