RSD13: He Found It At Bruce’s – by Ian Rankin

In a piece originally published at thelocalrecordshop.com, novelist and record shop enthusiast Ian Rankin offers his experience of these wonderful places through the years…

I have measured out my life in record shops.

The first ones were in Kirkcaldy, five miles from my village in Fife.  There was an electrical appliance shop there that had a selection of LPs just inside the front door.  Then I discovered that the John Menzies shop had a record section on its first floor.  The first single I bought (discounting an Action Man theme song with battle sounds on the b-side) was probably ‘Double Barrel’ by Dave and Ansil Collins.  Then came T Rex and Bowie.  Our deck at home was a Dansette portable with four speed settings  – 16, 33, 45 and 78.  My parents had paid for it with cigarette coupons.  It was actually a present for my sister Linda, but I was thrilled to see it in the house.  Linda had Simon and Garfunkel, The Corries, and the soundtrack from The Sound of Music.  I had Hawkwind and Hendrix.  I’d started buying Sounds around the age of 11.  There was a free colour poster every week and they went up on the walls of my tiny bedroom, even if I’d no idea who the band were.  (It was strange to find out that Alice Cooper wasn’t actually female…)  I would pore over each week’s issue, including the small ads.  One day I, too, would be the proud owner of a pair of ‘loon pants’.  And a denim waistcoat.  And a patch with the confederate flag on it…

How did I find out about Bruce’s Record Shop?  Maybe a pal at school told me.  Rab was the same age as me but his brother was older, and had an album collection featuring the likes of Zappa, Zeppelin and Jethro Tull.  He might have mentioned the shop, or shown me one of their iconic carrier-bags – cherry-red, stamped with the legend I FOUND IT AT BRUCE’S.  It was just off Kirkcaldy High Street and I sent my mum there one day to buy me a Hendrix album for my eleventh or twelfth birthday.  She returned home complaining that she needed to take a bath after her sortie into that darkened, sordid room.  Brilliant!  I was down there like a shot.  Those Bruce’s bags began to accumulate in our house, albeit slowly – there was never much spare money around, and instead I would write lists of albums I wanted to add to my collection, the price of each marked alongside in the hope that a birthday or Christmas would bring enough cold hard cash from aunts and uncles.

When I bought a huge poster of Hendrix, my brother-in-law joked that the photo had been taken posthumously, explaining why the guitarist’s eyes were shut.  My sister Linda was married by now and I’d moved into her (bigger) bedroom, meaning more wall-space.  The Dansette was replaced by a Philips stereo.  T Rex, meantime, had been replaced by prog.  Albums were shared and swopped in the school playground, and eventually some of us started taking the train into Edinburgh of an occasional Saturday, to visit the Bruce’s there – and the Virgin on Frederick Street.  We might take a transistor radio along, so we could keep an ear on Alan Freeman’s show.  You never knew when he would play your favourite Wishbone Ash or Genesis track.  And weekday nights there was John Peel.  When Peel began to play dub reggae, I sought it out in Bruce’s, buying some extortionate twelve-inch import singles and the cheapo Virgin sampler.

When, aged eighteen, I moved to Edinburgh as a student, I got to know all the record shops, new and secondhand.  There was an amazing barn of a place called Ezy Ryder near the university where you could pick up great stuff for around £1.49.  I was still listening to Zappa, but most of the prog had been shelved to make room for a newer, rawer sound: the Pistols, Damned and Clash, plus Throbbing Gristle and Joy Division.  I spent six months in a band of my own, buying the cheapest mic and mic-stand available.  I told the band the mic was ‘undirectional’.  They laughed and pointed out it was probably ‘unidirectional’ and that an undirectional mic wasn’t going to get me (or my voice) very far.  I was never very technical, which makes it hard to explain how, post-university, I landed a job in London writing for a hi-fi mag.  Except that I did like the hardware: an essay on my Nakamichi tape deck had won me the interview.  London was a hard place for me to navigate, but Tower Records was phenomenal, so much larger than any record shop I’d known previously.  I bought my first jazz CDs there – Coltrane, Art Pepper, Coleman Hawkins.  Jazz seemed to be my thing in London.  Gigs in Hoxton and Stoke Newington; record shops in Covent Garden and King’s Cross.

But then I moved to France – the middle of nowhere in France.  Where there were no record shops, just the supermarket fifty kilometres away in Perigueux with its offerings of Hallyday and Sardou.  For a few years there, I didn’t buy much music at all.  A move back to Edinburgh in 1996 had me playing catch-up.  Luckily, the city still had (and continues to have) record shops – a few indies, holding out against the internet and a more general malaise.  Avalanche, Coda and Underground Solushun are central and within easy walking distance of each other.  Then there are the second-hand shops – maybe eight or nine of them.  Sometimes I do a Saturday trawl.  I might even bump into Bruce Findlay – originator of Bruce’s Record Shop.  He went on to manage Simple Minds and these days still maintains a keen interest in the business.  And like me he still likes his vinyl.  We talk about ‘Cripes’, the punk fanzine he used to publish, and those red carrier-bags, and the rise of ‘the Minds’.  I might remind him of the time I went into his shop to buy the first Eddie and the Hot Rods album and the ‘stoners’ behind the counter sneered as they handed it over, before flipping their favourite Lynyrd Skynyrd record to side two.  But we also talk about new bands, swop new voices and tips for the future, and arrange to meet up at gigs.

I have such wonderful memories of record shops and the music they provided.  From smalltown Fife, to Edinburgh and London and back again to Edinburgh, they seem to have measured out my whole life.  When I tour my latest book overseas, I always ask where the record shops are.  Could be Cape Town or Ottawa, Stirling or San Francisco.  Last time I was in Halifax (Nova Scotia) I trudged the rainy streets until I found a place I’d been told about, emerging damp but satisfied with a one-dollar Monkees album with their Canadian fan club address stamped on the sleeve. And yes, of course there’s music playing as I type this.  It’s a CD called ‘Cinematique’ by Paul Haig.  He used to be in Josef K, you know.  I saw them support The Fall once.  Then I went and bought their album the very next day.  It’s still here if you want a loan of it.  But I’ll need it back by Friday.

Ian Rankin’s latest novel, ‘Standing In Another Man’s Grave’, is available now, published by Orion. His musings on music can often be found in his excellent Twitter feed.

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A logo written in toothpaste

Mmmm. Another record shopping-based outing today. A small, but splendid, pile of records are being aired as I type. Currently, it’s the new Stereolab, which is better than I’d expected after reading some mixed reviews on the net. The limited edition Japanese-style CD is rather fun too. Anyhoo, said record shopping expedition leads me to my (main) two topics for today.

Firstly, the Coalition of Independent Record Stores and secondly, the changing ways people purchase music, with a particular focus on those young rapscallions, Bloc Party.

I’ve mentioned the ‘Coalition’ a few times already and I’m still not convinced that it actually counts for anything. I’ve previously expressed my misgivings about the elitist approach it’s taking and this has been underlined by my experiences over the past couple of weeks. As is my tendency at this time of year, I’ve been working my way round many of the independent record stores of the UK and, not being an especially shy chap, I’ve taken to engaging the staff (generally the owners, it must be said) of these stores in conversation about how business is going, which has, inevitably, brought us round to the topic of the Coalition.

When I first mentioned this idea it was alongside a blog post by the good folk at Norman Records that didn’t paint the project in an especially pretty light. It would seem that the initial fears have proved absolutely correct. One of the main reasons quoted to Norm as to why they wouldn’t be allowed into the Coalition was that this initiative is all about driving people back in to actual record shops rather than simply adding to online sales. As Norm pointed out at the time, many of the shops allowed in to the Coalition actually do a brisk trade online. Thus, it came as no surprise to me today to find that, upon visiting one of the Coalition stores – I’ll not mention which one to avoid any assumptions about who said what – the Brett Anderson album, ‘Wilderness‘, that is, apparently, exclusively available in Coalition stores in August ahead of its main release in September, had yet to arrive. It was officially released to these stores last Monday and yet this store had had none, and had no idea when they would actually arrive. However, Avalanche Records, who, if you remember, are the initial torch-holders for this endeavour, had plenty in stock from the off and have been merrily flogging them to anyone who wants them…via eBay! I know, just sit back and bask in the insane hypocrisy of that for a moment.

During the numerous chats I’ve had with Coalition members of late, it has been noted that a Brett Anderson album is hardly going to set the charts alight or keep the tills ringing for weeks on end. Surely, you don’t release an album in a limited edition of 1900 if you think you can flog 1901, or more, copies of that title? That said, not even a handful of those 1900 copies had made it to at least one of the Coalition stores by this morning. When I last checked, Avalanche’s eBay shop had put up 50 copies, and already sold 21 of them. Still, at least Avalanche aren’t letting their position as ‘head honcho’ distort things in their favour. Oh, hang on. For fuck’s sake, you’re either trying to help out all of the people in the same, dire position or you’re not.

Apparently, during the heated meetings that occur from time to time between representatives from the Coalition member stores one of the most recent (and I think you’ll agree, brilliant) ideas was to have exclusive Coalition T-shirts that can only be bought from Coalition stores. Have you seen the Coalition logo? It’s over to the right in amongst the links to independent record stores. It’s truly appalling! The title of today’s post is the best description I’ve been given of what the T-shirts look like. The most important point that’s been raised, however, is who the bloody hell would actually wear one of these things, let along buy it? Furthermore, who even knows that the Coalition exists apart from over-keen people like my good self and you, my loyal readers? It seems like an exercise in dithering thus far. A Brett Anderson album that you couldn’t pay most people to take away is exclusively available from Coalition stores – unless it’s not of course. It’s intended to provide an incentive to shop in a bricks and mortar record shop, and yet it’s doing steady business on a world-famous, online – and let’s be pretty fucking aware – corporate auction site. Mission accomplished.

Some readers may remember the joyous days of the ‘Chain With No Name’, regularly labelled as CWNN on adverts in the music press. Regular pages would tell you what the latest indie releases were and then, at the bottom of the ad, you could find out where to buy them from. CWNN occasionally led to little perks like bonus discs or posters you couldn’t get elsewhere. Not CWNN T-shirts, you’ll notice.

Some questions remain about the Coalition:

1. Who’s it really for? Does the consumer really benefit when there’s bugger all advertising, the stock isn’t actually in the shops that it’s supposed to be in and those in charge don’t appear to care too much about other shops.

2. What’s it really for? If it doesn’t actually alter the record-buying experience, how will it have an impact? Is anyone going to think, “Balls to buying that CD on play.com for £6.99, I’m going in to town, to my local indie so I can get it for £9.99, but at least I’ll have the chance to buy one of those lovely T-shirts?” I suspect – and I’d so dearly loved to be proved wrong on this – that the answer is no.

3. Does it actually have any meaningful principles? If web-only indie stores aren’t going to be allowed in on the grounds that they don’t cause people to tend towards independent stores on the high street, shouldn’t all Coalition exclusives be store sales only? Isn’t it a really shitty tactic to ostracise online-only dealers and then fill your pockets with eBay funded cash?

As virtually nobody knows about the Coalition and even fewer care, I think that’ll have to be my last word on it for the time being. I’m sure I’ll be whining about it again by this time next week.

And so, eventually, we come to the other topic of note. Bloc Party‘s new album, ‘Intimacy‘, is out on Thursday, at 9am. No, really. Out of nowhere, they’ve come up with the idea of announcing an almost immediate download of an album, with a CD version to follow. It’s revolutionary, I tell thee. To be fair, the manner in which they’ve done it is quite neat. It was only announced last night and yet, in a couple of days time, the album will be all over file-sharing networks the world over. And a few people will pay for it, I’m sure. However, it continues the logic I was touching on yesterday with my post about boxsets. The bands and record industries are desperately looking for anything that will give the business a quick cash injection. Using upfront, and unexpected, paid for downloads is a very simple way of avoiding the ‘leak’ issue that can cause untold damage to physical sales, as everybody illegally downloaded the album six weeks before it came out for real. Not the case with this. However, if you look at the new David Byrne and Brian Eno release, ‘Everything That Happens Will Happen Today’, which went on sale digitally yesterday. A CD will follow, if you took that option on purchase, but for now you’ve got the MP3 or flac files to play with. However, disproving the theory that this makes leaks less of an issue, within an hour of the webshop going live, the album was available for illegal download all over the internet. I’d recommend the Flac + CD option, personally, but the point remains that plenty of people don’t expect to have to pay anything and giving them a good deal does nothing to change their minds.

Oh, and if ‘Mercury‘ is anything to go by, it’ll be a big bag of arse anyway. That said, I’m sure they’ll get my tenner and I’ll have a grumble about it on here at the end of the week.

That’ll do for now, eh?

 

An exclusive coalition?

Having wittered on about ‘Record Store Day‘ last week, I did a bit of internet pootlage and found out a little bit about the Coalition Of UK Indie Stores. This has, apparently, been set up to try and fight the corner of indie stores, across the length and breadth of the country. Apparently, there will be Coalition-only releases in order to curry favour with those who might shop elsewhere, along with future events and the like.

However, there are only twenty-three stores in the coalition. As there are more than twenty-three independent record stores in Britain (admittedly, not many more) how can this be a true coalition? So far, it’s been announced that the boss of Avalanche Records is in charge for the early months, and then leadership will pass to the supremo at Rough Trade East. Fair enough, you say, and so did I, until I read this.

Interesting post on the Norman Records blog. Click me!

A coalition of some indie stores then, and definitely not any of those excellent mail order only stores that offer a huge range of stock, fantastic customer service and tremendous reviews. The comment about the difference between Norman Records and Avalanche was what annoyed me most. What a twatty thing to say. And plain, bloody wrong.

I suspect that this particular blog post will make for an interesting read as it develops over the next few days.

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.