Classic Album Sunday: back to basics in Canonbury

The top floor function room of the Hanbury Arms is packed full of people. Some are sat squashed against each other on bar stools, others slouched on leather sofas. It looks like a makeshift living room: candles and bowls of sweets are scattered amongst plates of pizza and glasses of beer.
But instead of the usual bustle of Sunday night drinkers, a piercing silence hangs in the air. Forty pairs of eyes are transfixed on the machine before them – a customised vinyl turntable, onto which a record has just been placed.
It spins serenely. The calm before the thudding drum thunderstorm of Grace Jones’s Walking in the Rain, the opening track of her 1981 breakthrough album, Nightclubbing.

This is Classic Album Sunday, a monthly event at this Canonbury pub, where music fans come to listen to an album in its entirety on original vinyl. The rules are strict: no talking, no mobile phones, and no toilet breaks.

Listeners at the Hanbury Arms enjoying Grace Jones's 'Nightclubbing'


Set up by 42-year-old DJ Colleen Murphy, it’s an attempt to rekindle a way of listening to music which she says has become lost in our download culture, where poor quality pick and mix tracks are listened to as background noise, or as a portable soundtrack to daily life.

“I think in this day and age it is nice to just drop everything and listen to a whole album. When I was younger we used to listen to albums together, but nowadays people do so much listening alone, with headphones in. I wanted to focus on the communal aspect of listening to music again,” she says.

“Good albums tell a story. A classic album has to be good from beginning to end. That’s pretty hard. Most albums do only have a couple of good songs. But if there’s a vision for the whole album that you can see, it works like an artistic piece.”

Murphy’s equipment, which includes a momentous set of Klipshorn vintage speakers, is worth an estimated £30,000. She believes the high quality sound helps listeners get closer to the artists’ original recording.

“MP3s are fine, but you only hear about 20% of what’s been recorded. I think it’s good to have another situation where you try to hear the music as best as you possibly can. And that’s the aim of this soundsystem.”

Andrew Bershadaski, 24, came to last months’ playing of Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions and has come back this week.

“I already had a turntable, but coming here last month gave me the impetus to listen to more records. It just feels more special listening to a complete album on vinyl,” he says.

Although the event pulls in “people of all ages, from their 20s right up to their 50s,” Murphy says that Andrew is symbolic of a niche, yet burgeoning culture of “music nuts” who are rediscovering vinyl.

“Sonically I think vinyl is better, but there’s also the romance of holding an album as opposed to looking at the little downloaded images on iTunes, which just doesn’t have that same kind of tangibility or feeling of ritual.

“I think one reason why young people who grew up with CDs and downloads are really rediscovering vinyl is that digital all seems so ethereal. Here today, gone tomorrow. With downloads, it’s a free for all. Anybody can get it. Whereas now, having the vinyl is actually special. It sets them apart from the rest.”

The next Classic Album Sunday will take place at the Hanbury Arms on Linton Street, N1 7DU, 10 April and will be Primal Scream’s Screamadelica.