When the news hit that HMV was in receivership the other week, laments were sung all round. A part of High Street culture was going for good - the big ol' record shop. God knows we lost Our Price when it was taken over by Virgin, then Virgin got taken over by Zavvi, and that lasted about a week before Zavvi folded as well. I assumed that with Our Price/Virgin/Zavvi out of the way, HMV would easily maintain its place on the High Street, being without a similar gargantuan competitor. But presumably downloads and online shopping sounded the death knell and HMV, which hadn't done a great deal to fight its corner, was heading down the pan like the unwanted turd it had become.
Music shops have a special place in my heart (and probably for many others of you). It was where we'd head on the way home from school when I lived in Colchester, to dream over record sleeves, looking forward to the day when our pocketmoney would stretch far enough. We had a big Our Price/Virgin in Culver Square, and then a smaller one near Marks & Spencers. There was also an Andy's Records, which seems to be a small East Anglian chain. And there was a place called Time Records (apparently Steve Marriott used to shop there when he lived in Essex) - I never went in there, though, as I was intimidated by what I thought was its impenetrable coolness. Time was near Mann's Music, where I got my first musical instrument - a recorder - and I've seen Graham Coxon mention it as the place he used to get guitar strings.
When I moved to Birmingham, it amazed me to see the huge HMV and Virgin Megastore stood next to each other, like Tolkein's twin towers, herald gateway to the Pavillion shopping centre. HMV furnished record signings - I met the Manics, and saw Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler perform together (something I thought I'd missed by being too young when they split back in 1994). It was a place of magic and glamour.
So when the news hit about HMV, there were many fond memories disappearing with it. No more wandering the 4 floors searching for gems. No more record signings, no more chances to meet my heroes.
But to be honest, how many of those many floors were devoted to music? One. The rest was crappy DVDs and computer games (and never the DVD you wanted). The big HMV then closed, with the smaller branch in the Bullring being the sole store in the second city, but the store was taken over with ridiculous-looking, over-priced headphones. And the reality is, of course, that while people are happy to spend £150 on some very silly headphones which don't have particularly great sound, they're quite happy to pay bugger all for the music they're listening to. It's the appearance they're interested in - oh look, I'm a muso, I'm wearing big expensive headphones. Yeah well fuck off. If you're any expert you should be listening with Sennheisers. And you know what? I wear those in the studio - I ain't about to walk about in public wearing them. Because it looks fucking daft. Ok?
HMV has found its saviour, so when I was shopping in town on Saturday (by "shopping", I basically went to Maplin's to get a headphone jack-to-headphone jack cable for our next gig - I also nearly bought some new shoes but didn't. This is thrilling, I know...), I thought, "HMV's been bailed out, they're open, so... Ah, "Wolf's Law", the new album by The Joy Formidable's out this week! I can pop into HMV to buy it!"
And that's not such a silly plan, is it? When Suede went through its re-release gyrations in 2011 and put out new versions of their old albums, I made a rule of going to HMV to buy each one as they were released, and took a photo of the CD in the CD rack (yeah... I know....). I like flicking through the CDs to look for the one I want - I like the clank of the plastic cases. The Joy Formidable had been scheduled to do a signing in the HMV in Norwich (which was cancelled because... y'know...), so I thought the chances were high that they'd have the new album.
But could I find The Joy Formidable? No! There wasn't even an index card thingymawotsit with their name on. And I felt sad - not just because I couldn't find the album I wanted, but because the magic of the record shop had gone. There were ugly DVDs stacked in front of the door, and gangs of geeky boys lurking round the tablets and headphones. The music is shoved up the back of the shop like an embarrassing deformed relative, like an in-bred Royal with special needs hidden in an attic.
So I thought, fine, ok, HMV... you lose.
I wended my way to Swordfish, which is one of the few independent record shops left in Birmingham. We used to have Plastic Factory (I think it was more vinyl-y), and Tempest, but both have gone (the staff in Tempest laughed in my face when I asked them if they'd sell my fanzine, so... didn't bother going back). Swordfish is more of a sort of older music fan's shop. It's very proggy. When we have Record Shop Day, lots of people on twitter get excited and bang on about how great Swordfish is, but I have trouble agreeing as it's terribly dusty and it smells, and there's not anything in there that I actually want. It appears to have been on the verge of closing down for a couple of years, as well. That said, I do like the big Elvis by the door, and 10 years ago it was pretty nifty with a huge quantity of Blue Note jazz and lots of freakbeak compilations (but... not anymore).
I couldn't find an entry for The Joy Formidable in the rack, so I asked at the counter if they had "Wolf's Law". I got a no. The bloke at the counter didn't even need to look for it - he knew it wasn't there, and I wondered how many other people had asked him that day. Possibly quite a few.....
This evening, I caved in and admitted defeat: I ordered online from Piccadilly Records, an independent shop in Manchester. While I was at it, I ordered the limited edition 7" by Teleman. Can't imagine Teleman being on sale *anywhere* in Birmingham, despite Pete & The Pirates having played here not that long ago (the singer from Pete & The Pirates is now in Teleman).
I listened to "Wolf's Law" on Spotify, given no other choice, and it's a spectacular album - big, swooping songs, hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck hugeness, tingle-inducing amazingness, and by the end - I had tears in my eyes. It's fabulous.
And isn't it bloody tragic that a record of this magnitude isn't for sale in a shop where I live? What a sad state of affairs.
Photo credits: first two pics of HMV stores from The Guardian website via filmcamera999.
Third photo: Shropshire Star
Fourth photo: Rex Features via Easy Living
Fifth photo: The Hearing Aid (one assumes this was Record Shop Day - I have never seen a queue like *that* outside Swordfish myself).
Sixth photo: Piccadilly Records
Seventh photo: emusic