Unless you’ve literally just arrived in Sheffield then - this being a music magazine and you, presumably, being a music lover - you’ve almost certainly been into Record Collector. It’s where you go when you want to find something, y’know, a bit different and a bit cheaper. It is everything a record shop should be. Come April next year the ‘Collector will have been around for 25 years - corresponding - very roughly - with Sheffield becoming the sort of city that is identified with its musical output.
Record Collector is Barry Everard’s baby. The ‘bhagwan’ of music retail is a fixture in Sheffield and more specifically Broomhill. Instantly recognisable for his shirts, which have the ability to make strong men wince and cause dogs and children to flee whimpering, he’s a kind of laidback musical pimp. Barry’s policy is simply that of making good music of any shape or size available to those willing to come and find it.
He arrived in Sheffield, from gloomy Northampton, in the early 70s to study at the University and determined to get involved in the music industry. For four years he was manager at Virgin records on The Moor, at a time when the company wasn’t so monolithic.
“We were unusual in that we stocked rock rather than easy listening. Through headoffice we were also getting all these odd albums on import by bands like Can, Faust and Amon Duul. We even had old aircraft seats for people to sit on while listening to stuff.”
By 1978 though Virgin was beginning to put more pressure on its staff to make the store more commercial and Barry responded by setting up for himself. The original shop was the same size as the vinyl section is today. He filled the racks with his own collection and haunted warehouses in the north of England for deletions and bulk discounts. Then, as now, he recognised the value in offering good stock at cheaper prices. Something of an archivist he also maintains that certain artists should be stocked regardless of whether their sales merit it commercially, “For example we’ll always have Captain Beefheart in the shop.”
When Barry first arrived in Sheffield local music was largely confined to workingmen’s clubs where jobbing musicians could make a living. People like Joe Cocker and Paul Carrack were unusual in gaining exposure nationally and internationally. It was punk that really ignited Sheffield. “It knocked down the mythology that music should be left to the professionals at a time when live music had become boring, stodgy and alienating.”
Clubs like The Limit on West Street became centres for the local scene. At the same time, Barry points out that places like Record Collector and The Washington pub became “meeting points or crossroads for musicians.”
He will recall Martin Fry flogging his fanzine in the store, long before the gold lame suits, dressed in an old army greatcoat, stocking the first Def Leppard single, selling out and watching as it became a much sought out rarity. Phil Oakey at the height of his asymmetrically haired fame leaping the counter to serve himself.
If there is anything which defines Sheffield’s perplexingly diverse output it is an idiosyncratic originality which doesn’t seem to depend on whatever the latest trend from the capital may be. Londoners might use the term ‘provincial’ disparagingly but it is exactly this quality which makes Sheffield music so interesting. For example while most cities produced carbon copies of the Pistols and the like, Sheffield, starting with Cabaret Voltaire, spawned The Human League, ABC, Heaven 17 and the like. They shared a punk ethos, perhaps, but with far more wit and imagination. “Maybe it’s because bands weren’t expecting people to listen to what they’re doing. It allowed them to experiment.” Barry is also convinced that the influx of ‘odd’ European releases coming into the city in the 70s has had a profound influence on the city which more than any other UK centre has been identified with electronica. Perhaps he can’t lay claim to creating a sound but we’d argue that he has provided some of the sources of inspiration which have been used do cleverly, and so successfully.
Apart from the range of music in the shop it’s a good place to visit because the staff belie the image of record shop assistants as surly, anally retentive, obsessives. As Barry puts it “they’re nice people who really like music.” Simple, really. Amongst previous employees number members of Comsat Angels, I-Monster and the manager of Gomez who was handed a copy of their demo over the counter, liked it and promptly organised one of their first gigs at a Record Collector party. Even now you’re likely to be served by a Big Eye or a Special Agent.
So, nearly 25 years on and, even after a bit of a wobble when the CD arrived on the scene, Record Collector is going strong. You probably won’t see Barry behind the counter too often as he has ascended into the upper reaches of the building where he runs the business. On the other hand you are still likely to see him out and about at gigs - he’ll mention a preference for Chicken Legs Weaver and Rumpus. He’s a music fan. Why not?
words: Jack Tractor
pic: Jon Enoch