Johnny Marr talks about record shops


Active Member

When I was growing up in Manchester, all the record shops I went to were independent, but you didn't think of them like that. They weren't necessarily specialist, just cool places. The stock was dictated by the tastes of the owners and customers. You could buy whatever single you liked that week, but they also had an essential back catalogue. There was a nice combination of commercialism and connoisseur's eye.

Most of Manchester's interesting people hung around Virgin Records on Market Street, which was an independent then. It's odd to think that that hippy record shop would one day become an airline. Rare Records on John Dalton Street, where Ian Curtis worked for a while, had a basement full of old 7ins and when I first saw that ocean of alternative music, I knew it was an important moment for me. There was also Sifters in Burnage that the Gallaghers went to [immortalised in Shakermaker: "Mr Sifter sold me songs, when I was just 16"].

When I was forming The Smiths, my friend worked in Discount Records. His boss went travelling and needed somewhere to store the stock, so I ended up with the entire contents of a record shop in the attic room where I was lodging. Then The Smiths signed to Rough Trade, which started as a record shop and grew from there.

One of the reasons I first moved to Portland, Oregon, is you still see little shops there that only seem to open on Wednesday afternoon or whenever the owner can be bothered. When I saw that I knew I was in the right place. It felt like Manchester 20 years ago.

People assume the demise of record shops is due to downloading, which is one part of it. Just as significant is landlords putting up rents and councils putting up rates in the 90s at the prospect of Waterstone's and Starbucks everywhere. They totally priced out enthusiasts – camera shops, picture framers, record shops. That's a really important part of the experience that's missing now: you used to buy stuff from people who loved what they were selling.

Interestingly, when I speak to fans and my kids' friends, they love vinyl. Ten years ago it was a dying format; now the physicality of vinyl, to say nothing of the sound, is a really desirable item. They use MP3s for convenience, but buy music they really like on vinyl.

Nowadays, Jackpot Records in Portland is an important shop, and the new Rough Trade East in London. In Manchester, Beatin' Rhythm is great, and Piccadilly Records. When you go in Piccadilly, you know you're dealing with people with a passion who know what they're talking about. You trust their judgment. When I think about that shop, all is not lost.
The record shops I remember were all independents too. Local ones were small, with not much stock. But get on the bus into town, ten miles away, and there was a great selection. Parrott records, with punk, new wave, indie. Andy's records, in a big timber frame building. Racks and racks of second hand vinyl in the basement, sawdust, floorboards, and hours of leafing through the albums. Studying the sleeves, working out the order of release by artists, wondering what it sounded like....Watching the other customers and the music they gravitated towards. Trying to match sounds and names from the radio to the physical object.

The anticipation of listening when I'd finally afforded the album of choice. Trying to keep a steady hand to the needle.

No vinyl now, lost it all in moving, years ago. :(
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