The Horror of Hornby
Worthing is a place rarely worthy of much comment. Or even much local news beyond "Immigrant maybe spotted" or "Chip shop fails inspection".But a brewing scandal in Worthing demonstrates the mixed fortunes of independent record retail today, and unhelpful dorkpie stereotypes left over from the horrific Nick Hornby that conspire to make vinyl a running joke unless, ironically, the major uncool big "independents" keep on growing.You may well have noticed on our Facebook Page a rather sad story about a shop owner and vinyl collector whose ex girlfriend may or may not have pilfered or lost 7,000 records and a vital service history of a 1986 Ford Capri. Assuming its a 2.8 liter V6 model, that is a fine retro motor right there. Especially in Worthing.Worthing is worth a visit. There is a very cheap sort of refurbed seaside hotel run by Travelodge which lacks the blue rinse and urine smells of the other establishments and is a good base to explore, at least the Bengali joint round the back. There are some nice walks, an ancient cinema and Badger's Books - where I've got some very lovely volumes over the years ranging from the musings of Houdini to a to a Pinball machines guide. And Chipwick for class battered cod. Sure it's backward, incestuously monocultural but is briskly breezy and lacks the crowds, Breezers and hen dos of Brighton.Having a ravenous ratty lust for vinyl, I always used to allow myself a dig in a record store. But almost always am disappointed.High prices, obvious titles, and an awful sense that for many this really is the kind of "lifestyle" business chronicled in Blokelit (and mocked in Chicklit) put me right off. I now spend far less time browsing blind in a new shop - a quick look through the window is enough to tell me if its a zone of hipsta repress ripoffs, Dadrock Doodads or Hornby Horror. I have a vague memory of visiting Abstracks and it was pointless. A few racks of very expensive, obvious classics and narcissistic GCSE standard "Fine Art" made it clear this was about Living the Dream rather than bringing great music to the people.The two owners broke up, maybe because of a bad portrait. The bloke half of the pair began court proceedings to secure 7,000 allegedly missing slabs of wax he and his mum could not recover. These may include original early pressings of The Beatles and Elvis, but the collection involved seems more a symptom than a loving musical archive. Spice Girls picture discs are less welcome in any real music lovers collection than a bad case of diarrhea at an orgy. And the fact he could compile all the missing 7,000 records in exact order, from memory is as much a tragedy as an achievement. Much of the coverage surrounding the saga pokes fun at the obsessive alphabetising male centric world of "collecting" - illustrated by a still from High Fidelity. A film that hangs like an albatross fart of uncool over record lovers who don't violently reject it.The culture around a lot of remaining shops make this worse.Still listed on ebay for £300,000 is a long standing Soho institution, On the Beat. I've gone in there once, long ago. Think I bought a Verve Latin Jazz LP of some kind. It was nice, but seemed like it was a place soaked in formaldehyde. The tone of the copy the owner put on eBay says more than it should:"If you're at the stage in your life when you don't have to worry about making money but can live the bohemian life, meet interesting people every day and the occasional pop or rock star, here's your chance to take over the oldest record shop in the centre of Swinging London."This is not presented as a business, it is a lifestyle choice for the rich and idle. Given the location of the shop and the costs involved in running it, you'd need to be a fucking oligarch hipster to consider it and even then it would be lonely. Tourists, Oxford street shoppers, and assorted randoms are not going to pop down that street to dig vinyl in any number. Lifestyle choices of rich older men are not a future for music.There is a saying in the retail world: "Go big, go niche or get out." With a music market in flux, that means there is no room for anyone who has no reason to be here. Big boys have scale - and can spend the marketing dollars needed to get people hooked. Niche shops based on love and simple honesty pick up where real music lovers decide that they want something more than a £7 latte and a Lily Allen Limited Edition Gold Vinyl 10" of trash, or already Get It. Our customers have Got It for years, and the love is mutual. We don't sell New and don't go in for novelties so its a sick irony that the big players benefit us the most in the long term.Between 2001 and 2012 the number of independent record stores in the UK fell by 69% and album sales went off a cliff, with a decline of 68%. Digital downloads, Amazon, overpriced CDs, Tesco and the fact most pop "albums" are a couple singles with filler from throwaway acts all conspired to trash the space. Meanwhile, vinyl sales in the UK have gone up 88% in the last six years and by 600% in the States. These are sold by the valiant survivors. All that have been left after the popcrapalypse is what is relevant. Like Rat. And ironically, Rough Trade.I've not been round the Ladbroke Grove shop in many many years and never will again. But the hipsta horror they set up in the East End gets people into the habit of loving vinyl, and is more a venue than a shop anyway. The wrong vinyl, to be sure, but just like a kid sipping on a Blossom Hill Chardonnay chances are that he'll get curious for something better and start to desire the real stuff. And now Rough Trade are opening up a 15,000 square foot pop palace in New York City. Some say this is a step too far, and it might be, but the publicity alone and the numbers of young people who will go in, get interested but want more, better, more honest, more funky and more original.We are all the children of ancient rats. As the dinosaurs fought over the carrion and burning ashes, rats evolved into mammals and took over, unseen and unfelt underfoot by the loud, the big and the stoopid.So raise a glass to the bubbly babblings and over-expansion of the uncool - the future of vinyl depends on it.