I popped into Birmingham music emporium Swordfish Records yesterday in order to fulfil my obligatory Record Store Day obligation. As this blog is committed to transparency and a full disclosure of contributions to the music industry, I’ll fess up now and admit that I purchased Television’s People by the rather marvellous Brum-based endorphin-pumpers Misty’s Big Adventure. I also bought an additional CD and two vinyl LPs from their £1 clearance section, but – as this blogger is committed to protecting what’s left of his credibility – I’ll refrain from telling you what they were.
As I drove to the store I was listening to Frank Zappa’s 1983 album, The Man From Utopia. It’s not one of his best but it seemed appropriate, to me at least. Zappa has always reminded me of Swordfish Records, and Swordfish Records has always reminded me of Zappa. I’d like to offer some deep and thoughtful insight into the roots of this weird interrelationship, but instead I’ll just tell you the truth: Zappa reminds me of Swordfish Records because the staff used to play his music all the time.
Of course, with the twin onslaught of download culture and deep discounting supermarkets, even the major High Street record stores have been having a tough time of it lately. It can’t be easy for independent retailers, either. One of the advantages that independent record stores will always have over the competition, though, is that your average major supermarket or High Street record store is unlikely to play weird, subversive shit like Willie the Pimp, The Illinois Enema Bandit or Why Does it Hurt When I Pee? over the tannoy anytime soon. Too bad.
Independent record stores also tend to be staffed by people who are passionate and knowledgeable about music. If you were to ask a member of staff at, say, Sainsbury’s to point you in the direction of the Zappa album that featured the original studio cuts of Suzy Creamcheese and Bobby Brown Goes Down you’re unlikely to get a detailed, well-informed response. I’m making a sweeping generalisation, of course. This might only be the case at my local branch.
As I rifled through the racks at Swordfish yesterday, a Zappa album was playing in the background. I smiled, wistfully.