On the first and third Friday of every month, a good chunk of Spitalfields Market in London is taken over by a record market. The wares, mostly vinyl, some new but mainly secondhand, entice a steady flow of custom from 10am to 5pm. Here and there, sticking out like proverbial sore thumbs, sheepish CD vendors, the odds stacked very much against them, for here, it’s the records that make for a feverish, excitable atmosphere.
Like crows in pecking order, once a customer abandons a crate, seemingly out of nowhere, another swoops in. Overstay your time and you may well feel the impatient breath of your successor bearing down on your collar. The unspoken etiquette : “Thumb through and move on.” Exchanges are made quickly, cash ready in hand, few words spared; the title is scribbled in a ledger and the purchase slides from one hand to another with a cursory, “Thanks, mate.”
There are exceptions of course. The dealers themselves, invariably men of a certain age, years of dealing under their belts, avail each other of mate’s rates for a particularly rare 7″; upcoming record fairs are discussed, recent gigs, special formats. The vinyl community, much like the football one, is obsessive, fervid. Like pinballs, they ricochet from record shop to record shop, fair to fair, market to market, in the hunt for that elusive, limited edition, Third Man split-colour 3″, sealed, mint.
On arrival, where to start? Well, like sex and shark-baiting, it’s best to dive in anywhere and just go with the flow. The punters move, as if on a conveyor belt, from stall to stall, crate to crate. It’s easy and oddly comforting to get caught up in the milieu. Eyes dart over the genre markers – soul, jazz, new wave, postpunk, reggae, pop, rock, folk, 60s, 70s, 80s – and then, the fingers, that almost mechanical filtering, eschewing the familiar for the not got. I remember the phrase from swapping football stickers as a boy : “Got…not got….not got….got…” In a way, things haven’t moved on at all since then. I am still trying to fill gaps in my own collection, to become complete, Übermensch.
I turn over an original copy of Felt’s ‘Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty.’ There’s ring wear, like a tidemark in a bath, much more evident on these white sleeves. The spine is slightly split and there’s some creasing to the corners. “Pre-loved,” I believe is the expression. It’s a record that, like everything in my own Felt collection, was bought to be played a lot. The price tag? £55. It may well still be there in a year’s time.
The majority of stock, however, is priced for a quick sale. The best business today seems to be done at the stall of new releases, still in their shrinkwrap, all for £10 each. Whether this stock has been picked up cheaply through a wholesaler or fallen off the back of a lorry is anyone’s guess. To the untrained eye, it looks like a juicy bargain. Hell, you could start your own record shop with this stuff and just double the price! I pull out Low’s ‘Christmas’ vinyl mini-album, originally released in Europe as a CD on my own Tugboat label in 1999. Back then, we easily sold 15,000 copies and more each subsequent yule. It’s the closest the indie world has come to a stone cold Christmas classic.
I pick up a few things, all familiar to me. A beautiful re-issue of This Mortal Coil’s ‘Blood,’ double album for £20, still “factory sealed.” For a tenner, quite a scoop – an original, near mint copy of Woo’s ‘Whichever Way You Are Going, You Are Going Wrong.’
I never knew that The Go-Betweens released ‘Love Goes On’ as a single but here it is, lost in the indie 7’s, for a fiver. It still bears a sticker with it’s original “special” sale price of 99p. But for a tiny scratch on the A-side, again, near mint.
Finally, an “unplayed, mint” copy of Ben Watt’s ‘Summer Into Winter’ EP on Cherry Red from 1982. My original copy is pretty battered and I missed out on the 2020 turquoise vinyl RSD re-issue. For £15, I don’t need any convincing. Robert Wyatt guests on it for fuck’s sake. “Unplayed?” What’s wrong with people?
Unlike in most record stores, here, there’s been a concerted effort not to overstuff the crates. On the whole, particularly if you have rather long arms (I do not), it’s easy to flick through everything. Genres and prices are marked clearly. God forbid, it’s as if they want you to actually buy something! The only thing that deters me, in fact, are the seemingly endless rows of 7″ singles which trail over the horizon and far, far beyond. Thankfully, the death of the 7″ seems imminent and thus, by, oh, 2023, production will finally cease and no more will be added to this most inconceivable of queues.
By 1pm, the market is swamped by hungry tourists and office staff and like a Bisto kid, I am drawn away from the crates by the intermingling whiff of international cuisine. However, It’s only a temporary glitch in the hunt. The nag of “What if I missed something?” is the torment of every completist. I go round again, this time picking through the £3 boxes, the 2-for-1’s. Here, the familiars, the mass-produced, million-selling rock and pop albums, mostly from the 80’s and mostly by household names. Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Phil Collins, Billy Joel, Paul Young, Dire Straits, Michael Jackson – names that even now are burned into our wretched skulls like barcodes. I take some comfort in the fact that, although these records cost hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions to record, market and promote, they are now, effectively in a bin. Two metres away, the debut 7″ by an obscure indie band, only 1000 copies ever made, sells for £85.