Mike Atkinson

Sleccy’s vinyl countdown.

Posted in features, The Guardian by Mike A on March 13, 2009

(Guardian Film & Music, Friday 13 March 2009.)

Mike Atkinson on the rise and fall of Selectadisc, a much-loved institution in Nottingham since 1966.

Every city deserves a great record shop: as hang-out for the cognoscenti, learning centre for the novitiate, and focal point for the local scene. Since 1966, Nottingham’s music lovers have congregated in Selectadisc – a much-loved institution, widely regarded as one of the country’s best. Two weeks ago, to general gasps of dismay, the store announced it would close at the end of March. Although we knew times were hard for independent music retailers, few imagined that good old “Sleccy”, of all places, would go under. Then again, how many of us were still pushing money over its counter on a regular basis? As with so many revered institutions, we had taken it for granted for too long.

Selectadisc began life as a market stall, before moving to tiny, condemned premises – with cheap rent to match – on the edge of Nottingham. Before long, owner Brian Selby spotted an opportunity to corner the market in Northern Soul rarities. Opening a “soul cellar” below the main shop, he traded in US imports and UK repressings, offering unmatchable bargains to Midlands soul fans – including a young Pete Waterman, who travelled up frequently from Coventry. A mail-order business followed, along with a record label (Black Magic), which licensed reissues of Northern Soul floor-fillers. Its biggest release, Papa Oom Mow Mow by the Sharonettes, briefly grazed the top 30 in 1975.

By the early 1980s, Selectadisc had graduated to the city centre. In late 1983, Selby bought a dilapidated reggae club in the old Lace Market, relaunching it as the Garage: a hip alternative to the chrome-plated, smart-dress-enforced pick-up joints of the day. Needing someone to play records in the upstairs bar on opening night, Selby press-ganged a young Selectadisc sales assistant called Graeme Park, at under a day’s notice. Park’s 25-year reputation as an international house DJ was founded at the Garage. Two years ahead of the 1988 “Summer of Love”, he spearheaded the introduction of Chicago house into the UK, before graduating to the Hacienda in Manchester. “If it wasn’t for Selectadisc, I would never have become a DJ”, he says today.

The club’s success fed back into the shop, which soon opened a dedicated singles store. Where soul DJs had once cursed Selectadisc for undercutting the value of their rarities, hordes of aspiring bedroom DJs were now flicking through its racks of 12in vinyl – a format the store never abandoned.

“I’ve always stuck with vinyl,” says the current store manager, Jim Cooke. “During the 1990s, I remember going down and talking to people at Warner Brothers when I was trying to get a load of John Coltrane and Charlie Mingus reissued. They just thought: you’re a fucking idiot from the sticks. And I proved them wrong. I’ve talked to EMI, and got Morrissey and Blur albums repressed. I also did a lot of work with Gordon Montgomery, who owned Fopp. The two of us used to work together in getting things reissued.”

Ironically, the Nottingham opening of Fopp in 2001 marked the beginning of the end for Selectadisc. Hoovering up the “50-quid bloke” market, Fopp effectively beat Selectadisc at its oldest game: sourcing and discounting overstocks, deletions and cheap imports. When Fopp went into administration in 2007, Selectadisc’s profits briefly bounced back up, only to slump again when the Nottingham Fopp was one of six stores in the chain reopened by HMV.

For 18 months, Sleccy soldiered on, “more as a social service than as a normally functioning business”, as current owner Phil Barton admits. But squeezed between the defecting 50-quidsters, the convenience of online retailers, and the general decline of recorded music sales, it was living on borrowed time. Now that time has been called, the punters have come flooding back – but you’ll still struggle to find anyone in there under the age of 30.

“I had two kids, two weeks ago, come into me”, says Cooke. “They were doing a business studies course at the local university. One of them said, ‘Why is your shop geared to classic rock like Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull?’ I said, ‘When did you last buy a CD?’ And he said, ‘Six years ago.’ So I said, ‘Well, there’s your fucking answer, mate.'”

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