It’s Saturday 20th April, and this is the vista before you:-
I roll up to Royal Priors at 8 o’ clock, having been dropped of courtesy of my long-suffering, now especially snoozy girlfriend, and only after we’d just worked our way out of Leamington Spa’s maze of one-way streets and avenues that seem to wrap round each other like a Mobius strip.
The alarm went off on the last weekend of the Easter holidays at 7:15, and I’m so dopey I left my keys in the car. Why on earth am I doing this?
Saturday was Record Store Day, and our local independent store Head wholeheartedly embraced it. As well as the stacks of RSD exclusive records which packed out the entire front-end of the store, there were performances from local bands including previous Summer Party artists The Antics, and a late-afternoon appearance from everyone’s favourite 2007 lad-rock also-rans The Twang.
I discovered upon my arrival a horde of about 50+ (of largely aged 50+ it appeared) of the CV ends keenest music geeks and buffs. At the time this was great news for the store, and terrible, terrible news for the Brian Eno x Nicolas Jaar x Grizzly Bear 12″ I had my eyes on: I’d been reliably informed via Facebook that they had a grand total of 5 of the ultra-limited edition release in stock [you’ll be pleased to know I got it!]
Record Store Day began stateside in 2007, and was swiftly followed by the UK to celebrate and bolster awareness of the independent spirit of independent stores. Having steadily built up off the back of acclaim, new coverage and in particular the use of promotional products such as special vinyl and cd releases, often uniquely available on that one day – an idea now embraced by the likes of everyone from David Bowie to MGMT via Marillion and James Blake.
It has grown hugely popular and hugely successful, with figures showing that this year’s Record Store Day 2013 was participated in by 220 stores in the UK and Ireland, and that there was an increase in album sales of 60% from the 2012’s record-breaking total, with the average spend of each customer coming to around £45.
Evidently it works, at the very least as a marketing technique.
To trace the history of Record Store Day, find out about it’s impact and success, and most importantly nerd out about vinyl, I grabbed Head’s Assistant Manager Cherry Conquer for a quick interview once the queues had died down somewhat.
Boar Music: So Cherry you’ve worked here about five years… which is actually just under the length of which Record Store Day has existed. How has it grown as an event in your opinion?
Cherry Conquer: This is definitely the busiest one so far… the first one there wasn’t so many releases, but each year the releases have grown and just got bigger and bigger – the amount as well. Quality-wise, you’re getting a great deal, but I think mainly it’s just the quantity that has grown with people’s awareness.
The first few were busy – but everyone knows about it now, it’s getting a lot of coverage on radio, and the news.
BM: It sounds like you’re very happy it’s had this much attention – what are your feeling on it as a day, as an event, or even as a concept? Because there’s been a kind of backlash in that sometimes it feels a little contrived maybe, as in: “Everyone must go to this day!”
CC: The principle of it is to celebrate being independent, and that’s what it’s all about – I don’t think there’s anything bad to it.
I think it’s really nice for people to obviously just come in and have a day of music, support an independent shop, and make people aware that there are still independent shops out there. You’ve obviously got your big corporate companies, and they’re really in your face…
BM: Even the ones that are going under like them upstairs… [Head is situated in the shopping centre like a glorious hipster-troll under the bridge, whilst the ol’ dog and gramophone are increasingly becoming the madwoman in the attic]
CC: Exactly, yeah and Record Store Day just makes people aware of and really actively celebrate the independent store.
BM: News came out last week that sales of Vinyl have increased by 78% in the past year, have you seen a similar kind of increase?
CC: We’ve definitely seen an increase. I think the demographic of people that buy it has changed as well. The first few years that we were here it was all perhaps older people that buy vinyl – just because they knew about it/were collectors/wanted the classic albums… that kind of thing. But now, the last year we’ve had loads of younger people – late school age, 15/16.
BM: Yeah, my girlfriend got me my first record player about a year and a half ago, and I’ve just been addicted ever since.
CC: It is definitely addictive! You get the nice artwork, sometimes you get little bits inside: inserts and posters and stuff – it’s nice to have that, and it sounds great as well!
BM: I think it’s almost an inadvertent side-effect of downloading becoming so dominant; people have now gone more the other way. If I’m going to buy a record, I’m quite happily to spend £10-15 on a big, beautiful “thing”.
CC: It’s exciting the ritual of coming home, unwrapping the vinyl and putting it on. It’s so much nicer than a download – there’s no event to pressing a button and it being done. Coming in and buying the record: especially today, you get the chance to chat to other people who have come in and queued and are they’re really excited excited!
BM: The queue was amazing!
CC: It was massive!
BM: I got here at 8 and I was like “oh…I thought I got here early!” But yeah, I feel like maybe I was too young at the time for Harry Potter queues, so in a way I suppose this was my queueing for Harry Potter.
CC: Okay that’s uh… good! [laughter – thankfully]
BM: But yeah, it mostly just seems to be a bunch of fans, rather than eBay-scalpers. Presumably quite a few regulars in the queue as they were saying hi to the staff, so that’s quite nice as well – it’s a proper community!
CC: Everyone is quite good in general, you will sometimes get the odd one, but it’s going to happen isn’t it. But generally the regulars all get to know each other and the staff, and then you get to say “see you next year!”
As our interview drew to a close, Cherry turned the tables, and asked what my feelings were on a recent poll to see whether HMV should be allowed to participate in Record State Day now that they’re not a PLC.
I’ve chewed on that for the last few days, and the answer I think it sets up my feelings about Record Store Day quite well.
HMV-gate is a tricky beast, because there’s a reason it went under: evidently that situation isn’t viable in its current status anymore, and it is quite sad that so many stores have closed, and even more so than this immensely tragic that hundreds have already lost their jobs.
But also it is great – as a symbol more than anything – that HMV has been bought by Hilco to fight another day – purely for the option of consumer choice, and for the artists whose products have sold the store.
But really what Record Store Day is for is for this… the independent record store.
More than anything else, so many big-chains have gone down because fundamentally, with the ease and range of the internet etc. – the big High Street-chain experience is not what people want anymore.
They want people who know what they’re talking about. They want music playing over the speakers that’s like a mate popping on a record at a party or in your bedroom – “check this out, I love this record” as opposed to what’s in the charts or on sale at that moment.
That’s how shops like Head are going to compete with big chain-stores, supermarkets, even things like music blogs and the radio – there’s that personal touch which people react to. If I’m going to go to Amazon to buy something, it’s almost exactly the same as an experiment going to HMV and buying something: except you have to leave your house.
You need that independent spirit, that recommendation from an actual person – not an amalgam – that knows your taste, and loves what you love. That’s the essence of what days like Saturday are all about.
Viva la Record Store Day.