Ten Ways To Make Everyday Record Store Day by Ian Preece
First published in We Love Music: Antidote to Indifference issue 3, Spring 2012
The doorbell goes. Shit! I’min the bath again. When not dripping in a towel, the postman will often find me, mid-morning, in my dressing-gown. (At work, having recently got the call‘to walk Spanish down the hall’ - © Joshua Ferris/Tom Waits - I find myself frequently remarking that spring time isn’t half a bad time to be on ‘gardening leave’.) The postman hands over a package – another 12” cardboard sleeve; today from Northern Spy Records in Brooklyn. I thank him politely with an assured breeziness that suggests, ‘Shift work! What can you do about it? You just have to be flexible in these times.’ Back when I was chained to my desk, dealing with two kids, unable to leave the job ‘at work’, it was a source of endless despair that I could no longer truly soak in an album, get to know it backwards, sometimes even play it more than once. Before you could say ‘spend over £50 to qualify for free delivery’ there would be next Friday’s Boomkat and Norman records circulars to check out: your loved ones upstairs in bed;headphones on, a whole host of new sounds, sample files travelling through the still night air; the thrill of late-night record shopping in your own virtual store. A couple of hours later, red-eyed, I’d proceed to the checkout then collapse into bed. The original premise of this piece was about time and obsession; how to cram it all in, keep ahead of the wave, hold down the day job and keep your dignity intact. Or, as Will Oldham put it at Hackney Empire recently: 'Getting the wrong side of 40 and striving to remain relevant, even an occasional object of lust . . . that's what preoccupies me these days.’ I think it was Nietzsche, however, who said that freedom without limits is no freedom at all. So while changed circumstances have taken the heat out of the earlier notion – now I actually have time to listen to that 20 minute ambient workout on side 2, I curiously don’t want to; I find myself mesmerised by blue-tits chirping in the garden instead – here are the 10 rules of making every day Record Store Day:
1. Stay cool in the record shop. Many years ago I wanted to shrivel up and die at the counter in Rough Trade in Neal’s Yard, as Stuart Staples, then manager of the shop, pointed out that for£6.99 I could purchase the Butthole Surfers LP Pioughd which contained their cover of Donovan’s ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’, surely better value than the 12” I was intending to purchase at £3.49? I toughed it out, as the truth was I didn’t have the balance required and was looking at a bowl of steam for tea anyhow. He shrugged and went back to talking on his brick-like mobile phone. As a shy teenager in Nottingham it required an inhuman effort of will to overcome nerves and enquire what particular record was playing in Selectadisc. I can still remember the sweet feeling of elation at the sheer chutzpah of not only picking up a copy of this new album called Murmur by unheard American band REM, but actually having done so by asking behind the counter what this record playing was (I don’t think that was Stuart Staples on that occasion, but it could have been for I’m pretty sure he worked there too). That was a glorious bus ride home on the no.43 for tea. Present-day examples of being embarrassed in record shops have stemmed from the opposite, the staff being extremely helpful -- all 3 members of staff behind the counter at Rough Trade East recently became engrossed in a store-wide search for one of the last copies ever of Music and Migration Volume 2, while I was left smiling apologetically at the queue building up at the till (and my son pretended he was shopping alone) – or from my own stupidity: that bloke sitting on a stool reading a book at the back of Phono records in Soho on the film of a recent Peaking Lights ‘instore’ is waiting for the band to start. He hasn’t realised it’s a DJ set . . . Bike shops are, in some cases, the new record shops – often staffed by aloof connoisseurs likely to pour scorn on your recent purchases. This is no longer really the case in record shops, run by like-minded fans desperate to keep it corporeal in an all-pervasive digital universe.
2. Certain online distributors are record shops anyway. I’m thinking of Boomkat in Manchester, Norman Records in Leeds (see above), and maybe places like Pressure Sounds and Honest Jons. Certainly in the case of the former two, their weekly newsletters are as good as, and serve the same function as, the weekly music press of yore . . . Ok they’re trying to sell you sweeties, but it is all in good faith, and often very well written. Buying something on coloured vinyl from one of these two every other week is more real than strolling in somewhere on Record Store Day to pick up a limited Bruce Springsteen 12” . . .
3. Gig going in your 40s today is probably not as bad as it once was. Being tall, I wouldn’t stand at the front anyway, and small venues tend to have dark corners you can hang back in, where you can give off a vague air of having something to do with the label. Any undignified moments in recent times have probably occurred at the merchandising table: an embarrassing lunge for early Emeralds album Solar Bridge (I’d been looking for it for years, I later sheepishly explained to my mate Neil); being completely tong-tied/lost for words when Naomi Yang sold me one of her hand-made tote bags; being caught red-handed by a disapproving fellow punter, wilfully misreading and (mis)applying a Trembling Bells buy-1-get-1-free offer to support act Ignatz’s back catalogue of cds... and I sit here writing this wearing a Crystal Stiltst-shirt, which, on reflection… Come to think of it I probably shouldn’t have used that Trembling Bells shopping bag, made from a pair of old trousers, as my work bag either.
4. Turn the TV off. Better by far to stick to the radio. Weekly shows by The Wire magazine, Rough Trade and Ben Thompson’s London Ear on Resonance FM all fill that hole left by John Peel; as do plenty on Seeks Music and probably a million other internet stations. Recently I’ve come across Mike Bradshaw’s morning show on Brighton’s Totally Radio. He’s been serving up a hearty bowl of porridge - a rapid-fire gallop through all that is new and good for one hour every morning - five days a week for seven years now. The Daily Show features a lot of new promos but also a wonderful warm vibe and flow of psych, surf, komische, library obscurities, vintage dub & reggae, blues and by and large records featuring tremendous, sometimes tremulous, shafts of Hammond organ.‘I'm a big fan of primitive sounding music, original teen rebellion stuff, rock‘n’ roll as threat ,’ says Mike. ‘The founding fathers of RnR, like Jimmy Reed,Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley still sound fresh to me --more than ever these days.’ There’s also plenty of hip hop, drum & bass and dubstep and stuff that’s very new and now like the Saharan Cellphones material. ‘In the words of John Peel, "I like to hear something I've never heard before,’’’ continues Bradshaw. ‘Finding new music to play is never difficult. It’s the reason I get out of bed in the morning, and always has been. A misspent youth (and a misspent middle-age as well): buying records is a both a compulsion and an addiction.’ Staff discount at the various record shops he’s worked in over they ears has helped too. ‘I just like record shops. They are a good way of hearing new records, even though they've been supplanted by the internet to some extent they are still places to find good stuff. In Brighton there are still about 12 record shops, so I guess I live in the right town.’ But the Daily Show essentially works because it’s all about the music and Bradshaw has impeccable taste -- you’ll find something new every day. ( www.totallyradio.com/info.php)
5. Keep the TV turned off. One of those buried, trace memories, the result of a misspent life endlessly reading about music yet being unable to remember where I read anything, is of an interview with a youngish couple somewhere in America. They didn't have a TV (and in my head they resembled the Handsome Family) but every evening, following their meal, drew up chairs by the record player to sit down and to listen properly to an album - a different LP everynight, followed by a hearty discussion. It was a lovely piece, and to me sounds a fine way to live your life. I was pretty sure I’d come across it in Amanda Petrusich’s meandering and at times beautifully melancholic journey south through Americana, It Still Moves… but flipping back, seemingly not. Amanda is hard at work on her next book ‘about 78 collectors, and I've met about a zillion men who do some version of that [ie draw up the chairs] every single night.’ (The book is tentatively titled Do Not Sell At Any Price, and tentatively out later next year.) One day the kids will eventually leave home.My wife lives in mortal fear of this: ‘Wednesday… ah, disc 4 of the Albert Ayler box set… I think that’s the night I’m meeting Jackie and Sheila in the pub.’
6. Catch ‘em young. I have, of course, already experimented on the kids.Pretty much every morning, over Weetabix, before primary school (Ok, nursery too), we’d have a different album on, plucked from the shelves of ‘old stuff’in the front room. For some reason they really took to Scott 3… (These days they’re halfway up the High Road before the needle lands on the opening crackle of a Caretaker album)
7. There’s always another album review... There’s a quote from the American writer Nicholson Baker, where he says something along the lines of ‘I remember almost nothing of what I’ve read.’ I know how he feels. If I could have the hours back from every album review I’ve ever read, I’d just about be leaving adolescence. I seem to spend more time reading about music than actually listening to it. It's hard nowadays to read about music with music on in the background. That would be a distraction. (Unless it's the actual album I'm reading about of course)
8 …or a music book. There is of course the death knell sounded by a certain type of music book - that sinking feeling,twenty pages in, when you know you’ve picked up nothing more than an album-by-album grind through the cuttings. Counter to that, I’d argue some of the finest writing anywhere is that which nails music to the stuff of life.(There are plenty of examples to be found in the Caught by the River music reader: caughtbytheriver.net/a-music-book-reader) Lester Bangs, famously, was probably the first and most tragic who wrote and lived life refracted through black plastic; Nik Cohn’s Triksta is a gloriously written book that throbs with life,love, loss, New Orleans (oh and is about music too); Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs is a fine and underrated book about consuming music - far more interesting than reading about how it is made… unless that is, it’s all coming through the filter of Robert Forster’s finely crafted The Ten Rules of Rock ‘n’ Roll, his musician-turned-music critic take on the manufacture of stardust… ; and if the reader emerges from contact with Shirley Collins’s America Over the Water without a tear in the eye and a subtly-altered world-view, then he or she is a cold fish indeed. And, finally, it’s ironic that a writer like Ian Penman has a reputation as a difficult wordsmith (largely based on NME days from the late 70s, I guess) when there is no greater exponent of fixing music in the context of the everyday. In a forthcoming anthology on Scott Walker (No Regrets, out May, edited by Rob Young of The Wire) his (brilliant) 20,000 word piece or biting around Scott Walker the reluctant TV star kicks off by pointing out that much of Matt Monroe’s popularity was down to him being a former bus conductor – or at least that’s why Penman’s dad and his mates all liked him:‘…he’d left behind alarm-clock starts to the day, every day, for ever. His audience loved it, that he was no longer under the hammer, now living a life gloriously and indefinably hung between the factory floor and the stars.’ He goes on to champion Walker’s early 70's records like Til the Band Comes In: ‘The middle of the road is the most dangerous place to be . . .’
9. Stay addicted. Happiness is knowing you have it on the original vinyl somewhere (but just can’t quite put your hand on it this moment). Music is a fathomless ocean and, to paraphrase Mike Bradshaw, we all have a duty to keep on moving deeper; to soak it all up.
10. Find a job, I guess, to pay for it all.
(thanks to Mike Bradshaw and Amanda Petrusich)
Listening to the Wind: Encounters with 21st Century Independent Record Labels by Ian Preece is published by Omnibus Press, out now.