Suitably for an occasion which was initially inspired by the Free Comic Book Day in North America back in 2007, the superheroes that run our local independent record stores came together for Record Store Day. Whereas most retailers would do simply anything to get one over their rivals, this felt different – Brighton’s four indie stores seemed to operate in a friendly and collaborative manner, with a lot of effort put in to avoid event clashes rather than direct competition. Between them, Resident, Vinyl Revolution, Bella Union and Rarekind (as well as a special event at Brighton Dome organised by Spectrum in celebration of local artists) made sure that the whole of Brighton could join in the celebrations of the biggest day in the independent music store calendar.
With the first eager customer queuing at Resident from lunchtime the day before, there is no mistaking where the focal point is. By opening time, the queue stretches most of the way down Kensington Gardens and shows no sign of abating in the following hours. As piles of vinyl-shaped gold are retrieved from the basement stockroom, the mind boggles at some of the amounts being spent here. Though questions inevitably remain as to how much is bought out of love rather than a quick eBay profit (a far wider issue than just one affecting Record Store Day), the vast majority of punters seem genuinely thrilled and delighted to pick up goodies from their checklist. To further soothe sleepy minds and bodies, the tones of Haley Bonar give a suitably dreamy start to the day in Resident – the first of a dozen live performances across the city stores today.
There is no sign of Record Store Day fatigue over at Vinyl Revolution either, where 60-70 hardy punters also waited patiently for their chance to scour the offers. Thankfully for all concerned it is a bright and sunny day, making Simon Parker’s decision to build a mini street party around the store a huge success. Before that, BBC Radio are in store to play a vinyl-only show – “First time I’ve done this in a while” joked DJ Danny Pike. There is a more civilised start at Bella Union meanwhile, understandably concentrating on their own artists but still having the fun of Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire and more recently, Creep Show) working behind the counter. “This is where it started for me” he laughed, similarly with Bella Union founder Simon Raymonde who revealed that it was while working in a record store that he met Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser, a trio that of course later found fame as Cocteau Twins. If that ain’t enough reason to love record shops, then what is?
While the hoards descended and the Resident queues showed no sign of abating, it was time for a host of fine live acts to take over on what almost became a warm-up for The Great Escape. Bella Union had the fantastic Dog In The Snow perched behind the counter, to be followed by a stunning performance from Penelope Isles, who came straight from the recording studio to show just why they are touring with The Magic Numbers as well as why they will soon be celebrating their first record deal. With fine performances from White Room, and a pre-gig set from Desperate Journalist at Vinyl Revolution, it was a great day to be roaming the streets and good practice for next month.
The day ended where it began, with a raucous set from The Physics House Band as a cunning beerkegs-and-cookies combination made for a perfect end to a great day. Speaking online later, Resident’s Nat described it as her favourite ever Record Store Day and that would be an assertion that I follow too. The four stores made the city centre a hotbed of activity for all and not just for vinyl shoppers (Rarekind may have had no live bands, but the store itself more than made up for it in atmosphere). Any retail expert will tell you that it is theatre, expertise and experience that shoppers want now and not just a place to buy stuff, and this was a day where Brighton’s indie stores nailed it. Roll on 2019.