By Tom Bromley

Last week, I changed the needle on my record player. I know, hold the front page. But wait up: there is a story behind that may say something about music during lockdown.

I realised I needed a new needle after buying the debut album by Arlo Parks a couple of weeks ago. Parks is fantastic young singer-songwriter and poet to boot: in normal times, the release of her debut record would be making bigger waves that it has done. I’ve been a fan for a while, so had been looking forward to hearing the record. But when it came, it sounded terrible: muffled and crackly. I suspected that I’d been sent a bad pressing, with something having gone wrong in the factory and so sent it back for a replacement.

No sooner had I done so that I put on another record to discover it sounded, yes … muffled and crackly. It was nothing to do with a bad pressing and everything to do with my stylus. A needle should last about 500 hours before giving up the ghost: mine appeared to have done do pretty much the first minute past.

So I ordered another needle. Or, at least, I attempted to. Everyone I tried had ‘sold out’ and ‘none in stock’ on their websites. Eventually, I spoke to an audio shop in Birmingham, explaining what I was looking for. The man on the phone laughed: good luck with that, he said. Apparently, needles are something of a rarity. Nothing to do with Brexit, if that’s what you’re thinking, but everything to do with reduced supply from Covid-hit factories and, in particular, increased demand from people stuck at home dusting down their records.

There’s no way of knowing exactly how much music has been consumed over lockdown, but if that amount has increased during the pandemic, as the audio specialist suggested, that would seem a good thing. Music and mental health go hand in hand: research has shown that when people listen to music, levels of dopamine, the feel-good chemical in your brain, are up to 9% higher. As a reaction to lockdown, listening to your favourite albums make perfect sense.

Last year saw releases of new books, films and albums delayed and rescheduled. The year in music was summed up by two of Glastonbury’s planned headline acts – Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift – releasing recorded-at-home albums instead. But now we’re in 2021, record companies are no longer holding back and making up for lost time. Already, the year has seen critically acclaimed records from Black Country, New Road, The Weather Station and, yes, Arlo Parks. Which now I have finally tracked down a new needle, is music to my ears.