“Have you got any Joe Cocker?” A flat-capped gent in his seventies shuffles into the record shop, stick in hand, rudely interrupting my conversation with the owner on the controversial iconography of Death In June.
“I’ve got one I think,” replies the proprietor, unruffled, polite and pointing to the £3 section. The Cockerite, somewhat disappointed that he may have to actually find something for himself, grimaces but still advances, doddering in the vague direction of smokey vox blues.
Meantime, I turn ‘The Wörld Thät Sümmer’ over in my hands one more time for good measure. Rather steep at eighty quid but admirable all the same; debossed, ostentatious, gatefold sleeve.
“‘Chance Meeting Of A Sewing Machine…’ That was a good one. No, hold on, that was Current 93, wasn’t it?” says the owner.
“Something like that,” I reply, that whole early ’80s industrial/neo-folk axis something of a grey area for me, as much as I invariably enjoy it. The clang of the ancient, malfunctioning escalator outside isn’t wasted on me.
This store, tucked away at the back of a mini-shopping arcade built in the ’60s and now, little more than a convenient shortcut from one street to another, is something of a hidden jewel. Not only are the prices very reasonable (“I don’t do Discogs. I don’t do any online”), the stock is diverse and the quality, generally VG. Although in my early fifties, I’m the youngest customer at midday on a cold Winter Wednesday, which should give some indication as to how undisturbed the post-punk/new wave section is. Around me, Tina Turner albums are plucked and admired. A monotone, somewhat sanctimonious sermon regarding the merits of early Genesis, disturbs the relative peace.
There’s already a very reasonable (£20) copy of Ash Ra’s ‘Blackouts’ under my arm. “You hardly ever see that,” the proprietor tells me. “Yes, that’s why it’s under my arm right now,” I think to myself, cocky London fucker that I am. Back in the Smoke, a record like ‘Blackouts’ would be (literally) gathering dust on the wall, a sixty quid sticker laughing at your wallet. The walls here, contrarily reassuring, an affordable tapestry of music’s somewhat conservative path from the ’50s until now. With very few Kraftwerkian exceptions, every record features drums, bass, guitars and vocals.
I spend £40 in all. Us being pals now, the owner throws in a delicious 7″ of Dalis Car, ‘The Judgement Is The Mirror’ for free. The disc labels, taken from the Maxfield Parrish-derived album artwork, are sublime.
7″ sections are virtually untouched these days. Faced with an arm’s length of random, fraying paper sleeves, understandably, most people can’t be bothered to flick through. And given that production times for vinyl are between six and nine months, its days are surely numbered? When did I last actually buy a 7″ single? 2001? That this one is offered to me gratuit, speaks volumes. For shops like this, they simply take up too much space and the profit margins are diminutive.
It’s one of those shops where you almost want to shake the proprietor’s hand on the way out, to thank him personally for his services to your mental well-being. I wish him a good day and abandon him to the small queue of old rockers clutching their £3 MOR albums. On the counter, Death In June continue to be ignored in favour of the status quo. Or should that be the Status Quo?
Amazingly, right next door, though closed on this particular day, yet another secondhand record shop. How do they co-exist? Or does this close proximity work in both their favours? A copy of The Go-Betweens’ ’16 Lovers Lane’ sticks out in the window display, one of those records that, despite you owning, for a moment you wonder whether you might conceivably need a back-up copy or two. Although I live approximately one hundred and twenty seven miles away, I shall be back to the white arcades before the Summer.