In recent years, it’s been hard not to notice the fact that our independent record stores are declining at an alarming rate.
HMV is swallowing up the high street at colossal speed and there’s a huge library of mp3 downloads readily available through the internet, meaning that any piece of music can potentially be accessed at the click of a button.
Many of today’s generation wouldn’t have a clue what a piece of vinyl was, let alone how to use it, and for many of them the only time they get to hear any music pre circa 1995 is if a) they happen to stumble across their parents dust-ridden record collection or b) if they hear it played on Guitar Hero.
With this scenario in place, it’s a surprise that the humble independent music shop even exists at all – and you’d be forgiven for imagining it is now the domain of anorak-wearing, speccy musos who perspire and slobber as they scour the shelves for a limited edition Sergeant Pepper sleeve.
But there’s a move underway at the moment to help protect record shops from this fate. Inspired by a similar move in America, some bright spark has introduced International Record Store Day to these shores in an attempt to help promote these humble outlets as a vital part of our cultural landscape.
The idea is a simple one: to get people to re-discover and celebrate how important these places are in terms of helping you explore the world of music. And it’s an admirable aim. After all, with a record shop there’s a personal touch that you just don’t get at HMV or Fopp which means you can meet people with similar tastes or get advice from till staff who actually know what they’re talking about – as opposed to a greasy 16-year-old who thinks Jethro Tull is the bearded comedian in their bargain bucket DVD section.
It’s shocking to think there are only 300 or so independent record stores still in business across the UK, and it’s no surprise that many of them have joined in this annual profile-raising celebration. While many of them have changed their appearance through the years and have now got mod-cons such as listening stations, coffee shops and wi-fi lounges , the problem is that most people don’t know about them.
This morning on Five Live, Nicky Campbell helped promote the campaign and highlighted how many of these shops will be hosting in-store live music sessions from local artists. It’s a high-profile endorsement and I hope that it helps some of these businesses get the extra boost they need to survive.
However, he then went on to reminisce about his own music store memories from his time growing up in Edinburgh – and the time he managed to see the legendary Ian Dury and the Blockheads at the Capital’s original vinyl emporium, Bruce’s Record Store.
From what I’ve gathered from the Edinburghers I know, Bruce’s was an institution in Scotland and regularly sold all of the latest imports and limited edition albums, as well as a range of eclectic contemporary music. Run by Bruce Findlay – who later went on to manage Simple Minds – it became the place to go if you wanted to discover something weird and wonderful to put on your 45 player.
I met Bruce a few years ago on an Evening News assignment, where I had to interview him about his Live Aid memories (as he had been there in the USA with Simple Minds, who played just after Queen’s legendary set. Not exactly the easiest of follow-up performances….) Anyhow, the conversation quickly turned round to Bruce’s record store and he regaled me with tales of the performers he had featured in-store.
Imagining a less than impressive list, I pushed him for names….only to be stunned by some of the top musicians that rolled off his tongue. U2, the Ramones, the Pogues, the Boomtown Rats, the Police and numerous other acts had crammed into Rose Street to play in-store at Bruce’s over the years. I’m pretty certain he also mentioned the Sex Pistols and the Clash as well, but I can’t be sure.
Eventually Bruce’s closed down and he went into band management, but I think the spirit of that store lives on in the independent shops we see today. In Glasgow, the infamous Monorail (and adjoining bar Mono) has been key to showcasing upcoming talent in recent years, while Avalanche in Edinburgh has seen performances from new acts such as Broken Records and the Fence Collective.
The simple fact is that these places are key to helping ensure we have edgy, unique musical talent that continues to be seen and heard across the UK. With bland, over-produced rock-pop polluting our airwaves, record shops are becoming the only place to hear good, honest, exciting music from talented bands.
If we lose them, it will make our lives so much more boring and will mean evil music moguls such as Simon Cowell have won the battle for our ears. So the message is clear: support International Record Store Day – your country needs you!