Record Store Day – Tales From The Shop Floor

Record Store Day is a fundamentally good thing. It gets people talking about shops which had otherwise only been mentioned as part of features on the death of music retail and, in light of the number of independent stores closing finally reaching a plateau, demonstrates that many of these emporia still have plenty of life in them. Back in February, I raised a few concerns about how the stock was distributed and exactly how keen the labels are to actually help out the nation’s indies. Since then, I’ve been in touch with record shops across Britain to seek some clarification and there’s plenty to tell. The NME having hosted an intellectually flatulent piece about record shops in recent days, I’m keen to stress that any moans in this article are not directed at the record shops themselves and I urge you to get yourself down to your local palace of glittering delights this weekend and spend as much as your food budget will allow. In return for their honesty, I intend to keep all contributors to this article entirely anonymous.

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With the list of exclusives for this year’s event now at over 200 items, it gives the impression that the big labels are falling over themselves to help out the indie stores of the UK. However, prices seem to be rocketing and several retailers suggested that labels were “pushing their luck” with one observing that these labels “spend 364 days a year trying to take business away from shops.” The massive reduction in the amount of sale or return stock, meaning that shops either pay for things upfront or don’t get any copies, increases the risk factor in buying big or even buying at all in the case of some of the deluxe items. For Record Store Day, nothing is sale or return. With a Saint Etienne box set containing only six 7” singles clocking it at almost £50, it’s a costly gamble to take in a time when the economy is supposed to be on its knees. Some shops have reduced their dealings with the big labels, with one owner telling me, “when shops can consistently order from Amazon cheaper, and receive the stock quicker, it makes ordering from the majors a luxury they can’t afford.” Another store took up the story: ”The majors look like they’re helping, by whacking out these releases, but come the Monday we’re still meant to try and sell the latest Universal releases for £13.90 (standard mark up) when you know Tesco will have it for a tenner or less.  The EMI, Sony and Universal sections in my shop are now tiny, I don’t order CDs from them unless I have to.” While I continue to believe that it is crucially important for music fans to support their local record shops on April 16th, it seems pretty clear that the big labels are only bothered when they have high-priced, attention-grabbing stock to shift.

Continue reading “Record Store Day – Tales From The Shop Floor”

Record Store Day: If you’re gonna do it, do it right

A number of independent record shop owners have told me of late that by surviving the really dark days when music retailers were closing left, right and centre, they’ve found circumstances have improved a little. For a start, once we’re down to the bare minimum, we need every record shop we can get and, secondly, with HMV seemingly now of the opinion that music is toxic, they’re the only places to get hold of anything even slightly obscure. I’m thrilled when I hear of shops extending their leases or expanding their business as it gives music fans the length and breadth of the country hope. As these centres of cultural relevance increasingly become museum exhibits for the media to visit once or twice a year for “is music retail dying?” style stories, the push continues to engage local communities. At the forefront of this is Record Store Day, an annual celebration of the humble indie store, peppered with exclusive releases and live performances. It is, fundamentally, a marvellous idea and last year was the point where it really took off here in the UK.

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The 2010 event was catapulted into the spotlight with the news of a number of very limited 7” vinyl releases by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pet Shop Boys and Blur. Much was made of the fact that there were only 1000 copies to be distributed across the UK’s independent record shops and how rare they would instantly be. Sure enough, people who never really bothered to visit their local record shop were now interested in popping in. A good thing, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. Those who ambled in at 11am, having seen some news coverage and wanting to pick up a few interesting bits and bobs will have been left a little deflated. For all but the biggest shops, the really limited stock was gone within minutes, at most an hour. Plenty of other people who never visit the shop were out in force a little earlier too, queuing up to grab their copies of the truly limited titles before the frantic dash home to get them straight up on eBay. I wonder how many of these people have popped back in over the last ten months to purchase a few new releases or to dig through the vinyl racks. In the whole of the East Midlands, I’m fairly certain there were no more than 10-15 copies of Blur’s ‘Fool’s Day’. Partly this is down to there being less record shops than there used to be, but also due to relatively sizeable stores having one or two copies only. Continue reading “Record Store Day: If you’re gonna do it, do it right”

Uplifting News

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.

rise web1

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. Continue reading “Uplifting News”

Lists and High Street Losses

I love a good list, me. The end of year issues of all of the music magazines are an absolute delight, allowing me to peruse vast swathes of numerically arranged albums deemed to be the finest from the last twelve months. Invariably, one or two records pop up so often that I realise I must have genuinely passed on something suitably splendid and onto the ‘to buy’ list they go. However, there is a distant cousin of these lists, one who only visits occasionally but always kicks up a fuss when he does. This particular breed looks to provide a guide to the best albums not just of one year but of many, such as “The 250 greatest albums of Q’s lifetime” in this month’s issue. This gave voters twenty five years’ worth of releases to select from and, of course, they chose magnificently. I mean, it’s not like Q readers would have Mumford & Sons in their top 100 or ‘No Line On The Horizon’ anywhere near even the lower echelons of such a list, right? Right? Stop backing away from me.

q 250

Such inclusions are so utterly breathtakingly bizarre that the presence of ‘K’ by Kula Shaker at 211 is something I’m finding considerably less offensive than I thought I might. Internet campaign, anybody? The incessant jizzing over all things Bono leaves a sickly taste in the mouth but things get truly hilarious when you move further up the list. Apparently, ‘Under The Iron Sea’, the second album by Keane is at 51. If you’re anything like me, this prompted an even more horrifying thought than the simple recognition of this particular placing. Yep, if this is as high as 51, where the fuck has their debut managed to get to? 34 is the quite staggering answer. As if in some kind of cunning PR move to avoid people totally incontinent with rage at such idiocy, the Q readership ensured that everybody was distracted by the record reaching number 32. ‘Sam’s Town’ by The Killers.

These lists are always worth a browse, reminding you of records you used to love, if nothing else. They’re always topped by ‘OK Computer’ and Oasis’ first two albums and there’s always a sizeable spattering of albums released close to the point of compilation. But this one does seem worse than most. It’s probably worth the £3.99 for the laugh it’ll give you.

Perhaps buy it from HMV, they could do with the extra pennies at the moment. Music writers seem to be split between dancing on its sorry music hating grating and agonising about the possible impact upon labels and artists. It’s odd, I can’t really imagine high streets without HMV but at the same time I’ve pretty much adjusted to that state of affairs already. I only really go in now to sort of my monthly quota of ‘facial displays of scorn’, actively looking to be annoyed in much the same way as people actually buy the Daily Mail each morning. It’s been an abysmal place to try and buy music for several years now and it’s fairly clear that when it comes to what used to be its core business, management don’t really give a shit anymore. It’s quite understandable that music is no longer the priority in this climate, but that doesn’t automatically necessitate it being sidelined to the point of decay. By also continuing to shoot themselves in the foot by running their own VAT-avoiding Guernsey based website in direct competition with itself – serving to highlight just how expensive their high street shops are – they display the same lack of self-awareness that keeps Nipper, the gramophone loving dog, as their logo. I can’t say I’d be especially sad to see HMV go, not that I think it’s likely to happen any time too soon, but I understand what its symbolic value is. One has to wonder, however, were the entertainment monopoly suddenly removed, could independent retails begin to crawl back out of the woodwork on the outskirts of towns once more? As Oxford prepares to welcome a new indie store and Derby delights in the return of BPM, we can, perhaps, begin to hope.

Mixtape…blah, blah, nostalgia, blah…

I was about to start with a profound and incisive statement, but that new Bloc Party single really is fucking dreadful, isn’t it?

I’ve spent a thoroughly enjoyable day rearranging bits of the record collection and ripping assorted tracks to the computer in order to refresh the content of my mp3 player and contruct a decent mp3 CD for a long car journey that’s coming up. It’s wonderful just browsing through the tunes that have, at various times in the last few years, meant rather a lot to me. I did the slightly embarrassing, but hugely popular, swivelling-a-little-bit-in-a-computer-chair dance to Stardust‘s Music Sounds Better With You‘ earlier and it was hugely satisfying. And what about ‘Forever J’ by Terry Hall? A beautiful, beautiful song which was sampled on ‘Life In Mono’ by Mono, which I’ve also ended up digging out. However, whilst finding out more about it I stumbled upon the Emma Bunton cover version. Eugh. Now, I actually really liked that soul-pastiche album she did a few years back. The one with pink cover. But this is not good. At all. The original is, however, and it would seem you can still buy it via the iTunes empire.

The mp3 player will soon be receiving a number of albums that I can’t believe I haven’t felt the need to put back on there since reformatting it a few months back. Most of Supergrass‘ back catalogue is still absent, as are the first two Portishead albums and Thom Yorke‘s ‘The Eraser’. Not for much longer. Also going on will be Madness‘ wonderful track, ‘NW5‘ that came out as a one-off single a little while back, but which will feature on their forthcoming concept album, ‘The Liberty Of Norton Folgate’. If you’ve not heard it, I would put it up there with pretty much anything else they’ve ever done. It’s great.

And with that cunning link (that’s great and so is this) I should probably say a few words about the Jamie Lidell record I was on about the other day. Gilles Peterson has started offering a splendid service via TellJack that allows you to hear albums, in full, before deciding whether or not to purchase. You don’t download anything, it’s all done via high quality streams, but it’s splendid. That’s how I got to hear ‘Jim‘, by Jamie Lidell. I keep calling it ‘Son of Stevie’ because it sounds like that sort of record Stevie Wonder would be making now if he was a) younger and b) as good as he used to be. To me, this album slots in quite neatly alongside ‘Innervisions‘ and ‘Talking Book’. High praise, I know, but it really is the best soul album I’ve heard in yonks. And, I’ve heard Sharon Jones and the new Al Green. Anyway, there’s a track on the newly updated Mux (click on the tape in the right-hand column) along with a chance to hear the Terry Hall track ‘Forever J’ and the Mono track that sampled it. Plus other stuff. Stuff you’ll like, I’d imagine.

I remember now what it was that I was going to talk about when I was going on about mp3 compilations. I was listening to Jeremy Vine‘s show on Radio 2 yesterday (the outraged voice of middle class Britain©) as he discussed the possible charges for broadband customers in the UK. Apparently, devious downloaders will be receiving angry letters in the near future, explaining that what they’re up to is illegal. Assuming, of course, that they are downloading illegally, that is. They wouldn’t make any mistakes, would they? Judging by some of the calls to the programme, mistakes have already been made and there will be more on the way. Predictably, one of the ‘I ain’t paying for it, why should I? I’ve ten CDs over the last twenty years and they were, like, £16 each, so why should I pay now?’ brigade got on air. I’ve never really had a strong opinion about it one way or another, but with the number of independent record stores dying on their arses and bands failing to keep hold of their record contracts, you do have to wonder. Ok, so it’s a symptom of a jaded industry, rather than the cause, but surely nobody who loves their tunes thinks it’s a long-term approach? Weirdly, I’ve just noticed that the good folks at Norman Records are having a similar debate on their blog.

And finally, the nominations for the Mercury Music Prize came out t’other day and I was amazed by just how many I’ve actually heard and liked. The list is as follows:

Adele – ‘19
British Sea Power‘Do You Like Rock Music?
Burial – ‘Untrue
Elbow‘The Seldom Seen Kid’
Estelle – ‘Shine
Laura Marling‘Alas I Cannot Swim’
Neon Neon‘Stainless Style’
Portico Quartet‘Knee-Deep In The North Sea’
Rachel Unthank & The Winterset‘The Bairns’
Radiohead‘In Rainbows’
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss‘Raising Sand’
The Last Shadow Puppets‘The Age Of The Understatement’

It’s only Portico Quartet that I need to do any real research for – and I will, I’m sure. I can’t think of a time when I’ve been so in line with the Mercury choices. It could just be that I’ve bought far too many records recently, and therefore whatever they’d gone for I’d have been in this position, but I’d like to think not. From my perspective, it’s got to be between Elbow, Laura Marling and Radiohead. Radiohead are getting a bit of negativity thrown their way regarding this because of how established they are, but ‘In Rainbows’ really is one of their best albums and definitely one of the best albums of the last twelve months. Laura Marling is someone that I’ve raved about on here for almost a year now and I certainly don’t intend on stopping. ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ will be in my end of the year list and it’s a near-perfect folk-pop album. It’s an exercise in measured understatement, and it’s all the more beautiful because of that. However, I think it should probably go to Elbow. They went off, not in possession of a record deal, and did it all themselves; recording a record that they would want to listen to. It’s a wonderful, wonderful collection of songs and ‘One Day Like This’ could well end up as one of my all time favourite songs.

Any thoughts? Perhaps the blog will get spammed again by the vinyl collectors of Idaho. (See comments for previous post) I’m with Neil Hannon on Idaho.

Like I said, have a listen to the Muxtape.

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.