Happy Hands Grasping: A Record Store Day Diary By Drift, Totnes
, April 22nd, 2013 10:10
While most of us have a good idea of what Record Store Day is like from the shop floor, what's the experience for those behind the tills? We asked Rupert Morrison, owner of the excellent Drift Record Shop in Totnes, Devon, to give us the view from the counter
We have noticed in the last few years that much like post-presents Christmas Day, Record Store Day can feel like rather an anticlimax only an hour or so in, once the hordes have descended upon our neatly organised racks. We decided that this year we'd spend an hour at the shop, closed, talking to our customers and serving tea. I wanted to know how early they arrived, what they wanted, why they wanted it and most importantly for me, who they were. In the lead-up to Saturday's festivities, the only theme that returned through every tweet, text, phone call and e-mail was eBay... specifically how cheated people feel by it and the culture of scalpers.
The benefit of running a smaller outlet is I tend to know everyone. When I arrived at the shop at just after 8am we had a queue of just under fifty people waiting, and between myself and the three staff I had working, we knew the vast majority of them. Ironically, the person at the very head of the queue I did not know. As I was trying to unlock the deadbolts on the shop's front door he asked: "So can we just get in now and grab stuff then?"
We fired up the kettle and started handing out tea. In a very British way, it was the perfect ice breaker and gave us the opportunity to start saying good morning while nervously mentally totting up the number of David Bowie 7"s I had managed to acquire and the number of requests in the queue. One of my favourite regulars (jazz aficionado and obsessive all-round collector) Jez had given himself the responsibility of counting the numbers in the line and was gesticulating wild nonsensical motions and numbers through the window - "seven more white, two black with cold water" - an astonishing hindrance, but it was great to see people pitching in. That first hour was time very well spent. Those people we didn't yet know we were able so suss out a little more. The guys right at the front had got off to a bad start with me by haranguing me through the door, but it was great to find out why they wanted Gil Scott-Heron, and how far they had travelled for a chance on a Jesus & Mary Chain LP. The closer we got to 9am, the more kinetic things got outside. Tea was spilt, more was passed on, there was some laughing... then a lot of laughing... people were having a good time!
The queue at 8:59am
With no klaxon or countdown we opened the door, said good morning loudly and the queue quickly, excitedly and as one, poured into the shop. As I knew the inventory better than anyone else (having lovingly unpacked it all the previous week) I worked behind the counter with one other person on the till (we have only one). The first four or five minutes of the day funnily enough left me only as an observer as people flew about grabbing records with their eyes darting about the shop. I figured that placing everything everywhere gave everyone the best opportunity to get hold of at least one or two things from their list. Finally a very relieved-looking girl came to the counter with all three Bowie releases in her hands. Her parking had run out, she had what she needed, she was high! It was only then that I noticed that much as they had been queuing outside with good humour, a line had formed that ran all round the shop and up onto the second floor. The line had reformed (in a slight reorder) but this time inside with happy hands grasping records.
Jez's wishlist for the day
I only noticed the time so specifically as knew I'd want to remember: the last Jesus & Mary Chain LP left the shop. Should I have stashed one? Perhaps... but there were a good number of people who now own that and they got it from my shop, that's a good second best.
Okay... now the Stephen Malkmus LPs all have gone. The last guy to get one (again, not me!) took the time to ask if I was Rupert - "You were on 6 Music the other day weren't you? Yeah, you really wanted this, didn't you?" - Yes... and yes I really did. I guess the important thing to remember is the awareness and extraordinary PR we have received, and that Marc Riley and his team reached out and invited us onto the show and have spent a good fortnight preaching evangelically about record shops. Man, I didn't half want to at least listen to that record though!
Scrambling to pick up records
I was barcoding a handful of titles and selecting suitable promos and badges to accompany them when I noticed that the first two queuing guys were both at the counter. Both had a good haul and were both looking elated and feeling the dawn rise was worthwhile. Then the best bit: "Really nice to meet you, send me an e-mail about that blog..." - I think they are now friends. That's what Record Store Day's about, I think.
Another great moment for me. A very well-filled set of arms unloaded a stack of vinyl onto the counter. It was, however, incomplete for the man, who I noticed had been maybe fifth or sixth in the queue. "I don't suppose you had any of the Paul Weller 7"s left..." I was only half way through apologising (I remembered selling a good number already) when the person stood behind him in the line said, "what, that one?" - one was sat perfectly on a small acrylic display stand on the counter looking right at him. "OH WOW!!!" the man exclaimed, turning round and half gesturing to hug the complete stranger in his sheer excitement before snapping back to his calmer demeanour. That Paul Weller release was right up there for him and he snapped it at the last opportunity, thanks to the guy stood next to him. I got a really nice e-mail from the customer who bought it, totally made his journey.
The first lull, and a welcome break. I boiled up some coffee while the shop continued to hum like a busy Saturday morning. I corrected all the staff's coffees with an appallingly cheap whisky called Imperial Stag - they had earned it. This I suppose is what I had predicted and had been anxious about, the shop had been open for less than ninety minutes and I had sold a huge bulk of the exclusive titles and the crowds had been reduced to a steady trickle. All the weeks of organising, buying and worrying had disappeared in hundreds of Drift Record Shop bags. It is easy at this point to feel a little bummed out.
The Queue, mark II
A good friend of the shop called Alex was one of the lucky few to get hold of Caribou's The Milk Of Human Kindness. Better still, he had no turntable until he returned to his new home of Liverpool and no reason to rush away. We bust it open and played out a superb album in the shop. Old staff visiting, good customers and friends getting a chance to celebrate with an incendiary soundtrack. One of my favourite moments of the day.
The only late running package to arrive turned up by courier. A small box of Factory: Communications 1978-1992. I priced them all up, walked in a lap of the shop putting them all out. Got back to the counter and half of them were already picked up and waiting for me again at the till. They did not last long at all.
My most senior shopper of the day. She had a list of titles that I reluctantly confirmed I no longer had. "What sounds a bit like the Rolling Stones then?" I found her a Doors 7" and a signed Everything Everything release. She was indeed a surrogate shopper on the behalf of her son-in-law. She was going to come and queue earlier for him but she was making sandwiches for the bowls club and this was the best she could do. I think she did pretty well.
I left the shop for the first time and went to meet Luke Abbott and Gold Panda who had been couriered to me by train. Both had agreed to come and play shows as part of Record Store Day. A quick tour of Totnes' highlights (a castle, my friends clothes store, a health foods supermarket) before arriving at the shop. As he walked in, Gold Panda was met by a stack of newspapers with his face on the cover and his own EP blasting on the stereo. He took it very well and I got them settled in.
Luke Abbott and Gold Panda sign up some records
Bands and entourage took in high tea. It was in fact the only thing on their very reasonable rider. 'Cream tea' - it is after all why people come to Devon, right?
Gold Panda leaves his mark
The boys got in to soundcheck and the downstairs section of the shop filled to breaking point. There were whoops and short bursts of clapping as various samples got fired off. People started to really buzz. The crowed now filled the shop and the street, parked cars being used as giant coasters for pints of ale. So long as the police didn't turn up, I figured everything was going down well.
I conducted a raffle draw to a somewhat bemused shop floor. Almost all of the prizes were won by people who were now absent, a buzzkill to know someone who isn't stood near you has won something. A slightly surreal interlude overall.
We had been handing out wristbands with purchases all day and that group formed upstairs. We managed to cram a few more in and then reopened the shop as a very healthy crowd poured into the lower section of the floor. My keg of ale had been drunk dry, bottles of beer and cider being passed head height around the shop. There was a tense anticipation and a palpable sense that everyone felt like something special was going down. With a chest-pounding thump, Luke Abbott ripped into his set with a bleak and brooding beat. It was loosely-contained chaos.
Seconds before the show starts
The shop continued to fill and people poured out onto the street. Cars crawled past gawking as they negotiated their way through the sea of bodies surrounding the shop. Still no police. The staff registered complaints from three of the four neighbours. I guess after this I should write some polite apologies.
Gold Panda made for the floor and admirably took on the task of following Luke Abbott's immense set, and was straight out of the stalls with a track that encapsulated everything that is amazing about electronic music in the afternoon sun. Totnes felt positively Balearic as the sun set on the shop.
Gold Panda playing live
I don't recall exactly what time 'Gold' (as my mum kept calling him) finished playing, but I hope that both artists were able to appreciate how much their shows had meant to my patrons. The police never did turn up, and although the neighbours complained it was worth it, as a lot of people went to a record shop and had a genuinely memorable experience there in the sun. We sold a bunch more records to rosy-cheeked customers and briefly toyed with the idea of trying to bring some semblance of order back to the shop floor before agreeing that this day was about celebrating, not scrubbing. We left it all as it lay and moved onto one of our neighbouring pubs, having drunk our building dry.
In the next week I guess I'll be fielding more and more e-mails about eBay and the negative underbelly of the limited releases. The more popular it becomes the more it will happen and, much as we hope, very little will be done to stop it. Record Store Day should be cherished for its virtues, not criticised for the behaviour of a small minority of its customers. For me, Record Store Day was about putting our neck out and assuring two of the finest musicians in electronic music that if they came all the way across the country to a small rural town and played in an independent record shop, it would be a worthwhile adventure. They both said to me the following morning that it indeed was. I was very proud to be a record shop on Saturday and I think that, to all of those people who came to visit us, we were important.