Sunday, 6 January 2013

From Spitalfields To Soho

On Friday, while Mrs Shelf-Stacker was distracted by an impending playdate for our four year-old and one of his house-trashing, midget accomplices, I snuck out to investigate the record fair at Spitalfields Market. These fairs take place on the first and third Fridays of the month, days when I am ordinarily unable to find the time to head east and rummage, so thank the sweet baby bejesus for the festive holidays! Initial signs weren't too promising when I headed into the market, surrounded on all sides as I was by stalls selling nothing but women's clothes and jewellery. I very nearly turned on my heels and headed back to Liverpool Street Station, but I'm glad I perservered as, beyond the seemingly impenetrable maze of frocks and blouses, a sizeable corner of the market had been colonized by blokes with trestle tables and crates full of lovely vinyl. I'll apologize here for the lack of photos of the market. The truth is that the digging sickness fell upon me and the tunnel vision and singleness of purpose that this engendered caused me to forget all about recording any images of my outing.

Vertigo Swirl at 12 O'Clock!

More often than not, despite finding something to warrant the effort of schlepping across London, record fairs are insultingly over-priced affairs staffed by misanthropic old farts bemoaning the turnout, the weather, the state of the music industry, yada yada, whilst getting misty eyed over memories of punters fleeced and collections pillaged. Okay, so there was still a bit of that, but the mood was playful and the thoroughly reasonable prices suggested that a lingering shred of Christmas cheer had prompted a Scrooge-like transformation in the sellers. On one stall, with a sign declaring that everything was £5.00, I felt I had to check that I was understanding correctly: could I really have an original US pressing of The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour LP complete with 24-page colour book for five measly squid? How about a Reprise steamboat label copy of Family's A Song For Me complete with lyric insert? Sold! I hoped I could ride my luck and get another stallholder to part with a pristine, Vertigo swirl copy of May Blitz's debut LP for the tenner burning a hole in my pocket. Sadly not, but the £200 he was asking for still seemed like a bargain. I resisted the temptation to run to the cashpoint.

It's funny the people you bump into when you're on your knees rooting through crates of mildewed LPs. The tunnel vision lifted long enough for me to notice a familiar face alongside me, one belonging to the one-time basement-dwelling salesman at the sadly defunct Cheapo Cheapo Records. I was still too gripped by the sickness to go through the usual social niceties of finally getting around to finding out his name, but I recognised him, he recognised me, we bemoaned the weather, the state of the music industry, yada yada and fell back into our respective tunnels. As expected, he's selling vinyl online now, the landlords of Cheapo Cheapo having taken the opportunity presented by the proprietor's death to impose a hike in the rent to £75,000 per annum - I'm pretty sure I heard that right - which, unsurprisingly, they were invited to shove up their arses. It seems you can't blame iTunes and Simon Cowell for the death of every record store!

Having amassed a haul which included the aforementioned Beatles and Family LPs as well as The World Is A Ghetto by War, Broken Barricades by Procol Harum, Painter's self-titled effort, Two Fisted Tales by The Long Ryders, Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage Acts II & III, Capital City Rockets' sole LP, Blackjack's debut and a The Left Banke compilation on Bam-Caruso Records, I remembered the wad of Music & Video Exchange vouchers languishing in my pocket.

The Music & Video Exchange (forever The Record Tape Exchange in my mind), offers the choice of a piddling amount of cash or a more generous quantity of their own toy town Monopoly money when you offload your unwanted records on them. After a recent visit I discovered that Camden Town's Music & Video Exchange had closed down, so figured it was time I exchanged my play money for vinyl before their remaining stores go tits up and I'm left with a wallet-full of expensive, dog-eared arse wipes. To cut a long story short, a post-Spitalfields trip to the Berwick Street Music & Video Exchange in Soho revealed it to be looking decidedly forlorn. As usual, the staff behind the counter seemed to be competing to see who could inflict the most unpleasant, unlistenable, tuneless music on their customers and one another. This stuff can't even claim to be avant garde and envelope pushing. I can happily lose myself in Trout Mask Replica, Reign In Blood or a spot of Sun Ra, but give me strength, where do they dig up this charmless filth? Perhaps in the bargain basement, which looked like it had fallen victim to a spot of fly-tipping. Anyone who ever dreamed of working in a record shop should visit the bargain basement at the Berwick Street branch of The Music & Video Exchange and you'll skip to your mundane job on Monday morning with a song in your heart and a smile on your face, grateful that dreams don't come true. What a toilet! I left empty-handed.