They were well meaning, even if they fell rather wide of the mark. My parents presented me with my first CD player, some eleven years after the fuss had begun and a good three or four after most households had succumbed. As part of a hi-fi system that also allowed tape-to-tape dubbing and had a mini-turntable atop that always played things ever so slightly too fast, it represented a new dawn and a crucial moment in the construction of my record collection. How did they fall wide of the mark? I was presented with a selection of reduced CD singles from Woolies with which to christen the beast and, as a result, the first sounds to emanate from this groundbreaking device were The Original’s ‘I Luv U Baby’ and PJ & Duncan’s ‘Stuck On U’. Still, at least they were finally being played off a CD. Additional birthday funds were quickly sought out and a hasty retreat was beaten towards the doors of the aforementioned local Woolies, from which I emerged soon after with a copy of Pulp’s ‘Different Class’, feeling rather happier about the prospects for the new CD player.
It’s strange to trace back fifteen years of rabid musical purchases to that day. The moment when it got serious, even if it wouldn’t be until the arrival of the first instalment of my student loan for things to get truly messy. I’d spent so long being told that CDs were the only way to listen to music, so long oggling the cases in local record shops and so long pestering the family to finally give in to modern technology, that the very act of playing a CD was a reverential experience, savoured from the prising open of the case and the liberating of the disc from within, to the ejecting of the tray ready to receive the hallowed item. Though probably not if playing PJ & Duncan’s ‘Stuck On U’. Early purchases were infrequent and agonised over at great length, resulting in strategic spending plans in order to ensure that, for example, both Manic Street Preachers releases for ‘A Design For Life’ could be purchased in the week of release. Sleeves were pored over, just as I previously had with vinyl and after a while the lustre surrounding the format du jour (I would have put the French for ‘the format of some years previous that I’d just caught up with’ but don’t know the translation) wore off a little as it simply became the way I listened to music now.
As labels the length and breadth of the country queued up to convince me to spend £2.99 per version, I was utterly convinced that multi-formatting was a wondrous thing providing access to a previously unknown wealth of splendour. Looking back, there are slightly too many ‘Chemical Brothers remixes’ and ‘Radio Edits’ for my liking across many of those vintage indie singles but at the time it was truly exciting. As such, my CD habit only expanded. Slowly but surely, the shelves filled and I gradually began to realise that the prices I had to pay for records in my small Welsh town weren’t all that cheap. Occasional visits to Cardiff for gigs along with accidentally on purpose becoming separated at lunchtime from the group when on a school trip provided opportunities to explore enormous record shops with exotic names like ‘HMV’ and ‘Virgin Megastore’, where some titles were actually…gasp…reduced. Flicking back now through magazines from the late Nineties, it’s hard to believe all those Woolies adverts pointed out how new releases would be ‘only £12.99’ in store. £13. For a CD! However, back then, I had two options. The aforementioned Pick & Mix retailer and my local indie store, Dominion Records. Neither were what you called cheap, but it was all I really knew. Our Price in Newport fared little better although I still vividly remember the day I found ‘The Holy Bible’ in there reduced to £5.99 and thought all my Christmases had come at once. Then I played it. I was still a little bit too young to understand at that point, I think. Plus, I couldn’t really play it loud in case my parents heard the lyrics. So thoughtful. So timid. Anyway, that particular bargain was the sole delight in years of wandering around Our Price during its death throes and so I remained blinkered when it came to the potential to seek out bargains and I was unprepared for what was soon to come.
Give a child too many brightly coloured sweets and they may never calm down. Have seven pints of Guinness and half a dozen flavoured vodkas for your first night drinking and wait for the carnage to ensue. Present a Welsh lad in his late teens with a student loan, a city full of record shops and no sense of perspective and wait for the food budget to evaporate. The autumn of 2001 will forever remain one of my happiest music buying periods. I, incorrectly as it turned out, believed I was in a position to hoover up CDs, left, right and centre, without any consequences. The HMV sale deliberately timed to coincide with the issuing of the first loan started the damage, only for numerous second hand shops to truly render me a consumer of 18p a tub fluorescent ‘spread’ from Morrisons on bread that cost even less. It was then I finally got to grips with what has become one of my all-time favourite albums: Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Songs From Northern Britain’, which was only £4.99. Elvis Costello’s back catalogue was suddenly available to me in its entirety, and at a very reasonable price, and finally those early Eighties R.E.M. albums were to be mine. It was glorious. There was more wonderful music than I ever imagined I could own and then it got to the end of November, when I read my balance sheet and struggled to keep my balance.
It was the first time that the record collection truly demonstrated its hold over me. The first of many times, it must be said. As I attempt to thin down the shelves, sift out the mediocrity and further cement the reliance on beautiful vinyl pressings, I’ll be detailing a decade or so spent overdosing on 5” discs of delights and recalling the moments when I probably should have exercised my right to say “no” to a special offer or seven. I’ll consider how the love affair peaked and what caused its eventual decline, how vinyl gradually usurped it in my affections, what the mp3 meant for my music consumption and ponder what a wall full of CDs means in 2010. There’s every risk it’ll be self-indulgent, but feel free to chip in at any point and broaden the story.