Caught by the River


19th April 2009


Yesterday was Record Store Day – in London town, Rough Trade and Pure Groove led the charge, putting on gigs and selling limited edition, once-in-a-lifetime releases (exclusive Sonic Youth singles sounded good, annoyingly I missed out – doh!). Sadly, Nottingham’s Selectadisc didn’t make it as far as the celebrations as the shop, one of the best independent record stores in the country, is no more. Here, former employee Steve McLay pays tribute to our favourite shop…

When a condition is terminal, there’s nothing more daunting than the inevitable. Usually in such cases, the sadness is off-set slightly by the knowledge that any pain and suffering would at least cease. On 27 February 2009, as I sat surfing the Nottingham Evening Post’s website, there was no such relief.

The title was enough alone to sink my heart from its jovial Friday high to a sullen low; Selectadisc In Nottingham Is Set To Close. Comments on local forums, industry websites and blogs would chime with the phrases ‘credit crunch’ and ‘death to digital’ as people praised a 43 year-old legacy that started with a few books and records on a market stall. As mourners came to lay keyboard-typed wreaths to this ‘legendary independent’, they spoke of the rarities they’d uncovered, the bands they’d seen hunched playing in front of the counter and the piles of vinyl they escorted from the premises into their own. People were mourning Selectadisc’s passing like the fall of an empire that had once threatened to invade the city’s Market Square, before finally being pinned back for its last stand under the shadow of the Theatre Royal.

As when my Gran died, it’ll take me years to walk past Selectadisc, like it did with her house, without having my heart strings snapped at, like the bass from a Washington hardcore band resonating from the shop’s doors. Here was a place that provided some of the most enchanting, passionate, comical and heart-warming moments that post-war Nottingham has hosted. A two-way theatre where the cast and punters would interchange depending on what side of the counter they were stood and who was taking the spotlight. Having worked there, it was also the place that helped shape my life; my career as a journalist, the sounds on my stereo and some of the greatest friends I have.

One Saturday at the age of 17, I turned up on Market Street for my first day as a Saturday lad, rather fuzzily-eyed after a night of dancing away at the Marcus Garvey Centre.. Rather than, as I hoped, being quizzed about Guided By Voices singles or Jeff Mills aliases I was instead given three things; a mop, a shopping list and pile upon pile of CDs to put back in the racks. After two weeks of burning the candle at both ends and somewhat ‘lethargic’ behaviour the next day I had earned the nickname ‘Lightning’. I wasn’t the only one; Gary X-Ray, Tommy Teapot, Thrash, Matt Tatt, Nail, Bell, Urn, Tubs, Schmo, Fish, Goose, Monkey, K-9, Panther, Waino, Detail, Metal Ed. . .even the innocuous-sounding Basil (so-called because of once having a tendency for returning records for being ‘Faulty’) all lent themselves to a bizarre list of aliases, all of whom had their own musical obsessions. Sure, it was a musical Mecca, but it took a triumphantly calamitous mix of people to make it so, whether they be a mild-mannered hip-hop head (Rachel), pogoing front man (Punish the Atom’s Joey), globally-loved bass player (Mark Pitchshiter), a giggling DJ (Dave Congreve) or aspirational promoter (Detonate’s James).

If Selectadisc was a theatre, then Fergus was certainly the pantomime baddie. Owner of the most scornful “Can I help you?” in the Midlands and with a reputation for ‘bluntness’, he was renowned for being the weekend retail version of Simon Cowell (If Cowell specialised in drum ‘n’ bass and techno). After a few Saturday mornings of working the singles store I soon realised that not only was he a likeable chap, but that having 16 year-old bum-fluff kids demanding you playing a pile of happy hardcore records at 9am in the morning does not make for a bright outlook for the day.

With a reputation that spread across the Atlantic, the customers were far more colourful than the ones in your local branch of Gregg’s. Metallers would hassle Simon Tilton, mums-with-lists would comically mispronounce the names of angst-ridden bands, spectrum-coloured, middle-aged men would cling to the counter for conversation and weekend warriors would buy tickets to the latest Tribal Gathering. All this set in a scene of poster-clad walls where Basil beavered around with his clipboard, Jim marshalled everyone while clutching another pile of obscure train journey DVDs, and Sue’s Barnsley cackle broke through even the deepest dub bassline.

For those who cared to look – or those that already knew – the walls and pillars behind the counter may have seemed littered with what seemed to be promo posters and stickers for albums and gigs, but on closer inspection would reveal an endless montage of images doctored with drawn-on glasses, beards (for Bell), big noses (for James) and catchphrases (regulars and staff alike). The wall of musicians advertising for like-minded fellows might have chronicled the history of the customers, but those till-side highlighted the endless characteristics and traits of people as mischievous as an Oasis-obsessed Moony or like a coiled punk soul like Dickie.

Even when you left, you never truly escaped the reaches of the Selectadisc family. Ten years after I worked there, I’d still receive invites to the Christmas party (my Dad even got invited once when Sue rang my parents’ house) and I still to this day refer to it as ‘The Shop’. Selectadisc was a living and breathing community, where friends would drop in to spontaneously organise after-work pints, talk music, talk football, swap shit jokes and buy a few tunes while constantly influencing (often subliminally) those that stepped foot within. Were it not for Selectadisc’s existence, there would be a completely different list of names in my phone, I have progressed through life so open-eared and eyed and my list of hangovers would doubtless be a lot shorter. More so than school, college or anywhere else I’ve worked, the shop was the biggest social influence of my life. Now, it’s gone.

All good things don’t have to come to an end, and there’s hope that Selectadisc will rise again, under Jim’s guidance, at a smaller location. And while the beat of the heart, passion and diverse quality will doubtless remain the same, they’ll be elements that are lost forever (Little Ben’s stomach-churning emissions that cleared the shop on more than one occasion will sadly not be amongst them).

Brian Clough said not to bring him flowers when he was dead, but to bring them when he was alive. Those keen enough to feast on the cheap closing down sale might’ve done well to heed these words earlier (myself in recent years included), but you can’t blame Selectadisc’s closure solely on spending patterns, MP3s, credit crunches or anything else. The factors just continued to stack. Regardless, we’ll be left with a hole much bigger than that of a 12” and the community will begin to disperse with no central focal point. Never again will you get such a jumble of music-heads assembled in a Nottingham store. The beat goes on but the heart has stopped.

Of all the rarities that people pillaged from there over there years, I acquired something that will stay with me forever. A nickname.

God bless you Selectadisc.

This piece was originally published in LeftLion magazine.