An exclusive coalition?

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

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

Interesting post on the Norman Records blog. Click me!

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

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

Did you find e̶v̶e̶r̶y ANYthing you were after?

I’ve ranted about this before, so stick with me on this, but the lack of decent music shops is alarming. Obviously it’s not alarming to many people otherwise we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place, but for those of us who enjoy picking through obscure new releases and well-chosen back catalogue stock, the end is increasingly nigh. Last summer I found out about the demise of Derby’s last remaining indie store, Reveal Records, which closed its doors for a final time at the end of last year. The reports of record shops in London closing keep coming thick and fast and Left Legged Pineapple has shut up shop in Loughborough, Track has departed from York and Selectadisc has downsized its operation in Nottingham.

I had the misfortune to be in Northampton yesterday and I haven’t had such a poor record buying experience in a long time. I couldn’t find a traditional indie store to speak of, and judging by a search of the net that is indeed the case, and the one second hand store, Pied Piper, that has something of a reputation is some way into a depressing ‘closing down’ sale that consists of utter toss that you couldn’t pay me to take away. They will continue trading in a different manner, so I can only hope they’ve kept the decent stuff back for that venture. There’s Sidewinder, a very specialist dance shop but beyond that I could find nothing. What’s even worse is that HMV and Zavvi haven’t opted to capitalise on this. HMV appeared to have no vinyl whatsoever, while Zavvi – currently doing a wonderful job of filling their stores with vinyl nationwide – had a limited stock that appeared not to have been updated in months. The Last Shadow Puppets single, ‘The Age Of The Understatement’ was released yesterday on CD and 2×7″. I could not find either 7″ anywhere, which is a major surprise. Why, when they happily pile it up in other stores, aren’t Zavvi and HMV catering for music fans? Saying, “did you find everything you were after?” at the till counts for fuck all if it’s a token gesture and the answer is of no consequence. I was amazed that people living somewhere as big as Northampton have so little access to music. Now that HMV find music a dirty word, favouring DVDs, the stock is growing ever more conservative and the range is diminishing rapidly.

Now, there’s no point me issuing a rallying cry for people to go dashing off to their local indie store and purchase a record or three, as I suspect the game is already over and we’ve lost. In addition, if you’re reading this, the chances are you already frequent indie stores wherever possible. The thought that in the not too distant future I won’t be able to have a proper browse in an independent record store upsets me more than it probably should, but I won’t pretend otherwise.

Thankfully, a stop off at Leicester to visit Rockaboom restored my confidence in the indie store. Well-run, competitively-priced and sensibly-stocked, this small indie store is a flashback to the glory days. There’s a second-hand rack, a great back-catalogue with most essentials in stock at less than a fiver and new releases are shoved wherever possible, ensuring you get exposure to as much great music as possible. There’s a good selection of vinyl, local bands are covered and the traditional rail of metal T-shirts is there by the till. Both Last Shadow Puppets 7″s were duly purchased, along with the Jim Noir album which, to dispel one of the rumours about independent stores, was actually a quid cheaper than HMV or Zavvi. I don’t imagine you’ll go out of your way to visit, and they don’t have an online presence, but if you happen to be in the area, treat yourself.

All of this neatly links in with this weekend’s ‘big’ event, Record Store Day. We’ll just have to allow the Americans the word ‘store’ on this occasion, as it’s for a good cause. You’ll have noticed the logo for this in the top right of the blog for the last few days and by clicking on it you can read the philosophy behind the event. Worthy of your support, I would argue. Rough Trade East is having a whole day orgy of live music including the sublime Jason Molina (Magnolia Electric Co / Songs:Ohia), up and coming Glasgow band of note, Make Model and Billy Bragg. Full info here. Action Records in Preston will have live performances from 4pm – info here. Spillers in Cardiff are in the middle of organising something. Avalanche, in Glasgow and Edinburgh, are listed on the Record Store Day site, although I can’t find out what they’re doing. By visiting the RSD site you can access a list of all stores participating. It’s mainly US, but worth a look. If your local indie store’s not on there, ask them why not.

If you’ve got info on particularly lovely indie stores you know of, please let me know and I’ll bung it up on the site – the more promotion the better. If you have any Record Store Day news, then likewise, bung it in the comments.

Smooth Trading

I made my first visit to Rough Trade East yesterday and found it to be quite a pleasant experience. For those not aware, Rough Trade closed its Covent Garden store last summer in order to open what was widely described as a ‘megastore’ off Brick Lane. This new store has been much hyped by the media and hit the headlines with the free Radiohead gig back in January that was so popular it actually had to be moved down the road.

The internet community is littered with people unhappy with the prices in Rough Trade and so I approached the store uncertain about what I’d find inside. As it goes, the first thing that you’re greeted with is a cafe, offering the chance to grab yourself something to drink as you wander about amongst the racks. There is something fundamentally wrong about this, it seems to me, although at the time I didn’t allow it to sour the mood. As someone who practises the ‘two-handed rummage’ when looking through racks, I’m not sure where the coffee’s meant to go when you’re actually looking at the records you presumably went there in order to purchase. Am I over analysing this?

Anyway, the record shop is presumably what you’re interested in. Firstly, the selection is huge but, as a result of being in a bloody big building, the shop is enjoyably spacious. Having sweaty, middle-aged men in raincoats squeezing past you as a fug of warm fart hangs over the artist-alphabetical section that you’re battling to get a look at loses its allure pretty bloody quickly. Filing is pretty simple and none of the artists I could think of – and I did try to be a little bit awkward at times – were filed out of my grasp.

Price-wise, I take the point of those who mutter about how much certain things cost, although I don’t think that they’re particularly over the top for the majority of items. I have to say, my main focus was on the vinyl which was pretty reasonable all round and when I strayed into the CD sections the odd item was a little more than I’d have expected. To use a couple of the items I purchased as examples, £13.99 to add a vinyl copy of Richard Hawley‘s ‘Coles Corner‘ to my collection is pretty standard and The Superimposers‘ new album, ‘Harpsichord Treacle‘ was £9.99 on CD, with a bonus – Rough Trade only – disc featuring remixes and unreleased tracks.

Rough Trade East seems pretty good at stocking those items that you struggle to track down. In amongst the racks of 7″ singles, I noticed Duffy‘s ‘Rockferry‘ (ok, I know, I’m just using it to make a point) and Adele‘s ‘Hometown Glory‘ at their original prices, rather than the inflated eBay nonsense that’s occurred since they became famous. They’ve still got stocks of the ‘Fat Children‘ 12″ that Jarvis put out a while back, which everyone else tells you has sold out. Ok, so it’s on their own label, but it’s worth a rummage if you’re after something in particular.

The other reason for visiting is the sheer exposure to different records. A sustained browse – caffeine assisted or not – will present you with all sorts of records you’d forgotten about or never seen physical copies of. In addition, the reasonably hyperbole-free description labels on everything help you to dig up something new that you just might like. Be in no doubt, there are plenty of better record shops out there, but this one is a worthy addition, and I can’t help thinking it’ll still be there long after many of my current favourites have pulled down the shutters for good.