Books and Music at the Heart of Independent Publishing

Faber to publish Original Rockers by Richard King

September 25, 2013 | by Faber Social

Tags: Bristol, How Soon Is Now?, Independent Music, Original Rockers, Richard King, Vinyl

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’.

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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.

augustus pablo, original rockers

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.

How Soon Is Now? by Richard King is published by Faber, out now.