A Letter to Rocking Horse
by Ben Green
At a gig a couple of years back I saw a friend’s dad. At least, I thought that’s who the familiar grey-haired man was, because I couldn’t place him as one of my girlfriend’s relo’s. It was only later that I realised I had said hello to Warwick Vere, the owner of Rocking Horse Records.
It’s no surprise I saw Mr Vere as a father figure, given the hours I spent in his shop as a minor (averaged out, about two hours of gazing at the racks for every secondhand EP bought). Indeed, half of the all ages shows I ever saw were instore appearances at the ‘Horse or Skinny’s. My friends and I would travel over an hour each way on the train to see the band du jour play for about 30 minutes, and somehow gain magic or at least legitimacy in our eyes from the decades of potent arcana that surrounded them. Such was the draw and power of the record store.
Things, obviously, have changed. In some ways for the better: I took great pleasure in blowing my first proper wages on many of those albums I spent so long coveting. What’s more, some sort of gradual cultural or economic change has meant that plenty of the things you once couldn’t find in any local store have been re-released if not entirely remastered. In fact, sometimes it’s annoyingly easy.
Of course, other changes have reduced the motivation for bands or kids to make the journey at all – and it’s their loss. Myspace and iTunes give you hits, but not the power of being physically surrounded by the achievements of your forebears and looking your audience in the eye. Torrenting albums is free, but not as valuable as having the artist’s texta inscribe your copy while you stare again at that hypnotising Neubauten poster and wonder what the fuck that is they’re playing right now.
It’s satisfying that the soulless megastores that once threatened places like Rocking Horse were the first against the wall under the new, even more cutthroat regime. What did they have to offer that Youtube and downloads couldn’t? Nothing. They were beaten at their own race.
If anything will survive, it’s the independent and bespoke. I just don’t know if you can form the same bond of trust with a Pitchfork reviewer or blog commenter as you can with the person at Rocking Horse who tells you, “That’s ‘White Light/White Heat'”; or 10 years later, “I reckon it’s the hip hop Bitches’ Brew“; who gets your hopes up by saying, “You’re the guy that always comes in for Boredoms stuff aren’t you…”; who chases you up the street when he finds what you wanted after you left; who recommends the local equivalent that happens to be playing this Friday; who tells you which Scritti album to get next and why; who gives you a discount just because you’re there often enough; who plays in your favourite local band and probably wouldn’t last in any other job. [I agree with this sentence 100 per cent – Ed] And that’s not to mention the other guy on your side of the counter who tells you what his favourite Animal Collective album is; who adds her zines to the rack; who advertises for bandmates on the wall; who’s noticed you there. (All true stories from Rocking Horse involving different people)
That difference is the difference between a music industry and a music community.
It was recently mooted on The Bell Divers’ ever-interesting blog that popular local bands should do their bit by reviving the tradition of instores. Not a bad idea, in these times when all-ages shows seem to come with TV cameras and zealous security. The main thing is to get in there and realise what it means, which is more than buying something. Buying something isn’t fun; never has been. It’s the other stuff. And if you think typing out your credit card details, waiting a couple of weeks and driving to the post office on your own is fun – I don’t, because I happen to love records and hate waiting – just wait til you try walking into a real, local, independent shop.
As that signed Cramps poster says: “Dear Rocking Horse – stay sick!”
Photo: David Jackmanson.