I’LL start with an admission. I tend to buy quite a bit of my back-catalogue from charity shops these days. Then there’s a few I borrow from the library, my young, free and single era replaced by an almost-middle-aged, economical and 45 phase (see what I did there?).
I know what you’re thinking. Cheapskate. But I do at least still try to spend a little of my hard-earned pocket money in independent record shops, and during holidays away in this country or visits to a strange town (with blisters on my feet, like Woking’s finest), I’ll quickly get something of the flavour of a place by a look around these tucked-away emporia.
Now HMV and Our Price are consigned to history, it’s clearly a crucial time for our remaining independent record shops, and this weekend many of these were somewhat easier to find than usual – on account of a spot of unexpected round-the-bend queueing.
I’m not talking foreign tourists or dyed-in-the-wool flag-waving little Englanders camped out in sleeping bags the night before to get a prime spot of the main action the next day. But it wasn’t far off at a few of these stores, by all accounts.
I was surprised to see even Action Records in Preston announcing on its website a one-in-one-out early-morning door policy to mark Record Store Day 2013. Blimey, what’s the world coming to? This was a hidden gem in a less-than-salubrious back-water last time I visited, staffed by burly, sometimes surly-looking long-hairs in rock band t-shirts. And I mean that in a good way.
So it appears from that and most of the tweets I saw on Saturday morning that Record Store Day has now become just another day in the corporate calendar. And what a shame that is – seemingly flying in the face of that good ole indie ethic that made a lot of these stores so enticing in the first place.
To further illustrate my point, when I asked a good friend who runs a successful record store in my old neck of the woods what he was up to for RSD 2013, he said: “Funny enough, with a £30 signing-on fee and thousands of phone calls in the days before by e-bayers wanting to reserve limited edition discs to re-sell for a quick profit it has in my view veered away from what it should be!”
Instead, for the second year running, his shop – Ben’s Collectors Records in Guildford – decided to mark the occasion with live music provided by a ’60s folk duo, the guitarist in fact a former bass player from Sham 69. Now that’s more like it.
But this can’t afford to just be a knocking piece. I’m all in favour of anything that helps promote independent stores and keep these traders afloat. I know just how much the afore-mentioned Ben has to splash out on rates to stay in a prime spot in his affluent county town, when it seems like the cards are loaded against him and in favour of all those soulless designer stores nearby.
Quite a few of us proper music lovers were carried along by the whole she-bang this weekend, and music journo Pete Paphides tweeted: “I am in a queue. Hoping that the 30-odd people ahead of me are mainly here for Marillion” while @keepingitpeel (in honour of late DJ legend John Peel) asked: “Can you play an mp3 at the wrong speed? No. Go out, find your local music store and buy a record.”
That said, esteemed crime writer and vinyl lover Ian Rankin noted ‘early doors’: ‘Record Store Day items already listing on Ebay – with bids’, while respected music broadcaster and writer David Hepworth tweeted a rather deep: ‘Have I got this right? Record Shop Day appears to be an annual event which taxes their most faithful customers.’
I should re-iterate at this point how I’m all in favour of giving the thumbs-up needed in these times of austerity, and there was plenty to celebrate on RSD 2013, despite the fact that the major labels seemed to hijack the event in places.
Paul Weller joined forces with The Strypes at a Rough Trade store, as did Public Service Broadcasting, and on what other weekend would you have heard Wedding Present front-man David Gedge talking on BBC Radio Five Live at 8am on a Saturday morning?
There was even a new Undertones single released to mark the occasion, and I certainly like the concept of Record Store Day. But more needs to be done to ensure we retain the last of our truly independent shops than this once-a-year beancountfest.
In the same way that Mother’s Day has become an excuse for florists and chocolatiers to make a few quid – the less-organised shamed into grabbing whatever they can find at the last minute from their local garage to mark the occasion and show heart-felt love for Mum – why don’t we just use a little independent spirit and free-thinking instead?
So here’s a revolutionary thought. Why not forget the Record Store Day branding exercise and instead pop into your local record shop one quiet lunchtime this week instead?
I love my music, I love my CDs, and can’t bear to part with the last of my beloved vinyl. Record Store Day means nothing to me, but I’ll continue to try and do my bit by splashing out a few quid here and there to keep these high street and back street gems as going concerns.
So next time I’m in Porthmadog I’ll pop in to Cob Records, next time I’m in Guildford I’ll drop by at Ben’s Collectors Records (both recently name-checked in the Guardian’s ‘best record stores’ readers’ poll, incidentally), and next time I’m in Preston, I’ll see if those burly blokes are still behind the counter at Action Records. As long as there’s not a queue to get in, mind.