It took Simon Vincent 15 years to turn his dream of owning his favourite record shop into a reality, but as Ben Wardle discovers it was worth the wait.
Hidden in the middle of Gloucestershire’s photogenic Five Valleys, Stroud is not the sort of place that you’d discover by passing through. You have to be deliberately intending to visit it, because it’s not on the way to anywhere.
But increasingly, that is exactly what record collectors are doing because, for a small market town, it punches above its weight for music: alongside two annual music festivals, numerous venues and a wealth of thrift and house clearance stores selling used vinyl, it has three dedicated record shops.
Trading Post is the jewel in Stroud’s musical crown: “It’s got respect from all over the country and from other record shops as well, because it’s been going for so long.
It’s the longest running in Gloucestershire and probably in the top 10 or 15 in the country,” says its owner of the last 19 years Simon Vincent. The story of how he came to run the shop reads like a fairy tale.
The shop was originally started back in 1977 by former Chrysalis Records employee Jo Walters as a place to offload her unwanted accumulated freebies. But she also surfed the musical wave that was happening at the time: “In those days, not many shops in Gloucestershire would stock punk and post punk apart from Jo,” says Vincent, “so the Gloucester punks would come over to this tiny shop. It took off and became much more than a second-hand venture to sell off her collection”
Orphaned as a teenager, Vincent moved to Stroud in 1982 to live with his grandmother and aunt. He soon fell in love with pop music and Walters’ shop. “It was a really friendly place; it was never about being exclusive or too cool for school. Jo and Phil, the owners, were warm and open and just bloody lovely: Trading Post was and still is that sort of place.”
Vincent diligently passed his exams and then went on to study business. He had a plan: “At 18, I decided that one day
I was going to buy that record shop; one day it will be mine!” 15 years passed and he found himself in a senior position in a local bank, but still regularly visiting the shop. He discovered that Walters was tiring of the job and looking for a way out: “I said if she wants to sell it I’ll buy it from her. That night, we met and she told me she was up for selling it. I paid all the money I had in the world.”
But working out his notice at the bank, Vincent suddenly woke up to cold reality: “I had no idea how to run a shop, I’d never even had a Saturday job in a shop, I had no idea how to work a till, let alone a record business!” After record shop management 101 input courtesy of Walters, Vincent kicked off 2001 as Trading Post’s new governor.
‘Things move so quickly now, mostly upwardly, so it’s my duty to myself, to the people who use me to sell and to my customers to get the price right’
Of course, back then local record shop had a slightly different meaning to the one it has now: effectively, it was a room packed with CDs. In 2001, there were almost 1,400 local record shops in the UK; within five years there would be less than 250 left. How did he survive?
“I wondered if there was a market for vinyl records. I had six and a half thousand pieces at home, so I put them on sale to give me an indicator of whether there was a market for it. People swooped on them like vultures! I knew it was the way forward for me.”
So while continuing to stock CDs and beginning to rack the small number of new releases that were being pressed on vinyl, Vincent started selling the collections of locals who were emptying out their lofts.
Crucially, he devised a system for doing this, which he still uses to this day: “I introduced a scheme where people would bring in their records and instead of me buying them from them we would go 50/50. I did this for a number of reasons: one, it’s a fair trade thing, the owner gets a fair crack of the record’s value, which means I can hold my head up high when I see that person in the street or in the pub, rather than ‘that’s the bastard who stitched me up and gave me 50p a record!’. Two: it means I can guarantee that they’re not stolen because no thief is going to leave behind what they’ve stolen without any money and all their contact details. Thirdly, I do it for tax reasons: the value of your stock goes into your tax return and you pay tax on any increase of your stock in a 12-month trading period even if you haven’t sold it. Because I don’t own it, I don’t have to pay tax on it – it’s crazy being taxed on future earnings without any guarantee of earning, and I avoid that.”
Stocking other people’s collections also appealed to Vincent’s eclectic taste in music. “I love pop music, but I love more intellectual stuff too…” and this is reflected in the shop’s policy of stocking new releases, evergreen classics, plus a good smattering of leftfield alternative and electronica.
Soon, Vincent had moved from the shop’s bijou old premises on Nelson Street to its bigger current location in the centre of Stroud, on Kendrick Street. This coincided with Record Store Day’s second year in the UK. “I remember turning up for work at nine as I do on a Saturday and joked that there was a queue outside the shop, then I realised that there was actually a queue!”
Trading Post’s Record Store Day festivities reflect the tight-knit, left-wing artistic community that Stroud is; think Hebden Bridge or Totnes. From the get-go, Vincent’s friend DJ Neil Wilson has always booked a full day’s worth of disc-spinning appearances from local celebrities, fellow shop-owners and performers. “Keith Allen came and it did it with his partner Tamzin as Chalk & Cheese, Carl Harrison from Sisters of Mercy did a set, Neil Arthur from Blancmange did one too. It’s great, people stay all day. This year, we had local label Situation doing a set and they also brought Tom Findlay from Groove Armada. We also had Ethan Johns doing a set and Neil Arthur was back again, this time plugging his Blancmange RSD release!”
Trading Post isn’t the sort of shop where everything is neatly itemised alphabetically by genre. In many ways, it recreates the serendipitous joy of the charity shop. New releases are racked on the right as you enter, but they’re not in any order and often you’ll find some vintage gem tucked away in there, too. In the rest of the shop you’re likely to find an original Jimi Hendrix Experience album sitting next to a Eurythmics album simply because they’ve come from the same person’s collection. It’s a shop that rewards the patient.
So what sort of collections does Vincent get? “I’ve never advertised. For the most part, it’s 50 to 200 records. I remember one guy just turning up in a Transit van full of vinyl… another time I got a collection of 9,000 which a friend who was book dealer had bought at auction. The best one we’ve had wasn’t the biggest but it was the best that we’ve had by miles. Last November, a mother and daughter came in and said that the husband/father had passed away and had a collection of 1,500 pieces, which they wanted to sell. They brought in a sample crate of them – they were very noticeably all on Rough Trade – The Smiths, Essential Logic, The Fall. They said there were eight crates.”
“The man had been an accountant for the Rough Trade label, so it was what he’d been given and what he had collected beforehand. I said I’d be happy to sell them! In December, they came in again and told me they would be in in the New Year with the records. I get a lot of people saying they’ll come in and then it never happens, so I wasn’t sure I’d see them again. But they turned up on a Thursday at the end of January and it was an absolute joy! In a third of the record sleeves there was the standard release and a test pressing. There were seven Smiths test pressings, plus things like Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland, not just the original but A1 B1 with the blue print sleeve, which turns a £120 record into a £500-600 one… a pristine copy of Tomorrow’s self-tilted album from 1968. I said to the bloke who was looking at it, ‘that’s a five hundred quid record’ and he leans over to me and says, ‘And it’s worth every fucking penny!’”
It Was Really Something
This writer was lucky enough to witness the collection and, indeed, purchase some of it. It was so special that we suggested Vincent start charging admission for the one-off privilege of seeing so many legendary albums in such pristine condition. Vincent estimates the collection was worth somewhere between £30,000-£35,000 – did the owners know its value?
“I told them there and then that what they had was special. They had no idea. After about six weeks, they came in to see how it was going. I said to the daughter that I had some money for them and asked if they wanted it. She said, ‘No, if I have it now I’ll only blow it on a pair of trainers… is it alright if we wait until they stop selling?’ So I asked if she wanted to know how much money they’d made so far, but they were adamant that they didn’t want to know. I’d want to know!”
So how does Vincent value his second-hand stock? “I research every single piece. Things move so quickly now, mostly upwardly, so it’s my duty to myself, to the people who use me to sell and to my customers to get the price right. I could sell a record for £60 that’s worth £600 because it’s a rare pressing, and customers are very knowledgeable – they’re not going to be happy if I’ve got something underpriced because they’ll think I don’t know what I’m doing – they’ll think if I’m not getting it right on the upside I’m not getting it right on the downside.”
When we ask Vincent about the most valuable record he’s ever sold, he returns to the Rough Trade collection. “It was a Smiths test pressing of William, It Was Really Nothing for £1,550 two weeks ago! I ended up with seven Smiths test pressings. Someone phoned the shop who had heard about them and he was a rabid Smiths fan. He said, ‘Can we
go through some details?’ He was so knowledgeable: matrix numbers, raised bit in the middle. He bought seven different items and spent over £4,000. He was delighted when he received them.”
And what, at a push, would Vincent love to see come in through the Trading Post portal? “Well, there are records I’d like to see in the shop and sell, like The Beatles on gold Parlophone, but the absolute holy grail to have, to hold, to cherish and to cry over would be the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen on A&M. I would faint if I got that. I’d like it for myself, but I couldn’t afford it – it’s worth between £10,000 and £12,000. I can feel my blood pressure going up just thinking about it!”
Vincent oozes enthusiasm and energy. But he’s been behind the counter almost 20 years now, isn’t he exhausted by vinyl?
“Jo always told me that I would come to a point where I will tire prematurely. Working six days a week every week hurts you physically and mentally. She said it would happen to me around my 50th birthday, so maybe it was pre-programmed into my mindset a couple of years ago when I turned 50: I lost my hearing overnight in one ear – I woke up with what I though was a blocked ear but was a virus which had destroyed all the nerves. A one in 5,000 chance and it happens to a record shop owner! But I’m not ready to retire. I’m still enjoying it, the customers become friends. I don’t take myself too seriously. I go in wondering who I’m going to see, not how much money I’m going to make.”