RSD13: A love letter to record shops by Pete Paphides

April 20th was a surprisingly pleasant day, emerging delicately from weeks of rain and brutally cold mornings. For me, it began at 3:25 am in the not especially sleepy centre of Bristol. A purposeful walk up Park Street followed, witnessing the tail end of some fairly substantial nights out. A heaving kebab shop at ten to four in the morning is a new sight to me. I’m a record collector: what do you expect? By four, I was fifteenth in the queue at Rise in Bristol and by six I was nursing a hot drink in Friska, the wonderful cafe which now inhabits most of their ground floor. It was a splendid morning and I could go on, but this year’s Record Store Day writeup is not really about me. Immediately after the event, I asked for your experiences of the day and your opinions on how it is run. You can still contribute here. The record shop debrief has already happened in London, but I’m hopeful that there is scope for a little dialogue this year between the organisers and the fans. We support those shops all year round and, judging by your responses, also rather enjoy RSD, but there seem to be few kinks to iron out, a few grumbles to pacify, some legitimate concerns to be heard. 

Over the next week or so, Just Played will feature various musings on the event from the perspective of you – the record buyers – which, I hope, will largely serve to underline the massive appreciation of independent record shops that exists amongst a growing community. To begin, I am absolutely delighted to be able to host a guest piece from acclaimed music writer, host of 6 Music’s ‘Vinyl Revival’ and all round record shop connoisseur, Pete Paphides


Midnight on Friday night and I still don’t know which record shop I’m going to head for. On previous years, I’ve headed for Berwick St on the basis that there are a few shops there to spread the demand, but with every passing year the queues get bigger. Flashback on Essex Road would be a more sensible option, but they open at 10am, and if you’ve already been awake since 4am, those extra two hours (most shops open at 8am on Record Store Day) are really going to pinch. Up in Manchester, they’ve been queuing outside Piccadilly Records since late on Friday evening.

I’m 43 and I’ve been buying vinyl from record shops for most of my life. For a brief period in the 90s, when vinyl appeared to be on its last legs, I stopped going to record shops. For about two years, I found myself struggling to connect with music in the way that I had done before I started writing about music for a living. Finally, I realised that the thing that made it exciting again was the thing that made it exciting in the first place. It was the same thing that I felt the first time I went to Discus Records in South Yardley, having been told by my mum that I could pick any two records I wanted (I chose The Barron Knights and John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John). I don’t remember too much about Discus, but I do recall a couple of curved hoods fixed into the wall at head height – the sort that, in the 60s, used to form the acoustic booths where people would try out the records they were thinking of buying. In 1979, there were no longer record players in the ones at Discus and, without them, I couldn’t work out what the booths were for.

Record shops. Thirty-four years later, that’s still pretty much how this works for me. The velocity at which, say, Spotify allows me to consume new music dilutes the entire experience. It appeals to the worst of my nature. If I don’t understand what I’m hearing, then I just move onto something more immediate. It makes me more passive. In fact, I think it makes us all into mini-Simon Cowells, sitting back on our easy chairs, hands poised on the buzzer, imperiously daring artists to entertain us. Does your favourite artist want you to listen to them on Spotify? It’s unlikely. In the late 90s, Spotify and iTunes were beyond the realms of most people’s imaginings, but my charmed music journo life gave me a taste of it – the free CDs landing on my doormat at a greater velocity than I could hear them made a similarly passive listener of me.


The record that pulled me back in was Belle & Sebastian’s ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’. Beautiful as it looked on the CD, it was pretty apparent from the filtered image of the girl on the sleeve and the impeccably chosen font, that this was a design for an actual record sleeve. And, as with The Smiths a decade previously, the record sleeve and the music to which it paid host were part of one complete package. So I went to a shop on Hanway Street W1 and there it was. And not just ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’. Record shops were also where the fun was.

Central London is still ace for record shops – within a half-mile radius of Berwick Street there are half a dozen – but there’s something about a local satellite town shop that elicits a different thrill. I guess that feeds back to those formative experiences at places like Discus and my main childhood record shop Easy Listening in Acocks Green, shops that would have to run the gamut of local musical taste – from grandmothers after the TV-advertised Julio Iglesias record to the local goth after a March Violets 12-inch. Those shops were just as much for everyone as, say, the fishmonger or the hardware store. When you found an obscure record you loved in those shops, it seemed to cement the connection between you and that record. It felt like you were rescuing it. But, more to the point, for most of the time I went to those shops, I wasn’t looking for obscure music. I liked chart music. I liked the ex-jukebox records that came in a sealed plastic bag, five for £1.25 with the titles of all five records typed onto the plain white sleeve of the top single.

I still like those sorts of shops now – which is sad, because there aren’t many of them left. Long immortalised in the lyrics of ‘Shakermaker’, Sifters in Manchester used to be one of them. These days it’s just secondhand records and CDs, but behind the counter, you can still see the specially made wooden shelf with 50 seven-inch size sections, each corresponding to a position in the top 50. When Bob Stanley and I visited the shop a couple of years ago, “Mr Sifter” aka Peter Howard told us that on the week of a really big number one – say, ‘Hello’ by Lionel Richie – they could expect to sell 100-200 copies.


David’s in Letchworth Garden City is one of those old-fashioned, there-to-reflect-the-needs-of-the-locale type of record shops that has, miraculously, kept going. Two years ago, I went there and picked up an Anne Briggs reissue and a few seven-inches of songs that I didn’t even know had come out on seven-inch. Not the indie stuff that always appears on seven-inch. But proper pop hits like McFly’s ‘Shine’ A Light and Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s ‘Bittersweet’. The sort of songs that are still, after all this time, most ideally suited to the format. There they were on the countertop in a wooden box marked “NEW RELEASES”, just like the box at Easy Listening thirty years previously.

So, when I wake up on the early hours of Saturday, I plump for David’s again. Who would be queuing in Letchworth at 5am? Thirty people, to be exact. I’ve layered up, but within half an hour, I start to lose the sensation in my toes. Just behind me are three people in their early 20s. Not an ounce of fat to spare between them. The sole woman among them has a huge rip in her jeans. There’s a blanket in the car. I feel like running back to fetch it for her. I ask one of them what he’s hoping to pick up. “Perhaps the Miles Davis? I’m not really sure.” Mostly, he’s here, because it’s a happening of sorts. And whatever he comes away with will effectively serve as a three-dimensional diary entry of Record Store Day 2013. And, of course, the records you actually buy are diary entries. You remember the shop; you remember what else you were doing that day; and, by extension, what was happening in your life at that time.

The other good thing about actually going to the shop – in fact, the best thing about record shops – is that you invariably come away with something you didn’t know you wanted. More than any other day, that’s worth keeping in mind on Record Store Day. After three hours of waiting – three hours made easier towards the end by the trays of tea and coffee served by shop staff – I’m in the shop. The queue takes you past racks of new vinyl. In the reduced section, I notice an album whose existence on vinyl is news to me – a selection of covers recorded by Elton John when he was a jobbing musician on budget price soundalike albums of current hits. Also on the record are a selections of songs he recorded for Joe Boyd’s publishing company Warlock. When Elton originally sang them, these versions of songs by Nick Drake and Beverley Martyn were intended not for public consumption, but to entice mainstream artists to record them. The odd thing about Record Store Day is that it drives people to extremes in order to procure releases on the list, and yet once they’ve got what they were after, they walk straight out of the shop, oblivious to the other rarities sitting there. Three years ago, the must-have RSD release was Blur’s ‘Fool’s Day’. By the end of the day, copies were changing hands on Ebay for £200. And yet, around the same time in RSD-participating store Sister Ray, a single copy of much rarer Blur release – their 300-only 1993 gig freebie ‘The Wassailing Song’ lay untouched on the wall for a reasonable £75.


Back at David’s, records by Stephen Malkmus, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Velvet Underground, The Beta Band and Big Star are gone by the time I get there – but I secure Pulp’s ‘After You’, the seven-inch of two unreleased Paul Weller tracks and Low’s ‘In The Fishtank’ session with Dirty Three. No time to dwell on that though. I have to be at Phonica in Poland St to speak with Tom Ravenscroft for BBC 6 Music. From the exterior of the shop, you can see the massive HMV logo. Because HMV isn’t an independent record shop, it’s not allowed to participate in Record Store Day. From this vantage point – streets teeming with people scuttling between Berwick Street’s specialist indie stores – it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for the place, so far removed from its original purpose in 2013 that it wouldn’t occur to most people to buy a record there. Over to 6 Music in Western House to speak with Tom and Edith Bowman. Once we’re finished there, I leave the building and diagonally to my left I notice a Record Store Day banner draped outside a terraced townhouse on Langham Street. Just beside the buzzer is a sign that says, “ifmusic”. Up the steps and in the carpeted hallway are the pigeonholes of various offices and, among them, one that says: “ifmusic: 2nd floor.” Shops in places where you don’t normally find shops. Odd little rooms full of records. These are the sorts of things that collectors have dreams about. But up two flights of stairs is a room which thinks it’s a shop: a coffee table with two decks, and shelves and boxes full of records. “Are you here for Record Store Day?” I’m the only customer. On Record Store Day.

And the two blokes who work there – middle-aged, smart, dressed in a manner that suggests they have Gilles Peterson on speed-dial – are lovely. They’re more like tailors, sizing you up for a possible purchase – which could be a touch vexing, except for the fact that they’re incredibly good at it. He hands me a compilation I’ve never seen before called ‘Forge Your Own Chains: Heavy Psychedelic Ballads And Dirges 1968-1974’. And I’m thinking that I’m not sure I want anything heavy or dirgey on a day like this, but he places it on the turntable and an utterly celestial spell of sunkissed psych-rock – ‘Song Of A Sinner’ by Top Drawer obliterates all resistance. In my sleep-deprived state, with the sun streaming into a place that I’m not even sure exists, it all sounds divine: the stoned tidal funk that plays out under D.R.Hooker’s ‘Forge Your Own Chains’; the beatific motherly embrace of Ofege’s ‘It’s Not Easy’.

Yes, there’s a Record Store Day box too – and in there, I find a few more things that the Letchworth shop didn’t have: a repress of an Italian electronic instrumental album called ‘Desert’ by Antonio Vuolo and Elio Grande and a 12-inch of remixes by The XX. But, once again, the real magic doesn’t really come from what I was hoping to find. It’s the stuff I didn’t know existed. There’s an album by Oscar Brown Jr – who I knew through a track called ‘Gang Bang’ on a great Warners comp called ‘People Get Ready: Protest Songs From The Atlantic & Warner Jazz Vaults’. It’s a sublime flute-laden tale that details what happens when the urge to riot is superceded by the urge to fuck. So here’s ‘Movin’ On’ – the album that originally featured ‘Gang Bang’, and it’s £10. “Can I put this on?” I ask one of the ifmusic guys who may or may not exist. The qualities that make ‘Gang Bang’ so brilliant pervade almost every other song.


Just one more stop now. Flashback Records on Essex Road have called to see if I fancy doing a DJ set as part of their Record Store Day festivities. I ask if they’d let me do a set of songs taken from their bargain boxes outside and they kindly agree. With five minutes to spare, I get there and amass my “set.” The tempo of the day has decelerated in the afternoon sun and the queues have dissipated to a trickle of curious shoppers. Most cheap records fall into one of two categories: the rubbish ones and the ones that are so brilliant that they sold millions and, as a result, are too abundant to be worth anything. I cue up ‘Precious’ by The Jam; ‘Legend Of Xanadu’ by Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich; ‘Rock The Boat’ by Hues Corporation; ‘Always On My Mind’ by Pet Shop Boys – the records you’ll always find in the kitchen at parties. Every one a winner; every one a pound. I’m sad that I didn’t locate the Stephen Malkmus record – yet, in terms of pure pleasure, I’ve long since got ten times more value out of my own copies of the records I played at Flashback. Probably a good time to regain that perspective. Not least because on this, of all days, perspective is as scarce as the very records that made you join a freezing queue in Letchworth at 5am.

Read more of Pete Paphides’ writing on his fabulous site ‘Hidden Tracks

Record Store Day 2013: What Kind Of Day Has It Been?

The dust has settled, along with many contented tone arms, on another Record Store Day and the migraines incurred by shop owners as a result of last minute cutbacks and even later stock arrival are but a memory. As someone for whom RSD is as much about four hours of geeky music queue-based chit chat with like-minded folks as splendid tunes, I'm looking to do a full post-mortem of this phenomenal day. I've previously looked at the mechanics of the event and will be aiming to weigh up people's responses to their experiences with the view from the other side of the counter. I want to shout about the things that were great and ruminate purposefully on the things that weren't. I want your help to put together some serious suggestions about how the day can be developed, as well as gathering together great stories from the day and a gargantuan list of complimentary comments about your local indies. This won't be knee-jerky, it's not going to be grouchy and I certainly don't want to raise any problems without positing some possible solutions. My personal experience revolved around the wonderful staff at Rise Bristol and their culinary partners, Friska Food. Every part of the queuing process was well thought out and the organisation was perfect. The records aren't bad either.

So, what do I want from you? Below are nine and a half questions to which I would love to get lots of answers. If you attended RSD, please either copy and paste to answer below or, if you'd rather be a little less conspicuous, you can email your response to

Feel free to add any other information you'd like to offer or simply expand on issues raised. If you didn't go for a particular reason, I'd love to know why. Please send this link to anyone you can think of – let's get as big a response as possible. It would be nice to think the organisers of RSD and the labels involved would like to hear our feedback. Let's give it a whirl.

1. What time did you arrive and how easy was it for you to attend a participating store?

2. What determined your wantlist for the day and did you get everything on it?

3. What was the most exciting release this year and why?

4. Approximately how many times have you visited this shop in the previous twelve months?

5. What was the highlight of your visit to that shop on RSD13?

6. What was worst thing about RSD13 for you?

7. Did you purchase anything to resell? (If so, any details would be appreciated)

8. Have you ever purchased any RSD stock from eBay? If yes, please expand upon the experience as you see fit.

9. If you could change one thing about RSD ahead of next year's event, what would it be and why?

10. Feel free to use this space to say something complimentary about the particular shop you visited – it's what RSD is really about after all.


RSD13: Life Behind The Counter – by Tom Rose of Reveal Records

To round off this week of RSD themed features, it’s time to focus on those hardy folk who keep us all in tunes. At the end of 2007, Derby’s Reveal Records closed its doors for the final time; Tom Rose, owner of the shop, wrote this wonderful piece to launch back in August 2012. It’s a warm and engaging reflection on the route to running a record shop and what happens when it’s no longer possible. Tom has compiled a lengthy mixtape, ‘Behind The Counter’, via Spotify to accompany this piece so click here and pour a glass of something splendid as we continue to toast the nation’s indies. 

I spent much my early 80s childhood dreaming of working in the music industry and each month I’d catch the bus to spend hours in Selectadisc and the many other Nottingham record shops of the era. The magic for me started at the Selectadisc window which, rather than displaying glossy cut outs and posters of the new pop albums, simply housed one empty copy of each of their new or sale vinyl, cassette, cd or magazines with a hand written price and sometimes a short description. I’d stand outside staring at the incredible artist names (Butthole Surfers? Pussy Galore? Naked Raygun? Half Man Half Biscuit? 10,000 Maniacs?) and their artwork and imagine what on earth they might sound like. I knew almost nothing about anything I’d ever see in that window and it only made me want in on this mystery world.

Pre-internet, everyone I knew who loved music was older than me and they relied on late night radio, bought records and tickets by word of mouth, saw the odd good thing on the Channel 4 TV show The Tube and read the weekly music papers – NMESounds and Melody Maker – cover to cover. I copied this and was soon hooked in by the enthusiasm or passionate hatred toward the music from their writers. I’d always find loads of singles and albums I’d read about in the shop, plus lots of interesting looking fanzines and imported music publications. Often, when you bought something, the staff would give you piles of free stuff in your bag like local singles and badges, flyers etc, so I just started to listen to and read everything about all the music that I could, regardless of genres, in a bid to get more educated.

I’d hang around flicking through racks and just listening to what the staff were suggesting to customers and I’d read the short info stickers they would write by the price on the sleeves – things like “featuring the guitarist from ‘insert band you’ve not heard of’” or there would be messages on strips of paper stuck onto the sleeves in the window like YES! BACK IN STOCK AT LAST! or LAST FEW NOW DELETED! which just made me think: “Oh, I should get that” (Later, I would copy these strategies wholesale.)

I was equally consumed by the hits on Top of the Pops as I was the strange noises played by John Peel or the World music which followed on Andy Kershaw. I loved The Tube and most of my late 80’s favourties (Prefab Sprout, Aztec Camera, Smiths, The Cure, Lloyd Cole, Billy Bragg, R.E.M had all been on TV and were very successful artists) but I’d also buy things randomly that I saw in the shop window or older kids suggested and talked about like: early Fugazi, Wedding Present, Sonic Youth, Big Black, Descendents, Dag Nasty, The Replacements etc. Each one lead me to other indie record labels and projects by their members and many varied other sounds. Dinosaur Jr lead me back to Neil Young, Pixies to all the 4AD record label stuff like Cocteau Twins and early Throwing Muses, Fugazi to Pailhead and then to Skinny Puppy and Wax Trax and industrial music and I liked the ethos of Dischord Records from Washington who sold everything cheaply and made their gigs all ages so I followed U.S hardcore. I didn’t much like English Punk and I decided early on I preferred The Byrds to The Beatles. Indie record labels seemed very important in the shop and thus I followed these just like I would the bands: SSTShimmy DiscCreationRough Trade etc.

I left school at 15 and worked the summer folding shirts in a city clothes shop, where the staff would all go out clubbing and stay up all night. That was the summer of acid house and hiphop supplied the clothes shop’s soundtrack – for me, this was the start of DJ culture, and so my knowledge expanded further and my tastes grew wider. I was still out watching hardcore and indie gigs most nights and there was a burgeoning independent music scene; I’d travel to Nottingham, Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield – loads of amazing gigs.

I never found any record shop to match Selectadisc in the other cities though and when I turned 16 and couldn’t get a job there I took a YTS (youth training scheme) placement at Way Ahead, a record shop that stocked mainly heavy metal.  I knew nothing about heavy metal other than that I didn’t like it at all! But I took this as an opportunity to learn more about that music and hoped my chance might come to introduce the shop and customers to other music I did like – plus you got to go to Rock City and Trent Poly on the guest list to watch gigs, as we sold tickets, and this alone made up for the fact I only got £30 a week wages.Strangely, my lack of any metal music knowledge didn’t seem to phase the owner too much; perhaps I was ok because I maintained a tidy shop and well organised filing system!

A few months after I joined, the manager of their under performing Derby shop left. I was 17, living 35 miles away and with only 6 months experience. I didn’t know about VAT or how to change a price gun or till roll but, other than that, I felt sure I must be a very strong contender to become store manager in Derby! To my amazement, after I suggested this, they gave me the Derby shop to manage and that was it: I moved to Derby determined to make Way Ahead Derby into a destination record store just like Selectadisc and my love for Selectadisc stopped there – from now on they were sworn enemies!

To some extent we achieved what I set out to, turning a small scruffy shop full of metal picture discs, arcade machines and T shirts into a thriving haven for heavy, alternative independent music – mostly American indie, as this was the during the start of the grunge years: Sub Pop, Nirvana, Mudhoney, plus UK bands like Teenage Fanclub. We also sold hardcore rap such as NWA, ICE-T and anything vaguely anti-establishment. By happy coincidence, hair metal was now deeply unfashionable so the new direction I wanted sat fine with the owner, if not the group of Derby rockers who regularly protested that the music had turned shit in the shop but couldn’t deny it seemed busier. As our reputation grew, we opened a second Derby store mainly for dance music, hip-hop and breakbeat, US house, techno and jazz etc, just as artists like Wu Tang, Portishead and Goldie broke out big and, again by coincidence, we were right on the front line of a new music movement. People started to travel to Derby from around the Midlands and we had some amazing staff at that time.

What came next was at first really exciting and then almost the death of everything I loved – Britpop saw indie going over-ground and I was now DJing at a local indie club night after work on Fridays. You could soon sense we were losing more than we were gaining, as major music stores opened and there was less and less underground guitar music and more of the artists were being signed to major labels. It changed the focus toward finance and away from music, and was the start of the end for indie stores.

During this time I was drawn more towards the new electronic music scene: WarpR&S, Logical ProgressionMo’Wax, trip hop and French house. Nu-soul, techno and drum ‘n’ bass all seemed to be making exciting new sounds, just as guitar music was turning me off. When I look back now I realise there were still many good rock records made but I was absorbed in discovering new music I’d not learnt about yet. Eventually, around 1998, Way Ahead (who also sold tickets as their main business) were bought out and became SEE Tickets. They didn’t need the record shops and things were moving online. I was 26, and out of a job for the first time since leaving school.

I was still quite confident there was a need for a good small independent shop in Derby so, after a few months of thinking and planning, I contacted the letting agents and, six months after it had closed, I opened up my own shop called Reveal Records in the same premises where Way Ahead had been. With no major label stock or major label distribution accounts, and no intention of selling anything other than harder to find independent music, whatever the genre (from punk to ambient electronica, industrial metal to deep jazzy house and Americana) my idea was Reveal would be just me, behind the counter alone, and my mate Dave (a local college student) helping me on a Saturday.

On the first day we opened we sold roughly a fifth of all of my stock. We’d taken over a week’s money in that first day and it was clear I’d massively underestimated both the demand for good music and the sort of titles people expected to find, not to mention the fact that I couldn’t run it alone. Within a few months I’d opened upstairs too, selling vinyl and second-hand, called in some of the old full time staff from Way Ahead and the shop was bulging at the seams. Each month, I’d re-invest any profits to buy more racks and extend our catalogue until we couldn’t get another album out. The place was buzzing and there were great new independent guitar and electronic records coming out by artists like Godspeed You! Black Emperor , Sigur Ros, Autechre, Super Furry Animals. I was feeling excited and using that energy to spur myself on towards creating a small version of that Nottingham shop that had inspired me 20 years before.  Over the period 1999-2003 things were just amazing, hard work but amazing; every week incredible music came out and we sold vast quantities of it, had some fun at work and then from nowhere, just as I was paying off the last bit of what I’d borrowed to start the business, I received a letter saying the shopping centre was being demolished and we would have to vacate. This was devastating news. It meant there was a rush to find a new site, just as all the other businesses in Derby were doing the same thing. Rents were twice, three times what I was paying and it wasn’t clear how or if we could survive or relocate.

I decided to risk a bigger shop, on the main street and, on the basis, that if it didn’t work I was still young and we could get out after five years, I went for it – two large floors of stock, a separate store online and someone doing eBay. At one point, we had ten staff and different specialist buyers for certain genres and we were also now open seven days a week. It was a huge undertaking, madly stressful and a challenge to maintain, both in terms of my original D.I.Y ethos and getting stock out in the racks. I’m not sure how people viewed this store. I never stopped to think and I know I never enjoyed working there, even though it just got busier and busier. We had some superb people working there and a great vibe at times, but I’d also just started a family and moved house and was spending no time at home. My partner had given up work to come and do the accounts at the shop and life was just too full on. With the upturn in business, we were now able to do a few more interesting things like a free magazine that we started and now we could employ designers to do the artwork and ads to promote the store, but it was all much less fun for me. In 2005, Reveal won Best Independent Shop in the UK at the Music Week awards, I got completely hammered at the ceremony (it was the first time I’d been out in ages!) but I do remember a guy from Domino Records collaring me and saying ‘now is the year – do the thing you always wanted to do, whilst you have the spotlight on your Reveal name’.

So I woke up and decided a record label was what I always wanted to do. At first, I thought I could do something by importing stock from America and find acts that way, licensing their albums for the UK. I thought that sounded pretty easy. Picking good music. I didn’t want to be the one to speak to the artists; I was too shy for that stuff but after trying to work with someone else running the label side for a few months, I realised it had to be me so I tried to balance running the shop and label. My first signing was Joan As Police Woman, who I saw opening solo for Rufus Wainwright in Birmingham. I emailed her after buying her EP, to see if she wanted to sell some to me for the shop. She did and we sold so many I asked her to be the first signing on the Reveal label; to my amazement she agreed and I was off to New York to sort it out. During this time, I saw Kris Drever sing a song (Farewell To Fiunary) as part of a Kate Rusby concert. I fell in love with his voice and guitar playing (and folk in general) that night and rang him to see if he’d like to make a solo album. Again, he was surprisingly up for it and invited me to Edinburgh to talk more about it. This label stuff seemed really interesting and I was getting more into that work than I was the new shop. In 2006, I toured around with JAPW and did some early management work for her: gigs and promo stuff. The album “Real Life” came out in June 2006 and got rave reviews. In October I released “Black Water” by Kris Drever and he won the best newcomer at BBC Folk Awards and this lead me to Lau, a trio Kris was part of, and I went to see them and got blown away. I was a folk convert and keen to learn more about it.

Back at the shop, we were noticing we had a new competitor: Amazon, someone we couldn’t beat on price or range. This didn’t look good for the future and, coupled with the dawning of broadband and free music downloading, I decided that when the five year break clause came up, I would either move to a smaller shop or close the shop completely. We made it to 2007 ok, but it was now harder and harder to make ends meet so we announced we’d close in spring. It was a huge relief to me when we finally closed; I hadn’t realised how much stress I was under nor how much being open 7 days meant I was thinking about the shop and work. I toyed with the idea of continuing online selling vinyl or in a smaller shop, but just as I was looking into this another opportunity arose to start a new folk label (Navigator Records) with Proper Distribution as partners, so I figured that had to be a good thing and we did that, signing Bellowhead, Chris Wood, Boo Hewerdine, Roddy Woomble, John McCusker, Heidi Talbot, Spiers & Boden, Jon Boden, Mary Hampton and Angel Brothers. I was now running two labels, a music publishers and managing artists.

Running a record shop helped me greatly with selling music, promotion and marketing. The final months (even year) had been a tough balancing act. I didn’t want to invest more in the shop as I knew I was leaving it. My father had just died, I’d a wife and two children I wasn’t seeing enough of and there seemed no positives from being there. I’m especially grateful to Dave who started on the first day with me in 1999 and closed the door for the last time in 2007. As we’d announced we were closing down early on, customers rallied in the final months trying to convince us to continue, but the reality was I had to pay much more for the next five years of the lease and it was becoming impossible to make a profit selling CDs, and vinyl just didn’t sell in large enough quantities to warrant the investment it required. Since we closed, lots more indie stores have gone, including Selectadisc, so I think the time was right to say goodbye. The music business misses good indie shops greatly, they were a filter for the good and great, and the people who visited left more often than not with more than they went in for, thanks to the enthusiasm of the staff.


I’ve continued to buy physical albums on vinyl and some CDs but I must admit I’m also happy enough with a digital version, unless it’s a special release. I look forward to Rough Trade’s Album Club mailer coming through my door and I would encourage anyone reading this to buy vinyl from Diverse Records, folk music from Coda in Edinburgh and even use Fopp and HMV or you’ll lose them. I tend to buy lots of music from gigs and direct from the artists now, as part of my job involves gig promotion now. Last week I went into Fopp and they were playing a new album out that week, I liked it and I bought it.

For those interested in the Reveal label click here for more info. Tom’s wesbite can be found here:

RSD13: Last Shop Standing – A Visual Record (Of Record Shops)

The official film of Record Store Day 2013 is the wonderful Pip Piper interpretation of Graham Jones’ fine book of the same name. The deluxe DVD edition hits the racks on Saturday and below I explain why this is a MUST see. 

Whether you’ve used the same record emporium since you hit puberty or you’re the sort to check if there are any music shops in a location before you visit or even book a holiday there, ‘Last Shop Standing’ is a fifty minute celebration of the people who put so many great records in your hands. As Ashli Todd, of Cardiff’s Spillers Records, puts it, “Even though everything’s supposedly accessible on a computer at the end of your fingertips, nothing beats the buzz of meeting somebody face to face across the counter and saying ‘Hey, have you heard this?'” For those of us who still value the personal touch, the hugely exciting opening montage essentially works like a vinyl geek’s game of ‘been there!’ A glittering cast are dangled before us tantalisingly, all to be woven into a film which offers hope amidst a sense of missed opportunities and some potent 20/20 hindsight.

Graham Jones, author of the book with spawned this technicolour treat, acts as host through his narrative bursts, initially offering a whistle-stop history of the industry, neatly embellished by long-time occupants of the coal face: Diane Cain from Liverpool’s The Music Box and Keith Hudson from Chesterfield’s Hudsons. The story really kicks in with the profligate industry spending of the Eighties, with tales of gentle chart rigging by reps and shops receiving records they didn’t want or pay for, just so they could be sold cheap and aid the artist’s ascent of the Top 40.

The film’s mid-section focuses on the grim disappearance of so many record shops, with the well-worn reasons for the independent music store’s decline getting another airing. Alongside this are some astute observations about the sweeping devaluing of vinyl as a direct promotional strategy for CDs. A fascinating period advert for the arrival of CDs, featuring John Cleese no less, essentially works to the narrative: “Records are really shit, aren’t they? Buy CDs and if you miss all that horrible noise, make it yourself.” Cue smug laughter. From this position in time, it seems mad that the industry was so keen to toss overboard a format that had done so much for so long. Several contributors bemoan the labels’ loss of love for vinyl in the late Eighties and early Nineties, with Gary Smith of Oxford’s Truck highlighting how the poor quality of pressings at the time almost seemed designed to drive people away, and there seems to be a general consensus that this ‘all or nothing’ approach was the wrong way to go. Predictably, in a documentary partly concerned with the resurgence of vinyl, the CD gets a gentle shoeing in return, most perfectly captured by former EMI CEO Tony Wadsworth: “The CD had a hell of a lot going for it; it’s convenient, it’s pretty consistent sound quality depending on whatever you’re playing on it and portable and so on. But you can’t love it. You can’t actually love CD. You can love the music that’s on it, but you can’t love the format. Whereas vinyl was a format people really treasured. “

Last Shop Standing’ is undoubtedly preaching to the converted, but that was always going to be the case when you’re asking people to pay a tenner for fifty minutes of record shop porn. That said, there are several genuinely stirring moments in the film, not least the moment when Keith Hudson is captured stood amongst the detritus of his shop, Hudsons, having reluctantly admitted defeat after 106 years of trading. While the film’s director, Pip Piper, entirely correctly loiters on the perils of music retails for some time, there remains a lingering sense of positivity at the close of proceedings. Shop owners share their strategies for bringing in customers, whether it be live performances or diversifying of stock, and certain music luminaries glow with the thrill of talking about the rush of picking out a new record at their local store. Paul Weller lounges against the racks of Honest Jons whilst Johnny Marr evangelises about the power of vinyl and the joys of Kingbee Records.Indeed, Marr hypothesises that the magic wax lost its appeal by losing its prominence: “There seemed to be this idea that record shops disappeared because people didn’t want to buy vinyl, when I wonder if it isn’t the other way round, because people don’t buy vinyl because their record store’s disappeared.” The deluxe edition provides the full twenty five minute interview with everybody’s favourite Smith, along with extended interviews with the likes of Richard Hawley, Weller and Billy Bragg. A short update visits Southsea’s Pie & Vinyl  to see how the challenge to diversify has been embraced, while a brief collection of amusing outtakes and anecdotes makes you wish the whole thing had a little bit more of the people that really matter – those behind the counter.

It’s heartening to see just how many of those indies still fighting the good fight look like small town indies. The UK is not crying out for a new chain, nor is it likely that something which might play well in one specific market will be immediately successful replicated elsewhere in the country. Music buyers want character, they want identity and they want an experience. It’s not difficult to see how all of the shops featured in this film keep customers coming through the doors and the process of shining a much needed light on the fact that there are excellent, innovative and remarkable independent stores all over the country is at the heart of ‘Last Shop Standing’. The real trick will be showing this to people who like music but haven’t visited an indie store in a while. The infectious magic captured here should be enough to push people back through the doors where they’ll be guided towards something they don’t yet know they want. As Xfm DJ, 6 Music supersub and all round lovely person Jo Good puts it, “You need a physical record shop full of people who are going to help you and guide you.” Well, quite.

‘Last Shop Standing – Deluxe Edition’ is released on DVD via Proper on Record Store Day, April 20th. The original 50 minute film will receive its TV debut via Sky Arts on Friday April 19th at 9pm, with a repeat on Record Store Day itself at 5pm. Further clips and information can be found at the film’s website.

More RSD:

Read the Just Played guide to RSD13 here

Read Ian Rankin‘s record shop tales here

Read Pete Mitchell‘s musical history here

RSD13: A Guide


The lists are up, the stock is arriving and the token news stories are bubbling up nicely. It must be time for 2013’s installment of Record Store Day, which takes place on Saturday April 20th. Despite initial claims to the contrary, the number of releases has shot up again to land around the 500 mark. If you visit record shops regularly then there will be plenty in there for you to enjoy. Although, if you do visit record shops regularly, it could be argued that a day designed to raise the profile of said stores isn’t actually aimed at you. It’s a sobering thought.

In recent years I have written various think pieces on this potentially wonderful event and they have always prompted plenty of debate. Not always complimentary, it must be said, but I’d like to think that even a cursory glance of this site tells you I am very much on the side of the independent record shops. Plenty have the receipts to prove it.

After last year’s guide to the day, I thought I’d dust it down and spruce it up for a full on 2013 feel. If you need any further advice, ask below or say hello on Twitter. Also, as I mentioned recently, I would be delighted if those of you experiencing RSD on Saturday were to tweet some pictures of the shops you visit. Ok, let’s get on with it…

Should I make the effort to get to an independent record shop for RSD?

Without a doubt. In fact, you should make an effort to get to an independent record shop full stop. You clearly like your music if you’re loitering on a site like this and where better to get recommendations, bargains and all round musical bonhomie than your local record shop? Many of the UK’s finest indies are putting on all kinds of entertainment for the day, be it live performances, discounted regular stock or alcohol. This is a day intended to be primarily about celebrating the shops which have kept us in decent tunes for many years and will hopefully continue to do so for many more. If, like me, you struggle with the onslaught of £10 coloured vinyl back catalogue 7” nonsense, it’s still worth suspending your cynicism for a day that is always enjoyable and lingers long in the memory.

I had wanted to ask about the records being released. What should I be looking out for?

Well, unless you’re an obsessive collector of a certain band, multi-coloured vinyl reissues are best avoided. Yes, they’re labelled as ‘limited’, but don’t let that word fool you into thinking that it also means ‘essential’. £30 for a red and white White Stripes album is not what this is all about, especially as there is a standard black vinyl pressing still available for only £13. Check out the full list of items before you venture out next week and be absolutely certain about what you want and what you think you really need. It’s easy to get swept up in the mania in the store when the last copy of Wayne Coyne’s Musical Ballbag see-through, poster-bag, first time on vinyl special release is batting its eyelids at you, only for you to get home and realise you bought a turkey. Just ask everyone who has a shelf full of previous RSD limited edition 7”s. There is some great stuff out this year, as always, but the sheer number of items is ludicrous. Last year, I thought the staggering number of items might screw over the eBay dickwads but it seemed very much alive. It’s a limited market and the high prices last a matter of days. I find the prices on the shelf hard enough to swallow without resorting to the soulless wastelands of auction sites.

Ah, yes. Imagine I’m a shameless music-hating, money-grabbing bastard. Is it worth my while getting my aging camping chairs out on Saturday and taking a flask of bovril and an exciting science fiction novel down to my local store at silly o’clock?

Possibly. It would seem that heritage artists pressed to picture disc is one of the cons so glaringly obvious people actually fail to acknowledge it. Bowie and Kate Bush lead the way on that nonsense again this year. A Bowie picture disc 7” single is £8 the rest of the year but oddly seems to go up to £13 whenever one is released on RSD. I’m sure this is just a coincidence and not in anyway intentional fuckwittery. There’s plenty of ‘very much available pretty much anywhere’ music being pressed up on the beloved wax for the sake of it – ‘Animal Nitrate’ / ‘Barriers’ double A side by Suede, anyone? – but that seems to be the record companies’ main plan these days. The Malkmus Can covers album seems pretty limited and actually something worthwhile, while Paul Weller is putting out two new tracks on a 7”. It’s not always immediately obvious what will suddenly sky-rocket, although I suspect some of the metal albums being pressed in small quantities will have a tidy bit of eBay trade come Sunday. So, perhaps get yourself some Megadeath. Rest assured that Tame Impala’s early doodles are not the remarkably exciting listen you might be being told they are.

I bought far too much last year and the only thing I didn’t see for sale elsewhere, after the day, was the Gorillaz 10” for ‘Do Ya Thing’. Plenty of indie stores ended up lumbered with Beatles, Fame Studios and Edwyn Collins 7” boxsets that were priced ludicrously and insufficiently tempting. Think the Ringo Starr set gets the nod in that department this year.

Frankly, as long as the thoroughly splendid people who run our independent record shops make their money on it all, I try not to get too cross about it. I might not agree with all aspects of the day but these people – who connect you with so much great music – have invested a terrifying amount of cash in this stock so, actually, it might not be a bad thing that the eBay folk come and ensure that the money was well spent. However, when these quick-buck-brigade and leave empty-handed those tempted out for the first time in ages, it does tarnish the event a little. The scalpers will be there – the best approach is not to buy stuff from them on eBay until the price drops below what it cost in the shop. Remember, the indies can sell online from the following Saturday and there is normally plenty of stuff left.

Ok, ok. I’m not a scalper. I’m just a fan. When should I start queuing for Record Store Day?

I’ve done the queuing thing for the last few years and it has a certain niche appeal if you like standing in freezing streets talking about obscure vinyl pressings and how much financial guilt you have braced yourself to feel. Mix in drunken remnants of the night before asking you “why the fuck are all you saddoes waiting here then?” and an achy back and you get a full flavor of the experience. In 2010, I queued with a lovely, anxious Blur fan called Vickie outside the now defunct PowerPlay in Leicester. We got a copy of ‘Fool’s Day’ each and then remembered to breathe. I’ve spent the last two RSDs at Rise in Bristol and I still find the presence of curious folk who happen to run their own stalls at record fairs and the like near the front somewhat galling. I spend an INSANE amount of money in that shop – as do many in indies across the nations – but the rules of the day ensure that this counts for shit if that lot rock up first.

In all seriousness, the less seriously you take the unpleasantly competitive element of it all, the more likely you are to enjoy it.

So do I need to be up at the crack of dawn or not?

Depends on whether or not you’ve always had a burning desire for a Nick Cave picture disc or a Coldplay comic. If not, rock up at noon, pick up the odd overpriced 7”, grab some decent new music from the normal racks and catch a live performance from a band. Your choice. Remember, we’re celebrating independent record stores here, not major labels and their capacity to make money by endlessly reissuing records you already have.

Alright then, grumpy. Let me try again: what should I actually be looking out for?

Like I said, there are some decent releases, as always. The Beta Band’s three EPs, famously collected on ‘The Three EPs’ and even more famously mentioned in ‘High Fidelity’ are reissued for the day. The aforementioned Nick Cave 7” features an unreleased track, but keep in mind how much you actually play the bonus 7” that came with the latest album. Orange Juice have their catalogued returned to wax by Domino, Knitting Factory deliver an unreleased, extended version of Fela Kuti’s superb ‘Sorrow, Tears and Blood’ and Leaf are popping the early Caribou albums back out on coloured vinyl also. The excellent new Pulp track, ‘After You’ finally gets a physical release on 12”, backed with a Soulwax remix while Death Waltz records have some truly different soundtrack releases on a variety of vinyl sizes.

Here are a few tasters to whet your appetite:

Any last tips then?

Set yourself a financial limit and stick to it. It’s very easy to get lured in by limited, exclusive, one-off, today only style gubbins but far harder to find the willpower to actually play the bloody thing three months down the line. Don’t take it too seriously – there’s every chance that some of the stuff you want will have sold out by the time you get to the racks. Is it the end of the world? Probably not. Very few items were impossible to get hold of over the last few years, and many remain available today. The 2011 Saint Etienne box was selling online for half price before too long, plenty of last year’s titles are still clogging up the reduced section of many indies, while the Flaming Lips box from RSD 2011 can be purchased for £50 delivered right now – keep that in mind when ‘Zaireeka’ is fluttering its eyelashes at you. Remember, it’s about the places selling these items. Take them a cake, a smile and an interesting conversational nugget and you’ll have a wonderful day. But, most importantly, make sure you go back again before Record Store Day rolls around again in 2014.

RSD13: He Really Liked Their Stuff Before They Were Famous – by Pete Mitchell

Today, as part of this week of Record Store Day themed pieces, Absolute Radio DJ and music obsessive Pete Mitchell charts the importance of various record shops throughout his vinyl hunting life…

My fascination with collecting vinyl goes back to when I was a kid growing up in Manchester. I still harbour the thought that one of these days I will own and run my own record store; it’s a pipe dream I know. My local record shop was called Edison Gem in Denton and on a Friday I would pop in to hear the following week’s new releases before anyone else. It was a proud boast to say to my schoolmates that I had just heard the new Bowie or Roxy Music single before anyone else. I always liked picking up on new music before anyone else so I could annoyingly quip ‘I really liked their stuff before they were famous’. I would collect Tamla Motown records via the market stalls of Ashton, Hyde and the Underground Market, Spinn Inn and the soul and funk section import section in the Manchester HMV run by music expert Derek Howe, who now runs Beatin’ Rhythm in The same city. I ended up opening the new store in 1991 with Mick Hucknall, A Certain Ratio and Factory band the Adventure Babies.

One of the best shops around was Rare Records on John Dalton Street. I was talking to Peter Hook recently, who told me that he used to frequent the shop and that Ian Curtis worked there before he got involved in music full time. I now own every Motown release – well, almost! You can still buy up most Tamla Motown releases for as little as 50p per single in the nation’s second hand record shops, and before you know it you will have amassed a decent collection of some of the greatest records ever made.


I managed to procure a job presenting on Piccadilly Radio, Greater Manchester’s independent radio station and my life changed immediately. I began to get free records! I would play early Factory releases and go to the Hacienda every Friday. I played Biting Tongues, an early Factory signing a lot on the radio, and got to know Graham Massey of the band. When he formed 808 State, he told me to go and see Martin Price of the band, who worked at Eastern Bloc Records and pick up some 12” records. When I popped in to see him he just said ‘take anything you want!’ It was like finding Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. The haul included a white label of Pacific, a soon to be huge club record and chart hit for 808 State. I went away with a box full of free stuff: yes, free records! I have to admit that the only reason I got into radio in the first place was to blag free records. I still get child-like excited about the arrival of free stuff. My favourite recent bit of ‘free stuff’ was the 25th Anniversary Acid Jazz box set; it’s just the coolest thing.

I still collect vinyl from all over the world and pay weekly visits to Beatin’ Rhythm in Manchester, Record and Tape Exchange in Notting Hill, the record stalls of Portobello Market, Sounds Of The Universe, Phonica and Sister Ray in Soho. Remember record stores are for life and not just Record Store Day!

Pete Mitchell works for Absolute Radio. His excellent Soul Time broadcasts can be heard via Mixcloud

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

In a piece originally published at, 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.