Celebrating Record Store Day 2017 with real generosity – a whole week of deals and discounts – Soundwaves Here We Come in Manchester is a store which stands out. Based in the iconic Affleck’s Palace, it sells a variety of vinyl including rock, ska, reggae, prog, punk, disco, techno, trance, indie, alternative and new wave – plus plenty of Manc gems thrown in. Operated by Alex Lee, this second-floor store is also home to the alternative label Valentine Records and has even encouraged bands to perform live in-store. This has included a notable performance from Manchester-based St Lucifer, streaming of Valentine Radio and now you can pick up some homegrown punk fashions too – as Mickey Strangeways clothing is available, plus bespoke canvasses and music-inspired creations; ranging from clocks to cake stands!
We were lucky enough to speak to Alex ahead of Record Store Day 2017…
What was the first record you ever bought and where did you buy it from?
Banana Republic – Boomtown Rats. As I was about 10 it was probably somewhere like WH Smith or Boots.
Being passionate about music is one thing, but has incorporating it into a business enhanced or compromised your enjoyment of it?
In terms of collecting records it’s definitely been compromised it as the mystique of collecting records diminishes when you realise how many different ways there are of sourcing vinyl in bulk. Furthermore, when the question of ‘how cheaply can I get this in order to make a decent profit’ is always at the forefront it’s no longer an option to pay ‘full whack’ for anything.
In terms of loving music overall, however, it’s definitely enhanced it. This is largely down to the number of customers I’ve built up who are more than happy to share their experiences of buying music, amassing collections, playing in bands and going to watch gigs. I’ve made some close friends simply through having a record shop as well as having my musical tastes and knowledge of bands, artists and labels broadened as an inevitable by-product.
Have you adapted to an online format? If so,Do you feel that the future of the record industry is a little more secure with the ‘revival of vinyl’ – and is actually, this revival something you have noticed?
A friend of mine (John, who plays bass in my band St Lucifer) once sagely remarked that he wasn’t a collector of a particular format, rather a collector of music and instead of stating that one format is better than another, he simply said that they’re just different from each other. Let’s face it, you can’t go for a run with a turntable under your arm. There is definitely a vinyl revival of sorts, but I wouldn’t like to attempt to quantify it. I remember probably as recently as six or seven years ago the HMV in the Trafford Centre literally having one vinyl record (I’m With You by Red Hot Chili Peppers – because it was packaged with an ice hockey puck-shaped t-shirt) so that’s an obvious indication of how much it’s ‘come back’ in recent years.
Many would argue it never really went away in the first place as the likes of Ebay and Discogs see tens of thousands of records sold every day. The bottom line is that MP3s are handy for iPods, laptops and tablets, CDs are good for the car and records are great for the sound, the packaging and the old fashioned fun of putting the needle on the vinyl and playing the record through in the order in which the songs were intended to listen to. There’s even a place in the world for tapes and minidiscs! As a regular record fair organiser/goer there’s definitely been a shift away from tapes and CDs back to vinyl in recent years too, although I wouldn’t deny the existence of the subculture of people who buy vinyl just for the artwork and, in the case of records pressed in the last 10 years, the MP3 download that comes with them.
As for the future of the record industry, I wouldn’t like to predict that one but working on the principle that people still love to buy records by The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix and so on (i.e. on vinyl which was pressed over 50 years ago) there’s nothing to say that in 30 years’ time people won’t want stuff by today’s bands – like some of the emerging Manchester talent O>L>A, Some Kind Of Illness, Syd.31 and St Lucifer!
Are you an advocate of letting people browse and taking time for people to enjoy the experience?
Yes. In the same way that you never really know how an item of clothing is going to fit until you’ve tried it on, you won’t know how a record sounds until you’ve played it. I have a listening post in the shop which is well used and I’d rather customers had a good old rummage and a listen before they commit to buy. Last week three teenagers came in and played a number of singles before they decided which ones they wanted and despite them only spending a few pounds in the end, they got what they wanted and I’m confident they’ll come back and buy some more.
Memorable record store owner experiences?
Several! Putting on artists and bands is always good fun. A number of local musicians have played in my Afflecks shop and in my old shop at Stretford Mall. Chatting to customers is always educational as people’s perceptions of vinyl and the whole ‘collecting lark’ is so richly varied. I do literally get ‘all kinds’ in the shop, from people who want to make a quick buck by selling me their collections to others who will browse for ages then pick up a £5 record and try to barter me down to £3! I had a guy in trying to sell me a sheepskin coat once, people who’ve asked me if record players play both albums and singles and folk who simply want to pass the time of day sharing their experiences relating to music. A week doesn’t go by without someone calling in lamenting the fact that they sold their record collection when they’d moved house, ‘got into’ CDs or split up with their partner.
Do record stores still matter?
Obviously Manchester has a long and justifiably proud music culture and for this reason it would be criminal if the only record stores were owned by corporations. Soundwaves Here We Come’s Manchester section is very popular as is The Smiths/Morrissey rack. Let’s not forget that the original pressings by the likes of Joy Division, New Order and The Smiths are already over 30 years old and by definition have a kind of ‘antique’ value. Manchester would be doing itself a gross disservice if it didn’t have as many independent record stores as it does.
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