TGA’s New Music Editor, Faye Lewis, shares her pick of the world’s best record shops – and tells us why she loves them. Seek them out; go buy records; long live vinyl!
As a child most weekends my dad would bundle me into the car and off we would go in search of a second-hand record shop.
The record shops in the north-east of England in 1991 were less the kind of places you would find a £1,000 Bob Dylan acetate and more the kind you would find cassette bootlegs of live recordings while searching through dozens of cardboard crates.
My dad was (and still is) one of those bootleg hunters who likes to fulfil esoteric obsessions like Neil Young and The Santa Monica Flyers live in Manchester, 1973; or The Faces live at the Hammersmith Odeon in September, 1977; or he’ll seek out original eight-track masters of Love’s Forever Changes… you get the picture. He is the kind of record shop enthusiast that actively squabbles with vendors over the cost of Lloyd Cole CDs.
As a six-year-old, I would, for my part, stand on a box in between young men three times my height, reaching up to flick through vinyl, trying to trace them with my small hands, getting dust trapped in the nails of my fingers. Every so often I would pause and pull out a record to practice the intent stare stemming from the geeky enthusiasm of those stood next to me.
It didn’t matter that I had no idea what I was looking at, it was just fun to do it. Record shops always felt like home: I loved them. As a six-year-old, I would always manage to talk the owner into giving me a free badges or postcards. While my dad would spend what could feel like days at these places, he would leave with second-hand tapes, records and CDs having traded his own — and he always got something for me. We would drive back home and he would explain what we were listening to and teach me about the artists.
Those memories always stand out, because that obsession with visiting record shops has stuck with me into adulthood. Now, with the vinyl renaissance in full swing and thanks to the internet, audiophiles don’t have to travel far and wide to get their wax fix. Still, we do it. Because there’s something inherently pleasurable about going into a record shop to spend the entire day rooting through the myriad treasures.
As Rob Gordon famously said in Nick Hornby’s 1995 book about vinyl obsession, High Fidelity: “Fetish properties are not unlike porn”. And he’s right — just take in the nervous energy in record shops on any given day.
It’s the thrill of finding a record – often one you didn’t even know you were after — and that keeps us going back time and time again wanting more. While other people are outside enjoying the sunlight, we record collectors willingly spend time and money scouring through racks – and we love it. Over the years I have visited hundreds of record shops, and while this is by no means a full list, here are some of my personal favourites.
1. Music and Video Exchange, Greenwich
A branch of the original Music and Video Exchange in Notting Hill, this Greenwich record shop has some really rare finds and unexpected vinyl. There’s a great spread of genres and the staff are very easygoing and willing to let you play what you want. The prices are reasonable — £12 for Afghan Whigs Gentlemen and £8 for Darklands by The Jesus and Mary Chain – and they’re happy to drop you a text if they don’t have what you’re looking for and can get hold of it. While Casbah Records in Greenwich is the main pull, here you can get vinyl for a few pounds cheaper.
2. Banquet Records, Kingston
From the ashes of the Beggars Banquet arm emerged Banquet Records. Run by Jon Tolley, the store is as famous for its in-store performances as it is the wide array of vinyl. Showcasing bands like Moose Blood, Michael Kiwanuka, American Football and Departures, Banquet Records also stocks vinyl from independent labels Big Scary Monster, Alcopop! And Pink Mist. It’s most popular with its teenage audience (and thirty-year old emos).
3. Sounds, Tilburg
Sounds is an independent record store in the heart of Tilburg. It started out over 25 years ago and has an extensive collection, competitive pricing and expert staff members. It’s also a handy three-minute walk from Tilburg’s best rock bar — the Little Devil – so you can spend the day rooting through vinyl, then spend the night listening to Kyuss and downing Jaeger shots. Pretty much the perfect Saturday there!
4. Alan’s Records, Finchley High Road, London
Alan’s Records is an independent second-hand record shop selling vinyl, CDs and tapes as well as music memorabilia. They have a large stock of over 15,000 records and 3,500 CDs. The record shop specialises in rare and collectable items across Soul, Reggae, House, Dance, Blues, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Rock, Punk, World Music and more. There is very little you won’t find here and they also buy collections as well as sell them.
5. Beatnik Records, Tel Aviv
Beatnik is located at the northern part of the Florentin quarter and close to the main streets Allenbi and Rothchild. The store is very new, opened in March, 2015 by two vinyl junkies and it has already established itself as one of the leading stores of the vinyl revival in Israel.
The store stocks Rock, Pop, Psychedelic, Alternative, Jazz, Blues, Soul, Funk, Reggae along with Middle Eastern and Israeli records.
6. Geisladiskabúð Valda, Iceland
This is the definitive rock and metal record store. From Doom Metal and Speed Metal to Grindcore and Thrash. The back room is crammed with used vinyl – a lot of it Nordic metal – but it also has Nirvana, Soundgarden, Neil Diamond, KISS, etc. The shop itself is in a little house on Laugavegur, Reykjavík’s main shopping area. It’s quite a unique experience to root through vinyl in what is effectively someone’s house.
7. Space Hall, Berlin
Space Hall is three record shops rolled into one – and they have everything. In one room is Soul and Jazz and in the second is Rock, Post-Punk, Industrial and New Wave; everything from Bauhaus to Nothing. Keep going and you’ll get to the back room, which is dedicated entirely to electronica. The walls are decorated with forest transfers and it has a really minimal feel to it. Very Berlin and very cool.
8. Bleecker Street Records, New York
Surely the world’s most famous record store (aside, perhaps, from California’s Amoeba Records), Bleecker Street Records is an institution in its own right, with great deals on vinyl, cassettes, CDs, DVDs, patches, pins, playbills, posters and T-shirts. Like Rounder Records in Brighton (RIP), all their collectable vinyl and CDs have biographical and historical notes to help aid you in the buying decision. They’re located in the historic West Village in the heart of NYC, famously situated off Bleecker Street on West 4th Street (they moved when rents were pushed up).
9. Revelation Time, Shinsaibashi, Osaka
Run by Eiji Tanaguchi, Revelation Time stocks an eclectic range of records from Japanese cosmic and Turkish psych, to Bollywood and South American music. Eiji used to live in London, so it’s easy to ask him about music if you’re travelling over there and if you want to venture into the realms of Japanese Cosmic and Psychedelic Groove (you might), his knowledge is extensive.
10. Sound It Out Records, Teesside
In my opinion Sound It Out is the best record shop in the world. Located on Yarm Lane, Stockton Upon Tees and run by Tom Butchart, you can find records by the likes of Derek and The Dominos, or singles like Eric Clapton’s Layla/Wonderful Tonight (Live Version) for £2. The basement bin literally stocks vinyl for 10p and there are more than 50,000 records in store.
Last time I physically visited the shop in 2014, Tom noticed the outline of the bird on a wire tattoo on my arm and we struck up a conversation on Leonard Cohen, and when we moved onto the subject of post-rock we spoke for about an hour. He ended up giving me CDs to listen to for free.
In one day, I ended up leaving with records by Scritti Politti, The Birthday Party, Can, Set and Setting, Black Sabbath, Boris and more – and he knocked down the price considerably because in his words: “I own the shop and I can do that.”
If you haven’t already seen it, there is an excellent documentary on the shop, called Sound It Out, which I highly recommend. It showcases Tom’s extensive musical knowledge and reveals the huge range and variety of music he stocks.