Archive | April 2014

soundCHECK 246 – April 24th 2014

Have you checked the clocks recently? I have. And it looks like competition time!

Are you in an ambitious band that’s hankering for a challenge? Know someone who makes music and want to score yourself some friend points? Then listen up. This here soundCHECK has a slot at a shiny new music festival in North Devon to give away.

The festival in question is PigStock, a one-day alternative summer fete taking place at The Pig On The Hill in Westward Ho! on Saturday 31st May. Confirmed acts include Sam Dowden, The Cut Purse Rascals, The Skatatones and The Wurzels. (Okay, The Wurzels may not be to every music fan’s taste. But if Newton Faulkner, Gomez and Alabama 3 managed to share a stage with them – Glastonbury 2010, Avalon Stage – then you can too. It will add some colour to your musical CV.)

PigStock has already sold 360 of its 500 tickets so you will be playing to a sizable crowd. But what else can you expect from this porcine musical event? Lots of cider, lots of local ales, gourmet burgers and a hopefully-not-eponymic hog roast – all amid stunning scenery. Basically you’re looking at a one-day summer knees-up with bands, booze and food. And a bouncy castle. And probably lashings of ham-fisted pig puns from closet-comedians.

Keen to enter and win your spot on stage? The rules are simple. Fire up your nearest internet and email jharper[at] with a link to a YouTube video of your band in action. Each video received will be uploaded to a competition area on the North Devon Journal website where the music-loving public can vote on their favourite. The video with the most votes wins a slot at PigStock. Simple. The voting deadline is 15th May, the winner will be announced in soundCHECK on 22nd May.

Them’s the details. Time to go truffling in decision forest to find your finest video. The clock is ticking.

CONTACT: Questions? Got local music news? Want to be pen friends? jharper[at] | @testforpulse

soundCHECK 245 April 17th 2014

North Devon has lost a record shop, Record Store Day has lost its groove.

For scores of die-hard music fans on both sides of the Atlantic, April 19th – this Saturday – has been set aside for weeks. It’s the date of 2014’s instalment of Record Store Day: an annual paean to independent record shops that normally features a flurry of in-store gigs and limited edition records released exclusively for the event. Sounds fun, right? Trouble is, the one store in North Devon normally affiliated with Record Store Day, Solo Music, shut its doors for the last time back in February – to the sound of disparaging remarks about the internet and supermarkets flogging cheap CDs.

Anyone with more than a passing interest in music has their opinion about the sad downfall of independent record shops. Whatever. A huge amount of responsibility should be apportioned to the major record labels. Sony. Warner Brothers. Universal. BMG. EMI. PolyGram. Their failure to react to the explosion of the internet as a medium for consuming music was at best sluggish and at worst fatally negligent. Three of those labels now remain. And in a morally deplorable but not unexpected move, they have begun sucking the lifeblood out of Record Store Day for commercial gain, trampling as they go on the very stores the event is designed to support. Progress.

Okay, I don’t own a record shop. I know nothing about nothing. But it’s a fact that Record Store Day was started as a vehicle to remind people that record shops still existed, to celebrate their independence and – ultimately – to drive footfall and increase sales. I also know that you don’t have to go far to find record shop owners who are disillusioned with the sledgehammer-subtle commercial overtones that pervade Record Store Day’s modern incarnation.

Take Philip Harding, owner of Blackcat Records in Taunton. In a series of eloquent and impassioned Facebook missives, Harding has vented discontent at what Record Store Day has become. And given that Harding was a founding member of Record Store Day UK, his is a uniquely informed view of how the event has changed.

Harding explains how, when the UK imported Record Store Day from the US, it was run by Rough Trade. “I’d say they did a good job. There were less than 50 participating shops. Now Record Store Day is organised by the Entertainment Retailers Association. An industry body that includes HMV and Amazon as members.”

One of the longstanding tenets of Record Store Day is the release of limited edition CDs and vinyl that can only be purchased in store. It gives music fans the chance to snap up something unique and it’s a great way for independent record shops to attract customers. “The exclusive releases thing started as a good way to get a little attention from the music press and also allow labels, bands and distributors to promote and support shops,” explains Harding. Labels supporting Record Store Day would offer this exclusive product to record shops at low prices. The shops paid only for what they sold and could send the rest back. “This was a massive support and really helped” says Harding. But by year three the deals had stopped and the focus was almost entirely on the exclusive product.

This year there are more than 650 ‘exclusive’ titles available. For a shop to buy one copy of each would cost them £5,500. In amongst the collectible treasures are “wares that have been designed to either cynically promote upcoming bands or churn out old defunct albums for a quick buck. Some of the RSD product prices are just insane and show little respect to either the customer or the shop, which invariably has to stand its ground on sale price.” There’s no sale or return policy either.

And that’s all assuming a shop can even get hold of the exclusive releases. The battle to secure the popular items from the major labels is won by the shops who have placed most orders with those respective labels throughout the year. Smaller shops face an even greater struggle to secure the items they want to sell. Doesn’t really seem in the spirit of Record Store Day, does it?

Just a few of the reasons that Blackcat Records will not be stocking exclusive releases this year. But that’s not to say Harding won’t be celebrating Record Store Day. Every item in the shop will have 20% off, there’s a DJ throughout the day and in-store performances from three of Somerset’s best bands: Henry Blacker, Hacker Farm and Presents For Sally – the latter of whom construct brooding walls of sound falling somewhere between My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and early Dandy Warhols. A gobsmackingly good outfit who hardly ever play live. Reason enough to go catch them, bag a cheap record or two and celebrate the true spirit of Record Store Day.

You will find Blackcat Records on Bridge Street in Taunton.

CONTACT: Got local music news? Give me a heads-up. jharper[at] | @testforpulse