In which The Author buys a book
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned Ringo Starr’s 2004 book Postcards From the Boys. It does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a collection of cards which Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison sent back from their tour venues and holiday destinations. I didn’t buy it when it came out, and have regretted it since.
Anyway, this afternoon in Aberdare, I came out of Wilko and almost got caught in a downpour. (Summer in Wales, innit?) I legged it as far as the side entrance to the market, and decided to have a browse around while I was there. I don’t often go as far as the bottom end. Barbara’s mountain of stock outgrew the three stalls she was renting a couple of years ago, forcing her to relocate to a shop around the corner. Instead I tend to cut through to the new part and bypass the couple of stalls at the far end. Today I decided to have a look at what was on offer.
Red House Music has been there for ages. Stefan, the previous owner, always kept a eclectic range of CDs and vinyl in stock, together with framed prints, books, ornaments (little model guitars and so forth) and magazines. The stall takes its name from a song by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which may give you an idea of where Stefan’s tastes lie.
My former bookselling friend Marilynne is a music teacher, jazz player and a huge Beatles fan, who once played hookey from school to see the Fab Four at the Capitol in Cardiff. (She and her pal changed into their trendy gear in the ladies’ toilet of David Morgan’s department store.) A few years ago I knew Marilynne’s birthday was approaching, and while I was browsing in Red House I spotted the perfect present – a framed photo of George Harrison, looking serene and rather sexy. I took it into work and left it on the staff room table, with her card from us all on top. I knew she’d found it when she came back on to the shop floor and gave me a huge hug. Back of the net, as they say.
I haven’t read a music paper for many years, so I’m well and truly out of the loop with the current scene. (For instance, I know that David Gilmour has released a new single only because it’s been played on Radio 2 a fair bit.) When the return trip to Cardiff became prohibitively expensive, I lost the habit of buying music at all.
Martin H. and I went into HMV a couple of years ago, and we both found it a rather dispiriting experience. Last time I called into Spillers, their range was quite disappointing too.
Stefan’s stock policy was broad enough to cover the decades, though. As well as the current releases, he had enough decent backlist to make up the mythical 80/20 ratio.
It turns out that Stefan’s now handed the business over to a young woman named Laura. She was behind the counter when I walked in. I was holding a shrink-wrapped and pretty much mint condition copy of Ringo Starr’s book, which had been on the rack outside, priced up at two quid. ‘That’ll do nicely,’ I thought.
I paid for the book and decided to have a browse while I was there. There was a good selection of blues, folk, stoner rock and prog rock (probably reflecting Stefan’s own tastes), but the contemporary(-ish) scene was well represented too: Oasis, Robbie Williams, U2, Madonna, and so forth.
I was very tempted by a David Bowie CD with a limited edition bonus disc. There was a copy of Bryter Later by Nick Drake, but I’ve got a feeling I’ve got it at home already. There was Pictures at an Exhibition by Emerson Lake and Palmer, with bonus tracks which wouldn’t fit on the original release. (My turntable’s on its last legs, so I haven’t listened to my copy for ages. That’s why I decided not to check out the vinyl.)
I spotted the fortieth anniversary reissue of In the Land of Grey and Pink by Caravan, the newly remastered Tubular Bells, a boxed set of five classic books about the music scene, and plenty more that could have made a serious hole in my wallet. But I decided to hold fire for another day.
As well as the backlist and the frontlist, Red House sell CDs by local musicians, which is good to see. Some thirty years ago I bought a single by a local band (local-ish, anyway; I think they were from Glyncoch) called Blaue Reiter. They didn’t come to anything, but their singer Bari Goddard went on to front The Knives, whom I saw supporting Andi Sex Gang in London in 1984. You never know where the boys from down the road will end, do you? Did anyone in Cwmaman (apart from Kelly Jones himself) ever think Tragic Love Company would come to anything? Go figure…
Laura and I chatted for ages about the business, the music scene in general, bands we’ve seen and gigs we’ve missed, the chronic shortage of vinyl pressing plants, and notable casualties of the music scene like Syd Barrett and Nick Drake. She’s knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and keen to broaden her own horizons. I suggested she should check out The Legendary Pink Dots (see Just a Quick One
), as they’re the logical heirs to Syd Barrett’s crown as chemical experimenters.
It’s good to know that in the era of iTunes and Amazon, an independent record shop can survive in a small town like Aberdare. I’ll definitely make a point of calling in more regularly now, and maybe upgrade some of my beloved vinyl collection to CD.
After all, as with any business venture these days, it’s a case of ‘use it or lose it.’ And quite frankly, Virgin and HMV had enough money out of me over my nearly four decades of record buying. It’s time to give someone else a slice of the pie.