Monday, April 30, 2012

Weekend Barngains

For Record Store Day the other weekend, I was in a position to buy lots of limited edition records, for once actually having some money as well as being sufficiently out of London (and close to a decent Wiltshire record shop) to avoid the queues of hipsters waiting for Rough Trade East to open. But though I love the idea of Record Store Day (artists releasing limited edition albums and singles on vinyl only), I don't love the prices. There is no way I am going to pay £8.99 for a 7" single (which I'll probably play once) or up to £29.99 for an album (which I probably won't play all the way through). Even if I buy to sell on eBay, which most people seem to do, I'd only make 100% profit, just not worth the time and hassle. (Though people disapprove of eBayers selling Record Store Day records on eBay, I don't see a problem with it, as many people don't live near a record shop, so eBay is the only way to acquire the records). Besides, many of the albums are simply reissues of old albums, still available to buy from your local charity shop for a pound or two (the one thing I was interested in, Animal Collective's EP Transverse Temporal Gyrus, I thought I'd download it illegally first and give it a listen… I liked it, but then thought, well, I've got it now… do I actually need it on vinyl? No was the guilty answer).

I was about to give up looking for LPs in charity shops; I'd wasted hours searching through piles of crap vinyl for months and not found anything decent. This weekend, though, lady luck shone on me. I thought this sort of thing didn't happen any more; if it does, it's once in a lifetime: on Saturday I walked into a charity shop (I can't reveal its location) and there were six original issue Beatles' LPs, a few solo Beatles albums, the first Rolling Stones LP and a Who compilation, all for £1 each (and in quite good condition). I snapped them up; if I'd been five minutes later, a very nice woman who I got chatting to would have got them (she and her husband were record collectors). As it was, she had to be content with the stuff I'd not bothered with: a poor Rolling Stones LP, The Hollies Greatest Hits, some Simon and Garfunkel. We chatted away quite amiably for a while but I could see the jealousy in her eyes looking at my finds. I even got a discount at the till – my boon companion was buying a £3 scarf, I had ten £1 records: the kind man at the till let us have both for £10 if we paid in cash.

On Sunday, as if being rewarded for trudging through the rain all day, I got lucky again with an original issue 1973 of Bob Marley and the Wailer's Catch a Fire LP, the one with the rare die cut Zippo lighter cover (rare because only 200,000 copies of it were pressed, as it was too expensive to produce on a mass scale – subsequent covers show a photo of Marley smoking a joint), the one that goes for £130 on eBay… for 92p. This is how it happened: I was looking through the crappy records in a charity shop. I accidentally knocked into a wonky book shelf above the records; the shelf collapsed and books went all over the floor. The kind woman at the till (people who work in charity shops are my favourite people, by default always nice people) told me not to worry about it, but I insisted on picking up all the books and putting them aside (the shelf was permanently broke). As if in reward for doing this, the woman let me have a look through a bag of records which had just been donated. Nestled amongst the Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisland LPs, the Zippo lighter cover jumped out at me. The price: £1. I had 92p in change or a £10 note. Charity shops are always short of change: the lady went for the 92p.

There are really only two types of charity shop: those which overcharge and those which undercharge. Obviously aware of eBay, and because they are businesses having to compete in a competitive market, a lot of charity shops are looking more like boutiques, with prices to match. In the case of records, charity shops, armed with a copy of the Rare Record Price Guide and eBay on the PC in the back room, are charging over the top for substandard records. I have seen, say, Michael Jackson's Thriller for £8, Mel and Kim's F.L.M. for £6, The Human League's Dare for £4.99. In other words, unwanted mass-produced 1980s 50p car boot sale records, the ones that don't sell on eBay for 99p, probably scratched and unplayable. Most likely an old dear in a charity shop has come across some chancer on eBay trying to get as much as he can for some crappy record, and priced it likewise in the shop. But – surprise, surprise – the records aren't selling.

Then there's the charity shops which undercharge, usually because of lack of staff with the knowledge to research and price items realistically. So they blanket price most items – All LPs & CDs £1, for example. This is my favourite and most reasonable price. If there is an occasional gem in the pile, it's only found via searching through dirty, torn, crappy records, so the gem for £1 is almost like a reward for persevering through the rubbish. I hardly ever pay over £1 for records or CDs nowadays (and haven't bought a £2.99 CD from Oxfam for at least a year, especially considering, for example, charge a similar price in their sales – I know it's better to buy from a charity shop, but given a choice between a dusty, grimy, possibly scratched CD for £2.99 or a brand new one for the same price…). If a CD or LP is £1 I can take a chance on it; it may be scratched, it may be crap, but it's only a pound, and the money goes to charity, after all.

One of my favourite things – and sometimes the most frustrating – about charity shops is the randomness. It's almost like the novel The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart; I don't want to have to make a choice in what I listen to, read or wear so I leave it to charity shops to decide. I don't actually mind that much, as long as it's a rare barngain. It is luck, but, you know, you make your own luck in this life.

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