The charity shop LP challenge

Rob GarrattArctic Monkeys have released their new single exclusively through Oxfam shops. Dedicated charity shop scourer ROB GARRATT took a �5 note down Magdalen Street to see what other gems he could unearth.Rob Garratt

Arctic Monkeys have released their new single exclusively through Oxfam shops. Dedicated charity shop scourer ROB GARRATT took a �5 note down Magdalen Street to see what other gems he could unearth.

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Aside from providing pre-loved clothes, books and household goods at knock-down prices, Oxfam has also been dealing music to the masses since it was founded in 1942.

Now the charity's chain of shops has been chosen by the Arctic Monkeys to exclusively sell their new single, Crying Lightning, the first time Oxfam has sold a new release single since Band Aid in 1984.

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Most music lovers have at one time been tempted in to rifle through the piles of cast-off LPs in the hope of finding a few cheap gems or forgotten masterpieces.

As a self-confessed vinyl junkie, I've tied the causes of my infatuation down to three distinct camps. I started buying record young, before I even owned a turntable, for the simple reason they look cool.

What hits you first is the sheer size of an LP, and I became enthralled by the huge, monotheistic slabs of cardboard, which seem to be a testament to the artist and the music held inside.

In my late teens I realised something everyone says but few believe - they simply sound better. And I'm not talking about the characteristic crackle - there is something about the sensitivity of the stylus that gives the music a greater depth, an organic, rounded sound.

The older the music the bigger the difference - albums from the 1970s and before were recorded and mastered on analogue equipment, for analogue equipment, and as a result are always going to sound better on an analogue turntable.

The third and final strength hit me later when, as a cash-strapped student, I realised I could pick up some of the cornerstones of musical history for little more than the price of a stick of gum.

By spending hours trawling charity shops and dilapidated second hand stores, I amassed a collection of well over 500 records, always making sure I adhered to one simple rule - never buy an LP for more than you can get it on CD for.

One morning this week, I went for a stroll though the plethora of charity shops on Magdalen Street to see what gems I could pick up for a fiver.

The first stop was Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind - where a little too enthusiastically I snapped up the following titles for just 25p a pop - Julian Bream and John Williams' Together, Hits of Hawaii, Nashville Stars On Tour and soundtracks to Doctor Zhivago, The Sound of Music and The Glenn Miller Story - 33s which are unlikely to hit my turntable with alarming regularity, but at that price are worth a hearty punt.

Further down the road Daisy International was a similar story at just 40p an LP, and I picked up an obligatory Jim Reeves Golden Records, along with two dubious-looking compilations entitled Tijuana and Cha Cha Cha - which while likely to be garbage, could just be that perfect, quirky party LP.

So far I'd spent �2.70, more than half my budget, and there was nothing I was dying to rush home, slam on, and crank up the volume.

Pact Animal Sanctuary, on Anglia Square, saw a uniform price leap to �1 an LP. Hot picks included the classic Tracey Chapman debut, which I already had, and a range of Nat King Cole LPs I could live without.

Also on the square, Barnardo's proved to be a rock n' rollers paradise. For fifty pence a pop you could pick up best of LPs by classic '50s artists Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, The Shadows and Dianna Ross and the Supremes - all of which already grace my shelves. I did however leave with a double The World of Johnny Cash collection (50p) that had enough unfamiliar material to enthral, taking my total to �3.20.

Tightening the purse strings, I left Sense empty-handed. However for a quid you could pick up The Mamas and the Papas and Bill Haley and His Comets compilations - again staples I already owned - while they had an OK collection of '70s and '80s pop priced between �1 and �3 - Pet Shop Boys, Genesis, Status Quo, etc.

The Salvation Army had a large collection of classical LPs at 50p each, but by this stage in the budget I wasn't taking any chances. The best thing on offer in Save The Children was more Dianna Ross (�1), and a diverting look jazz 10inch compilation, which wasn't quite enticing enough for the �3 price tag.

Last up was the big daddy - Oxfam. Having a cursory flick through my record collection the morning before I left on this jaunt, I recognised titles by greats like Marvin Gaye, BB King and Paul Simon all picked up at Oxfam branches around the country.

The first thing I saw when I walked in the Magdalen Street store was two iconic record sleeves starring straight at me - Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks (�2.99), and David Bowie's Aladdin Sane (�2.49) - while LPs that I already own, it immediately raised the bar. I felt a knot in my stomach at the thought of the lucky kid who is going to experimentally buy those records and blow his mind.

Scouring the shop's small but well-organised collection, I immediately stumbled upon two titles I just had to buy - and the budget went out the window. They were a double live album by one of my favourite bluesmen, John Lee Hooker, entitled Alone (�2.99), and a Sidney Bechet record called The Blue Bechet (�1.99). I'd now spent �8.18 and was in a severe risk of being late for work.

The vinyl record will always enthral for its unique appearance, nostalgia and cool-factor. And there will always be purist DJs who realise there is simply no sound like it in the world.

But what I love most about LPs is that I can take little more than a half-hour out of my day, and pick up a dozen records for less than the price of a pub round. It's the buzz of finding a bargain, something you were never looking for, but that could turn your world upside-down.


Oxfam has an illustrious musical history spanning decades. The charity sells around 1.8 million CDs and records every year, all donated by the public. The largest single donation was of 6,000 vinyl albums last year to an Oxfam shop in Devon.

In addition the charity's annual Oxjam festival has raised more than �1m through 3,000 events featuring more than 36,000 musicians, including Jarvis Cocker, Fatboy Slim, and Hot Chip.

This heritage persuaded Arctic Monkeys to chose the charity to sell the limited edition 7-inch vinyl single, which also includes a code allowing purchasers to download an MP3 version.

Laurence Bell, of the band's record label Domino, said: 'Oxfam is a great British institution and it's a delight to be working together on this project. As well as raising some money for a great cause we are able to get vinyl back onto more of the nation's high streets, which feels good. We're encouraging customers to bring something of value to donate to the store when they come down to buy the single.'

Oxfam shops in Norwich were this week doing steady trade in selling the single, and indeed several purchases had brought in unwanted albums.

t Crying Lightning is on sale now at the following Oxfam shops: 9-11 Bedford Street, Norwich; 8/10 Magdalen Street, Norwich; 19 St Giles Street, Norwich; 16 Market Hill, Diss; 1 Bevan Street, Lowestoft.