A music blog from Ireland.
Just over a year ago I wrote about a new record store called Wingnut that was opening in Galway on the premises of the Bell Book and Candle bookshop. As regular CD sales diminished and other record stores closed around the country its aim was to ensure the local availability of independent Irish music in physical form. Headed by an enthusiastic Galway native called Ray with support from BB&C’s owner Paul Deacy, Wingnut Galway opened its doors last January and hasn’t looked back.
“At the start of 2011 both Paul and I realised that music retail in Ireland is no longer a viable commercial venture,” said Ray in reply to an email I sent asking how the year had developed for Wingnut. “What it can be is a community and cultural crossover point for fans and musicians. The people who purchase music from our shop are recognising the integrity of how the records, CDs and tapes are created. Paul and I, as a pair of music fanatics/nerds, are delighted to be part of that. Money made from Wingnut is poured back into printing posters, Fundit campaigns, paying bills and paying travel expenses for bands.
“The highlights of the year were the instore gigs. Over the twelve months of 2011 we hosted Lamp, Owensie and Jape.
On Culture Night, there was a huge gathering of local Galway bands and artists in the shop; Them Martyrs and The Driftwood Manor with loads of writers, rockers and poets. We had a big gig in the Roisín Dubh to mark our first year of retailing; Fat Actress, Lamp, The Bridges Of Madison County, Rites, Ilenkus and NeverNoodz all played on the night.
“Now we have Wingnut Waterford kicking off and that’s mad exciting! Kate and Hard Times are going to do a great job, and it will be great to see how a Wingnut style shop will grow under their guidance.”
Wingnut quickly found a loyal following and musicians passing through Galway who pop in to check on their merchandise have come away singing its praises, warmed and encouraged to find their music in such good hands. With the help of Hard Times Bookstore on Peter Street, local musician Kate Glavey has joined forces with Ray to bring that special Wingnut Records vibe to Waterford. The shop has been up and running for a few weeks now on the Peter Street premises.
“Within the last year Waterford’s only independent music shop BPM records closed.” Kate told me when I got in touch to ask what spurred on the idea of a second shop. “Seeing how lovely an operation Wingnut and Bell Book and Candle run, I asked Ray if it was possible to do something similar in Waterford, also asking Ciaran from Hard Times bookshop if he would be interested in getting on board. They both said yes. Ray is a dream [to work with] as is Ciaran who has been so obliging with his space and time. I’m very much looking forward to Wingnut Waterford and everything that goes with it.”
“To get Kate and Hard Times started we simply split up the stock from Galway and I dropped two boxes of CDs, vinyl and tapes to the halfway point: Dolan’s in Limerick.” Ray said, seeming quite matter-of fact about the business of setting up a record shop – can it really be this simple? “Very early doors yet but I think it’s gonna do great.”
“Paul continues to be the hero of the day, in terms of understanding and encouragement of the Wingnut project,” he carried on. “2011 was a very interesting year. It was brilliant in the sense that more people were finding out about what we’re doing, and that our efforts are being acknowledged by music fans and artists. So that gives us a great feeling of achievement and hunger for the ball.”
A lot changed in music retail over the course of 2011. While the doom stories of decline continued there was positive progress for independents; April saw the great resurgence of Cork’s Plugd Records when it re-opened on a new site at the Triskel Arts Centre with a cafe, wittily named Gulpd, that also doubled as a listening post at weekends where DJs like Aoife Barry dropped their favourite tunes. A few months later Dublin welcomed Gib Cassidy’s new venture Elastic Witch at the Twisted Pepper in September, its arrival made that bit sweeter by the fact that its genesis could be traced to Road Records where as a staffer, Gib had manned the till, stocked the shelves and was always ready to recommend something.
It’s interesting to note that the traditional costly practice of renting premises exclusively for retail seems to have fallen by the wayside and now, businesses are joining forces to condense their efforts. Smaller spaces mean stock is streamlined and tailored specifically to customer interests, while shared surroundings with additional features of cafes and bookstores act as incentives to attract customers who linger and return to these comfortable environments. One exception to the rule is The Records And Games Emporium (The R.A.G.E.) which set up on the old Road Records premises in Fade Street, stocking the independent Irish releases that made Road famous but choosing the niche market of retro videogames as its main area of business.
After the most digital-heavy year of music yet the fact that these businesses are still operating is proof that this model is working. You only have to walk through the Twisted Pepper on a Saturday to see people relaxing in the 3FE cafe and browsing the Loft bookshop, while downstairs a barber buzzes away, before coming to Elastic Witch in the main space that transforms to a popular music venue at night, to see that it’s also successful.
“The very nature of record shops throughout the country is changing.” Said Ray when we discussed the shift in music retail over email a few weeks ago. “I was thrilled to hear of the emergence of Elastic Witch in Dublin during the year. Plugd is in the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork, Elastic Witch is in a gig venue and Wingnuts are in bookshops! It’s crazy but these places are surviving for the good of the community.”
At this moment of writing, Head Music in Belfast is facing an uncertain future unless it can find a new home after its lease expired and the premises on Victoria Square was acquired by a clothing chain. It is the sole remaining outlet of Head Entertainment, a company that was formed in the wake of the entertainment chain Zavvi’s collapse in 2008, and the only store to remain open for more than a year. So unlike shops which have suffered due to low sales here in the south, Head Music’s problem is finding a unit rather than patrons. Whether or not it will evolve by following the collaborative business models of the record stores above, or continue trading as a stand-alone operation on new premises is yet to be seen. If it closes for good, the onus will fall on Dragon Records (Magpie Records has no discernable online profile) as the main independent stockist in Belfast. It’s a very grim outlook indeed for music fans when there’s only one local store to cater for a whole region’s new and speciality releases.
“I’ve come to realise that if I think something is going to sell, good or bad, then I am generally wrong!” Ray knows that the market is unpredictable. “The most unexpected stuff sells great and the darlings of media and blogs can be slow to sell. I think this is really cool and says a lot for our customers too.” He knows that those buyers who surprise him with their purchases are pivotal to the success of Wingnut but is grateful on an equal basis, adding, “Thanks to everyone for the support so far, keep it going! I’m very excited about the future, and especially the year ahead!”
‘Community’ is such an important word in the context of independent local music: there is a strong network that runs from individuals, through towns to cities, connecting the entire country. There are many music fans out there who believe in the power of a good record collection, from people like Ray and Kate who recognise when something needs to be done for music to continue reaching its audience, the owners of existing businesses like Hard Times and Bell, Book & Candle who are prepared to support unusual ideas, and those like Albert at Plugd and Gib of Elastic Witch who felt what it’s like to be knocked for six by the changing models of music retail and yet stood up, dusted themselves off and decided to try again because they had faith that true love of music will prevail and people’s heads aren’t quite so easily turned by the constant deluge of free digital tunes.
As a blogger, it’s weird that that it pleases me so much to hear that it’s the “most unexpected stuff” sells well as opposed to the “darlings” I write about but it seems like there’s a secret there, something that involves music working on its own regardless of online chatter. Technology and time will not stop advancing but some traditions should be preserved as we move into the future and the survival of record stores is paramount. People will continue to create and consume but it won’t be long before all mainstream entertainment will be delivered to devices without ever touching a human hand: the slow but sure decline of high street shopping is already evident. As if to prove the point Netflix launched in Ireland last night. Compared to that lonely customer experience, record store shelves for CDs and vinyl that were nailed together and hand-painted make DIY seem romantic, and a person behind a counter who recognises your sound is positively luxurious. If censorship doesn’t ruin the Internet for everyone, in some ways the years ahead could be the most wonderful yet as information technology embraces our minds, bohemian and discrete outlets and units popping up all over the place where people can go and fuel their interest and find the things they discover they love the most. It all seems a bit dreamy but people who make music their life are chasing a dream and a record library is the way it can be touched and felt. Music which doesn’t cost much to own means there isn’t much to be made from it but by funnelling the proceeds of Wingnut back into the community it came from, the store just may have found a way to survive and beat the odds.
Wingnut Records Galway
The Bell, Book and Candle, Small Crane, Galway.
Wingnut Records Waterford
Hard Times bookstore, 2 Peter Street, Waterford City.
Triskel Arts Centre, Cork, Ireland
Twisted Pepper, Middle Abbey Street, Dublin 1.
16B Fade Street, Dublin 2.
58 Wellington Place, BT1 6GF Belfast.
Victoria Square Shopping Centre, BT1 4QG Belfast.
Ray Wingnut’s Picks ::
Here is a list of independent Irish labels we currently stock:
Any Other City
Savour Your Scene
Out On A limb
The Richter Collective
The Delphi Label
Boy Scout Audio