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Mirror Works: Job Focus: Noel's musical mystery tour.

Byline: MARK CHADBOURN

NOEL Sidebottom can sit back and listen to some of the Beatles' rarest recordings, Florence Nightingale speaking and Brahms playing the piano. And he even gets paid for it.

Noel has one of the best jobs any music fan could wish for. He is acquisitions officer for the British Library Sound Archive, where he stockpiles copies of every CD released and seeks out old records.

That might mean hanging out at dusty record fairs or searching online to find that elusive A&M copy of the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen. Even the latest trip-hop white label ends up on his desk.

"This is an ideal job for somebody like me," admits Noel, 47. "I'm surrounded by records all the time - there's always something on my headphones."

His record hunger started in Lancashire when he was a teenager. "I half-ran a record library," he says. "The boss was off sick a lot of the time and I was pressed to do the record ordering. Then I saw a job advert in the old Listener magazine."

Noel goes from an office packed with records to a home exactly the same. "I have about 6,000 LPs and 2,000 CDs - a whole room devoted to them," he says. "My partner is very understanding. She knows every bloke has to have a hobby and a garden shed, or the equivalent. It's the male hunter-gatherer thing - the thrill of the chase.

"I've always been fascinated with gramophone records. My dad said I could identify any record before I could walk. And I've been amassing my own collection since I was 12."

He joined the Sound Archive as a technical assistant in 1978 and helped the technical restoration department to save some of the rare recordings of the past.

Everything from damaged wax cylinders from Victorian times and record company acetates to flawed digital recordings needs loving attention. It's his job to sift through 2,000 records, CDs and singles every month - about 70 per cent of everything that's released.

There are always gaps in the collection, but there is no budget to buy them. So Noel tries to persuade collectors to donate items, knowing that their prized records will be carefully stored away for the good of the nation.

Yet while some may salivate at hearing rare music from the stars, Noel doesn't. "I'm more interested in electronic ambient music and bands who don't have singing. I don't really like the voice," he says.

"I suppose I don't like ordinary music that much. The CDs I get excited about have titles like Psychedelic Trance Compilation 31.

"But I still get excited when the delivery people bring in the boxes of new releases. It's like Christmas Day for me."

It's not just about music. The Sound Archive has some of the earliest recordings from the 19th century.

There are also wildlife recordings, sound effects, top drama productions and an oral history about life 50 years ago.

"I love this job," says Noel. "They're going to carry me out of here in a wooden box. I can't really see myself fitting in anywhere else."

CAPTION(S):

OLD PLAY: Noel with some of the Archive's classic vinyl; HISTORIC: Flo; Picture: ALISDAIR MACDONALD
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 26, 2003
Words:540
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