Rough Trading Leads To Lack Of Choice

Bella Union boss Simon Raymonde tweeted the following comment yesterday:

Simon RT tweet

If only it were that simple. But surely, surely the country is crying out for a few more decent record shops that operate in the spirit of Rough Trade? Today, as regular readers will have been expecting, I undertook my traditional Bank Holiday record shopping trip, this time attempting to seek aural pleasure in the music emporia of Nottingham. Now, I admit that this does rule out some of the more specialist options – Rob’s Records, The Music Exchange etc – but in terms of conventional music shops, offering a wide range of new releases, what is there available? Three branches of HMV and a Fopp, also owned by HMV. Since Selectadisc’s demise last year, the East Midlands has become a desolate wasteland for the music fan. The excellent Rockaboom in Leicester and the none too shabby Music Mania in Stoke aside, there’s little to get excited about. How can this be?

Even more dispiriting is what HMV have done to the old Virgin/Zavvi store on Wheeler Gate, where it has taken a ten year lease. Previously the big high street music presence in the city, as a Virgin Megastore and then a branch of Zavvi, HMV have ripped out the soul of the store along with most of the stock. It has vast swathes of open space, a few aisles for music and a complete lack of focus. Compared to the footfall on previous bank holidays when it was Zavvi, it was doing a fairly passable impression of the Mary Celeste today. There’s no vinyl for sale, the back catalogue is hideously basic and pointing out the fact that HMV were ever a music retailer seems like the ravings of a madman.

I know that music is a tricky thing to sell these days. I know that plenty of businesses have gone to the wall in the last decade, but where’s the ambition? Where’s the desire to even try and cater for all of the city’s music fans left with little option after the closure of the final sizeable independent store? Zavvi had racks of vinyl at competitive prices that saw a regular turnover; why no interest in these customers? Let’s not forget that their demise was brought about by the failure of Woolworths rather than a particularly wayward approach to business. I presume they’re not stocking it on the premise that people don’t buy it, but I’m keen to know how exactly they’ve tested that theory. It’s a self-perpetuating shitty state of affairs whereby HMV have fallen so far down the list of places music fans actually go to when they want to buy new releases that they aren’t likely to actually receive visits from people who could actually be spending loads during this difficult financial period. Once you feel disenfranchised, why bother going back? This is my first visit in the best part of a year and I’ll be in no hurry to go back.

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HMV have conspicuously marginalised music over recent years, but the Wheeler Gate store in Nottingham is a fine example of a retailer not having the first clue about what it is doing. Lacking in customers, stock and direction, it’s hard to know exactly what it’s there for. How does it anyway offer anything different to the other two branches of the same store elsewhere in the city, let alone its ‘major in skinny-jeans and a band t-shirt’ offshoot, Fopp?

I am in no doubt that a decent, well-stocked, well-promoted independent store in Nottingham – provided the location wasn’t too costly – would prosper. As one of the many people who started to travel further afield when shops like Reveal in Derby closed down so as to seek our new music thrills at Selectadisc, I would suggest that it wouldn’t just serve the people of Nottingham but also many throughout the East Midlands. Whether or not that could be fulfilled by the Rough Trade model, who knows? But the approach of the current Rough Trade West store installed in the old Selectadisc shop would likely bring many music lovers out of the woodwork at some speed. Far be it from me to suggest some kind of lovely internet campaign to beg for more independent music stores in the UK -  I noticed Simon’s tweet was only retweeted five times, hardly a resounding response – but I don’t see any harm in having a good moan.

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Headless Highcross

I can’t help noticing that I’m attracting quite a lot of traffic from people attempting to find out if Head Entertainment have reopened the Zavvi store in Leicester Highcross, as a result of a recent post I did about the slightly uncertain future of the Head stores that have hitherto appeared. Thus, I feel compelled to offer up the information for those who would like to know. Put simply, the old Zavvi store in Highcross can’t reopen as a Head store because it’s already reopened as Powerplay, seemingly the same people who run the Powerplay Direct website. Now, that website’s not too bad and I’ve bought a few things from them previously but the shop, admittedly in its very early days, didn’t do an awful lot for me. It opened at the start of the month and had its ‘official’ opening on July 4th, mere hours before half the shopping centre got closed due to a pane of glass falling from the ceiling and smashing in rather close proximity to a coffee shop. After this inauspicious start, I visited the following day. The old Virgin black and yellow tape is still on the metal stairs up to the first floor, the old classical music section is still out of action and has ‘classical’ written down the door with the Virgin Megastore logo still visible. The stock is bizarre. While there are some Fopp-like DVD bargains, the rest of the DVD stock is random at best, both in content and price. As for the music range, I didn’t find anything to buy and I did try quite hard. There was the usual chart stuff at the usual prices, some back catalogue bits and bobs that ranged from obvious to esoteric but, in all cases, without much depth. Prices were nothing special and most of the display space given over to music (the raised bit of the first floor, so not much) was filled with the usual 2 for so many quids type offers. I wish them well, as we need as many music retailers as possible, but they’re not worth a visit on their own. Hope that helps!

P.S. Anyone able to confirm how Rockaboom is doing? Wasn’t open on the Sunday when I was there. Lovely little shop.

Heading for the end?

Since Zavvi took its final breaths in February of this year, Simon Douglas, ex-Zavvi boss type, has been trading a handful of the old sites under the name Head Entertainment. You can spot a Head store by its chronically cheap looking logo, done out in the Zavvi colour scheme and quickly bunged over the name Zavvi on the shop frontage. The shops are, from what I can gather, pretty much a dumping ground for all of the leftover Zavvi stock that Douglas got from the administrator as Zavvi shut for the final time. This does mean that the vast majority of the stock in store isn’t especially thrilling but it’s worth having a look at the bargain CD section. This largely consists of shelves over-stuffed with unsorted CDs and then large crates and boxes full of discs dotted around the shop. It’s a feat of endurance and not for the weak willed.

If the Meadowhall branch is anything to go by, all of these CD boxes have now been marked down to £2.99 or less, suddenly making for some decent bargains amongst stock that was previously the fairly regular price of £5/6. Picked up some Pixies, Iron & Wine, Nirvana, Black Mountain, Modest Mouse, The Aliens, Lambchop, The National, Sigur Ros, Edgar Jones and Isobel Campbell at £2.99, plus Soft Cell and Yo La Tengo at £1.99 each. Throw in the spangly 2CD edition of The Chemical Brothers’Brotherhood‘ at £6.74 and you’re looking at a decent haul for not much cash. Like I said, it takes some time to sift through the vast piles of crap in order to find these, but there’s plenty of decent stuff available.

Despite all of these joyous bargains, it’s hard to see where Head is, er, heading. They’ve got a small selection of current chart albums in at normal prices, but pretty much everything else is stock from up to Christmas 2008 reduced in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. Presumably, it depends how many boxes of each title the Zavvi warehouse had at the time of the sale but it does seem odd to see some recent stand up DVDs at £2.74 and others at £9.99 or more. Rumours circulated when it launched that it was done so with very short term leases and that it’s nothing more than quick attempt to flog off tonnes of stock at customer-friendly prices. Suits me. But when I was in one of the stores a few months back, I asked what the situation was and was told, “Well, we need more variety on the high street.” Now, this seems more than a little disingenuous when the stock isn’t being updated with new releases (barring the small rack or two of new albums) and the whole shop is operating one big sale. In light of these mixed messages, it’s hard to know what Head is. Apparently, the old Zavvi shop in Leicester’s Highcross centre will reopen as Head in early July, while the Bluewater shop has already closed and Meadowhall is rumoured to be going the same way in a couple of months. Apparently, it’ll be having a ‘summer clearout’ from Thursday. How a clearout shop has a clearout is beyond me, but it could mean ever cheaper prices on good stuff. I think it’s fair to conclude that Head isn’t going to be one of those shops that is fondly remembered in years to come but, while it’s still there, it’s worth picking through the odds and sods.

Cucumber sandwiches all round

I’m supposed to be working. That’s why I’m here. If you like, you can imagine the traditional apology for a delay in posting. Feel free to inset it about here. Done? Splendid.

If you like buying records from people then you will soon be officially ‘odd’. It’s not possible, apparently. Even the odd record shop still going – yes, HMV, I’m talking about you – doesn’t appear to actually want to sell music anymore. Branded ‘listen’ or ‘hear’ or something equally patronising, music is gradually being shunted into the small section previously reserved for ‘special interest’ DVDs and magazines. In the last couple of months, we’ve had the demise of Woolies, Zavvi and, more personally, the news that Nottingham’s Selectadisc is shutting up shop at the end of this month. I’ve written about this topic many times on here, so I’ll try not to witter on about the same-old, same-old, but I’m genuinely pissed off at the fact that my record shopping will soon be done almost exclusively online. Where’s the fun in that? Anyway, Selectadisc has always been a shining beacon of how to run a record shop – I’ve said as much here and Nottingham’s Left Lion folk have a tribute here too.

The other thing I felt compelled to mention – admittedly, once again, fuelled by work avoidance – is the new project from Neil Hannon and that fat beardy bloke from Pugwash, called Thomas Pugwash. While his voice is largely unremarkable, the splendidly, well, splendid voice of Mr Hannon delivers the goods aplenty on the Myspace page for this new venture, charmingly called, The Duckworth Lewis Method, as in cricket. The album’ll be out around the time of The Ashes for prime cash-in factor. They appear to have forgotten that neither of them sell many records, but it’s quite sweet logic, nonetheless. Anyway, whatever the sales figures, the track they uploaded yesterday, ‘Gentlemen and Players’ is sublime. I’ve not been able to stop playing it since I first heard it. I’m playing it now, actually. Go listen yourself. Click here.

Should probably do some work now.

Oooh, it’s lunch time.

 

When rock stars grow old

One of the many splendours of Sky + is the way in which it invites you to record even the most minimal and insignificant fluff, just because it’s no effort at all. For me, the clearest example of this is the Channel 4 tendency to show exclusive first plays of new music videos at some time around midnight. Can I be arsed making sure I’m watching the telly for that precise five minute window? No. But give me the chance to press a button, forget all about it and then come back to it another time, and I’m in!

Last night, Channel 4 played out the new video from Morrissey, for ”I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris‘. This morning, feeling a bit fluey and equipped with a strong cup of tea and some Nurofen, I settled down to flick through the telly. As I watched this particular video, I could only think of one thing. Doesn’t Morrissey look old? Let’s be absolutely fair to the chap – he is actually getting on a bit. It’s not like he looked 25 last week and now he looks like he’s smoked Amy Winehouse, but he just seems to actually be looking his age or even a little older.

It’s no great surprise, people get older after all, but my first proper exposure to Moz was his Nineties Britpop incarnation and he was still rather spritely then. Even his most recent albums were supported by performances that suggested a man full of energy, passion and natural charm.

Watch this and see if any of that is still there now:

See? I’m not imagining it, am I? Now, I should confess that the reason why I’m so struck by his aging appearance is entirely selfish. I can’t help thinking that time must have seriously moved along if ‘my’ generation of indie legends are starting to look a little rough around the edges. Noel‘s greying, Supergrass have the sideburns of a randy farmer who, in times of loneliness, has been eyeing up the goats and Moz looks like he’s been cryogenically frozen and is now being operated by strings. I’m getting ever nearer to dropping out of the traditional ‘new music’ demographic and it feels odd. Of course, there are self-imposed boundaries that don’t exist in the real world, but it still feels a bit strange to look at the figureheads of my youth and find them appearing more than a little lived in. Still, doing an impression of a Weeble trying to seduce a small dog is nothing compared to this silly old tart.

As for the song, it’s quite good actually. It’s Morrissey-by-numbers, but after ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’, which was about as much fun as an aneurysm, I’ll happily take that. After all, that’s what made us all like ‘You Are The Quarry’ so much, wasn’t it?

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As this blog is actually called Vinyl Junkies, I should take this moment to point you in the direction of your nearest Zavvi. They’re currently flogging all of their vinyl at half price. Provided your local shop had a reasonable range prior to their administration issues, they should have plenty for you to pick up at rather splendid prices. Ok, they’re not exactly giving them away, but anyone used to buying plenty of vinyl is used to fairly robust pricing, so getting it at half price is quite a big deal. I’m quite happy to tell you this as I’ve already cleared out the two stores nearest to me! Get there while you can.

This is, of course, the precursor to a potential repeat of the recent insanity found in Woolworths stores, as stock was cleared prior to closure. Nobody’s saying anything about how secure Zavvi’s future is right now, but it’s hard to imagine any single buyer coming in and keeping the chain as it is now. While I picked up a fair old number of CDs and DVDs in the Woolies clearout, it was a rather depressing affair. Plenty has been said in the media about the demise of this much-loved chain, but anyone who loves music has their own precise memories of the Woolworths music section and it still seems odd that it’s not there now. I was in one store a few hours before it closed and it was very odd. Imagine that Britain is at war, everything – even pick’n’mix and large plastic replicas of minor characters from Doctor Who – has been rationed. Sprinkle in some paranoia and desperation and that’s a little bit like how it felt. Still, cheap CDs, eh?

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And finally, it’s been such a long time since I posted here that I never did anything about albums of the year for 2008, so I’m just going to re-post the list that I submitted to the end-of-year lists on the various music sites I frequent.

1. Elbow – ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’
2. Laura Marling – ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’
3. Tindersticks – ‘The Hungry Saw’
4. Joan As Police Woman – ‘To Survive’
5. Pete Molinari – ‘A Virtual Landslide’
6. Bon Iver – ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’
7. Portishead – ‘Third’
8. Malcolm Middleton – ‘Sleight Of Heart’
9. She & Him – ‘Volume 1’
10. Paul Weller – ’22 Dreams’
11. Our Broken Garden – ‘When Your Blackening Shows’
12. Helios – ‘Caesura’
13. James Yorkston – ‘When The Haar Rolls In’
14. The Last Shadow Puppets – ‘The Age Of Understatement’
15. Jamie Lidell – ‘Jim’
16. Fleet Foxes – ‘Fleet Foxes’
17. Elvis Costello & The Imposters – ‘Momofuku’
18. Calexico – ‘Carried To Dust’
19. Glow – ‘I, Yeah!’
20. Ladyhawke – ‘Ladyhawke’

Honourable mentions to: Beck, Nick Cave, Jenny Lewis, The Dears, R.E.M., Max Richter, and Ray LaMontagne

Even looking at it now, I’m fairly certain I’d shuffle a few of them round, but it’s a moment in time and nobody really cares anyway, so that’ll do. Feel free to post your own via the comments section, should you be that way inclined.