On top of a brown Formica cabinet in a Portakabin office in an anonymous warehouse on the outskirts of London sits the most privileged record player in pop-music history.
The Garrard direct-drive turntable was the first outside a recording studio ever to play the Beatles’ Revolver and Sgt Pepper; the first to experience Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon; it was the first to be challenged by the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen; it was there at the birth of dance music; and it’s still going strong in the age of Arctic Monkeys, Animal Collective and Lily Allen.
Remember all that talk in the Eighties when shiny, allegedly indestructible CDs came out, about how the days of the LP were numbered? Well, just recently exactly the opposite has started to happen: it’s the CD, the experts are now saying, that will soon be obsolete. It’s vinyl that’s here to stay.
Back in business: The Vinyl factory company logo (left) logo and coloured petals of PVC
‘I’m surprised a vinyl industry still exists, but the fact that it does is tremendous,’ says Roy Matthews, 73, who has been working on and off at this vinyl factory since 1956 and is now its general manager. When he started it belonged to EMI.
Then in 2000 the EMI manufacturing complex was being sold and the plant was scheduled to close. It was bought by a pair of entrepreneurs, Mark Wadhwa and former Olympic sailor Tim Robinson, and now operates as The Vinyl Factory, manufacturing about 2.5 million records every year.
It’s the last of its kind, as the only major vinyl manufacturing plant left in the UK. The equipment and methods are unchanged, from the revered Garrard turntable on which the ‘positives’ (from which records are made) are checked for defects, to the sacks of black (or coloured) PVC pellets on the factory floor.
The pressing machine that today squashes out special collectors’ LP editions of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s Monkey and the recent Pet Shop Boys album Yes is exactly the same one that pressed the original editions of Mike Oldfield‘s Tubular Bells and Queen’s a Night at the Opera now gathering dust on your shelves.
For audiophiles and musicians this is a happy vindication of something they’ve been saying for years: the sound you get from vinyl recording is so much better than what you get from a CD.
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