Record Store Day: On the right track

Owner of Avalanche records Kevin Buckle. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Owner of Avalanche records Kevin Buckle. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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To mark Record Store Day, which takes place tomorrow, we take a look back to the time when vinyl was king and find out how Edinburgh’s biggest independent record store is surviving in the download age

ONCE upon a time, we bought music from our local record store. We didn’t make a purchase at the click of a mouse, but from actual brick-and-mortar buildings, staffed by knowledgeable music lovers who might even offer a recommendation or two, sending the customer on their way having discovered a new favourite band.

Sadly, in an age when iTunes dominates the music market and HMV is just about the last chain standing, these magical places are few and far between.

Much-loved local record stores like Bruce’s Record Shop, Ards, Ezy Ryder, Rhythm Rack, The Other Record Shop and Bandparts have long since closed for business.

But while there’s no denying that independent record shops have become an endangered species in the last decade, there are still some left – Underground Solu’shn, Backtracks, Coda Retail, Voxbox Records and Avalanche Records among them.

“I think each individual record shop is surviving in a different way,” says Kevin Buckle, owner of Edinburgh’s biggest indie record store, Avalanche Records, for an impressive 28 years. “We’ve always sold second-hand vinyl, and that’s had a resurgence in recent years. More so than new vinyl.

“There’s also still a big market for new CDs. Second-hand CDs are still popular as well. And a lot of the shops are selling things like concert tickets now as well, and they survive that way.”

Avalanche is among those celebrating Record Store Day tomorrow – an event which began in 2007 when more than 700 independent stores in the United States came together to celebrate their unique culture. The UK followed suit the following year as independent stores struggled to survive.

When Avalanche moved from the top of Cockburn Street, where it was based for 12 years, to larger premises in the Grassmarket two years ago, Buckle decided to rethink the business.

“We made a big decision to cater for what we knew,” he says. “We started trying to get more young people in, and it’s worked out very well.

“As well as CDs, we now sell a lot of posters and badges. It’s sounds very old-school, but you can’t download a poster or a badge, and we’ve found that young people love posters and badges.

“Students don’t really buy much music, unless they are into vinyl, but they do love posters. So it’s been a case of having other related things that fit in with the store.”

Laughing, he adds: “I heard of one shop where they were doing vinyl and pies. It’s a quite a novel idea – everyone to their own and all that – but we ourselves try and stick to things that are music-related.”

Avalanche may still be doing a roaring trade, but Buckle acknowledges that many other independent record stores are struggling. “It’s true there’s a lot less independent music shops these days,” he says. “There’s a lot less than people even think, because when you see the number for independent record shops, that includes basically anybody. Even some guy selling a box of records.”

It’s a far cry from the halcyon days of the 60s and 70s when indie stores thrived.

Back then, Bruce’s Record Store, owned by music mogul Bruce Findlay and his brother Brian, was synonymous with cutting-edge music. For thousands of 1970s and 80s teenagers, the music shops were essential meeting points to pick up the latest vinyl and carry it home in an “I found it at Bruce’s” bag.

“We opened at Rose Street in early 1969, and it was pretty phenomenal for the first few years,” recalls Findlay, the man who would later steer Simple Minds to superstardom. “We expanded pretty rapidly. Maybe too much in fact.

“We expanded throughout central Scotland and eventually had 14 in all, including Shandwick Place and Princes Street, with additional outlets in Kirkcaldy, Glasgow, Dundee. They were all tiny, each with two or three staff.

“In those days the record shop in the high street enjoyed the same profile in the community as the butcher and the baker,” he continues. “One of the things we did in the shops, particularly in Edinburgh, was to encourage acts to come in to sign autographs and we had some amazing artists – Ian Dury, Tom Petty, Blondie, The Police. The shop became a place where people would come to hang out as well as buy music. It was good times and we had a glorious run.”

Larger chains like Virgin eventually muscled in to copy their format, and running an independent chain became more difficult.

The last of Findlay’s record shops closed in 1982, by which time he’d left to concentrate on managing Simple Minds. “The business had really changed by then,” he recalls. “Edinburgh probably had the most independent record shops per head anywhere, and we were all competing. Virgin were the ones that took over.

“They invented the megastore, which I think was the biggest disaster for the record retail industry, as that led to price wars. It wasn’t to do with having the best range of records any more.

“Soon the likes of Pink Floyd and Captain Beefheart, artists that only shops like us would previously be selling, were in every shop. People could suddenly buy these albums anywhere, and they went wherever was cheapest.”

Like all the city’s independent record shops, Findlay’s were hit hard. Facing bankruptcy, they were taken over by brewing giant Guinness.

“I hated it, but it saved our necks,” says Findlay. “At this time, I thought I’d get involved on the other side of the fence and started a record label called Zoom. The Guinness people hated me doing it. They thought it was a mistake. They thought Simple Minds were no use.”

Findlay countered by telling them he thought Guinness was itself an unlikely success and urged the brewing giant to trust his judgement. They laughed in his face. “So I asked if I could take Zoom and Simple Minds away,” he says. “I said, ‘I’ll give you the remaining shares I have in Bruce’s and you give me a year’s salary.”

Guinness agreed. Two years later Bruce’s were closed for business and Simple Minds were arguably the biggest band in the world.

“A few years later I got a very nice letter from the chairman of Guinness, whose daughters were huge fans,” smiles Findlay. “He was asking if they could kindly get backstage to meet the band. Revenge.”

What’s on where

• Avalanche (Grassmarket)

In-store sets from Withered Hand (2pm) and Gordon McIntyre from ballboy (3pm). Ryan Hannigan also demonstrates how to make album covers using a star-wheel press. That will be followed by an after-party at Electric Circus.

• Coda Retail (Bank Street)

In-store gigs from Kris Drever, Bella Hardy, Rura and Rab Noakes. Plus all the usual limited-edition releases, drinks and food.

• Underground Solu’shn (Cockburn Street)

DJ sets from a host of local talents, including Stephen Brown (Transmat), Craig Smith (6th Borough Project), Linkwood, Fudge Fingas, Lord of the Isles and Rivers of Slime.

• Voxbox Records (St Stephen Street)

In-store set from Neil Pennycook (Meursault) at 3pm and PAWS playing in a venue nearby at 4pm.

Avalanche

A KEEN supporter of local bands, Avalanche – owned by Kevin Buckle – has been trading in the heart of Edinburgh for more than 20 years now and is Scotland’s largest independent record shop. Before a move to bigger premises in the Grassmarket in 2010, Avalanche had outlets in West Nicolson Street and Cockburn Street.

A popular destination for music lovers for 28 years, Avalanche’s West Nicolson Street branch was used in the record shop scenes of Richard Jobson’s film Sixteen Years Of Alcohol.

Bandparts

BANDPARTS, situated on Antigua Street, was one of the few record stores in the Capital where customers could listen to albums in 60s-style listening booths.

The shop, owned by Ronnie Blacklock and his wife Dorothy (pictured) is mentioned in Irvine Welsh’s 2001 novel, Glue:

“That sense of anticipation; you didn’t know if what you wanted would be in, or sold out or whatever. He might even have to go up to Bandparts on Saturday morning to secure it....”

Bruce’s Record Shop

Having opened their first record shop in Falkirk in 1967, brothers Bruce and Brian Findlay launched a second shop in Rose Street two years later.

In business until the early 80s, Bruce’s Record Shop specialised in US imports and underground rock and were famous for their red carrier bags with the legend “I Found It At Bruce’s”.

EZY RYDER

EZY Ryder traded from the Seventies until around 1984.

Located in Oddfellows’ Hall and sharing its space with a clothes retailer, the shop sold masses of second-hand records – some for as little as 2p each.

Recalling a visit there on The Edinburgh Gig Archive website, Keith Mitchell said: “The main guy at Ezy Rider was a diminutive, volatile chap with a Glasgow-type accent – the crabbiest record salesperson, or any kind of salesperson, I ever encountered.”

VINYL VILLAINS

Established in 1983, Vinyl Villains, situated on Elm Row, is one of the few surviving old-school record shops in the Capital.

Owner Andrew Watters says, “A combination of factors, which include economic conditions and the increasing reliance on the internet for shopping, has killed off two-thirds of our independant record retailers.

“I tend to hope that the main reason for Vinyl Villains’ continued survival is that there are still a huge number of like-minded people out there, with a discerning taste in music, who refuse to be brainwashed into accepting the regurgitated gunge that passes for culture today.”