Tomorrow will see the end of Avalanche Records as a presence on the streets of Edinburgh. The reasons are many fold and can be read in depth at http://www.avalancherecords.co.uk/ Now, I’m not going to wax lyrical about the sadness that this brings to my heart, or how this will herald the end of an era. I did however feel that I wanted to go and see the shop and it’s proprietor for one last time though, so today I did.
I have, over the years, been an intermittent vinyl collector. The first piece of vinyl I owned was a Xmas present from my uncle Gordon in 1978. He is 9 years my senior and at the time he and a couple of his friends run an underage disco in the local parish hall. I was 8 years old and would marvel at his record collection as well as the wooden light boxes he would construct in my gran’s back room. I remember talking to him about his records and now, thanks to him, I was the proud owner of Black and White by The Stranglers. I played it on my parent’s record player, and stored it next to the handful of vinyl records that they owned.
A year and a bit later and I was 9 years old. One Saturday afternoon I jumped on a bus and traveled the 2 miles from my home town of Armadale to neighboring Bathgate. Here, in the center of town, accessed from a street level door and up a corridor of stairs, was Budgies. A first floor haven where every self respecting punk would hang out in the back with their egg white spiked and food colour dyed hair, playing video games and listening to music played by the counter staff manning the small record shop housed at the front of the room. I walked up to the counter, looked up at the girl with blonde spiked hair who was wearing a black Ramones t-shirt and asked for “the new Sid Vicious album, Sid Sings”. She smiled at me and looked over my head, raised her eyebrow in a questioning manner. I turned around. My mum standing with her purse ready nodded towards the sales assistant and with that exchange of glances and subsequently some of my Xmas present money, I had just bought my first piece of vinyl. Albeit with a little help from my mum.
Over the years that followed, musical styles and my own taste in music changed on a regular turn. I remember throughout my early teenage years flicking through the vinyl racks in John Menzies and picking out The DOORS, On Soft Parade. I hadn’t heard this album before, but I had heard the band being played on my school friend’s brother’s record player. It still gets an occasional outing when I’m feeling nostalgic. I developed a true fascination for Simple Minds around the time of New Gold Dream. For the next 3 years, they became an obsession as I would, along with my best mate at the time, big Alan, await every release and pre-order it from the same John Menzies. The guy that worked behind the counter got to know us quite well.
On the odd occasion we would jump on a bus to Edinburgh and head straight to Vinyl Villains on Leith Walk, where we would seek out limited edition releases or back catalogue material. This was our sole reason for going to Edinburgh at this age and I personally loathed the fact that we had to travel so far to satisfy our youthful addiction.
It was on a visit to Vinyl Villains that I bought my first Marillion album, Script For A Jester’s Tear. I liked the artwork on the cover. I found later that I liked the music too and started collecting the picture-disc releases.
I continued to buy vinyl throughout the introduction of CDs. Occasionally entering into mildly heated discussions on the quality of the ‘clean’ sound produced by CDs versus the pops and ticks introduced by vinyl. Unfortunately I was in the minority and I found it harder and harder to source my preferred format. Yes I started collecting CDs. At this point I want to point out that I don’t necessarily think that Vinyl sounds better than digital but I’d like to quote from a plastic carrier bag I got from another record shop in Edinburgh, Unknown Pleasures:
I was talking to a guy the other day, who was trying to convince me that CDs were better than vinyl because they had no surface noise. And I said “listen mate, life has surface noise.”
Anyway, back to this post’s subject matter. Throughout the times and musical adventures above, there is a common theme, the presence of a shop, a sales assistant and the possibility of a random change of direction.
Today I walked in through the door of Avalanche Records for the last time. It has relocated for the 5th time in as many years and what I saw saddened me at first. The shop is little more than a dark room, divided down the middle with a random selection of posters on the walls or laid out on the backroom table, whilst wooden boxes of second hand vinyl and CDs line the perimeter and balance on tables positioned in the center of the half-room. Kevin the proprietor stood flicking through some vinyl singles on the makeshift sales desk at the door. I said hello as I passed and he acknowledged my presence in return.
Without any real enthusiasm I scanned through a few boxes before approaching the ones marked “Just in and New” closest to the counter. I put aside a 12″ copy of 10,000 Maniacs, My Mother The War, because I don’t have any 10,000 Maniacs vinyl at home.
I then pick out a couple of black discs in individual white card sleeves housed inside a clear plastic sleeve. Singularly uninteresting packaging has me straining to read the small writing on the white label. ‘Too much effort’ I think to myself and I’m just about to put them back when I hear the following, “Are those the Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells discs? They came with the Everything’s Getting Older boxset as additional tracks.” I reply that I had gone to see the premier of Where You Are Meant To Be at the Barrowlands. My interest is boosted and I place them on top of my first selection.
The next 20 mins are spent discussing the music playing in the shop (Laurie Cameron, The Girl Who Cried For The Boy Who Cried Wolf). Plans for releasing the Avalanche top selling CD only album of last year on vinyl. The Filthy Tongues situation that developed when he received a sample of their latest album before HMV had had theirs. The pros and cons of PledgeMusic and my hosts own plans for the future. We also touch on this blog and the post Discovering The Twilight Sad. Lastly I mention that I have ordered 2 singles and a t-shirt from the on-line Avalanche site. The singles are by Withered Hand and The Twilight Sad, both of whom I had discovered during previous visits to the shop. They are quickly extracted from below the mix of CD cases and paperwork in front of him but I am informed that the t-shirt is on order and I’ll have to wait for that.
I offer up payment for the items I have bought today and receive my change. Picking up my new vinyl and turning to the door I thank Kevin and wish him all the best with his future plans. He reciprocates the thanks calling me by my christian name and I walk out of Avalanche for the final time, but I have left behind the melancholy which accompanied me on my entry. Avalanche records will continue to sell over the internet and if Kevin has anything to do with it there will be a future presence on the streets of the capital, promoting good Scottish music to people like you and me.
My name is David. I collect vinyl and enjoy good conversation.