International Times APRIL 25, 2015 - by Rupert Loydell


Record Store 2015 day happened a week ago today as I write, and it got me thinking... I've known about the event before, but never taken much notice. I mean, I've still got my stereo, still got an LP collection, and when the TV is off and the kids haven't put too many toys in front of the hi-fi or on top of my record deck, I take the chance to crank up an old favourite in better quality sound. I've got no "proof", but I'm convinced that vinyl sounds better, convinced that CDs only sold so well because they have eighty minutes of music on and you could skip tracks at the press of a button.

Having said that, I'm no evangelical vinyl collector, nor a total luddite about digital music. CDs line my study wall, and I download plenty of new music (though I am sad enough to burn CDs and make little covers for them). I've still got boxes of cassette tapes under the study table too, and I should probably confess that those are numbered and indexed, and that the bulk of my CD and vinyl collection is in alphabetical order - just as an easy way to find things you understand.

Anyway, Record Store Day. I still buy vinyl occasionally, but it is a damn sight more expensive than CDs let alone digital files, and although in theory the event is about encouraging music lovers to visit independent stores, it also seems to be about encouraging consumption and fetishisation of collectibles. I've kept my distance, piously thinking that when I do occasionally buy hard copy new music I do visit our local independent record shop, Jam Records in Falmouth, although I'm more likely to call in there for remaindered books, free zines, or a cup of the best coffee in town.

So what happened this year? I noticed that Brian Eno is putting out a limited edition double LP of My Squelchy Life, his long lost album from the early '90s, which was issued in advance promo form on cassette for reviewers, but then withdrawn from the release schedule. I say long lost, but I have a second-generation cassette copy a reviewer friend sent me at the time, as well as a downloaded bootleg digital copy, and it finally got a legitimate release last year as a bonus disc to a reissue from around the same time. But that isn't quite the same is it? I kid myself. And after all, most of my Eno collection (well, some of it) is on vinyl and I would like to keep it that way. And, it's work isn't it? I mean I have written essays and given conference papers about Eno, and I discuss his improvisatory approach to composing lyrics with my second year students on their Writing Lyrics module. So, wanting a copy of this vinyl release is perfectly sensible and reasonable. And £23 for a double LP isn't so bad is it?

It's probably not, truth be told. If, like me, the bulk of your record collection was amassed at around £2.26 a pop new, or in the 50p secondhand bins of record fairs and secondhand shops (not to mention the 10p basement of Record & Tape Exchange in Notting Hill), or as review copies sent by enthusiastic press officers, paying £20 or £30 for a record seems an outrageous amount of money. £23 it is, however, the manageress of Jam tells me when I call by to see if she has ordered a copy of the Eno LP. (Participating stores send an order sheet cum wish list in a few weeks ahead of the event.) But she also tells me she has only ordered one copy in and that she is unable to reserve it for me, that there will be people queuing outside her shop door early morning who she feels have the right to buy what they want. I nod wisely, knowing that I am not going to get out of my domestic duties much before her normal ten o'clock opening time - not only will the kids need breakfast, but my partner has just had a new hip and will need help getting up and ready for the day. So I kind of forget about it, haing sent an email to five music-loving friends, asking that if they happen to be in a record shop and see a copy would they pick a copy up for me? (For the record, one person in London replies to say 'Yes of course', another in Stamford just laughs longingly at the notion of an independent record shop, and three others remain silent on the subject.)

A few days later however, on Record Store Day, I find myself at 9.45am in a domestic calm. Everyone is up, everyone is breakfasted, and I have even run the hoover round the lounge and under the dining room table. I am not needed, so I make my excuses and drive the seven miles to Falmouth, abandoning my car on a yellow line and speed-walking down the hill to Jam where I find the normal stock removed and hundreds of limited edition LPs, twelve and seven-inch singles, replacing it. You can hardly move for customers, and it's difficult to be quick and ruthless in there. There is no sign of the Eno album, so I console myself with a Sun Ra live album and a Tracey Thorn soundtrack ten-inch, neither of which I knew about, despite being a fan of both, then join the snaking queue to the till.

One man ahead of me spends £840 on his huge pile of collectables. The guy directly in front of me turns out to have the Eno; he's a friend of one of my students, so I get to chat about it, and the fact they were outside the shop at 4.30am. I don't ask why, although I want to, just pay and leg it back to my illegally parked car and drive home.

A little while later my teenage daughter mentions the record shop in Truro. I know it's there, but it's basically a market stall and I've paid little attention to it. She mentions it because I stupidly mentioned a Florence and the Machine twelve-inch single I saw, and now she has something she would like to buy. And besides, she points out, they might have a copy of my Eno LP too. So after an early lunch we drive the other way, to Truro, manage to find a free parking spot and head into the Pannier Market. There's a very different vibe here, it doesn't feel like an independent record store at all, and the Record Store Day releases are racked in crates alongside the normal stock, and are also significantly more expensive than they are supposed to be.

They do, however, have a copy of the Eno I want, and the Florence & The Machine single. They also have a huge secondhand vinyl section I didn't know about, but feel compelled to flick through, as does my daughter - despite the fact she doesn't own a record player. Forty minutes later, having huffed and puffed about the ridiculous price and/or the awful condition of their secondhand stock, we settle up and escape home with our booty.

Once home, I email my friends to say don't worry about it any more, only to get an email back saying CJ in London saying he has bought a copy. Could I do a money transfer ASAP and he will then post it to me. Of course... Now I am the proud owner of two out of seven hundred copies. A few days later the manageress from Jam emails to say she has managed to get a copy in after the event if I still want it. I politely decline, admitting I got a copy in Truro. She asks me what I paid, and when I tell her mutters (can you mutter in an email?) that there has been a backlash from music fans about stores overcharging, not to mention a backlash from stores about fans selling their purchases on eBay. And then the next day, CJ transfers my money back as a friend of his wishes to buy a copy. So that's that then.

Except, what was all that about? I have owned that music, admittedly in low quality form, for twenty years. I think I even have a bootleg MP3 of the bonus track they've appended to the album for this limited edition release. My friend Peter was there when I tore the shrinkwrap off the vinyl and opened the gatefold sleeve, and we both agreed that was a rare event these days, that moment of concentration and attention, that moment of pleasurable anticipation you get before the music, but it doesn't last. The music certainly sounds great (as do the Sun Ra and Tracey Thorn) but what is it about the object itself that makes it so desirable, that sucked me in to a ridiculous few hours of unnecessary wanting?

I don't know. It's a great album by the way, a mixture of awkward funk, space jazz and electronic trickery, hesitant vocals and clever samples and processing. The cover is apparently stolen from a CD bootleg that did the rounds a while back (probably the source of my downloaded copy), and there's a bit of paper in the record sleeve that allows you access to a digital download. When I tried it said 'not available until October 2032', which I thought was a bit much, but I expect they've fixed it now. I hope so: it's a real pain crossing the room every fifteen minutes or so to turn over the record.