Record Shop Day is a brilliant idea.
Celebrating vinyl and the independent record shop, defying the corporate chains and firing up the grass roots- all things we celebrate here at LTW!
above photo supplied by Piccadilly Records, with thanks”.
Cath Aubergine will be DJing at Dream Machine Records’ post-Record Store Day party at The Castle, Oldham St, Manchester on Sunday 17th April. There will be a full live set from Scottish spacerock/shoegaze band St Deluxe, whose Record Store Day exclusive ten inch features remixes by Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite amongst others, plus support; ÃÂ£4 on the door.
meanwhile the membranes will be playing Monorail in Glasgow on Saturday April 16th
For the full list of exclusive items available go to Piccadilly Records ( ),
or your own favourite local independent record shop.
Above:Cath Aubergine’s treasured ten inch vinyl collection…pic Cath Aubergine
I think my German exchange partner possibly thought I was insane. Not necessarily in general (though she might have done) but I kind of realised within seconds of letting out an excited yelp in a small record shop in Darmstadt that the combined extent of my German and Tanja’s English may be insufficient to explain the enormity of what I was about to spend 12 Deutschmarks (about ÃÂ£4 in 1987) of my holiday money on. The Stranglers had long been one of my favourite bands and while I’d been born a few years too late to enjoy their punk heyday, frequent channelling of my pocket money and dinner money towards the second-hand stall in Manchester’s underground market had over the preceding couple of years netted me an impressive collection including a complete set of seven inches and LPs. This, though… well, you never saw this anywhere. J.J.Burnel and Dave Greenfield’s side project album “Fire And Water” was hardly regarded as a classic but its sheer scarcity (presumably because few people actually bought it when it came out) made it something of a holy grail amongst completists: I’d scoured the second hand shops of North West England to no avail, made fruitless phone calls to the London emporia whose NME panel ads promised rarities, but here it was, finally in my hands. As my dad lifted my suitcase from the carousel back at Manchester Airport I almost tore it open, desperate to confirm my precious cargo had landed intact.
I have student-aged friends these days I’ve known since their mid-teens who are every bit as obsessed with music as I was and indeed still am, who understand that holding a record in your hands will always beat downloading a file online; kids who have forced their parents to retrieve from attics vinyl record players packed off up there before they were born so they can enjoy the drop of a stylus onto new and vintage plastic – but they’re unlikely to experience the sheer high I got that afternoon in Darmstadt. They may have holy grails of their own but they’re more likely to find them on E-bay or specialist sites than thumbing through dusty racks of plastic-covered sleeves. And in any case, the shops I loved in my teens mostly aren’t there any more. I don’t mean the Piccadillys and Rough Trades, the renowned credible indie stores catering for specialist tastes that will always exist; I mean the small independent record shops that once existed in every town, usually named “Tracks” or after the proprietor where the week’s Top 40 sat alongside golden oldies, not-so-golden oldies, the odd rarity, the local indie band’s first release, several Daniel O’Donnell and Perry Como collections and a wall display that always had “Dark Side Of The Moon” in it. The shops whose owners and assistants – often a family business – were on first name terms with Graham Jones as he travelled the land in a van throughout the 80s and 90s delivering stock to every last one of them. “Last Shop Standing” is his story and theirs, and if your teenage years were anything like mine then parts of it are yours, too.
If the autobiography of a record sales rep – which forms the first part of the book – doesn’t immediately leap out at you as fascinating subject matter then think again: in these days of TV-driven karaoke-show Christmas number ones and the aggressively-promoted likes of Lady Gaga it’s not unusual to hark back to a time when the charts “meant something”. And yeah, we always knew the charts were to some extent manipulated – but the bluntly described catalogue of bribery and blatant foul play outlined here is utterly depressing. You wonder how, in the face of major labels’ corrupt and downright seedy practices, how any indie label singles ever got near the charts in those “golden” 80s. Tales abound of major labels offering shops their wares on a buy-one-get-five-free deal (incentivising the shop to promote these for maximum profit), of hype teams being despatched to physically buy back priority promotion singles from chart return shops and of hard cash and even holidays being offered in return for typing non-existent sales into the Gallup machines – it’s not for nothing that major label WEA were known in the trade as “We Enter Anything”. You remember that 80s number one “Move Closer” by Phyllis Nelson? Jones doubts that she would have made a penny from actual sales of her huge and self-written sole hit, so many copies were given away to record shops
The real delights however are to be found later on, when the author tours the country, visiting these little shops just off the high streets of town centres long since fallen to Vodafone-Starbucks-Poundland homogenisation, meets the proprietors and tells their stories. You’ll read of music fans across the country whose dream was to open their own record shop; of businesses passed down through generations; of their regular customers (Jumbo in Leeds apparently has nicknames for all of theirs). And of the weird and wonderful conversations held at those sales counters: the woman who thought all the ladies in ABBA were “beautiful, all three of them”; the man who was after “a sentimental song… with ‘love’ in the title… that was on radio 2 about nine years ago”; the customer asking for a record by The Loneliest Monk, eventually deduced by the staff to mean (and it’s obvious when you know) Thelonius Monk. The shop owner who married his most loyal customer, to the sales assistant somewhat wrong-footed by a customer’s dismay that he did now know Nana Mouskouri personally. All human life, as they say, is here.
These, however, are the survivors’ tales. Most have a niche market or uniqe selling point that keeps them afloat – at the front of the book is a roll call of the fallen; the customers still im business when Jones started to write his book and no longer trading by the time he’d completed it. APS Records of Crewe; Bradley’s of Halifax, Cavern in Aberdeen; the poetically-named Left Legged Pineapple of Loughborough; Tracks and Trax and Marton’s amd Mary’s and Richard’s – each one, back in the day, probably the scene of someone’s holy grail revelation. Each one a similar story of someone’s life and work but which no longer paid the bills. Tony, the proprietor and (as far as we could fathom) sole employee of APS was a right miserable sod, known to the record-buying indie kids of the local sixth-form college (where I had somehow ended up after leaving school) as “Grumpy’s Records” – and yet it was still his dark and dilapidated corner shop, on the far side of the car park and main road from the shopping centre which at this point housed both a Virgin and an Our Price, whose plastic bags we proudly carried back to college at the end of each Monday dinnertime. It was an APS bag which first held my release-day copy of “The Stone Roses”, a name as yet unfamiliar to many of my classmates. His bags were (crucially) just about transparent enough that you could recognise familiar artwork inside – in those days long before you could look up the object of your teenage lust on Facebook the contents of an APS bag spotted across the college concourse or in the bus queue were the first steps to friendships and even relationships between indie kids still, then, as much an outsider sect as goths or punks. A scene presumably played out in every sixth form college in Britain, just with a different name on the bag.
These days my favourite carrier bags – for those occasions where you still need one – are the dark blue of Preston’s Action Records. In my teens a regular feature of weekend visits to my Preston grandparents, this shop always had stuff you couldn’t find anywhere else and delightfully it still does. A presence on Amazon Marketplace, where they were one of the first British independent record shops to spot this way of turning an advantage from changing purchasing habits, means people who have never even visited Preston are helping to keep the shop alive. There’s absolutely no practical need for them to pack your online order in said carrier bag before sticking it in the cardboard mailer, but they do. They’re proud of their shop and they know regular customers are too, even if some of us haven’t actually been in there for years.
On Saturday 16th April however there’ll be a queue all the way round the corner, just as there will be down Manchester’s Oldham Street outside Piccadilly Records, round the shopping centre that houses Jumbo Records in Leeds, and outside great record shops across the country. The third Saturday in April is International Record Store Day; as the name implies this started in the US (in 2007) but is now celebrated across the developed world with instore shows, exhibitions, tie-in gigs and a whole host of Holy Grails for record collectors and music fans young and old in the form of Record Store Day exclusive releases. These include limited and covetable seven-inch re-presses of well-worn classics; tracks by the hottest contemporary artists you’ll never see anywhere else; special editions of current singles and albums. They come in seven and ten and twelve inches, double packs, picture discs and the occasional CD. And no, you can’t order them online, you have to actually go to a shop like we used to back in the olden days, and it’s first come first served. The lists are published in advance – this year there will be literally hundreds of titles and something for everyone. The first taste of the new Arctic Monkeys material on seven inch with just 3000 copies across the UK and Ireland; a seven inch box set of three recent REM singles with exclusive B-sides (and there will be just 250 of these, UK only); previously unreleased versions of Queen songs from the early 70s; classic albums from The Doors to Flaming Lips reissued on high quality vinyl; Interpol remixed by hot names such as Salem and Banjo or Freakout; a heavyweight red vinyl pressing of The Clash’s “Magnificent Seven”; a Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ramones split single; a numbered picture disc release from artist-of-the-moment Jamie Woon or a 25th anniversary edition of The Smiths’ “The Queen Is Dead” on ten inch vinyl for the first time. It’s like being six years old and let loose in a toy shop where all the toys are made of sweets.
Don’t be thinking you can just roll up on an afternoon shopping trip if you want the gems, though. Last year arrival at Piccadilly Records half an hour before opening saw me stuck way back round Church Street in a queue whose youngest members never knew a time before you could download music off the internet and whose oldest remember when picture sleeves on seven inches first started appearing in Woolies. I still got the exclusive Spiritualized-remixed Fuck Buttons ten inch that had been top of my wish list alongside a picture disc compilation of up-and-coming Leeds artists and several more items offering that still-tantalising combination of Exclusive Tracks and Very Limited Edition. “What’s the queue for?” asked some passing teenage girls who – whilst you should never judge by appearances – looked rather more “Radio 1 Big Weekender” than “All Tomorrow’s Parties”; the explanation by the lad behind me (crossing his fingers for the super-limited Pet Shop Boys seven inch; by the time we got to the front I’d convinced him to buy Fuck Buttons as well if they had two left – they did and he did, hope he enjoyed it!) might as well have been in Finnish as we watched their brains process his words into a confused shrug. An elderly lady with a shopping trolley was rather more understanding: “we can buy records today that we can’t get anywhere else, special ones, and they’ve only a few of each” we told her and she smiled and said she hoped we all got what we wanted. Mind you, unlike the teenage girls she’d at least have actually had some concept of what a record was.
If any of this means anything to you, I’ll probably (if you live in Manchester, that is) see you in the queue. There will even be a special edition of “Last Shop Standing” on sale – maybe use it to justify to yourself or an uncomprehending partner or parent why you’ve just spent all that money on things you really don’t need. You’re doing your bit for a local independent business; it’s practically community service.
photo by Cath Aubergine