The last time I did Record Store Day was April 2010. The new Hold Steady album, Heaven is Whenever, wasn’t out until the following month, but they released a limited-to-600-copies edition on clear vinyl, one month early.
So I did the thing where you got up early and queued outside your record store of choice, list in hand and queue abuzz. And however many copies Monorail had gotten in, the guy in front of me got the last one.
No shade to the guy, obviously. All’s fair in love and Record Store Day, and I hope he still plays and enjoys the album. No, what hurt was getting home and finding a decent number of those 600 copies listed on eBay already, for desperate fans willing to pay over the odds.
I kept the record in my eBay saved searches for a good couple of years afterwards, but I could never bring myself to pay £80 for a record that would have cost me £20 had I just gotten up earlier. And had scalpers not been dicks.
With the stereotype of the hardcore music fan being a closed-minded grump, forever on the alert for the moment that his favourites “sell out”, it’s not surprising that there has been a backlash against Record Store Day in recent years (so much so that, this year, Stereogum felt the need to publish a backlash-against-the-backlash In Defence of Record Store Day piece). The complaints against the event, which began in 2007 as a way of championing the independent record store in the face of escalating store closures and the threat of Amazon, range from its hijacking by major labels, who clog up the few remaining record-pressing plants for months beforehand at the expense of the indies, to the annual list of rarities and exclusives becoming clogged up with overpriced reissues and “Record Store Day Firsts” that enter into wider circulation two weeks later.
I have tonnes of sympathy for these arguments. I’ve made them myself. But what they forget is that Record Store Day, at least among the shops in Scotland, isn’t just some Black Friday-esque festival of consumption. It’s a celebration of everything that makes independent record stores great.
For my April new music column in The Scots Magazine, I decided to pull together a list of some of the best record stores in the country, along with a bit of chat with Garry Smith of Concorde Music in Perth, who I had been interviewed with on BBC Radio Scotland late last year to mark the shop’s 50th anniversary. The idea behind the feature was nothing more than to highlight some of these great independent businesses in a month which gave it a bit of a news hook, and not to get into the arguments for or against Record Store Day itself.
Honestly, though? The feature ended up changing my mind about an institution I’d found myself slipping into a High Fidelity-esque grump about. Sure, one of the shops I’d approached in a bid to ensure that the feature avoided as far as possible my Glasgow bias asked that he not be included, as he didn’t want it to be seen as a tacit acknowledgement of his participation – but, for the most part, I heard stories of businesses saved by the feted “vinyl revival”, of which Record Store Day was undoubtedly a catalyst. I heard how one day of trading can keep shops, battling wafer-thin profit margins, feeling secure for months. And I heard plenty of tales of how the shops themselves liked to celebrate, with in-store DJs and performances, baked goods and even bacon rolls for the early-morning queuers.
As an independent family business themselves, Friels Cider have underlined the importance of supporting local record stores all year round throughout their partnership with Record Store Day. It’s why, when they reached out to ask if I wanted to be an ambassador for their campaign, I couldn’t respond fast enough.
And that’s why, this Saturday past, I found myself in the queue outside Monorail for the first time in eight years (though I wasn’t early enough to see Jarvis open the store). While I might not have got what I wanted, I’m pretty sure I got what I needed – and that Bruce Springsteen Greatest Hits red double LP reissue is £60 on eBay, if I ever get really desperate.
Look lads, I’m no vinyl collector. I like limited edition coloured records because they are pretty, play vinyl on that same blue Crossley Cruiser turntable half your Instagram feed has because I like the warmth and fuzziness, and compress all my mp3s to within an inch of their life to save space because my hearing is so fucked from years of live music that frankly I can’t tell the difference. I buy records because I love them, and I play them like I mean it.
When I think of record shops, I think of phoning Monorail on the off-chance to see if they had that Sleater-Kinney vinyl boxset – and taking it home to discover, with something approaching hysteria, that mine was one of 500 copies containing a 7″ the band had signed (it turned into actual hysteria when my picture ended up on their Instagram). I think of Lorenzo from LP Records bringing my delayed copy of the new album from The National into town with him on his way to watch the football so I didn’t have to wait any longer.
I think of my favourite shops in the world. And damn, but if that isn’t worth celebrating every day of the year.