When HMV closed its doors in Gunwharf Quays at the end of last month it was the end of an era and marked a sad day for music fans.
For the first time in decades Portsmouth is without a high street music shop.
As the beleaguered chain struggles to weather its second administration since 2013 by closing dozens more shops, the closest branch is now in either Worthing or Winchester.
Virgin Megastores, the short-lived Zavvi, Tower Records are all gone. Some still look back fondly on the red and white branding of Our Price, but they went out of business 15 years ago now.
There are however a few dedicated second-hand shops remaining – notably Sweet Memories Vinyl in Fratton, or RPM and Soundz in Southsea.
Long written off as the CD became the dominant medium in music sales, we are told that vinyl records are back, and are here to stay. New vinyl sales hit a 25 year high last year, with 4.2m units sold in the UK.
Record Store Day, which is in its 12 year and takes place today, has been significant in bolstering public attitudes towards vinyl and the independent shops which sell it.
Southsea’s Pie and Vinyl has certainly capitalised on it – they will open today at 8am for those who will have waited outside overnight to grab their pick of the exclusive vinyl on offer.
While the day is great for shining a light on the trade, it is just the one day – these independent shops can often struggle in the rest of the year, and to adapt an old Dogs Trust slogan – a record is for life, not just Record Store Day.
And with the high street continuing to struggle across the board, to open a new record shop in this climate would appear to take a certain kind of stubborn streak.
That has not stopped the three friends who co-own Harbour Records in Emsworth – Rob Moore, Ken Brown and Colin Thomas.
The trio of life-long music fans – Ken was behind the original Pompey punk fanzine Safety in Numbers, Rob is well-known local DJ, Colin has promoted dozens of gigs – took over the shop from its previous owner at the end of 2017. They have since given it a complete refurbishment and shifted the shop’s focus. It was totally second-hand stock, but they now also sell a healthy selection of new releases and rereleases.
Walking into the shop, on Emsworth’s High Street, the sound of The Jam’s Down In a Tube Station at Midnight is the first thing to greet you. A few minutes later it’s replaced by a 1960 pressing of soul legend Jackie Wilson’s My Golden Favourites.
A copy of their bible, Record Collector’s Rare Records Price Guide is never far away.
Racks packed with thousands of records line the walls, with more in pull-out cases underneath. And as is customary some choice picks have been put on the wall.
Among these highlights are super-rare copies of the likes of prog-oddities Spring’s self-titled 1971 debut album (pictured on the front) on the short-lived RCA Neon label – a trifling £850, or folkie Bill Fay’s Time of The Persecution (also 1971) for a similar price. Rare releases by more familiar names also abound, there’s a Beatles Let It Be boxset for £600, and a first edition of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with the all-important inserts is a snap at £150.
While the shop does cater to the hardcore music collector, there’s still plenty to choose from for the casual fan – there’s no snobbiness – they don’t want music to be an elitist pursuit.
As Rob explains: ‘We found that there were a lot of 20-30-year-olds coming in and asking for Oasis and things like that, which we just didn’t have, so we made the decision to start stocking remasters and new releases.’
Ken adds: ‘There’s probably fix or six times more vinyl in the shop now than when we took over, but it has taken a while to run the stock around.
‘When we first came into the shop there were boxes and boxes of records – lots of rubbish, but there were gems in there.’
Curiously, a lot of ‘new’ vinyl sold is actually albums that are decades old – albums you might think that anyone who wanted a copy would already have.
‘Whether you like them or not, those classic artists like The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, they sell and sell and sell,’ says Ken.
And it’s borne out by the nationwide figures – Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours was number three in the UK’s best-selling vinyl chart for 2018. Pink Floyd clocked in at five with Dark Side of The Moon.
They often find people coming in to replace albums they sold on or binned years ago. ‘People do come in and want to buy their old records back again,’ says Rob.
‘It’s probably every music lover’s dream to have some kind of interest in a record shop. I didn’t have to think hard about getting involved,’ says Ken. But it’s not just the older fans they see in the shop.
‘What is heartening to see is younger music fans coming in with their dads, and their dads getting them involved – and it is usually Dark Side of The Moon.
‘Then a few weeks later we’ll see them come back in again on their own with a tenner looking for something else, and that’s great.’
Harbour Records doesn’t take part in the official Record Store Day, but they have been hosting free in-store gigs, and tomorrow they have Nashville singer-songwriter Amelia White playing in the shop from 2pm.
Reflex Records in High Street, Gosport is also taking part in the official Record Store Day, and opens at 9am.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF RECORD STORE DAY
Since it was first conceived at a meeting for independent record shop owners in Baltimore, America, Record Store Day has blossomed into an international celebration marked with hundreds of exclusive releases and live music events.
The first day was held in 2008 – it is now set as the third Saturday in April – with heavy-metallers Metallica as its ambassadors – they spent the day at Rasputin Records in San Francisco meeting fans and signing records. There were a mere 10 special releases to mark the occasion. And Billy Bragg hosted a gig to mark the day at Rough Trade Records in London.
By the following year there were 85 special releases and more than 1,000 record stores in the US, the UK, Ireland, Japan, Canada, Italy, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Germany participated.
In 2008 there were 75,000 vinyl albums sold in the UK. Propelled in no small part by Record Store Day, sales reached 2.2m units in 2015.
This year there are 240 UK shops taking part and some 500 special releases, ranging from punk obscurities Wonk Unit, to a picture-disc of the Bohemian Rhapsody soundtrack, via a Duran Duran live concert from 1984.
In the US this year, the day’s ambassadors are veteran rockers Pearl Jam. Here it is The Mighty Boosh – the first time a comedy act have held the honour.
Last year saw the launch of the nationwide #RSD Unsigned Competition, which gets the winner 500 records pressed and a one-year distribution deal. It was won by the Havant-based act Barbudo.
MARKING THE DAY AT PIE & VINYL
Since it opened seven years ago, Pie and Vinyl in Castle Road, Southsea, has been firmly involved in Record Store Day.
In previous years Castle Road has been closed off for the day with live music and other traders have been involved in a street fair.
This year the celebrations have been scaled back to centre on the shop, but they were expecting music fans to queue, as usual, from Friday evening to get their hands on the pick of the rare vinyl.
The first 100 through the door when they open at 8am will be rewarded with a goodie-bag, and there will be live music in store from midday, starting with Girli, Channel Noir at 1pm, Marry Waterson & Emily Barker at 2pm, Jim Jones And The Righteous Mind at 3pm and Tom Speight at 6pm.
The store will be open until 9pm.