Henry Smith is a record collector. He is also my Dad. He’s been doing it since he was a teenager in the sixties, and now we’re sitting in his homemade garage complete with a bar and music listening room with vinyl artwork all over the walls. The room is tiny, wooden and full of personal touches, including a photo of a greying old boxer dog named Sam. There is a faint smell of cigar and wood smoke, and I can’t stop glancing at the messages scribbled on the dark chalkboard wall behind him.
Growing up in the fifties and sixties, my Dad told me music was always in the house. His mother played it all the time, and later he would go to the dancing and soak up the music there. It was all tamala motown back then, and you could even hear it in the streets. ‘Music was in the air; it came from everywhere in the sixties’. The first record he bought was The Rolling Stones, ‘Aftermath’, but here in 2016 he has over two-thousand records, and another two-thousand cds on top of that.
Now his favourite genre is Country Americana, but he rarely goes back and listens to one cd in particular. He loves the variety, and with such a huge collection variety is what he’s got. A record lover and a cd lover alike, what is it about vinyl that makes it extra special? ‘The thing about vinyl is that it’s more of a living entity of something, as opposed to a polycarbonate disc in a jewel case. A vinyl record has got all the artwork, and it’s a better sound format’.
The collection has come from all over. I grew up watching my Dad leave the house with a rucksack for cds, and he would come back with a square plastic bag to hold a few special finds: records. ‘I buy them in record shops, individual ones or even HMV. It’s just what’s left really. I buy them online through Amazon, at car boot sales and record fairs. I’ve bought a lot in charity shops. My favourite place to browse is Missing Records in Glasgow, because they’ve got a lot of different stock coming in and sometimes you get a wee surprise’.
Of course every record collector will come across that special find once in a while, and for my Dad it happens a little bit more often than that. ‘Some of my best finds come from charity shops; but they can be over expensive and will have records lying on the shelves for too long that are dearer than they are in the record shops themselves. This obviously doesn’t benefit the charity. But one time I was able to buy around sixty albums in one go, all a pound each. That’s because not many people buy country western albums in this country!’
So what’s the process? There are a few things you need to check over before you purchase a record it seems: ‘First and foremost is the sleeve. If it’s written on, or worn or torn then it’s a straight away no. The actual album itself has to have no big signs of wear or scratches, should really be clean and definitely not warped.’ On seeing my expression, he adds ‘that’s what happens if they’re left in the sun, or beside something hot’.
Back home, looking after them is equally important; ‘you need to handle vinyl properly: from the edges. Always keep them in their sleeves and store them upright – if you store them flat on top of each other the compression will damage the covers over time. Sometimes, if I get an album I really want in my collection that happens to be dirty, I wash it gently with cheap fairy liquid and rinse it with boiling tap water. They will flop and bend but they come back to their original shape. It gets the dirt right out of them – I don’t mess about with the fancy isopropyl alcohol’.
Last year alone, my Dad added four hundred albums to his collection. He keeps track of them with a dusty red notebook, and that’s one of about five he’s worked his way through. Inside are lists of album names, vinyl or cd and the price of them all. And when it comes to listening to them, he’s got three record decks that he loves to use. ‘I mainly listen to records by myself, but I love listening to them with my wife, Jean. My son too, he loves music’.
He shows me the album he’ll be listening to that evening, Gene Clark’s ‘Firebyrd’ and he tells me that more than anything, record collecting is just fun. I guess after all that I don’t really mind that my Dad’s turned my old bedroom into his spare music room. Two-thousand records need to live somewhere…