Secondhand record shops in Glasgow and Edinburgh
Mark Edmundson overcomes a passionate dislike of shopping to indulge his love of vinyl with a trawl round the secondhand record stores of Glasgow and Edinburgh
Shopping and I have always had a love-hate relationship. But we put aside our differences for record shopping: that ritualistic, solitary activity that’s at once sombre yet exhilarating. Secondhand records possess the same mystique as old books; they hold secrets and truths that can only be experienced and enjoyed outwith the shop, at home, in the mind. Slipping the record from its sleeve, placing it on the turntable and gently easing the needle to the opening groove you are embarking on a journey experienced by others before you, but the meaning will be all your own, flavoured by your own experience and association.
Around a year ago, I was surprised and delighted to find a new secondhand record shop had opened on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Inspired by my discovery, together with the enthusiasm of our guest editor, Ian Rankin, for secondhand record shops, I set off to rediscover the vinyl emporiums of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Among the bars and boutiques of Glasgow’s Cresswell Lane Lost In Music (DeCourcy’s Arcade, 0141 339 8155) is your classic arcade affair: no frills but a few racks of the customary rock, soul, jazz and country. These days, the collectables on show are CDs or DVDs.
Nearby Oxfam Music (171 Byres Road, 0141 334 7669) has, sadly, become an altogether more savvy enterprise of late. The variable stock is now thoughtfully presented, but at less generous prices, which takes a bit of the thrill out of the chase. That said, this place is worth a visit.
Lost Chord (11 Park Road, 0141 334 5528), which I stumbled on by accident, proved the boon of the West End. The usual suspects were all present and correct on LP, supplemented by posters, bric-a-brac and neatly bagged porn rags hidden upstairs, catalogued by a ring-binder at the counter. I had hoped for more of the same from Record Fayre (13-15 Chisholm Street, 0141 552 5696), but it proved to be your typical one-stop rock shop; dark and pokey with a wealth of punk and rock vinyl in something passing as a system, and a thousand unwanted 7ins on hand for the patient or truly unfussy shopper. I suspect that most of the trade here comes from the metalwear sold in a snug at the rear of the shop.
Worth a mention while I’m in this part of town, king of cool Monorail (12 Kings Court, 0141 552 9458) espouses quality over quantity, its mint secondhand section amounting to no more than two tidy boxes on the floor that are no doubt still referred to as racks. The main Glasgow branch of Avalanche (34 Dundas Street, 0141 332 2099) has obvious indie leanings that push it towards the traditional secondhand camp of classic rock albums and compilations of soul standards, and there is less here than I had anticipated, but it is nice to spend (for once) under an hour leafing through sensibly priced albums.
I know I can’t make the return to Auld Reekie without visiting 23rd Precinct (23 Bath Street, 0141 332 4806) although the clubby orientation, the often abrasive or downright antisocial music and the serious staff and punters has historically brought out the mouse in me. What greets me this afternoon, however, is intimidating in quite another way: after trading on many a wax doctor’s move to MP3, the shop appears to have ruptured internally, leaving an imposing mess of DJ collections, jammed in tight, sporadically labelled and at super-low prices. I snatch randomly at white labels and am relieved to find, at home in the safety of my room, that they’re not half bad.
Edinburgh’s secondhand record shops are in the most part directly comparable to those in Glasgow, particularly, and quite obviously Oxfam Music (64 Raeburn Place, 0131 332 7593) and Avalanche (63 Cockburn Street, 0131 225 3939). There’s little to be added: Oxfam has the same sanitised feel without Glasgow’s glowing, youthful staff, and Avalanche is much the same in both cities, with an excellent new and used CD selection.
Once a plastic paradise, Cockburn Street now feels a little empty after the closure of Edinburgh’s own 23rd Precinct and the recent demise of Fopp. However, it is still home to longstanding, DJ-friendly independent Underground Solu’shn (9 Cockburn Street, 0131 226 2242). The slow-moving, secondhand club fare here is pretty well organised, the owners saluting the limited pressings of today’s fresh vinyl as guarantor that all records are now almost instantly collectable. One or two of the customers might take themselves a little seriously, but the staff are genial, there are a staggering number of listening posts, and even a nice window seat should the hunt leave you feeling weary.
Vinyl Villains (5 Elm Row, 0131 558 1170) represents the old school rock and metal genus, dark little box of delights that it is, though a little light and a touch more variety makes Record Shak (69 Clerk Street, 0131 677 7144) somewhat more inviting. I found Backbeat Records (31 East Crosscauseway, 0131 668 2666) oddly convivial. With boxes of records stacked several deep and up to the ceiling you need to know what you’re after in this warren of wax, where the prices are geared to the serious collector market. I have no trouble believing that there are 50,000 records jammed into the three rooms, or that they’re catalogued only in the owner’s noggin.
Being back in this part of Edinburgh reminds me of Professor Plastic’s Vinyl Frontier. It’s been closed for nearly five years now but for me this shop, more than any other, combined the best that both the traditional record shop and dancefloor-orientated stores had to offer. There still exist, to my mind, two such please-all stores in Edinburgh today, which cater for collectors and DJs as well as the common punter with an eye for big and beautiful artwork and an ear for a maxi-disc’s snap, crackle and pop.
Unknown Pleasures (110 Canongate, 0131 652 3537) has stacks of sensibly priced stock from a commendable array of genres, and surely few emotions match the buzz of leafing through tidy files of 45s only to be ushered over to examine some under-the-counter northern soul. Similarly, the bookshelves of Elvis Shakespeare (347 Leith Walk, 0131 561 1363) appear at first to be supplemented by only the slightest selection of waxy thrills, but when you slide its drawers open you find it is jammed with plastic sleeves. The affable curator here has plenty for all tastes.
These days, the price scale of your average record shop is openly based on how much the same records are making on ebay. So while you can be secure in the knowledge you’re not being taken for a ride, that clammy-palmed feeling you get with a real bargain appears to be a thing of the past. The pricing is a chilling reminder of the internet grim reaper looming over the local emporium. Long may the magic of vinyl live on; long may records like curios beckon passers-by to the window of the side street record shop.
Here’s what Mark Edmundson found and where he found it
Various - Wattstax: The Living Word Original Soundtrack (Stax) What proved for me my most exciting find was met with bemusement by the proprietor, but a live recording of 1972’s Watts district Stax music festival (source of many of the vocal samples on Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation not to mention Primal Scream’s ‘Come Together’) excited me so visibly that when their sister store in Manchester unearthed a sequel they shipped it up. A request for Prince’s ‘Alphabet Street’ on 12in came up trumps too. [Unknown Pleasures, £7.99]
Various - Etienne De Crecy presents Super Discount (Different) Not the most exciting purchase or finest bargain of my endeavours but a good enough price for what has become a joyous rediscovery that is only ever briefly off the player. [Elvis Shakespeare, £8]
Grace Jones - Nightclubbing (Island) I’m no great fan of Grace Jones, in all honesty. A View to a Kill can leave a terrifying impression on an innocent young mind, but ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ is an undisputed champion and the album was a steal at £1.50. [Record Fayre, £1.50]
Sidewinder - Flight EP (Fenetik) £2 for this nice little soul bubbler, an early release from local producer, bandleader and DJ on the Glasgow label. No complaints. [23rd Precinct, £2]
Miriam Makeba - Welela (Philips) A cautionary tale care of South African export Makeba: the fever had gripped me by this juncture and without the benefit of an in-store listening post I paid a lady for what turned out to be a lame 80s re-recording of Flora-advertising favourite ‘Pata Pata’. Boo. [Backbeat, £9.99]