I was trying to think back to the time when I had my Hifi Epiphany and originally had that instant when I first had the experience of knowing that a high level of audio playback was something that was really essential to me.

I thought, wrongly, that this would be a simple case of opening up the old cerebral filing cabinet, having a quick flick through the dusty hanging folders, and pulling out a memory that screamed “This was the moment!”. I just couldn’t do it! Try as I might all I could see in that filing cabinet was a whole load of badly organised memories that wouldn’t distill into one shot of reminiscence that I could knock back in one and then convey the sense of in words for you to understand and hopefully get a sense of. It just wouldn’t come and all I found was myself mentally flipping through the files, pulling out something that looked promising, and then realising that, upon further mental probing, that there was a time before that…and then a time before that too.

Stu tries to remember

Remembering becomes increasingly difficult…

I thought perhaps that I’d been to a Hifi Show in my youth but I know I didn’t. I’m from Barnsley, which, for readers who aren’t aware and perhaps from outside the UK, is a picture-postcard rural idyl situated in the North of England. Despite its pastoral charm and bucolic appeal, Barnsley was somewhat bereft on the old Hifi Show front – I’m not actually sure I would have visited one anyway to be perfectly honest as I was just really into music and really into getting drunk and really into trying to work out what girls were all about, and not necessarily in that order. So that file had a folder but sadly the folder was empty for that time period. Perhaps I’d at some point in time created a mind-file that I really ought to visit a show but that file was left bereft of content and only really began to accumulate content later in life when shows became a natural part of what I do in life.

There was a folder marked Sheffield/M2 and with a date of 1981/82. Now, I psychologically pulled that file to the front of my mind, opened it, and started to leaf through the contents with the day coming flooding back in all its oversaturated colours – it’s weird how memories seem to be coloured and exposed in the shade of the film of the time, or more accurately the visual tone of the programs on the telly. I was thirteen or fourteen, no doubt the latter and getting on for fifteen because I clearly remember having been into a pub before going into the shop and feeling quite tipsy after just a pint of Wards bitter. Yes, the legal drinking age in England at that time was eighteen but in the People’s Republic Of Yorkshire that restriction on boozing had been lowered to eleven – I remember being in a pub aged fourteen or fifteen, drinking a pint of John Smith’s Magnet, playing the one-armed bandit and the landlord (who had just served me my adult beverage) asking if I was old enough to be playing a gambling machine (the legal age for that was 16). Anyway, I remember going into this shop and there being a Meridian CD player and these M2 speakers and somehow convincing the chap in the shop (thinking about it I wonder if that was Ian Ringstead who now writes for us as I know he was in Hifi retail around this time in Sheffield) that I was a serious potential buyer and him letting me have a listen. I don’t recall the music that was played but I do recall the feeling that I was realising some kind of audio dream having now had the opportunity to hear these speakers – I’ve actually looked at purchasing a pair several times just to recreate that moment, but never actually pulled the financial trigger. However, as I looked back into the cabinet of files I clicked that this wasn’t the moment I’d had that epiphany I was on about at the start of the piece. No, there were files in the audio section marked with earlier (and later) dates than this, and, importantly, files marked in much bolder type. What the Sheffield/M2 file contained was little more than the memory of a cheeky youth blagging a listen to some kit that he’d read about in one of the magazines of the day – Hifi News And Record Review if I remember correctly.

Now jump forward to (I think) 1984, sadly the writing on the folder is a bit badly written and beginning to fade so I can’t be absolutely sure – a bit of cross-referencing with the people involved, the friends of the time, and the music I was listening to sort of give me ’84. Now the bit I told you about Barnsley being some kind of rural backwater was an out and out lie. Barnsley is a mining town and in 1984 there was a strike of huge importance going on. Basically, this was a battle between the government of Margaret Thatcher and the miners looking to safeguard their jobs and communities for coming generations. I was at six form college, made pocket money selling bags of thirty mushrooms for a quid, and spending the money in a pub called The Ring o’ Bells. It was a rock pub with a jukebox full of rock music and other pub singalong classics – I still can’t listen to Hotel California without hearing the point in the record where it stuck until someone gave the jukebox a kick. Anyway, the pub was a mix of hippies, rockers, Angels (actually Slaves) and this was pretty much my circle of friends at the time. One of the hippy types, I forget his name but he was going out with a friend of mine called Jill, had a father who was a doctor and lived in a posh bit of town that actually was quite rural. I visited his house only once and immediately became insanely jealous of him because he had a Pink Triangle Turntable, some Mission speakers and I think a Mission/Cryrus amp. I listened and was secretly so impressed it was untrue, though I didn’t let on. Now that was a moment, but it wasn’t THE moment. I think it could well have been had I not been so consumed with jealousy – at the time I think I had an Amstrad (anyone that knows the name will know the unit I’m on about) and could do little but gawp at pictures of gear in the mags.

I think I was about seventeen, the same kind of time I witnessed the Pink Triangle in action, when I was bought a proper Hifi for my birthday or Christmas gift. It was Hitachi and Technics and I loved it. I really loved it, despite it not having the flat-earth credentials of the stuff I was reading about. It played my music and I loved it. However, I remember visiting a friend’s house and he’d been bought around the same time a Dual turntable, a NAD 3020, and a pair of, I think, KEF speakers. My setup, despite costing about the same I’d guess, paled in comparison, or so I convinced myself. I recall going back home, sitting in front of my Japanese separates and listening to it REALLY closely and persuading myself that I was hearing faults in it that perhaps really weren’t there at all. I think this is actually the point where I became to obsess as much about the kit as I obsessed about the music. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

I could thumb through the files in my head forever and still not find that spark, that moment where I became all consumed by the quality of audio playback. What I keep coming back to is reading about the gear whilst listening to music. I read about Naim and I read about the LP12… and I wanted both. I’d never actually heard either, but I knew I wanted them based on what I’d seen written. And so looking back I suppose that spark of loving all the kit and caboodle surrounding Hifi sort of goes back to me being an impressionable teenager that was massively influenced by the hacks of the day. Not a lot changes really and regular readers will have noticed a distinct correlation between what I wrote about last week and where the idea for this piece came from.






Stuart Smith

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