In 1994, after moving to Brighton, I had the fortune to meet someone who introduced me to the concept of hi-fi separates and the difference they made to music quality. After years of struggling with a sony cassette player, often with a single jack plug in one ear on an evening, it was amazing to hear the real quality of the music I already liked. By happy coincidence this was the time of my first full-time job, so I could actually afford to invest myself. If indeed it can be called investing. Perhaps it is, thinking about it, given the positive or calming energy music can induce.
I actually still remember the components purchased – A Rotel amplifier from an independent Hi-fi shop near work – Rotel, was advised as the best quality amps for the budget, thanks John! Then off to Richer sounds, where an Aiwa double cassette deck, Eclipse CD player and Mission speakers were procured and lugged back from London Bridge on the train. I am now wondering how I managed it and furthermore how many of those brands are still going? They became a core part of the Brighton house and shelves and speaker stands were built for them. An early DIY attempt at continuing the carpentry tradition of several of my ancestors. Happy times, the music was constant. Alas and alack, they all disappeared in the burglary that took place in 2002. I don’t know why, but I’ve always had a feeling they went to a car boot sale somewhere close, but not too close. Like Burgess Hill. Are they still out there somewhere?
It’s a common fact of the progression of life, it seems, that tastes change and/or people are encouraged into things they normally wouldn’t do by themselves. It’s called compromising, apparently, but not always easy to see the compromises being made on the other side of the couple equation. The separates were, therefore, never properly replaced. Armed with a Dixons voucher from the insurance company after the burglary, commensurate to the loss suffered, I eventually compromised on a Technics midi separates set and even that took some persuading. Not quite the same but the music still sounded good.
Step forward another 3-4 years and I compromised still further, much to my shame. I was repeatedly told that hifi was out, digital was in, we don’t have space and eventually it sinks in so much that the whole thing got relegated to cupboards in the basement. My hifi, my sizeable collection of CDs and cassettes, built up over many years discarded completely to all intents and purposes. Sigh. I often wonder why the burglars didn’t take them, are my musical tastes so bad? And do you remember when Cassettes cost £9.99 in the late 80s and CDs, usually £12.99 or so? Imagine how much all this must’ve cost. Despite many subtle hints for it just to be chucked, I never gave in and probably 90% of it successfully stayed down there for about 10 years, until last weekend.
What changed last weekend? I’m actually wondering. In reality, I should’ve got it back out a long time before, but never did. We could’ve enjoyed it together. There were hints – visits to the loppe yielded CD finds for as little as 1-2kr each. Yes, CDs that were once a tenner or more can be bought at 98% off. Hard to beat. For some reason though, they only got played in the car. Perhaps the planned house sale made me loathe to change things around? Clearly now it won’t sell. I certainly felt some need to increase the noise and energy levels, to enjoy the space I own and remake it my own. I may be spending a lot of time here in the near future.
Of course, there was the initial excitement of whether it would even work or not. It certainly had the none-too-pleasant aroma of something that had been in the basement for over 10 years. The CD player pleasingly responded back to life instantly, but the cassette did not and while I am convinced the tuner works, it’s clear that the aerial is either insufficient or radio is dead outside of the digital world mankind has created. It was with great woe that I found the cassette player unresponsive – the lights were on, but no-one was home when it came to actually opening and allowing loading. Rattling told me there could well be cassette-based contents hidden within. I contented myself with the CD player for several days, before yesterday deciding to investigate the cassette further. My Dad would be proud, I used yesterday to dismantle the recently-broken actify, diagnosing a dead motor, before ordering a new online and secondly, dismantling the cassette player. There was no clear reason as to why it didn’t work. Sad. The buttons lit, a small whirr occurred when Open was pressed but it just didn’t. The cassette contents causing the rattling were varied – Les Miserables soundtrack (me) and Bob the Builder (my son?). Bob has become Bob the binned man.
Interestingly, I still have some of those cassettes I used to play on the original Sony back in the 1980s. I guess that’s why I was so keen to get the cassette player working – the earliest days of my musical journey were sitting waiting to be played. By some miracle, today I pressed “Open”, and it did. I have no idea why, but it did. I took a chance inserting one of my first ever albums, if not the first – Pet Shop Boys. Incredibly so, despite their travels and abuse of being left in the damp basement for years, they still work – or at least this one did. Ah the quality! Pet Shop Boys sounding even better than 21yo me remembers after getting my first walkman while working in Staines, in 1992 and falling asleep listening to them on a trip back to Consett. Music creates memories for us all.
That Hifi tells a history – how it came into my posession and how it was used or not used since are mirrors of my own personal story. I almost want to give it a hug. It works again!
Tonight I can really celebrate the miracle of the cassette player somehow managing to kick back into life. I browsed my cassettes and struck upon U2, The Joshua Tree, which I believe I bought in about 1991-92. With some trepidation, I pressed open and loaded the cassette into the player. The music came through as clearly as ever it did, in so many ways. I checked the track list, pressed the necessary buttons to manouevre the cassette to the necessary point and settled upon this classic here. Back then I loved the song and lyrics, little realising it was a prediction of my future. Now I can listen to it and understand what it really means, loaded with the experiences of life.
Footnote : I tried more of the cassette – ah, remember the miracle of cassette players that allowed you to play the whole cassette without removal. Well, the Where the Streets Have no Name is garbled. Perhaps there’s a message for me in that…?