In Autumn 2015, Faber will publish Original Rockers: A Meditation on the Disappearing Landscape of Record Shops, a new book by author Richard King. Richard King has worked at the heart of the independent music industry for nearly twenty years. He is the co-editor of Loops, an occasional journal of long-form music writing published jointly by Faber and Domino Records and author of How Soon is Now?
Here Lee Brackstone, Faber Creative Director, introduces this new work, followed by an extract from the book.
‘The ‘what should be’ never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is no ‘what should be,’ there is only ‘what is.’ Lenny Bruce
There was a time, not so long ago, that every town from Norwich to Brighton to Bristol to York and beyond, had its own record shop. In fact, up until perhaps the mid-90s and the short-lived triumph of the cd format, the record shop could be said to perform the same function as a city’s football club. Like Carrow Road or Bootham Crescent, the record shop was a crucible for the hopes, dreams, and more likely fantasies of a fair slice of the community. A place to meet, to express yourself, to test your commitment to a cause, whether that be the lonely plight of your hapless lower-league heroes, or the latest release from Black Flag or Disco Inferno.
Rather like football these days the record shop has lost its place in the community and with it we have lost some unique character from our increasingly homogenised High Streets. Richard King’s Original Rockers recalls the End Times of the record shop in Britain with great humour and an ear for anecdote. It is a story about excitement and discovery and indifference to market forces. A story about living in a landscape constructed of mountains of vinyl in a chaotic shop. And all of this without even the vaguest whiff of nostalgia for ‘what should be’.
Extract from Original Rockers by Richard King
Original Rockers takes its name from an Augustus Pablo dub album compiled of singles recorded between 1972 and 1975, the year Revolver Records, a record shop in Bristol opened. Throughout the shop’s twenty-five year history Original Rockers was the kind of album that would sell within days, sometimes even hours, of being placed in the racks. Although not widely known, it was a record whose reputation spread via word of mouth and stoned late night listening sessions, an exemplar of the type of secret music that was Revolver’s justification for opening its peeling door each morning.
To stand inside and loiter in a record shop is to be in a separate habitat, one that feels cloistered, protective and disengaged from any other type of retail activity; an ecology whose ambience can be experienced by degree and by the subtle shifts in mood that are set by whatever music is coming through the shop’s speakers. If a shop is playing a familiar album there are few greater pleasures than settling in to its running order and allowing its well-worn grooves to prompt the head to nod along while flicking through the racks. There is also a thrill in discovery. A previously unheard record coming through the store’s sound system often prompts the question that, despite their studied air of indifference, anyone working behind a record shop counter longs to hear: “Excuse me, what’s this you’re playing?”
There is never a shortage of music to play in a record store. Music from every era, especially some of an era’s most unloved records, sits for years awaiting rediscovery gathering dust on a half-remembered shelf. Barely perceptible changes in taste bring forgotten albums back to life. A decade after its dominance in the recording studio, a gated digital drum machine was the totemic sound of eighties excess and records made around its production values could be found for a pound. Twenty years later some of the more esoteric or flawed albums from the period were no longer considered relics but instead appeared to new generations as talismanic recordings to be appropriated as influences. The greatest record shops are fine-tuned to these processes and are constantly aware of the shifting nuances in demand and popularity before they enter the mainstream. Such moments of precognition occur especially within the kind of music whose natural home is amid piles of unsorted records in the backrooms and improvised shelves of record shops with serious reputations.
Revolver was that kind of shop; its ability to thread a connective love of music across genres and fashions and to encourage its customers to do the same was its raison d’etre. Anyone who worked there was less interested in selling the weekly inundation of new releases than in delving through the racks of rare and obscure records that were kept from view. Behind closed doors Revolver contained a lifetime’s worth of music that could only be absorbed one side of an album at a time. The shop stocked any and every genre that a customer might desire, but its principal sales technique, if it had such a thing, was finding new ways in which music might unlock the subconscious. It was a shop that would reasonably strike any passing customer as not so much disengaged as unhinged. The type of place that was entirely divisive; for some music lovers it was the high water mark of any Saturday visit into town, for the more casual record buyer it was best avoided and with good reason.
If a record shop is anything today it is a frontier between the old and new worlds, an environment where the contrast between physical artefacts and digital gratification hangs in the balance. Perhaps then this book is also the story of every record shop.
What follows is a meditation on a disappearing landscape and an attempt to preserve its customs, language and secrets, as well as a passage through its hinterland of forgotten spaces; a daydream lost among the racks, a finger run along dusty shelves and a drift through the music of time.
A few weeks ago I attended Farr Festival – a small dance-music event in the middle of a forest in Hertfordshire. It started a few years back as a private party, and has grown quickly to become one of the most lauded festivals of the season.
The idea to go came about with a group of friends over a Thai meal in Leytonstone. One of us, Steve, was getting married, and among the massaman and kaeng phet we tossed around suggestions for the stag-do. Life accrues responsibilities; here was an opportunity to throw them off and enjoy a lapsed weekend of dancing and indulgence. The rallying cry for Farr is ‘Get lost in the woods’. That is precisely what we intended to do.
And so we found ourselves, laden with rucksacks and plastic bags of warm lager, heading out of Kings Cross on a glorious July afternoon, the hazy fields of Hertfordshire rattling past. We alighted at Baldock, from where it was a ten-minute taxi drive to the festival site.
En route at the main entrance, we were pulled over by security staff and our bags searched – not, it seemed, for anything illegal, but for glass. After decanting a robust French red into a water bottle, we were waved through.
The first thing that struck me – before, even, collecting our wristbands – was that everyone looked a lot younger than at other festivals I’d been to in the past few years. There are some consolations in ageing, however. Experience is one. Common sense, perhaps, too. Note to Farr admissions staff: for running apps and web browsing, an iPad beats a clipboard and pen hands down. The same cannot be said of ticking a name off a list, via a QR code, in glaring sunshine.
Inside the perimeter, the main camping area, to the left, was a small sea of mainly two-man tents. To the right was a rutted path that cut through a cornfield up a hill to the festival site itself. At the top, multicoloured standards flapped in a clearing next to a partitioned-off congregation of teepees – our glamping home for the next two nights.
A few of our group had arrived earlier and had settled into a corral of camping armchairs, relaxed and chatting. Beyond the wicker fence separating the teepees from the main site, festival-goers lay in clumps on the grass, cradling paper pints. The damp thud of live drums – the last band of the day before the evening kicked in – whumped in the fading sunshine.
Outside of the stages, dodgem cars, and a smattering of food vans, there isn’t a great deal to do at Farr, and that is a good thing. It led to lazy days, throwing the evenings into relief. As night drew in, we ambled over for posh burgers and a gluttonous pint – yes, pint – each of Pimm’s, before venturing into the heart of the festival, the dance area.
The three main stages were situated inside a wooded copse, reached through a separate entrance beyond the dodgems. Security on the site was light, but here there were a couple of guards checking all was well. Beyond them, and beneath a canopy of branches, opened out a clearing about the size of a football pitch, with three competing stages towards the left and rear, with a long, covered bar running along the right.
As the dark settled, the atmosphere within the copse changed. There was a palpable sense of growing excitement – neon and multicoloured lights cut through the branches. Dust rose and the dancing notched up a gear. It was soon a full-on rave.
On reflection, dozing in my teepee the next day, that first night seemed a disorientating combination of medieval bazaar, pagan rite and Top Shop changing room on a Saturday afternoon, all held together with unrelenting duff duffs. The music, actually, was on Friday the least remarkable feature. There was nothing to object to, but nothing that really stuck in the memory. But there was so much choice in such a small area, it was likely a question of me simply picking the wrong stage.
This was not the case with the music on the second night – it was phenomenal. A similar atmosphere prevailed, but this evening we were treated to some proper squelchy house and techno. Justin Robertson was predictably fantastic, and Ben Pearce, coming on after, was unbelievably good. His set was one long crescendo. I loved it.
He could only have been followed by Faber’s artist-in-residence, Andrew Weatherall, who took the whole anarchic night in his stride and made it his own.
If there’s one real criticism of the festival, it’s that there was no listing stating who was playing when and at which stage. I’d really been looking forward to seeing Hannah Holland and her take on acid house, but I’d no idea when she was on, or where.
That aside, Farr is a wonderful, intimate festival in a bewitching setting, with just the right amount of chaos. If you like dance music, you really should go next year. But keep it to yourself.
Faber is pleased to announce the imminent publication of So This Is Permanence: Lyrics and Notebooks, edited by Jon Savage, with a foreword by Deborah Curtis. So This Is Permanence is a collection of the intensely personal writings of one of the most enigmatic and influential songwriters and performers of the late twentieth century, Joy Division’s Ian Curtis.
The songs of Joy Division were born of Manchester in the late seventies and of Ian Curtis’s inner tragedies, as he battled depression, epilepsy and debilitating stage fright. Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980, on the eve of the band’s first American tour.
Interspersed with the lyrics are previously unpublished facsimile pages of Ian’s notebooks, which throw his lyrics into relief and cast light on the creative process of this influential and legendary songwriter.
Ian Curtis was born in Stretford, Lancashire and grew up in Macclesfield. Joy Division released two seminal post-punk albums: Unknown Pleasures (1979) and Closer (1980).
Jon Savage is the author of England’s Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock and Teenage: The Creation of Youth, 1875 – 1945. He has written sleeve notes for Wire, St. Etienne and the Pet Shop Boys, among others.
For further information, please contact Anna Pallai, Publicity Director Non-Fiction on 020 7927 3884 or at email@example.com.
Red or Dead is the story of the rise of Liverpool Football Club and Bill Shankly, perhaps the first truly great football manager of the modern age. And the story of the retirement of Bill Shankly. Of one man and his work. And of the man after that work. A man in two halves. Home and away. Red or dead.
David Peace’s only Red or Dead London event was upstairs at The Lexington on 21 August 2013. The night included music from the brilliant James Walsh and Luke Haines.
Photographs © Marcus Bastel
For October’s Faber Social, co-hosted with Heavenly Recordings, we invite you to an evening celebrating the UNREAL CITY that is London.
Michael Smith and Andrew Weatherall perform from their new release Unreal City. Ben Watt talks about his forthcoming book, Romany and Tom. Lloyd Bradley takes us on a historical tour through black music in the capital, reading from his book Sounds Like London. And Hanif Kureishi, London’s ultimate chronicler in fiction, reads from new fiction.
Tickets Now On Sale
Tickets £7 in advance from Eventbrite or £9 on the door.