It’s any day I get the chance for me…

Saturday is the second fully blown UK version of Record Store Day and this time around it seems to be considerably more high profile. As much as I still cherish my Rough Trade tape, signed Lucky Soul LP, Graham Coxon 10” and Magnolia Electric Co 7” from last year, the avalanche of splendour on offer from 9am on April 17th is quite something to behold.

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I was a little dismayed to see the NME taking a sneery pot-shot at independent record shop staff in amongst their otherwise fairly sizeable mentions of this important day. I refuse to believe that there are that many record shops left full of surly, elitist staff with meticulously crafted enormo-hair. Yes, they still exist and, yes, you may occasionally encounter them, but with the dramatic decline in record shops in the UK, few establishments are so carefree with their clientele. Every bit of footfall, every physical visitor is crucial and those of us who still value the unique service provided by actual record shops can tell of many, many positive experiences in the nation’s musical emporiums. Emporia. Emporiums. Oh, sod it.

I’ve previously written about numerous wonderful record shops that you’d be well advised to visit this Saturday and this seems a convenient time to remind you of those pieces.

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Rough Trade East – The Record Store Day hub and a vast pleasuredome, the likes of which were the reason for the invention of credit cards. You will enjoy yourself, you will buy loads and you will spot loads of albums you’ve already bought with frustrating ‘free bonus discs’ available.

Action RecordsAn online presence to be proud of, but also a marvellous shop in the great tradition of record stores, situated in Preston. Stuff piled everywhere, racks creaking with superb stock and staff who can answer pretty much any question you put to them, They take vinyl seriously and their prices are very competitive.

Rockaboom – There’s no website for this cracking little shop in Leicester. Carl, the one man music dispensing machine, is a laid back chap with a shop full of wonderful music. His increased leaning towards vinyl is helping matters for him, while his CD prices easily match or often outclass local rivals, HMV and Powerplay. He is as obsessed with music as you are and I’ve enjoyed numerous conversations with him about all sorts of records, most recently the illustrious Tindersticks back catalogue and the splendid Galaxie 500 reissues.

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Resident – Probably my favourite out of a number of wonderful record shops in Brighton, Resident was mentioned as part of FUTUREMUSIC 09’s exploration of how we purchase music. It uses staff-written labels to recommend records to you, it’s priced competitively, has a good stash of vinyl and genuinely seems to be run by people who likely blow almost all of their wages before they even leave work. It’s one of those shops I wish I lived near enough to that I could visit regularly.

RPM / Reflex – Newcastle, like Edinburgh and Glasgow (more on both soon), is a city that still has a reasonably healthy record shopping climate. Windows, Steel Wheels, Reflex and RPM are all well worth a visit. RPM tickled me most, looking as it does like a truly old-school record shop. Posters everywhere, old plastic racks on the wall, plain price stickers and stock in every available space. The music was not only up nice and loud but also bloody decent. As I said in that original piece, it smells like a proper record shop. Would love to revisit it some time soon.

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Spillers – I don’t appear to have ever written a full piece about this most spellbinding of shops in Cardiff and, apparently, the oldest record shop in the world. However you want to describe it, it is a veritable treasure trove, with the available space used to great effect thanks to their notorious ‘photocopied sleeves on a bit of plastic’ display technique. Prices are great, stock is wide and with a great depth – the era of the back catalogue being easily available may have been stabbed by the HMV bosses, but Spillers provides the life-support machine. The vinyl range is far from comprehensive, but suitably quirky and curious and always worth a browse. And, inevitably, about £20. The display of box sets at the counter is an age old tricks, but there’s a something about the way this lot do it that makes it harder to resist than in most shops. Add to all of this their wonderful, wonderful staff and their delightful t-shirts, including one I have from last year which actually marked Record Store Day and you’re on to a winner. I’ve had conversations at the till not just about my purchases, but also a three-way chit-chat about what the person next to me was buying. They are part therapists, part feeders, but they’re bloody good.

Jumbo – Not the cheapest, by any stretch, but you can feel the record shop heritage hit you in the face as you enter the fabulously timeless Jumbo in Leeds. Nearby fellow indie Crash is well worth a visit too, although Jumbo’s size and thus variety of stock makes for a more satisfying browse. The simple window displays using LP sleeves are tantalising and the vinyl selection is pretty bloody substantial. It may not be the cheapest price in the country, but if you want it, there’s a fair chance they’ve got it.

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Avalanche – Now, my experience of both Avalanche stores is pretty recent, having been up in Scotland only last week. I have to say, I’m a Glasgow shop man, myself, but they’re both decent places to buy your music. I got the impression that the Glasgow shop is thriving rather more and a little more on top of the new releases. While there wasn’t masses of vinyl, what they had was very good. Very knowledgeable staff, with whom I discussed Record Store Day and, in particular, the special Blur release. Regular readers will remember how I used to always budget an extra £10 when I went to the now deceased Reveal Records of Derby because I knew I’d end up buying whatever was playing in store. And so, in Glasgow, I ended up adding King Creosote’s ‘Rocket D.I.Y.’ to my bundle of purchases as a result of thoroughly enjoying it whilst browsing.

Monorail – Another Glasgow based palace of delights, this one. Situated in the Mono cafe, Monorail is the most esoteric shop on this list and the one least likely to be able to furnish you with the indie chart smash you’re trying to track down. No bad thing. The enormous quantity of vinyl available provides a dangerous thrill and the staff are friendly, knowledgeable and, as with a few examples I’ve already mentioned, clearly as obsessed with it all as much as their customers. Whether it’s Mazzy Star vinyl reissues you’re after, vintage Four Tet 12”s or the vinyl box set of Tom Waits’ ‘Orphans’, they’re all there waiting for you, along with piles and piles of other great stuff. The really noteworthy point is how decent their prices are – clearly, there’s a market for a shop dealing only in the more cult side of alternative music, and it’s a market that’s sufficiently successful that the customers don’t need to pay a little extra to keep it afloat. Works for me.

Obviously, there are bloody loads of brilliant independent record shops that I’ve missed off this list. Please, feel free to comment and post about your favourites. The more positive comment about physical record shops, the better. Few music fans have not had a positive experience of one kind or another, and it’s a great shame to think that there might be future generations coming through soon for whom the whole concept of record shopping may mean nothing. All of the shops participating in Saturday’s festivities can be found by clicking here whilst a reasonably comprehensive list of the special releases for the day can be found here. Just loading that list of shops to get the link has reminded me of wonderful places like Diverse in Newport, Badlands in Cheltenham, Polar Bear in Birmingham and Head in Leamington Spa. While we don’t have many independent record shops left now, so many of the survivors are truly great. Please, give them your custom on Saturday and mark Record Story Day with your fellow music obsessives.

 

Just make sure I get a Blur single, ok?

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(For general musings and updates on RSD and new releases as and when I feel inclined, why not follow Just Played on twitter by clicking here or on the massive logo below?)

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.