A story of an old record shop, a lost single and the day Getintothis’ Rick Leach impulsively sold his complete record collection.
Rumbelows were an electrical retail chain pre-Dixons/Comet/PC World etc. They sold stuff like irons, fridges, cookers and the like and they were mired deeply in the post war 1950s-70s retail style.
Their store in Liverpool was spread over three floors and was full of technological wonders of the age; deep-fat fryers, Sodastreams and Breville sandwich toasters. The Liverpool branch was actually the old NEMS store from which Brian Epstein launched his career.
Deep in the basement of the store lurked a record department lost in time. This was distinctly old-school. You could still see where old listening booths had been back in the NEMS days. If you wanted a record by, say Vera Lynn, you fully expected to be asked if you would prefer it as a 78 or on wax cylinder.
Anyway, in back 1982, Rumbelows decided to shut the Liverpool store. As part of an intense closing down ‘everything-must-go’ sale over about two weeks, they attempted to make the best of a bad situation by getting rid of every record at low prices. So desperate were they to dispose of everything that it evolved over these two weeks into a musical jumble sale. Prices were slashed day by day, to the eventual ridiculousness of one price in the morning and a lower one in the afternoon.
By the end you could haggle and name your own price. I kept bumping into friends in there at random and we were all trying to get records at the as cheaply as we could. Matters reached levels of absurdity if we were all after the same record. We all sort of realised at the same time that if you hid it in the racks then it couldn’t easily be found and you could then return at a later date when the price had dropped.
I remember secreting Neil Young’s After the Goldrush within the M-S section right next to Nana Mouskouri, so that no-one else could see that Young’s masterpiece had been reduced to £1.49. Hoping that it would drop below a quid when I went back later, I eventually got it for 79p. I still feel a bit guilty about this.
There was no such hunt for A Sudden Sway’s To You With ReGard E.P., though there should have been.
That there was such an esoteric record being sold next to hairdryers and four-ring hobs defies all understanding. It had been released on such a small independent label and had had little or no press coverage. I think that there was a tiny four line review in one of the music weeklies and I never even heard it on the John Peel show. It was a mystery, an audio piece of driftwood, the fact that it had ended up filed beside Paul Simon and Sister Sledge in an electrical retail shop. Unless you were actively looking for it, it could have stayed there for years, as the sleeve was so nondescript. It was a 4-track 12” E.P. in a murky blue matte sleeve. The name of the band was in small print and the only artwork was a strange white line drawing of a weird, vaguely wizardly character.
I’d never heard anything by A Sudden Sway until I got back home and listened to it. Even now, after 30 years it still is a totally unique record. I would not know how to categorise it; avant-garde, progressive, dance-y, poppy. Hummable, ethereal, melodic and mysterious.
I searched high and low on the internet for a copy of it for years after I foolishly sold my copy along with the rest of all my records. Hundreds of them, carefully collected over a decade or more. All vinyl. Singles, 12”s and albums. Some of them I wasn’t that arsed about, records I’d bought and never really listened to, five minute or 35 minute wonders. Most of them were pretty OK and had meant something, records I went back to over and over again.
Then there were a fair few that I really loved; special records, full of memories and things to be treasured. I guess we all have those. Records that you could depend upon to get you through hard times and good times. Music that gave you goosebumps and a lump in the throat. Music that could even bring a tear to your eye, and music that would make you wonder in disbelief when you’d speak to people who’d say that they “weren’t really into music’”; who were these people? Did they not know what they were missing?
But in a weird sort of way, in a Rumblelows fire sale sort of way, I sold all of my records. The whole lot in one go. The ones I didn’t care about, the ones I did and the ones I loved. Boxes of singles, picture sleeves, coloured vinyl, punk collectables, post-punk rarities from indie labels.
The original pressing of Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch EP, the carefully collected and entire catalogue of everything on Zoo, stuff on Rough Trade, Factory and the rest. Boxes and boxes of albums; blues albums on Yazoo, avant-garde Japanese imports, oddities and rarities. The obvious and the obscure. They all went.
There was stuff I loved. Everything The Fall had recorded up to that time, all the singles and albums. The whole lot. Prince bootlegs; what I remain convinced was an original copy of The Black Album, a couple of live bootlegs and an ace outtake album from Parade called Charade. The JAMMs’ All You Need is Love. Everything. It all went. Including the Sudden Sway record.
But why? Why did I get rid of them all? All those records, special or not? If I loved music that much why let them go? And now, looking back, with all the vinyl renaissance going on, don’t I regret it?
Ah, well. There’s the rub.
It slowly dawned on me that with all those collectable records cluttering everywhere up, that I was sort of sitting on a fortune. Although not a fortune in a lottery winning sense, then enough to say, do something with, if I could cash them in. A realisable asset.
So, one Saturday I took a deep breath, stuck them all in the boot, on the back and on the front seats of the car, drove into town and flogged the lot in a second hand record shop. It was somewhere on School Lane, but don’t I think it lasted. I haggled and argued the toss, quibbled over the value of each and every one of them. I knew I got ripped off with some of them but what goes round, comes round as I managed to get a tenner for Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s first album. “Who’s laughing now?” I thought to myself.
In the end, when all the pennies and pounds had been counted up I had enough go and pay for a holiday. A proper holiday.
Everyone reading this – especially if you’re into music – will be thinking, “A holiday, a holiday? Is that what all those records were worth?”. Something as transitory and as fleeting as a holiday? But that holiday was for the whole family, all of us. And the memories of that holiday have lasted just as long as the music and meant much more than a bunch of warped and scratched records.
In any event, either through the internet or on CD, I managed to get back over the next few years all those tracks on vinyl that I’d got rid of.
As for the ‘missing the feel of records’ stuff? Well, to me, it’s a load of old bollocks. What’s more important; the feel of the cardboard sleeve or the music on the record? You can’t dance to artwork can you? I can’t dance at all, but you get what I mean.
However, although I replaced nearly everything, the Sudden Sway record eluded me for ages. I hunted high and low on the internet without luck until I finally, years later, I found an MP3 of it and for once, it lived up to the reputation I had given it. This is truly a classic record and should have been a massive hit. The fact that it wasn’t means it counts for so much more.
In respect of Sudden Sway themselves, they signed to Blanco y Negro and went a bit crazy, releasing eight different versions of their first single on the same day and their first album was packaged as a board game and record. Unsurprisingly it flopped and the band were dropped, recorded a bit for Cherry Red and disappeared.
All of the Sudden Sway records were good, and are worth tracking down, but nothing tops To You with ReGard. It’s perfection, and to me truly a great lost single.