A scant six years ago, the UK found space for six hundred independent record stores. Now, we have less than half that. So, as Record Store Day approaches, it’s good to get a positive spin on all those gloomy reports of the death of the indie music store. But, we wonder, against this backdrop, what drives someone to open a resolutely vinyl-only store in Liverpool?
SevenStreets meets Spike Beecham, owner of the Music Consortium Vinyl Emporium at the top of Bold Street. ‘I’m a vinyl junkie’ he tells us.
Congratulations on opening your first record shop. Has it been a long process getting it up-and-running again?
Yeah! It was June 2011 when I first got involved, but it’s taken until November just to get the external work done! The lease dictated that the décor needed to be sorted internally and externally, and there were problems with the roof leaking etc, that we needed to fix. If you check out Music Consortium on Tumblr, there’s video footage of the day we took the shop over. There’s literally piles and rows of records everywhere…
How did you first get involved with the shop?
I was a regular customer there (at the old Hairy Records) anyway and then one day I came in, in November 2010, and I made this sarcastic comment to Carl along the lines of, “bloody ‘ell Carl, has someone died? It’s been tidied up?”, and he said, “uhh, actually, yeah. Bob has”. Bob was the previous owner…
That must’ve been awkward?
Well, after I got over the shock of being told that Bob had passed away, I asked Carl what was happening, and he said that the family were looking to sell the lease and the stock, so I just asked for the number of the solicitors, rang them up, and it went from there. It’s been a long process.
I’ve been promoting shows for a long time, and I just wanted to put some roots down in Liverpool. I’m from Tranmere, but I’ve lived all over the place – Italy, New York, London, Stoke…
And I love Liverpool as a city, but I’ve always felt like an outsider on the Liverpool music scene. I kind of felt that to be more accepted by the Liverpool music community, I needed to do something in the city that would leave a mark, and this shop will. I also thought it was about time I made some money, rather than just spending it [laughs]
What were your initial plans for the place?
The plan is pretty much what you see now. We opened up the top floor and introduced an element where people could come and have a nice drink of coffee and listen to music. I wanted a community feel so that musicians could come in and buy guitar strings, have a cup of coffee, slag off the latest Kasabian album, whatever. That’s what I felt was missing from the city.
Also, I wanted to have a performance area so we could bring back instore to Liverpool which we’ve not been able to do for a long time. I’m going to be working with Craig Pennington, Editor of Bido Lito! magazine to get local musicians playing matinee shows in here at 3pm on Saturday afternoons. On our opening day, we had a band on called 5 4 3 2 1, Maaike Brejima who did some Kate Bush numbers, Ian Prowse from Amsterdam and Danny Roberts on the stage, and it was really good.
Will you be opening up the stage to touring bands, too? I once caught Jamie T playing an acoustic show at Spillers Records in Cardiff, and it was wicked.
I’d like to keep it to new music, and for Liverpool musicians to feel as if it’s something for them, but obviously if someone like Tom Jones came in and offered to sing, you wouldn’t say no, would you?
Do you like The Voice, Spike?
Yeah, I do actually. I know Tom Jones, and I love how he gives the impression that he thinks he’s always picking really hot women, and then when he turns around it’s a bloke [laughs hard]. I don’t watch it on a regular basis, though..
[Points to right] What’s that space over there going to be used for?
That’s where the listening station is going to go. We’ll be having two wingback chairs with headphones that link to turntables from behind the counter, and you’ll be able to go and say ‘can you play this record for me, please?’ and you’ll be able to sit in your chair with a coffee table in front of you, with your cup of coffee and your cake and your headphones on. We’ve got a jukebox coming to go in that corner over there, too [points to opposite side of the room
Cool. So when you first walked into the shop, as the new owner, did you notice anything straightaway that needed to be fixed?
Well, it was really dingy so we needed to bring sunshine back into the place, a bit of sunshine in your life doesn’t go amiss, and, for a record shop, I think that it’s pretty important to label everything so that people know where to go to find different genres of music. When I came in here, there were literally piles of records everywhere and I didn’t know what was in them. That really wound me up. It was full of anoraks, people over fifty, too. I felt like I needed to bring some younger people into the shop.
What was it like upstairs? It was never open to the public…
I’m obsessive about 7” singles, and that room upstairs was full of them. For me, it was about searching through all of the singles and finding any holes in my collection that I could fill with the stock I’d just bought.
We actually skipped about 25,000 -30,000 of them. We went through them all chucking out the scratched and smashed ones. There was stuff in there too that just was never going to sell. Bob used to go to record fairs and attic sales and he never used to look through the stock, he used to just buy it all. He could have bought 45 copies of the same song, and he wouldn’t have known…
Find any cool stuff in the “dumping” process?
We found a sink and a toilet in one of the rooms upstairs, so that was a bit of a talking point! They were buried under boxes of records! It was like, ‘uh, why have we got two toilets?’
We also found a single by a Liverpool-related mod band from the sixties called The Cubs- that’s booked for £200! And we found quite a few valuable copies of The Beatles’ White album; I’m going to sound like a train-spotter when I say this, but they were worth a lot because they had stamped numbers on them which were below 1000.
And we found the first single by Pink Floyd, Arnold Lane, which is worth around £80.
What other perks are there to owning your own record shop?
I get to come into the shop first thing every morning and [makes sniffing noise] smell vinyl. I’m a vinyl junkie, I’m like a kid in a sweet shop. I don’t like all of the types of music that we sell, some of it’s just not for me, but the fact that I can spend hours if I want, looking through records, is great. When I go to other cities, I used to go into their record shops, but now I don’t need to do that, really.
What is it that sets indie record stores apart from the bigger, more commercial music shops?
When you go into an indie record shop, any one, whether it’s Probe, Spillers or Amoeba Music in America, if you hear music that’s being played that you don’t know and it prompts you to ask what it is and then buy it, well then that’s you learning about music you didn’t necessarily know before, and that’s sort of been lost from most music stores.
If you go into HMV, it’s just wall-to-wall crap and you’re kind of being told what to listen to by the corporate entity that is the record industry, as opposed to the independent music scene which gives a wider scope from jazz, fusion, to funk, to hip hop, to rock‘n’roll.
Is it a sense of trust that has been lost between the customer and whoever’s behind the till, then?
Yeah, definitely! Even in the short time I’ve been involved with this shop, it’s become very apparent that there are regular customers that come in all the time and you get to know what they want. We even call them by the types of music that they like. We’ve got a guy called ‘Led Zep’ who comes in and only ever buys Led Zeppelin records, and there’s another guy called ‘Swifty’ because he’s always after fast metal music. When we find stuff like the Pink Floyd record, we know we’ve got a few customers who would be interested in it, and so we can offer it to them first, without them even knowing it’s come in. We look after those people.
A brave decision to take on a record store which only sells vinyl, though?
No, I don’t think it is because I think music is an all-encompassing thing and people want music whether there’s a recession or not. So, for the sake of two or three pound to buy a single you’ve been looking for, for ages, I don’t think that’s a massive outgoing. I think that music’s important to people and I wanted to do it now because people are losing their jobs left, right and centre, shops are closing all the time, not just record shops, all shops, and people might be in need of the support that music can give them emotionally. In times like this, it’s up to independent traders to buck the trend and bring something that’s a little bit different to people.
So, do you think there is a rise in the amount of people buying vinyl then?
Yeah! If you go back to the seventies and eighties, musicians looked at the artwork they put on their album as part of their identity, which for most bands has kind of been lost now, except for bands like Radiohead.
Something you put on a 12” record doesn’t work on a CD- it’s too small and the artwork gets lost in the size, and obviously with mp3s, if you’re only looking at a thumbnail on your computer screen, that’s even less. People want to find out more about the bands they are listening to, and while, yeah, music is the most important part, most musicians encompass other elements of the art, too.
People are still downloading music online, though. How will you cope in this digital age?
I think there’ll always be a demand for vinyl and, specifically, with musicians. A lot of established musicians use this shop, y’know, we have like Elvis Costello, Van Morrison and Mick Jones from The Clash all coming in on a regular basis.
We have a guy who comes in who we call Punk Roy and he’s always going on about Clash records. When he came in the shop when Mick Jones was in, we couldn’t tell him he was there because he would have been all over him like a cheap suit. We told him after Mick had left. He said a word that I can’t repeat.
Has he been in since, or is he still sulking?
[Laughs] He still comes in. To buy Clash Records.
What does Mick buy?
Mick buys a lot of sixties stuff, a lot of soul stuff and motown and exotica, like French music and stuff. It’s stuff that he can’t generally get in record shops in London, I guess.
So, you still sell a lot of old records then?
Yeah! We’ve just brought in newer music as well for the younger people. We’ve got records for children as well. We also sell tickets for most Liverpool promoters, and festival tickets. We’ve actually got exclusive rights in Liverpool to sell Reading and Leeds tickets here. Oh, and we sell t-shirts too – both old and new. Most of the t-shirts I got from working at festivals, where they’ve given me a box to get rid of and there’s been some leftover.
So what’s the future hold?
I haven’t worked out whether it’s a 5 year plan, a 10 year plan or if it’s just a no plan whatsoever, which is the more likely scenario! I’m just concentrating on establishing this one properly, and then I’ll start thinking about the festivals and shows I’m working on.
At the moment it’s really a hotch-potch there’s one till, there’s hardly any staff, and we haven’t got the coffee machines going yet, so it’s all a little bit embryonic. But we wanted people to be able to see the place and to see what we’re capable of achieving, and then the people can grow with the shop as opposed to it already been here and formed.
In the future, the plan is to open another Vinyl Emporium. Maybe I’ll give Spiller Records a run for their money! I have got a lot of Welsh friends in Cardiff…
What makes The Music Consortium Vinyl Emporium different to other record shops on Merseyside?
It doesn’t fit. It just is what it is because it’s different to what else is here. It’s its own shining star and we’re doing things slightly differently. We’ll be a little bit of competition to Probe on the vinyl front, but we won’t be selling CDs at all.
The Music Consortium Vinyl Emporium is based more on Amoeba Music, the biggest independent record shop in America, than anything in Liverpool. They have records, CDs, a café, a performance space, posters, t-shirts, books, magazines, anything that is related to music, they have it. I wanted this place to be a place like that, a place that is all-encompassing and different in that you won’t always be able to predict what will be going on in here next.
You haven’t asked me what my favourite record is…
Oh! What is it?
The Bends by Radiohead at the moment, but it depends what mood I’m in.
Are you in a good mood today?
Well, I don’t find Radiohead music depressing, so yeah. I’m in a good place at the moment.
The Music Consortium
Opening hours: 11-5pm, Mon- Sat, 11-4pm, Sun
Location: Top of Bold Street, where Hairy Records used to be.