Saturday, 23 April 2011

Digging Manchester

I may make a few cheap jibes at my mother-in-law's expense, but I genuinely love visiting my wife's parents. My favourite part of any trek to see them in South Manchester is when they settle down in their 'morning room' with gallons of milky tea and stale biscuits to discuss the latest scandals, infirmities and deaths in the community... while I scour the local digging spots for a few vinyl gems. Last weekend was one such occasion. Without having to exert myself too much there are two great little record shops within spitting distance.

Parked car with wheels intact shock

Housed in quite possibly the ugliest building in the Western Hemisphere, Sifters is unlikely ever to earn listed building status but, because Oasis name-checked Mr Sifter, aka Pete, in Shakermaker on their debut album, don't be surprised if the people of Didsbury petition English Heritage for a blue plaque to mark the site where a teenaged Noel and Liam spent their pocket money. Then watch it get nicked within 24 hours! No, despite the Gallagher brothers' endless protestations of working class street smarts, the Didsbury / Burnage area isn't exactly Compton. Admittedly, it ain't Primrose Hill either, but they do a nice exchange scheme locally where, while you park your car and make use of their attractive shopping facilities, they swap the wheels on your vehicle for four beautifully fashioned house bricks. Inside Sifters, my first port of call is always the 95p racks where, amongst the predictable selection of Christopher Cross / Men At Work / Bonnie Tyler LPs, can be found the occasional surprise: I've previously found albums by Target and  Point Blank here. One of the joys of Sifters is that the prices are all very reasonable. You do have to take Mr Sifter's condition ratings on the price labels with a very large pinch of salt though. I'm not sure I've ever seen an LP rated as anything other than 'mint' and almost all of them fall below that standard. Just make sure you check the condition before handing over your cash, but you always do that anyway, right? Despite being preoccupied with bemoaning Manchester United's humiliating exit from the FA Cup to arch-rivals City, Mr Sifter was able to concentrate sufficiently to work out what I owed him for my purchases and to give me the usual discount for nodding sympathetically in the right places. I left with, among others, LPs by Mahavishnu Orchestra (Apocalypse), King's X (Faith Hope Love), John Martyn (Live At Leeds) and Humble Pie (Performance: Rockin' The Fillmore).

My next stop is Kingbee Records in Chorlton.

Bike with wheels intact shock
Generally this is more of a collectors' store than Sifters in that the rarity factor of the stock is considerably ramped up. This is where you come to get that elusive mono, first pressing Beatles LP or obscure Krautrock treasure. Understandably, the prices reflect the quality of the stock, but crates of £1.00 LPs are scattered throughout the store and are well worth digging through: I scored a pristine copy of Tim Weisberg's Live At Last LP. He's an artist I'd previously only encountered through his collaboration with Dan Fogelberg, Twin Sons Of Different Mothers, but his solo stuff is very reminiscent of Herbie Mann's jazzy flute freak-outs. For £5.00 apiece I also snapped up two Sweet LPs, namely Give Us A Wink! and Strung Up, and the first album by Ian Lloyd's Stories from 1972, which I have been trying to procure for AGES. This is a superb slab of vaguely proggy baroque psych pop and is highly recommended.


Despite the impression given by my photograph, on the Monday I was there, Kingbees was buzzing. The owner tells me that he hasn't seen any drop in sales during the current economic downturn and regularly has customers flying in from the States to buy up huge chunks of his stock. Another phenomenon that he's observed recently is an influx of younger customers, that is, ones for whom Live Aid seems as historically removed as the Crimean War. Apparently they are flocking to buy LPs by Yes and other Classic Rock acts. It's heartening to be able to relay a story about a record store that isn't all doom and gloom.

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