I was taught chemistry in the late 70s and early 80s and so defer to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) when it comes to chemical nomenclature. If you are going to chlorinate ethene (please don’t, it makes for a very unpleasant compound which is highly inimical to life) and then polymerise the results you will produce polychloroethene. Sadly, I would seem to be in the minority and people insist on calling it PVC, or vinyl for short, for which we must blame a wine-obsessed German who first coined the term in a footnote, of all places. I dream that one day I too will coin a neologism in a footnote that will still be in regular use 167 years later!
Vinyl, in the form of a rigid circular disk bearing music carved into a spiral groove, is making a major comeback. It no longer seems to be limited to those who regard the Victorian butcher or lumberjack as their paragon of style, but has broken into the zeitgeist. I continue to resist its lure on two main grounds: (i) I can remember vinyl records the first time round and just how annoying and impractical they were and (ii) they require hugely more physical storage space than either CD or MP3 and, despite physicists suggesting that it is being created at an accelerating rate, I am rather short of space. In researching this post, I can now point to the very unpleasant nature of its constituent monomers as a third reason to avoid it.
Despite this resistance, I do find myself in vinyl record shops on a rather regular basis having visited examples in Romsey (Hundred Records), Winchester (Elephant Independent Record Shop) and (last night) Southampton (Vinilo Records). Each of these visits has been prompted not by the presence of vinyl but because the shops were playing host to live acoustic music sets. These have always been absolutely glorious sessions despite the spaces always being small and rather cramped.
Though I have only a very limited interest in vinyl, I find that I am rather fond of vinyl record shops (or at least the local examplars). This fondness must derive from an element of nostalgia, though I was never an habitué of record shops in my youth. I think a larger element can be explained by the appeal of the visual aesthetic of these stores. In these days when it so easy to buy stuff on-line (well, right up until the delivery) there is probably a need for shops to provide something that the internet cannot. Book and record shops both provide the opportunity to stumble on something as a result of an unexpected juxtaposition, which on-line stores seem incapable of replicating. Perhaps they also offer a secular meeting space where slow browsing and a form of contemplation is encouraged. For me, there is also something very comforting about a bookshop: probably something about being surrounded by words, many of them in a form which I have yet to read. There is probably some of that feeling in a record shop, but I think there is also something about the artwork of vinyl LPs. The LP has a scale – and so a certain majesty – that a CD lacks and when a few are displayed on the wall they give a record shop something of the feel of a rather intimate art gallery. They also tend to offer more interesting background music – even when not hosting a session – than many stores. As a result, I tend to feel guilty that I cannot support these shops – though if they do offer CDs, I can (and try to) make a direct financial contribution via that route.
Last night was my first trip to Vinilo Records, central Southampton’s take on the vinyl record shop. I went to see a mixed bill of music and poetry, but may well return for the vegan hot chocolate – made with almond milk and tasting rather different to dairy hot chocolate, but still delicious – and excellent ginger cake which the store offers. They also offer coffee and tea and a modest range of other sweet treats. It was while drinking their green tea that a thought about that particular beverage finally crystallised in my mind. On its own, green tea always has a slight hint of sardine about it: there, I’ve said it. Normally, I drink it as ‘green tea with lemon’ which removes the fishy element, but as a pure green tea that piscine under-note is always there. Is it just me that feels this way, or can others detect a hint of the ocean in green tea? Should I be seeking medical help?
Anyway, I seem to have digressed, how unlike me! Vinilo is sited in an unprepossessing building in the city centre and you can easily walk past and miss it (as I have). The interior decor is simple and slightly distressed, but does contain a very fine cactus (see below). For the gig, most of the windows were shuttered which created a wonderfully intimate setting. The evening alternated between poetry and music, with decent gaps in between for conversation and refreshments. It was a near perfectly constructed evening and we were done by 9pm – so no need for a late night! Sometimes in US TV or film dramas set in New York, characters will go to Brooklyn for some sort of amazing cultural event and I would once have wished that such delights were available closer to home. With events like last night’s, I need wish no more: Southampton offers an extraordinary range of cultural events of a range that (in some areas) would probably put a city, allegedly so good that it was twice-named, to shame.
Last night started with the very affecting poetry of Chloë Beihaut, followed by the chilled musical vibe of Kitty O’Neal and her band in fully acoustic mode.
Then followed the amazing vocal delivery of Joshua Jones with powerful poetry from a Llanelli youth and life on the oft-ignored, more difficult side of 21st century Britain. Finally, Joe Booley finished the evening with his elegiac songs and guitar harmonies (which later in the evening soothed me to sleep via the miracle of Spotify).
I particularly love the photo of Joshua on the left: nothing to do with my skill with a camera (if you take enough photos, a few are bound to turn out OK), but because it captures something of the magic of the evening and the space. I feel Southampton should be using such images to promote itself as the truly great place to live that it can be. It is not just home to a million traffic lights, a similar number of alarmingly brazen rats, some dreadful road surfaces and West Quay: there is an amazingly vibrant arts scene which I am still discovering.
Conversation with friends, three interesting new voices, great words and music and delicious cake in a lovely, welcoming space: what more could a chap ask from an evening! It might even re-start my career as a tennis ace (in a game where aces are low, obviously). A very fine investment of £3.