Friday, 29 November 2013

British Library: Inspired by...vinyl

I am lucky to live and work in one of the most exciting cities in the world (well, I think so anyway): London. You could spend your entire life here and never see everything. Mr FD comes from The North- no, not Milton Keynes, even further than that! Way way way up North. So, even though he's lived down here for a while, he does like to go exploring and we try to do interesting things frequently. 

Last night we went to the British Library for an event that combined both of our interests. Me: Libraries. Him: Design. The British Library really is fab for events- they have such a diverse programme. I've been there for exhibitions, to watch films and to attend talks; if you haven't been I'd really recommend checking out their Events page here

The British Library has around 240,000 records in its audio collection. That's just the vinyl and doesn't include CDs, cassettes or digital files. 


Just to get boring on you for a minute (and please skip if you are of the librarian ilk), the BL is one of six Legal Deposit libraries in the UK (the others being the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, Cambridge University Library, the National Library of Scotland, Trinity College, Dublin and the National Library of Wales). What this means is that publishers (individual or otherwise) have a legal obligation to supply them with a copy of any published works including books, manuscripts (including music manuscripts) and maps. However, this doesn't apply to audio- isn't that strange? I suppose the reason for this is because the act originated in 1662, but I'm surprised it hasn't been amended to include audio in that time. Still, the BL do what they can to put agreements in place with record companies and other parties to ensure the collection is as complete as possible. 

The below is a wax cylinder. The sort of thing you'd pop into a phonograph to play. This is the earliest form of a record. 



The next stage, at least in terms of how it looked, is familiar to the record we know today. However, those records could only hold 2 or 3 minutes of music on each side, so if people wanted to hear a lot of songs by the same musician they had to quite literally buy an album's worth- which is why we say album today (love that fact). 

Andy, the Curator of Pop Music (which has to be the coolest job title ever) took us through the way vinyl and design had evolved together over time. In the thirties, sleeves were plain, but by the next decade record companies had wised up to the fact that they could splash their names and logos in BIG PRINT across the front. Fast forward to musicians using record sleeves as a way of showing the customer what they could expect from the inside; and so began the collaboration between musicians and designers which continues today.  We were shown several sleeves with unsigned art on the front by Andy Warhol. Andy Warhol then became very famous and designed the, also famous, Velvet Underground cover below:


For the first run of these sleeves you could peel off the banana as a sticker and there was another one underneath it:


One story I really liked (but didn't get a photo of) was the Blue Monday record sleeve. It was die cut and made to look like a floppy disc, the colours on the edge being a code you could use to crack another code on the album. It was so expensive to make that they soon realised they were making a loss on EVERY record and started issuing a plain sleeve! 

I also really liked some of the bootleg albums. Can you guess which one it is from the below?!


Of course vinyl wasn't always about music. There was a 'teach your parrot to speak Malaysian' record, a 'learn to drive' record (!) and, my favourite, a learn to touch type record below:


It even came with its own pretend type writer! 


What a great night! If fashion, design or media is your thing then you should check out the Inspired By... BL Creative blog here.