The Week In Radio: The stylus gurus know how to spin a good yarn
Being a radio DJ is a cinch nowadays. Where once upon a time a DJ had to haul crates of records into work, now they can simply take in their iPod, set it to shuffle and then lie down for an executive nap.
At the risk of sounding like I was born before the Industrial Revolution, this would explain why music radio has lost its magic. Not only has new technology deprived us of the warm hiss of a stylus hitting vinyl, it has removed the DJ's requirement to thumb through their record collection and come up with a set list. This certainly accounts for why they're now called presenters rather than DJs, and why musical passion is often in short supply.
We needn't despair, though, as a fresh wind has been blowing across BBC 6 Music. Vinyl has crept back on the airwaves well over a decade after it was phased out, and its principal champion is the music journalist Pete Paphides, whose love of this endangered format crackles out of the radio as powerfully as his own vast record collection. Over the past six weeks, his series Vinyl Revival has found him and a series of guests including Laura Marling, Damon Albarn and Seasick Steve bringing in their own records, remembering when and why they bought them and exchanging obscure pop facts like the true music nerds that they are.
Of course, this veneration of a tatty old format may seem odd to those weaned on iPods. In their eyes, we might just as well devote a whole series to the Teasmade. But while the vinyl record is impractical, fragile, bulky and expensive, it is also beautiful, evocative and, like the music it contains, synonymous with the identity both of the person who made it and the person who bought it. It is, to the pop junkie, what diamonds were to Elizabeth Taylor.
It was doubtless Paphides and his show that inspired the burghers of BBC 6 Music to welcome in the new year with a day-long vinyl marathon. On Sunday, Cerys Matthews, Jarvis Cocker, Stuart Maconie, Don Letts and Guy Garvey got to take part in the aural equivalent of dress-down Friday, abandoning digital play lists in favour of their most cherished vinyl, presumably played on turntables retrieved from a BBC skip. This wasn't simply about trainspotter-types getting hot and sweaty over quadruple gatefold album covers. Not all the time anyway. The real pleasure was in the choice of records – many of which aren't available in any other format – and the stories that were attached to them. Matthews unearthed Woody Guthrie's "Greenback Dollar", which starts with Guthrie talking to the musicologist Alan Lomax about his time as a young man selling root beer over the counter and whisky under it, and picking up the boss's guitar and teaching himself to play. Richard Hawley discussed his copy of Eddie Cochran's "Somethin' Else", which he inherited from his father who inherited it from his grandmother who had written her address on the back in case it got lost.
Elsewhere, we heard about record collectors and their 30-year hunt for that elusive embossed and signed copy of The Beatles' White Album complete with individual photos of the band, and their willingness to mortgage their children in order to own it. I also learned that Third Man Records, the Nashville label owned by Jack White, has not only masterminded tri-colour vinyl and triple-decker records (that's a 7-inch embedded within a 12-inch) but they have also found a way of infusing LPs with the scent of peach. Music as air freshener? Beat that, MP3.
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