Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Musical nook where records rule

Here's a neat article from India, and yes, they enjoy vinyl there as well!



The Free School Street neighbourhood is a nostalgic nook of the city where firaangs still touch down to get a feel of what was once a bustling hub of hippie culture.

Just before the corner where the road takes a turn into the upmarket bustle of Lindsay Street, a series of quaint gramophone record-players lure passers-by.

Often, when the MTV-friendly trash on the CD systems run their daily course, the 76s circle out interesting tunes: jazz and blues standards, screechy Motown, the odd Elvis, sometimes Marley, Dylan or The Meters. Anyone who has ever had a record player knows the sound of a well-oiled one, and these shops maintained theirs well enough.

A stone’s throw from the intersection of Sudder Street and Free School Street, rechristened Mirza Ghalib Street, stands Record Prince, better known as Chacha’s shop.

Chacha —Anis Ashraf, 65 – hardly visits the store these days; it is manned by his two sons, Danish and Abid. This is the Mecca of vinyl records in town, not to mention a few well-maintained gramophone players, some of which are even up for sale.

The racks on display on the pavement with cassette tapes — yes, some of these still exist — and CDs of the latest Bollywood remixes are a facade that throws off all but the genuine vinyl aficionado.

The real gems are kept in a room, rather a musty hole in the wall, behind the shop. Stacked up in racks, the records are alphabetically arranged according to the artistes’ names. Each one goes right back to its place after a record-to-tape, or now record-to-CD, capture.

While he had sold off a large part of his collection a decade back, there are still over 5,000 records at Ashraf’s store. His collection is a Flower-Power music lover’s haven, a jazz aficionado’s well-kept secret and a roomful of rarities for the classical music devotee.

In the tiny backroom, Santana’s eponymous debut album from 1969, a bunch of albums by the Southern Rock legends Allman Brothers Band and Charlie Daniels Band, records from the Seventies by British progressive rock pioneers King Crimson and jam band pioneers like the Grateful Dead share shelves with jazz must-haves like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, live albums by the Bill Evans Trio and Weather Report classics.

Then there are records of everyone from Pandit Ravi Shankar to Debussy, Rabindrasangeet renditions by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, not to mention a nostalgic 80s throwback with everyone from Jackson to Kraftwerk on offer.

Ashraf “inherited” the gems from their previous owner, Bakhtiar Jaan. As an employee of the nameless record store that Bakhtiar ran, Ashraf came to learn not just the technical details of how a 78rpm is supposed to run smooth but also about genres and artistes that were worlds apart from his upbringing.

Setting up Record Prince in 1965, he still keeps up with practices that he learned on the job. To this day, he maintains worn-out diaries that detail track names and artistes on a particular LP, year of publication and total length of the recording. Details like these were prized titbits that customers would lap up while getting “transfers” done, mostly to cassette tapes.

The music is one thing. Then there’s the artwork on these vinyls: imagine the excitement of laying your hands on original LPs from The Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with its sleeve after sleeve of sheer psychedelia, the paranoid face that reflects King Crimson’s alien soundscapes on In The Court Of The Crimson King or Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, designed by British graphic designer/photographer Storm Thorgerson.

“While a number of vinyl records from my collection are broken, there are a few that are over five or six decades old. The charm of the vinyl is that even with years of repeated playing, these do not lose their warm, rich sound. The same cannot be said about cassettes or even CDs,” Ashraf smiles.

And while he’s officially “retired” from the business, the magic of the vinyl hasn’t quite left him.

“I’ve handed over most of the duties to my sons now, but I still keep track of a rare LP being sold from Record Prince’s collection,” says Ashraf.

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