Sunday, July 01, 2007

I've spent most of my life in record shops....

So news like the passing of the Fopp chain makes me incredibly depressed. What seems to have finished them off was the bullish acquisition of the Music Zone shops they bought back in February. Expansion was a catalyst, not for change, but for the fall of the entire company. All of this is taking place against the planned expansion of Rough Trade into its huge new flagship store in Brick Lane; I'm keeping everything crossed that similar problems don't befall the greatest record shop in London (IMHO).
For those of you who don't know, I worked for Rough Trade back in the late 80's, heading up their mail order department, until the rapid resurgence of skating, and the ensuing rapid rise of Slam City Skates, meant I ended up selling decks and trucks instead of vinyl and CD's. Previous to my tenure of employment in Talbot Road, I'd worked for Our Price in various locations across North London (deep breath: FOUR stores in Watford, also Harrow, Wembley, St. Albans....) but frankly, it was brain-numbing stuff. however, as a fully paid-up vinyl junkie, I still spent most of my time off trawling other record shops for the things i couldn't find in Our Price's over-commercially stacked racks. My area of choice was always Notting Hill and Portobello Road. It was the first place I'd ever seen in London when I visited the city for the first time as an awe-struck 13-year old kid: and the love affair had continued and blossomed. in 1978, there was only one Record And Tape Exchange (on Pembridge Road) now there were several, and Rough Trade had moved from the slightly dingy shop I remember buying the first Cabaret Voltaire EP from (at 202 Kensington Park Road) to new premises just round the corner, even closer to the Portobello Road.
So, I knew they were looking for staff back then in 1986, but I never really thought that I could do the job. One Saturday, I was in Rough Trade and Nigel House (who still helps run the shop) said to me "Hey, Iain, are you still at Our Price?" I sighed, deeply. "Afraid so" .He smiled at me: "Why don't you come and work for us?" He gave me a copy of the form that applicants had to fill in. And in that moment, I realised that all the stupid stuff I'd been building up in my head, all the music that'd been filling my ears, the trivia I used to bore others to tears was actually useful!
Some of the questions were (IIRC)
Will Imran Khan be missed? (they were mad on cricket in the shop, you had to be able to talk about it or you were no use to them)
Who was C.S. Dodd? (this was West London, the reggae roots ran very deep)
We don't stock any records by the Stranglers, can you tell us why?
Can you still get LBong12? Or ANY LBONG for that matter?
What's your favourite TV Personalities record?
Who (or what) was "friendly as a hand grenade"

And on........and on........and on.
I rattled out the answers, passed with flying colours, and i was in. I had the best time of my record shop assistant life in Rough Trade, but it was the feeling of belonging that I cherished, and that feeling came from realising that the knowledge I'd developed had a real and quantifiable value. My passion could be turned into a job, a wage, a career. Ever since then, I've sought out ways to turn what I know into what I can do. It's a really simple lesson, but it's been the one which has shaped my life more than any other choice I've ever made.
So, in the light of all the developments with Fopp, I wish Rough Trade the best of luck. They, more than anyone else, realise the value of passion, enthusiasm and knowledge, and I pray to God that passion never ends up sacrificed on the altar of ambition and expansion.

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