A trendy art gallery in the middle of London’s even trendier Shoreditch is not the first place you’d think of to find 100 people sitting round listening to a 41 year old album of frail, beautiful whimsy. Especially when they were listening to the album on state of the art high-end audio. But, this is the new music movement in the UK, and it’s growing.
The Idea Generation Gallery is currently hosting an exhibition of the art and paintings of Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett. So, it was wholly appropriate to play his 1970 album The Madcap Laughs as part of the event. And right now, there’s an undercurrent trend to play albums on vinyl and through good audiophile equipment, and it all comes down to Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy.
It all began last year. Upset at how listening to music is becoming a background, passive activity, DJ Colleen began inviting a few friends over to her house after gigs to sit round and listen to a whole album; always on vinyl, and always on a damn good turntable. Pretty soon, this grew into an event in its own right, known as Classic Album Sundays. Once a month, Colleen would move her home equipment into the Hanbury Arms in Islington, London, and play one classic album from beginning to end. The BBC ran a couple of excellent features on these events, and pretty soon the ball began rolling. The Syd Barrett event was a logical extension of these Classic Album Sundays.
This was a little different, though. And high-end importer Absolute Sounds rose to the challenge. The audio system might be the means whereby the music happens, but this was something special; a Continuum Criterion turntable, Copperhead arm, Koetsu cartridge, Audio Research Reference phono stage and preamp, DarTZeel monoblocks, Transparent Audio cables and a pair of Wilson Audio MAXX 3 loudspeakers. This was an epic set-up, especially given the Absolute Sounds team – along with John Giolas from Wilson Audio, who made a whistle-stop visit to the UK just to help install the speakers – had just a few hours to install. This is the kind of system that could take a day or more to put together, but was rigged up in just a couple of frantic hours.
Colleen, along with Eddy Lawrence, music editor of Time Out London and Michael Fremer, vinyl ambassador ‘of a nearby parish’ introduced The Madcap Laughs, told the crowd why albums are still important and why vinyl is still popular in our increasingly digital world. Then, the lights dimmed, Colleen played the album, and the results were fascinating. For some, it was the first time they had heard the album as a complete entity in one sitting.
There was enrapt listening, dancing and even applause at the end. Everyone stayed in their seats, even when Colleen flipped the disc over. No one left their seats for the whole event and all respected the album for what it is. They even turned off their cellphones. The acoustics were compromised by it being an art gallery and the constant whirr of the gallery’s filer server could have held the whole thing back… but nobody cared when they heard the album played without restriction.
Putting a hundred of London’s glitterati into voluntary silence for the length of an album on a Thursday evening is almost unheard of today. Not only that, more than half stayed around to talk about the music and albums afterwards. It was a great night, too. And if anyone remembers those days when people used to gather round at someone’s house to listen to a great album… well, they’re back!