Independent record store Rough Trade could benefit from HMV closures, says founder


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The Independent Culture

Rough Trade, the pioneering independent record store, could open new outlets across the UK following the collapse of HMV, Geoff Travis, the company’s founder has suggested.

Travis, who opened the first Rough Trade shop in 1976 and went on to discover bands including The Smiths and The Strokes, said that outlets which offer a vibrant social experience for music-lovers, and revive the “tactile” thrill of physical music could thrive, after HMV went into administration.

Travis’s Rough Trade shop in West London, stocking the punk and reggae releases shunned by high-street chains, offered an alternative to HMV. But Travis, who became boss of the hugely-influential Rough Trade record label, regrets the failure of his former retail rival.

Restructuring specialist Hilco today took effective control of HMV, which has estimated debts of £176 million.

“There was no celebration from us,” he told The Independent. “We knew they were in trouble for a long time but they were a very important part of selling records in the UK for labels including Rough Trade. We need record stores in the world. We don’t want to live our lives online and be in our bedrooms 24 hours a day.”

Travis, 60, said: “I believe in a tactile relationship with a musical product. That means physical music. It’s a big reason why there’s been such a revival in vinyl.”

The warehouse-style Rough Trade East store in Brick Lane, London, where browsers are encouraged to watch live bands and enjoy a coffee, bucked the high street recession with sales up 8 per cent in the latest quarter. The brand is set to expand with a new store in New York.

The absence of high street music chains will create more opportunities for independents which adapt to customers’ changing demands, said Travis.

“There is a need for something, we feel. It would be great to do that in some other UK towns. It would be fantastic to have a store in Manchester and more around the UK.

“It’s possible we could open more, if people want that. But it’s better if people who have local knowledge in their own community do that.”

Travis added: “Our new store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn will open in the next 6 months when all the other record stores in New York have closed down.”

The secret of Rough Trade’s success is “the nature of the music we stock. And the people who run independent shops. They provide a meeting place, it’s a space to go and hear talks or see bands play for free.

“You can go there without spending any money. You can browse in a safe environment, whatever takes your fancy. It’s a great experience to go there and buy a drink and eat some cake.”

However Travis, who runs the Rough Trade record label whilst the shops are now managed separately, has no interest in “opening a chain of huge shops, not with the rent that’s charged and the financial covenants.”

Speaking from New York, where his latest hopefuls, London rock band Palma Violets, made their US debut, Travis accepts that “kids do not miss physical because they’ve never had it. We can’t be too sentimental.”

The record store can still be the place to discover the next Smiths. “We don’t have the John Peels anymore, a source you can trust. People would go into a shop to buy something mainstream and then chose to buy something new. If that shop’s not there, it’s never going to happen.”

Those stores will no longer be found in the middle of the high street though. “When we opened the first Rough Trade store in Kensington Park Road it was a place no-one ever came to. It took time before people realised we were there. People come and find you rather than plonking yourself down in the most obvious place.”

Rough Trade history

Cambridge graduate Geoff Travis opened the first Rough Trade store off Ladbroke Grove to sell crates of records he bought on a US trip.

Produced first record for a French punk band, launching record company and distribution chain in 1978.

First LP, Inflammable Material by Stiff Little Fingers, became the first independently released album to sell over 100,000 copies in the UK.

Rough Trade signs The Smiths in 1983, heralding golden age of “indie-pop”.

Distribution over-reach causes Rough Trade to collapse in 1991 with all assets sold off.

Travis revives label in 2000 and enjoys renewed success with The Strokes and The Libertines.

5,000 sq ft flagship store opens in Brick Lane in 2007 luring downloaders with vinyl, free gigs and coffee shop