MUSIC ON VINYL: Not everyone downloads their music to listen on their iPod or other gizmos these days. Some prefer listening to records on gramophones and turntables. And the retro trend is making a comeback, writes Punitha Kumar
IT was a good excuse for him to visit the girls he was interested in. Whenever avid vinyl record collector and secondary schoolteacher Eugene Au wanted to get to know a girl better in those days, he would ask them whether they wanted to exchange records with him.
"My old flame's brother used to have a big collection of Chinese records. That sparked off my interest in Mandarin and Cantonese songs," said the 57-year-old.
Au eventually bought his gramophone -- for a princely sum of RM2,970 in Batu Gajah, Perak after saving money from his first teaching job.
The Perak-born audiophile said he had to enlist the help of the shopkeepers to transport the gramophone in a van to his home in Kampar.
Now, after 31 years, Au has collected more than 200 records, from the likes of Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and The Carpenters.
"These days, the records are priced at RM1.50 for an extended-play record (EP) and RM3.80 for a long-play record (LP). I buy them from outlets selling recycled stuff or from dingy stores."
When the gramophone breaks down, Au admits it's difficult to find a repairman.
"Luckily, I know a technician who can repair gramophones. I will go and see him if the needle wears out or if it needs any modifications to continue functioning."
He said there was not much difference between listening to music on a gramophone and a digital music player, but the former was preferable as it evoked a sense of nostalgia.
"I have been listening to music from this player for decades and I must say there is a certain difference. I can't, however, explain it or put it in words."
Au said he does not mind listening to music on a digital player, but for now, he prefers to enjoy the "best of both worlds".
Despite being well-versed in modern music players, Westports Malaysia operations officer Muhamad Syamsyer Fahmi Sohhimi is "a young man with an old soul".
The 29-year-old from Port Klang owns three turntables and more than 500 records, ranging from those by American heavy metal band Metallica and grunge trailblazers Nirvana, to local bands like Wings, Bumiputra Rockers, May, Gersang and Search.
"To me, if you own a record, it means you own the songs. The songs are engraved on the vinyl and one can actually see the needle picking up grooves from the music, something not possible with a digital music player."
Syamsyer said turntables and vinyl records were an art form, and as such, he would continue buying records to add to his growing collection assisted by his siblings, who share the hobby.
"The most expensive vinyl I bought was Metallica's S&M (triple vinyl set) for more than RM200. It was worth every sen to listen to the band playing along with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra from a turntable."
Au and Syamsyer are not alone. Vinyl records are apparently making a comeback among the younger generation.
Joe Rozario, the owner of Joe's MAC store, a shop selling music, arts and collectibles at Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya, said he noticed that more and more people were interested in vinyl records.
"Over the past decade, I have noticed that my customers are becoming younger."
He said children as young as 14 came in to look for records by musicians such as Adele, Norah Jones, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
"I have runners in England and the United States to source for these records," Rozario said.
Known as "the vinyl guru" among his customers, the vibrant 63-year-old said music from a turntable or gramophone provided warmth and gave the listener "live" entertainment.
Owning some 10,000 records and having a few turntables (a newer, electric version of a gramophone) for sale, he said expensive and rare records were those by the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee, Sudirman, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.
"The most expensive record I sold was a P. Ramlee album recorded in England. It was an unplayed record in near-mint condition and was sold to a collector for RM500."
He said records from The Carpenters, Temptations, Bee Gees or Abba were sold for between RM1 and RM20 each while Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin records could easily fetch between RM30 and RM100.
"Malay records also sell like hot cakes. Famous ones are from rock bands Search, Lefthanded, and Blues Gang known for their album 'Apo Nak DiKato'."
Rozario said he was also adept in repairing gramophones and turntables.
There are those, however, who do not understand the fuss and are willing to embrace modernity.
Private investment consultant Tarun Sheth, 66, listens to music from his CD player these days.
"I no longer own a gramophone but because of personal feelings, I continue to keep my 100 Hindi oldies records. They are safe and sound."
He said phrases such as "download it from YouTube" or "Bluetooth that song to me" might sound foreign to the older generation "but, if one wishes to move with the times, one would have to learn those terms".
Vanes Vanar has disposed of her gramophone as it was difficult to find spare parts.
"I bought mine at the Hock Choon electrical shop in Setapak. Its price may not raise eyebrows now but back in 1973, RM150 meant a lot."
Vanes was a lab assistant at a rubber research institute and earned only RM5 a day at the time. The purchase was only possible after she joined a kootu scheme.
Vanes listened to songs from singer and actress Uji Rashid, pop singer A. Ramlie and rockers such as Deep Purple and The Rolling Stones. She also loved The Stylistics and Hindi movie songs from Raj Kapoor movies Sangam and Bobby.
"The gramophone served me and my family well for seven years. We amassed nearly 200 records but the player soon gave way. It was difficult for us to find spare parts so in the end, I had to throw it away."