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Bill Brewster: Why I sold my 13,000-strong record collection

A reformed vinyl addict tells his story

  • Words: Bill Brewster | Illustration: William Davey
  • 5 November 2019

I am a record collector. If there’s one thing that’s defined me over the past 30 years, it’s been my collection. It’s through collecting records that I started to get bookings as a DJ. Most of the compilations I’ve put together over the last few decades have been inspired by messing about in my record room, searching through the endless lines of vinyl. And it was the tantalising glimpses of an artist’s musical life on an LP’s inner sleeve that made me want to write about music, too. In other words, I’m fairly sure that without my obsession for collecting vinyl, I wouldn’t have the career I enjoy today.

So why, after all it’s given me, did I decide to sell the whole lot? Three months ago, my collection had reached 13,000 pieces and spilled out from my record room into an office, its messy sprawl beginning to touch every part of the house. Today, I have approximately 100 records. Somewhere in between I decided to sell everything and start anew.

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Last year, my 20-year relationship, which included two kids, ended. My doctor diagnosed me with depression and, to make matters worse, Grimsby Town had a shocker of a season. Whichever way you look at it, 2018 was monumentally shit. Having gone so low, however, gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate everything in my life and to really find out what mattered to me.

The truth is, I’ve always been a bit of a magpie. Maybe not sufficiently to pique the interest of Channel 4’s Britain’s Biggest Hoarders, but nonetheless I found it hard to throw anything away, “in case it comes in handy”. I had a huge magazine collection, kept every ticket stub from live shows and football matches and every wristband from every festival I’d played at, plus flyers from long-forgotten raves, vintage Penguin paperbacks, and, stuffed under beds in hidden boxes were all sorts of other cultural ephemera that may (or, more likely, not) have come in useful: badges, football programmes, photos, newspaper articles dating back to the day John Lennon was shot. Madness, all of it.

Somehow I had to get back to what was important, which was friends and family. People, not objects, in other words. Gradually, I started peeling back the layers. I delivered my magazine collection to the Test Pressing blog (I’d already donated nearly 30 years’ worth of NMEs to Rock’s Back Pages). I dispensed with all my novels. I took a load of stuff down the recycling centre. I FreeCycled yet more belongings. Finally, my records. I’d spent over six months having a one-man argument about the prospect of no longer having my collection. But the more I thought about it, the more it felt like an act of liberation rather than a bout of Maoist lunacy.

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What I realised was that this was not an argument about musical disillusionment. I’ve never been more enthused about music than I am right now. It was about a specific format. I’d moved over to Pioneer’s rekordbox four years ago, so I no longer played out with vinyl – and, in any case, I planned to keep my CDs and digital files, all carefully stored on various shelves, clouds and hard drives. In other words, dispensing with vinyl didn’t have to mean I was finished with music.

The plan was to wipe my personal hard drive and move into a new house with nothing. I needed to press the restart button. So I sold it all to my friend (and record dealer) Nick The Record. For posterity’s sake, I took a photo of Nick loading up his van with the final batch of booty (and bootlegs) and waved him goodbye as he motored towards the M1.

When Nick posted his haul on Facebook I was bombarded with texts and calls from friends, all with the same disbelieving question: “Have you really sold everything?” Well, almost. I decided I would keep one copy of every record I’d written, produced, recorded, remixed or compiled, dating back to my first recording in March 1982. The rest are now resident on someone else’s shelves.

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After Nick had left, I sat on the sofa and tried to evaluate what had just happened. I felt neither sad not empty. I’m not even fully sure if I felt liberated, but I definitely felt like a rather large weight (several tons, to be exact) had been lifted from my shoulders – and shelves. I still had thousands of tracks on my laptop and piles of CDs stacked in cardboard boxes. I listen to music constantly. What was the problem?

So far this year, I’ve bought one record. That’s the fewest I’ve acquired since I started collecting in 1971 (Benny Hill’s ‘Ernie The Fastest Milkman In The West’, since you ask). I’m sure I’ll still buy the occasional record, but the mania has left me, possibly for good. I’m still hungry for new music and I can’t imagine a time when that will change. But why would you break your back carrying vinyl to every show when you can take a USB stick with 1,500 tunes on it? Only a loon would do that and, speaking as a reformed madman, that ain’t me no more.

Bill Brewster is a regular contributor to Mixmag. Follow him on Twitter

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