It will make you spend more. Be advised.

Long time readers of this blog will remember how I used to get ever so slightly too excited about Bank Holiday Monday trips to my local indie emporium when, with literally no logic to back this up, I used to spend with impunity, somehow convincing myself that money spent on a bank holiday doesn’t count. Actually, now I think about it, what with it being a day when banks have a holiday, that’s not quite such an idiotic idea. Still quite an idiotic idea, mind.

Anyway, said days are long since gone, what with most of the record stores in the whole world having closed down. I’m now left to take my chances with whatever I can find. And so I found myself in a hotel in Derby this morning, flicking through boxes of mainly second-hand vinyl. Most of it, it must be said, was toss. If you ever need a battered copy of any Tina Turner album, a record fair’s the place for you. In fact, if you ever need seventeen battered copies of any Tina Turner album, a record fair’s the place for you. Sadly, it also appears to be the place for people who get so lost in the supermarket that they never quite find the aisles for soap and deodorant. Sadly, despite the late, great Joe’s claim, they can still shop happily. Still, there should be a little corner of the world for everybody and, just like the New Year Sale in HMV is the place for the chronically flatulent, record fairs seem to be the place for the slightly unwashed.

Not me, I hasten to add. I smell perfectly fine, thanks. Anyway, after flicking through the aforementioned tat, I alighted upon a stall selling new stuff. It dawned on me how infrequently I actually get to physically hand over the cash for vinyl these days. The charming bloke I ended up buying a few records from, whose name I can’t remember – something like Dave, told me that the record-selling business is so shit these days that he’s just resorted to record fairs and “my Vauxhall Cavalier.” As a result of these circumstances, most of my record buying occurs online. Not through choice, so much as lack of options.

This neatly dovetails with a request from a rather splendid chap (who has recently directed people to this site from his own rather fine corner of the interweb) for a general guide to picking up vinyl at decent prices. So, provided you don’t all start buying everything I want before I can get it, I present:

The Just Played guide to buying vinyl

I know, imaginative title, eh?

1. Indie stores online

First and foremost, if you’re after new release vinyl that isn’t just the latest overly-loud, overly-pompous and overly… well, shit, U2 album then you’ll need to identify a few indie retailers who cater for tastes similar to yours.

My chosen benefactors are the splendid people at Norman Records, who I’ve mentioned previously.

normanrecords-logo-white

They stock pretty much all the new release stuff you could wish for and, almost always, at the best price you’ll find online. They ship the items in very sturdy packaging and turn around orders pronto. Their communication is second to none and often rather amusing. Decent sized orders tend to come with a few sweet – works for me – and they publish weekly reviews of an irreverent nature which carry the following advisory message:

Warning: stay away if you’re going to be all offended by us slagging off your favourite artist. We reserve the right to hold an opinion!

The one thing to bear in mind is postage. Vinyl is heavy and bulky and will always require a few quid bunged on top of your order. That said, order more than £50 worth in one go and shipping is free!

There are a few other indie retailers I frequent:

action

Action Records – The shop in Preston is lovely, the web service is quick and pretty competitively priced. I use them for reasonably recent back catalogue stuff. If you’re after something from the last five years, and it’s not already super-rare, Action are a good bet.

what

What Records – Now online only. Vast stock, lots of upfront listings in order to ensure you can get hold of very limited pressings and very secure shipping. Neither particularly keen on obscure stuff nor the cheapest, What is pretty dependable for the rare stuff.

boomkat_logo

Leaning more towards electronic music than Norm, but covering similar ground, Boomkat is another place to go to for the very limited indie store only pressings and it also does a nice line in flac downloads – not that that’s what this post is meant to promote!

2. Catching the big boys getting it wrong

I do so love benefiting from a mis-price by Amazon or HMV. It’s double satisfying: knowing you get a bargain and that bargain is directly linked to one of the indie-slayers not making so much money. As a technique, it only really works on pre-orders and you’ll need to get in early. Online retailers, or etailers if you will, try to outdo each other in terms of getting things listed first in a bid to get extra sales. As a result, this doesn’t always lead to entirely accurate listings. HMV listed the Oasis vinyl box set for ‘Stop The Clocks’ as a single vinyl at £12.99 delivered for a month. Amazon were gladly flogging the recent Aidan Moffat and the Best Ofs vinyl/CD/bonus CD/7″/Valentine’s Card/board game box set as a piece of single vinyl at £13.69 delivered. Peter Doherty‘s ‘Grace/Wastelands‘ vinyl pressing was £7.98, the same as the CD, delivered for a month. It’s all about luck and it’s not a guaranteed route to bargains, but it throws up some decent stuff.

3. Caiman on Amazon Marketplace

If it’s an album that’s getting a release in the US, then a good source of cheap, new vinyl is Caiman USA, Caiman Zone, Caiman Bargain or whatever they’re calling themselves at the exact moment when you order. Often charging £8-9 per item, with the stock £1.24 postage on top of that, you can get some real bargains. They tend not to list items until a week or two after release, and those prices don’t stay around for long, but they’re worth checking for on most new releases.

As for second hand stuff, I can’t really offer much more than you already know. Track down your nearest second-hand retailer, keep an eye on eBay auctions that finish in less ‘busy’ times and search via places like Gemm and Musicstack. That said, car boot sales and record fairs remain the best places to pick up second-hand bargains.

Feel free to leave a comment correcting me, adding extra info or simply sharing your experiences. I enjoy reading about this sort of stuff, honest!

Oh, one last thing. I write a reasonably well-followed blog (which has already been visited by the rather splendid Thomas Pugwash) and yet I’ve not been sent a promo of The Duckworth Lewis Method‘s new album to review. I’m quite hurt. That said, a rather positive review will be appearing at the aforementioned splendid chap’s aforementioned site shortly.

 

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.

 

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.