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***2015 BOOKS OF THE YEAR – THE TIMES, UNCUT, ROUGH TRADE***
***SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2015 GORDON BURN PRIZE***
Twenty years ago every town had one. From Bangor to Bradford, Bognor Regis to Bournemouth, independent record shops could be found on every High Street and many back streets, across the length and breadth of the land. But as the principal format for music switched from vinyl to CD, these places – synonymous with the thrill of discovery experienced by every serious fan and collector – started to disappear. Vinyl has recovered but its natural environment – the record store – is a rare and precious beast.
Richard King’s book about several years spent working in Bristol’s Revolver, is a clear-eyed yet romantic account of life behind the counter in a business run from the heart not the head with a tendency towards dysfunction. In ten chapters of elegiac prose, King brings this lost environment back to life: the smells, the people, and of course the sounds. We see the landscape of a young person’s taste come into view with magnificent passages on CAN, Captain Beefheart, Augustus Pablo, Rod Stewart, Sun Ra Arkestra and the free jazz of Cornelius Cardew. And we see the development of Bristol as one of the key musical cities, from its roots sound systems, through the parties run by the Wild Bunch collective, to the emergence of Massive Attack.
Original Rockers evokes a golden moment about to turn to dust in the history of British record stores and celebrates the abandon with which we hear music, and it does so magically, without recourse to nostalgia.
Original Rockers is an eloquent panegyric...In its intoxicating sense of place, and King's tying together of disparate pop-cultural strands, it sometimes seems to be a modest cousin of Greil Marcus's Invisible Republic or Lipstick Traces, or an example of the idiosyncratic kind of cultural-historical writing lately done by Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys in his travelogue American Interior.
Original Rockers is a remarkable memory fugue, a work of rapture and reverie, a bittersweet and often moving tribute to a hallowed place.
This is not so much a eulogy for record shops as an examination of the romantic, slightly tragic disposition of the people to whom they meant so much
Part time capsule, part history lesson, part musical treasure map, Original Rockers goes beyond recalling King's several years working at Bristol's Revolver Records during the 1990s. Offering insights into the idiosyncratic, often comically dysfunctional world behind the counter, King unashamedly romanticises those pre-internet days when musical knowledge was hard won rather than a mouse-click away.
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