Hairy Records has, for years, been a haven for vinyl geeks, a place to go on a Saturday afternoon when you decided that your life was sufficiently empty that it warranted a four-hour hunt for Anthrax’s first album or a rare Hawkwind 7-inch which, when you finally found it, seemed older than time itself. However, despite being a refuge from the perils of HMV, Hairy was never exactly the most pleasant of shopping experiences itself.
Spike Beecham, local entrepreneur and brains behind The Music Consortium, a production company currently in the process of giving Hairy a much-needed makeover, agrees. “It seemed like it was turning into some kind of pensioners’ club,” he says tersely. “A smelly place full of people wearing anoraks who would spend hours going through CD racks and come away with a £2.99 CD.” He hack-spits at my own confession that I’ve been known to buy the odd bargain bin CD at Hairy.
As he leads me through a mass of plastic sheeting and up to the first floor, it is clear that the new store, when complete, will offer music fans in the city a unique shopping experience. With its focus squarely on the vinyl medium (they will virtually do away with CDs), THE MUSIC CONSORTIUM VINYL EMPORIUM has already alienated much of Hairy’s original customer base, and with the younger generation seemingly hard-wired into social media 24/7, there’s an obvious elephant in the room here: why on earth would anyone in their right mind want to open a vinyl store in this day and age? Spike is more than happy to explain: “Since I took over, we’ve had more under-25s coming through the doors than ever before, buying vinyl and even asking if we sell record players! For whatever reason, vinyl sales are on the up. That’s not me bullshitting,” he says, fixing me with a hard stare. “That’s fact.”
He’s not wrong. According to data released by the Official Charts Company, 341,000 vinyl albums were sold in 2011, compared with 237,000 in 2010 – a whopping 44 per cent increase.
So why the resurgence in the vinyl market? Spike puts it down to a combination of disillusionment with the disposable state of music and simple British materialism. “I think when people went towards the whole download experience, they lost the tangibility factor of having a piece of artwork that someone has gone to a lot of trouble to produce. There’s no touchy-feeliness to an MP3.”
In accordance with historical consumer behaviour, vinyl retailers in Liverpool are few and far between. Probe and 3Beat records have done a steady trade for many years, but Spike is keen to point out that MCVE is not just another record shop. On the ground floor, the focus will be on vinyl trading, while upstairs is due to house a cafe and small performance space which will be suitable for acoustic artists. They will also sell rock memorabilia, guitar strings and other accessories, and gig and festival tickets. They will be the only outlet in Liverpool selling tickets for the Leeds and Reading festivals.
Although he recognises that social media is useful in making music available to those who wouldn’t normally hear it, Spike is keen to promote this idea of an enhanced shopping experience and to revive a community spirit which is impossible to recreate on a fan site or internet forum. “The whole Big Society thing,” he says, pensively. “Governments have spent the last fifty years restraining communities – we need to revive that sense of community, and music is just one way of doing it.”
So with Record Store Day fast approaching, vinyl sales on the up, and a perceived desire among young people to recapture the physical interaction so sorely lacking from the faceless online world, Spike appears to be onto a winner. “I don’t know, maybe I’ve hit the zeitgeist at the right time – I’m obsessed with vinyl, so I’d be happy sitting in there doing it in 10 years’ time, even if no one was going into the store; but since everyone seems to have decided that vinyl’s cool again, I’ll make hay while the sun shines!”