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