Record Store Day 2011

Eddie Mullan pays a visit to Belfast's independent record stores and leaves convinced that the digital revolution has a downside

Saturday, April 16 marked Record Store Day, an annual quasi-holiday for audiophiles everywhere to celebrate the independent record store. Limited edition vinyl, CD releases and extra promotional material on the day from the likes of Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Green Day and even Lady Gaga, encourages fans to take a break from online shopping and pay a visit to their own bricks-and-mortar record store for a taste of exclusivity.

It’s no secret that vinyl records have been going through a revival in recent years, but why would today’s music lover want to swap a convenient, portable and cheap format like mp3 for expensive, space-absorbing vinyl? Maybe it’s the lack of tangibility in an iTunes collection that leaves true music fans cold. Further still is the lack of human interaction in buying music from a computer.

For today though, Belfast’s own participating independent music shops are bustling with music lovers of all ages, and the aisles fill up with fans anxiously waiting for instore performances. Others simply enjoy having an excuse to add to their Rolling Stones collection and head straight for the freshly stocked shelves of shiny vinyl.

Against a background of racks chock-full of classics ranging from Back In Black to Moon Safari, Head Records shop assistant and singer-songwriter, Tom McShane, opens the day’s intimate gigs in Victoria Square with some soul-bearing lo-fi genius.

Before you can break the cellophane on that Arctic Monkey’s white label, a quick turnabout sees Downpatrick rock lords The Answer in place for an acoustic session, in town to release an exclusive 7” cover of Rose Tattoo’s ‘Rock‘n’Roll Outlaw’ (view in video below).

The group treat the gathered to a selection of tracks from albums Rise and Everyday Demons, including ‘Tonight’, ‘Under The Sky’, ‘Comfort Zone’, and a new song entitled ‘Can’t Remember, Can’t Forget’, which, according to frontman Cormac Neeson, should feature on the group’s third album, due for a September release. ‘Music sounds better on vinyl,’ proclaims the long-haired Neeson, stressing that ‘it’s not a myth. Support your record stores.’

Pouring over the newly shelved stock, I’m reminded how opening a new record is one of life’s more underrated pleasures. The satisfying crack of the cellophane splitting followed by carefully sliding the sleeve to view the gorgeous artwork and those misheard lyrics. Even viewing the groove of the record under the light is a marvel, turning it over in your hands in the hope of hearing something really unusual from your favourite band on the flip side.

It’s a fetishistic hobby, one that often can hit the wallet hard, but no-one will judge you here in the indie record store. What do you think they spend their wages on?

A stone’s throw away, above a trendy vintage clothes store on Ann Street, Magpie Records have their grand opening. The staff are still frantically pricing stock while, all around, collectors are busy digging for those elusive gems, even rummaging through boxes of cassettes while The Bonnevilles set up to play in the next room among the dusty secondhand books.

Many have gotten up early to flip through the crates, perhaps hoping for a mint Velvet Underground & Nico acetate or a White Album numbered 0000005; most likely they’ll happen upon a dog-eared Best Of Cilla Black.

Across town, on a rundown Winetavern Street, Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations store hosts a lunchtime show from young quirk-popster, John D’Arcy, the latest artist to have released a record on the historic Good Vibrations label that unleashed ‘Teenage Kicks’ upon an unsuspecting public in 1978.

A recent announcement from the punk mogul that his beloved Good Vibes store is due to close probably isn’t a great shock to most, considering the impact the recession has had on small businesses. But the city will still be a poorer place without everybody’s favourite Hooleygan behind a store counter somewhere.

Still, new blood is good for any scene and no matter how trendy or well located a music store is, it’s only as good as it’s staff. Record Store Day not only gives music fans the opportunity to reconnect with the aesthetics of the artwork and packaging that come with a recording, but it also provides a reminder of how important human interaction with like-minded fans really is.

The difference in price might be the reason why many of us are choosing not to buy our music from an indie record shop, but then look at what you’re missing out on. Some come today for the exclusivity of the limited edition LPs, but leave remembering the inclusivity of the independent record store. Surely that’s a price worth paying.

Main image courtesy of Magpie Records.