Not long ago, my 11-year-old daughter Cathleen asked me to downloadJustin Bieber's latest song for her. "Who is Justin Bieber?" I asked, slowly, in the manner of a posh and slightly tipsy high court judge.
She sighed and rolled her eyes then began to tap away at my laptop. Up came a YouTube video and soon the Biebmeister's hysterical adolescent wailing filled the room. Hmm, I thought, the scary modern world. See how easily the dangerous well of bland pop product can be tapped at any time, at the press of a button.
Luckily, I had a solution. In the far corner of our attic, in a couple of dusty, battered cardboard boxes, was My Fantastic Record Collection. My Fantastic Record Collection had lain largely undisturbed for many years, like a sleeping King Arthur waiting for a time of great peril to return and save the day. Apart from two rubbish late-period Sex Pistols singles, which I flogged to my brother for a tidy profit in the late 70s, I had held on to all my records. Each disc reminded me of when I bought it. How I was feeling. Who I fancied. Instant time travel without the need for a diary.
The collection was started in the 1970s with masterpieces like The Ying Tong Song by the Goons, The Monkees LP, D.I.V.O.R.C.E by Billy Connolly, and Sing Lofty by Windsor Davis and Don Estelle. By 1979 I was reading NME and my tastes had punkified to the Clash, Swell Maps and Gang of Four. Buying vinyl became a rite of passage.
As I start to hump My Fantastic Record Collection downstairs, Cathleen shouts out: "Dad, are those … records?" She's jumping up and down with excitement as I pile the records on to the floor of the study.
"Mum!" she shouts, as thrilled as if she'd discovered a bronze age hoard in the garden, "we've got records!" Yes kids. Records. Look at them. Touch the sleeves. Thrill at the artwork. Sniff them. Laugh at the pretentious sleeve notes (usually by Paul Morley).
Cathleen kneels down and flicks through the first pile of albums – Swell Maps, Joy Division, Miles Davis, the Clash, John Coltrane, Windsor Davies and Don Estelle – her expression slowly changing from thrilled to quizzical. All the sleeves are dog-eared, except for my copy of Thin Lizzy's Live and Dangerous, which soon after purchase was banished to a cupboard due to its lack of street cred. As a result of more than 30 years in hibernation, it's in near mint condition. I go upstairs for the turntable.
"Oh, my God!! Is that a record player, Dad? Mum, Mum! Dad's got an old-fashioned record player!" I'm feeling kind of giddy myself at all the hysteria. Cathleen moves on to my box of singles. "So do you need a mini record player to play these, Dad?"
"Ha ha … no, you just change the speed." (Doesn't know what I'm on about.)
"Dad, what do old records sound like?"
After a few technical glitches I get it working, then ask the kids – Cathleen and her brothers Sean and Tommy (aged eight and four) to pick a record. They go for Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz – ha ha, no not really, it's The Jungle Book album. The kids are not used to being able to see the technology in action. Although normally quite tech savvy, when faced with a revolving plate, a stick with wire and a needle, they are flummoxed. They watch, fascinated, as the needle comes down, there's that scratchy sound that seems alien yet so comfortingly familiar – and once the cue to for me to enter an altered state of consciousness. Then the room is full of music.
Cathleen shouts over the noise – "Dad, how does it work?"
"Well, erm," I bluster, "the music comes off the record, it comes down the needle then into the amp, then down the wire to the speakers, then out into the room."
After they've jumped around the room for a bit I ask them to choose another LP. This time by a "proper band". Cathleen pulls out a double LP.
"It's Thin Lizzy!" she cries.
Ah, that mint condition copy of Live and Dangerous. Of course, The Boys Are Back in Town was used in the adverts for Toy Story 2. The opening power chords to Jailbreak blast out of the speakers. The kids bounce around the room doing air guitar, their eyes closed in concentration.
Somewhat disconcerted by their love of twin-guitar hard rock, I've been trying to slowly brainwash them into loving My Fantastic Record Collection. With limited success.