“NONE of this makes any sense,” said Ben Dunsford, proudly holding his bag of plastic and cardboard in the crowds outside the Record Collector store at Broomhill. “We’ve all been queueing up to buy an old redundant form of music. It doesn’t make sense at all, but it just seems right.”
That’s Record Store Day. A day of promotion across Europe and the USA where independent records shops sell a dazzling array of vinyl in special cardboard sleeves by artists ranging from the 13th Floor Elevators to Blancmange, from ZZ Top to Antony and the Johnsons, all of whom released their limited editions to be sold through local record stores on Record Store Day.
Barry Everard, music fan, retailer, local band promoter, launchpad of Def Leppard and owner of remarkable shirts is not short of words to explain an industry in which he and his shop have become a legend over the last 331/3 years. (Yes, Barry has noted this revolutionary milestone and would love to do a joint promotion with any local bands. You all know where he is).
“There was a queue of around 400 before we opened this morning, and some of them had been here since 6.30am,” he says.
Record Store Day started a few years ago in the USA, when music fans and promoters noticed the disappearance of many small shops which had been the focal point of rock and roll and soul (and thus much of American popular history). The same was happening in the UK.
Digital downloads of anything you care to mention and cheap supermarkets selling market leaders were both helping to wipe out record stores, so Record Store Day was launched to remind the music loving public of why they used to go in their local record shop clutching their paper round money with such excitement.
“It’s the hunter-gatherer in us,” says Barry. “And I think we all have a requirement for serendipity. We like to be surprised.”
Barry reckons local enthusiastic record shops were the starting point for virtually every professional band in history. Young musicians would buy for inspiration, then bring in their own tape or single for the sympathetic owner to sell on their first step on the ladder, as Barry puts it. Record labels would take a risk on new bands they heard about on that first step using profits from their big bands. But now those first rungs of the ladder are being torn away.
There’s what Barry calls the ‘tax avoidance scheme’ operated by online CD sellers with sheds in Jersey who can undercut small record shops by avoiding VAT. There are the supermarkets who only sell big bands and the many young people who use their 10,000 downloads for backing music while they make friends on Facebook.
Ed Dutton and Hugh Escott are of the download generation, but are also keen supporters of Record Collector.
“We want to help keep them in business,” says Hugh.
“There’s a community spirit in a record store. I got into a lot of bands by going into a record store with my £10 and saying who is this we’re listening to? This is great!”
That excitement of actually buying a beautifully packaged plastic product is obviously still here. The queues at 6.30am were waiting for very limited editions and if you wanted your Arctic Monkeys white label or Beady Eye boxed set you’d need to be very early in that queue. But once you’d made it to the counter, you certainly weren’t going to leave empty-handed, notes Ed.
“I was seeing people with their list going: ‘Have you still got the Foals 12”? No? What about Radiohead? No?’ And they’d end up leaving with the Lady Gaga picture disc, looking really pleased.”
Ed is drummer with Sheffield’s hardcore progressives Rolo Tomassi and is thus very aware of the challenges facing contemporary musicians.
His band make a living playing the music they love but it’s not easy, especially when the free or cheap digital download business model doesn’t actually include a livelihood for the musicians themselves.
“It’s about touring and tee-shirts,” says Ed.
“You have to think and work extra hard. You still need online music but you also have to cater for people who want a deluxe 12in limited edition.” And in the meantime you tour the world and sell band tee-shirts, neither of which can be digitised at present.
The point is that young music fans are too canny to allow the excitement of new music to disappear. They’ll find a way, involving a mixture of internet, live shows and lovely product.
The record, and record shop, is still very important for many.
“There’s nothing tangible, nothing there with a download,” says Ruth Sutherland.
“A download is lifeless and faceless,” says Alex Saunders from very local band The Crookes, who played a live set to support Record Collector on Saturday. “People might have thousands of downloads, but they don’t put their heart into them like they do with a record.”
“You don’t have the artwork and the liner notes,” says Ed Dutton. “But when you get boxes of your new record delivered, it’s amazing. It makes you feel so proud just looking at it.”
Barry sees his shop as a social history as much as a record shop. He reckoned 1,000 people visited on Record Store Day, in spite of supermarkets and Spotify and iTunes.
“We are actually getting busier. There are a lot of people who still want stuff, who understand the joy of a real thing.”
There’s a simple reason for the continuing success of Record Collector and shops like it, says Alex Saunders: “Charm.”