Record Store Day – Here’s to Revolver Records, Bristol.

It’s Record Store day today. Get along and support your local record store – have a wander, drink in the potential treasures, come away with something you never even knew you wanted. Find your nearest participating shop in UK here or USA here  

My current local usually gets involved, the cosy & soulful Book & Record bar. If a former pub has to become something else becoming a record shop come bookstore can’t really be beaten.

For an alternate view on why Record Store Day doesn’t help independent record stores, see this Louder than war opinion piece.

BRISTOL’S INTIMIDATING TREASURE HOUSE OF COOL – REVOLVER RECORDS
There’s something wonderful about an old-fashioned record store: tightly racked stacks, crammed with hundreds and hundreds of LPs by artists you’ve never heard off, with the occasional welcome relief of a band you do know (sort of). Everyone who has ever loved a good record shop probably has one in particular that they remember more fondly than it really deserves. For me it was Revolver Records on the Triangle in Bristol. As a teenager in the eighties my hometown seemed blessed with a surprising variety of record shops, but I always saw Revolver as the one true emporium of cool.

Often, as I had little money to spend, I’d just go and hang out in there. Even on the occasions when I had some cash to spend I had no clear idea of what I wanted, just a vague sense of a few ‘interesting’ sounding bands, likely prefaced with a THE, who someone like Johnny Cigarettes had mentioned in NME, or I’d half-caught on John Peel whilst doing my homework. What I really went for was the atmosphere, praying that somehow the very coolness of the place would rub off on me, forcing those impossibly hip girls at school, whom I lusted over from a distance, to be impressed and drawn helplessly towards me.

To achieve its seedy glamour, it helped that Revolver didn’t have a conventional shop front. Instead you had to go up a small flight of steps and go in through an interior door. The steps and lack of window display gave the shop an illicit air, as if simply by finding it and being inside you became part of the select. Inside, as well as the tightly packed record stacks were additional piles of vinyl, tottering in towers and leaning against every available wall; these were rivalled in number only by the gig fliers and hand-written small ads seeking bassists and drummers that covered the remaining surface space. It was difficult to breathe, as a musty smell hung thick inside, which was tempered only by the cigarette smoke fug that filled the air – generated by a cast of intimidating leather-jacketed and/or dreadlocked über-cool/weird guys.

There was always a shifty, ratty-looking bloke hogging the ‘just in’ section, who’d tut loudly if you tried to dodge around his sharp elbows to get a look in. And then there were the staff behind the desk, who against type were actually quite friendly – so long as you didn’t ask for anything too obviously chart friendly – and willing to answer the odd dumb question, although they did all seem to be armed with an insane amount of arcane knowledge covering every genre and movement in music known to humankind. That was Revolver, sadly missed, a wonderful place that always felt like something more than a mere shop.

 

RICHARD KING’S ORIGINAL ROCKERS

Since writing this blog post, Faber & Faber have published Richard King’s Original Rockers, a behind the counter perspective on life at Revolver. It’s a delightfully well observed and beautifully written account, peppered with funny, awkward and sometimes poignant observations about events and people involved in the shop, that gives an insider’s insight that a mere customer like me could never hope to provide. Read it and you’ll learn such things as the reason Can records could never be played in the shop, the curious ritual behind the auctions of new Reggae releases to soundsystem-operators, why the musical taste of softly spoken, serious buyers of Outlaw Country music should never be questioned and what John Peel did in the back room of the shop.

There’s also a particularly brilliant Bristol reference, which sees the then owner Roger writing ‘Neoohhhvarhhhniahhl’ in chalk on the A-board of favoured artists outside. When questioned what this means he explains: ” ‘Nirvana…Spoken in a thick Bristolian accent” Theres also a lovely summation of what the shop meant to many of its customers:

“Our clientele knew that by entering Revolver their visit ensured the shop was transformed from a liminal space into a threshold, a portal where the shop counter was not merely a location for purchases but a point of departure for the sharing of an obsessional love of music and a wonder at its ability to transfigure the everyday.”

There’s a nice review of the book in The Guardian, here Richard King’s Original Rockers  which in good old postmodern fashion, contains a link to this very blog post. Many thanks.

LINKS & REFERENCES

British Record Shop Archive
If there’s a record shop somewhere in the UK that you love(d), it might be featured on here. You can also share stories, anecdotes and memories and browse through the racks and see what’s there.

The Bristol Sound If you’re interested in the wider history of the Bristol sound, there’s an interesting blog about the scene and those involved – Wild Bunch, Massive Attack et al here: http://tingoes.wordpress.com/2011/05/21/the-bristol-sound/

Also worth a look is ‘Straight outa Bristol: Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky and the roots of Trip Hop*’ by Phil Johnson. Hodder & Stoughton.

Not sure if it’s still in print, but if you can’t find it in your local second-hand bookshop (it you’re lucky enough to have one) try abebooks.co.uk. There are a few copies on there for under a tenner. (Despite the fact that most of the featured artists always hated the term ‘Trip-hop’ it’s a decent intro to the subject)

More record store nostalgia: Guardian writers on The records shops that changed their lives: http://tinyurl.com/cg2sfkt

10 thoughts on “Record Store Day – Here’s to Revolver Records, Bristol.

  1. I still think the original Tony’s in Clifton was the best Bristol record shop ever. But then again, I think good music (and good politics) ended in 1979. And as always, I’m behind the times, as these comments are a year old or more. Tony’s, Revolver, Rival… all great shops. Park St was great once. Forever People. George’s. The Georgian House. Cabot Tower. All gone.

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  2. Pingback: Behind Bristol’s Closed Doors | Richly Evocative

  3. yeah Revolver was cool – Mike and Lloyd knew their stuff, also Rival half way down Park St next to Uncle Sams was great – has lots of interesting chats with young guy Dave who always put me onto new stuff i’d never heard of – he was big on P,Funk. Tom Waits and John Coltrane. Rival wasn;t that cool but i liked it because of that.
    Park St 1977 – 81 what a time that was!

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  4. Revolver closed in June 2000 – even now the shop is still vacant. Of the staff I remember Matt Elliot is making music and lives in France or possibly Spain. Richard King is now an author of a couple of music related books and lives in London. Last I heard Dave Pearce was somewhere near Cheltenham and Roger still lives in Bristol – I see him about quite often.

    Wanted Records is, in my opinion the best secondhand record shop in Bristol, they’re friendly, knowledgeable, have good stock and good prices for these post-ebay times.

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  5. Lord, this brings back memories …. I drifted down to Bristol in ’76 and spent most of my days and money in Revolver and then Tony’s after the (original) Revolver opened up there. I keep thinking about the great albums I traded in for new ones, never thinking that many of them would ever go out of print even in these days of endless re-issues.

    Back in those days I listened to a fair amount of ‘difficult’ jazz and reggae (not an obvious combination). Revolver was the only place you could go where you could pick up new/interesting/unexpected releases – no-one else seemed to want to touch those categories.

    I wonder what became of the guys who worked there .. Tony, Chris (?Parker?), Tim (?Britton?) … I used to knock around quite a bit with Tony and Tim but haven’t seen them in years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment. Glad to remind you of the place. I’m afraid I don’t know what happened to the staff. Can you remember when it actually closed down? Revolver was always a bit of a treasure house – of stock and knowledge. Park Street used to have a few good record shops in and around it – I remember seeing Gerard Langley of the Blue Aeroplanes hanging around in Replay records quite often. Unlike Plastic Wax on Gloucester Road I remember those shops seemed reasonably priced too. Makes me feel a little sad when I return for a visit now. Though I’ve heard good things about Wanted Records in St Nick’s market.

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    • I might be the Tim the oldmancunian refers to as I worked at Tony’s Records and Revolver for four years in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Both were great shops in very different ways. Tony Dodd was the best boss I’ve ever had, kind, generous, knowledgeable and patient, and his shop in the basement of Focus in Princess Victoria St was a treasure trove of secondhand gems. Chris Parker and Lloyd Harris at Revolver were equally passionate about music, willing to argue at length about the most arcane and challenging sounds. I remember Chris going through a phase where he insisted Ornette Coleman’s Dancing In your Head was the first record played in the shop every morning. If you’ve ever heard it, you will know that it doesn’t sit well with a hangover…

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      • Thanks for that Tim. Hopefully oldmancunian will see your comment. I remember when I was a kid most of Park street seemed to be filled with independent record and book shops. I know it wasn’t quite like that, but certainly far more interesting places than today.

        The new book about Revolver is pretty good – though sounds as though the author worked there a few years after you.

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  6. Pingback: The Bristol Sound. « tingoes planet

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