An edited extract from Wobbly Sounds: A Collection of British Flexi Discs, the new book by Jonny Trunk, published by Four Corners Books.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, flexi discs were used to promote everything from pop to porn. Nothing else could match them for cheap, quick, tailored and often fashionable routes to promotion and the market. Exciting advertising novelties, wacky new dances, dull end of year reports, jazz for cheese, anything could and would go on a flexi. As for distribution, once made, your flexi could be given away in cereal packets, posted to you by Reader’s Digest, handed out at exhibitions or shows, swapped for coupons at petrol stations, stuck anywhere in magazines or comics, sent off for with packet lids, but very rarely sold.
As any buyer of second hand vinyl will know, flexi discs have an interesting reputation. They can look fantastic. From their sleeves and descriptions they often promise excitement, sonic oddness and period perfection. And actually they are remarkably durable. But they nearly always sound terrible compared to their more solid but brittle vinyl counterparts. And it’s because they are so often hard to play properly that many are avoided, left to wait in secondhand shops and car boot sales until a flexi enthusiast (like the ones whose collections make up this book) ignores the sonic shortcomings and just wants to briefly wallow in this simple, wobbly little wonder.
As for the sudden demise of the flexi, production ground to a halt as the CD invasion of the 1980s took hold, and anything to do with vinyl or certainly records of any shape or form were quickly forgotten. Now, decades on, we have a new vinyl revolution, and pressing plants around the world are once again trying to perfect flexi manufacturing. I’ve seen a few as freebies for music magazines in the last 12 months, but I somehow think the day of the flexi has been and gone.
Wobbly Sounds: A Collection of British Flexi Discs is out now and available here, priced £10.00.
Jonny Trunk is amongst DJs playing our bar at this year’s Port Eliot Festival.