We caught up with Guy Martin from Reel Connections, who are hosting a monthly Record Club at the Playhouse. Guy talks to us about the power of music in our lives and how that can make us open, his favourite bands and his love for a gatefold sleeve.
Tell us more about the Record Club at the Playhouse
The idea was inspired by the resurgence of interest in vinyl and a number of album listening clubs that started springing up around the country a few years back.
The club is very informal and is similar to how book and film clubs work in many ways –with an emphasis on discussion and meeting new people. Record choices are agreed ahead of each meeting, and then each month, we gather at the Playhouse to enjoy a classic album played in full, on vinyl, on a quality sound system. When the record finishes, we grab a coffee before discussing our reactions to the album whilst having a listen to any other relevant tracks along the way.
Why is this club targeted at men?
The Record Club is open to all, but the original idea came out of discussions with friends and organisations like the 12th Man Campaign, who told us that men are often less likely to take part in social activities within their local communities than women. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot. Many men are more comfortable participating in social settings when they revolve around a shared passion – whether that’s football or music, as is the case with me and many of my friends.
Having said that, we definitely don’t want anyone to feel excluded, so it absolutely isn’t a ‘men only’ club! In fact, we think it’s really important to allow the group to develop organically and be as diverse as possible. At our last meeting, we had a mix of men and women of all ages, which can only be a good thing. The other important thing I think is that the monthly sessions remain ‘drop-in’, and people can feel free to pop down when they like or are able – and that way, the group stays flexible and varied (unlike a membership-based club which might feel a bit off-putting for some).
What are the positive effects of music on mental health
The Record Club is part of a wider project we started developing in 2019 called Music on My Mind with the support of the National Lottery Community Fund.
There’s a quote I really like from Aretha Franklin (the Queen of Soul herself); “Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It can take you right back…to the very moment certain things happened in your life. It’s uplifting, it’s encouraging, it’s strengthening.”
Music is something all of us share to some degree. People talk about how some songs can form the soundtrack to our lives – and I would definitely agree with that. We might remember the first record we ever bought (mine was a Four Seasons single called ‘Oh What a Night’ if you’re asking), and hearing a song unexpectedly on the radio can transport us to a moment in a way that can be immensely powerful. I’d argue that no other art form can do this.
During the lockdowns, we produced a series of podcasts on the subject. We had one particularly fascinating chat with music psychologist Dr Victoria Williamson. Victoria explained how the brain processes music and how it impacts our minds and behaviours. For example, listening to our favourite music boosts our dopamine levels, which is a naturally produced feel-good chemical. Studies show that these benefits are markedly greater when we share the experience with others in the same physical space. So, it’s official! Music connects us to other people. In fact, we learned that there has never been a human civilisation recorded where music hasn’t been part of its social rituals from the beginning.
Why does music help people open up?
For many of us, I think music is central to our sense of identity and memories. Going back to that idea that songs form the soundtrack to our lives. I find it amazing how hearing a song on the radio can take us back to a moment in your life, and of course, songs express so many ideas and powerful emotions – typically in just a few minutes.
It’s also a way that we find our ‘tribes’ and connect to other people. For example, we have been working recently with an organisation called the Museum of Youth Culture. They have been producing an amazing public archive of people’s photos called ‘Grown Up in Britain’ that documents the variety of youth movements over the last 100 years – and music (and specifically records) is central to all of them.
What’s your go-to record?
It’s so tricky to pick just one – I think most people go to different records at certain times (this time of year, I always find myself drawn back to Van Morrison’s Moondance for some reason) but ‘Rattlesnakes’ by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions has a special place in my heart.
Putting aside all the arguments about sound quality for a moment, there’s something about the ritual of placing a record onto a turntable and dropping the needle down. It encourages you to be in the moment by escaping the tyranny of the shuffle button. It’s so rare these days to find the time to listen to a complete album, as the artist intended, in the company of others. It really is a different, more fulfilling experience than listening to music streamed on earphones, for example. At our last meeting, we listened to Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions (which many feel to be his finest record), and I had forgotten how each track fades into the next and how perfectly sequenced it is. And let’s not forget the (gatefold sleeve) cover art – something that is definitely lost since the advent of digital.
What’s an artist you think everyone should listen to?
I don’t like to be too dogmatic when it comes to my own musical passions – but since you ask! I think Prefab Sprout are one of those bands who have never really received their due outside of the faithful few like me who believe Paddy McAloon is one of the greatest songwriters our country has ever produced. It’s a shame that most people only really know them from their one-hit single (King of Rock n Roll), which is pretty unrepresentative. I’d encourage anyone to seek out their album Steve McQueen.
What’s your music guilty pleasure?
I don’t really feel guilty about my musical pleasures. One of the good things about streaming is that we all have instant access to the history of recorded music at the click of a button. A lot of the old prejudices have dissolved. But I have to admit that recently I have returned to some classic prog records I first discovered as a teenager when I started getting serious about buying records. I think it might have had something to do with the challenges of the last few years, to be honest – the pleasure of retreating to the familiar – the musical equivalent of comfort food. And I’m a sucker for a gatefold sleeve!