I love visiting a record shop for the first time; flicking through virgin stock, not knowing what might leap into my hands. It's particularly thrilling to dig in an area far from home. On these occasions, records that the locals have become blind to, that they've grown tired of seeing cluttering up the racks, can benefit from a fresh pair of eyes. LPs that might be considered common or overpriced in one area can look cheap and desirable to an out-of-towner. And so it was when Wurzel, my West Country connection, introduced me to Blackcat Records in Taunton on a recent visit to Somerset.
The first thing I noticed about Blackcat is that it doesn't look like a complete shit-hole. I've spent enough time in record stores that have the appearance and smell of the final resting place of a soap-dodging hoarder to be quite taken aback at the sight of a well-lit shop that looks to have been hoovered occasionally. That's not to say that I'm averse to crate digging in squalor, but it's always a bonus to leave a record store without flea bitten ankles and the stench of mildew in my clothes.
So, where are the piles of vinyl littering the floor? Not at Blackcat: every record has a place in the racks. Even the lowly £1 bargains are neatly contained in crates tucked under the main stock. Records are organised alphabetically within genre, but your idea of what genre certain artists fall under may well differ from Blackcat's, so best to look through everything if you have the time. Brand spanking new records share rack space with pre-loved vinyl, particularly in the 60s Psych section which, unsurprisingly (given the rarity of many of the original titles), leans heavily on reissues to justify its existence. Records seem, on the whole, to be in great condition and priced to sell: not give-away prices, but temptingly reasonable. I picked up Kraan's Let It Out and Klaatu's Sir Army Suit LPs for £8 and £7 respectively.
I can't believe how many of the record shops I visit don't have a 'New Arrivals' section. Much as I love one of my local stores (Collectors' Records in Kingston-Upon-Thames), the lack of a 'New Arrivals' section means that I have to trawl through thousands of records that have been clogging the racks for months, years in some cases, to find any fresh stock. Fortunately, Blackcat doesn't commit this crime, having a prominent 'New Arrivals' rack next to the counter for regular customers with limited digging time.
The head honcho at Blackcat is a friendly, outgoing bloke despite feigning coyness when I suggested I might blog about his shop. Pay him a visit if you're in the West Country. Nice little shop!