My love letter to Welsh record shops

Monday 11 April 2011, 14:03

Bethan Elfyn Bethan Elfyn

I've just read a strange article by Rick Martin, an NME hack, essentially berating Record Store Day and our sentimentality for our local independent record store.

Here's the first section of his argument: "If physical singles are finally dying out for good, then don't expect me to send any flowers to the funeral. I don't care about Record Store Day. I don't even care if I never own a physical CD or vinyl record ever again. I got rid of 90 per cent of my CD-based record collection last year, leaving behind only the records I'd paid for before becoming a music hack. I don't miss them.

"And here's why: if you're seriously bothered about the way your tunes are delivered to you, you're focusing on totally the wrong aspect of what makes music great.

"You don't need to own music to enjoy it. I don't sniff records. Buying a CD or 7" doesn't make me like a tune any more than if I'd hear it streamed on a blog - great music is great music however you hear it."

He goes on sadly to bemoan the experience at the independent record store and how it leaves you feeling a little sour.

With so many working together to support Record Store Day, and champion these shops which are struggling with the recession on top of the changing taste in music-buying public, I wanted to write my own love letter to the record shop, and what it represents to me: the community of passion, the silent club you belong to. This is my relationship with the record shops in Wales.

My first experience of buying records in mid Wales was the local Woolworths (RIP), mainly buying chart fodder (Bros, A-ha, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Kylie, Michael Jackson... ahem), and especially those bargain bin surprise purchases (lots of Shakin' Stevens and Grease soundtracks as I remember).

As a teenager I discovered a small corner shop, across the road from the hardware store, Rainbow Records, which is still there! I remember buying Primal Scream's Screamadelica and Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque on LP here, and they still hold up as some of my favourite albums of all time, probably because I listened to them to death.

At Rainbow Records I bought special poster limited editions of Manics 12"s, and coloured vinyl of random seven inches of bands long-forgotten. It was an exciting awakening, and a Saturday morning adventure.

This hunt for records and bands continued and on a visit to Cardiff I stumbled across Spillers Records, and had my heart set on working there. I sent them countless letters and CVs, and as I started life in uni in Cardiff I also began a Saturday job at Spillers. It was actually quite a scary experience; I was stepping into one large extended Cardiff family, where everyone knew everyone, and to me, there was quite a few freakish people involved in that equation! I say that with the warmest fondness for the memories of those times - some of the happiest days of my life.

My wonderful job was photocopying the record and CD sleeves, and serving behind the counter. Some regulars would try and test your knowledge by asking certain questions, for example, the name of the record as you should 'know' who 'that' is by! Then you'd have to try and find everything, filed, not alphabetically, oh no, filed according to record company, and catalogue number!

Luckily, I had a manager with a photographic memory, who could reel off the catalogue numbers soon as you asked. Incredible talent.

My Saturdays at uni spread to other days of the week, study afternoons and so forth, and I probably spent more time at the shop than studying.

As well as the regulars, the shop certainly had a healthy number of occasional customers, who would come in and sing a song they'd heard on the telly the night before. The staff would certainly enjoy these little challenges.

My favourite Spillers Records moment ever was in the middle of serving some industrial goth metal, when my Nan walked in. She was in Cardiff with the Women's Institute bus trip. She was peering over the counter, and asked for some Dafydd Iwan: her little joke! Bless. She was laughing at having braved the doors of Spillers.

From Spillers, my first job with the BBC was in Bangor, north Wales, and as well as the Black Cat in Caernarfon (sadly gone). Owen at Bangor's Cob Records would always be an amazing person to speak to about records, and pick things out for me, as well as order anything in. I was going through a bit of a hip hop phase at the time, buying Missy Elliot, Bahamadia, and Foxy Brown.

So it saddens me the comments about record shops being unfriendly and inhospitable places to go, because my experience of them is the exact opposite. Wales has some of the best in the world, and from Diverse, Tangled Parrot, Andy's, D'Vinyl, and Kellys, I'm proud that these shops are still going and wish them every success for the future generations of music buyers and communities.

Welsh record shops, thanks for being lovely, and for loving records and music as much as I do.

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