We Are The Goon Squad & We’re Coming To Town

I have a confession to make, despite the fact I love buying music & I always have, I’ve always felt pretty indifferent to independent record shops. 
Now I’ve got some skin in this game, I’ve worked for a high street entertainment retailer for nearly 20 years. I’m the enemy, at least for many years I was perceived as the enemy. However, my indifference to indie record shops pre-dates that. As a teenager in the 90’s hanging around Glasgow city centre on a Saturday afternoon I had a feast of record shops to choose from – 3 HMVs, 2 Virgins, Tower & at least half a dozen indies within 10-15 minutes walk of each other. I’d quite often get round them all. My favourite was probably, at a push, Tower followed by Virgin on Union St because those two seemed to have the most interesting stuff – the imports & the extra things you wouldn’t find anywhere else, be that books or t-shirts or fanzines or whatever – they were also the biggest. I preferred a record shop that I could spend a good amount of time looking around at everything. 

I could say that the difference between the big chains & the indies was because of the old, cliched snobbish record shop attitude of sneering at customers was worse in the indie shops but, in my experience, that wasn’t true. If anything I found that attitude was more prevalent in the big chains (I especially found that with some of the people I worked with in my early days employed by a big chain). My issue was more that in the days when there were dozens of indie record shops in every city, & at least 1 or 2 in every town, so many of them were just plain rubbish. Often run by guys (always guys) who thought music peaked in the 70s & hadn’t bothered much to update their stock since. These guys in their ten years out-of-date leather jackets & tragic Marillion t-shirts  would sit there all day doing very little & any bold punter who dared to cross the threshold would be considered a nuisance. The shop would be a mess. The shelves half empty. The ambience would be brittle. Those type of indie shops were ten-a-penny. I encountered dozens of them over the years. 

Then through the 00’s they all started to close. Weeping words have been written in their thousands bemoaning the loss of the humble indie record shop. Top two reasons cited was always the internet & the big high street chains. No one ever said, “aye, but most of them were shite”. Well I did. I said that. Most of them were shite. I worked in a few different towns in the 00s where I was part of the big, evil Goliath dwarfing these plucky Davids. In almost all of those towns an indie competitor closed down during my time there. I swear to you, every single one of them only had themselves to blame. They were rubbish. When times got tough they did nothing to arrest their decline. They sat on their hands blaming the big brute round the corner & dreamt of the 70s. They all could have done more, they all could have offered something different to the high street chains, some of them did. 

The best indie record shops survived, they’re still going now. The ones that cared about what they were, loved what they did, treasured their customers. They are still out there dotted across the country (not the guy in Edinburgh though – fuck that guy). My indifference has carried on though I’m afraid. I’ve had staff discount for nearly 20 years so I’ve never had the chance to build up any love for the remaining indies in the intervening years. My desire for authenticity has never been strong enough to tempt me to pay full price. Record Store Day leaves me cold – I mean I’m right into the old-fashioned romanticism of profiteering on eBay as much as the next man but thus far I’ve managed to do without. Also I had a bad experience about a dozen years ago, I was in a (then) indie shop in Glasgow’s West End. I heard a song playing that I instantly loved but I didn’t know who it was, which isn’t something that happens to me very often in record shops, so I asked. The assistant looked at me like I’d just asked him who the Beatles were & huffily sneered at me that it was Sufjan Stevens – an artist that it’s unlikely my mother would know even now but then (pre-Illinoise) was virtually unknown with very little press coverage & almost zero radio play. I still adore Sufjan Stevens. I bought 3 of his then 4 albums in that shop that day – in some part out of spite for the arsehole sales assistant. I’ve never been in that shop again though. It set my indie shop indifference in stone. 

I’m not going to bother writing a long diatribe now proclaiming the merits of my own employer for the last 19 years – I sort of did that a few blogs ago – I’ll say this though, I’ve always taken exception to the notion that real music lovers can be found working in indie shops as opposed to the chain store staff. The vast majority of folk I’ve worked with over the years are real bona fide music (and film) lovers. Plus you won’t find any sneering (certainly not in my shop anyway). I said in my last blog that I despise musical snobbery, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the big mainstream blockbuster releases pay the bills & that allows there to be a business that can also sell the small, interesting releases by less mainstream artists. One Direction & Michael Buble & Adele put my boy’s presents under the Xmas tree year after year. Then I get to buy albums on Bella Union all year round. 

I’ll be honest, some of this is borne out of bitterness. I’d love to have a record shop of my very own. I’ll never have the finances to do it but it would be the very best of indie shops. I already manage as good a high street record shop as you could ever hope to frequent (and when people occasionally comment that it has the feel of an indie shop, that is my favourite compliment). I resent all those people who’ve wasted the opportunity over the years & I’m envious of the ones who’ve been successful. Maybe I’m a little jealous of the kudos they get too. Also, in general, I hate hipsters. So there’s that. 

Anyway, thanks for reading. Whatever you do, wherever you shop, buy music on a physical format (preferably vinyl, definitely vinyl – not for any audiophile sound quality bobbins, I don’t care about that – it’s just better). 

I will now sell 5 copies of The 3 EPs by The Beta Band. 


Let’s Dance For Fear Tonight Is All


“She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes

And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream
I wonder if she even knows what that word means

Well, it’s literally not that”

That’s my favourite lyric from one of my favourite albums of the year, I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty (toss up for No1 between that & Jamie XX so far). Music is not the air I breathe, literally. Possibly figuratively. I’m not even sure that music is my first love & the idea that it might be my last is a bit depressing. I do know that I could never love someone that didn’t love music. Music is exceptionally important to me. It is central to my life. It soundtracks my life. It’s biographical – a particular song can spark a memory better than almost anything else. It’s medicinal – I know the songs I can play that can shift my mood up or down. It would be a grim world without music. 

I wrote in my last blog about Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes being my earliest musical memory & thinking about that got me thinking about music through my life so I’m afraid that means another blog. Another very early memory was my primary 1 class being taught to sing a couple of Beatles songs by my teacher’s son. He taught us Let It Be but I’m not sure of the other, possibly/probably Yellow Submarine. My parents had a load of vinyl albums & singles that included a few Beatles ones. I can remember playing them quite a bit. My love of The Beatles endures although I don’t actively listen to them so often – I’ve got every album, ep & single on CD plus a few on vinyl, the anthology box set on DVD & countless books, it’s fair to say The Beatles had as much of an impact on me as Bowie did. Like every kid at that time I taped the charts on a Sunday evening by sitting one of those 80s tape recorders next to the radio – finger hovering over the pause button to catch it just at the right time at the start & end of songs. For some reason, Ashford & Simpson’s Solid is the only song I remember taping. Plus I watched Top Of The Pops every week like everyone else did – it’s strange to think how limited the TV channel choice was then. The only album I remember my Mum buying when I was a kid was Now That’s What I Call Music 2. I played that a lot – without googling I remember it had Queen’s Radio Gaga, Nena’s 99 Red Balloons & McCartney’s Pipes of Peace on it. I remember my Dad buying a few LPs but he bought them all at once from Makro some time in 1985 I’d guess – Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms, Springsteen’s Born In The USA, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours & Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required. The original copies were rarely played though, they were recorded on to cassette to preserve them & those albums were the soundtrack to every car journey for a long time. To this day Rumours is my favourite album to listen to in a car (I’ve said it loads of times before, Rumours is 39 minutes of perfection). Incidentally, another car journey memory is 10CC’s I’m Not In Love – I’m guessing it wasn’t the only song on whatever cassette it was on but that’s the one I remember & I heard it a lot. 

So that’s my musical foundations, then I started to buy my own (or at least had it bought for me). The first actual album I owned was A-ha’s Hunting High & Low on cassette. Obviously I played that to death, Sun Always Shines On TV still stands up. If that was released in 1985 then there’s a bit of a gap before I remember buying anything else. The first single I ever bought was released in 1987. I am very proud to report that my first single was a Motown release. Yeah, that’s how cool a kid I was. Motown, baby! What was it? *drumroll* It was Respect Yourself by Bruce Willis (yes, that Bruce Willis). Stone. Cold. Classic. Bruce Willis recorded my second single too, Under The Boardwalk – got to No3 in the chart so I wasn’t alone. One of my great regrets is I never bought his album, I’d love to have it now & you can’t get it. I got my second album in 1987 too, Aztec Camera’s Love. It was over the next couple of years that I gradually started to buy more & more music, an affliction that continues to haunt me. 

I don’t buy into the idea of guilty pleasures. I feel no guilt about my tastes. Between 87 & 91 I was pretty stadium rock – Simple Minds, INXS & U2. Wet Wet Wet were in there somewhere too – ok, I’ll admit to a little guilt there – but I put that down to starting to like girls & they liked Wet Wet Wet. I was buying all the Now albums around that time too. Some time in that period I started going to the library with my Dad & getting tapes out (probably about 1989 because I remember getting Alice Cooper’s Trash). Around 90/91 the cool kids at school took over. I was never a cool kid but when I was 15 I desperately wanted to be a cool kid. There were about half a dozen or so boys in my year at high school that listened to cool music, knew about cool music & talked about cool music. They were talking about The Smiths, Joy Division, Dylan, Neil Young, The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, James, Happy Mondays & loads more. I wanted to be part of that. It’s probably not much of a leap to suggest that urge from when I was 14/15 has a lot to do with who I am & what I do now – I manage a record shop. One of the cool kids gave me a loan of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. That was a seminal moment for me. Screamadelica is my seminal album. It was so different, it was challenging, bits of rock, soul, dance, blues. It had an edge to it that I hadn’t heard before. That album opened my mind to everything. 

I couldn’t hear enough music after that. I couldn’t know enough about music. I wanted to hear everything – old & new. I was going to record shops every weekend. Around then I started buying NME, Melody Maker, Q & Vox. Vox magazine turned out to be important. It has long been defunct & it didn’t last long but there was an excellent issue with a best ever albums pull-out that listed the top 20 or so albums for each decade. That was my bible, my guide to all the classic albums I had to hear. Pink Floyd & The Doors made an early impression. I was giving blank tapes to the guy who drove the ice cream van down my street for a while until he’d done copies of all the Floyd albums for me. I got my first CD player for Xmas 91 & I started buying all The Doors CDs. I bought The Doors movie on video & for a while I watched it every single day after school. I became obsessed with Jim Morrison – poster on my wall, read his biography, wore a Doors t-shirt (God, I loved that t-shirt) – I idolised him, as I recommend all teenagers should – then later realise he was mostly just an alcoholic arsehole & not actually any kind of mystical shaman. I blew through everything around that time – Dylan, Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Velvet Underground, Neil Young, The Stooges, The Small Faces, The Who, Joy Division, all the great soul artists & the list goes on. And on.

Then came The Smiths. I went all-in with my moody teenager phase (a phase that must be due to end any day now) & I absolutely fitted the Smiths fan cliche. Awkward, unhappy teenager writing diabolical, pathetic poetry in his bedroom. Morrissey spoke to me. He sang about what I was feeling. There is no one I’ve seen live in concert more times than I’ve seen Morrissey (14, I think). I don’t connect in quite the way I used to but Morrissey & The Smiths have had a more of an influence on me than I’d ever care to admit & they’ll be in my life forever. Every awkward, unhappy teenager needs a Smiths or some variant thereof.

Next stage was Britpop. Definitely Maybe, Parklife & His n’ Hers were released in 1994. I turned 18 that year. It couldn’t have been better timing. A scene I could be a part of exploded just as I was old enough to be a part of it. I went to my first festival that year – the first T In The Park. Blur, Pulp & Oasis all played plus I got to see Primal Scream for the first time. I was going out every Saturday night to an indie disco playing indie classics & all the very latest Britpop singles as they came along. I was listening to The Evening Session on Radio 1 every night. I finished high school & started university where I pissed about doing not very much except playing pool & putting money in the jukebox (I didn’t like Uni very much, I don’t have many fond memories but my favourite was me & a couple of mates putting on Elvis’ American Trilogy on the jukebox every lunchtime in the cafeteria & watching the reaction of the other bemused students – such a tune!). I had the absolute time of my life in 94 & 95. No worries. No responsibility. Frequently going to gigs. I was one of the cool kids, for a little while anyway. 

Summer 96, I needed a part time job. The only job I wanted was in a record shop. I sent a letter to every record shop in Glasgow city centre asking about vacancies. Virgin offered me one shift to do a stock count – pricks, I’m glad they’re dead. As luck would have it, HMV in Argyle St invited me for an interview & the rest, as they say, is history. Naturally, I have heard a 1000 different things via working for HMV that I may never have heard otherwise. In my first couple of months I was listening to Belle & Sebastian, Underworld, DJ Shadow & Wu-Tang Clan for the first time due to the folk I was working with. My professional life has involved my passion for music ever since. 

These days I mostly like to listen to new music. I enjoy hearing things I haven’t heard before. There’s always the odd album I love thrown in too – today it was The Velvet Underground’s Loaded. Currently I have a self-imposed ban on music I know brings my mood down – I haven’t listened to Nick Cave in 6 months & I miss him. Early in the summer I was living in Ibiza in my head as all I was listening to was dance/electronica/house/EDM (whatever you want to call it – I work in a record shop & I don’t know). I’ve long suspected that my natural happy place is sat on a beach at sunrise in Ibiza being blissfully euphoric but I’ve never been to test this theory out. More recently I’ve been listening to the new Foals & Ryan Adams albums a lot as well as dabbling with the Apple Music suggested playlists. I highly recommend BBC 6music as a way to hear the best new music. I’m really looking forward to the new John Grant album on Friday. Music remains central to my life. There have been days when it’s been the only thing that’s kept me going – not literally. I’ve grown to hate music snobbery. Listen to everything. Everything has it’s place. There’s great music being made all the time & so much great music out there I’ve not heard yet. I’d hate to think there’s another song out there that makes me feel the way I do when I listen to Heroes & I’ve not heard it yet. 

Thanks for reading, my intention is to stick with a music theme with my blogs for a while. I may do my all-time top 10 albums next (if I can decide what they are). 

Now watch this, everything I love about music is contained herein: