Bearded’s Guide To… Newcastle

With Record Store Day fast approaching, Peter Clark takes us back into Newcastle to see why the independent record stores there are worth the effort.

Posted on Apr 13th, 2011 in Features and Interviews / By Peter Clark
Bearded’s Guide To… Newcastle With this weekend being Record Store Day, everyone and their editor is having their say about why it’s important to go out and buy physical music from your local independent record store (if you have a local one of course), and you get the odd person trying to be controversial by saying it’s a pointless waste of time. For many people, it can be hard to relate to a ‘real story’ of someone who lived within cycling distance of a small, uniquely scented, record store where they’d go to with their pocket money, and look through large square crusty vinyl and buying something because the imagery was outrageous or scary, and they have “The Moment”. It’s hard to relate to because in the past 10 years, local independent outlets have become engulfed in the shadow of their major retail competitors, and continued to struggle through their collapse, but mainly it’s because we have instant choice through the internet, while out food shopping, or copied from a friend.

But it’s important for this magical image of the record store to continue for one simple reason; it’s survival. And this is evident of many cities across the UK, not least in Newcastle.

The Geordie faithful are fortunate in comparison to many places across the country, as we have 4 decent independent record stores that have survived for many years, seeing through the collapses of Music Zone (Fopp), and Virgin (Zavvi) in the city, and with the way things are heading, will probably out live HMV’s reign on the Northumberland High Street.

Beatdown Records, formerly Steel Wheels, is split into two stores. Once named the greatest record store in the UK by Mojo magazine, under it’s new guise, they have a store dedicated to rock, punk, pop, specialised metal, and one to dance and R&B. Whereas outside the store can be sunny and pleasant, once you step down the entrance steps into their below ground store, it is, without trying to sound too pretentious, like another little world, full of music you’ve never heard of! Along with the piles of moth bitten, dog eared copies of old magazines under the tables upon tables of records, flyers strewn across the place to save on redecoration, the little doorway out back leads to another room dedicated to vinyl. And this is for the real musos who know what they’re looking for, and why that Japan only stickered record is really worth £45. It’s heaven for many, utter confusion for those who are used to HMV’s spaced out, brightly lit, chart-friendly hallways. OK, you might not always be greeted with a forced on smile, a uniform, or an overwhelming array of ‘Sale’ signs, but what you do get is a wealth of knowledge, a range of music genres some places wouldn’t even know how to pronounce, and, without sounding too pretentious, a sense of belonging, as you know, that buried in amongst the rows and rows of CDs or vinyl, is something you’re going to love, and probably not find anywhere else.

Once you’ve rolled up your sleeves in Beatdown, you can head off to the smaller Reflex where the core selling areas are focused on collectors box-sets, or dance vinyl. Hidden between some tattoo parlours and charity shops, it’s a slightly cleaner and modern version of the stereotypical record store that Beatdown still echoes. JG Windows is a different beast, as the diminishing contemporary CD area is being engulfed by actual musical instruments that a young Mark Knopfler used to ogle at as a young boy. The wealth of knowledge on show here is almost enough to scare some people off. The trouble with JG Windows, like the other stores, is that they’re all hidden away from public view, and left to those who are ‘in the know’. The first time I found Steel Wheels was simply that I got very lost one day, and followed some music I heard, and then Walla, an expensive but fulfilling love affair was born.

None are so more hidden away than RPM Music. Engulfed by the vintage clothing shops, the smallest of the stores, and yet probably the most well know, focuses on the very specialist music, in store shows, and dare we say, just a little bit pretentious (but a little bit can be OK). The size of RPM is an issue, so it’s more of a shop where you know what you’re wanting, then it’s an in, grab your desires, pay, get out to enjoy. All the shops are slightly different from one another, and that is key to their survival. Everyone would love to have more independent music outlets in their area, but what would be the purpose of having two of the exact same thing so close together?

The music lovers of Newcastle are very lucky to have four independent record stores keeping their feet firmly in the ground while others around them are crumbling, and this is why Record Store Day is so important for Newcastle. It’s not just about this one day, but about the other 364 days when the public (me and you) are coming back, not to buy the special one-off releases we’ll never play, but to buy the records that we want to exchange the money we’ve worked and spent our time for. If they’re specialist records then we’ll have more luck, but if you could get the same record in a supermarket, or massive high street chain, will it mean more to you finding it hidden away, in a warm little locally run record store, where words like ‘mass-duplication’ and ‘chart entry’ are given way to ‘personal’ and ‘individual’, won’t that record mean a little bit more to you?

There’s probably a deeply positive message here about how if you stay true to what you believe in and focus on your goal you will be successful and survive and blah blah blah...All I know is, we’ve probably never had it so good.

Record Store Day takes place on Saturday April 16th. If you can, please support your local independent record store.