Love letter to Cob Records, Bangor - part one

Friday 23 March 2012, 16:09

Adam Walton Adam Walton

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For the majority of folk, vinyl records are as outmoded as a ZX Spectrum or Penny Farthing. If records are in the house at all, they're in boxes in the attic, fossils of music waiting to be rediscovered when our alien overlords return and - having watched an episode of The Only Way Is Essex - decide to wipe us all out.

Hurry up alien overlords!

The digital revolution initially meant that the hundreds of millions of LPs and singles that had been sold prior to 1985 had suddenly become obsolete. CDs were a fraction of the size, and men in cardigans would stand in awe listening to the new CD format remarking: "I can hear Knopfler's fingers moving up and down the frets!" in awe.

A major step forwards, then, for all concerned.

The mp3 then did away with any need for the impracticality of a physical product. All of a sudden, you could store a record shop-ful of music in something the size of a fag packet. And, as we consumerists all know, more is always more. We've turned music into cornflakes. Yay, for us!

Alien overlords... come in alien overlords...

But records clung on - like men with beards and bottles of absinthe at dissolute house parties.

It was much easier for DJs and vinylologists standing atop a pile of records to look smug and superior than on a pile of mp3s. Gawky boys would argue about the merits of which format sounded best, as pointless a discussion as one pondering the best flavour of Monster Munch. It's always vinyl. It's always Pickled Onion. It just is.

And records clung on in other ways too. Real, music lovers (and not - definitely not - "real music" lovers) knew that the most interesting sounds weren't to be found piled high, five for £30 in HMV, or on the splash page of the iTunes (or equivalent) store. A tide of obsolete and unloved vinyl flooded out of homes conned into replacing them with CDs or an iPod.

That tide washed up in carboot sales across the land, charity shops, and - most pertinent for this love letter to a cultural institution facing a firing squad in the morning, secondhand record shops.

I had to begin my treatise on the demise of Cob records in Bangor with a convoluted soliloquy on the main reason I love the place: it's their vast racks of used vinyl.

Cob Records is one of north Wales' last collections of affordable secondhand records. Nothing is over-priced (a problem almost everywhere else - where Johnny Come Lately vinyl fashionistas like me are exploited with the ease of a card shark ripping off a toddler). It has been a reef of inspiration to generations of north Walean musicians and music-lovers, too skint or too savvy to fall for the music industry's endless slew of reissues and remasters.

This should not be underestimated. If music people can't get the music to inspire them, they shrivel up, can't bloom as fulsomely as they would if well-watered. In fact, by accident, I may - finally - have stumbled across the perfect metaphor for Cob: it is a well of music, and for those of us with an interest in these matters, the knowledge of a post Cob drought is a sobering one indeed.

Yes, you can buy records on Amazon, eBay or their digital equivalents, but it's impossible to replicate the browsability you get in a second hand record shop, where you finger stumble into something great - something you fall in love with - by absolute happenchance.

Cob has given me Emitt Rhodes, Steve Miller, Georgie Fame, Van Der Graaf Generator, Y Fflaps, 9Bach and Tystion - all records I adore. All for under £15.

iTunes recommendations pale sadly and stupidly in comparison.

Then add into the equation the brilliant and knowledgeable staff - especially Alan Holmes, acclaimed godfather of the Welsh underground - and you have a unique cultural service that we're about to lose forever.

"Well, if it was that valuable a service it'd be a viable business and wouldn't be closing down, Adam."

Good point. Well, it's a good point if you measure everything in life in terms of profit and loss. That's what bankers do, isn't it? And haven't they helped build a better and brighter world for us all?

Stuffy pen pushers decided a long time ago that galleries and theatres and operas were worthy of subsidy and funding, but rock 'n' roll - even now in its dotage - hardly qualifies for a similar amount of support. And record shops - as commercial enterprises - would find it triply hard to qualify for funding.

But that doesn't alter the fact that we're about to lose an incredibly valuable resource.

The alien overlords can have the last word. They're over here next to the rack marked 'Vinyl Just In':

"Hey, Xrtq, hold back that demolition order... I've just found a copy of Sixto Rodriguez's Cold Fact. Let me have a flick through the rest before we hit the red button..."

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