Armed with a limited budget and some records to sell, we sent Mark Elliott to Brighton, the home of some of the best record shops on the planet…
There’s this moment we’ve probably all shared – the quickening pulse; eyes darting frantically, unable to focus on anything specific quite yet, and – yes – a heady, euphoric rush. That’s the feeling I get, anyway. The moment when I step into a record store – particularly one I’ve not visited before – where the racks of stock tease you with the prospect of that find: the elusive gem I’ve been searching for forever, or the record I didn’t even realise I knew existed, let alone now need!
It is a need and, yes, I do have an addiction. It probably started for me with the Grease soundtrack and, by the time Shakin’ Stevens was topping the charts, I was happily passing on the opportunity of an Easter egg for a picture-sleeve 7” of This Ole House instead, purchased by my long-suffering parents at the local Woolworths.
They didn’t know then what they were indulging, but these were the origins of a passion that now dominates two rooms of my house with a collection of roughly 19,000 singles and LPs.
My buying never stops and, although online sites such as eBay and Discogs serve their purpose, nothing beats a day spentcrate-digging.
Brighton is, I believe, Britain’s best town for record shopping and supports a staggering range of places to pick them up, from the unique specialists to the junk stalls where keenly priced gems can still be found if you’re prepared to wade through the acres of stock. What also makes this town so special is that a good number of shops are situated in a tightly packed area, meaning you can get a lot of ground covered in a relatively short space of time.
My thing is the 1980s, which – although it covers some highly collectable acts like Paul Weller’s Style Council, Madonna, Prince and Pet Shop Boys – also draws in less-treasured pieces by acts like Shakatak and Sonia. Over time, my ambition has swelled to a faintly ridiculous target: to own every record to chart in the UK during that decade. Not just the 7” either.
Over time, my record-collecting ambition has swelled to a faintly ridiculous target: to own every record to chart in the UK during the 1980’s
I want the 12” and the picture disc, too. And this was, believe me, the decade that also liked a limited-edition posterbag and a remix or three. None of that stops me buying the parent LPs either… With many 80s records priced quite modestly, it’s not always the most expensive genre to collect, but there’s a lot still to source.
The sheer volume I also now own throws up the inevitable duplicate bought in haste, error or just because the condition of the disc dictated a swap-out. So, armed with a handful of these superfluous items, my last trip round the town followed a familiar pattern: sell what I have and buy (almost certainly) a lot of new stuff while I’m at it.
Packing with me decent copies of the 12” picture-sleeve edition of Adam Ant’s 1990 Room At The Top, Donna Summer’s Back In Love Again 12” from 1978 and the Bee Gees’ Spirits Having Flown sampler, plus a near-mint copy of the double-disc Now That’s What I Call Music II, I reasoned that these might raise me a few quid, but weren’t likely to fund anything particularly pricey.
I buy new albums, too, and so somehow – most likely a slip of the finger on Cherry Red’s checkout page – I had a spare signed copy of Jimmy Somerville’s recent Homage set. I guessed that should sell better and so was added to the pile.
One way Brighton isn’t unique among Britain’s towns and cities is the number of ubiquitous charity shops. Prices have risen at them sharply over the past decade as the store managers began to understand some of their stock’s true value, but among the Val Doonican LPs, you can still find something interesting.
Parking’s a nightmare in Brighton, so you’re better off coming by public transport and there are regular train services from London. The station is situated right in the heart of the North Laines and you can be inside a record store within minutes.
Accommodation is plentiful, but it’s not the cheapest of destinations. Be warned, however, that if you intend to stay in Brighton overnight, it can be difficult to book just a single night at any time of year, so there you have it – we’ve given you the perfect excuse to make a weekend of it. Happy hunting!
I’ve had some luck in Brighton in these shops and there are a lot of them, particularly in Kemptown, a distinct shopping district on the eastern edge of the city but within easy walking distance of the centre. So, let the trip begin…
1: Uptight Records – uptightrecords.co.uk
First stop was Hove’s Uptight Records – the only place here you need to jump in a cab for. It’s worth the trip (costing about £10 from the centre of Brighton) as the store specializes in rare and collectable soul, funk and jazz. Bob Smith has run the place for seven years and really knows his stuff, making trips to the USA about three times each year to pick up new stock, where he says Pennsylvania and Texas provide particularly rich pickings. There’s a good range in the store and Bob will source discs for collectors who supply him with a wants list.
Sadly, in 2016, it’s Prince that has been in particular demand (a theme repeated by other shops across the day – seems like nothing works your back catalogue better than a death). I couldn’t see Adam Ant going down well here, so passed on giving Bob my pitch (Bob would kindly have taken Donna Summer off my hands, but experience has taught me I’ll get more for it if it stayed in a set with the others).
So I used the opportunity to try out his decks instead and sample the debut Pip-less Gladys Knight LP, saddled with the uninspiring title, The First Solo Album.
Released on Buddah, this 1978 gem was in decent nick and set me back a tenner. Grabbing a bus back into Brighton, it was obvious that the day was going to follow a familiar pattern and I’d be spending far more than I was likely to make.
2: The Record Album – therecordalbum.com
My next stop is, arguably, the city’s highlight. The Record Album is a stone’s throw from Brighton station and was, staggeringly, established back in 1948. Proprietor George Ginn has been here since 1962 and is still running it, with no discernible interest in retiring despite the fact he is nearing his 90th birthday!
This unique treasure trove specialises in soundtracks and, although some of the (often mint) stock appears to have moved each time across the business’s three locations since 1962, there are some choice finds here, too. Again, there seemed little point in trying to offload my stuff, so of course I started spending instead.
George checks each piece of vinyl personally before selling it to you and seemed genuinely pleased to be parting company with a copy of the soundtrack to the TV series Trainer, featuring Cliff Richard’s More To Life, and a Brady Bunch LP. Like a lot of record dealers, George doesn’t accept credit cards and so, as usual, my jeans pockets are stuffed full of notes for the day.
I also bought a couple of TV theme collections: a Florence Foster Jenkins set, Scott Baio’s second album (yes, there were two and, no, I didn’t know that either until today’s find, having bought his first in New York) and the US-only release To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar LP, reasoning that I didn’t yet own a vinyl copy of Cyndi Lauper’s hit remake of her Girls Just Want To Have Fun debut, which features on this soundtrack.
You can see I’m good at justifying a purchase and have had a lot of practice… Both stores carry an impressive volume of stock that’s neatly filed and easy to root through.
3: Across the Tracks – acrossthetracksrecords.com
Across The Tracks, in the heart of the North Laines, takes a rather more freeform approach and I was mildly horrified to find a cardboard crate full of 7” singles filling with water as it sat outside the shop entrance, poorly positioned for a late summer rainstorm. Stepping over this soggy welcome of likely worthless discs, the inside was, however, a real treasure trove with a good mix of genres battling for space.
There are a lot of CDs on the shelves here, but the vinyl is interesting – with great ska and soul sections – and the place was packed. I picked up a bargain copy of the All Saints 12” Pure Shores; this time reasoning that the William Orbit production meant it was a bona fide adjunct to my all-important Madonna collection.
With too many people crowding the counter discussing (of all things) Iron Maiden, I decided not to embarrass myself by trying to enter the conversation or haggle over a price for my Bee Gees disc in full earshot. It can be tough having tastes like mine… even in Brighton.
4: Rarekind Records – rarekindrecords.co.uk
In the same street, Rarekind Records throws up the day’s second-most-exciting find: an Australian import of Kylie’s debut I Should Be So Lucky in a unique picture sleeve. I collect and now own a lot of SAW/PWL, but didn’t even come across this during my honeymoon down under, nearly 14 years ago.
This gem sets me back a mere £3 and was buried in a wide range of general stock, including a lot of R&B and hip-hop collectables.
5: The Wax Factor – thewaxfactor.com
The Wax Factor in Trafalgar Street carries the largest stock, I believe, of any of Brighton’s stores. Those with long memories will recall the basement used to be where you’d buy singles, but now that collection is stored in a side extension, which also houses the Rock Ola Coffee Bar, complete with a free-to-play 60s-stocked jukebox.
Alan Berwick, who runs the singles range, tells me that the basement is now home to the shop’s massive amount of overstock, containing, tantilisingly, thousands more Cliff Richard discs. He’s not looking for any more (or further copies of middle-of-the road mega-acts like Phil Collins or Paul Young), but Alan says there has been a renaissance recently for synth artists, which makes me feel a little more hopeful my collection might perform some sort of pensionable function.
Apparently, obscure 70s glam continues to fly out the door and Alan tells me he’s noticed more people collecting the entire release schedules of some key labels such as Magnet and Chrysalis.
Again, this evidence of the sort of A-Z collecting I suffer from makes me feel I am not truly alone.
Alan likes to buy whole collections at a time and says the ‘walk-ups’ that try to flog a handful of records will likely never secure the best return. He’ll take my singles, but again, I end up buying far more than I make, raising just a few quid from my haul.
The Wax Factor carries a huge range of easy-to-find stock and I complete my Pepsi & Shirlie collection with a couple of hard-to-find picture discs.
This is the sort of store I can spend some time going through my wants lists with, so I also grab a copy of Michael Jackson’s Ben and, finally, a nice 7” copy of the Erasure chart-topper Abba-esque, which Alan helps me find. You don’t get this sort of service everywhere, especially for the sort of records I buy.
I catalogue all my singles and albums on a spreadsheet I keep on my smartphone and tablet, meaning I can check what I have with a swipe of my finger.
What I’m looking for either sits in my head or gets scribbled in a succession of Little Black Books, but there are genuinely not enough Black Books to fill everything I might want, so I’ve found that keeping a list of what I already have works better for me – to keep those dreaded duplicates to a minimum.
“I’m optimistic as people come to us for the originals, not the reissues,” Alan tells me. “Online has been difficult for stores like ours, but we are holding our own and people still like to shop.” He’s right – the place is packed. Next door, I see what my two LPs will fetch. Like most dealers, The Wax Factor offers more for exchange than cash and I swap out the offered £15 of exchange value for a copy of Prince’s 1999. At nearly £20, it’s at least £10 cheaper than a new copy at most retailers.
Just as I’m about to leave, I spot something truly heart stopping. Just behind the counter, I notice a copy of Madonna’s Blond Ambition LaserDisc, not yet on sale.
The groundbreaking concert never secured a full VHS release and was largely overshadowed by the cinematic and subsequent video issue of the singer’s Truth Or Dare (AKA In Bed With Madonna) documentary. £20 secures this interesting curiosity. I’ll never be able to play it, but it will file nicely alongside my vinyl copies of The Immaculate Collection and I’m absolutely thrilled. I could go home now. But I don’t…
6: Snoopers Paradise – snoopersattic.co.uk
The other place to pick up a bargain in Brighton is Snoopers Paradise. Again, situated right in the heart of the North Laines almost opposite Resident Music, there are a handful of stalls here largely or solely dedicated to vinyl. Some of the records are keenly priced, but there are some surprises still to be sought out.
I got a handful of 7” singles, including The Creatures’ Right Now and long-forgotten releases from Ringo Starr and Steve Harley.
As I’m about to leave, I spot something truly heart stopping. Behind the counter, I notice a copy of Madonna’s ‘Blonde Ambition’ LaserDisc
Those would at least have been noticed at the time, but it’s doubtful anyone was even aware that former EastEnder Oscar James was trying to reinvent himself as a pop star in 1986. Still, this copy of Love Riding High is signed and will be an interesting listen when I get back home – at £1, it won’t break the bank.
Snoopers Paradise sells a lot more than just records, so it’s not surprising that among the piles of old mags, there are items that can be swept into my collecting mania.
A US copy of Madonna’s infamous Playboy appearance in 1985 is mine for £18 and looks like it hasn’t even been read. One of the coverlines reads ‘Our Last Stapled Issue – It’s A Keeper’ so perhaps someone took the publishers at their word. I will certainly be keeping it safe…
7: Resident Music – resident-music.com
Resident Music in Kensington Gardens carries perhaps the city’s best range of new releases. It’s my favourite venue for Record Store Day and I spent some hours queuing here earlier in the year for a copy of the Soft Cell 12” Sex Dwarf in luminous pink vinyl.
The members of staff are super friendly and I’m tempted by Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Familia, but, given that my budget was busted, I left without buying anything (a rare occurrence, believe me). I needed to conserve what cash and energy I had left…
8: Brighton Flea Market
Kemptown also houses Brighton Flea Market. It’s a little bit of a walk from the main shopping area of the city, but has a couple of stalls that stock vinyl.
Sellers can leave their details at the main desk and the dealers will call you back. I’ve done this before and always been paid a fair price. Today, a 12” copy of the 1986 Audrey Hall hit Smile is secured for a bargain 50p, a perfect way to conclude the trip.
There’s still the Record Fair tomorrow (there are around a dozen across the year) and I’ll need to conserve some funds for that. A great day – I got as friendly a welcome as you can imagine. The cliché of the grumpy record-shop assistant unable to mask his disdain at your Thompson Twins purchase was conspicuous by his absence.
Now it might be all that sea air, but this city’s free spirit infuses what can be a rather solitary, intense obsession and shapes it into something warmer and more diverse. Take it from me: this small city’s up there with the world’s greatest record-shopping destinations.