I was determined. I wasn’t going to work in a bar anymore. Not here. This time I wanted to do something I could be passionate about. After all, that’s the reason I came to Manchester. So I printed some CVs, turned up the music and walked the cobbled streets – on the hunt for record shops.
Those were my first days in the city, and the lack of data on my phone had me resorting to an mp3 player I’d barely used. It was packed with danceable early reggae, finger snapping soul and some tenacious punk-rock vibes to get me in the mood. Faithful stuff I knew I’d need.
I’d already been in a few record shops in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Clampdown, Eastern Bloc, Vinyl Exchange and Piccadilly Records. Strictly business. No time to wander around. Hello. How are you? I’d like to leave a CV in case you need staff. Thanks. Bye. Don’t get me wrong, I loved checking out each shop and I – obviously – could see myself working in any of them and enjoying life. I also needed to get money if I wanted to spend some. Then I walked into Vinyl Revival, and Desmond Dekker was playing.
In Valencia, situated on the east coast of Spain (and where I call home) you can’t walk in anywhere and get your dose of 60s music that easy. To my surprise, you can in Manchester. I can’t remember the song, but I do recall taking off my headphones and hunting for the boxes of 7-inches that I finally found right on the counter. Excited, I was finally doing what I’d been avoiding. But I didn’t think much about it. It felt like a natural reaction. I couldn’t just leave a CV and go, could I? They’d caught me off guard and now I wanted to stay.
So, I left the store empty-handed. No records, no job.
I bought a turntable a few weeks later. It was akin to an inauguration; the unveiling of a plaque or a statue for the vinyl junkie. It’s official. That’s your house now. You are settling down.
To help me create this new home feeling, I tripped off to Vinyl Revival for my monthly record fix. In the beginning, I always jumped straight into the Northern Soul and Reggae sections, which are stacked side by side. Very handy.
In Vinyl Revival, there are plenty of posters for out-of-date gigs, and fine illustrations of 90s local bands, as well as t-shirts from Mancunian icons such as The Smiths, Stones Roses and Oasis. A colourful, eye-catching room.
“It’s a city known for its music worldwide,” says owner Colin White. “There’s a lot of people who come to Manchester because of the music scene and that’s why I opened the shop. To specialise in that scene”.
White first started working in music aged ten at a record stall in Oldham’s markets during the late 70s. “I’ve been doing this most of my life,” he jokes.
In the mid-90s, White found himself working as a windscreen fitter, something he quickly became fed up with.
“I wanted to do something I’d enjoy. So, while I was working there, I used to go around charity shops until I had enough boxes of records to open the store.”
That finally happened in 1997. “In the beginning, we used to have a lot of middle-aged men because the kids were mainly buying CDs, and then downloading music,” he recalls. “In the last few years, there’s a lot of young people who got their parents’ or grandparents’ collection, getting back into it.”
It’s the vinyl revival at Vinyl Revival (sorry). Last year, record sales produced more money than digital downloads. It’s clearly a comeback and the return of tangible music. For some of us, it’s not even about the quality of the sound. It’s the capacity to touch it, to care about it.
It’s all about the memories. Where did I find that record? What was going on at that time in my life? Why is the song is special for me? Ultimately, though, it’s about playing the records and creating new feelings. Like diving headfirst into a city by listening to its own music.
Mancunians have been strongly influenced by music created elsewhere, and White hasn’t ignored that in the 20 years he’s spent as a record store owner. There’s plenty of punk, ska, jazz and soul records, not only among the shelves of music in-store, but in the wider sound of Manchester.
“There’s always been a big underground scene around that music, which is great. And the aim of the shop, ultimately, is that one: to sell good music”.
Photos by Fco Javier Heras