Wednesday, 16 January 2013

the dog, the dog, he's at it again

ghosts and angels are but memories and visions
and revenants are out there taking up positions
but back when I believed in you
you'd raise up the sun and set the moon
how could I help but love you holy as religion
away you are going, away you are gone

Just after Christmas I stood in HMV and found what I was looking for - even more amazingly, it was at a price I didn't mind paying. Mary Chapin Carpenter's recent elegiac album Ashes and Roses explores her recent illness and loss of her father and I am happy to recommend it to anyone who'll listen (probably about one in three at a wedding party). I paid about £7 for it and was quite happy to pay that amount - I wanted the cover with the lyrics. Anyway, I then wandered up the main drag of Ipswich to meet Mrs Dave somewhere - past the pound shops and the "seasonal" shops (oops! They've all gone). Christmas is over. More empty shops.

The loss of HMV is sad for one reason only - there's nowhere to go to peruse album racks. Still, I guess it's because we've not really been doing that that they've gone into receivership anyway. However, most of us haven't really been able to do that for a long time. Oh, I'll go into Fopps* occasionally if I'm in the Smoke but for provincials and rurals like most of us, it's a long time since we've really been able to do that.

A friend of mine, Ian, ran an Independent Record Shop here in the small coastal town in the East of England I've lived in for many years. I loved going there to peruse his (tiny) shop worth of cds and he'd get ANYTHING for you, no matter how random or obscure. He was so into music he was virtually a character out of an early Nick Hornsby novel. He closed it down (some 10 or more years ago) because Woolworths and Smiths had moved into the town and were selling Top 50 cds - his bread and butter. No matter that the shop was full of "Heads" and freaks looking for obscurities, grannies looking for the latest hit album were the foundation of his business.

And then came along Amazon.

They were the death knell for Ian and many like him. I use them - I always have. I loved the idea of Amazon. Still do. Everything I want (with a few provisos, I guess) can usually be found if I'm prepared to wait**. There are things that I can't find; if I'm honest, when I finally get some things I hunt down, I am often disappointed. The thrill is in the chase, of course. But the point is that HMV destroyed themselves. It wasn't all down to Amazon.

I've been buying records since I was a kid - early singles include Bowie's Space Odyssey, The Walker Brothers' Archangel (actually the B side but I bought it for that as the A side was lame), The Pretty Things' October 26th and god knows what else. I stood countless times in W. H. Smiths listening to singles in those little listening booths ( possibly more to do with - and get this, I can still remember her name - Caroline Scott, a Saturday girl probably from the Girl's Grammar School) and occasionally I bought something. And over the past twenty years or so, there is still no real thrill to clicking through cd covers like the thrill of leafing through lp covers in plastic covers. I have occasionally gone in to second hand record shops purely to relive the pleasure of doing that.

Amazon, it seems, have threatened to open stores in town centres - er, are you sure about that? You've destroyed the town centres and now you're going to open the shops you've closed? To sell the things that people could already buy happily in the town centres? Ah! A Master Plan.

I miss shops like Ian's and I am aware that I have not supported them as much as I should have. I am aware that I am part of the problem - I do download albums from iTunes and Amazon. I also support artists who sell cds on tour too. Maybe if there were smaller shops locally I would try to support them.

However, the problem has always been economical. Amazon, let's face it, sell albums cheaply. For instance, A few years back (I'm about to lapse into the possibility of a taste war but I don't care - so don't bother commenting) I bought the re-release of Argus by Wishbone Ash. In HMV it was £22. £22 for a single cd. Amazon? £11. No, I didn't buy two of them but you can see the point - how can they charge that much?

HMV simply priced themselves out of the market and never responded intelligently to the battle on hand with the internet. David Hepworth can winge about the "magic" of High Street shops as much as he wants, but the truth is chains like HMV wanted to destroy the smaller independent stores by homogenising music (okay, the supporters of that may have won the war but hopefully the fragmentation of the internet will keep some form of individuality going) and, ultimately they've been hoist by their own petard. I have no real sympathy for the loss of HMV beyond the fact that yet another 4000 people are out of a job.

The public chose not to bother any more with HMV and I, for one, don't blame them. HMV were always overpriced and disinterested in those of us with broader tastes. Over recent years they have sold cds in a permanent sale situation. Great if you wanted those particular albums at £3 but tough if you have more recent esoteric interests because that wasn't what they were after.

Mind you, they obviously didn't get the type of customers they wanted anyway. Perhaps they should have courted us more esoteric types. Oh, there's no business in that, is there?

* yes, thank you I know that HMV own Fopp, so they'll be going too.
** Well, not everything - there are a few albums I'm looking for but a boy's got to have a hobby.


Brendini said...

I tried to order Penguin Eggs through HMV many moons ago. They couldn't do it because they didn't have an agreement with Topic Records. I, therefore, went online to Topic to assuage my need.

Dave Leeke said...

Well, there you go - support the independents.

I had wondered about putting in an offer to buy HMV - they were going quite cheap on Amazon.

eeyorn said...

I wouldn't be surprised if Lord Richard Branston-Pickle is looking on.......

Any chance of doing something about the captchas so they're atleast something this old duffer can see and recognise as characters from the alphabet? Ta

eeyorn said...

The whole business model that the corporates have always adopted is failing fast as bands these days are able to take complete control of their interaction with their fans, marketing and selling of their output - all easily via the net.

Judging by the regrowth of pub-rock and tagging along with Zouk to various open mike sessions, there's some extraordinarly good talents out there, and the live music scene seems to be thriving.

Which is no bad thing, IMO
Can't beat a good live gig, I reckon. Hoping to see Steeleye at Hertford shortly

Dave Leeke said...


Branston, of course started out selling records from his school dormitory. I'm not sure that a range of high street shops would interest him now but he always seems to know how to turn a few bucks. . .

The captchas are a law unto themselves. For other technophobes out there, they're the squiggly words you have to enter when you try to be rude to me online. I know Mike has written about them before. Your best bet, eeyorn, is to get a gmail account as I rarely have to use them when I'm signed in.

The internet is a fantastic place to keep bands and musicians going. Bands like Wishbone Ash (the real band)and Jethro Tull et al keep going because of their huge fanbase world wide. They sell cds, merchandise, gigs etc. Some, like say Marillion, get the fans to put up the readies to record new albums. It's the global village with little need for the high street.

Enjoy Steeleye - what about RT in February at Cambridge?

eeyorn said...

Ooh hadn't clocked that RT's touring over here. I'll probably struggle to find the ticket price, so unlikely I fear.

I'm using a Google account which is linked to my Blogger account. What am I missing?

Dave Leeke said...

Hmm . . . I always go to other websites like Mike's and Brendan's via this site. I never seem to have to translate them. Mike's your man for that sort of stuff - I actually think he understands it all!

Otherwise, I'm not sure, really.

eeyorn said...

Good thought I'll log into my blogger account and try it from there.