Mumbai goes on record

Dr Suresh Chandvankar with his gramophone player. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Our ears catch a soft Jazz melody as we enter Sunil Sampat’s Bandra residence on a weekday morning. The notes emanate from a turntable with a diamond stylus, spinning an album produced by American Record Society, featuring greats like Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie. Only 500 copies of the vinyl record exist in the world; two of which belong to Sampat, bought from a collector in Toronto, a few decades ago. These are among the 9,000 LP (Long Play) records in the 74-year-old’s prized collection. 

“The experience of listening to a vinyl can never be replaced by a CD or cassette,” says Sampat, as he takes out an album of Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan, a Jazz vocalese group of the 1960s. It resembles a glossy replete with the troika’s profile and studio shots, where Yolande Bavan, a Jazz singer from Ceylon, stands out in a saree. “Yolande was willing to buy the albums for 100 dollars apiece but I told her they weren’t for sale. Record Store Day is as important as saving the tigers. There is a whole industry dependent on records. If no one buys them, how will they earn a living?” says Sampat, referring to the day, conceived in 2007 in Baltimore, which annually celebrates the culture of independent record stores.

Record reckoner
Today, Mumbai’s audiophiles can celebrate the city’s first Record Store Day, by heading to a host of sessions presented by The Revolver Club. These include a meet-up with Sampat and vinyl enthusiast Eddie Tauro, a talk by Dr Suresh Chandvankar on the 78-rpm shellac records, and an acoustic set by Ankur Tewari.

“The vinyl listening community in India is reaching a critical mass where record labels are paying attention. Since 2015, sales have multiplied 10 fold and the demand for turntables has also tripled,” says Manu Trivedi, co-owner of the Mahim music store.

Sunil Sampat holds up a few vinyls from his collection. Pic/Suresh Karkera

Blast from the past
According to an article in The Record News, an annual publication edited by music academician Dr Chandvankar, it was the Dum Dum factory in Kolkata, which set up modernised vinyl plants in 1958 to produce a variety of LPs and EPs, including renditions by Kesarbai Kerkar, sitar recitals of Ustad Vilayat Khan and songs of Hindi films like Shree 420.

From 1950s to ’80s, music lovers relied on Rhythm House, Hero and HMV stores in Fort to acquire Indian and Western music titles. Dr Chandvankar, 65-year-old retired faculty member at TIFR, who owns over 3,000 shellac records, recalls, “At the stores, you were allowed to preview the discs at the listening booths before buying them. In 1979, a company announced a sale of five LPs for ‘100 but the queue was so long that they had to ration it.”

Chor Bazaar chronicles
“The vinyl boom lasted until cassettes and later, CDs took over. By the early ’90s, vinyls went off the shelves,” says Tauro, a Sion resident and retired banker. At that time, audiophiles also found it difficult to get hold of record players or styluses. “So, most people ended up selling their collections to raddiwalas,” he adds. This resulted in a thriving second-hand LP market in Chor Bazaar, a haven for vinyl collectors.

Sampat recollects, “An elderly gentleman, who owned a tiny 4×4 feet shop in Chor Bazaar, invited me to his home on the first floor, which was a treasure trove of LPs on Hindustani Classical music. He didn’t even know the names of most artistes. I ended up finding albums of KL Saigal and Pankaj Mullick.” He also acquired albums from Pradip Bhatia (the duo co-founded Jazz Addicts) and Louiz Banks.

Luke Kenny at a vinyl night at Door No 1
Luke Kenny at a vinyl night at Door No 1

Is the vinyl truly back?
The 2000s have seen a revival of sorts for vinyls. Tauro reasons, “Companies like Sony and Universal began to bring records from abroad and sell them here. Plus, companies like Project and Rega started offering entry-level record players, from ‘10,000.”

Venues like Café Zoe, The Little Door and Social have also contributed to introducing millennials to the joy of vinyl with listening sessions and pop-up sales. Arpana Gvalani, owner of Gostana in Bandra, supposedly the first restaurant to add a turntable to its interiors, shares, “Our Bring Your Own Vinyl sessions were an underground movement of sorts. We’re reintroducing them next month.”

Actor-singer Luke Kenny, who recently attended a vinyl night hosted by Bandra’s Door No 1, sums up, “It’s safer to call it a resurgence, with the efforts being made to passionately bring the listening experience and the tangibility of the format into the
consciousness of the distracted millennial, while also drawing out the true believers. Though it would seem like just another hip Western fad replicated a few years after it has run its course internationally, I believe it’s a genuine interest in the format, and the traditional consumption of music as an album and not a fragmented singles-only mode.”

Did you know?
Traditionally, many rural homes would preserve a piece of broken shellac record (made using lac), which was used to treat scorpion bites in its paste form

Your vinyl fix

Title waves: Spend the day (10.30 am to 4.45 pm) meeting fellow vinyl enthusiasts, listening to acoustic sets, picking up early pressings of Rock, Pop and Jazz records, and learning about the advent of vinyl recording at a series of sessions
organised by The Revolver Club.

Door no 1: The retro bar at Bandra Reclamation hosts vinyl nights every Tuesday where owners Mihir Bijur and Vishesh Khanna play their collection, which includes Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby and Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy.

Haji Ebrahim record store: Located opposite Handiwala Masjid in Chor Bazaar, the 50-year-old store is a reservoir of Western Classical, Jazz, Opera, Retro Pop as well as old Hindi film music titles, along with Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali albums. It is open from Monday to Saturday.


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