Visiting downtown Tauranga's Goddard Centre Arcade on a recent Saturday morning was like time travel. Inside the Respin Record Fair at the Art Lounge I and a dozen other people thumb through boxes filled with hundreds of vinyl albums. It's a flashback to my teenage years listening to Prince, Pink Floyd, Elton John, ABBA (yes, ABBA) ...
You don't have to be 40-something to relish records. Sixteen-year-old Chloe Phillips says she's been collecting about three years. She imagines how past owners might have enjoyed their LPs. "... did they hang them up as decorations or play them? It's just so much better than digital music, or CDs or anything. It's so different. It looks cool, as well.
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I love it." The Te Puna teen discovers new songs by letting entire albums play. Favourites include Nirvana, Jimmy Hendrix, David Bowie, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rolling Stones and Madonna. Her most expensive find to date, Led Zeppelin, set her back $45, though she picks up most records for a dollar or two at op shops. "It's such a fun hobby. It's expensive, but I reckon it's worth it."
Conar Johnston, 22, says he's also been collecting vinyl three years, amassing around 250 titles, including Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan. "Sadly, no Beatles," he says.
Conar also owns several Flex-Rays. "Over in Germany during the war, they weren't allowed vinyl, so people made illegal copies. They were going to hospital, stealing old x-ray scans and putting grooves of vinyl into x-rays."
The handyman contractor says the record fair was fantastic. "The best thing about it was meeting other people enthusiastic about vinyl." Conar took home Rolling Stones, Nelson, Donovan and the soundtrack for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
I walked away with my wallet a bit lighter.
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Conar and Chloe are just two examples of music enthusiasts fuelling vinyl's resurgence. While CD sales continue slumping, Recorded Music NZ reports albums made $1.7 million nationwide in 2015.
Experts say the days of vinyl seemed numbered until 2010, when the market started to bounce back. The Recording Industry of America says total sales revenue of vinyl albums soared more than 30 per cent last year compared with 2014. Vinyl albums still have just a 3 per cent share of the global market, (9 per cent in New Zealand).
Laraine Johnstone, who's 69 years old, says she never stopped listening to vinyl. She and husband Neville Pearson, of Papamoa, browsed the record fair for classical and 80s music, jazz, blues, and country-western.
"It's good to see at long last vinyl's making a comeback," says Laraine. She removes each album from its sleeve, running a finger along the record's grooves. "This looks scratched," she says, inspecting a Steely Dan LP. The couple later return to tell me they've replaced television with an old turntable that "plays beautifully." Laraine says, "It's far more educational. We listen to music while reading, or I knit."
Doug Cook says he used to have a couple of thousand albums, but now has about 200 after swapping vinyl for CDs. The 67-year-old from Otumoetai says he probably won't accumulate another large collection, but he's always hunting for vinyl.
"I do volunteer work for Waipuna Hospice and I'm at the depot at Fraser Cove ... most albums are old fuddy-duddy music, but I came across a good one today. I'll grab it, because it could be worth a lot of money." Doug says his love for music started early while growing up in Central Hawke's Bay. "I remember going to town when I was a kid with Mum and Dad when I was 5. The only stuff I wanted was in the record shop."
Record fair organiser and Art Lounge co-owner Brian Smith says at least 150 people (including recording artist Tiki Taane) visited the fair, travelling from as far as Auckland, Hamilton and Rotorua. Some queued early to get first dibs. Brian says collectors can buy new releases and re-releases in stores, though many sought-after albums can only be found among collectors' stacks. "Prince - his catalogue has been unavailable for years.
Now, a record fair may be only place you can get hold of those." Brian says David Bowie, who, like Prince, died earlier this year, is in demand, as are classics like The Beatles and Pink Floyd. He compares vinyl to hard copy books. "You can get a book on a Kindle, but it's not quite the same."
Te Puke resident Graham Lawler would agree. Graham says he likes album artwork from old rock bands like Iron Maiden and the Eagles. "The covers they did on those are really neat." The 57-year-old began scouring church galas, book fairs and garage sales for vinyl about 15 years ago.
People said vinyl's dying. And I said, 'No, it won't die, because there's too much around
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"Back when I first started, records were going by the board. They'd throw records away and there was a craze where they'd frame covers ... then people would heat records and bend them into fruit bowls ... "
Graham says he wanted to collect LPs before they disappeared. His 2000 album stash is tucked into his sleepout, sorted by category and alphabetised. Some of his favourite music is early New Zealand punk and other Kiwiana, like Patea Maori Club. "I happened to be on Trade Me and their record sold for $150. And I went out to my collection; sure enough, I had a brand-new record [Patea Maori Club] still in its cover."
Back at the Goddard Centre, seller Tony Pill is taking part in his first record fair since 1999. "The first thing I sold this morning was Pink Floyd, The Wall." Tony offloaded his Tauranga shop, Record Roundabout, in 2000 - but kept many albums. "People said vinyl's dying. And I said, 'No, it won't die, because there's too much around.' And it's such a good avenue, vinyl, compared with CDs. You get a truer sound out of it.
"It doesn't surprise me it's come back."