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Vinyl will never again reach the 1970s and 80s heyday. Having reached a nadir in 2007, when vinyl album sales slumped to 205,292, last year they topped 1m. The predictions for 2015 suggest double that. It’s now the craft beer of music formats. But just as craft beer is not the answer to the alarming closure rate of public houses, neither will vinyl save the music industry. It will survive thanks to the network of enthusiastic collectors, indie record labels and DJs – but no thanks to any input from the major labels.


The problem the indies face is that they are being crowded out of the marketplace by the enthusiastic entry of companies like Universal Music Group who are said to have reissued 1,500 different titles on vinyl this year – most of which could be picked up in a charity store for pennies. “It’s completely fucked us,” confesses Dan Hill from Above Board Distribution. “We used to be able to turn a record round in four weeks, now it’s two to three months, and represses are a complete nightmare and it’s all because of majors locking down pressing plants.”


With limited pressing plant capacity (there are only two significant plants left in the UK, with a few more scattered around Europe), most labels are suffering. The last thing we need are two cheese counters at Tesco. One supplied by Cathedral City, the other by Universal Music. Like its streaming service Blinkbox, it may only be a matter of time before the idea is quietly abandoned to be replaced by endless racks of pickled Minions and Now That’s What I Call Music 92. On DVD and CD, of course.


 November 2015   Near Berlin the vinyl record machines at the Optimal factory were grinding and pumping away. They made a percussive racket – regular clunks, wheezes, and hisses, underlain by a droning hum – and created a distinct aroma, sharp and metallic, suggestive of steam engines and old cars: not instantly recognisable to a British visitor like me, perhaps, but the singular smell of things being made. My guide to the Optimal plant was its operations director, Peter Runge. Together, we watched copies of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Live From KCRW tumble from one of the machines. Across a narrow aisle, a press dedicated to seven-inch records was spitting out copies of The Boy From New York City, a 1964 single by the Ad Libs, a soul group from Bayonne, New Jersey. A few yards away sat fresh stock of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Next to those was a growing pile of the album Clandestine by the Swedish death metal band Entombed, being pressed on purple vinyl. Beside each machine, bins were collecting surplus plastic shorn off the edges of each disc, to be fed back into the production process.

“Instant recycling!” said Runge, who stared at the factory’s operations through rimless glasses. He grew up, he told me, in Rostock, in the old German Democratic Republic. When he was 19, he applied for an ausreiseantrag – an East German exit visa, the same day as the East German premier Erich Honecker visited West Berlin. This modest act of subversion led to an appointment with the Stasi, and he was barred from going to university. So he got a job in the university’s workshop, helping to build electronic prototypes, where he gained a practical understanding of engineering. When the Berlin Wall fell, two years later, he belatedly became an undergraduate at the same institution, and eventually earned a PhD in industrial maintenance. He joined Optimal Media in 1997, was put in charge of “process optimisation and re-engineering” and given the job of setting up a production planning system. Now 46, he oversees the manufacture of DVDs, CDs and books, but the task in which he takes the most pleasure is supervising the production of vinyl records, in what he and his colleagues claim is Europe’s biggest pressing plant. Their clients are split between the major record companies – who have trusted Optimal with the work of such titans as the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie – and the independent companies who kept the vinyl format alive through the 1990s and early 2000s while the rest of a terrified music industry embraced digital technology. Optimal’s machines run 24 hours day, for most of the year, and production capacity has to be booked up to a year in advance. And every hiss and wheeze of the company’s machines attests to a story that, 20 or so years ago, would have seemed unthinkable: the renaissance of the vinyl record.
In the first half of 2014, officially registered sales of vinyl in the US stood at around 4m, confirming an increase of more than 40% compared to the same period in 2013. In the UK, this year’s accredited sales will come in at around 1.2m, more than 50% up on last year. That may represent a tiny fraction of the industry’s estimated sales of recorded music, but still, a means of listening to music essentially invented in the 19th century and long since presumed to be dead is growing at speed, and the presses at Optimal – along with similar facilities smattered across the UK, mainland Europe, the US and beyond – are set to grind and pump on, into the future.
“Isn’t it strange?” Runge mused. “I’m an automation engineer. I never thought I’d be dealing with vinyl. It’s unexpected. But it’s also unexpectable.” He shouted this over the din of the machinery. Each press sat in a space not much more than four metres square. Two circular paper labels were mechanically plucked from one end, while tiny vinyl pellets were sucked into a steam-driven heating process. The result was a hunk of plastic with the circumference of a beer mat, heated to 130C, to which the labels were attached, while 50 tonnes of hydraulic pressure squashed and spread it into a disc. Metal stampers pressed against either side, and it was quickly cooled to 40C. With another clunk, the finished product was dropped on to a spindle, ready to be inserted in its sleeve. The whole cycle had taken 27 seconds. Each day, the factory makes somewhere between 50,000 and 55,000 records.
In the first half of 2014, UK sales of vinyl are expected to be 1.2m, more than 50% up on the same period last year
Hanging over everything Runge showed me was an awkward question. While demand for records is increasing year by year, Optimal’s stock of machinery is old, and getting older. New presses are unaffordable, unless the big companies were to invest, but vinyl is still too small a sector of the market for them to be convinced. The kind of painstaking maintenance and technical ingenuity one might think of as the Cadillacs-in-Cuba model keep the industry going. But for how long?
* * *
When former music journalist Michael Haentjes started the independent German label Edel in 1986, he relied on other companies to press his records. “They usually didn’t get him the best delivery times,” Runge said. “They put him to the end of the queue. So by the 90s he said, ‘No – I’m sick of it. I’ll build my own plant.’” Thanks to economic policies aimed at assisting reunification, Haentjes, who was from Hamburg, decided to locate his new factory on an industrial estate in Röbel, an unremarkable East German town in the Mecklenburg Lake District (20 minutes’ drive away is Waren, a spa resort where Soviet nuclear missiles were located as recently as 1988).
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At that point, it looked as though vinyl would soon become obsolete. Records had first been superseded by cassettes, which were portable (they had become indispensable with the introduction of the personal stereo) but chronically unreliable. With the arrival of the compact disc in 1983 – introduced to consumers with the lure of cleaner sound and the entirely specious promise of indestructibility – old-style records looked to be finished. At a music industry conference held in Athens in 1981, executives had responded to a demonstration of the CD by chanting “The truth is in the groove!” But just over 10 years later, 70.5m CDs were bought in the UK, compared with a miserable 6.2m records.
In that context, Haentjes’s decision to begin pressing records looked ludicrously sentimental. The company bought and installed its first vinyl presses in 1995, to service demand from independent companies producing dance music. DJs still specialised in the art of playing and mixing 12-inch records. Moreover, if a dance single was to be a hit, its progress towards success would often start with its circulation as a limited-edition “white label” record, usually pressed up in the mere hundreds.
These records often sat at the cutting edge of musical fashion, but at the same time, Optimal’s vinyl production lines were redolent of a world that had recently disappeared from view. Then as now, many of its staff – from those who pressed and packed the records to its senior management – were former East German nationals, with vivid memories of life under communism. For them, the advent of the CD had coincided with the last phase of the cold war, so that those little silver discs became a byword for western aspiration, and the kind of technological progress the eastern bloc could not get near (in the GDR, Peter Runge told me, the authorities had approved the release of just three CDs, all of which were produced in the former Czechoslovakia).
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 Peter Runge, operations director of the Optimal vinyl pressing factory in Germany. Photograph: Christian Jungeblodt
Most of the pressing machines Optimal acquired had come from decommissioned factories, in the decade-long fire sale that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. “When you buy a press, it’s usually inoperative,” said Runge, as we passed giant piles of freshly printed sleeve art for Kraftwerk albums. “A lot of machines won’t work any more, because something is broken, the electronics are missing, or something like that. And then you have to find all the spare parts, or make spare parts – because the company who made the presses no longer exists. Then you have to strip the machine down, and redo all the hydraulics and the electronics.” Engineers from the old East Germany, he told me, tend to be very good at this. “They always know how to improvise.”
In the late 1990s, six machines were used for production, while the rest were kept in storage, for spares. But at this point, after years of steady decline, the international market for new vinyl was plummeting. By 2001, the dance music world was increasingly embracing CDs, laptops and MP3s – the latter could instantly be circulated around the world, bypassing the old ritual of white-label pressings altogether. Now, Runge began discussions with Optimal’s senior staff about whether they should leave records behind. “There were a lot of meetings,” he remembered. “We asked ourselves: how long will we make records? Should we continue to manufacture vinyl? But then we decided that it had to be part of our service.”
In 2007, Optimal was presented with the chance to buy 15 more Swedish presses from Audio Services Limited (ASL), a company based in a backstreet in east London that was facing liquidation. “We had to decide whether to get the machines and continue doing this on a larger scale, or leave the business small, like it was.” At the very least, they thought, some of the new machines could be used for the ASL business that would come as part of the deal, while others would be a much-needed source of spares. “So we decided, ‘Get the machines,’” said Runge. He cracked an understated smile. “And that was a good decision, I think.”
Runge made regular trips to the plant at Orsman Road, N1, where he inspected what was on offer – not just presses, but an archive of the metallic master copies of stampers used to make thousands of different records, by artists including Simon & Garfunkel and the Manic Street Preachers, all of which could conceivably be put back into production. And he immersed himself in negotiations with the factory’s owners.
“We bought everything,” he told me. “We emptied the building.” The presses were loaded on to two trucks, with the whole of ASL’s archive on hundreds of pallets, and ferried across the North Sea to Röbel.
The gamble was worth taking. During the 2000s, buyers had increasingly expressed a desire to hear music rendered as perfectly as possible. New vinyl-only labels had started to produce albums intended to capitalise on this interest, and on rock music’s inbuilt nostalgia. A new format had been created – 180g records as opposed to the standard weight of 120g – and to counter the digital streaming culture, these were records you’d want to own, presented in luxuriant box sets, complete with hardback books and exact-replica artwork. In 2008, vinyl had been given its own annual celebration: Record Store Day, on the third Saturday in April, when record companies would create thousands of limited-edition records coveted by collectors. Meanwhile, astute independent companies such as Rough Trade, Domino and Bella Union had begun accompanying their records with exclusive download cards, so that anyone buying them could also access digital versions of the music – and thus, if they wished, not just put their new music on phones and iPods, but keep their records pristine.
“The majors hopped on the wagon,” said Julia Völkel, 32, Optimal’s senior sales manager, another former East German, who joined the company in 2000. “And they were very interested in doing box sets. They found out that catalogue releases sold very well as gifts …”
“… And nowadays,” said Runge, “we’re 100% full. We’re running, always, on the brink of maximum capacity.”
In a meeting room near the factory, Runge projected a graph showing average monthly output between 1999 and 2014. When the line got to 2011, it suddenly shot upwards: in only three years, production more than doubled, and the risk Optimal had taken in 2007 paid off. By 2013, the company had 27 active presses, manufacturing records around the clock. This year (2015), with the addition of two machines that have been brought out of storage, the company says it will press 18m records.
* * *
In October 2010, on a Sunday evening, 14 people gathered in the wood-panelled upstairs room of the Hanbury Arms, on Linton Street in Islington, north London. Two of those present paid an entrance fee of £5; the rest were invited guests. They had come to listen to a vinyl copy of Abbey Road, the Beatles’ last album. The event was the first of a series called Classic Album Sundays, and the idea was simple enough: a small crowd would come together to spend a couple of hours eating, drinking and talking, before they took their seats, snapped into silence, and listened to both sides of an album played on hair-raisingly expensive equipment.
A similar concept had already been tried in Liverpool, under the title Living To Music, where, in August, a DJ and producer called Greg Wilson had gathered people to listen to a vinyl copy of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon. He invited other people to do the same thing at the same time – 9pm on a Sunday – and then share their experience online. The idea reflected a key factor in vinyl’s revival: Spotify and iTunes propagated a mode of listening whereby people could flick between tracks on a whim and, for the most part, shut out others with the aid of headphones; vinyl represented the option of really listening to a whole record – often in company.
The London event was organised by an American named Colleen Murphy, who listened to the whole of Abbey Road lying on the floor. It was reviewed by the music magazine the Word, in which Kate Mossman described 40 minutes when “eyes are focused in the middle distance, unseeing, as though every sense is shutting down in service of the ears”, and a picture captured the attendees lost in music, stroking their chins, covering their eyes, or horizontal. In early 2012, Classic Album Sundays was the subject of an item on the BBC Breakfast TV programme. Ever since, most of Murphy’s events have been sell-outs, and there are now offshoots in Glasgow, New York, Oslo and Portland, Maine.
Murphy has lived in Britain since 1999. She DJs as under the name Cosmo, produces and remixes music, and runs a vinyl‑only label called Bitches Brew. At New York University, she became the programme director of the renowned college radio station WNYU – and in the early 1990s, she began an enduring friendship with David Mancuso, who pioneered parties in Manhattan known as the Loft, where he played music through ambitious audio set-ups, only ever on vinyl.
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 Colleen Murphy keeps about 10,000 records at her home in east London. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
When Murphy first visited one of Mancuso’s events, she told me: “I couldn’t believe how some of the records that I knew sounded so different.” She decided to try the Loft idea in London.
Early in December, I visited Murphy at her home in Hackney, east London. One downstairs room was lined with somewhere in the region of 10,000 records, arranged alphabetically, by artist. In the lounge, a flatscreen TV was obscured by audio kit including two Klipsch speakers, encased in wooden stands, which sell at around £6,000 for a pair and have the same dimensions as a large fridge; and an Ace Spacedeck turntable manufactured by Nottingham Analogue Systems (£1,500).
After making tea, she jumped up to put on Jeff Buckley’s Last Goodbye, from his only completed album, Grace, released in 1994. The song – built around swirling guitar lines, and Buckley’s dizzying vocal – was transformed. The kick-drum, which drives the song along but too often sounds buried in the mix, was suddenly at the heart of what I was hearing. The Guardian’s photographer delightedly pointed out an element of the music he had never heard before, rattled out on the bell of a cymbal. Buckley’s singing was so vivid as to evoke his physical presence.
For those who grew up in the 90s, this experience is new. “Some of the Classic Album Sundays regulars are hearing an album they might not know anything about, and they’re sharing it with friends, on an amazing system,” Murphy said. “They never did this before. Most people in their 20s grew up ripping stuff from online, and listening with earbuds. They didn’t say, ‘Hey come over – I’ve got the new Beatles album, let’s listen to it.’
“Things sound different. They take on a life of their own; they come at you. Vinyl brings something else to it. It has a total warmth to it. Everyone talks about that, but it’s true. People often say, ‘I know that album but I’ve never heard it like that before.’ When you listen to CDs after you’ve been listening to vinyl for a long time, it sounds a bit … synthetic.”
The science behind this distinction is the subject of passionate discussion. In a newly published book Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age, by Dominik Bartmanski and Ian Woodward, Berlin-based mastering engineer Andreas Lubich traces vinyl’s supposed warmth to “the flaws of the analogue in comparison with the digital … It’s about distortion, and in the best case, harmonic distortion.” Another explanation centres on the fact that analogue technology captures a greater range of sound than most comparatively crude digital equipment, a point made down the years by Neil Young – who once damned the music industry’s approach to recorded sound as follows: “We don’t really need to see the sky in all its detail – just paint that in blue … No one will know.” If there is any certainty on this subject, it probably lies somewhere in the middle of these two theories.
“The other thing with vinyl is, you have to interact with it. You have to engage,” Murphy continued. “You’ve got to flip it. A CD, you can stick in, and walk away, and it turns itself off. But you have to be with a record, sitting in the room. You can’t, like, make dinner. It forces you to listen.”
One of Murphy’s Classic Albums runs took place in a 19th-century church on the Lulworth Estate in Dorset, where she had invited me to introduce Radiohead’s OK Computer. Scores of people sat in the pews and listened to Thom Yorke’s keening vocals, Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left and Neil Young’s Harvest, while candles flickered. The turntable had been set up next to the altar. “At one point, I did say, ‘We worship our music,’” Murphy recalled, with a laugh. “And anyway, the acoustics in old churches are great.”
She bounced up and pulled two vinyl copies of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds from her shelves, and played God Only Knows from each one. The first, on a “remastered” version from 1999, sounded underwhelming: compressed, light on bass, palpably small. But the second, on an early 70s pressing which had been packaged up with a largely awful album titled Carl And The Passions – So Tough, was expansive, packed with nuance. The most stunning element was the vocal performance of the late Carl Wilson: so fresh and intimate that it seized my attention as though we were having a conversation.
So not all new vinyl sounds perfect. Indeed, Murphy reckoned, as big labels stampeded to get involved, and inexperienced startups joined them, there was a danger of vinyl’s magic being debased. “Some of what’s coming out is great,” she said. “Because in some ways, the public demand for quality is increasing, and people are making an effort.” She mentioned the ongoing reissues of Led Zeppelin albums, which are manufactured at Optimal. “Jimmy Page was in charge, they’re mastering them from the original tapes – that’s really good. But then there’s other records, and other labels …”
She mentioned an operation based in California. By coincidence, I had just bought one of their supposedly remastered vinyl albums and been so repelled by the sound – thin, full of pops and crackles and excessive sibilance – that I had taken apart my turntable, in search of a fault that was actually in the grooves. “Fucking terrible,” Murphy agreed. “I have a feeling they might even master from MP3. They definitely aren’t mastering from the analogue tape; the sound is too thin. They go on that whole, ‘We do 180g vinyl!’ thing. But I’d rather have something good on lighter vinyl, than a 180g frisbee.”
That evening, Classic Album Sundays hosted a launch for a new Bruce Springsteen box set, spanning seven albums, from 1973’s Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ to 1984’s Born in the USA. It was held at the Blues Kitchen in Shoreditch: one of those faux-American restaurant-bars that attempts to evoke the Deep South, but ends up offering an atmosphere akin to a crowded film set. In a basement room, the event had pulled an audience of around 70, evenly split between the sexes, and spread across the age range.
To begin, Murphy talked about Springsteen with the Manchester singer-songwriter Badly Drawn Boy (aka Damon Gough), who chose a song from each album, and rhapsodised about his formative experience of listening to knock-down vinyl editions of Springsteen labelled as “Nice Price”, bought from a shop in his native Bolton. “Till I was 20,” he said, “I probably listened to nothing else. He made me feel like life was an endless Saturday night.”
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 Colleen Murphy and Badly Drawn Boy talk about Bruce Springsteen at a Classic Album Sundays event in Shoreditch, east London. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
During a break, I fell into conversation with three members of the congregation. Gareth Ragg, 29, from Norwich, recalled: “At school, all the cool kids had records. It was a badge of honour.”
“Vinyl is tangible,” said his friend Nicky Smiles, 29. “And it’s the medium the records we listen to were actually made in.” She had bought her first record at the age of 25: Gram Parsons’ first solo album GP, originally released in 1973, buffed up and given the 180g treatment in 2007.
“There’s a commitment there,” added 28-year-old Liam Hart. “You bought it,” he said, with an implied wonderment. “You own it.”
At 9 o’clock, Murphy cued up the first track from 1975’s Born To Run, which was to be played in its entirety. Many of the women reclined, and kept their eyes closed. Some of the men conducted with sweeping hand gestures; others sat stock-still, with straight backs and expressions of deep concentration, as if to underline the significance of what they were hearing. The record – manufactured, I later discovered, at a plant in Averton, in north-western France, and played on a Rega P9 turntable (£1,600 on eBay) with a Dynavector 17D3 cartridge (£650) – foregrounded parts of the music that in other formats might be submerged: not least, the glockenspiel parts played by Roy Bittan and the late Danny Federici, which heighten the songs’ sense of sweeping romance and damaged innocence.
At the end of each track, the audience broke into delighted applause.
* * *
The sound that can trigger such an awed reaction is founded on a production process essentially unchanged in 70 years. First, the original music – in the form of master tapes, or digital files – is cut into a lacquer of malleable plastic with a texture like that of nail varnish. This is the delicate stage of mastering, which Optimal carries out in a converted Catholic church in downtown Röbel. When Peter Runge showed me around, three cutting lathes were carving the grooves for the jazz pianist Keith Jarrett’s live album Sun Bear concerts, the American indie-rock band Warpaint’s first album The Fool, and a record by the San Francisco psychedelicists Quicksilver Messenger Service, which droned away in a corner. Each mastering machine was connected to an old East German Robotron microcomputer: the communist version of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. One had been attached to the first cutting lathe that Optimal had acquired. It worked perfectly well, said Runge, so the same set-up had been replicated on two more machines.
At this stage, what vinyl production requires can collide with the expectations of people used to the simplicities of digital sound. “You sometimes have to educate people,” said Völkel. “Like, ‘Don’t send us a CD master of the loudest techno music and expect that to be cuttable on a lacquer.’ (The high and low frequencies associated with this type of music can overheat the cutting lathe and cause the mastering machinery to shut down; pushing the process to its limits is the origin of some records being called “hot cuts”.) It can come down to things like that if you deal with product managers who are 23.”
After mastering, the acetate disc is sprayed with atomised silver and dipped in chemicals, creating a metallic cast of the original disc known as the father. Another metal disc, called the mother, is cast from this one. The mother is then used to create several mirror-image “sons”, or “stampers”, which are taken to the presses to imprint the grooves on heated vinyl. Every stage of the process, up to the point at which the records are tucked into their sleeves, is closely monitored. Optimal’s payroll includes a handful of people who listen closely to music all day, but this job is the reverse of what happens at Classic Album Sundays: the task of these listeners is to blank out the content, remain twitchily alert and check for any audible faults.
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 The Optimal vinyl pressing factory is the biggest in Europe, according to its staff. Photograph: Christian Jungeblodt
In the US, where there are only around a dozen pressing plants, the average waiting time between music arriving at a factory and finished records emerging used to be about four weeks. Now, it runs to three months – which, in a world where musicians are used to snap-releasing their material online, can create complications. At Optimal, record companies must block book production as much as a year in advance, often before they know the details of what they will be releasing.
If the demand for vinyl continues to increase, what will happen when the orders begin to outstrip capacity? And what of the inevitable prospect of old presses reaching the limits of reconditioning and simply dying of old age? As far as anyone knows, the last new machines were created in the early 1980s. Presses now change hands for around £20,000, double what they cost 10 years ago. But sooner or later, companies such as Optimal will surely have to start thinking about fresh machinery.
“We have heard about new machines, but we have not seen any,” said Runge. “There are rumours. People claim they have a new one. But then you hear from other people, ‘No – that’s not a new one. That’s an old one with a new control system.’ Which is exactly what we have here.
“A new press would cost between 10 and 20 times as much as an old one. And it has to pay off. If that took 30 years, no one would lend you the money. And that’s the reason nobody’s doing it right now. But if another 10 or 20 of our machines break down, and are unrepairable, then we’ll have no choice.”
Runge is always quietly hunting for new machines. “We regularly get inquiries about selling presses,” he said. “But we never say yes.” At one point, he half-joked about taking a working holiday in Cuba, where there might be old presses bought from the Soviet Union. Lately, he had looked even further afield. “We tried to get presses from Zimbabwe. I had a contact there, and we put in a bid. But I never got an answer.”
We got in his company Audi A4 and drove to Berlin. Just behind the gear stick was his smartphone: he had one or two MP3s on it that had been taken from CDs, but he never bought music from iTunes, or streamed stuff on Spotify. The way that one’s listening habits are monitored and then turned into recommendations jangled his East German nerves.
“I don’t want someone else monitoring what I’m listening to,” he said. “Some time soon they will categorise your taste – what music you like, what movies you see – and say, ‘You’re dangerous!’”
He was not a fan of Facebook, or Twitter. “The internet would have been the wet dream of the Stasi,” he said.
After an hour’s drive, we pulled into a darkening Berlin, and he dropped me at my hotel on Kastanienallee, the somewhat gentrified bohemian street that runs through the heart of Prenzlauer Berg. Across the road was one of the city’s scores of record shops: Musik Department. On its walls were the kitsch-looking sleeves of old compilation albums put together in tribute to the city: Das Ist Berlin, Berlin Bei Nacht.
I don't want someone else monitoring what I'm listening to ... The internet would have been the wet dream of the Stasi
Peter Runge
The shop was empty and about to close; the sole member of staff on duty was 41-year-old Falko Teichmann, a Berliner who splits his working life between being a DJ and putting in a couple of evenings a week behind the counter. He had heard of the plant at Röbel. “People have pointed it out to me from the highway,” he said. “Everyone who’s involved with vinyl knows that a lot of pressing plants closed down, so it’s almost like a monument.”
At the front of a nearby rack was a copy of Led Zeppelin II, part of the new reissue series manufactured at Optimal, that Colleen Murphy had enthused about. Teichmann, though, looked troubled. “This is an aspect of the whole vinyl renaissance or whatever you want to call it that’s a bit worrying,” he said. “It gets quite absurd. Twenty years ago, people gave their vinyl records away. Then they bought the CDs. Then they probably bought box sets because of the bonus tracks. Now, they’re buying the vinyl represses all over again. It’s just old wine in new bottles.”
For all his doubts, he loved vinyl and wouldn’t play music on any other format. “Something happens to me more and more frequently,” he said. “When I DJ, I go on after someone younger, and usually they’ve been using laptops. A lot of them just play MP3s. And I swear to God: on a couple of occasions, they’ve played their last track, I’ve cued up mine, and I play the first vinyl record, and it’s almost like the music starts to breathe again.” Recently he had heard two French kids playing digital files of 1950s rockabilly singles. “I was like, are you serious? It sounded horrible: the bass was hardly there. The treble was painful to the ear. It was awful.”
Enough young people bought records from the shop to reassure him that vinyl would endure, but he agreed that the industry would struggle to survive as its machinery grows old. Teichmann had lately heard a rumour from a friend of a friend. “They said someone had told them that some big companies were getting together to make new presses,” he told me. But he had heard nothing more.
We talked about the process of making records; I gushed blearily about the impressive workmanship I had seen that day at the plant.
“It’s all worth it,” Teichmann said simply. “It just sounds better, doesn’t it?”


The 45rpm single, the hard, black centrepiece of the teenage revolution, is over 60 years old. Few would argue that its rise and fall mirrors pop's golden age. Just the look of a 1957 single on the London label, with gold lettering, or the angles and DIY smudges of a 1979 Rough Trade release can raise the pulse, cause feelings of nostalgia, pride, envy. The 45 is easy to love. There are more of them in the shops than there were 10 years ago, yet it's tough to think of the 21st-century 45 as anything beyond a novelty, a sop to indie kid pop one-upmanship that is irrelevant to most music consumers.

Go back five decades and it was, no question, central to the teenage way of life. You would talk about records before school, between classes, during lunch. After school, the only places you could hear rock'n'roll were the coffee bars. The jukebox in the corner would contain the Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry 45s you craved, the records that you weren't allowed to play on your parents' pricy new radiogram - you were left with the wind-up, 78-playing gramophone if you were lucky. Another few years later and you may have owned a Dansette with a spindle for stacking your 45s, the only way to soundtrack your 16th birthday party.

Come the punk era, 45s were broadsides to the next generation from the suburbs, on a back-to-basics, prog-trashing, R'n'R format, and too fierce for airplay. In the 80s there were the Smiths singles, so perfectly packaged, so aesthetically desirable next to the straights' music of choice - Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms on a compact disc. When Culture Beat's Mr Vain did the dirty and got to No 1 without any 7in means of support in 1993, the golden era of the 45 came to an end. The next few years were a transition period in which the downright ugly CD single and "cassingle" bossed before the dawn of a new century and the internet finally consigned the 45 to cute relic status.

In 1949, RCA Victor had no thoughts of feeding vinyl-hungry kids, or of how Mr Vain would eventually spoil the party. All they were thinking was how to counter the Columbia label's new 33rpm vinyl, launched in mid-1948, with a different format and different machinery. RCA's 45-only record players plugged into the back of your radio, cheaply and cheerfully, but you needed a separate machine to play your albums, a state of affairs that lasted a few years before RCA and Columbia decided to share their technologies.

The first single, ever, was a country record by Eddy Arnold called Texarkana Baby. Arnold was managed by Colonel Tom Parker, who saw another of his charges, Elvis Presley, sign to RCA Victor in 1956. Texarkana Baby was pressed on a slightly odd green vinyl; RCA figured that, in the format wars, they needed a novelty, and so they pressed country music on green vinyl, children's music on yellow, classical on red, and "race" music - rhythm and blues - on "cerise", or what looked like orange to the average Joe. Straightahead pop was released on straightahead black.

RCA described the 45 in their press release as "the finest record ever made" and claimed "more than 150 single records or 18 symphonies fit in one foot of bookshelf space", which seems like an outright fib. In Britain, some way behind the US, the single wasn't introduced until November 1952, when EMI launched a bunch of desirable looking classical 45s on a dark red HMV label. The same month, New Musical Express launched the Hit Parade of best selling singles, all of which were on 78. EMI very quickly realised the three- or four-minute playing time was much better suited to pop than classics and in March 1953 HMV, Columbia, Parlophone and MGM issued, respectively, Eddie Fisher's I'm Yours, Ray Martin's Blue Tango, Humphrey Lyttelton's Out of the Gallion, and Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney's A Couple of Swells as their opening shots. By the end of the year, EMI had issued close to 300 titles and the raw materials for a revolution were coming together.

According to their promotional bumph, RCA had discovered "the school set loves 'em" as far back as back as November 1949 - "neat little records they can slip in their pockets, they go for the lowest priced at the new speed, they go for the little disc that fits on the shelf beside their paper-backed novels". The portable 45's disposability was mirrored by the thin paper sleeve and lack of glossy artwork that accompanied the album. The look and feel of the labels therefore became a secret teenage code, and certain labels belonged to certain acts. The Beatles had the black Parlophone label with its pound logo (to signify they were minted?); the Kinks were on the suitably fey pink Pye label; the Rolling Stones were kings of the dark blue Decca label, with its curious giant ear logo, housed in an orange and white candy-striped bag. The red "A" labels on EMI's mid-1960s promotional copies were pieces of true pop art, then and now highly prized by pop snobs.

Led by the rock musician's need to "stretch out", and by the rise of albums-only acts such as Led Zeppelin, the single was rather marginalised in the 70s. Its second coming was inspired by punk, not only because it brought bite-sized music back into fashion and spurned Mellotron-led rock symphonies, but because it revitalised the look of the 45. By 1976 just about everyone in pop had got lazy. Glam was a fading memory, the charts were clogged with novelties (the Wurzels, Demis Roussos) and slick country from the likes of Billie Jo Spears and JJ Barrie. In fact, even record buyers became sloppy - how else to explain a country single by a Dutch band, Pussycat's tedious Mississippi, spending a month at No 1? You could hardly blame record labels for packaging this nonsense with the most basic, ugly, moulded plastic labels and sticking them in plain white bags. Even Anarchy in the UK, issued in December 1976, came in a crappy paper sleeve.

If punk's new independent labels wanted to stand out, then, the solution was simple: Stiff released the Damned's New Rose, New Hormones issued the Buzzcocks' Spiral Scratch EP, and both came in picture sleeves. This was previously unheard of. Soon, Beggars Banquet was issuing the Lurkers' 45s on vinyl the colour of which hadn't been seen since Eddy Arnold's day. Countering the indies late in the day, major label Elektra put out the Cars' My Best Friend's Girl on car-shaped vinyl and earned a No 3 hit. The public went 45 crazy, buying more in 1978 than in any other year; by the year's end, even Boney M's Mary's Boy Child had advance sales of half a million and remains the 10th best-selling UK single ever.

Possibly record buyers were hypnotised by the spinning coloured vinyl singles that were introducing Top of the Pops. These, it recently transpired, were purloined by Swap Shop's Maggie Philbin when the opening credits changed, and have just been sold on eBay. I'd have doubled the price, whatever it was.

That's because for obsessive collectors like me, 45s remain the ultimate pop format and retain their allure in an era when pop formats are done with. Listening to Kid Cudi's Day and Night on Spotify just doesn't give me the thrill of taking the record from the sleeve, placing it on the deck and guiding the arm into what RCA Victor called the "microgroove". Scouring the internet for contemporary pop 45s by, say, Girls Aloud or the Sugababes, is a miserable experience; the fact that Push the Button and The Show were never even issued as 45s I find profoundly sad. I'd dearly love to file Push the Button alongside Sam Cooke's You Send Me, Shanice's I Love Your Smile and the Beach Boys' You're So Good to Me - 45s to suit the first buds of spring. Knowing I can't, and that Push the Button was only ever issued digitally, sets me on the edge of a panic attack.

If I were under 30, attuned to CDs, then Napster, then Spotify, I probably wouldn't give two hoots. And yet, I sit surrounded by Schweppes crates full of redundant 45s that are now just an instant click away. I still hunt down rare pressings of the earliest 45s, which were easily outsold by 78s, and ones from the turn of the 21st century, which were only pressed for aging vinyl jukeboxes. The result of this mania is a 45 wants list that includes Lita Roza's How Much Is That Doggie in the Window (which even the singer hated), for which I would gladly lay down a ton.

I don't think I'm alone in my sickness. Major labels could be missing a trick by not issuing everything that hits the Top 10 on a 45. They could be limited editions, maybe even car-shaped, Rolex-shaped, Pussycat Doll-shaped. Or maybe not. Thomas Edison continued making wax cylinders, for an ever shrinking market, until his death in 1931, because he refused to believe the format would die. So, for sanity's sake, I'll concede that 45s are a product of a bygone era, beautiful and desirable as they are. The heart of a cultural revolution, though, they will survive in the collective memory as more than just the snuff boxes of the mid-20th century.

We buy vinyl records mostly from the period 1958 to 1978
Rock, Pop, Soul, Folk, Reggae, Punk, etc etc 
No classical or easy listening required.

Please send your lists in plain text format if possible. and we will make you an offer, if we are interested.

Records must be clean and not scratched, no clicks, no jumps.
Only records with a few very light surface marks or better accepted. 

Labels considered

A&M, Atlantic, Apple, Blue Horizon, Bronze, Brunswick, Capitol, Carnaby, CBS, Charisma, Columbia, Dandelion, ark Horse, Decca, Deram, Elektra, Epic, Fontana, Harvest, HMV, Immediate, Island, Liberty, Marmelade, MCA, Mercury, MGM, Neon, Page One, Parlophone, Philips, Planet, Polydor, Pye, RCA, Regal Zonophone, Reprise, Ring O records, Rolling Stone, Spark, Straight, Track, Transatlantic, United Artists, Vertigo, Virgin, Warners Brothers, etc etc

Groups and Artists like these...........

Animals, Beach Boys, Beatles & solo, Bonzos, Bowie, Buffalo Springfield, Byrds, Captain Beefheart, Cream, Spencer Davis Group, Doors, Bob Dylan, Fairport Convention, Fleetwood Mac, Free, Rory Gallagher, Genesis, Grateful Dead, Hendrix, Hollies, Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Love, Manfred Mann, John Mayall,
Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, The Nice, Pink Floyd, Elvis Presley, Pretty Things, Cliff Richard, Rolling Stones & solo, Small Faces, T Rex, Bolan, Taste, Ten Years After, Them, Traffic, Velvet Underground, The Who,
Yardbirds, Yes, Neil Young, Frank Zappa/Mothers Of Invention etc etc.

PLUS - Soul, Reggae, Folk, Contemporary Rock etc etc

PLUS - Rock and pop Memorabilia always required

We will only buy items that are in at least excellent condition. 
If you are unsure about an item you have please email us first to find out if we are interested in purchasing it.

In some cases we will accept an item with minor defects if it is genuinely rare, although the price we will offer will reflect the
condition. Always ask first before sending items to us. 

We reserve the right to return any unwanted, unsolicited, damaged or counterfeit items sent in for purchase. 


All payments will be despatched to you within 24 hours from receipt of your items. In addition, we will pay your postage costs according to the value of stamps on the package. When sending items through the mail please ensure you keep proof of posting and use good packaging. 

If you can personally deliver items to us we can pay you on the spot. (Please arrange in advance to ensure one of our buyers is here.)

All payments are made by cheque in UK £ sterling. 



Parlophone Matrix, Mothers, Stampers and Tax Codes

Recording The Disc
For the first several decades of disc record manufacturing, sound was recorded directly on to the master disc (also called the matrix, sometimes just the master) at the recording studio. From about 1950 on (earlier for some large record companies, later for some small ones) it became usual to have the performance first recorded on audio tape, which could then be processed and/or edited, and then dubbed on to the master disc. A record cutter would engrave the grooves into the master disc. Early on these master discs were soft wax, later on a harder lacquer was used.
The mastering process was originally something of an art as the operator had to manually allow for the changes in sound which affected how wide the space for the groove needed to be on each rotation. In the run-off groove area it was normal to scratch or stamp identifying codes to distinguish each master.
Mass Producing Records
The soft master known as a "Lacquer" would then be electroplated with a metal, commonly a nickel alloy (this and all subsequent metal copies were known as "matrices" or singular "matrix"). When this metal was removed from the Lacquer, it was a copy of the Lacquer and of the yet to be produced record. In the UK, the copy from the lacquer was called the "Master". In the earliest days the Master was used as a mold to press records sold to the public, but as demand for mass production of records grew, another step was added to the process.
The metal Master was then electroplated to create "Mothers". From the "Mothers", "Stampers" would be formed. The Stampers would be used in hydraulic presses to mould the LP discs. The advantages of this system over the earlier more direct system included ability to make a large number of records quickly by using multiple stampers. Also, more records could be produced from each Master since molds would eventually wear out.
Since the Master was the unique source made to ultimately produce the Stampers, it was considered a Library Item. The "Pedigree" of any record can be traced through the Mother/Stamper identities used, by reading the lettering found on the record run-out area.
Parlophone Decoding
Laquers make Masters which in turn produce Mothers which then create Stampers. So for your Parlophone records, the Master is the matrix at the 6 o'clock position, the Mother is the number etched in the deadwax at the 9 o'clock location and the Stamper is identified by the letter(s) etched at the 3 o'clock postion. For the 3 o'clock position, Parlophone use the following coding: G R A M O P H L T D (Gramophone Ltd) where G=1, R=2, A=3, M=4, O=5, P=6, H=7, L=8, T=9 and D=0. Therefore, many times you will see more then one letter etched in the dead wax in the Stamper location (3 o'clock). For example, if "MM" is etched, it means the record was pressed with the 44th stamper. The ultimate early pressing of any Beatle Parlophone LP would be denoted with the codes 1/G 1/G (side 1 and side 2), where the "1" represents the first Mother (9 o'clock) and the "G" denotes the first Stamper (3 o'clock) or one of the first 300 off the press!

Cleaning Your Vinyl Records The most important aspect of owning and playing vinyl records is to keep the records clean. Vinyl attracts dust and dirt because of its tendency to build up static electrical charges. These particles will cause "pops" and "clicks" as the record plays.
Is it possible to take an old dusty record album and clean it so it plays to your satisfaction? Yes, as long as the vinyl record is in decent shape. You do not have to spend exorbitant amounts of money on expensive vinyl record cleaners and gadgets. That being said, there are some record cleaning products on the market today that do an outstanding job.
Let's start with the old fashioned way to clean your vinyl. Before and after playing anyvinyl  record, you should wipe it with a moist antistatic cloth. This will ensure the best possible playback, and also prepares the record for dust free storage.
Better than a cloth is a carbon fiber brush. The almost microscopic carbon fibers help disrupt static buildup and clean the grooves, removing dust and dirt. It's better to run the turntable and brush the vinyl record while it spins, rather than hold the record in your hands. This will result in a smoother, more consistent cleaning motion.
The turntable surface should also be kept clean of dust and static. Most new turntables come equipped with a rubber or antistatic felt surface.
Some people get so intensely careful about cleaning their vinyl records that they often forget about keeping the needle clean. Since the needle is constantly tracking in the groove of the records, it attracts large amounts of dirt and dust particles. When not properly maintained, the needle may not vibrate fully and may not rest in the bottom of the record groove, resulting in decreased sound quality and other audio problems.
Condensed air in a can is a great way to clean the needle, the turntable area, and the carbon fiber brush. Air cans are available at any electronics retailer.
Vacuum type record cleaning machines are generally very expensive and outside the price range of most vinyl record collectors.
A more affordable washer for record collectors is the Spin-Clean Record Washer. For about $80 you get a record washing system that works and is affordable. Reliable publications in the record-collecting world, such as Goldmine and Stereo Magazine, have recommended it.
It is ok to wash your records without a kit, if you have the time and patience. This is a delicate procedure and can be a bit time consuming but is well worth the time invested. You can use Ivory dish soap and distilled water. (You must use distilled water, since ordinary tap water has too many harmful chemicals and additives. We have also used the water from a de-humidifier; it is de-ionized, de-mineralized, and aptly suited for this purpose.)
Mix just a couple of drops of Ivory dish soap into a cereal bowl with lukewarm distilled water. Then, taking a cotton cloth, an old white T-shirt, or even a soft toothbrush, lightly wash the grooves in a circular motion in the opposite direction of the needle flow.
If you are doing a 45 rpm record, this doesn't take too long, but a record album can take awhile. The important thing to remember is to take your time. Do not soak the record, but get it wet enough to remove the dirt and sediment build-up. Be careful not to get any water on the label (it may run or peel). Next, dry it with another cotton cloth, or place the record in a dish rack to dry. (Never play a wet record!)
Many cleaning solutions can be used to "wet" wash a record. Never use the new cleaning solutions on 78's, because the alcohol in them can dissolve shellac recordings. Instead, clean 78's with a mild solution of regular soap and distilled water.