Russ Conway Day

The only time that I ever queued for annual limited edition vinyl bonanza Record Store Day was for the third event in 2010. I'd participated in, and quite enjoyed, the first two; this had involved nothing more arduous than sauntering along to an independent record shop that I'd been visiting since I was in my mid-teens (and you can find an article about my first encounter with it in Well At Least It's Free) in the mid-morning, picking up a couple of bargains, and generally appreciating the upbeat atmosphere and overall sense of celebration of old-fashioned record shops and their patrons. By the third event, though, Record Store Day was attracting a good deal more media attention, and bemused half-interested reports on the national news were suggesting that 'queues were expected'. As one of the records being released in very small numbers on that day was a brand new single by Blur - their first in almost seven years, and the first to really involve Graham Coxon for even longer - and I was very keen to get hold of a copy, it seemed sensible to err on the side of hype and turn up as early as possible.

When did I arrive early on the Saturday morning, there was indeed a small queue forming, and amongst the line of thirty or so people I noticed one person I knew very well, two others I knew by sight, and many more utterly unfamiliar and steelily determined faces that may as well have had the URL for eBay in front of their eyes. I'd joined the back of the queue and had literally only been waiting for about ten minutes when one of the shop's staff appeared from nowhere and called myself and the other three to one side. In a low voice, he informed us that they hadn't received any Blur, Stone Roses or Rolling Stones singles, and as that's what he had assumed the four of us were variously after, he didn't see any point in making us stand around in the rain for no good reason. We were, after all, regular customers; everyone else he had 'never seen before in my life'. Feeling weirdly relieved, the four of us then went off to have a coffee and, well, a laugh, leaving the mystery shoppers to come to blows over Live At Leeds by Pulled Apart By Horses.

Since then, I've had nothing to do with Record Store Day; not out of any pompous, pious or purist reason, but simply because it doesn't really have very much to do with how I would normally buy records. It's not really aimed at people like me but at a completely different demographic, evidenced by the increasing volume of what I would personally consider rip-offs or money for old rope, but which large numbers of others seem eager and delighted to get hold of; and if they do then good luck to them frankly, as that's what record collecting is all about. Despite what some columnists might have to say on the subject, it's not a case of other people invading 'our' world, but of that world being thrown open to the wider public for a single day, and in many ways that can only be a good thing. I'm aware that I've probably missed out on some quite nice items as a consequence - though not always; there were still copies of the Doctor Who soundtrack EP Sounds From The Inferno and Georgie Fame's R&B At The Ricky Tick easily available even a month later - but also at the same time have managed to steer well clear of shoddy rip-off rubbish. Who in their right mind would fork out a tenner for a coloured vinyl 7" of a Derek And Clive sketch that had already been released several times over, and not even one of the funny ones at that?

This year, of course, there are an unreleased Pink Floyd track and rare early David Bowie outtake on offer, but both of those should have been on recent pricey reissues and weren't so Ian EMI can get to fuck if he's expecting me to queue for two hours and then hand over eighty four million pounds on top of already extravagant purchases. Anyway, if you're a full time record collector on the three hundred and sixty four non-Record Store Day days, then you'll almost certainly have the patience, perseverance and keen observational skills to get hold of anything you wanted a couple of months later for considerably less money.

That's not to say I've been above making the odd sarcastic dig at Record Store Day and its patrons, though. When myself and Ben Baker did an Advent Calendar podcast based on forgotten Christmas Singles recently, one of our choices was Snow Coach by fifties piano-pounder Russ Conway (which, incidentally, you can find on the excellent compilation Saint Etienne Present Songs For A London Winter; and which, equally incidentally, you can find my review of here), the absolute epitome of the clean-cut pre-Beatles pop star whose records all sounded pretty much identical. Russ Conway is something of a recurring obsession of ours, and during the course of our genuinely affectionate discussion of his 'unique' musical stylings, the conversation took the following turn (warning - contains an heroic amount of swearing)...

Needless to say, there wasn't a one-sided Russ Conway exclusive on offer as part of this year's Record Store Day. Even so, as a pointless situationist prank making absolutely no real actual point about anything whatsoever, I thought it would be fun to try and find a Russ Conway record in an adjoining charity shop while everyone else was queueing up in the hope of getting hold of a pink 7" of Barbie Girl by Aqua. And, well, it was harder than you might think.

If you were looking for endless Blaster Bates albums or about seventeen million copies of that Break Through - An Introduction To Studio 2 Stereo thing, then your luck would have been in. In the market for an Elvis Presley compilation with a bizarre cover showing what appeared to be the HMV dog throwing 'shade' at him? Not that difficult to find. Album with Johnny Mathis forcing a terrifying green balloon with a face drawn on it into a youngster's hand? Some sickly-looking effort called Magical Mystery Man - A Children's Musical By Colleen and Charles Segal? That horrendous bulky Karaoke Party CD that everyone had at every party in the early nineties? A shelf of seven or eight Jeremy Clarkson books inexplicably but deservedly turned upside down? A complete collection of Stargate SG-1 on DVD? Then roll right up and you could walk away with the lot for about a quarter of the price of even the cheapest Record Store Day 'exclusive'. But - astonishingly, and indeed frustratingly - nothing by Russ Conway. Apart from a 1976 album featuring 're-recordings' of his hits, for which there is not enough NO in the known universe.

Three thoroughly ransacked charity shops later, I was starting to feel like a slightly less sociopathic Simon Quinlank (although some would probably argue more), but the hobby had to continue and a long player's worth of authentic Conway originals with the proper actual hit version of Side Saddle on it had to be found. Inevitably a number of things had already shown up that I did want, including a compilation by his hit parade contemporaries Steve & Eydie and a live album by space-age popsters Ferrante And Teicher as well as Ray Conniff's Hollywood In Rhythm which was worth picking up for the redhead on the cover alone, but still nothing at all by the China Tea hitmaker himself. Until, that is, I had the idea of rifling through the CD racks instead, and promptly found a Very Best Of featuring all of his hits and more in their authentic original versions. And all of them sounding exactly the same as each other, so much so in fact that twenty four tracks' worth of it started to feel more hallucinogenic through sheer repetitious weight of Pot Black Theme-resembling force than Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band ever quite managed.

It's probably possible to turn this into some kind of serious point about how it's increasingly easy to get hold of popular and modern music on vinyl whereas the forgotten and the neglected hits and misses of yesteryear can only be found on CD if you're lucky, but really, what would be the point? If you're enjoying the 'Vinyl Revival', then good on you frankly and please keep trying new sounds (especially if they're actually not-so-new sounds) instead of relying on what the broadsheets tell you that you have to buy. And in the meantime, everyone else keep rediscovering everything else. That way we might even get a Boys Wonder CD one day. Probably not for Record Store Day, but in all honestly, I'd probably queue for that.

If you've enjoyed this, you might also enjoy this slightly more charitable piece about Record Store Day.

If you've enjoyed this article, you can find plenty more about the early days of pop music and black and white television in my book Not On Your Telly, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.