I stand before you to urge you towards Action

On Saturday, I spent a couple of hours sampling music on the MySpace pages of acts tagged as ‘friends’ on Steve Lamacq‘s page. In that time, I found one act I liked the sound of. One! My new found enthusiasm for tarting around on MySpace was quickly extinguished. The one act I liked? Well, for a start, they’ve already split up but, on the plus side, you can download their music for free from their site.  They are The Arrogants and their music is essentially a rockier Sundays. Occasionally somebody gives them a few too many blue Smarties, but I suggest you have a listen. Go here for free audio goodness.

I finally visited Action Records in Preston yesterday. I’ve used them for mail order from time to time over the years, but I’d never previously experienced the shop. It was a delightful (and costly) experience. I’ll get my one concern out of the way immediately: For most of the time that I was in the shop, there was no music playing. That’s not right, is it? I used to have to budget extra when shopping in the now defunct Reveal Records of Derby to allow for the inevitable purchase of whatever was on the ‘now playing’ shelf. I expect to be bombarded with tunes and I don’t remotely care if they’re actually toss, just so long as they’re there. Which reminds me. The other week, whilst browsing the vinyl department of a well-known Midlands indie store, the young lad behind the counter decided that the next record we were going to hear was the current (and oh-so-very-perfect) Elbow album, ‘The Seldom Seen Kid‘. He’d been playing a dance 12″ previously and so, just as the record was starting, he flicked the speed from 45 to 331/3. Unfortunately for him, that particular album is pressed on two 45rpm discs. Plus, the opening track has a long, instrumental build-up before the vocal arrives. Hoping to communicate in the way only slightly anti-social, slightly hairy musos can, I looked across at him trying to convey my confusion about what was coming out of the speakers. At this point, he gave me a look that I can only describe as, “What, peasant? Haven’t you heard this great record?” Once Guy Garvey‘s delightful voice grace the speakers, he hurriedly (and, agonisingly, audibly) dragged the needle away from the vinyl. A few seconds later, it returned at the correct speed. As I was leaving, I looked across and he scowled at me. If you’re going to be an indie snob, know your bloody tunes. Like me, for example!

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, Preston. Action Records is packed full of quality stock and disturbingly good prices. In particular, the new vinyl section is very reasonably priced. For example, the Johnny Flynn album, ‘A Larum’ is available as a double-vinyl, pop-up gatefold sleeve, limited edition for £20. In Action, £18. And such was the case for many other titles I could mention. There’s a huge CD sale with piles of stuff reduced (admittedly not all of it worthy of your attention). Back catalogue isn’t marked up ludicrously and it’s clear that their approach to stock control is to keep prices low on stock that isn’t shifting. Seems sensible, but so few other record shops do it. I won’t say much more other than to once again recommend their excellent mail order service which is available on their website here and to reiterate how delightful I found to be.  A rare beacon of splendour on an increasingly dour music shopping landscape.

On that note, I’ve put up a link to the ‘Coalition‘ site along with the other record shops on the right-hand side of the page. I mentioned it a few months back and how it’s meant to unite the remaining indie stores in the UK to make them stronger and to help with business. However, they’re still not involving the good folk of Norman Records (or some other indie mail order types I can think of) because they don’t have an actual shop. Surely, for something designed as a means of fighting the big companies who shut off doors to small companies, being elitist is rather anti the ethos of the Coalition? Who knows.

 

The Kids Aren’t Alright…apparently

I’ve just returned from a week in Northumberland. Very nice, thanks for asking. While in the area, I took the opportunity to drop in on the independent record shops of Newcastle. Before I go into any kind of detail, I should point out that I tried to go to Steel Wheels, but I’m fucked if I know where it is. Apparently it’s now called Beatdown Records and I found their old store and…  oh, forget it. I’m still bitter, ok?

Anyway, I very much enjoyed my time in both RPM and Reflex. RPM smells like a proper record shop. I’d feel obliged to explain that statement were it not for the fact that I’m making it on this blog. And if you’re reading this blog then I’m fairly certain that you know what I’m on about. In addition to this, they were playing ‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen’, which I’m not sure I’ve ever heard being played in record shop previously. It was a promising start. As it happens, I didn’t actually spend any money in there. Not that their stock isn’t splendid. There’s racks of vinyl at reasonable prices, a reasonably clear filing system for the CDs and a few sale racks. I have nothing but praise for RPM, it’s exactly how I would describe the model independent record shop. Ticks every box.

I also visited Reflex, where I confess a number of my quids were liberated by the fine tune-age of Terry Callier and Micah P Hinson. It’s a bit more sanitised than RPM – which is to say everything is very neatly arranged and not an inch of display space is wasted. It’s clearly a very efficiently run business and you have to applaud any shop that employs a Lurch looky-likey to stand at the end of the road with a large sign directing custom shopwards. I was served by a slightly hyperactive woman who offered up the kind of banter you just don’t get in your enormo-stores. Just as I was about to pay, I noticed ‘Old Rare New’, a delightful tome about independent record stores, up on a shelf and thus double the cost of my shop. Still, another great indie store. The people of Newcastle are spoilt.

In amongst the many tales told in ‘Old Rare New’ is a page by Sister Ray owner, Phil Barton. I enjoyed his words and offered a token world-weary sigh as I read his comment that,  “kids don’t collect records anymore, they steal tunes instead.” He may well have a point, I thought. Then, I got back yesterday and found my weekly email update from Sister Ray, in which the news was imparted that the shop is in administration while a new buyer is sought. I’ll be honest, my first thought was, “Shit! Don’t they own Selectadisc in Nottingham too?” I’ve since had most of my fears about a knock-on effect allayed, but I’m still rather dismayed by the news about this Berwick Street great. It’s a cracking shop, full of the sort of records any self-respecting collection requires and not unreasonable prices. A few years back it moved across the road into the old Selectadisc store when that particular business opted to concentrate on one city only. I’ve not been since the move, but I remember, in its slightly pokier previous location, being thoroughly chuffed with its stock. It was in Sister Ray that I finally managed to buy a – not 100% official – copy of ‘Fanfare For The Comic Muse‘ by The Divine Comedy, back in 2001. I’d spent years looking for it and was happily dispatched with a copy, some sixteen pounds lighter. I’m sure I’ve moaned about the state of Berwick Street in the past, but only a few years ago it was the ideal day out. A street full of record shops, each offering different things for the rabid collector, but it’s now flagging seriously. I hope that Sister Ray finds someone willing to stump up the cash, but its potential demise is yet another sign that the physical product isn’t winning over the latest generation of music fans.

I’m still a little concerned about Selectadisc. I wrote about the reduction in floor space a few months back, and while the shop isn’t part of the same company as Sister Ray, I know there are some financial links. I can only hope that its legacy and seemingly continued popularity with the good folk of the East Midlands will ensure its survival for some time to come. If that fails, does anyone know what house prices are like in Newcastle?

I’m still working on factual AND funny…

Thanks to those who’ve been in touch about indie stores of note. Will be doing some researching over the next few days and will start to add names soon. One that pops up quite a lot, and one which I have experience of and there I’m able to write about with relative ease, is Selectadisc in Nottingham.

In the last couple of weeks, things have changed in store and everything’s been bunched up a bit. I’ve just tried describing this in words, but it didn’t work especially well, so here’s a visual aid.

Right then, the bit you can see some of on the left used to be the ‘specialist’ CD section but they’ve now put that up for rent and squidged the whole stock into the main bit you can see and the upstairs of said main shop. Confused? Good. Anyway, it’s now even more bonkers and cluttered than it was before, but I think I might actually like it better like this. For a start, it feels much more like your traditional indie store, with things shoved everywhere and quality stock piled high. Secondly, if this ensures the store a long and prosperous future then that can’t be a bad thing. 

Why’s it worthy of your time and money? Well, the internet is full of people bitching about arsey staff and the like but from my personal experience this is utter cobblers. Sure, they’re not the most talkative bunch but they’re some way from the snobbery of ‘High Fidelity’. In addition, as a result of Fopp opening in the city about over six years ago, prices altered. When Fopp’s popularity was at a peak in the city, Selectadisc figured that they could be a little bit more competitive and, from that moment on, they regained the title of ‘Best Record Shop in Nottingham’. Back catalogue is regularly no more than 8.99 on CD, with a lot of mid-price titles at 4.99 or less. New releases are very competitively priced and their vinyl stocks cannot be rivaled for many miles around. Where they stand out from many indie stores is their refusal to treat vinyl buyers as mugs and use scarcity as a reason to hike prices. They are regularly a couple of quid cheaper than any other sources on new vinyl and bloody quick at getting hold of import copies of select, splendid titles.

The main plus point for this lot is their excellent stock. Great prices, sensible organisation and atmosphere are added bonuses. Music fans who have lived in Nottingham at some point in their lives always seem to remember Selectadisc, and always seem to rave about it. You can count me in that group.

Did you find e̶v̶e̶r̶y ANYthing you were after?

I’ve ranted about this before, so stick with me on this, but the lack of decent music shops is alarming. Obviously it’s not alarming to many people otherwise we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place, but for those of us who enjoy picking through obscure new releases and well-chosen back catalogue stock, the end is increasingly nigh. Last summer I found out about the demise of Derby’s last remaining indie store, Reveal Records, which closed its doors for a final time at the end of last year. The reports of record shops in London closing keep coming thick and fast and Left Legged Pineapple has shut up shop in Loughborough, Track has departed from York and Selectadisc has downsized its operation in Nottingham.

I had the misfortune to be in Northampton yesterday and I haven’t had such a poor record buying experience in a long time. I couldn’t find a traditional indie store to speak of, and judging by a search of the net that is indeed the case, and the one second hand store, Pied Piper, that has something of a reputation is some way into a depressing ‘closing down’ sale that consists of utter toss that you couldn’t pay me to take away. They will continue trading in a different manner, so I can only hope they’ve kept the decent stuff back for that venture. There’s Sidewinder, a very specialist dance shop but beyond that I could find nothing. What’s even worse is that HMV and Zavvi haven’t opted to capitalise on this. HMV appeared to have no vinyl whatsoever, while Zavvi – currently doing a wonderful job of filling their stores with vinyl nationwide – had a limited stock that appeared not to have been updated in months. The Last Shadow Puppets single, ‘The Age Of The Understatement’ was released yesterday on CD and 2×7″. I could not find either 7″ anywhere, which is a major surprise. Why, when they happily pile it up in other stores, aren’t Zavvi and HMV catering for music fans? Saying, “did you find everything you were after?” at the till counts for fuck all if it’s a token gesture and the answer is of no consequence. I was amazed that people living somewhere as big as Northampton have so little access to music. Now that HMV find music a dirty word, favouring DVDs, the stock is growing ever more conservative and the range is diminishing rapidly.

Now, there’s no point me issuing a rallying cry for people to go dashing off to their local indie store and purchase a record or three, as I suspect the game is already over and we’ve lost. In addition, if you’re reading this, the chances are you already frequent indie stores wherever possible. The thought that in the not too distant future I won’t be able to have a proper browse in an independent record store upsets me more than it probably should, but I won’t pretend otherwise.

Thankfully, a stop off at Leicester to visit Rockaboom restored my confidence in the indie store. Well-run, competitively-priced and sensibly-stocked, this small indie store is a flashback to the glory days. There’s a second-hand rack, a great back-catalogue with most essentials in stock at less than a fiver and new releases are shoved wherever possible, ensuring you get exposure to as much great music as possible. There’s a good selection of vinyl, local bands are covered and the traditional rail of metal T-shirts is there by the till. Both Last Shadow Puppets 7″s were duly purchased, along with the Jim Noir album which, to dispel one of the rumours about independent stores, was actually a quid cheaper than HMV or Zavvi. I don’t imagine you’ll go out of your way to visit, and they don’t have an online presence, but if you happen to be in the area, treat yourself.

All of this neatly links in with this weekend’s ‘big’ event, Record Store Day. We’ll just have to allow the Americans the word ‘store’ on this occasion, as it’s for a good cause. You’ll have noticed the logo for this in the top right of the blog for the last few days and by clicking on it you can read the philosophy behind the event. Worthy of your support, I would argue. Rough Trade East is having a whole day orgy of live music including the sublime Jason Molina (Magnolia Electric Co / Songs:Ohia), up and coming Glasgow band of note, Make Model and Billy Bragg. Full info here. Action Records in Preston will have live performances from 4pm – info here. Spillers in Cardiff are in the middle of organising something. Avalanche, in Glasgow and Edinburgh, are listed on the Record Store Day site, although I can’t find out what they’re doing. By visiting the RSD site you can access a list of all stores participating. It’s mainly US, but worth a look. If your local indie store’s not on there, ask them why not.

If you’ve got info on particularly lovely indie stores you know of, please let me know and I’ll bung it up on the site – the more promotion the better. If you have any Record Store Day news, then likewise, bung it in the comments.

Smooth Trading

I made my first visit to Rough Trade East yesterday and found it to be quite a pleasant experience. For those not aware, Rough Trade closed its Covent Garden store last summer in order to open what was widely described as a ‘megastore’ off Brick Lane. This new store has been much hyped by the media and hit the headlines with the free Radiohead gig back in January that was so popular it actually had to be moved down the road.

The internet community is littered with people unhappy with the prices in Rough Trade and so I approached the store uncertain about what I’d find inside. As it goes, the first thing that you’re greeted with is a cafe, offering the chance to grab yourself something to drink as you wander about amongst the racks. There is something fundamentally wrong about this, it seems to me, although at the time I didn’t allow it to sour the mood. As someone who practises the ‘two-handed rummage’ when looking through racks, I’m not sure where the coffee’s meant to go when you’re actually looking at the records you presumably went there in order to purchase. Am I over analysing this?

Anyway, the record shop is presumably what you’re interested in. Firstly, the selection is huge but, as a result of being in a bloody big building, the shop is enjoyably spacious. Having sweaty, middle-aged men in raincoats squeezing past you as a fug of warm fart hangs over the artist-alphabetical section that you’re battling to get a look at loses its allure pretty bloody quickly. Filing is pretty simple and none of the artists I could think of – and I did try to be a little bit awkward at times – were filed out of my grasp.

Price-wise, I take the point of those who mutter about how much certain things cost, although I don’t think that they’re particularly over the top for the majority of items. I have to say, my main focus was on the vinyl which was pretty reasonable all round and when I strayed into the CD sections the odd item was a little more than I’d have expected. To use a couple of the items I purchased as examples, £13.99 to add a vinyl copy of Richard Hawley‘s ‘Coles Corner‘ to my collection is pretty standard and The Superimposers‘ new album, ‘Harpsichord Treacle‘ was £9.99 on CD, with a bonus – Rough Trade only – disc featuring remixes and unreleased tracks.

Rough Trade East seems pretty good at stocking those items that you struggle to track down. In amongst the racks of 7″ singles, I noticed Duffy‘s ‘Rockferry‘ (ok, I know, I’m just using it to make a point) and Adele‘s ‘Hometown Glory‘ at their original prices, rather than the inflated eBay nonsense that’s occurred since they became famous. They’ve still got stocks of the ‘Fat Children‘ 12″ that Jarvis put out a while back, which everyone else tells you has sold out. Ok, so it’s on their own label, but it’s worth a rummage if you’re after something in particular.

The other reason for visiting is the sheer exposure to different records. A sustained browse – caffeine assisted or not – will present you with all sorts of records you’d forgotten about or never seen physical copies of. In addition, the reasonably hyperbole-free description labels on everything help you to dig up something new that you just might like. Be in no doubt, there are plenty of better record shops out there, but this one is a worthy addition, and I can’t help thinking it’ll still be there long after many of my current favourites have pulled down the shutters for good.

No movement required

The second of the ‘indie shops that are dead good and well worth your time and money’ series (catchy, eh?) is one you can’t even go to. Over the last couple of years I’ve become increasingly aware of the demise of the bricks and mortar musical havens and in particular the plight of my favoured store. Naturally, mail order is the thought that springs to mind, but do I really want to be giving Play, HMV or even, ahem, Amazon my money?
I chanced upon the quite splendid folk at Norman Records when looking for a copy of the out-of-print Magnolia Electric Co live album, ‘Trials and Errors‘. After trawling through umpteen webpages with no joy, I happened upon this beacon of splendour in a sea of porn and badly informed twerps ranting on bulletin boards. I’ve been increasing my spending with this particular shop in recent months due to their excellent customer service, competitive prices and wide range of stock. The lines of communication are second to none, and tweaks to orders or discussions about pre-releases are dealt with quickly and successfully.
In addition, the site features extensive reviews sourced from weekly updates that can be accessed from the main page, where all of the staff chip in to review the new releases. What I particularly enjoy about this aspect of the site is that they’ve not afraid to say something’s shit. They work on the theory that everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, and as it’s their site it’ll be their opinions that will be posted. You can add your reviews if you want, but nothing’s ever as amusing as reading some of Phil’s rants about tired, bed-wetting indie music. There’s a rather charming attempt at a caveat on their reviews page, that in itself can’t help being opinionated – “Please note: if the review isn’t positive or offends, please remember it’s only someone’s opinion – so get a grip!”
So, to summarise, the staff are shit-hot, music-loving types, like me and thou who spend silly money on vinyl and can’t get enough noise in their ears. Prices are ace and items are packaged really well. Lines of communication are frequently monitored and the stock range is a delight. If you can find a problem with them, let me know, ‘cos I can’t. I think Norman Records is an outstanding little indie store and you’d be a fool to not click here.

Like the independent record shop guide in this month’s Mojo, only for the UK, rather than America

Following on from a comment from the enigmatically named, ‘Anonymous’, I’m going to embark upon a massive great list project of the UK’s greatest indie stores. At this stage, mind you, they’ve got to be pretty bloody good to still be alive. I’d like to offer info about the stores, possible web links and any thoughts from actual, real-life people who’ve been there.
This will grow into something splendid, hopefully, but it will require input from the delightful army of lovelies who visit this site from time to time.
I’ll spread out my contributions over a few posts, and as the series grows I’ll put a collection of links in a menu on the right-hand side of the blog, so that you can find them all easily. Ain’t that neat?

First up, the soon-to-be-no-more Reveal Records of Derby. Quite possibly my favourite record shop of all time, but their time is up, and the shop has only months to live. As stock levels dwindle and prices slowly descend it’ll no doubt slip in the rankings as it becomes transparently obvious that the game is up, but for the time being I’m almost telling myself that “it’ll all be ok.”
A wide variety of genres are covered, along with bargain prices through 2 for £10 offers and the like, and with the current desire to shift stock prior to closure, the bargains will increase. It feels a little like ambulance chasing, but it’s gonna happen whether I get a few cheap records or not.
Reveal also has its own record label, featuring Joan As Police Woman and Lau. All good stuff.
Links:
REVEAL RECORDS ONLINE SHOP
REVEAL RECORDS eBAY SHOP
REVEAL RECORDS LABEL

Over the weekend, whenever I can be arsed, I’ll add Selectadisc of Nottingham, Spillers Records of Cardiff, Norman Records in Leeds and Action Records of Preston.
Throw your delightful ideas in my web-based direction should you so desire.