Ahead of this year’s Record Store Day, Edwin McFee talks to Therapy?’s Michael McKeegan and BBC broadcaster Ralph McLean about the enduring appeal of vinyl, and also recommends the best retailers and releases to check out
On Saturday, thousands of music fans up and down the country will be bashing their alarm clock button at an ungodly hour in the morning, sliding out of bed and shambling to their nearest vinyl retailer to queue up with others (some of whom may still be clad in their Spider-Man pjs) in a bid to get their hands on some super rare albums and singles which have been released for the annual Record Store Day (RSD) which takes place this Saturday.
Each year RSD gets bigger and bigger, and nowadays is likened to Christmas morning for collectors. In fact, the once maligned medium is now so popular that vinyl sales are at their highest since the early 1990s.
No longer just a pursuit for the diehards (guilty as charged, your honour), record collecting is once again considered cool and new record shops are regularly popping up alongside those retailers who never lost the faith.
Michael McKeegan, bassist for Larne and Ballyclare-bred rock heavyweights Therapy?, is a huge fan of the format and he says that part of the appeal of vinyl is that it reminds him of the days before he and his bandmates became household names with their million-selling 1994 album Troublegum.
“When I first fell in love with music it was vinyl I bought, so there’s a huge nostalgia element for me,” he says.
“Plus, as pretentious as it sounds, from an artistic point of view it really is a lovely format. It’s a more complete and immersive way of presenting music. Think of the amazing Iron Maiden sleeves — they’re not really the same on CD or squinting at a screen.”
Award-winning BBC broadcaster Ralph McLean has also been a vocal advocate of vinyl and he adores the fact the format gives fans something to hold onto, which, in an era of social distancing, is more important than ever.
“Streaming is like trying to grab hold of sunshine, it feels like music doesn’t really exist,” he says. “People want a format they can hold and treasure. Buy a record and you feel like you’ve invested in something that’s real. That’s why people will always return to vinyl over other formats. Some of us never left it, mind you.”
Record Store Day was born in 2007, with the ambition of bringing together fans, artists and thousands of independent music shops across the world to celebrate the unique culture of collecting. Special vinyl releases are made exclusively for the day and many shops also host artist performances and parties to mark the occasion.
It has become one of the biggest annual events on the music calendar and celebrates the role old school bricks and mortar shops play in the industry.
“Going to record shops has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember,” says Ralph.
“I must have spent thousands of hours in dimly lit little record shops down the years and I don’t regret a single second. Buying records online has no appeal for me.
“It’s the physical thrill of finding a record you can take home and cherish forever that keeps me coming back. Give me a rack of albums or a crate of seven-inch singles to hoke through and I’m a happy punter.”
McKeegan adores the social element of record shopping, which online outlets can’t replicate.
“We were lucky in Larne that we had Number One Records, which is still going strong. They would order in more esoteric or unusual releases that we’d be after,” he adds.
“Of course, records being in shops meant that they became a place to hang out in too, which is important when you’re too young to go to pubs or clubs. You could meet other music fans and hear different stuff.
“I’m still friends with a lot of people who I initially met in Caroline Music when I first moved up to Belfast.”
With success often comes criticism, however, and in recent years as RSD has risen in popularity, so too has the prices for these limited edition slabs of wax.
So-called ‘flippers’ have also tried to ruin the fun, and while many feel there’s a special circle in Hell for those unscrupulous souls who merely buy a record just to sell it on for three times the asking price, Michael, Ralph and more feel the pros outweigh the cons.
“I know there’s been some criticism that RSD has been ‘hijacked’ by big labels and a lot of the stuff is reissues of already widely released LPs, but I’m of the mindset that anything that gives a focus to independent record shops and gets people engaged and spending money there is good,” says Michael.
“Goodies I’ve got from RSD in the past would include a black swirl vinyl version of the Nativity In Black: A Tribute To Black Sabbath LP. We featured on the album, contributing a cover of Iron Man with Ozzy Osbourne on vocals, so I really had to get it for my archive.
“This year there’s a Captain Beefheart reissue I’m looking at getting, and a Roky Erickson tribute album that sounds really interesting with the mix of musicians who are involved.”
“Being a hardcore vinyl junkie I always attend RSD even though I often moan about the extortionate prices that seem to rise to depressing new heights every year,” adds Ralph.
“That said, it’s a great chance for like-minded souls to meet up and share their passion, so that’s always a good thing. We don’t have enough community these days and record collecting brings people together.”
And what would Record Store Day be without our shops?
The range of local music retailers is steadily rising and here’s just a taste of some of the best of the bunch.
First up, no visit to Belfast city centre would be complete without a trip to Starr Records.
Located on Berry Street, this fresh new face on the vinyl slinging scene has wasted little time establishing itself as a firm favourite and it stocks all the latest releases alongside specially curated collections and rarities.
Bangor is fast becoming a local mecca for music fans and that’s thanks to shops like Bending Sound and Choons. The former can be found on Bank Lane and specialises in new releases and pristine pre-owned vinyl. Boasting thousands of LPs that’ll please even the pickiest punter, Bending Sound is also wheelchair-accessible and dog-friendly, so don’t be afraid to bring your pooch and purchase it a Therapy? record too. They’ll love it.
Choons in Central Avenue is another must. Boasting an eclectic selection of treats, the shop has a treasure trove of new and second hand goodies in addition to a free music library which features over 500 books, magazines and more.
For those in the Maiden City, Cool Discs Music is your one-stop shop for all music needs. Established in 1996 and located on Foyle Street, it has over 12,500 titles on vinyl, CD and more, including albums which it claims you never knew existed. Proud supporters of new artists, it also buys record collections.
Music lovers in Newry will be pleased to learn that Buzzard Comics in the Quays Shopping Centre has spread its wings and started to sell vinyl recently. The first shop to flog records in the border city in nearly a decade, owner Patrick Treanor plans to add to the small but perfectly formed selection on offer over the months ahead. Buzzard Comics can also order in albums for the more discerning music fan, so get those requests for the likes of Dan Sartain and New Pagans in now.
And what about the records themselves, you ask. This year the event is a two-legged race due to social distancing measures (event one was on June 12 and the second is this Saturday) and there is a wealth of releases available. Here’s some highlights.
Ash make their RSD debut with BBC Sessions 1994-1999. Limited to 1,000 copies, this live album is on hot pink vinyl and is a must have for fans of the Downpatrick trio.
Sure to be one of the most talked about and sought after releases this Saturday is from an act calling themselves The Dee Gees (aka Foo Fighters).
Their cheekily titled LP Hail Satin sees them cover five bangers from the Brothers’ Gibb (including Tragedy) and also features some live cuts from Dave Grohl and Co. Wrapped in a rainbow mylar sleeve, this one will sell out in no time.
Soul fans should hunt down Aretha Franklin’s Oh Me, Oh My: Aretha Live In Philly 1972. The two LP set is on orange and yellow vinyl respectively and showcases the singer at the peak of her powers.
Staying with music icons, The Rolling Stones re-release their compilation album Hot Rocks on yellow vinyl especially for RSD. Celebrating the Best Of’s 50th anniversary, the release also comes with a set of embossed lithographs.
All these and many more will be available at an independent record shop near you this weekend.
Oh, and if you’re looking for your humble scribe in the queue, I’ll be the one in the Spider-Man pjs. Happy hunting.
For more information on Record Store Day releases and participating retailers visit www.recordstoreday.co.uk