It’s not really a proper holiday unless I drag everyone miles out of town to an obscure or sought-after record shop. Before the kids were born – well, Ange was heavily pregnant – we managed to alight at the wrong stop on Michigan Avenue, Chicago. ‘It’s only a few blocks further up,’ I cheerily proclaimed. Two hours and several miles on, in the blazing noon-day heat, we arrived at the Quaker Goes Deaf only to find the shop closed because of a flood. ‘But we’ve come all the way from London,’ I whimpered, hopelessly, to the distracted owner. ‘Sorry, man. Next time.’ (There wasn’t a next time – it closed in 2005.)
There was the fantastic electronic/avant-garde retailer in the crumbling old town of Lisbon, which had Wire magazines stapled to the ceiling and in which I spent a fortune – largely on Portuguese improv and electronica and ambient records from Cologne. That was in 1997, when you could still come across goats wandering about the streets; seven years later I think we must have plied our daughter with three or four Heroic World ice-cream tubs to shut her up while I spent an afternoon scouring every street corner, climbing up cobbled passageways and down back alleys. No goats, and no record shop. (It’s not here either, though I wonder if it wasn’t the first incarnation of this, Preterito Perfeito?)Then there was the journey through the outer suburbs of Budapest in search of the city’s finest jazz emporium. Engineering works on the tram perhaps added a couple of hours to that trip. Eventually we made it, on a sweltering Friday afternoon, and haltingly translated the sign in the window: ‘Closed for August’. In more recent times I wish I’d taken greater advantage of the jazz retailers of Helsinki; and I’m still paying off a splurge in New York from a couple of years ago (once the guy St Mark’s bookshop had pointed me in the correct direction for the relocated Kim’s Underground).
It all started in Berlin, though, back in 1996, in what I’m pretty sure was the original Hard Wax shop. Ange translated the sign above the turntables for me: ‘only 20 records at one time, please’. That was unbelievable – at that time, if you wanted to hear something before purchasing it in London, you had to tough it out with the surly staff, then stand there while the whole shop listened to and passed judgement on what you were thinking of buying . . .
At the new Hard Wax this summer I found a handful of reggae 7”s I’d had in my notebook for a while, there still seemed to be about 15 turntables for use, and the shop was busy, even on a Monday afternoon. Life doesn’t get much better. It also added a spring in my step to see that Mr Free and Mrs Dead is still going strong in Nollendorfplatz. Two decades ago I picked up a cd of early Smog recordings there; this time I went for a Bonnie Prince Billy 7”, which didn’t quite make the cut this month – next show, maybe . . . (The photo this month is taken from a flea market in East Berlin. Sadly I didn’t quite have the wherewithal, resources or strength to tackle Easy Jet with this beauty.)