In Record Time

When was the last time you just sat and listened to music?  Simply sat there and listened.  Sheilagh Matheson went to a place where you can do just that.

The lights dimmed, images of The Smiths appeared, and as the needle touched vinyl a lad with a quiff began mouthing the lyrics of “The Queen Is Dead”. He was in his early 20s, all alone with a bottle of lager in a room full of strangers, everyone lounging in the dark listening to an LP. I thought he was a bit sad.

When was the last time you listened to an album all the way through? No coffee breaks. No fiddling with your mobile. No chat. Just you, the music, and in this story a small screen showing pictures of the Smiths so you didn’t have to stare at your feet or slide glances at the others.

Here we are at Mr Drayton’s Record Player at Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle upon Tyne. It’s a once a week hour-long indulgence. You simply listen to one LP in a dark room. The music is Mr Steve Drayton’s selection of classics, plus a couple of suggestions from the regulars.

We watch quietly as Mr Drayton savours the ritual. He admires the sleeve design, slides the LP out without leaving greasy fingerprints on the record, slips it on the deck and lowers the needle. Everything is on vinyl which creates a whisper of nostalgia even if you were never really a fan of the performer or band being played.

The Beatles “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, The Smith’s “The Queen is Dead,” Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” and Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” – a different album is played from beginning to end.

“So let me get this right,” my Yorkshire pal said dubiously. “We pay Steve a fiver to play his choice of music in uncomfortable seats when we could listen to our own at home for free?” Right.

But we never do. It might be on – but are we listening?

Music is played more than ever before – in fact it’s hard to avoid. It’s in lifts, on ads, in cars, ipods, phones – everywhere. But like the drone of motorways, music can be a permanent sound in the background that we stop hearing.

Even when we’re determined to listen, it’s hard to concentrate. The only time I play a CD all the way through is on a long car journey, but extraneous thoughts intrude and I often miss the track I really wanted to hear. Sometimes, even a single track is too long. We promiscuously flit from artist to artist, band to band.

The more music we play, the less we hear.

As I sat in Mr Drayton’s Record Player session listening to a band I wasn’t much bothered about either way, I wondered about everyone else in the room – a few couples, a group of lads, an uneasy Dad with teenage son embarrassed by Mum, head back, eyes closed. She knew the words too. Others discreetly tapped a hand or foot in time.

But after about 10 minutes everyone had relaxed. I mean chilled. The total absorption in sound was a kind of therapy. Even the teenager stopped looking embarrassed.

As for Quiff Boy, he silently sang along from Track 1 to 9, word perfect on everything from beginning to end.

At first I thought it was dodgy. Hadn’t he anything better to do at his age? But then I realised that to have memorised everything he must have really listened, again and again and again. Maybe I should take a leaf out of his book. And I don’t mean getting a quiff.