Saturday, September 10, 2011

The last record shop

Clive Munro's record shop has always been the last in Britain, or at least the northernmost. It has been my favourite, too, for the quarter of a century I've known and used it.

That was mainly due to Clive himself, the same age as me, with similar tastes in music. His recommendations could be trusted. His tendency to stock obscure Nick Lowe box sets, not to mention every jot and tittle of the Costello oeuvre, was wholly admirable. He is one of only two people I know who can talk knowledgeably about the work of Californian singer-songwriter Peter Case.

I  helped Clive with his stall at a couple of early Shetland Folk Festivals, watched vinyl vanish from his shelves (the second-hand tapes he once dealt in at two previous,  tiny locations, had already disappeared) and was happy to spend cash when he moved to large Commercial Street premises, where computer games and DVDs featured heavily. A branch in Orkney opened and closed quickly. But Clive's in Lerwick would go on forever, surely? On our remote archipelago, we needed, deserved a great record shop. How would we get the good stuff otherwise?

Then came Amazon. Then came iTunes. A big new Lerwick branch of Tesco. And now Spotify. For me, deluged with free CDs due to the radio show, and with a Spotify Premium account as well, my CD purchasing fell away to almost zero. Clive announced that the shop would operate using half its floorspace, concentrating on specialised material, local folk, country and with a range of new vinyl too.

But it didn't work. History is against shops like Clive's, and especially in Shetland, the internet has revolutionised shopping. Now we can have DVDs and CDs winging their way from one island (tax-free Jersey, where is based) to the Greater Zetlandics in a flash, and at prices less than Clive was paying wholesale. Or we can stream  and download, listen and forget in less time than it takes to say: "How much diesel will I use getting into town and back?"

So it's nearly over. The shop doors will soon shut forever. There's a closing down sale, but I've been avoiding the place, because I didn't want to look like some kind of scavenger, having spent so little there in recent months. Today, though I went in, bought a DVD, and found Clive in positive mood, looking forward to a new start doing - well, he knows not what, as yet.

He has been a musical mentor and guide, a shaman for hundreds, maybe thousands of Shetland's music fans. He has stocked indie releases by local bands, put up posters, sold tickets and been a crucial force for all that's good in the world of twangy guitars and great lyrics.

The last record shop in Britain will be sorely missed. But not enough, and by not enough people, for it to remain open.


BressaBill said...

What a crying shame.

buttonsdiva said...

That is why I have declined the temptations of Spotify premium....
Ellie Logan

DL said...

Progress? I don't know.

For one, I've never bought more CD's - 2nd hand from ebay granted, as everybody ditches their collections. Then play and enjoy them on the hifi, or rip to portable players, etc - the best of both worlds. And for frequently less money for the actual disc, than the postage (how Royal Mail continue to struggle I just don't understand either...)

But online shopping and downloading has it advantages - after watching the beeb's 'Acoustic' programme last week - I found that I had totally missed Pete Townshend's solo 'Let My Love Open The Door' and 69p and 2 mins later, it can be blasting from the hifi. Or even watching the video on YouTube - for free.

There's the rub - contrary to Fergal Sharky and his UK music buddies continued wailing about the drastic fall in CD sales (never mentioning the explosion in music file downloads even from legal sources) - the consumer
has moved on, wised up - and is cherry picking - why buy the complete album of the usual dross and filler when you can just buy the 'single' or favourite track(s). And especially if you've already forked out for the
recording on earlier formats previously.

Oh and there is just TOO much stuff available - maybe not so much quality new releases - but what with 50 years of back catalogue! A pal agrees with
me - we wouldn't be too upset if there was never anymore new music,
there's still tons and tons and too much quality old material to discover. But not enough hours in the day.

Now this is where good radio comes in - just how to find it? The majority of artist websites are just self-publicizing and shop fronts. Word of mouth of course and quality, reliable programmes like Bob Harris and the T.M.S.

Spotify? Good but it all falls down when ISP download rates bandwidth or limits kick in. Note they've decreased the quality of their best quality streaming files recently? Can that model last?

There's another problem - the ipod generation haven't heard good music playing on a good hifi - only through crappy wee ipods with tinny earphones or mini speakers - if they're lucky. Granted consumerism is driven down
their throats, but the simple joy of 'Dark Side of the Moon' from the 'big'stereo in a darken bedroom 1974?

So I'm afraid and so sorry for Clive and his kin, sadly the days of kids queuing outside their local record shop on a Saturday afternoon for a chart single or later for a hard saved up for coveted LP, (I particularly remember Quadrophenia a double album, coming in at a massive £4.30 & Brain Salad Surgery on pink cassette for 2.65) are gone.

Many thanks for all the memories.

Popdoc said...

Lovely post, Tom.

Brian C said...

Feel for Clive and for what is the end of an era. However....,

I feel no sympathy for the record companies and most of the major acts if they are feeling the pinch.

In the early seveties we were all under the pricing whims of the record companies paying way over the odds for albums especially (sometimes double the price of the U.S. release).

Also remember the frustration due to their refusal to tour the UK by major acts, such as Zeppelin, The Who, The Stones, etc. etc during much of that decade.

Changed days indeed.

Brian C

Brian C said...

Feel sympathy for Clive, but not the record companies nor certain major acts.

In the early seventies we were being charged way over the top for albums (usually double the U.S. release price) and waited - usually in vain - for the big bands of the time - eg. Zeppelin, The Stone, The Who, Pink Floyd etc. etc. - to tour the UK.

Changed days indeed.

Brian C