Many, many Christmases ago – December 1972 to be precise – a family friend arrived at our house with presents for me and my siblings. Not sure what to get me, but knowing I was into pop music, he had gone into Murray’s record shop in Dún Laoghaire and bought the top five chart singles of the day. I was presented with a handful of brand-new seven-inch records in their crisp paper sleeves, and my face lit up with delight. The songs weren’t exactly the pinnacle of pop perfection – the top singles then included Slade’s Gudbuy T’Jane, The Osmonds’ Crazy Horses and Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Clair – but I happily played them to death on the gramophone all through Christmas.
Fifty years later you’d think the last thing a young person would be putting on their Santa list is a vinyl record, but you’d be wrong. We may be awash with MP3s and music streaming services, but the appeal of vinyl for a younger generation has not faded, while older music fans are reigniting their love of vinyl and rebuilding the record collections they wore out in their younger years.
You can sign on to a streaming service such as Spotify or Apple Music for around a tenner a month, and get access to millions of new tunes, classic hits and indie favourites with your phone and a pair of earbuds. A vinyl album by your favourite artist, on the other hand, will knock you back €20-€40 depending on the packaging, artwork and other ephemera that comes with it, so collecting vinyl is an expensive hobby. You’re paying the equivalent of four months’ unlimited listening power for one LP with a running time of about 40 minutes. Why on earth would you do that? The answer will soon become clear.
Despite easy availability of streaming music, we are in the throes of a vinyl revival – a revinyl, if you will – that has seen sales of the flat, grooved platters rise steadily over the past few years. It now makes up a sizeable chunk of sales at record store chain Golden Discs.
“We’ve been seeing growth in vinyl for the past seven or eight consecutive years,” says Golden Discs chief executive Stephen Fitzgerald, “and vinyl is a huge part of what we do in all our stores around the country.”
The company, which this year celebrates its diamond anniversary – 60 years in business – has opened a vast vinyl section in its flagship Stephen’s Green store, selling an extensive range of albums new and classic. Golden Discs branches around the country have dedicated vinyl sections, but in the Dublin store, vinyl accounts for more than half its stock.
And the LPs on sale run the genre gamut from rock to pop, from hip hop to soul and from heavy metal to hard-core techno. Among their best-sellers are new albums by Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, Dermot Kennedy and Stormzy, alongside catalogue albums by everyone from Adele to ZZ Top.
“It’s older people who had this album but haven’t heard it in years, there’s a big nostalgia part to it,” says Fitzgerald. “And then there are a lot of people coming to the format for the first time. Our fastest-growing customer base is in their teens, 15- and 16-year-olds coming in and mostly buying albums their parents would have listened to.”
Viral is also driving vinyl sales, especially for younger collectors, says Fitzgerald, and when something becomes a huge hit on YouTube or TikTok, it’s not long before fans are heading for the record shop in search of the vinyl version. Kate Bush, for example, has recently enjoyed a huge resurgence thanks to her track Running Up That Hill featuring on the Netflix series Stranger Things. This has boosted sales of her albums on vinyl, and her superb album artwork makes them all the more attractive for collectors.
But vinyl has also been good to home-grown acts old and new, says Fitzgerald. “Sales for domestic artists are huge, and in the last few months we have had a lot of Irish artists touring around the Golden Discs stores around the country, doing in-store performances and signings, including Jack L, Gavin James, Kodaline and The Coronas. It’s a huge part of what we do, promoting home-grown acts and their records.”
Such is the growing demand for music on 12-inch vinyl platters, the pressing plants often have a hard time keeping up supplies.
“There is probably a shortage of pressing plants. We’d sell out of an album, and it would be some weeks before we are able to replenish stock, which is not ideal. It’s just the demand is so great that we can’t keep up, basically.”
It will always have a very strong niche appeal— Enda Gogarty
Ireland has a record pressing plant – Dublin Vinyl in Glasnevin, set up by entrepreneurs Hugh Scully and Donagh Molloy in 2017, in response to the Lazarus-like return of the format. The plant not only handles manufacturing for the Irish music industry but also presses records for international labels. It also runs the Record Hub online store for vinyl enthusiasts, offering two-for-€40 deals on classic albums.
When you look at some of the lavishly made products – with different-coloured vinyl, special packaging, artwork, posters, postcards and other inserts – you can see the immediate attraction. But it’s not a cheap product. The new vinyl picture disc edition of The Beatles’ Revolver, for example, will set you back nearly €50, while a mahogany vinyl version of Taylor Swift’s Midnights will be a little cheaper. But that hasn’t discouraged collectors, who are flocking to the stores to snap up a new LP to proudly display – and play – to their friends.
“It’s a very different experience,” says Fitzgerald. “Streaming is a great platform for discovering new music – it’s easy, quick and cost-effective. But when people find something they love, they want to own it. And vinyl is the preferred medium for that ownership.”
The upsurge in vinyl sales has also been good for independent record stores, many of whom have been selling vinyl for years, but seeing diminishing returns as the format fell out of favour. But now, customers are coming back and rediscovering their love of vinyl, says Enda Gogarty, owner of Spindizzy Records in George’s Arcade in Dublin, and hot on their heels is a young generation who have discovered the joys of vinyl.
“We’ve been here all along, through the ups and downs, and people are just catching on. So there is definitely an upturn in vinyl, and a lot of Irish bands putting out stuff, like HamsandwicH, Just Mustard, Meryl Streek, Lankum and Telefís. They make nice Christmas gifts.”
Spindizzy are looking forward to a bumper Christmas for album sales, expecting healthy sales of such albums as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (the recent death of band member Christine McVie may drive more sales of this perennial vinyl best-seller) and a special white-and-gold vinyl edition pressing of Andrea Bocelli’s My Christmas.
While he doesn’t believe vinyl will return to its glory days before CDs, MP3s and streaming services spoiled the party, Gogarty is confident that vinyl sales will maintain their momentum for the foreseeable future.
“It will always have a very strong niche appeal. I’m not sure if it will be a high-street phenomenon, but it’s definitely not going anywhere.”
Browsing in the vinyl aisles of Golden Discs, it’s clear there are a lot of people out there who highly value the format over CDs or online streams.
She [Amy Winehouse] sounds amazing on vinyl, more impressive than on CD. You have to know the difference— Alexander Wind
“I like all older things, old movies, old music,” says Mollie McConville (14), from Lurgan, Co Armagh, who is in search of an album to add to her growing collection. She’s picked out albums by Dr Dre, Kanye West, Drake, Nirvana and Foo Fighters. “I’m thinking about getting the Foo Fighters,” she says.
With her is her aunt Rachel McConville, who bought Mollie her first record player for her 14th birthday. Mollie is in no doubt that vinyl is the way to properly listen to her favourite music.
“I like just physically having it there, and it sounds better as well.” She also likes the whole ritual of taking the album out of its sleeve, putting it on the turntable and putting the needle down into the groove.
“I’ve never really owned a CD,” she says. “I’ll be sticking with vinyl for life.”
Wayne Bennett from Navan, Co Meath, is here to buy an album by one of his favourite artists, Britney Spears. “Me and my friends are big pop music enthusiasts, but a lot of the vinyls we like, they stopped printing them when we were that age. We can get the CDs okay, but we’re at the age now where we want to get the vinyls.”
Spears’s 2016 album Glory is easy enough to come by, “but the ones before that are harder to find”, says Bennett.
The 31-year-old is a late convert to vinyl. “My friend started getting vinyls because his boyfriend is a DJ and he had a record player. He bought me a record player for my 30th birthday. It’s the most expensive hobby I have. I used to collect DVDs – I have a big collection of horror movies on DVD – but collecting vinyl has replaced that.”
Bennett likes to spin his pop records at parties. “I like the coloured vinyls. Especially cos the top of my record player is glass and you can see right through it.
I like to display the albums I’m listening to, I have two shelves on my wall for vinyl. They’re a lot more beautiful than CDs— Nabilah Mohammad
“I think they sound better too. They sound crisper and clearer and more true to the live versions. It’s more intimate too, playing records, you’re not just playing it in the background, you have to flip it and whatnot. And you’re really listening to the songs. I find it makes me pay more attention to the album tracks as well, so I’m listening to more songs by artists that I like. And it encourages me to think about what albums I used to love.”
Alexander Wind, from Enschede in the Netherlands, is visiting Dublin with his daughter Rosalie, and he’s planning to bring home an LP as a souvenir. “I was 14 or 15 when I bought my first album, Queen: A Day at the Races. Now I have a mancave in my attic where I listen to my albums on a vintage hi-fi system.”
Wind is a fan of classic rock by bands such as The Rolling Stones, and he’s also a fan of Coldplay and Amy Winehouse. “She sounds amazing on vinyl, more impressive than on CD. You have to know the difference.”
Nabilah Mohammad (18) from Blanchardstown has been collecting vinyl for the past two years, since she was given a record player for her 16th birthday.
“My friends knew that I really like music, and I would always complain that it just didn’t sound the same on your phone. I want something that surrounds the whole house.”
Mohammad, a student at UCD, sees vinyl as an analogue antidote to the all-pervasive technology that has consumed our lives.
“It’s the vibrations they’re creating. It’s not technology in the way we know it. It’s the actual needle going into the crevices that make the music. I think that makes it way more authentic. I think it’s an art really to create something like that.
“I like to display the albums I’m listening to, I have two shelves on my wall for vinyl. They’re a lot more beautiful than CDs.”
Mohammad likes to browse record shops, but also hunts for vinyl in thrift stores and charity shops, hoping to unearth a bargain or a hidden gem. “I do collect a lot of foreign records, a lot of bossa nova, and French music. I like a lot of 90s music, disco pop from French underground artists. I love 80s music like Depeche Mode and a lot of music from the postwar revival.”
During lockdown I found a load of my mum’s old records, and I started getting into David Bowie, Velvet Underground, Lou Reed— Ruby Doherty
Today Mohammad is looking to buy a couple of soulful classics: Back to Black by Amy Winehouse, and Diamond Life by Sade.
“I see myself buying vinyl for the foreseeable future,” she says. “And it’s great for gifting. Every year my friends say, I know she has a record player so I’m going to buy her a record. I love it.”
Sixteen-year-old Ruby Doherty, from Mountcharles in Co Donegal, credits her mum, Anna Meehan, with sparking her passion for vintage vinyl – and for classic rock.
“During lockdown I found a load of my mum’s old records, and I started getting into David Bowie, Velvet Underground, Lou Reed. My music tastes grew a lot in 2020 and 2021, a lot of Fleetwood Mac, Leonard Cohen, Stone Roses, The Clash, Joy Division ... and then The Beatles of course.”
She’s planning to purchase the Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow, and she’s also picked up a techno record for her older brother Rossa, aka Dublin dance DJ and producer Pagan.
While listening to vinyl is an expensive pastime, Ruby thinks it’s well worth the investment. She has a Spotify subscription, but uses the streaming service to listen to music on the go.
“When I’m at home, I love listening to my records. I have pretty good speakers at home, so the sound is really good. Also, I discover lots of new stuff on vinyl, because if I buy a record, and I know maybe three songs on the record, as it’s playing I’m exposed to the other songs on the album. And that broadens my musical tastes, I find.
“I have about 80 records now, so I feel I can’t really go back.”