Few bands have been quite so successful outside of the mainstream as the anarcho-punk group Crass. During their career, the group received virtually no radio airplay, yet they have attained a dedicated following that lives on even today.
Crass formed in 1977, after lead singer Steve Ignorant saw The Clash play live, and immediately decided to form a group. When he found most of his friends had either been married or had taken on other commitments, he decided to visit his old friend Penny Rimbaud.
Steve states: “Just in passing, he said ‘well, what are you up to now?’ I went ‘oh, I’m going to start a punk band.’ He went ‘I’ve got a drum kit. I’ll play drums for you.”
From there, the two recruited the talents of Gee Vaucher, N. A Palmer, and Pete Wright, as well as Phil Free, Eve Libertine and Joy De Vivre. This was to become the most well known incarnation of the group.
Asked how the band promoted themselves despite radio play, Steve argues: “It was purely word of mouth, because in those days there was no Internet or mobile phones. Literally we’d do a gig and we’d print our own little flyers, and then we’d just say to people ‘look, is there anywhere where we can do a gig in your area?’ Most of it was done through landline telephone and through the post.”
Though British punk never really accomplished social and political upheaval, it did achieve many wonderful things that are worthy of being celebrated. One such achievement was its ability to bring together unfamiliar cultures by an incorporation of foreign styles, such as ska and reggae. But how did reggae and punk happen to become intertwined, and what effect did this have on both genres and their fans?
In 1948, Britain suffered a labour shortage due to the losses sustained in World War II. This led to an appeal for workers from the Commonwealth and the British Empire, with ads appearing overseas to actively promote migration to the “mother country”. In the same year the Windrush, an ex-cruise ship, landed at Tilbury near London, carrying the first group of Afro-Caribbean migrants. They were promised work and a new way of life, but instead were subject to prejudice and racism from the indigenous British.
What followed over the subsequent decades were a series of race riots, with Afro-Caribbean individuals protesting their poor treatment by the white establishment.
But whilst this was happening, a cultural exchange was also occurring elsewhere between Jamaican migrants and the white working classes. This was in part due to Trojan Records, a record label founded in 1968 that specialized in rocksteady, reggae and dub. This label helped to develop the Trojan skinhead subculture that revolved around ska, rocksteady, reggae and soul.
Don Letts is a British filmmaker, musician, and DJ, who would later introduce many followers of punk to reggae and ska.
He comments: “People forget that there was a movement before the punky reggae thing, which was the skinhead movement. We’re talking about the fashion version, not the fascist version. They’d grown up on early reggae, particularly the records released on Trojan records.”
This cultural exchange between the skinheads and Jamaican migrants was the result of an interaction between working class white and black youths living in areas like Brixton, Notting Hill and Tottenham. This would lay the groundwork that would allow punk and reggae to intersect in the following decade.
In the 1970s, SEX, a shop owned by Malcolm Mclaren and Vivienne Westwood helped launch the punk subculture. It did this with the help of another store on the King’s Road, Acme Attractions, which was being managed by Don Letts.
Acme Attractions was responsible for introducing many punks to reggae music. In addition, it was also a hangout for punks who were already knowledgeable about the genre, individuals like Paul Simonon and Joe Strummer from The Clash, and John Lydon from the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd.
Through his connections in the scene, Don Lett was offered a job DJing at a new punk club called The Roxy. On January 1st 1977, The Roxy club in London opened its doors. In his role as DJ, Don Letts would once again be instrumental in introducing reggae music to a white British audience. As there were no punk records released at the time of its opening, he would instead play proto-punk, dub, and reggae for the audience to dance to in-between the band’s sets.
“What’s funny is that the punks used to say to me ‘look don’t worry about all that [proto-punk] stuff Don, just keep playing the reggae’, which is quite funny, you know. A lot of good things came out of that cultural exchange.’
Not all of the punks that visited The Roxy had grown up in areas where they had been exposed to black culture. Don Letts’ sets were in some cases the very first experience that the white audience had of listening to dub and reggae music.
In addition to his residency at The Roxy, Don would also pass around mix tapes that he had made to his friends to educate them. These friends included the Americans Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders and Lenny Kaye, a member of the Patti Smith Group.
Asked what made reggae so appealing to the punks, he argues: ‘That’s easy. It was very anti-establishment, and the songs had a musical reportage quality, so there singing about things that they could relate to – you know, songs like The Mighty Diamond’s ‘I Need a Roof Over My Head’, because housing was a big problem in the seventies.
“Chant Down Babylon’ is also in the same spirit as ‘White Riot’ and ‘Anarchy in The UK’. They used to be soundbite type lyrics that reggae had that kind of appealed to kids back then. It was anti-establishment and they loved the bass lines.
“People like Strummer, and Simonon were already listening to black music, particularly reggae, which had been set up by the whole skinhead thing. The people I turned on to listening to reggae were people who didn’t live next door to black people, and in the mid-seventies that was a lot of people.’
This cultural exchange between black and white music became more obvious as the decade drew on, with punk bands like The Slits, and The Clash incorporating reggae elements into their sound. This is evident on tracks such as ‘Instant Hit’ and ‘Guns of Brixton’ respectively.
All of this interest in Jamaican music was reciprocated in 1977, when popular reggae artist Bob Marley released the track ‘Punky Reggae Party’. This track celebrated musicians like The Clash, The Jam, and Dr Feelgood, who were involved with the punk movement.
In 1976 Bob Marley had been shot prior to performing at ‘Smile Jamaica’, a concert organized by the Jamaican Prime Minister, Michael Manley. This incident led him to temporarily relocate to London, in order to recover from his injuries. Whilst there, he met a young Don Letts, who had become involved with the punk scene.
Asked how Bob Marley became aware of punk, Don recounts: ‘He was living in London at the time…and he had heard all the negative press. The tabloid press was portraying punk rather negatively; that’s what he picked up on initially. What happened was I went round there to collect some money off him. I had like bondage trousers on, and he started to [make fun of me]. I said ‘look, you’ve got it wrong. These guys are my mates. They’re like-minded rebels.’ He basically told me to [go away], but I held my ground, which was a big deal for me then because I was young.
“Anyway he’s in London and over the coming months he gets somewhat more familiar with the whole punk scene, primarily through a lot of journalists…who were interviewing him at the time. They’d be telling him what was going on with the punk scene. He picked up on it, a little bit later than some of us obviously – then again he was from Jamaica – and was moved to write that song ‘Punky Reggae Party’, in which he actually name checks several punk bands including The Clash.”
The scope of the reggae and punk crossover is truly astounding, and hard to encapsulate in so few words. Even today music is constantly being informed by Jamaican sounds, whether it be hip-hop, rock, or punk.
Reflecting on the legacy of this crossover, Don states: “It feels to me that it’s still evolving. I don’t think that it did peak, because it is an ongoing part of so much. It’s all over the place. The idea of pushing the bass to the front, that’s from reggae. That’s not gone anywhere. That’s still a major driving force.
‘The whole DJing, MCing, rap they call it now, that also started in Jamaica. That isn’t going anywhere. The space in dub, and the idea of using a mixing desk as an instrument, is still a major part in electronica and dub music, and dance music too. The 12” remix came out of Jamaica. I don’t see any of these things as having peaked. What they do is they keep evolving and morphing into other things.’
Punk music in the UK was arguably a response to the poor conditions of living during James Callaghan’s time as Labour Prime Minister. Though it wasn’t until Thatcher came to power that punk really hit its political stride. One specific example of this is when punk came out in support of the miners during the 1984-85 strikes.
In the late 1970s, under Callaghan, both unemployment and inflation were rising, whilst public spending was being cut. These conditions caused the first wave of the punk explosion to occur, with bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash forming as a response to the dismal realities of 1970’s British life. This initial movement that began under Callaghan’s reign in Downing Street would provide a perfect base for other musicians to build upon in later years under Thatcher.
After Thatcher came to power there were a series of strikes within the country, with growing unrest levelled at her increasingly controversial policies. From the start of her time in Downing Street, it was clear to everyone that she didn’t intend to befriend those living within working class communities.
Strike and benefit
The unrest within the country at this time was expressed perfectly by the music produced by the next wave of punk musicians. Artists such as Crass, Billy Bragg, The Neurotics, and The Specials all wrote about conditions within Britain at this time, pointing the finger at Thatcher for her role in the country’s misfortunes.
In 1984, fresh from the Falklands conflict, Thatcher began to plot one of her most controversial acts yet as Prime Minister – the closure of coal pits up and down the country. This action threatened to cast thousands of mineworkers into unemployment.
As a response to this, the National Union for Miners ordered a national strike. Miners from a number of pits decided to heed the call of the union and strike, forming picket lines to protest the impending closures. In many cases this led to the participants being unable to claim their benefit, or receiving a reduced amount from the Department for Health or Social Security (DHSS).
When record storeowner and promoter Simon Phillips heard about what was happening, he decided to host a series of benefits for the miners. These shows were intended to raise money to supplement the workers and their families, as well as raise awareness for what was happening in these working communities.
These gigs would attract bands such as The Pogues, The Neurotics, and Crass, in addition to the popular singer-songwriter Billy Bragg.
‘A weird position’
Billy Bragg is the artist that is perhaps most commonly associated with these gigs. Having built a career as a political singer songwriter, he saw the gigs as a way of testing how much music could change the world.
He states: ‘The miners strike put me in a weird position, where…I could really test this idea of what can music do in politics. I could actually go out, having listened to political music, and…music that had tried to change the world, and I now had an opportunity to try and do that.’
In 1984 Bragg placed an advert in the NME, stating his interest in playing at a benefit for the miners. Simon Phillips saw this and booked Bragg to appear at an upcoming show, the third gig yet to be hosted for the miners.
Other groups had more personal reasons for getting involved with the benefit gigs. The rise in VAT under Thatcher’s Conservative government meant that the Neurotics’ debut album ‘Beggars Can Be Choosers’ was delayed, as they had to find more money in order to pay for the increased printing costs. This act caused the struggling musicians to take an immediate disliking to Thatcher.
‘Audience needs to change the world’
Steve Drewitt, lead singer and the songwriter for The Neurotics, states: ‘From the word go, we had become anti-Thatcher, but as the dust settled over that change in political equilibrium, we started to realize what that meant to people and we started to become more political.’
‘We got really involved with doing benefits to support the miners and the miner’s wives, and helped raise money so that they could stay out on strike. That was our way of doing something meaningful in fighting against Thatcherism.’
The responses to these gigs were favourable, with many people openly expressing their support for the miners’ cause. This enthusiasm was a testament to the depth of feeling in the country at the time. Musicians, such as Billy Bragg, even went so far as to forfeit some of their pay for the event. This was done in order to improve the efficiency of the fundraising for the Bedwas miners’ food fund.
Despite the overwhelming support for the movement however, today Bragg reflects soberly on the events. He suggests the event was not about raising money, but instead about raising awareness for the cause. Arguably, the benefit gigs achieved this. They were responsible for introducing a generation of young music fans to an alternative perspective of what was happening in the country.
Following this event, Bragg would later be inspired to form Red Wedge. This was a political movement that sought to oust Thatcher in the 1987 general election in favour of the Labour candidate Neil Kinnock. Red Wedge would utilize very similar techniques in order to spread their message. This included recruiting musicians to tour the country, in an effort to raise support.
Commenting on these events, Bragg now states: ‘The miner’s strike was a huge education for me. It allowed me to see the limits of what you can do with music. Perhaps beforehand I thought that music could change the world; but after the miner’s strike and Red Wedge, I came to realize that what music could do is offer you a different perspective of the world. It’s not only the reality but it’s the responsibility of the audience to change the world, not the singer-songwriter.’
Punk music has never really had an easy time, but never has that statement been truer than in South Africa during apartheid. Not only were records by alternative artists not played, they were destroyed and legislated.
Up until the early 1980s there had been only one mainstream band that had dared to be multi-racial, the music group Juluka. In fact, prior to this, it had been illegal for musicians of different ethnic backgrounds to perform together in a public place under the Separate Amenities Act of 1953. This didn’t deter the punks however.
In Johannesburg, something was beginning to happen. In the 1970s, a number of promising musicians, from a variety of different backgrounds, started to form punk bands.
Bands such as National Wake, Kalahari Surfers, and Corporal Punishment were born out of this punk scene. They wrote unashamedly about issues that were facing South Africa during apartheid.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, The Specials were a rare group that successfully combined a political message with mainstream appeal. Their style, which combined the infectious rhythms of Jamaican ska with the social commentary of punk, continues to be an influence of many musicians, including contemporary artists such as Lily Allen and Tricky.
Horace Panter (A.K.A Sir Horace Gentleman) was their bassist at the height of the group’s popularity, present as The Specials took the world by storm with acclaimed singles like ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘A Message To You Rudy’. Talking to him about the origins of the band’s more political side, he states: “When I was 10 I was in The Searchers fan club because I liked the way Tony Jackson wielded a semi-acoustic bass guitar. Politics was probably the furthest thing from my mind. But growing up in the 1960s you were aware that music gave you a voice, you know, going back to Bob Dylan and all those kind of Woodstock artists like Country Joe and The Fish – the Vietnam war and the protest stuff.
“Then when punk came along it encapsulated the whole thing. It was more nihilistic in a way than anarchistic – we’re bored and therefore we can get away with being stupid, which I didn’t think was that cool. But The Clash had the right sort of idea; they took a very positive stance. We had all these influences, so I think then I changed from wanting to be a pop star – for want of a better word – into something that had meaning, that had depth.”
The audience file into the concert hall; the performers tonight are The Staves, an acoustic folk trio from Watford, Hertfordshire. They have recently received acclaim with the release of their debut album, Dead & Born & Grown.
The crowd within the hall seat themselves. The gig is about to begin. Stepping out first onto the stage is the support act, Christof; he is a singer-songwriter hailing originally from Holland.
Christof quietly takes to the stage with the rest of his band. They pick up their instruments and begin to play their opening song. There is a shy aura about the musician, though this dissipates quickly as he strikes an opening chord.
Amongst the memorable songs of his performance are the tracks ‘Love’s Glory’ and ‘Shoot Me Down’, taken from his latest EP: both are exceedingly beautiful. They are comprised of sterling harmonies, exquisite cello, and the faint sound of drumming.
The welcoming Manchester crowd receives them well. Throughout the performance the audience are silent and respectful to the young musician. They are moved by his honest songwriting and his subtle approach. With some parting words, he leaves the stage at the conclusion of his set to a round of applause.
The Staves appear not long after Christof has vacated the stage; with them is their touring group. After settling themselves, they begin to play tracks from their debut album. Amongst these is the single ‘Mexico’, a gorgeous song lifted to greater heights by the pitch-perfect harmonies of Emily, Jessica, and Camilla.
The group is incredibly comfortable; they make droll remarks to each other onstage between songs. They have an incredible chemistry, and it is on display throughout the performance for those in attendance.
The songs ‘Tongue Behind My Teeth’ and ‘The Motherlode’ also provoke a strong positive reaction from the audience. ‘Tongue Behind My Teeth’ is a more raucous affair than their other songs, but the audience doesn’t seem to mind; they respond cheerfully to the piece. The latter of the two tracks, ‘The Motherlode’, contrasts with the last song quite significantly. It is more restrained in its composition, allowing the harmonies to take preference over the instrumentation.
They perform a collection of their best work from their career so far, including the songs ‘Winter Trees’ and ‘Facing West’. The crowd responds once again with applause; the songs are of an exceptional quality for musicians so young.
The Staves are a rare example of a group whose sound thrives in a live environment. Their harmonies echo out throughout the concert hall to the supreme delight of their fans. Producing an incredibly intimate backdrop to their vocals, Camilla delicately strums the ukulele to the left of the stage. The atmosphere is profound.
After an encore, they thank the welcoming crowd for their excellent behaviour, before departing through the stage exit. It is now only left for the audience to withdraw into the night.
With one album behind them, The Staves look set to become as big as their popular folk contemporaries. From their performance tonight it is easy to suggest that it’ll be only a matter of time before they are playing much bigger venues, allowing them the opportunity to distribute their earnest sound to a significantly wider audience
Stumbling in from the rain the audience take their seats within the concert hall; the stage is dressed for the night ahead. At the back of the concert hall looms a gigantic blue eye staring out towards the crowd. After a short wait, the lights dim and the audience let out a cheer. A female musician takes her place at the center of the stage; this is Tift Merritt, an American singer-songwriter from North Carolina.
She plays through a collection of her tracks, originating from the vast supply of material she has gathered over the years. The audience is entranced. After the first couple of songs, she turns to her microphone and comments wryly: “I have never seen Manchester so well behaved before.”
Amongst her most well received tracks of the night are a cover of Tom Waits’s ‘Train Song’, performed without the aid of a microphone, and a rendition of her own song ‘Another Country’. The standout attribute of the performance is her magnificent voice that never fails to reach a note. She leaves the stage to tumultuous applause following a spectacular performance. The audience wants more, but it is now time for the headline act.
There is a brief intermission before the lights dim again, ushering in the headline performer. Two individuals begin to play ‘Best For The Best’ from Josh Ritter’s fourth studio album, The Animal Years, but there is no sign of the man himself; he comes out not long after to a rapturous ovation from those in attendance, completing the band. The atmosphere is extraordinarily intimate within the concert hall.
Following on from this opening track, they launch into a song from his latest record, The Beast in its Tracks. The song is ‘Certain Light’, one of the standout pieces of music from his career spanning over a decade.
This is followed by two tracks from 2010’s So Runs The World Away, ‘Southern Pacifica’ and ‘Folk Bloodbath’.
The first of these is a reflective tune about a central protagonist being on a train, not knowing where he is heading but being sure that he will meet his destiny wherever he ends up. This is an incredibly poignant piece, as is reflected by the stunned silence from the crowd throughout the whole of its duration.
The second track, meanwhile, follows more of a narrative, Josh Ritter taking a third-person approach to songwriting. ‘Folk Bloodbath’ follows the exploits of a bunch of characters from other notable folk songs, tracing their activities as they all eventually get buried “six feet beneath the clay”. This song in particular is an example of the artist’s impeccable ability for telling stories within his music.
Other notable tracks that follow are ‘The Curse’, ‘Hopeful’, and ‘Darlin’. The first is an allegory based around the relationship between a mummy and a Victorian archaeologist. For the performance of this song the musician asked that the lights be turned off, meaning that it was performed entirely in the dark; this created a remarkable ambience to the piece.
The next track of the above, ‘Hopeful’, contrasted significantly. It carried a much lighter tone, demonstrating the versatility of Josh Ritter’s work. This was something that was later expanded upon with ‘Darlin’, a track taken from his 2012 EP Bringing in the Darlings.
The songs ‘Girl in The War’ and ‘Kathleen’ were also received extremely well: both of the tracks provoking a tremendous round of applause from the crowd.
As an encore, guitarist Zach Hickman returns to the stage to the surprise of the audience, acknowledging their shock with a simple, rather comical statement: ‘I bet you guys weren’t expecting this.’
Regardless, the audience is welcoming to the musician. They warm to his humour and listen attentively to his song about a lonely cephalopod in the deep sea, inspired by his interest in the BBC documentary Planet Earth.
After its completion, he welcomes the headliner, Josh Ritter, back to the stage. The musicians onstage begin to play the song ‘Wait For Love’, a track that draws attention to Josh Ritter’s ability to manipulate an audience. Somehow he miraculously manages to stir the crowd from their passivity into singing along with the refrain. He leaves the audience following this with a series of kind words.
The audience departs back into wet and dreary streets of Manchester transformed by a perfect evening of music. Josh Ritter truly made his talent known tonight, as did the support. If you have the chance to catch him on his current UK tour, please don’t hesitate to snap up tickets.
The crowd packs tightly into the standing area opposite the stage. Two characters appear before them on the platform; they are Public Service Broadcasting, a London-based musical duo and tonight’s support act.
Firing into a track off their War Room EP, titled ‘London Can Take It’, the two musicians waste no time in getting the crowd excited for the night’s event. By borrowing material from old public information films and adopting samples of news broadcasts into their work, they create an interesting aesthetic appeal to both their sound and their stage presence, which quite easily separates them from their more run-of-the-mill contemporaries.
Their stand out tracks include ‘Theme From PSB’, a song which incorporates the traditional sound of a banjo into a modern blend of sampling and beats; and ‘Spitfire’, a piece based around a threading electric guitar riff.
They complete their set, shuffling offstage amid immense applause. There was no doubt that they had left an impression. They had successfully energized an audience that could have just as easily ignored them in favor of the bar. The audience waits in anticipation for the headliners. All that remains is for the Manic Street Preachers to appear.
After a couple of false starts, the band appears to rapturous applause. Picking up their instruments they each take their place on separate sides of the stage. Nicky Wire is on the right hand side. James Dean Bradfield stands alone at the front. He leans forward towards the microphone. There is the almost unintelligible sound of his voice ringing throughout the venue. The intro riff to their 1992 single ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ begins to play. The crowd erupts into activity.
After they have finished the first song of their set, they capitalize on their success by borrowing once again from their extensive back catalogue. The song is ‘Ready For Drowning’, a pop anthem that dates back to their 1998 album, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. The crowd once again responds positively.
As the night progresses it becomes increasingly apparent that they do not intend to let a single member of the audience leave unimpressed. They break into yet another hit, this time the more recent ‘Your Love Alone…’ from 2007’s Send Away the Tigers. There is a sense of wonder in the room as the band moves from hit to hit, drawing close attention to their impressive discography. It is hard to imagine the group producing a stronger set. They have been a band now for almost thirty years and there are no signs of them relenting, their latest record Rewind the Film having gained high praise from critics and fans alike.
Highlights from their set include performances of newer songs, such as ‘Show Me The Wonder’, ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’, and ‘Anthem for a Lost Cause’; as well as animated performances of older tracks, like ‘If You Tolerate This…’ and ‘You Love Us’. They are holding nothing back.
To end with they perform a spirited performance of the 1996 anthem ‘Design for Life’. The audience joins in with singing the iconic leading lines of the chorus. The band then leaves the stage.
The huge crowd files out at last into the streets of Manchester having witnessed something special, a retrospective of a career that shows no signs of slowing down. With their latest release and a string of sell-out performances, the Manic Street Preachers have once again reaffirmed their place amongst the best British bands. Their message is simple: they are here to stay.
With the closure of numerous HMV stores up and down the country and the rise in downloading content amongst consumers, it is growing more and more important for independent businesses to offer unique experiences to their customers. This is so that they can tempt people away from their online competitors and back into stores. An example of a unique experience offered by record stores in this manner is Record Store Day, a hugely successful event spread globally amongst small independent stores.
Founded in 2007 as a way to celebrate music and record stores, it is an annual event, offering a wide range of activities and limited edition releases exclusive to participating stores. Within the event’s relatively short history, these exclusives have included those released by established artists such as David Bowie, Blur, and Arcade Fire to name but a few.
On top of this, the event has also been host to live performances by legendary bands and musicians, including Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and The Smashing Pumpkins. It is clear from this overwhelming support that Record Store Day is a privileged event, enjoyed by the musicians as much as by the fans that attend.
The event originally began as the brainchild of one man, Chris Brown, the head of Marketing at Bull Moose Records. Since its humble beginnings years ago in an independent record store in Maine, the event’s expanded significantly, eventually growing into the globally recognized celebration of both music and independent stores that we have today. In an interview with Amoeba back in 2011 Chris Brown expressed shock at this success, stating that he ‘never dreamed that [he] would end up with 1500 stores [participating] in 21 countries’.
This year, there are five independent record stores alone taking part in the Manchester area, including Eastern Bloc in the Northern Quarter, Kingbee Records in Chorlton, and Piccadilly Records positioned only a 2-minute walk away from Piccadilly Gardens. All of these are shining examples of independents that go the extra mile, with staff inside each being well informed as well as passionate in their work. Considering that many areas in the UK suffer from a lack of independent record stores, it would be foolish not to attend at least one of the above on the day of the event.
In previous years, all of the above have celebrated Record Store Day in their own unique ways, taking responsibility with others in trying to raise enthusiasm for the physical ownership of music. Bearing in mind that in 2012 record sales increased for the fifth consecutive year in the UK, it can be suggested that they have succeeded as well in this difficult task, these figures displaying the growing strength of a medium long thought to be in decline.
In order to elaborate on this statistical increase, I asked Martin Evans from Piccadilly Records what he believed caused the recent rise in record sales. This is what he had to say, ‘I think it is probably a reaction to the novelty of mp3s wearing off…the more people use them the more the shortcomings become known.’ He later went on to outline these shortcomings specifically, labelling the absence of lyric sheets, album artwork, as well as the corruptible nature of digital files as key factors in why people have reverted back to vinyl.
As stated above by Martin, this increase in record sales can largely be attributed to the preference of individuals’. Though the tireless work of independent stores like Piccadilly Records should also not go unnoticed in explaining the cause of this increase. This is because record stores are crucial in creating a sense of community surrounding the purchasing of music, and also in developing a real enthusiasm for physical content.
One of the ways that Piccadilly Records in particular has achieved this is by hosting other events. These events including signings by the likes of Smiths’ legend Johnny Marr and solo artist Richard Hawley, amongst others. Though, perhaps most significant of all, in their development of this community, is their use of Twitter and other social media, in order to keep a constant dialogue between them and their customers. This is demonstrated by their 2012 search for record of the year, as well by their hosting of an album listening party for Sigur Rós’s sixth studio album, ‘Valtari’, also on Twitter. Both of these events used social media in order to communicate with their followers and also to discuss the merits of specific albums, the former event in particular asking for the customer’s opinions on what releases they thought to be the best of 2012 and why. It is features like this that have put them a step ahead of competitors like HMV and Fopp in terms of customer service.
In the digital age many may consider it an affectation to go out of your way to a record store to buy music, especially when it is often easier to locate and purchase online; but why should this matter? Music taste is often used as an expression of who we are as individuals, whether we like it or not, so why shouldn’t the way we access music bear a similar importance to us? Though it may seem superficial to many this perhaps best explains why Record Store Day exists, in order to cater for those who still want to be a part of this community or experience the excitement of visiting a record store.
At a time when a large number of people have become dependent on downloads, it is reassuring that events like this still exist in order to raise excitement for physical releases. This is because downloading, in general, can often be guilty of taking away from the overall experience of shopping for music, primarily due to its impersonal nature. Let’s face it; the clinical succession of button clicks and pearl-white web displays that are associated with the process of downloading will never be as memorable, or half as attractive, as hours spent in a record store surrounded by album artwork and posters of your favourite musicians.
In order to expand on this point one only has to ask people as to their experiences of buying music and it’s impact on them as individuals. Whereas many will still be able tell you their experiences of buying an album many years ago in a store, even the best storyteller might struggle or misremember an experience of downloading a new album onto their iTunes library; it’s often that forgettable. This inconsequence can be best explained by a shortage of emotional investment on the behalf of the customer in the latter method, the process of obtaining downloads void of that untraceable feeling present when perusing stacks of vinyl.
To get a better understanding of this, I also asked a handful of music fans attending this year’s event for their thoughts on what they believe makes a record store so alluring. This is what they had to say; Jess, 19 from Greater Manchester, believes that record stores are superior due to their unique aesthetic, ‘I prefer shopping for music in shops, because you actually get a feel for what you’re buying, you have a physical copy in your hands and are surrounded by album artwork.’ Many of the other individuals I spoke to echoed this point, highlighting again the importance of aesthetic in choosing where to shop. One person, in particular, who believed this, was adamant in their response, stating that ‘digital files would never have the same appeal [to them] as records or physical releases.’
There was also another common explanation I received as to why people decided to shop in record stores however, as opposed to online. Speaking to a small group of students from Manchester Metropolitan University, they made it clear that the existence of a high standard of customer support was also a deciding factor in whether they chose to shop online or in stores; ‘I like going into a record store and coming out with albums recommended to me on the spot, by people who are obviously knowledgeable about what they’re selling’. This system of recommendations referenced is something inevitably tied into the experience of shopping at an independent store, the staff themselves putting a lot of time and effort into personalizing their service for the benefit of the customer.
From the above responses, we can surmise that many still prefer the traditional approach to obtaining music. But if you are in need of further convincing in order to attend your local store on the day of the event, here’s some of the activities taking place: there will be live music, DJs, a pop-up Tim Peaks diner in store at Piccadilly Records, and plenty of other significant surprises subject to the participating store. As if this was not reason enough to attend, as well as this, Record Store Day also offers plenty of desirable exclusives, labels issuing limited editions of classic LPs & singles not available through iTunes or other downloading sites. Details of events and a list of this year’s exclusive releases can be viewed in full online at RecordStoreDay.co.uk.
If you are planning on attending however, you should get there early. The event times vary between different stores and last year’s occasion drew record crowds, this year promising to be no different. In fact, when asked, Martin had this advice for those attending for the first time, ‘bring food and drink, because for the most part, there is a lot of waiting involved. On average last year, it was four to four and a half hours, and that was in spite of the fact we were serving at top speed and everyone was in.’
You should not let the prospect of this wait deter you however; he later went on to acknowledge the variety in the releases, and also suggested that there would be ‘something for everybody’. Whether it is one of this year’s high profile releases from David Bowie that you want or a release from GZA, or Grizzly Bear, this event has something for you. On Record Store Day stocks are limited however, and after they’re gone there will be no buying them except through eBay or other auction sites online. In other words, to ensure you get the release you want, you should try to beat the crowd and be ahead of schedule.
Record Store Day is a great event and the cause it represents is noble enough, protecting the tradition of vinyl and CD long upheld by DJs and avid music fans. If you too are concerned about supporting your local independent, I advise you attend. It is an amazing celebration of music, as well as of the passionate figures that make shopping offline so unique. With some releases having only 500 copies produced, you should act quickly on the day in order to avoid disappointment.
With over a thousand people bundled into Manchester’s Academy 1 the perception of Mondays as being dull and encumbered affairs was surely proven wrong. The support act arriving at all was a relief in itself to the growing crowd, as Goldheart Assembly took to the stage with heaps of energy, and a raucous sound amidst more melodic verses. Earlier in the day the band had worried their fans, via Twitter, with three of the five members confessing that they had missed their ferry from Belfast. However, as they launched into their set the panic was over. The Beatle-esque tunes and frenzied shouts coalescing to stir the crowd into a generous show of appreciation. Amongst the standout tracks of their performance were ‘So Long St. Christopher’, a single taken from their 2010 album Wolves and Thieves, and ‘Oh Really’, a fast paced track owes a debt to The Yardbirds’ ‘For Your Love’.
After a more than satisfactory support set, from the London alternative pop group, Band of Horses arrived onstage to a rapturous applause. Opening with ‘On My Way Back Home’ from 2010’s Infinite Arms they set the standards high for all that was to follow. With four albums and a plethora of tracks to choose from they continued in this course easily enough, playing both ‘Laredo’ and ‘The Great Salt Lake’ to an enthused crowd only half an hour into the set. Other high points of the night that were to follow included ‘Is There a Ghost’ from Cease to Begin, and ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’,yet another single from the album released in 2007.
As well as dipping into their extensive, and rather impressive, discography the band debuted a cover of J.J Cale’s ‘Leaving in the Morning’, the crowd warming to the song quickly and with a flurry of cheers. There were some weaker moments, however, with newer tracks like ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Undone’ and ‘Electric Music’, off their latest album, making less of an impact on the Manchester crowd. Yet the introduction of more established material into the set, such as for example, ‘The Funeral’, soon managed to console these minor low points; the aforementioned song apparently played early as to allow people working in the morning to leave sooner, or so joked Ben Bridwell, lead singer of the Seattle band. In spite of this humbling admission of the former song’s popularity over other tracks the majority of the crowd remained, and thus were rewarded in doing so. One particular treat for those that stayed was the finale, an excellent rendition of ‘The General Specific’ another track taken from Cease to Begin. As the venue lights brightened and the crowd began to shuffle towards the exit it appeared that Bridwell and Co. had achieved their goal, proving that Mondays don’t always have to be drab, whilst allowing Manchester to “party” with them, if just for one night.