“If only I had known, aged nine, the significance of what I was about to do. Perhaps I would have thought more carefully as I sifted through the racks at Jumbo Records in Leeds. I like to think that I would have picked some seminal album steeped in history and shrink-wrapped in cool. The reality however was that the local roller-disco playlist had infiltrated my ears and I had only one thing in mind. Standing on tip-toes, peering over the impossibly high counter top I nervously uttered the words… ‘Do you have The Final Countdown LP by Europe please?’”
“It’s one of those defining moments in your life. One of the first things you talk about to new friends. For years I wished I had made a better choice and I probably inserted another album into its place in my memory. When I think back though, the sheer joy I had at taking home my first album and listening to Joey Tempest sing about ninjas on a track and rocking the night makes me realise that it deserves its place in my musical beginnings.
My only means of listening to music as a child was a huge coffee table, come record player which even had a built in feature to drop another record down after the first one finished. It was with this behemoth that I subjected my classical musician parents to various heavy metal albums for several years. From AC/DC to Iron Maiden, I was the quintessential geeky metal kid. I even had the stonewash denim jacket with the band patches sewn on by my mum. This was my public persona, the one I would allow kids at school to see, but beneath this, in secret, was growing a interest in older classics and “soft” music.
The local library in our village had a small but surprisingly eclectic mix of used vinyl you could take out for a week and it was here that I fed my clandestine interest in artists like Simon and Garfunkel and Fleetwood Mac. These records slowly started to change my ideas about music. It wasn’t just about loud guitars and shouting. With the lack of a guitar and being made to learn violin and piano as I grew up, it was far easier to identify with bands like this an imagine myself making my own music.
I suppose everyone had someone who introduced them to new music or encouraged them to broaden their horizons and for me this was my best friend’s older brother who had already made the leap form heavy metal to alternative and indie music. Although my gradually growing vinyl collection had pride of place in my life, the cassette mix tapes he would give me had as important a part to play in musical education. Featuring bands like Nivana, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, and the Cure, I would wear them out on my new Walkman as I cycled my paper route on my Raleigh racer.
These are the bands that would inspire me to pick up a guitar. The idea that you didn’t have to learn scales and that you could make your own style and sound was a revelation. These guitar anti-heroes were to become my idols and use up all of my pocket money as I saved up for the limited coloured vinyl pressing of their latest albums.
Thinking about writing this I realised how many tapes, and later CDs, have come and gone from my various flats over the years and despite their importance in my life at the time its always the vinyl that is the most accurate road map of my listening life. There is something special about the way it feels and looks that makes it impossible to part with. I’m as guilty as the next person of putting my iWhatever on shuffle and letting the songs blend into the background, but thankfully that is something you can’t do with vinyl. It almost commands your attention and makes you immerse yourself and listen to a whole album as a piece of work and not just a collection of random downloads.
All these megabytes of music we own now seem so replaceable, maybe because we haven’t had to wait for them or put any effort in. I think the patience we had to have as we waited for an album to come in to our local store and the investment in buying an LP and meticulously keeping it safe and free from scratches made us appreciate our music more.
I must confess that the first album we put out as The Birthday Suit was done on such tight budget that we didn’t release on vinyl which is something I regret. This time round we hope to have a limited pressing of the new album made up. Maybe it’s just an old fashioned point of view, but it almost doesn’t feel like a real album until you can hold the vinyl in your hand.”
The Birthday Suit, solo project of Idlewild guitarist and songwriter Rod Jones, release their second album, A Conversation Well Rehearsed on 3rd December 2012. It’s the follow-up to their critically acclaimed debut The Eleventh Hour, which was released at the tail end of 2011.