An Introduction

I first became interested in 4AD, a UK independent record label founded in 1980, towards the end of the '80's. I was falling in love with the music of Dead Can Dance, Clan of Xymox, Pixies, Bauhaus and The Birthday Party and was surprised when the 4AD label sampler "Lonely Is An Eyesore" came out in 1987 that all these bands were from the same label.

After visiting a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition of some American's collection of art, I came to thinking of all this musical art that 4AD have released that may one day drift into obscurity unless someone shows it as art. So now I'm on a crusade, to collect the first ten years of 4AD's releases and exhibit the collection on 4AD's 50th anniversary in 2030. This is a big task which will have some interesting twists and turns along the way.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Tour De France, Tour De York, Tour De Record Shops

Last weekend I had the great privilege to stay in the city of York to watch the Tour De France stage start from there. I always love seeing the Tour De France, having watched it on the television since 1985. But this was also a great opportunity to go and pay a visit to all the record shops in York. On the Friday I had made a trip to a local record shop at home first. It's an interesting shop, thousands upon thousands of records, cd's and cassette tapes.

As an experienced record shop visitor, I can usually tell quite quickly if a record shop is going to be of any use to a 4AD collector. Cocteau Twins and Pixies have to be the easiest and most prolific releases to find. If a shop doesn't have any releases of these two artists, there's a very good chance that there is practically no chance of anything more obscure such as Dead Can Dance or Clan of Xymox. It's not a hard and fast rule, but is an easy indicator. I was determined that weekend to put aside my previous judgement of UK record shops and thoroughly search through them to see if my prejudice was justified or not.

The local record shop did actually have some Cocteau Twins and Pixies, so things were looking up. But the first hurdle was the lack of discipline in organising the records into their sections. I found 4AD stuff under Goth, Indie labels, rock and 80's pop. It would take days to go through every section on display, so some sort of common sense was needed. There were about seven or eight Cocteau Twins releases, of which The Spangle Maker was three of those, all the same (except for one which was an original embossed - at the same price as the other two). All of the release were English pressings of which I had all of them. Except for Cocteau Twins and Pixies, there wasn't anything else and certainly nothing outside of the typical English releases.

Knowing that there was a real mix up in the discipline of releases between the sections, it meant that it was likely worth going through some of the unlikely sections to try and find a hidden gem. But I always find that kind of search soul destroying. Looking through masses of 80's pop, with tons and tons of cheap chart topping drivel, selling at 50 pence a time (which is still overpriced), with practically no surprises and having done this so many times before, getting sick of seeing the same faces, the same graphics as hundreds of previous searches over decades of record collecting, the will is sapped.

After a couple of hours searching, I leave empty handed, not even close to finding anything of interest. Bearing in mind that I have over 930 items in my want list and the fact that I'm also interested in picking up anything else of interest that I may find. The word disappointed doesn't even come close.

At least I had the weekend in York to look forward to and a list of five record shops to go and interrogate.

With my phone and a list of handwritten post codes I set off for the first shop in the centre of the city. There were two close by on the list and while looking for the first, actually found the second instead. It didn't look promising. In the shop window was a selection of classical and jazz releases and I feared that it would be a more specialised shop than I was looking for. Inside, there was jazz music playing and first couple of sections were listed as Jazz and Classical. The main reception was all CD's and along the back wall was a section of Rock, Indie and Pop. The rack had a few hundred CD's and was very helpfully split into lots of artists and an alphabetical catch all of every thing else. In about a half hour I had looked through them all and found one compilation CD of The Birthday Party, Mutiny / The Bad Seed EP. I couldn't remember if I had this already, so bought it anyway. At the back of the shop was a small collection of vinyl of which there was nothing of interest at all.

Across the road was another of the listed record shops. Entering it though, it looked more like a brick a brack shop, than a record shop. There was about four boxes of vinyl, three of which was all new and sealed stuff. The fourth box just had charity shop quality stuff, easy listening and pop albums. No luck there then.

Another shop was right in the very centre of the city. My lovely long suffering wife had brought a book with her and it came in handy as the shop actually had a little bench outside in the sunshine, just perfect for the record shopper widow. I always thought that shops miss out on a treat here. Record shops should have a widow waiting area with tea, biscuits and usual shopping magazines. Clothes shops should have a bloke waiting area, with a games console or a tv with Rambo or some such crap on, that way the other half can spend more time shopping guilt free.

This third shop had a couple of thousand pieces of vinyl, with no sections at all, except for a couple of boxes of dance 12"s. I started at A and worked my way through. I could tell from the start that the shop wasn't going to have much. By the finish of C and no Cocteau Twins, my expectations had fallen completely. The whole shop had nothing at all.

The third shop on the list was on a small lane, again right in the centre of the city, but was up the attic of another shop and supposedly easy to miss. I couldn't find it though. The lane only had three shops on it and none of them had anything going up into an attic room. Another record shop bites the dust.

The last one was about two miles out of town. It was a lovely red hot and sunny day, so we walked to it. I hoped for a good record shop. Being out of town probably meant better rent and therefore a bigger shop and a better chance at some luck.

After a grueling hot walk in the sunshine, we finally got to the record shop in a little York suburb. Once again, the sections were poorly disciplined. There was a punk / new wave section that had no Cocteau Twins at all, which was a bad sign from the off. I asked the owner where I would likely find the stuff I was looking for and he pointed me at a bunch of boxes on the floor marked as 80's. The shop didn't have any surprises in it at all and was typical rock albums mostly. The owner moaned about his work experience youngsters he had in recently just to put the vinyl into order and selections and I envisaged a couple of spotty teenagers without a clue of what they were sorting through as the owner sat around doing nothing at all while all his stock was a mess.

I left once again with absolutely nothing!

5 Record shops over a weekend and one CD bought. When I got home, I realised I had The Birthday Party CD, only I had the original and the purchased version bought in York was actually the re-release from around 2007, which looked almost identical except for the matrix on the disc itself. The telltale sign was a GAD number on the matrix against the CAD number on the sleeve. GAD was the number given to whole lot of 4AD re-releases.

I used to love going to record shops a couple of decades ago, but the experience is just not the same anymore, and I don't think the difference is from me. The record shops just don't have the stock or organisation to compete against the online competition even though online you also have to pay for postage as well. Maybe I'll give one of the large fairs a go?

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Record collecting, how long will it last?

I have been getting on with the job of buying in wanted items on the collection. Once again I have been bitten by idiot traders that can't be bothered to list an item properly. This time it was Frazier Chorus and the alternative release of Sloppy Heart re-released on Virgin in an unusual card sleeve, the important bit being the card sleeve, as without the sleeve, the version is then incomplete. As seems to be the typical story, the sleeve by the trader was graded as EX+ which looked positive, only to find on delivery that there was no card sleeve just a plain black die cut sleeve that anyone could have added. One complaint to the trader later was met with the typical indifference and lack of any surprise.

A couple of weeks later I found the same item from a more respectable outlet, let's see what difference that makes.

Over the past month I have noticed a worrying, but so far small, slip in the natural climb of music collection worth. I know that collectors only keep a small eye on what is happening as regards the monetary value of their collection, but what is happening in the market is important. If the market drops and people stop buying, apart from the value going down, traders stop trading and many important pieces of music may well end up in landfill. Ok, so that's an extreme end of the loss of value, but while it may seem good that prices go down for the collector in the short term, a fall in general value of music collections would look bad for the second hand industry and bad for the collectors and material would be a lot harder to find.

I have attempted to keep on eye on the general value trend of the market myself by keeping a spreadsheet of data going by adding to the spreadsheet the market value each day. At the moment I have 2,437 items in my collection, of which only a part is devoted to 4AD. The range of genre's and styles in my collection is pretty varied and so I think this gives a reasonable representation of the variations in the market. What I have done for the past couple of years is take the average selling price of releases sold on Discogs, then got the average of those across my entire collection. I have a couple of rarities and a whole load of stuff worth next to nothing. I think the results have always been quite interesting. As time has passed and more is added to my collection, the more accurate the data becomes as the averages iron out the discrepancies.

When I started with this data, I was still adding my collection to the database, hence the fall at the very beginning. Over time though I could see why some finance experts were proclaiming music to be the new financial investment like wine and antiques. The first year showed an increase in the average price by 12.5 percent. By April of this year, that trend was looking to be going the same way, as by April 2014 the increase was 6 percent over the half year.

Although all of this is an aside to the joy of collecting and enjoyment of the music, it can be nevertheless mildly fascinating. I have watched and wondered, when Beatles original pressings, Led Zeppelin originals, etc, etc, just keep rocketing in price, will the bubble burst and all of a sudden, no-one will give a rats arse about vinyl. Whilst it wouldn't make any difference to me in terms of my desire to collect, it would have repercussions on my ability to source the pieces I need for my collection.

Adding these figures to the spreadsheet since April 2014, I started to notice a stall against the expected increase. While ups and downs are always expected after a couple of weeks the figures tend to right themselves. But after 3 months of near stagnation, I can't help but wonder if there is a change underway. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into it. Perhaps in the next couple of weeks everything will shoot up and the norm will be established. But it is interesting as to whether the market can carry on getting £4,000 for a Beatles Please Please Me, £1700 for a Led Zeppelin I and still keep an interest for those that want a '60s Cliff Richard single worth only 50 pence.

On a side note, another trend I've tried to keep a record of is the extent of my want list with a hope to seeing a down turn in the number of items still needed to complete my collection. Items are discovered and get added sometimes at the same rate that I'm ticking things off the list.

The last time I published this chart I was getting a little frustrated by the fact that the trend was going up rather than decreasing. Nearly for every item I bought I found two others I hadn't previously known about. But at last as you can see above, the trend is going the right way, down. You never know, in a couple of decades I may have this thing wrapped up......hmm,... all kind donations will be gratefully received!!