The Trip – Sheffield’s best record shops
Long Live Vinyl’s obsessive vinyl hunter-gatherer Mark Elliott heads to Sheffield on a crate digging marathon around the Steel City’s best record shops.
LP Record Store has moved many times. I remember it down in Cambridge Street, close to the city hall, when it was called Revolution Records, but it’s now near the university and my visit is punctuated by a steady stream of students proving the point that it’s not just older chaps like me who have the vinyl habit. There’s a good range of dance 12″s (perhaps that’s what the youngsters are buying), but I find a lot of general 12″ singles and lots of classic rock and pop, including ABC and The Human League, which pleases me. The memorabilia on the walls is testament to the city’s rich musical heritage – the signed Human League paperback catches my eye but I don’t bite – but I find a lot of good 12″ discs, including Your Greatest Shade Of Blue from The Adventures, which completes their discography for me. There are some interesting racks of 7″s, but little of the endless copies of big 80s hits that can make wading through them a bit repetitive elsewhere. The shop usually take cards, but that facility isn’t working today. No matter, I’m going to need a bit of cash to keep me going today and there is a cash machine just round the corner.
This doesn’t look promising at first glance; the ground floor is packed with musical instruments and DJ kit. It’s not until I realise that I need to head upstairs – the doorway is up by the counter and not immediately obvious – that I know I’m going to be kept busy for a bit. One side of the cavernous room is given over to a performance space and bar that can handle around 150 punters (with gigs held here every week), while a few lengthy shelving units run the length of the floor and are packed with new and second-hand vinyl. The new stock is pretty varied and includes a lot of Record Store Day releases still on sale months after the previous event. On the used racks, I come across some very nice synth-pop LPs, including Japan’s Quiet Life and Secret from Classix Nouveaux, which was their final studio set. A true pop gem I get for £7 is Undercover’s 1992 Check Out The Groove, which features their four biggest PWL-supported hits, and is hard to source in decent nick. There is a good mix of 7″ singles, perhaps the best selection I find in the city, and I fill a few more gaps. Who knew Right Said Fred had been so prolific? Obviously the good people of Sheffield; although the mint condition my singles are in suggests they haven’t been played much!
Building a big rep in a short space of time, this shop was set up by Joe Blanchard and is now in its third home, having moved into The Forum last year. It’s tucked away at the back of this shopping complex and is a huge, nicely appointed space with lots of new vinyl and a limited amount of used stock. Such a big space gives the shop flexibility to host PAs and there’s a friendly ambience about the place. The prices are really good and it’s certainly a store with a dedicated following. Blanchard, who had worked in the city’s Record Collector before, launched a successful crowd-funding campaign to fund a move into his previous venue. He reached his target comfortably. I pick off some new soundtracks, including the latest Stranger Things variant, and find the smaller genres well serviced here. It’s fair to say that this is probably the city’s strongest retailer for specialist vinyl and enjoys a loyal customer base.
Opening more than 40 years ago, Record Collector is a Sheffield institution and can be found in the suburb of Broomhill, a short journey from the city centre. Plans to turn the second CD store into a café haven’t got anywhere, so the two genres are still neatly segmented. The stories about this place are legendary, from the great and the good picking up the odd album to an infamous 2015 in-store appearance by Public Enemy that almost saw them miss a gig at the local arena. Mark Elliott (good name, that) tells me the vinyl revival really became noticeable here three years ago. “I started working here in the 1980s,” he says. “From then, and in the slower 1990s, it was mainly an older, male audience and that kept us going, but it has become more diverse again now.” Mark recalls an autographed Rolling Stones single going for serious money, but says the standard second-hand stock is the bread and butter of the business. “People love to browse and that’s the joy of a physical shop, as opposed to spending time buying online.” A big supporter of Record Store Day, with queues starting here at 10.30am the preceding Friday last year, the stock is really good value and I pick up near-mint copies of Elton John’s early releases, which are much rarer than his later 70s collections. I also source Sylvester’s Sell My Soul from 1980 for £8 and Siouxsie And The Banshees’ excellent Nocturne for £12. There’s also a generous sale going on, which Mark tells me happens periodically across the year to keep stock moving. Record Collector’s founder Barry Everard has a formidable reputation as a true vinyl enthusiast and that’s evident in the successful business he has built up. I am pleased to say that the store is as exciting as I remember it (and I even spend some time in the CD sections next door, where prices are being heavily discounted). It’s not without justification that Record Collector regularly makes the lists of the best stores in the country, and no one would be surprised if we are celebrating many more milestone anniversaries to come.
The pretty suburb of Walkley is perched up on a hill circling the city centre on its north-west perimeter and has seen a recent surge of new independent shops opening. Its opening hours are very limited in the month that I visit, so I’m not able to spend any money, but I drive by and can see that its reputation as a slick, smart venue is well deserved. Prices look fair, with a copy of Kraftwerk’s Computer World in excellent condition going for £22, while ABBA’s The Visitors is £7. I know the policy from Tonearm Vinyl is to keep the dross to a minimum, so this is one store where you’ll be unlikely to have to wade through acres of James Last budget compilations.
Two innovations make this excellent store really stand out. The first is a record-cleaning service and, having recently
re-mortgaged to buy a specialist piece of kit, I can vouch for the difference a professional job can make – even if I’m on bread and cheese for the rest of 2019. The shop’s Keith Monks machine can be put through its paces for a nominal charge, and staff will also run anything you buy second-hand there that is priced over £10 and needs a bit of a clean (most of the discs have been treated before they go out on the racks). The second neat idea is the spinning disc that is brought out to offer customers the chance to win a discount or a free tote bag. It’s a simple, fun idea – cratedigging meets game-show – and I’m lucky enough to secure a welcome 10% discount on my purchases. The front of the store stocks new records and there’s a healthy range, while the back rooms carry the used records and you’ll find yourself browsing here a lengthy while if you have the time. Paul Allard, who is manning the store when I pop in, says owner Martin Black set Spinning Discs up four years ago. “Martin has worked really hard to make the place a success,” Paul tells me. “There is no snobbery here and you’ll find all types of genres on sale, and we love selling everything.” He’s right. I buy some classic Vandross, a couple of great soundtracks, loads of cheap singles and some new discs, where the offer is two-for-one. It proves a fantastic haul and I’m grateful again I have the car parked for free nearby. It’s with some regret that I head off home, but I promise I won’t leave it as long next time.
I know we should be using our cars less but, unlike many bigger UK cities, Sheffield is a place where parking is affordable and traffic not too horrendous outside the rush-hour. Three of the shops listed here, Record Collector, Spinning Discs and Tonearm Vinyl, are a bit of a trek outside the city centre, but are accessible by bus or cab. Four international airports less than an hour’s drive away serve the city, with Manchester being by far the largest. Trains to and from London leave and arrive roughly every 30 minutes and the journey time is around two hours. Once you’re here, the trams are great but don’t serve the three shops I have mentioned. Record Collector and Broomhill are served by a handful of bus routes. Four buses go through Walkley, and Spinning Discs can be reached on the 10, 20, 24, 25, 43, 43a, 44 and X17 buses. Broomhill isn’t great for parking, but there are lots of free spaces to serve the other shops. In the city centre, parking’s tougher, but it is easy to walk around.