There has been much debate about Record Store Day this year, a fact which has no doubt helped contribute to amazing queues outside some independent record shops across the country. Rough Trade East in London had a queue of nearly 1000 people! Personally, as a parent of two young children, with very little disposable income, the days of spending £7 on a limited edition 7" or £20+ on vinyl lps are pretty much over. I'm still an obsessive music fan, but these days I mostly get to listen on my laptop, so Spotify and my ripped CD collection does just fine. Also, I recently moved my 1000+ record collection and it damn near wrecked my back ( and I've been on a heavy lifting course!) Having said all that, I should add that Record Store Day fills me with hope. In my teens and 20s visiting record shops was the main thing I did in my spare time, and the first thing I did when I visited any new town. I knew most of the decent shops in Belfast and Dublin, and I have fond memories of visiting shops in London, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow - I even went through a stage of keeping the plastic bags from the shops I bought the records in. Although it's not quite in the spirit of RSD, but I was also a voracious bargain hunter.
This whole day - especially when relayed through tweets from round the world - makes me nostalgic for the record shops I grew up with.
During my high school years in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, there were four independent record shops - IT in Bow Street (which got taken over by another indie Harrison Musique), Sounds, Caroline Music, and the slightly shorter lived Punch & Judy.
"It" - presumably named after the It girl
Clara Bow whose image adorned the record bags - was probably the first one to become an essential stop-off on my walk to the bus-stop. It had the widest range of stock and you could get
slightly obscure items in it, though the people who worked there weren't necessarily that obsessed with music the way a lot of us school kids were. The oldest record I still own that I bought there is a 7" (non pic sleeve) of Reward by the Teardrop Explodes.
I bought Dare and Kings of the Wild Frontier in there, my first 2 proper albums. "Sounds" in Bridge Street was a bit more of a music fans hang out, though it was slightly off my walk home and tended to concentrate mostly on heavy metal of the NWOBHM variety. It was the first place I heard Slayer and Metallica for instance. Punch & Judy was round the corner but never really caught on with my crowd, though it had a 'record fair' for collectors upstairs on a Saturday, and Caroline Music was huge and a good place to hang around and get indie chart stuff really cheaply, but it was a lesser relation to its original shop in Belfast. It was also home to my first record shop crush - hello Amanda wherever you
are, and I still have a huge collection of 12"s all picked up cheaply there - MBV, Saint Etienne, Boo Radleys, etc.
None of those shops are there anymore, although the Caroline site is home to a music/ game/ DVD exchange place, and an even sadder fact is that the shops I loved and hung around in Belfast a few years later are also gone.
I know that the shops I frequented in Belfast during skiving off sixth form studies, and later whilst at university, played a major part in shaping my musical tastes and building my social life. Of these I narrowly preferred Heroes and Villains and Caroline Music to the semi-legendary Good Vibrations, but the best one, in my opinion, was Dr Robert which didn't start trading until 1992 but soon established itself by having the coolest records first and acting as a hub for local music fans to interact and sell their own releases.
Schoolboy visits to Belfast on Saturdays invariably took in a trawl around the city's wealth of independent shops, from the cool ones - Good Vibes, Caroline, Makin Tracks - to the never fashionable Golden Discs and the Gramophone Shop.
Caroline in Ann St had probably the best range of interesting independent releases, very in tune with 80s punk, c86 and pre-Grunge US underground. Whilst watching a very early Therapy? gig in the Art College they were joined by a sax player for the wig-out that was 'Loser Cop'
(sadly not a direction they followed) and me and my friends just knew him as one of the guys from Caroline. Ahh, those were the days.
Heroes and Villains followed Good Vibes lead in naming their shop after the Beach Boys and it occupied the southern end of Bradbury Place, and as part of the independent Chain with No Name it was a valuable source of indie chart and new releases during the shoegaze era in particular. I ended up getting friendly with some of the people who worked there, and I often DJed with them in QUB and the nearby Laverys.
Good Vibrations had the coolest history, as it was home to the label that released 'Teenage Kicks' and quite a few tasty pop/punk 7"s but by the time I got to know it, GVs had moved premises quite a few times and was being reborn in a small first floor space above a travel agents/ insurance place on Gt Victoria Street. Happier times were ahead when it moved across the road, nearly next door to the new dole office and, after the large Caroline Music died a death around 1990 it carried an impressive range of American independent releases (Touch and Go,Sub Pop etc). This section was largely the effort of the infamous Angus, who went on to work in Dr Robert and became known hereafter as Angus from Dr Robert.
Dr Robert struck a blow for the indies and the Belfast music scene at the beginning of a transition period. By the time it opened there was a Virgin megastore, though the main supermarkets had still to arrive. It dominated Church Lane, just off Ann St where Caroline had been, and quickly became the place to get your independent new releases as well as local releases and just to hang out, read the notices, get members for your band etc etc. When our fanzine The Weedbus came out, it flew out of the door in Dr Roberts, but we always got returns from Good Vibes or Heroes and Villains.
Time passed and the respective owners of Heroes and Villains and Dr Robert left the country for foreign pastures, the other shops died away and Good Vibes was eventually closed following an epic headache-inducing tax investigation which meant that they couldn't carry on. Undaunted, Terri Hooley reopened a shop as Phoenix records near Smithfield and soon changed it's name to Good Vibrations.
The colour and vibrancy which these shops added to the city's music scene - particularly during the really bad times - has to be celebrated. That's why I wrote this. There is precious little about any of these shops to be found on the internet. When I get a chance I will try and scan in their logos as a lasting reminder of their existence.
Surprisingly, consider the country's economic fortunes, this last year has been more positive for the smaller shops in Belfast. Recent visits there have led me to two new arrivals. The small but very cool Dragon Records above a tattoo studio near the city hall. I bought some records by Destroyer that I hadn't seen before the last time I was there, and I'm glad I could spend some money as they opened the shop up for me as I think the guy was going for his lunch! Head records is also new, it's much bigger, in a shopping centre and part of a small chain. I spent over an hour there last time - the thrill of a fresh record shop came back to me. I spent a lot of that hour talking with local musician Tom McShane, who also works there and is responsible for organising their RSD event. I exited with 7 CDs though I had a basket of 12 at one point. A tasty haul of American indie, all cheaper than I would have found it in London. I hope they all had a good day's business and they will be around for Record Store Day next year.