What can we add to the story (nay legend!) of Record Collector in the Sheffield suburb of Broomhill? I’m still not sure why it’s taken me this long to add it to our list, except that they’ve been in the city for so many years us locals take it almost for granted. Record Collector opened in 1978 in a small early-Victorian parade of shops in the heyday of vinyl, and expanded into the shop next door in the eighties to enable them to provide a comprehensive compact disc department. And the shop is still there, treasured by many (probably by more than actually ever shop there sadly), serving a die-hard music clientel.
Owner Barry Everard had been to University in the city and walked into a job at Sheffield’s Virgin Records just after they opened in 1973, when they realised as a customer he knew more about their stock than they did. After a while learning the ropes, he was the store manager for four years at a time when Virgin were a properly alternative record shop. Barry got fed-up with the growing corporate nature of the chain and took a chance opening Record Collector in the heady days of Punk and New Wave, when vinyl collecting was arguably at a peak.
He championed many local bands, giving shelf and window space to their own-label singles, and continues to do so to this day (with at least one band, Gomez, making sure the shop got a gold disc by way of thanks). And he was as happy to stock Def Leppard’s first own pressed single as he was The Comsat Angel’s debut EP (their singer briefly worked there for a few years.) All the local musicians shopped there including Martin Fry and Phil Oakey.
In 2015 the shop remains a reminder of how our high streets used to be, full of independent traders and family businesses. Broomhill is only a modest shopping area but the last few years have seen it hacked apart by greedy landlords and a supine local authority, who refuse to provide any support or encouragement to local retailers. No lesser person than John Betjeman once spoke of Broomhill as the finest suburb in England. The council responded by allowing one entire side of the main street to be raised to the ground for a bland sixties shopping row. Twelve student letting agencies (twelve!) now crowd out proper shops; the fab indie cafe Creem were forced out by Costa; the local hardware shop was evicted after fifty years by Sainsburys (and they’re trying to kill them now by offering piles of cheap hardware in their window), the local newsagent went under in September and no fewer than four supermarket mini-chains battle to hoover up passing student trade and put the squeeze on anyone trying to offer an alternative.
It was these same students who once helped fill Record Collector as well, but the music scene ain’t what it used to be, and most seem content with their iPhone files. Older music fans who still play CDs usually stick with what they already have and I’m as guilty of that as anyone. Today Subway are garishly occupying the shop next door and other chains are probably eyeing up Record Collector with envy.
It’s easy to suggest that Record Collector might gee itself up; get themselves a nice logo, sort out the racking, tidy away the clutter, perhaps wash the lino in the vinyl room once a decade (or at least board over the nasty step at the back which catches many browsers out!), but I don’t see that the new breed of neat and tidy vinyl specialists are any busier for their squeaky clean approach. And anyhow, a lot of the ambience and quirkiness of Record Collector would probably disappear along the way. Maybe we need a ‘friends of’ now, to ensure it keeps going when Barry decides it’s time to pass on the baton.
Until then we do our bit by trying to buy something everytime we visit (and let’s be fair, it’s not hard to find something worth a punt, while the prices are rarely less than excellent) and spreading the word.
We were last there a few weeks back for an in-house by local electronic duo Lost Garden, after which they and Barry spent ages discussing various cutting edge CDs while keeping an eye open for zealous traffic wardens (the band had to park across the road to get their gear across, but were only allowed a one hour stay!); which is when these pictures were taken. And he still found time to dig out a handful of old Sheffield sleeves he’d put to one side for me.
I’m sure they have an online store because we see one of their staff struggling up the road with bags full of vinyl when we’re doing our own post-office run (our local post office having turned into a bloody WHSmithLocal and scrapping the full counter service), though I’ve never found it despite searching.
But in any case, there’s nothing quite the same as a proper in-store browse, so put it on your list of things to do. Shut Sunday and Wednesday.
If you see a guy in a loud shirt quietly restocking the CD racks, say hello.