Everyone thought shops selling vinyl discs were going the way of the dinosaurs but Tim Hughes learns that they are still out there

Not so long ago, it looked like record shops would go the way of all those other quaint but endangered purveyors of fine goods – fishmongers, haberdashers, tobacconists and ironmongers.

Like those other relics of the bygone high street, independent record stores seemed to be fighting a losing battle, not just against the all pervading supermarkets but against the rising tide of internet downloads, which threatened to make redundant all physical forms of music release.

And while the big boys – Virgin and HMV – have either been forced out of business, or are clinging on by their fingertips, our independents are resurgent – buoyed by a growing love of tangible releases, personal service, excellent knowledge and something which ought to have gone the way of the dinosaurs – vinyl.

To celebrate the against-all-odds survival of independent music shops, Oxfordshire’s two stores – Truck in Oxford’s Cowley Road, and Rapture, in Witney – are joining a global celebration of small music retailers this Saturday, called, quite reasonably, Record Store Day.

The events will see both stores hosting an afternoon of live music and a chance for music fans to snap up ultra-limited edition records issued specially for the day.

Truck Store will be bringing in the fans with sets by Get Cape Wear Cape Fly – aka electro-indie singer-songwriter Sam Duckworth; Oxford dub-reggae band Dubwiser, Oxford-based country rockers Dreaming Spires, songwriter Luke Sital Singh (headlining this year’s Wood Festival, near Wallingford) and We Aeronauts.

“Record Store Day began as a way of letting people know that there were still some shops left,” says store manager Carl Smithson. “But now it has become a chance for us to blow our own trumpets and show what we are about. We are celebrating those shops still going and showing why they are still here.”

The free sessions, which run from 2-7pm, are part of the store’s commitment to hosting live music – reflected by its year-round programme of free in-store performances.

“Truck Store is more than just a record shop,” says Carl. “We are part of something bigger.

“We are about more than just selling you stuff. A lot of shoppers were lapsed music buyers who have come back. Access to music is so overwhelming. There’s so much out there and people haven’t got the time to go and trawl through reviews. Our role is to give people guidance. That’s why we have so many regular customers. Music lovers have a personal connection with the shop and love to come back.”

Rapture, in Witney’s Woolgate, is staging a double celebration. Saturday also marks the shop’s 10th anniversary. It will have a free programme of live music, much of it from Oxfordshire artists, under the nearby clock tower. It will see sets by folk act The Ralph Band, dance-pop group Duchess, singer-songwriter Paul McClure and country artist Ags Connolly.

Gary Smith, from Burford, who owns both stores, said: “We opened Rapture in June 2004 but signed the lease on April 20, which coincides with Record Store Day. It’s been a fantastic 10 years. We’ve had a few ups and downs but generally it’s been really good fun.”

As well as live music, both stores will offer a selection of limited releases from the likes of Pixies, REM, Bonobo, Linkin Park, Joy Division, Grateful Dead, Deep Purple, David Bowie, Kylie, Black Lips – some of it on that most antiquated of formats – the seven inch vinyl single.

So why has the humble vinyl made such a comeback? “People like the feeling of owning something special and tangible,” says Carl. “They also like the superior sound quality and the fact they are reconnecting with the music through the ritual of choosing the record, taking it out of the sleeve and placing it on the turntable – rather than just running their thumb over their phone or iPod. It’s similar to the reasons people buy organic food.

“We’ve seen a big rise in sales of vinyl and in record players. But most LPs we sell also come with a download code. Downloads and vinyl can co-exist with people choosing what suits them best. Our big enemy is not downloading, but supermarkets which cheapen the product.”

The most unusual release this weekend will be by Truck Store star Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, who releases his single not on CD, vinyl or even cassette, but on a limited edition wrestler’s mask.

The artist, who is playing this summer’s Truck Festival, in Steventon, is selling his tune as a download code attached to a grappler’s headpiece. The single is being released by Oxford’s Alcopop! label, which has a history of quirky releases with songs being brought out on a wrist watch, a treasure map in a bottle and even a bicycle – complete with download codes.

“Every year we have people queueing to get this stuff – with some people waiting from 6am,” says Gary.

This Saturday
Truck Store, Oxford
Get Cape Wear Cape Fly vs Sam; Duckworth; Dreaming Spires; Dubwiser; Luke Sital Singh; We Aeronauts
Rapture, Witney
The Ralph Band; Duchess; Paul McClure; Ags Connolly; Friday Street; Little Brother Eli