Edinburgh’s Avalanche Records celebrates 30 years

Kevin Buckle is preparing to celebrate three decades of running Avalanche. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Kevin Buckle is preparing to celebrate three decades of running Avalanche. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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ADAM Ant was in the charts and more than 2200 record shops existed in the UK when Avalanche Records opened its doors in 1983.

But 30 years on, the flamboyant and charismatic star of the post punk era has melted into the musical ether, while estimates put the number of surviving independent music retailers at about 250.

The dominance of online sales, and the unstoppable rise of technology giants Apple, have both been widely blamed for sucking the life out of the small record shop – perhaps forever changing the way music is bought and sold.

But plucky Kevin Buckle, 54, has proved there is still a place for the doggedly determined, as his shop prepares to celebrate three decades in the Capital.

Kevin’s love of and longevity in the industry started by chance when, at the age of 23, he was asked to provide cover at a record shop on Lady Lawson Street.

“One day the guy who worked there said to me quite bizarrely, ‘you look quite sensible’,” he laughs.

“He had to go to a funeral and he’d got no-one to cover. From that, I helped out more. My background was more maths, stats and business but I liked music so when I finished university it seemed a sensible thing to do to merge the two.”

Avalanche Records was born in 1983 on West Nicolson Street. Its popularity led to it moving to a bigger premises at number 17, and to the opening of several other premises including Cockburn Street before its most recent move to the Grassmarket.

Over the years, the shop content has had to adapt with the times to ensure a regular turnover. And while Kevin has kept his traditional love of emerging Scottish talent, the changing market has meant music-related items, like posters and badges, have become increasingly good sellers.

“We were focused for a long time on students and office workers and obviously those markets have changed in that students don’t really buy music but may be back into buying vinyl again,” he says.

“We’d get a lot of office workers in at lunchtime. Now we find most of our business is after work, college and uni.

“And what the kids want now are posters and badges. It’s that idea of browsing through something that you just don’t get on the internet. They spend hours looking through the posters as that next one might be the one they’re looking for.”

For its 30th birthday, Avalanche is reproducing some of the most famous posters.

“Neutral Milk Hotel is our biggest ever selling album so we’ve reproduced that. It has got quite a retro feel. Our three biggest ever selling Scottish albums are all by Belle and Sebastian so we are doing limited runs of 30.

“The poster side of it is something that works well for us. Obviously we sell secondhand records and vinyl but it’s a new side of things we’re known for.”

With so many record shops vanishing over the years, one positive has been that Avalanche has been able to build on its reputation for selling music, much of it from new, native bands.

The modest-looking shop also has a large online presence which has paved the way to a worldwide following. “We obviously have lots of local customers but some of the people I assumed were living here I found out were just on business every three months,” says Kevin.

“We recently had a guy in from LA who had a stopover here for six hours and this was where he decided to come. The next day it was a couple from Paris, the day after that we had a guy in from Denver whose sister-in-law had given him a list of stuff. We are famous for selling Scottish bands so quite often we get people in just asking what is new.”

Kevin is the first to admit survival has been tough – so tough that he may be forced to up sticks again to a cheaper premises when this lease is up in January. But this ability to change and move with the times is what has kept the shop going over the years.

Balancing its online presence with the shop is key to its continued survival and something Kevin plans to explore further in the coming years. “We do constantly move and change, we’re never slobby about what we do. We’ve always had the shop as the focus and the online thing is more a service to customers who can’t make it. So long as there’s a place for us, we’ll be around.”