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?