Interview: Colleen Murphy

Classic Album Sundays founder and renowned DJ Colleen Murphy is an audiophile dedicated to bringing music fans ever closer to the sound, touch and feel of iconic albums.

What started in 2010 as a monthly album club in a friend’s London pub has flourished into a worldwide Classic Album Sundays community, with events throughout the UK, US, Europe and even Japan.

‘I aspired to give fans the experience of hearing the music as close as possible to the artist’s original intent,’ she tells M. ‘I wanted the experience to be shared by people who may not normally sit together in a room, united only by their love of music.’

From being the protégé of David Mancuso in the nineties – the DJ behind legendary disco club the Loft – to running a record label (Bitches Brew) and recording projects with former Captain Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas, music has always been at the forefront during Colleen’s jam-packed 20 year career.

This Saturday (13 October), she hosts a documentary on BBC Radio 6 Music for National Album Day, exploring the comeback of the concept album.

Ahead of that, we catch up with her to discuss the value of the album in 2018…

What was the first album you fell for?

When I was 12 years old, I installed a hand-me-down GE Trimline portable turntable in my bedroom and then raided my uncle’s record collection. Because I loved the album cover and its only hit single Nights in White Satin, I borrowed The Moody Blues Days of Future Passed (I still haven’t given it back). This is the album that made me fall in love with the album format, as the entire record was a singular piece that depicted an entire day joined together by interludes by the London Festival Orchestra. I would put it on from the beginning and listened straight through to the end. To this day, once the needle hits the record it brings a tear to my eye.

How did Classic Album Sundays come into being?

I started Classic Album Sundays as a monthly ‘album club’ in my friend’s pub as a labour of love because I felt our listening habits had changed and we had forgotten what it was we loved about music. I decided to create a platform in which music lovers could immerse themselves into an album that has helped shape our culture, our socio-political values and in some cases, our lives.

I aspired to give fans the experience of hearing the music as close as possible to the artist’s original intent, so decided to feature the album in its entirety, on vinyl, and on a world-class audiophile hi-fi enabling fans to hear the most intricate details. I wanted the experience to be shared by people who may not normally sit together in a room, united only by their love of music.

It seems many other music fans felt the same way as my little pub night expanded into a worldwide Classic Album Sundays community with CAS satellites in four continents and a website that is a hub for classic albums and artists. I’m very proud of it.

Why does the album still have value in 2018?

It is interesting, as the album’s value seems to have increased in this millennium in reaction to our increasing dependence on digital methods of music listening. Now fans are looking for a more authentic, analogue experience and one of the best ways for the uber-fan to support their favourite band is to buy a vinyl copy of their record.

The concept album has also made a big comeback in this century which shows that artists want to create and listeners want to digest a full musical narrative – I will host a documentary on this very topic for BBC Radio 6 Music on National Album Day. Long live the album!

We’re in a world dominated by music streaming and digital – what does an album do that a playlist or mixtape can’t?

The album allows the artist to communicate a more expansive statement, whether as a narrative concept album or as a collection of songs that represent where that artist is emotionally and musically at a given moment. It is a cohesive creative expression.

What can we do as music lovers to help protect the concept of the album?

Buy records! Support the artists, the record labels and the record shops.

What is the weirdest/most intriguing story you’ve learned about a record or artist from doing Classic Album Sundays?

There are so many great stories but one that immediately springs to mind is that Fleetwood Mac’s masterpiece Rumours, one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, was nearly lost! Without the normal budget concerns, the band took an incredibly long time to record the album and recorded take after take in the studio. They were constantly overdubbing on the master tapes which started to decay as the iron oxide started to flake off after being wound and rewound.

Finally, the tape no longer had the same sonic quality as it had when it was first used. Luckily, producers Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut had the foresight to run another 24-track machine when recording the basic tracks ensuring they had a back up of the old parts. The engineers then had to match up all of the new parts with the old parts without time code or midi, but almost like a DJ matching up the timing with one part on one channel and the other part on the other channel. Alongside dealing with rock’s greatest soap opera in the recording studio, these two champion producers had their patience tried to the limit. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall…

Do you think the album will still exist in the future? Or will a different musical format have replaced it?

I think the album will always exist as true artists will always want to make an expansive musical statement, but my forecast is there will be two formats in terms of its manifestation. I believe digital formats like the CD will become irrelevant, as listeners who prefer digital because of its convenience will ultimately decide to stream their music and will turn to licensing rather than ownership.

I feel vinyl will remain the mainstay choice for those who want to support a physical format because of its emotional engagement, the physical album cover and its musical and sonic superiority (when pressed correctly!).

What’s your favourite album and why?

That is an impossible question for me, so rather than say this is my ultimate favourite album of all time, I would rather put forth two full albums that I have been listening to a lot recently: Ágætis byrjun, a classic album from Sigur Rós – our Classic Album Sundays July Album of the Month – and the other is an album my teenage daughter has been playing all summer (she bought it on vinyl!) – Freudian by Daniel Caesar. Both of these albums are wonderful listens from beginning to end. Okay, I will mention one more eternal and universally loved classic: Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. I’m sure you will agree that I do not need to justify that choice.

National Album Day takes place on 13 October 2018.

www.classicalbumsundays.com

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