"I live in east London, and since the closure of Smallfish it was a nasty, barren place for buying new records. Of course, there's all of London's great record shops only a tube ride away, but sometimes (let's face it, most of the time for me) you just want to pop into a shop on the way home, browse the racks and pick up something. "
As the Rough Trade East shop celebrates it's first Birthday with a series of in-store gigs, it shocks me to realise that I've never even mentioned it in these pages. So let's put things straight now. I live in east London, and since the closure of Smallfish it was a nasty, barren place for buying new records. Of course, there's all of London's great record shops only a tube ride away, but sometimes (let's face it, most of the time for me) you just want to pop into a shop on the way home, browse the racks and pick up something. Making a special trip to the West End or Camden is something to avoid at all costs. These days I've got a couple of great names to choose from, the previously mentioned Rough Trade East, and for the past couple of months there's Pure Groove too. After a year of no record shops in the area I was very excited by the prospect of Rough Trade opening just off Brick Lane. As it's just a ten minute walk from Liverpool Street station, it is in the perfect location for me. It opened a few days late, but let's forgive them that, and I soon popped in to make my first visit. It's on the same drag as The Big Chill Bar, some boutique clothes shops, an expensive hair dresser and a moped shop. It's large, glass fronted and BIG. The first thing in the shop is a coffee shop area : get your skinny latte and sit at the couple of glass tables, lounge around listening to the in store records, or read some of the hundreds of fliers lying around or posters on the wall. Next, there's a little section promoting the Rough Trade Album club (which I may write about a length at some other time), then the shop widens out a bit: magazine section to the left, Rough Trade record label albums to the front, vinyl to the right.
Then there are the books and new releases and the beginning of the main CD racks. Well, at least that's the order at the minute. All the shelves are on casters (I guess to move out of the way for in store gigs), and are liable to move between visits. The books and magazines are always in the same place, and you'll always find current favourites of the staff next to the tills on your right. Behind the counter there are the expensive boxed sets and the limited edition 12"'s. There's usually some exhibition on the walls (for the past few months it's been black and white photographs of your favourite music stars) and sometimes tucked away at the back, right hand corner, next to the T-Shirts. You'll find the stage for the in-stores right at the back too. You'll also find a couple of listening posts in the shop, with a few CDs to peruse, and some promotion stands for the shop to hawk their weekly favourites. Oh, and don't forget the Apple MACs under the mezzanine where you can get free internet access. Then there's the CD racks. Rows of them. Now, one of the complaints that I've always had about Rough Trade shops is that I am baffled by the cataloguing system. Describing it, it doesn't sound too bad (new releases, A-Z UK, A-Z America, OZ and NZ, Punk, etc) but I'll be buggered if I can ever find what I'm looking for. Some record labels deserve their own section, some don't. I go in with a particular CD in mind, can't find it, look somewhere else, forget what I wanted, drift aimlessly around the shop, randomly flick through something or other, and leave disappointed. How I long for A-Z. Of course you could ask the sales staff, but I've always found them to be a little bit daunting. I normally end up picking up something from the promotional shelves, or from the piles of staff favourites next to the tills. The other thing I've always found with Rough Trade is that they're a bit pricey. That's fair enough for recordings that you can't find anywhere else, such as imports or whatever, but on my visit last weekend I thought of a little test. Two CDs on indie labels that have been out for a little while: Spiritualized Songs in A&E and Maximo Park's Our Earthly Pleasures. Disappointingly, both are pushing £15. You could excuse that if they were really obscure, or brand spanking new, but these should be fair less than a tenner now. I do love the fact the Rough Trade East is there, and I'll continue to pop in and buy the odd CD, but I won't be buying all of my records from there. Pure Groove has a good pedigree. It's apparently had a shop in Holloway for years, but I've never considered a shopping trip to Holloway, so I'd never been. Now it's re-located to Smithfields, just a hop and a spit from Farringdon station. The obligatory glass front, gives way to a large open space (although not the cavernous space of Rough Trade East). Along two walls there's various CDs, 7"s and 12"s held in place with those clamps you used to get in school science labs. Each of these records has is labeled with a number and a description of a few lines. There are 100 corresponding hanging files which have the shops supply of that record. Thus, there are only 100 records on display, so I guess they must be shifting most of their stock online. There's also space for an exhibition, and some knick-knacks at the back. When I was in there the staff seemed to be preoccupied with setting up for a book launch (I think), but I was eventually served and impressed with the records they did have on offer. It, too, isn't cheap, but neither is it over priced. Pure Groove is a great addition to the London record shop scene, and it (and Rough Trade) deserve a bit of your cash: stop buying your records from the supermarket.
Words: Chris Gibson