Vinyl collectors mark two decades - Four-day celebration attracts JTB support
Among the many steps in the vinyl record's trajectory from cutting edge music storage and playback technology, speculation about its relevance in the digital age is (as stated on vinyl-record.co.uk) RCA Victor making the long-playing vinyl record available for the first time in 1930. The website also says that the 12-inch record was introduced by Columbia Records at a 'dramatic' New York press conference in 1948, and a year later, RCA Victor released the first 45 rpm single.
Much of Jamaican popular music's prodigious output is on vinyl, up to the Bug riddim. Look Into My Eyes (Bounty Killer), Haters and Fools (Beenie Man), Keep Them Coming (Wayne Wonder), Spragga Benz (Can't Get No Gal), and Dial Tone (Lady Saw) among the songs on the beat) introduced the CD single to the country in 1999. It is fitting, then, that the landmark 20th anniversary of the Vinyl Records Collectors Association (VRCA) is being held in Jamaica.
And in a stroke of serendipity, the celebration is being held at a time when the resurgence of vinyl's popularity worldwide has resulted in movement at Tuff Gong's record-pressing plant on Marcus Garvey Drive.
The VRCA's Michael 'Louis' Owens told The Sunday Gleaner that the annual get-togethers, called a 'sit-in', were started by Michael Neysmith in the USA in honour of vinyl enthusiast 'Chunnie' Pessoa after he died. Rotating among the organisation's chapters each year, the celebration of mostly black music discs coincides with the Memorial Day weekend in the USA. So although the 20th sit-in is being held in Jamaica, there is still a final event tomorrow (May 29). That is a family picnic at Boon Hall Oasis in Stony Hill, St Andrew.
There was a gathering at the Mona Visitors' Lodge, UWI, on Friday. Yesterday was the event that the public would have known most about, a Dance Party at Jamaica College featuring Michael Barnett, Stokey Love, and Senor Daley. Today, there is what Owens describes as the sit-in's premiere event, an awards event where "we pay tribute to our peers". This year's special awardee is engineer Dennis Thompson, an honour previously accorded to sound system men Gunny Goodison and Winston 'Merritone' Blake.
The Fab Five Band and Gem Myers will be part of that event, at which three collectors will play, and Richie Clarke will supply music for dancing.
With seven chapters - five in the USA (including Philadelphia, where it all began), one in Canada and Jamaica - it takes some time for the annual event to rotate among the physical places where it is staged. Owens has been attending the event since 2004 and says that the organisation is "like a family".
It is an extended family as today's awards event has been sold out with about 400 persons, and the number of persons coming to Jamaica specifically for the VRCA 20th anniversary celebration is higher than that. This has attracted the attention and support of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), Owens saying that "they saw the potential of getting people from the Diaspora".
It does not hurt that many of the visitors will not be leaving Jamaica as soon as the event is over but will "be heading to the north coast as it is a complete vacation", Owens said.
The annual gatherings are not all for personal enjoyment as Owens said that the VRCA collaborated with the Kiwanis on a Labour Day computer lab project at Boys' Town. And in the US, they have provided scholarships for students in Connecticut. "Music and education is what we target," Owens said.
As for collecting vinyl records, Owen said: "it is an expensive passion, but it is our passion... It is the satisfaction you get that you can't measure in money."
As high-quality record players are available (each collector uses two, Technics being the brand of choice), with well-kept records, Owens says that the sound is incomparable.
"When people talk about records, they talk about scratches and hissing. If you have good records and equipment to play it on, you can with any digital media, it does not sound as good," he said.
Feeling is physical as well as emotional, Owens saying: "there is a connection. you put that record on the turntable and watch it spin."
Added to that is the feeling of contributing to a population outside of music lovers.
"We have found a way to give back to society," Owens said.