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.

 

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?

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

Hands on the table, please

An early post today because I can. Just a brief one to remind you to buy the Super Furry Animals‘ new single, ‘Show Your Hand‘ today. It’s on CD and 7″ picture disc and the usual download outlets, although those are naturally not as good as a spiffing picture disc. I wanted to put the video in the post too, but I can’t actually find one. I did find the weirdest clip of them miming to it on GMTV, but I’m not sure they’d ever want to relive it, and I’m sure it was just a bizarre blip whereby an alternative universe opened up and SFA are suitable for people who can barely find their own arse whilst waiting for Jeremy Kyle to start. So, instead, here’s a slightly shoddy audience recording from their album-taster shows in Cardiff a few months back.
Time to buy now…
CD/7″/Download bundle from recordstore.co.uk (search Super Furry)