Tuesday, 15 April 2014

RECORD SHOPS: Record shops in Wiltshire and Bath

On Record Store Day last year (2013), I gave my custom to Raves From The Grave in Bath, after the shop had only been open for a few weeks, and you can read an article HERE that I did on their first day of trading. There is also a feature HERE about RSD 2013, which features lots of photos from the Bath shop. At the end of last year the shop moved to a better location on Broad Street, closer to the city centre. Broad Street was where I used to go to get all my records in the late 90's, since the wonderful Replay records was there. Since that shop closed about ten years ago, it has always felt rather sad every time I have walked down Broad Street. Now, I can smile again. 

The shop's treasures are all to be found in a small but packed back room, filled with vinyl albums from many genres, old and new. As well as a selection of singles, CD albums, books and music memorabilia, the shop offers a friendly and knowledgeable service, with discounts on multiple purchases. The shop (as well as its two other branches) will be taking part in Record Store Day this year on April 19. Their website can be found HERE, and their Facebook page HERE.

I first visited Raves From The Grave not long after they opened the original shop in Frome in 1997. I can remember buying some Radiohead singles from there. Raves From The Grave has been in Frome since the 90's and really is a great place to buy music from. You won't find them stocking any pointless chart pop, instead the shelves are filled with an impressive selection of new releases on CD and vinyl, albums and singles. Rich, the guy who runs the shop is passionate about what he does and goes to extraordinary lengths to satisfy his customers. A pleasant experience with every visit. Read an article HERE about RSD 2012 at the Frome shop. A few years ago Raves From The Grave expanded to a second shop in Warminster. Going there is like stepping into a glorious era when record shops supplied generations of music lovers in many towns in the UK. 

At the front of this superb Warminster shop is a shelf of recently released CD and vinyl albums, most of which you certainly wouldn't find on the shelves of the local supermarket. Interesting and truly special music has to be stocked somewhere other than the stock room of an internet mail order company, and shops like this are part of music's heart and soul. Every music lover of a certain age has special memories of particular record shops, and even in the digital age there are many who are still keen to carry on creating those memories. Along with some excellent posters (that are far better than most of the ones any HMV stock), some bargain £1 vinyl and hip hop records, there is also a massive wall of CD albums spanning a huge range of genres. A selection of top quality music T shirts are on sale for £10 each, cheaper than most internet prices as well as better value than the chain stores. 

Then we get to the vinyl. Towards the back of the shop plays home to shelves and shelves of LPs and 12"s, a mouth watering array of indie, punk, funk, soul, electronica, rock, reggae, metal and lots more. The racks filled with 50's and 60's records come with an impressive range of Beatles albums at excellent prices and in fine condition. Against the back wall stands a shelf packed with new release vinyl, and on this occasion there's some leftover Record Store Day stuff too at far better prices than what these limited releases are changing hands for on the internet. All of this sounds great, and by now you will be aware that this is quite a fantastic shop, but it doesn't stop there: there's a downstairs as well. 

Walking down the stairs to the vinyl basement allows a view of some collectable and rare vinyl before you enter the dimly lit main room filled to the brim with more vinyl LPs and 7" singles including plenty of compilations, soundtracks and nicely organised sections dedicated to countless artists. In another small room, as well as more 7" singles there are shelves full of CD singles, mostly from the 90s and 2000s: perfect if you're after a favourite B side or looking to complete your collections. In another room lays a vast collection of classical, folk, easy listening and country LPs, and elsewhere in the basement you'll also find books, old music magazines, posters, various collectables and some very cheap picture discs. 

Now, I'm going to remember some of the shops where most of my CDs, records and tapes were bought from. Sadly, most of these shops no longer exist. 

My hometown of Melksham had a Woolworth's on the high street, and most of the singles and albums I loved during the 90's and early 2000's could be found there, since the charts actually featured some proper music back then. I loved their bargain bin, where unsold singles that had dropped out of the charts would be placed at a reduced price. Quite a few Super Furry Animals ones came from there, as well as the Charlatans, the Seahorses, James, Shed Seven, Catatonia and a few of the Babybird singles taken from the Ugly Beautiful album. In terms of albums, some of the cassette releases would be priced at around a fiver, making them at least half the price of the CD version. If it wasn't so cheap, there's a chance that I might not have bought Primal Scream's incredible Vanishing Point, and my musical outlook would be a LOT more narrower today. 

Woolworth's was there for the longest period of time, but there were one or two other places in town where you could buy some of the stuff Woolie's didn't stock. PR Sounds was about a five minute walk from my old house, it was open till 9pm, and by the time I was old enough to be a customer, it was mainly a video rental shop that sold expensive hi fis and a selection of CDs and cassettes. They rarely sold singles, although I did manage to pick up a copy of Teenage Fanclub's 'Start Again' from there. Or was it 'Ain't That Enough'? I also bought my second ever Fall CD from there, a copy of the excellent 'I Am Kurious Oranj', as well as 'Hell's Ditch' by The Pogues and 'Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants' by Oasis. In the picture to the right you can see where PRSounds used to stand. It's now an accountant's firm. 

There probably aren't many people who remember Taylormade Sounds, a small shop that used to be next to the Iceland supermarket. It's now an amusement arcade. During my club DJ days, I would often buy CD singles from there including dance hit 'Be As One' by Sasha And Maria, and (bizarrely) 'When Love And Hate Collide' by Def Leppard. I don't know why that particular one has stayed in my memory for so long. They'd sell pretty much the same stuff as Woolworth's, but they did have more of a dance selection as well as live DJs at the weekend, who were most likely the shop's staff. It didn't stay open for long. From what I can remember it opened in 1996 and closed the same year. There was also a DJ (who shall remain nameless) who ran a shop selling disco equipment and "not for resale" promo CDs and records. Naughty man. I bought my first Ultrasound single from there! Now Woolworth's is no more, there is nowhere in Melksham to buy music, unless you count the horrors that ASDA flog in their "entertainment" section. No that REALLY doesn't count.

In nearby Trowbridge there was the record section at the Knees department store, where I would regularly find some great singles in the late 90's that Woolie's didn't have. The shop is still open, but the record and cd section has since disappeared. Trowbridge also had The Record Collector's Shop near the post office, the American chain Sam Goody, and in the late 2000's a shop called Sounds Interesting, which then moved to Devon. But the most notable music retailer in town wasn't a shop, but an indoor market stall by the name of Heroes Records selling second hand vinyl and CDs as well as band t shirts. During my punk phase of the mid 2000's, my entire wardrobe came from there. But more importantly it's where I bought my first record, a 7" picture disc of Bowie's 'Fame 90'. Brilliantly Heroes is STILL there now, and run by the same guy, a hard rock fanatic called Gordon, who always has some great stories to tell. He also has a few boxes of vinyl priced at £1 each. I always come home with a bargain or two every time I pay Gordon a visit.

Then there was Falcon Records in Chippenham, open in the late 90's up until about five years ago. I chose to do my school work experience there back in October 1999. One of the most enjoyable weeks of my life. Some of the things purchased there include Leftfield's Phat Planet single, Embrace's 'Hooligan', the Jam tribute compilation 'Fire And Skill', and the Ocean Colour Scene album 'One From The Modern'. There is also a floor of second hand records and CDs at Magpie Antiques that opened in 2009. I bought Bowie's Berlin trilogy from there at a bargain price, and as far as I know they're still open for business.

But when there was a special record that I couldn't find in any of the places I've mentioned, Bath would always be the place to go. They had (and still have) an HMV, which at the time had a huge selection of both albums and singles. But it was the independent Replay on Broad Street that was always my favourite. Whenever I heard a cool new band on The Evening Session or John Peel, Replay would usually have them on their shelves. With five pounds pocket money each week, I'd usually go in there and come out with two CD singles and a 7". Great days. 

A few doors down was the 10/15 Record And Tape Exchange, a dark shop with three floors, where I foolishly sold lots of dance 12"s from my DJ days for a pitiful sum. £10 for about 50 records. On the buying side, I can recall buying a few New Order records from there, in fact they seemed to stock a lot of indie music from Manchester bands. The basement of the shop with its massive vinyl section was a wonderful place to spend Saturday afternoons. 

In the small Corridor shopping centre was a shop called Rival Records, which sold CDs on the day before their official release, and due to my impatience I would visit on a Sunday quite often. That's where I bought 'Kid A' and Blur's 'Tender' single. In 2002 or possibly 2003 I received a tax rebate cheque of about £500. Coincidentally a new Fopp store had just opened in Bath on the same day. So after a couple of hours, I returned home with three bulging carrier bags, a receipt longer than my arm and a considerably emptier wallet.

Not so long ago this city played host to a number of music chains and smaller retailers, but except for the (hanging on a thread and not entirely a music retailer) HMV, all have since disappeared. So the opening of Raves From The Grave in Bath comes as a massive boost to the city's music lovers, and once again I feel excitement every time I go shopping in Bath. Since Replay closed, every visit to the city has made me sense a huge void. But now I can go there knowing that once again there's somewhere to buy records and CDs. All of the records and CDs I own have memories attached to each one, including where and when I first purchased the record. Yes, you can also buy them off the internet, but on a web page you're just looking at a photo of a product rather than holding the real thing and knowing that you could be taking it home and adding it to your collection. In order to carry on feeling magic experiences like these, we need record shops. 

Without them, we would be lost.

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