Aidan Smith: Demise of the record shop breaks my heart

Owners Brian Findlay and Bruce Findlay with their shop's distinctive red carrier bag for LPs, outside Bruce's record shop in Rose Street, Edinburgh, 1972. Picture: Denis Straughan
Owners Brian Findlay and Bruce Findlay with their shop's distinctive red carrier bag for LPs, outside Bruce's record shop in Rose Street, Edinburgh, 1972. Picture: Denis Straughan
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What’s a loon-panted Seventies swinger to do when his favourite haunt closes down, asks Aidan Smith

Sold out? What did the girl with purple hair mean, she’d none left? I thought I was the only Wolf People fan in the whole of Edinburgh and such was the shock of the announcement that I wandered out of the record shop in the direction of another emporium, forgetting that this place closed down a while ago.

Another one is to shut at the end of the month - Ripping Records, which has fought the good fight for 41 years. This is getting serious. The capital city of Scotland is where the Beatles failed to make themselves heard above all the screaming, where Bob Dylan strode out in striped trousers, looking like the coolest guy in the history of everything, and where anyone who is everyone has performed. But purchasing rock ’n’ pop music here, in the old-fashioned way at any rate, is becoming a problem.

What about the new-fashioned way - buying Wolf People’s latest platter online? Well, did you see that TV programme the other night about Amazon drivers having to deliver 200 parcels a day? They were working illegal hours, breaking speed limits and peeing in bottles to save time because everyone wants their goods to arrive NOW if not sooner.

Obviously I’ve bought from Amazon in the past but now I’m making a stand, having no desire to add to the stresses of these couriers, I’ve ordered the record from one of the remaining outlets. I’m looking forward to hearing it but I can wait. If it’s similar to the band’s previous releases it will sound like it was recorded back when Ripping of fond memory opened, so there’s no real hurry. And there’s a wider point here: record shops have always been about more than just buying records, and their demise is sadder than sad. Take Ripping with its perfect situation for a famous teenage dare. Scientologists operated across the road, hoping to waylay passers-by with a winning smile. Would they like to come upstairs for a “free personality test”? Tom Cruise hadn’t yet been invented so Scientology was mysterious, or even more mysterious. My pals and I would thumb Rippings’s racks, when A stood for Atomic Rooster, B for Bloodwyn Pig and C for Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, and watch this street-ritual unfold. None of us was every brave enough to try the test. Besides, I think deep down we already knew that while we might have been in possession of loon pants, we didn’t actually have properly functioning personalities.

Ah, but we knew where the rude records were. H was for Jimi Hendrix, O was for Ohio Players and R was for Roxy Music who adorned their sleeves with women wearing progressively fewer and fewer clothes, as if part of a Benny Hill sketch moving deeper and deeper into the woods and past the jaggiest branches. This was an important rite of passage for teenage boys and, with record shops so scarce and CD covers in any case reducing the size of the canvas and scope for creativity and let’s face it, libidinousness, one that’s being denied the current generation. However, I understand they have their own techniques for studying the female form.

From boy to man I’ve hung around record shops - from shelf-stacker to fifty-quid bloke. I worked in my local co-op to fund my first vinyl purchases and enjoyed a brief period when there was sufficient disposable income for me to re-buy those albums in special boxset editions complete with pointless alternative versions of the songs such as Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street with a paper-and-comb solo instead of soaring saxophone. Now I’m dad with no pocket money of my own I mostly like to browse, which obviously isn’t helping record shops stay in business, and maybe what I need is for the National Museum of Scotland to kick out one of the kids’ interactive displays and re-create the classic Bruce’s experience from the early 1970s complete with authentic pongs (unwashed loon pants, unwashed long hair) and that lovely crackly sound of a gatefold sleeve with a shiny finish being opened up.

This - in Edinburgh’s Rose Street - was where the great obsession began. The one that girlfriends never understood back then; the one my wife doesn’t understand now. If you’re looking for the perfect illustration of how the sexes drastically differ from each other, then surely the liner notes of an album provide it. Women don’t care about this stuff and never bother reading it. Men memorise it and carry it around with them, in extreme cases on cards kept in their wallets next to organ donor info.

“High-flying chunks and vorticles of pure electronic wow.” That’s from the first Roxy Music album so I must have studied the words and not just the pictures. Bruce’s was a great shop for pure electonic wow. The guys behind the counter were surly, sneering smartasses and monumentally intimidating and my pals and I desperately wanted to be them. Imagine knowing everything about music, being surrounded by it all day long, playing it non-stop! Another rite of passage was summoning up the courage to ask to be allowed to listen to a record on the in-shop headphones, for your band-of-choice not to prompt mass chortling and for the request to be granted.

Bruce’s ruled the New Town until the first Virgin store, cuddly and far from corporate, came along. In the Old Town there was Hot Licks, Phoenix and the Other Record Shop. A brilliant day in my swishing-trousered youth was visiting all of them. A brilliant carehome in my soup-dribbling dotage would be record shop-themed.