Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rough Trade is dead, Long live Rough Trade!

After all the articles about the ‘death of the single’ (that seems so long ago now) and more recently about the ‘death of the album’, it looks like we’re seeing the start of features on the death of the record shop. This one in The Guardian, was precipitated by the sad demise of the Fopp chain, and to a lesser extent the recent announcement by HMV of a 73% drop in profits.

It really is a shame for Fopp – where will I go to get my classic albums for a fiver now? – but it’s obviously too late to go writing off the good old record shop. Fopp’s untimely end isn’t so much to do with lack of punters in the shops (the London branches were always pretty busy), but unwise business decisions in expanding too quickly too soon. That, and maybe straying a bit too far from its original market position as a decent alternative to HMV and Virgin and the like, where you could get less mainstream music for cheaper prices. The past few years they’ve been as much concerned with DVDs and books as they were with music.

But anyway, as the Guardian article suggests, the independents still seem to be in rude health. Or nicely ticking over at least. Which brings me to Rough Trade. I was pretty unhappy to hear a couple of months ago about the closure of their Covent Garden shop. This was one of London’s greatest hidden music treasures, tucked away down a spiral staircase at the back of a skateboard shop in Neal’s Yard. Now I’ve always thought that this part of Covent Garden was a little hippy enclave, untouched by the rampant commercialism that has torn through the rest of the area, threatening to turn what was a genuinely interesting part of central London in to something that might easily be Reading. But not so. It may be that the same-old-shops syndrome is coming even there. The reason Rough Trade is moving out of their basement den after 20 years is that rents have got silly. It’s obviously no longer feasible to run a specialist indie store when your landlords have pound signs for eyes and imagine a branch of Next or something like that there instead.

So big shame. No longer will I be able to take that familiar detour on the way home from work to listen to records and buy interesting new music. But all is not lost! Even before the news of the closure of Covent Garden, Rough Trade had announced the opening of a new, far bigger store in the Truman Brewery off Brick Lane. It was considered a brave move then, and in the current climate, even more so. Elsewhere on the Guardian website, this blog wondered if the likes of Rough Trade are the brave new hope for physical record shopping.

However, as I pointed out in my comment on the same article, you can never really compare the likes of Rough Trade with Fopp and other chains. The specialist stores have dedicated customer bases that will always make a special effort to get there, and will buy stuff that the people who work in the mainstream shops have never heard of, far less stock. They may not be big on bargains, but that’s not why we go there. We go for interesting, new and exciting music, sold to us by passionate staff. And that’s why I think (and hope) that the new Rough Trade East will be a roaring success.

One of the things I’m looking forward to is more space for instore gigs. There have been so many great ones in Covent Garden, and no doubt the opening of the new shop will see more. They’ve already booked Crystal Castles. Can’t wait to hear more news…

So what to post? Well, naturally the Covent Garden shop is having a closing down sale, and I loaded up on 50p 7 inches yesterday. But I’ve not got round to listening to these yet, far less ripping them, so I’ll go with songs from a couple of neat little 7 inches that came out in 2003 on the Shop’s own in-house label For Us Records. Of course, aficionados will know that although they confusingly share the same logo, Rough Trade the record label and Rough Trade the shop have been totally separate entities since 1982. But the Shop used to have its own label where they put out a stream of limited sevens.

This is where I first came across King Creosote, on a fantastic little double A side that he shares with fellow Fence collective artist Pip Dylan (aka his brother). The Track Lavender Moon (written by Pip) also cropped up on KCs first album Kenny & Beth’s Musikal Boat Rides. More obscurely, I have a double A side from defunct Liverpool duo The Hokum Clones. Despite causing a minor stir back in 2003, this single was the only release to come under their own name (the others were all on compilations). I saw them opening for The Polyphonic Spree that year. I liked their bluesy-skiffle sound, which although it was indebted to the music of the Deep South, had that jaunty Souse vibe as well. Despite that, it would probably been better suited to a small club than the vast expanses of a mostly-empty Brixton Academy.

Anyway, that’s way enough waffle. Here are the tunes. The pictures are a tribute to one of the world’s greatest music shops. Rough Trade Covent Garden is dead! Long live Rough Trade East!

Download: King Creosote & Pip Dylan – Lavender Moon
Download: King Creosote & Pip Dylan – Love Your Present

Download: The Hokum Clones – Breakin’ From a Jailhouse Blues
Download: The Hokum Clones – You Ain’t Foolin’ Me


Anonymous said...

hey. thats me in the jumper browsing the racks...aaah..memories!

Ryan said...

Sorry to bother you but have been desperately searching for the Hokum Clones music and your site gave em a mention and posted some MP3s. I was hoping you could help me. I have ten of the 12 songs I know to be in existence and I ordered the others that appear on a compilation called Beatin Planks An Acoustic Compilation, but the one site that sold it took my money and never filled the order. Do you know of anywhere I can find this CD or the songs Baby Don't and Get Me Thru The Night?

Any help you can give would be great.