In the groove
New group sharing love of vinyl at Sydney bookstore
It’s a Tuesday evening at Ed’s Books and More, and a swampy, southern rock song slithers through the stacks and shelves that line the cosy downtown shop.
This is the third gathering of Vinyl Sidings, a group Paul MacDougall recently formed for people who love listening to vinyl records and, perhaps just as important, enjoy sharing overlooked and underappreciated albums with a simpatico audience. Tonight’s offering is “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” an eclectic and influential 1974 album by L.A.-based band Little Feat, and about a dozen people are seated in a snaking loop of mismatched chairs, listening absorbedly to the strange fusion of rock, country, blues, gospel, jazz and other influences.
“We’re looking for classics, something obscure, something maybe you haven’t thought about in a while — that kind of thing,” MacDougall explains before giving the group a brief history of the band (lead singer and guitarist Lowell George formed the pioneering ensemble after Frank Zappa kicked him out of his Mothers of Invention because, according to one legend, he thought George deserved his own band; George died of an accidental drug overdose shortly after the original lineup broke up in 1979; oh, and keep an ear out for future country music grand dame Emmylou Harris and blues queen Bonnie Raitt supplying background vocals on several tracks.)
The scene is pretty much what MacDougall envisioned when his brother told him about a group that listens to vinyl albums in a Halifax library.
“I thought, ‘Holy mackerel, that sounds like a really cool idea. The only thing we need is the record player — I’m sure there are people interested in vinyl — and a place to do it,’” he recalls.
So, he talked to friend Ed Gillis, who offered his Charlotte Street store, as well as his Realistic Clarinette 120 turntable, and Vinyl Sidings was born. The first meeting, a few months back, featured Warren Zevon’s “Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School,” followed by “The Heart of Saturday Night” by Tom Waits.
For Gillis, who didn’t quite warm up to “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” until the ‘B’ side (“It was so foreign to me, that first side”), experiencing new music is only part of the appeal.
“Any little contribution you can make, whether it’s art, or literature, or music, for the downtown Sydney environment, it’s all wonderful,” he says. “It’s been great. I love it. I just enjoy the atmosphere and the people are all great people. The music, not that it’s secondary, but it’s only part of the experience for me.”
Poetry, not music, drew Deborah Long to the last two Vinyl Sidings sessions.
“I was writing a poem, actually, about music, and specifically about something playing on an old phonograph,” she says, adding that she feels a visceral connection to music played on vinyl.
“There’s a real immediacy to this. It’s the same as the difference between holding a book in your hand and turning the pages while reading it late at night, or reading it on a tablet.”
As for “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” Long calls it a “really interesting mix,” saying she was fascinated by the blues and jazz elements.
“I really liked it.”
Steve MacLeod, who recommended the album for the group’s latest audio adventure, stands out as “the Vinyl Guy,” even in a room full of enthusiasts. He estimates his constantly growing collection includes 9,000 singles and more than 2,000 albums.
“That’s what I grew up with — I grew up with vinyl,” he says. “I was around when the eight-tracks were out but I didn’t catch on to them so much. Or cassettes. Or CDs. I’ve just always liked the vinyl.”
For MacDougall, it’s as much about the ritual as sound quality, or even nostalgia. While he’s lovingly maintained his collection of hundreds of albums over the years and still has what he calls his “original” turntable, it seems there’s just something about a needle in a groove, vibrations and vinyl, or, as he puts it, the “physical listening of music.”
“To me vinyl, it’s the whole beauty of it, the simplicity of it,” he says. “There’s something about seeing the needle, seeing the arm go across. You physically see what’s going on.”
He’s passed that appreciation for classic music — and vinyl — on to his son, Sam MacDougall. At 18, he’s easily the youngest person at this Vinyl Sidings session, but head bowed and eyes closed as he soaks in the sounds, he’s clearly in his element listening to an album that was pressed 25 years before he was born.
“I think it’s great,” Sam says. “From a young age he introduced me to music and I feel the same way as he does about it.”
Although there’s no fixed scheduled, MacDougall says Vinyl Sidings will meet every month or so — “You don’t want to overdo it, but you don’t want people to forget about it” — and he expects the next get-together to take place in mid-June. New members are always welcome and people can find out about future meetings by following MacDougall on Twitter (@ franeymountain), dropping by Ed’s Books and More at 446 Charlotte St., or phoning the store at 902-564-2665.
Joe Sampson studies the cover of “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” while Edwin MacLellan, from left, Deborah Long and Sam MacDougall listen to the album during a Vinyl Sidings meeting at Ed’s Books and More on Charlotte Street in Sydney.
Paul MacDougall places a copy of “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” a 1974 album by L.A.-based band Little Feat, on the turntable during the latest Vinyl Sidings session at Ed’s Books and More on Charlotte Street in Sydney.
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