Profile: Vinyl store owner says record collecting 'a healthy addiction'

Mark Thomas has been getting ready for Record Store Day for the last month.
GRANT MATTHEW/Fairfax NZ

Mark Thomas has been getting ready for Record Store Day for the last month.

One of Mark Thomas's earliest memories is playing The Beatles' Ob La Di Ob La Da on his parents' turntable.

"I've still got it," the owner of record store Vinyl Countdown, in New Plymouth, says. "I played it on Saturday night, the same one."

Thomas has been involved in the vinyl market "on and off" since 1993 Growing up in Te Awamutu, he was interested in music and records from a very young age.

"So I always thought I'd probably end up in the music business somewhere."

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Now 43 and married with three kids, his journey began at the Warehouse in Te Awamutu, setting up the records department when the store first opened.

He has since worked at Real Groovy in Auckland, packed LPs and CDs at the Warner Brothers warehouse while on his OE, and came back to Real Groovy as assistant manager.

He later moved to the new Wellington branch, before eventually buying it and shifting to New Plymouth, opening Vinyl Countdown in 2011.

On Saturday, the country will mark Record Store Day - a celebration of the country's independent music retailers.

Thomas says people are becoming more aware that vinyl records are stillavailable in these days of digital music and CDs, and how good those black discs can sound. 

"More and more people have got turntables now and have either dug out their turntables or bought a new one."

He says even with the convenience of digital music, he prefers vinyl.

"Yes it's convenient but the sound quality is a lot worse. There's just something about collecting things and having a physical vinyl that you can take down from a shelf.

"My friends say that it's just something that once you start collecting and playing, and enjoying playing vinyl, it's an addictive thing really.

"I've always enjoyed playing records. The whole thing of looking at the art on the cover, reading the lyrics, putting it on the turntable, how it sounds in stereo.

"It's almost like a really healthy addiction. I think people just like collecting things."

He says some people also focus on collecting a certain band or style. His colleague, Scott Hansen, has "dozens and dozens and dozens" of Led Zeppelin albums, including more than 20 different copies of Led Zeppelin II. 

Thomas also has a number of his own records, and is a big fan of Jeff Lynne and his group, Electric Light Orchestra.

"I collect a lot of their stuff. I've got an LP that he released when he was 18 that he personally signed for me, which is probably the prized possession I've got.

"The thing about working in a place like this, you can't take them all home or you won't have a business."

He says it is hard to pinpoint a highlight of his years in the industry.

"Getting the job at Real Groovy in Auckland was a big deal at the time. When we pressed a record for the first time here for Sticky Filth, that was special."

He also has fond memories of gigs he's played in with his three bands - playing Christmas at the Bowl with Rusty AZ last year and performing at the Fiji Jazz & Blues Fest with Strait Shooters.

Outside of music, he enjoys films, watching darts and rugby league - "I'm a big fan of the Warriors" - and spending time with his family.

He says having good quality equipment to play his records is a big part of their appeal. 

"They are popular, especially on big days. On Record Store Day they are very popular but just in general. I still sell a lot of CDs but vinyl is definitely the focus of this shop.

"I'm always on the look out for second-hand records, too."

He has thousands of vinyl titles in his shop, with prices ranging from the bargain 50c seven-inch titles to a David Bowie "Who Can I Be Now?" collection, which will set you back $479.95. 

He says the rarer titles tend to sell quite quickly. 

"A lot of people keep an eye on our website and a lot only last a day or two."

The first Record Store Day took place on April 19, 2008, and today there are participating stores on every continent except Antarctica. Only "real, live, physical indie stores" are allowed, according to the website - no "online retailers or corporate behemoths".

Among the new releases exclusive to Record Store Day are titles from David Bowie and Pink Floyd, but "you never quite know what you're going to get from what you have ordered, and some of these things are limited to 1000 around the world", Thomas says. 

"It's part of the fun. At 9 o'clock on Saturday morning, people rush in here and try and get what they're going to get. It's a madhouse."

He says there are "people who travel from different parts of the country to be here on that day".

Vinyl club DJs will be performing from 10am to 1pm and there also be will be performances from Sonic Delusion, This Little Badge and Jon Toogood. 

There is also a free sausage sizzle and prizes and giveaways.

"It's just good to see everyone in here. It's a really good community day."

Thomas believes that vinyl records will be around for a while.

"Vinyl has alway been there for some of us. But currently, over the last five years, it's steadily increased.

"It's a bit of a mystery. Records have always been around. It's hard to know; maybe it's a bit of a push back against the whole digital thing. People are a little bit tired of not being able to get something physical off a shelf.

"It's hard to get an artist to autograph an MP3, isn't it?"

He says some artists are also pushing vinyl which gets the attention of younger music lovers.

"As long as people want records we'll be around. The way it's been so far, it's gone through the advent of CDs, then it's gone through the whole downloading revolution, now streaming. I think if it's lasted through all these things so far, there will be people who want vinyl and continue to buy it." 

  • Record Store Day begins at 9am Saturday, April 22, at Vinyl Countdown, 109 Devon St West, New Plymouth. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 - Stuff

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