This is a topic that I know has been discussed many times over the past few years but it’s one that I still think is both sad and important: the decline of the independent record shop. As I have already alluded to in previous blogs, many of my positive experiences with music have in some way involved an independent record store. As such, I want to address the topic by recounting some of my personal memories and, in so doing, thank those shops for the invaluable service that they provided.
At the time I started listening to music to any real serious degree, there was no Internet. Well, there was, but it was still in its very infancy. Do you remember TV programmes giving out a website address as if it was more complicated than nuclear physics? ‘That’s w…w…w…dot…etc, etc’. Anyhow, I digress.
So, in addition to recommendations from friends and magazine reviews, it was down to the local record shops that I would go, in search of the next discovery to enhance my precious CD collection. In Ipswich, there were the chains: Virgin, the newly-opened HMV and Andy’s Records. But in addition, there was also Rex Records and Out Of Time Records, a new and second-hand record exchange shop.
Rex Records was the only shop with any kind of metal section and, despite being small, had some quality stuff on offer – as I previously blogged, this shop was responsible for my embossed first-day cover of Machine Head’s ‘The More Things Change’ album. For that, I will always be grateful. Speaking of Machine Head, it was an independent store in Devon that was responsible for getting me into the band in the first place, by placing ‘Burn My Eyes’ in a prominent position so that it caught my eye and lured me into the purchase. Elsewhere, an independent store in Exeter offered me my first dalliance with W.A.S.P., principally because ‘Still Not Black Enough’ was adorned with a parental advisory sticker. Rebellious eh?!
Back closer to home, Out Of Time Records remains a great place to go for the odd gem here and there. Ramshackle CD racks, vinyl in boxes on the floor and CDs, records and posters all over the walls, all coupled with that unmistakable, slightly musty smell – a really great, magical place. The turn-over of stock is not the quickest, but a trip every couple of months to get your fingers mucky by flicking through the stock is an absolute must. Marillion and Carcass are notable discoveries that I attribute to this great little emporium!
Andy’s Records was the next to bite the dust, but not before helping me to discover the utterly awesome Iced Earth. They had ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ on the shelf and, employing my ‘front cover’ selection process, I bought it and have never stopped playing it. Andy’s Records was also the provider of my very first metal T-shirt, in the shape of Guns N’ Roses, which was worn until it died!
Virgin turned into Zavvi before falling foul of the Internet revolution, and I suspect that HMV is on its last legs as a high street retailer. Both of these chains have provided bitter-sweet moments but it is the independents that retain the most affection.
I used to go to Colchester a lot with my family and Time Records was a favourite of mine. It too, had a metal section and I would pay a visit to this shop whenever the chance arose. The best memory I have of Time Records is picking up a promo copy of Cradle Of Filth’s ‘Middian’ about two weeks before it was due to be released. It was one of those ‘proper’ promos that I have previously spoken about, with a cardboard sleeve, cover artwork but nothing else. I’m not sure if it was supposed to have put this on sale, but I didn’t care! The other great thing about this place was that they would let you listen to the CD or record first using a huge set of headphones. Needless to say I took full advantage of this!
Naturally, being a metalhead, it was not long until I discovered the delights of Camden. A place on Earth like no other, it has taken me many years to fully explore everything it has to offer…or perhaps I still haven’t! Metalheadz was the big attraction in the late 1990s, a basement shop dedicated to the music that we all love, with a giant skull and Metallica-inspired logo ominously adorning the exterior. T-shirts, CDs, posters and even painted leather jackets were all on offer if your wallet was full enough. In fact, not only did they introduce me to the likes of Moonspell, The Gathering and Sentenced, it was this shop that gave me the idea to paint my own jacket, although not as well as these professionals! This shop has ceased to exist but Resurrection Records, just up the road, is still going strong – another basement outlet that specializes in Darkwave, electronic music but maintains a very healthy metal section.
This is a longer than normal blog, but bear with me because I have saved the best until last…the best independent record shop of all, Colchester’s ‘It’s Electric’. Again, as with the vast majority of indies, this outlet has now shut down. However, for about three years or so, it was fabulous!
I found the shop by accident. I was walking along the street and saw a couple of Iron Maiden vinyl records on the window. Naturally, I stopped, whereupon I then heard the unmistakable wail of a metal guitar solo. As you can imagine, I told my ex that I’d catch up with her and wandered in. With shelves almost exclusively occupied by rock and metal of all sorts, I left over an hour later and got a stern telling off as a result!
As my visits and purchases increased, I would notice that the music on the stereo would change soon after I entered. I also noticed that the change was always for the better. My ears would prick up and I’d wander casually to the counter and ask the fluffy-haired owner to enlighten me as to the source of the music. ‘Kamelot’, he’d reply, grinning. I got to know Simon over the coming months and he’d later admit to deliberately playing stuff that he thought I’d like whenever I popped in.
A friendship grew. I was referred to as ‘Mr Pipe & Slippers’ because I drove a Saab at the time; he was ‘Mr Fluffy’ due to his love of AOR and his hairstyle. As my ex worked shifts, I’d spend hours at the weekend sitting with Simon whilst I saw him employ the same tactics on other unsuspecting customers. We’d chat about music, he’d sell me anything he could, but he’d never flog me rubbish. I remember receiving a frenzied call one day from Simon where he played me the opening minute of Scar Symmetry’s debut ‘Symmetic By Design’. I was in a work course and it was snowing, but I still managed to dash across to the shop to grab my copy that very evening!
It was Simon that accompanied to my very first Bloodstock Festival and who traveled to Germany with me for 2007’s Bang Your Head Festival. All this stemmed from a chance meeting via an independent record shop. Now, the question is, can Amazon or HMV lay claim to a similar story? Hmmm….