As the HMV culling begins, with eleven branches and a Fopp having shut their doors this weekend, it’s a pleasure to be able to inform you of some rather more positive news in the world of music retail. Rise, 2010’s winner of the UK Independent Retailer of the Year award, has finally unveiled its online store and it’s none too shabby. Competitively priced, beautifully designed and with a comprehensive search option, navigating your way around it is actually a pleasant experience.
You’ll find some startlingly good vinyl prices at the moment on numerous indie label releases from the last couple of years, along with some genuinely rare stuff at silly prices. Even more vinyl goodness is going to be listed on the site by the end of this week, so I’d keep your eyes peeled for what are some undeniably ridiculous bargains. Now, drenching Rise in hyperbole as I am, I should declare again my minor involvement in this music retailing behemoth. I’m doing some of the reviews for the site and you can already find my wordsmithery on the pages for the newies by Iron & Wine, The Decemberists and Jonny. In addition to this, you can find my sizeable review of the new album by The Low Anthem, ‘Smart Flesh’, here. The album’s great and I’m rather pleased with the review too. It’ll appear here in due course, but why not pop over and have a read. Then buy some stuff. I’m deadly serious about that. As we continue to see shops struggling to stay afloat, the old adage of ‘use it or lose it’ has never been more apt. If you want Rise to open a store near you then you’ll need it to be operating as a viable and successful business, which means supporting it however you can. Don’t read into that, by the way. I have no insider knowledge, but as their Warwick Arts Centre branch will close in the coming months due to lack of custom, it’s worth remembering that these places are few and far between.
In keeping with my old musings on independent record stores, I’ve visited several other classy indie retailers in the last couple of weeks and it seems only fitting that I include them here. Firstly, I managed a trip to Polar Bear in King’s Heath, Birmingham, last Saturday and left with several bags of vinyl. The last surviving shop in what was a charming little indie chain, this small but smartly stocked world of tunes is well worth going a little out of your way to visit. Steve and Nathan are enthusiasts of the highest order and will gladly engage you in conversation about anything and everything. Whilst I was in there, a debate was raging about the merits of the slapped meat percussion on Scott Walker’s ‘The Drift’, several customers had a cup of coffee on the go and a pack of jaffa cakes lay open on the counter. This was as much a social gathering as a place from which to buy your music. It’s a little community which cherishes what it has and endeavours to support it and be part of it. And it’s both heartening and deeply frustrating. Lovely to see, but it makes me insanely jealous of these people with such a shop on the doorstep.
Stuffed to the rafters with both vinyl and CDs, Sheffield’s Record Collector also proved a fruitful way to pass an hour. Split into two shops – one per format – the sheer wealth of stock is a joy to behold. In particular, if you’re a CD fan then book a coach trip and take out your savings. The enormous second hand section is home to all sorts of bargains while the new stock is very competitively priced and features all sorts of stuff you wouldn’t find on the shelves of many other record shops in the country. In a good way. It was one of Peelie’s favourite record shops and Jarvis and Richard Hawley have been known to partake of its wares. In 2011, with CD racks downsized in HMVs and supermarkets the length and breadth of the country and most indie stores being more creative to accommodate a range of vinyl, it’s actually quite a surprise to see this many CDs in one shop. The click-clack of muso types frantically rattling through the racks made me almost as nostalgic as I felt next door in the vinyl shop when flicking through the 7”s all housed in PVC sleeves. The smells and sounds of my youth. I didn’t get out much.
In other news, I’m thoroughly enjoying forthcoming albums from Banjo Or Freakout, Frankie & The Heartstrings, Tom Williams & The Boat and The Crookes. I’ll endeavour to conjure some words on at least some of them later this week. All are very exciting. Tom’s marvellous debut can be pre-ordered here, with an instant HQ download to accompany it.