Skimming The Racks

9th September 2012
Photograph by themostinept,[email protected]/

What became of the golden age of discovering cheap, interesting vinyl in charity shops? Mini-essay by Paul Khimasia Morgan

At the time of writing, it seems the general public of the UK have embraced the onset of digital music and rejected physical digital media (CDs) with rabid enthusiasm compared with the rest of Europe where, I’m told, second hand CD sales are still buoyant while here (or at least in Brighton) second hand retailers can’t give ‘em away, almost. Given the haste with which people are donating their discs to charity as soon as they’ve successfully downloaded (legally or otherwise), the titles in question safely onto their hard drives (echoes of the short-lived 1980s trend to bin entire vinyl collections in favour of the “superior” CD versions), we are possibly at the beginning of a fertile period of charity shop CD hunting, I would posit.

I suspect however it will be a much smaller window of opportunity than that of the golden age of discovering cheap, interesting vinyl in charity shops (circa 1972 to 1997), which rendered my own time-consuming and obsessive skimming through the racks of records in my local Cancer Research mostly pointless by 2002. All that remains are the pitiful dregs of the vinyl manufacturing industry – Matt Monroe, Perry Como and Harry Secombe. While you can easily find multiple copies of Kylie albums and Coldplay and Permission To Land second hand on CD, it’ll be progressively harder to find anything of interest on the smaller major labels and it will be extremely unlikely to turn up anything on indie labels.

This brings to mind a conversation I once had with a friend who worked at the time for BBC Radio 1’s OneMusic, who referred to the “deluge” – his word not mine – of promo CDs they were receiving every day, rather charmlessly, as “landfill indie”, which, we are to assume then, is the manner that the BBC routinely dealt/deals with this “deluge”. As we all know, these days, anything even vaguely “interesting” – read “potentially lucrative” – on vinyl donated to charity is put to one side to be sold on to record dealers by self-important knowledgeables employed by the charity stores for this express purpose, without those items ever seeing the shop floor. The British Heart Foundation even went so far as to open their own dedicated record stores to charge “book price” for even the most worn examples of “rare” records.

All of this, to my mind, is effectively contributing in some small way to the demise of the independent record store.