Steve Spithray published a book recounting the story of the first year for Press On Vinyl. Based in Middlesbrough a vinyl pressing plant has been built next to the River Tees using cutting edge technology, world class expertise imported from all corners of the globe this ambitious manufacturing hub has a people-first ethos and is fiercely independent in approach. Training Teessiders in highly skilled roles Press On is very much looking to the future rather than the past.

Steve is known to many as a music writer with north eastern music and arts magazine NARC. He has documented the story from the inside. Chronicling the ups and downs over what turned out to be a pretty momentous time. I wanted to ask the Middlesbrough based writer what drew him to the story and to ask more about his book and the Press On journey.

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- Such an unusual subject for a book - how was the idea hatched?

Henry Carden (one half of the brains behind Twisterella Festival) pointed out Press On Vinyl co-founder Danny Lowe to me at a gig at Base Camp sometime in Autumn of 2021. I had already heard about Press On Vinyl and although I didn’t speak to Danny that night Henry had unknowingly sowed a seed in my mind. I’ve really thought about it being an unusual idea as no subject is too unusual if you have the right ingredients to make it interesting.

- did you draw on any parallels?

David Byrne’s How Music Works book was a big influence on the genesis of my book because of the way it fuses technical knowhow with objective opinion.

- are u a vinyl fan?

Some of my earliest musical memories are rooting through my mum and dad’s vinyl collection when I was very young. Even then I was fascinated by liner notes. My mum had all the Beatles albums and I remember my dad playing Rumours by Fleetwood Mac and the first Dire Straits album when I was still learning to talk. I don’t have a massive vinyl collection but I do love a collectable and Danny very kindly gifted me one of the world’s first bio-plastic test presses that were pressed in Middlesbrough.

- so many unique things about Press On and your book. How did u come to get distributed by a record label rather than book publisher?

I didn’t even approach any traditional book publishers. I just wanted a book about music to be published by a record label. Stephen Gill from Butterfly Effect believed in my vision and also suggested we bring in Fran Harvey to edit the book and help out with a lot of the literary side of things we knew little about.

- so much happened in that year – did you learn a lot about technology as well as the people?

At times it felt like the more I learned the less I understood. It still baffles me how a needle and a groove can create all those amazing sounds, and also that people have been making records for ninety years. There is quite a bit about the tech needed to make records but the book is as much about the characters involved who make Press On Vinyl stand out from the crowd and a beacon of independent creativity in Middlesbrough.

- the Press On crew seem like top characters - were they very receptive to you?

Before they had even pressed a single record they had already agreed to give me warts-and-all access to everything that happened at the plant which was an amazing amount of trust for them to show me. I didn’t know if the business would succeed or fail at that time but from my very first visit I knew it would be one hell of a story to tell.

- were u impressed with the lack of compromise and commitment to their ideals?

The Press On Vinyl ethos is not only what drives the business but also what drives the narrative of the book. Nobody wants to read a book about how to set up a record pressing plant because that would be really boring. From its inception Press On Vinyl turned their little corner of the music industry on its head upsetting quite a lot of people at the same time. Now we are seeing other pressing plants following their lead. It’s not so much about lacking compromise as not accepting the status quo the major record labels perpetuate.

- did u feel u needed to concentrate on a core of people?

I tried to include as many of the staff in the book as possible but there was an obvious core of characters so it wasn’t a conscious decision, it was just naturally how the chapters panned out.

- were u always determined it should be a diary of 1 year?

I needed a start and an end point for the book so twelve months was an obvious time period. The exact dates were initially fairly arbitrary but it turned out to be a very neat (if fortuitous) way of tying everything together in the final couple of paragraphs.

- who had the idea for the little video clips? Have u ever seen this before? They give a whole different dimension dont they?

I already knew Press On Vinyl had an in-house videographer who would be willing to help with exclusive content so when I initially approached Butterfly Effect it was already an idea I had to make the book more interactive. Also, if I just wrote that the inside of the plant being like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory nobody would believe me but this way the reader can see for themselves so the QR codes at the end of each chapter hopefully add a bit more context to what the reader has just read. I’ve seen music books with links to playlists but not this level of content. I’m sure it has been done before though…

- did u learn a lot as a writer?

You never stop learning!

- any future plans for the book project?

We’ve got a couple of hundred paperbacks left so we’ll do a soft relaunch around Father’s Day if needed and we have a big bit of press in the pipeline around that time too. There won’t be a second edition of the physical book once it is sold out but an e-book is now also available for Kindle via Amazon and as an ePub file direct from Butterfly Effect with all the features the physical book has. Those versions will be available indefinitely, I guess.

- what next for you and indeed press on?

I’m concentrating on my freelance writing work for the rest of the year with a big, very cool project hopefully lined up in the summer. As for Press On Vinyl, I hear changes are afoot so I would recommend keeping an eye on their socials…

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