Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Jumble sales have given way to vintage fairs – or secret vintage fairs as they’re sometimes known

Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons - Credit: PA

When did you last go to a jumble sale? Ages ago? Same here. That’s because, mostly, jumble sales have given way to vintage fairs – or secret vintage fairs as they’re sometimes known.

At some point in the recent past, sharp-eyed women who knew something about ‘schmutter’ got into the charity shops and began creaming off anything of any worth. They’re still doing it. This is why I’m finding it harder to get my old waistcoats and all the other tut which I like to wear.

What I discover, is that a waistcoat which might once have cost me about five quid at, say, a hospice shop, will now appear at a vintage fair costing twenty-five quid. For someone who’s been a waistcoat man since he was 16 years old, this is a tragedy. The last three waistcoats which I acquired have all been bought new. It’s become an expensive venture, lately.

Just what is the difference between vintage and jumble, though? I’ve been examining this in some detail and I’ve come to the conclusion that chiefly, it’s the price – along with the ironing. If I buy a white dress-shirt from a charity shop for a fiver, the chances are that a) It’s unworn, or b) the nice women who run the gaff will have put it through the Zanussi and given it a bit of an iron.

The same shirt selling at a vintage fair, even though it may cost four times as much, might be crumpled, have a button missing and smell slightly musty, like its been at the bottom of Mr Darcy’s sea trunk for a century or so. Even though it’s essentially the same shirt as the charity shop one, it will seem somehow more authentic. In the unlikely event that I’m challenged to a pistol duel that same evening, the vintage shirt will be the one I’d most like to be seen wearing if wounded. It’s more romantic somehow. Ah, but the people who run vintage fairs know this stuff.


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I predict that one day, we may look back on our current period as the New Vintage Years. Let’s summarise what we’ve had so far. New Beards for instance. This is a big one. I cannot now walk around Colchester without seeing earnest, lady-faced boys from perfectly good middle-class homes, sporting frankly, silly-looking beards.

As a boy during the mid 1960s I can only remember two famous, youngish men with beards. One was a naturalist called Graham Dangerfield and the other was a now-disgraced family entertainer of antipodean origins. Beards were objects of suspicion in my family. I recall my late father, on one occasion, seeing someone with a beard and barking “The man looks like a parrot peeping through a bloody hedge!”

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The fearsome appearance of skinny lads with spray-on jeans and tight-knitted beards, is only compounded by the heavy tweed waistcoats with which they accessorise the disaster. This is why I can’t get my waiscoats any more.

Have a look at a picture of those fashionably rugged Notting Hill ruralists, Mumford & Sons. The name may sound like a West Country removals firm but they’re actually a folk band. Mark E. Smith, the founder of The Fall, Manchester’s genuinely vintage punk band, was so incensed by their music, that after hearing them rehearse at a Dublin festival, he was moved to hurl a bottle at them. When I learned of this, I was only mildly surprised, although for some reason, it caused hyena-like peals of laughter from my colleague, John Cooper Clarke, who knows Smith well. Maybe it’s a northern thing.

One vintage item making a rather welcome return during recent times, is the vinyl record. Now I’m not only old enough to remember buying vinyl to listen to, I’m of sufficient age that many of my own first recordings were issued on vinyl.

During the mid 1980s, when vinyl records and cassettes were supplanted by CDs, there were a few cynics who complained that we didn’t know enough about the medium. Charges were levelled that CDs didn’t sound as ‘warm’ as records. The big complaint, however, was that greedy record companies had simply found a way of making us all re-buy our entire music collections in a relatively untested format. As early as the 1990s, some of us discovered to our dismay that the data on our cherished CDs had become unplayable.

The arguments over whether vinyl or digital is the best listening format continues to spin in its own grave on the pages of journals read chiefly by the shed-bound.

Vinyl discs, until recently, were becoming yet another quaint cul-de-sac in that furry province called Yesteryear. No longer. UK sales of vinyl and vinyl players have rocketed to a 20-year high, and two weeks ago the BBC launched an official vinyl sales chart.

For a few, vinyl has never gone away. The prog-rockers of the mid 1970s have kept the flame burning. It’s a curious thing but a lot of those people had premature beards too. You’d see them shuffling around Colchester record shops on Saturdays in their old greatcoats and baseball boots, with King Crimson’s second album, In The Wake of Poseidon and a copy of Melody Maker tucked into their jute shoulder bags.

So if vinyl’s back and everything vintage rules, can moulded plastic Beatle-wigs, collarless jackets and Cuban-heel boots be far behind? And can I have my waistcoats back? I think we should be told.

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