Mal White does not own an iPod, doesn’t really understand MP3s and won’t spend a penny with digital music behemoth Spotify.
But the 52-year-old, despite shunning modern technology, is arguably at the forefront of a much cooler music movement.
He runs White Label Records, the most southerly record shop in the British Isles, which will be one of 245 similar outlets celebrating vinyl at a once-a-year event next Saturday.
It will be the 11th annual Record Store Day – an occasion which has grown in size over the past decade to reflect a growing interest in records – both old and new.
‘So many people have got the vinyl bug at the moment,’ he says.
‘It’s a mix of people just discovering it or older music fans who are getting back into it. I see people all ages, from 13-year-olds up to pensioners, who are getting into vinyl. The pressing plants where they make records can barely keep up at the moment – there’s not that many left and most are in eastern Europe.’
Record Store Day was launched with the concept that bands would release new music or re-release old albums in limited numbers, creating a buzz for that day and allowing collectors to purchase rare or missing records. The popularity of the event has risen so much that this year will see more than 500 records made available on the day, including albums from David Bowie, Arcade Fire, and Led Zeppelin. Mal has managed to secure around 250 of the titles, though he may only have one or two copies of the more popular albums – which all of the record stores have been fighting for.
‘For example, Air are releasing Sexy Boy Picture Disk as a one-off on that day, which will be super limited,’ he says.
‘Tim Burgess from The Charlatans has something coming out which has never been released. Ocean Colour Scene are releasing Marching Together on green vinyl. And this year 101 Damnations by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine is being released, which is something I’ve been after for years. Unfortunately I have to let my customers have first pick…’
Mal was born in Jersey and has always lived in St Clement. Educated at Victoria College, he says that his school days were not defined by music, as people might imagine. While he was a fan of his sister’s glam-rock collection his first real passion for any genre was not until the late 1970s and the emergence of punk rock/new wave bands such as The Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Jam. He did not have a music collection at the time, apart from a few 7-inch singles, purchased at Jersey’s original King Street music shop, Lady Jane Records, with money from his paper round. ‘That was what a record shop should be – a place where you go to meet your mates on a Saturday and listen to music.’
But it was a year-long stint in Ibiza in 1989, working as a barman at Las Dalias (a live music venue which still exists), which really fuelled his love for music and vinyl.
‘I went there to have a blow-out for a year and was supposed to travel the world but ended up staying there the whole time,’ he says.
‘I started to get into the dance side of things because of all the nightclubs.’
On his return to Jersey, Mal got a job at The CD centre in Halkett Street before moving to Seedee Jons in Colomberie in 1994 to further indulge his passion for dance music.
‘The club scene was really big in Jersey at the time,’ he says.
‘It’s not bad now but it was better back then. It was a great time to be involved in records and eventually I opened my own store, White Label Records, in 2002 to concentrate specifically on dance vinyl.’
Both then and now, Mal has depended on a dedicated core of customers – people who return each week for the latest record or who task him with tracking down a rare album. It is a business model that is arguably more sustainable than relying on ‘pop-in’ customers, though Mal has had to adapt his offering to suit changing trends and the growing interest in ‘classic vinyl’.
‘A lot of old jazz, funk and soul albums were getting released on vinyl back then, so I started moving into other areas of music. When I moved shop in 2012 I stopped doing dance vinyl and focused on the LP market.’
Mal now runs his business from home – having closed his shop in 2016 – where he has a converted building where he sells new and secondhand records. He says that new customers tend to be interested in the classics, such as Nirvana, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, while the true collectors want rare items or limited edition records. Mal ships records across the world but also has a healthy core of Jersey customers, who benefit from his policy of hand-delivering records across the Island.
He holds no nostalgia for CDs, which had a healthy 30-year reign before being usurped by digital music.
‘I chucked all my CDs away a few years ago and I don’t miss them,’ he says.
‘They’re boring. I do wonder whether they will make a comeback in the same way that records have but I don’t really see it happening.
‘Tapes are also making something of a comeback. There’s a couple of people releasing cassettes on Record Store Day, including AC/DC and the Wu Tang Clan. Even Kylie’s new album will be on tape. But I don’t see it becoming anywhere near as popular as records – there’s not the same nostalgia or affection. I have got a few customers who want to buy tapes, though, so I always order a couple.
‘But I don’t have Spotify – it’s too complicated for me. I’m a good
St Clement’s boy – I can’t even put tunes onto an iPod. I just haven’t gone down that route.’
The resurgence of vinyl is to do with having something tangible in your hands, Mal thinks, with people enjoying the feeling of spending £20 on something that you can hold and interact with.
‘You see people in the shop picking them up, taking them out of the sleeve, reading the notes. And the sound quality is great, too – you can really hear the difference compared to CDs, especially on a really good sound system. I find it’s a much deeper sound – there’s more depth to records than digital files. Some people also like the hiss and crackle you get on original records. It’s something you’re going to keep for years, if you look after it, which means not leaving it in the car on a hot day…’
The only potential issue that concerns Mal over Record Store Day is that the event is now so successful, there are not always enough records to go round. Because there are a limited number of releases, which have to be shared out among 245 stores in the UK, he may only get one or two copies of a particularly sought-after album.
As such, he operates a common sense rule whereby people can only buy one copy of any album – though there is no limit on how many different records they can buy.
‘I’ve seen people nearly come to blows when they both try to pick up something at the same time,’ he says. ‘The records are so limited that it becomes a mad rush for the first hour or so, with people queueing outside the store hours before. There’s so many shops doing it these days that it’s harder to get hold of everything. For example, there’s four David Bowie records this year. I’ll order ten copies of one of them and might be lucky to get three.
‘I try to use common sense – people have to share the love and if two people grab something at the same time I might have to toss a coin!
‘They are all reasonably priced records, varying from £15 to £35, but in the UK you do get a lot of “flippers”, who are there to buy things and stick them on eBay at five times the price.’
Record Store Day is still Mal’s favourite 24 hours of the year, of course, and he’s made every effort to make the event even more inclusive this year – with live bands, DJs and fellow secondhand record sellers all taking over Ce Soir, opposite Weighbridge Place, for the day. Doors are open between 9 am and 4 pm and the aim is to create a ‘record fair’ atmosphere.
‘We’ll have a core bunch of customers who will come down and hopefully some new faces,’ Mal says.
‘People can come down, have a drink at the bar, enjoy some live music and browse the records. It’s a first-come, first-served basis. We are not allowed to put anything aside for people because when you apply to be a part of Record Store Day you sign up to a code of conduct, which also means you can’t sell anything online for seven days after the event. I tend to sell nearly everything on the day – especially when the collectors come down. There are people in Jersey who have record collections that run into thousands. It’s the rare stuff that is valuable, though. People always say to me “I’ve got lots of Beatles records – are they worth anything?” Probably not, seeing as millions of people bought the same album!”
When it comes to Mal’s collection, he has a relatively conservative 600 or so records on his shelves at home – though he does have access to thousands more in his shop – and his broad taste means that he enjoys everything from classical and jazz to Pink Floyd and The Manic Street Preachers. As such there are a few valuable records in his collection, both in terms of sentimental and monetary value.
‘My musical taste is so vast. I’ll listen to jazz, blues, hip-hop. The only thing I can’t listen to is death metal – but maybe that’s because I’m getting older. I still love my dance music, too. That’s where my heart is.
‘One album that I’m still trying to get my hands on is Tracy Chapman’s first album on vinyl. I know they’re out there but I’ve never come across one. The rarest album I own is a box-set of the Rolling Stones live in Atlanta. Just after they came out, the record company recalled all of the records because they went against some licensing rule or other, and I sent them all back – apart from one. That’s probably worth a few quid.’
- Record Store Day is at Ce Soir, Weighbridge Place, on Saturday 21 April, between 9 am and 4 pm.