Sometime during the mid-90s – bored to death with Britpop, Insurgent Country & compact discs – I decided to set about recapturing the record collection of my youth. I soon met fellow collector & future tMx colleague, Suburban Kid, at one of the many record fairs I subsequently began to frequent. Sub Kid looked vaguely like a younger version of Malcolm McLaren - with his bird’s nest of bright red hair, Generation X t-shirt & old school blazer adorned with very rare original Punk Rock badges. I liked him immediately. A few weeks later, one rainy afternoon in Coventry, I was eventually introduced to his vast collection.
To say I was gob-smacked would be a gross understatement – in reality, I was blown away by the boxes of alphabetically arranged 7” 45s & the walls of custom built LP shelves housing thousands of albums & 12” singles. I hadn’t seen so many records since my days working at Nine Mile Distribution for the Cartel. It soon became apparent that Sub Kid owned just about every side of vinyl on my fledgling list - & hundreds of others besides. Jealous did not cover it.
I trembled with anticipation as he showed me the pride of his collection: “God Save The Queen” by the Sex Pistols on A&M Records – the holy grail of British Punk Rock. I was immediately smitten – determined to amass an equally impressive collection of my own. I left that day agreeing to return with my wife: Sub Kid had an autographed Ramones poster by Arturo Vega signed by all 4 original members for sale. My wife had the cash. My 40th birthday was not that far away.
My wife eventually bought me the Ramones poster & a massive “Holidays In The Sun” Pistols poster – both of which were duly framed for my 40th birthday celebrations. I was addicted. It was time to buy some records.
In the early days I spent a couple of hours most weekends digging in the crates at record fairs in Leamington Spa, Stratford upon Avon, Rugby, Banbury, Coventry & Birmingham – with the occasional trip to see The Bills on Portobello Market, in London. When I had time – I’d venture into Birmingham to Swordfish – were I began wasting hundreds of pounds buying re-pressings of the LPs I was finding it difficult to acquire originals of. Big. Mistake. All would be sold on at a loss a mere matter of months later: once I’d learnt that re-pressings are only relevant when there’s absolutely no chance of acquiring an original pressing for anything less than 3 figures (I currently own a mere handful of re-pressed items; “God Save The Queen” on A&M (bootleg), a couple of Stooges re-pressed 45s - & picture discs of “The Stooges” & “Funhouse”).
Throughout my quest I was aided & abetted by Sub Kid – who – being ‘on the road’ a lot due to his ‘day-job’ – was always phoning me from one off-the-beaten-track-second-hand-record-shop or another to report on the gems he’d uncovered that particular day. He’d eventually arrive at the tMx Bunker once month or so with a hank of dusty vinyl & a scrap of paper which he amusingly referred to as my ‘bill’. Back then, Sub Kid’s party line was: Ebay – if you want to pay the most for a record – carry on.
I stuck to the record fairs & second hand shops whilst Sub Kid scoured the country’s regional second-hand emporiums capturing rarity after rarity on my behalf. Slowly but surely the collection grew. On the 45 front - I acquired a large percentage of the ‘meat & potatoes’ of the collection at around a £10 a pop: Clash, Buzzcocks, Pistols, etc – in fact most major label 1st wave 45s were acquired for between £5 & £10 – depending on condition. Rarer items such as an original “Spiral Scratch” EP by Buzzcocks or, say, the “Capital Radio” EP by The Clash, usually turned up for between £15 & £30. It’s the private press buggers & small indie releases that really take the tracking down - & the spondulicks (it’s ironic that a Domestic Bliss single commands a higher price than “Anarchy In The UK” on EMI – but that’s the way the biscuit crumbles). Before long my list was reduced to a bunch of rarities I was going to struggle to find through the usual avenues.
It was around this time that I first became acquainted with buying online. Once I’d beaten my Ebay fear – which was basically a sub-hang-up of my computer illiteracy – there was no stopping me. Back in the early noughties, Ebay was still a place where you could pick up bargains – or rare items at reasonable prices – without being hounded to the post by some cash-rich Johnny-come-lately to whom price was irrelevant in the quest to impress his office colleagues. Prices began to sore unrealistically – first the Pistols shot through the roof – a fact that became unavoidable when a copy of “GSTQ” on A&M went for a staggering 6£K+ on Ebay. Even lesser rarities – such as The Damned’s “Stretcher Case Baby” - began to double in price almost over night.
Anniversary followed anniversary – awareness of collecting old school punk memorabilia & records soon reached fever pitch – the most mundane items began to change hands on Ebay for what can only be described as silly money. Broadsheet supplements & specialist magazines alerted anyone who’d been asleep for the last 10 years to the phenomenon. People who were once happy to have the boxes of vinyl removed from their lofts & simply taken away began to demand realistic prices for their old tat. In fact, the damage has been so extensive that we may never see a return to the marketplace we once loved to trawl.
Car-boot sales – once the exclusive domain of genuine record collectors convinced that they were only a crate away from finding illusive gold – are now the haunts of mass buyers who snap up collections to cherry pick & exploit. Record fairs are also not as exciting as they used to be. Most dealers have cottoned on to the rarity-factor surrounding old school Punk Rock & have hiked their prices accordingly. That’s if they even bother brining their decent stock to fair. Most of them now trade their hard-to-find gear exclusively on Ebay. Many of them do very well.
Some dealers I’ve known for years are slowly evolving into exclusive Ebayers. Their stalls have suffered accordingly. Some dealers say they are seriously considering going ‘Ebay only’ - & staying at home. The best prices are always going to be realised in a ‘fight’. These days, record fairs are full of bootlegs & crap you’ve already got – the same old crap we saw at the last fair - & will more than likely see again in a couple of months time. Rip offs abound. Fair prices keep creeping up towards ‘the last highest price’ achieved on Ebay - & the value of the Top 20 rarities of UK Punk Rock have doubled during the last 18 months. It’s now practically impossible to ‘put a price on something’ – because who knows how high somebody is prepared to go to capture any given item.
Luckily, 5 years down the line, my collection is as complete as it ever going to be. There will always be one or two items you simply cannot afford – or cannot find. Maybe a collection is never ultimately complete. I feel I’ve achieved what I set out to do - & a whole lot more - many of the records I now own I never even saw a copy of back in the day (that is always a major buzz – owning something you’ve only ever seen in books or on the internet). But that doesn’t mean it was easy. Or that I’d want to do it again. To me, it’s been a rights-of-passage thing – my past is now all present & correct - & ever since reaching the wire – I’ve begun to feel complete.
Jean Encoule – tMx 21 – 08/05