I’m standing in a queue in the heart of the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, surrounded by music fans, waiting for the Avalanche Records stall to start trading at 11am. We’ve formed an orderly queue, some have bags from another local record store, others have handwritten lists of all the records they want to buy.
The man behind me chain smoked while he chatted to his son about the history of vinyl; they’d already been to a handful of record shops that day, and they really wanted a copy of the Nirvana record. Somewhere behind them, I heard the faint cry of some teenage girls; they were after something by One Direction. Ahead of me, passing tourists stopped and stared at our motley queue, or hovered worryingly close to the closed entrance to the marquee.
It was 10:30am and this was just the beginning of Record Store Day 2014.
Now in its seventh year, Record Store Day aims to celebrate local and independent record shops by releasing limited edition and exclusive new releases by some of the world’s most influential artists, but only on vinyl. This year, participating shops sold an eclectic range of albums by a diverse and celebrated collection of artists, including Nirvana, David Bowie, Grace Jones, Dinosaur Jr, Dead Kennedys and um, One Direction.
But there was only one album that I wanted this year: Gill Scott-Heron’s posthumous release, Nothing New. Comprised of stripped-down versions and new recordings of some of his most well-known songs and poems, it was a must-have for Scott-Heron fans. His work had a profound impact on me. I had to have this album. No, I needed to have this album.
Back in the queue, I spotted a man wearing a long black coat and sunglasses standing in front of the man ahead of me. I didn’t recall seeing him when I had joined the queue nearly half an hour before. My mind raced with possible explanations; the most obvious of which was that this bastard must have skipped the queue somehow. In true British style, I give him as many dirty looks as I could while his back was turned. That’ll teach the Blatant Queue Skipping bastard. Somewhere behind me, the One Direction fans were getting restless, one complained of sore feet, another complained about having to wait at all.
It was 10:55am, and I still had no idea if I’d get the record I wanted.
One of the reasons that Record Store Day works is the limited nature of it. This year, around 600 different albums were made available, but the number of albums by individual artists varied, and not every singly participating shop would get every single Record Store Day release. Avalanche Records had already confirmed some of the titles they would be selling the night before, but Nothing New wasn’t named in their list, so I had to risk it.
I knew that there were three other participating shops within walking distance of the Grassmarket, with a fourth a short bus journey away, so I knew that if Avalanche didn’t have it, there were four other shops that just might. Besides, at that point, I’d been in the queue for half an hour, and I wasn’t giving up yet.
Eventually the doors opened, the queue eased forward a few feet, and then stopped. Nobody moved for another ten minutes, which didn’t please the One Direction fans somewhere behind me; who decided to send one of their number into the tent to ask about their much-wanted record. She emerged quickly saying there was “None left”. They moaned and groaned as they shambled away, as one of them muttered “It’s just not FAIR!” Their dreams were shattered. Good.
I edged ever closer to the door, as the men in front of me, including the Blatant Queue Skipping Bastard anxiously milled around, shifting their weight awkwardly from foot to foot. They blocked my view of the door without realising. A woman left the tent and asked her companion why people are queueing, oblivious to the many signs proclaiming that it was RECORD STORE DAY.
It was nearly 11:25. The two men ahead of the Blatant Queue Skipping Bastard chat to the guy behind the stall. They chat for a little too long, and everyone else started to grow restless.
Suddenly, they left. Blatant Queue Skipping Bastard followed soon after, because they didn’t have his record. I smiled at the taste of sweet, beautiful justice. The man ahead of me is then sent on his way with a brief shake of the stall owner’s head. I was at the front of the queue, oh the joy! The power!
“Hello”, I said. “Do you have Nothing New by Gil Scott-Heron?”
He thought for a minute, and then wordlessly turned and began searching through a large stack of records behind him. He leafed through them quickly, going back and forth, starting at the beginning, getting to the middle and then starting at the beginning again. I didn’t know what the record looked like, but I looked for a familiar colour, or design to point out to him. Nothing.
It was 11:32am. He was still searching. On the other side of the stall, I was growing increasingly anxious. Would they have it?
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he pulled a plain record from the stack, turned, smiled and handed it to me.
“Sorry about that, I was looking out for the name Gil Scott-Heron.” He said and pointed at the quite small font crediting Scott-Heron.
I thanked him profusely and paid. I walked, no, I strutted past the queue that seemed to have swelled and grown in number over the last hour. I walked past people who craned their necks to see what I’d managed to get. I smiled.
It was 11:45am and life was good.