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Indie music shop in show of strength

 
Inside the Rough Trade East shop in LondonRough Trade East is benefiting from the popularity of vinyl and the success of Record Store Day

On a lazy midweek morning in the East End of London, one of the UK's hippest and most influential record shops is experiencing the calm before the retail storm.

Right now, barely more than half a dozen potential customers are browsing the racks at Rough Trade East, while the sound of David Bowie's comeback album fills the air.

Except for a few discreetly positioned signs, there is little indication of the turmoil expected this Saturday, when the store is likely to see its biggest crowds of the year.

In common with more than 200 other independent record shops throughout the country, Rough Trade's two London outlets are taking part in Record Store Day (RSD), a celebration of popular music culture with particular appeal for those who collect rare vinyl releases.

Record Store Day logo with Pink Floyd single coverAn early hit single by Pink Floyd is being reissued for Record Store Day

And this year, the event comes as a salutary reminder that despite the recent collapse of retailer HMV, now set to continue in diminished form under new ownership, the UK's music shops are still a force to be reckoned with.

Rough Trade is certainly on a roll at present. Last week, at trade paper Music Week's 2013 awards, it was voted Retail Brand of the Year, ahead of rivals including Amazon, iTunes and Spotify.

Buoyed by this success, Rough Trade East's staff are braced for a busy session at the tills on Saturday.

"It's lots of fun, in its own chaotic and stressful way," says Cordelia behind the counter. "We have people queuing up outside from midnight, just for the unique releases that come out on that day.

"It gets really full, but it's all very civilised. People don't fight over the records - it's more, 'You have that one and I'll have this one.' It's a very special way to experience a record shop."

Brand power
Stephen GodfroyStephen Godfroy has seen off the sceptics

"We've enjoyed double-digit growth since opening Rough Trade East back in 2007," says the firm's co-owner, Stephen Godfroy. "The first quarter of 2013 shows this trend continuing, with a 25% year-on-year sales growth performance."

The 5,000-sq-ft (500-sq-m) shop on Dray Walk, just off Brick Lane, is housed in the former loading bay of the old Truman brewery. When it opened as the UK's biggest music-only specialist shop, just before the start of the credit crunch, many observers were sceptical about its prospects.

But Mr Godfroy was convinced that High Street chains such as HMV were putting off customers because they had "commoditised" music - and that the solution was to bring back "the joy of browsing".

Nearly six years later, time seems to have proved him right. As he puts it, "the big red herring of HMV has been seen, particularly by the media, for all its failing glory".

This year's RSD offers him a chance to showcase that approach. The annual event began in the US in 2007, but soon spread to other countries. This year will be its sixth in the UK.

The big draw for collectors is that every year, a strictly limited series of seven-inch singles, LPs and the odd CD by a wide range of artists is made available, for as long as stocks last and only through participating shops. Once they're gone, they're gone.

Exterior of Rough Trade EastRough Trade East is the UK's biggest music-only store

Sought-after items for 2013 range from releases by Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa, via Paul Weller and Nick Cave, to relative newcomers such as James Blake and Jake Bugg. In all, 450 limited-edition new records will hit the shops on 20 April.

Although Record Store Day gives an undeniable lift to Rough Trade's sales, Mr Godfroy has misgivings about it, seeing the phenomenon as "a double-edged sword".

"It's a wonderful day of infectious celebration, but it's effectively a media event that focuses a lot of releases and footfall on a single day, which throws up unwanted logistical challenges and somewhat distorts the reality of bricks-and-mortar retail," he says.

"For example, RSD has certainly provided a boost in confidence for the typical independent music retailer, but for Rough Trade, the cost is often a misguided media message that we need 'supporting' like a charity, which couldn't be further from the truth, as our sales performance testifies."

Value of vinyl

The rise of Rough Trade East has gone hand-in-hand with a revival in the fortunes of the vinyl format.

Once considered doomed to extinction, the black plastic disc has seen a resurgence in popularity. LP sales in particular have steadily increased in value.

However, not everyone who buys a vinyl album actually plays it or even owns a turntable. Since most records come with a download code allowing the purchaser to obtain the music in mp3 form, the disc itself can be treated simply as an attractive artefact, with no need for the stylus ever to hit the grooves.

Vinyl sales in the UK

Albums

  • 2008 - £1.1m
  • 2009 - £2.8m
  • 2010 - £3.1m
  • 2011 - £3.4m
  • 2012 - £5.7m

Singles

  • 2008 - £2.2m
  • 2009 - £2.5m
  • 2010 - £1.3m
  • 2011 - £0.9m
  • 2012 - £0.9m

Source: Entertainment Retailers Association

Mr Godfroy sees the vinyl revival as a product of a "post-digital era", characterised by "savvy, multi-format consumption".

"With the value of digital delivery resting largely on immediacy and rental disposability, it's paradoxically put into sharp relief the values of vinyl ownership in particular, with its superior audio, visual and ceremonial qualities," he says.

Rough Trade sells music in all formats, both in its two shops and on its website, which offers an mp3 subscription service, Tracks of the Week.

So far, the bulk of the retailer's sales are still on vinyl and CD. But there are plans for a new offer later this year that will allow customers who buy physical releases in-store to receive automatic digital copies as well.

"Our tills marry the offline purchases with the customer's online account, creating a seamless multi-format, multi-channel offer," says Mr Godfroy.

Rough Trade's other big new move for 2013 is to open a branch in New York, a city that has lacked a sizeable record shop since Virgin's US chain folded in 2009.

But whereas Virgin favoured high-rent sites in Times Square and Union Square, Rough Trade is following its UK policy in picking a more low-key location.

Its Rough Trade NYC shop will be in Brooklyn, not Manhattan, and will be twice the size of its east London store.

So this time next year, Rough Trade will be able to offer its own take on Record Store Day in the country where the event began.

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Rich List: Changing face of wealth

Margaret Thatcher in 1989Is the Sunday Times Rich List a tribute to Thatcherism?

Related Stories

The 25th edition of the Sunday Times Rich List is due to be published this weekend.

When the first one was published on 2 April 1989, the paper called it an indictment of Thatcherism.

Margaret Thatcher had been in power for a month short of 10 years.

"The very limited success of the Thatcher revolution in transforming British society is graphically and grimly illustrated" by the list, the editorial said.

Old money

"Liberated from red tape, inflation, crippling taxes and the union barons, British businessmen by now should have seized the commanding heights of the economy and society," it said.

In that original list of the country's 200 richest people, only 86 of them had made their fortunes themselves.

The list was spattered with landowners, containing 11 dukes, six marquises, 14 earls and nine viscounts.

And at number one was the Queen (classified in the alphabetical list as "Queen, the") with her £5.2bn, sitting at the top of a tree grown from inherited wealth.

Sunday Times Rich List 1989

1

The Queen

The Queen

£5.2bn

Landowner

2

Duke of Westminster

Duke of Westminster

£3.2bn

Landowner

3

Lord Sainsbury

Lord Sainsbury & family

£1.97bn

Retail

4

Hans Rausing

Gad & Hans Rausing

£1.9bn

Packaging

5=

Sir John Moores

Sir John Moores

£1.7bn

Retail

5=

Garfield Weston

Garfield Weston

£1.7bn

Food production and retail

7=

John Paul Getty

John Paul Getty II

£1.2bn

Oil

7=

Lord Vestey

Lord Vestey & Edmund Vestey

£1.2bn

Food

9

Octav Botnar

Octav Botnar

£1bn

Cars

10

Sir James Goldsmith

Sir James Goldsmith

£750m

Finance

Much has changed in the 25 years of the list, not least the relegation of the Queen, who dropped out of the top 200 as a result of the decision by the report's author, Philip Beresford, to stop counting the value of things such as the royal art collection, which could not really be described as her personal wealth.

Richer and richer

  • In 1989 you would have needed wealth of £30m (about £65m today) to make it into the top 200
  • Last year, to get into the top 200 you would have needed £450m
  • In 1989 the wealth of the top 200 added up to £38bn
  • Last year it added up to £289bn

Her Majesty is not the only holder of inherited wealth who has slid down the league table.

"Wealth that is self-made is becoming more and more evident," Mr Beresford told BBC News.

"When I first started 25 years ago about two-thirds of the rich list were people who had inherited their wealth.

"Today, approaching 80% are self-made and that's really a legacy of the Thatcher years."

Peter York, the market researcher and cultural commentator, says the lack of self-made millionaires on the 1989 list "just shows you that development works in arrears to what you think is happening".

"The Thatcher revolution bore fruit in the sense that the home-grown money started to show itself in the mid-1990s."

Foreign money

But if you look at the self-made people likely to feature at the top of this year's list, a pattern emerges.

Chelsea owner Roman AbramovichChelsea owner Roman Abramovich is likely to feature highly in this weekend's list

Lakshmi Mittal, who has been top of the list since 2005, could hardly be described as having made his money in Britain.

He owns a big stake in the global steel and mining company ArcelorMittal, only a tiny proportion of the activities of which take place in the UK.

Alisher Usmanov's wealth comes from iron ore in Russia and a stake in Facebook.

Roman Abramovich made his money in Russian oil.

The Hinduja brothers do indeed have extensive business interests in the UK, although they are dwarfed by their Indian businesses.

Leonard Blavatnik made his money buying stakes in Russia's newly privatised oil industry.

But with a few exceptions expected in the top 20, such as Sir Richard Branson and Sir Philip Green, not many have made their fortunes in Britain.

"The very richest people on the list are what most people would call foreign," Mr York says.

He adds the list has been distorted because "London has become the city of choice for the global super-rich".

"That's partly to do with fashion and partly to do with tax," he says.

And the tax regime is an inheritance from Thatcherism, he agrees.

"'Rich people have rights too,' you remember she said."

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AUDIO: Restoring the world's finest silver

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AUDIO: Did GSK 'pay-off competition'?

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AUDIO: Olympic loan 'must be recouped'

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London Marathon to review security

Nick Bitel "We fully expect the London Marathon to go ahead."

Security for Sunday's London Marathon will be reviewed after two fatal explosions hit the Boston Marathon, but the event will go ahead, officials say.

At least three people were killed and more than 100 injured by the blasts near the finish of Monday's US event.

About 375 Britons were listed as taking part, but there has been no confirmation of any British casualties.

Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said he was "absolutely confident" the London Marathon could be kept safe.

London had "enormous experience" of delivering major events and the UK had some of the best security professionals in the world, he told the BBC, adding: "This is one of those instances where the best way to show solidarity with Boston is to continue."

Home Secretary Theresa May has been briefed on the bombings by Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick and MI5 chief Sir Jonathan Evans.

At this stage, there are no plans for a meeting of the government's emergency committee Cobra, but high-level discussions were already planned and will go ahead because of Baroness Thatcher's funeral on Wednesday.

Analysis

Organisers of the London Marathon moved quickly to announce a full review of security following the tragic events in Boston.

But chief executive Nick Bitel insisted there was "absolutely no chance" that this year's marathon would be cancelled.

While that comment may have felt a bit knee jerk, the defiant sentiment was right.

A total of 36,000 runners, including the double Olympic champion Mo Farah are due to take part in the race from Greenwich Park to The Mall. But, as with so many big city marathons, London's is a joyous celebration of all talents, not just the elite. This is what makes it one of the highlights of the British sporting calendar.

The peaceful triumph of last summer's Olympic Games in London had reduced security concerns around this year's event. But protecting a 26-mile course which is completely open to hundreds of thousands of spectators is always a major challenge for the Metropolitan Police and organisers.

The dreadful and terrifying images emerging from America overnight have ensured that the question of terrorism will now hang heavy over Sunday's event.

What happened in Boston provides another chilling reminder of how vulnerable sport can be.

The Metropolitan Police said security for the funeral in central London would not be affected by the Boston explosions and that it was a very different event.

London Marathon chief executive Nick Bitel said in a statement: "We are deeply saddened and shocked by the news from Boston."

He later told the BBC that he "fully expected" the London Marathon, which first took place in 1981 and was completed by more than 37,000 people last year, to go ahead.

He said security plans "take account of many contingencies, including this type of threat and incident, but one can't be complacent and when it has happened, you need to then review those plans you have in place to see what else may be necessary."

St James's Palace said Prince Harry would still attend the marathon to make the presentations to the winners.

The London Marathon route, which is lined by hundreds of thousands of spectators every year, starts in Blackheath and finishes near Buckingham Palace, passing some of the capital's most recognisable landmarks including Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf and Big Ben.

Of the deadly Boston blasts, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said: "The scenes from Boston are shocking and horrific - my thoughts are with all those who have been affected."

London Mayor Boris Johnson described the bombings as "shocking, cowardly and horrific".

He has spoken to Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe about the possibility of extra security for the London Marathon.

"We do have robust security measures in place, but given events in Boston it's only prudent for the police and the organisers of Sunday's race to re-examine those security arrangements," he said.

'Runners offered blood'

According to the Boston Marathon website, 374 of the more than 25,000 registered entrants to one of the US's biggest sporting events were British.

UK Athletics confirmed that none of its elite runners had taken part.

Keith Luxom, part of a group of 24 British runners, had already finished when the bombs went off. He told BBC Breakfast the jubilant mood changed to one of "shock, horror and total disbelief that people would target this great institution".

"Lots of runners went to the hospitals and offered blood," he said. "People were sharing mobile phones so people without one could phone home."

Mr Luxom, from Essex, says he will be running the London Marathon this weekend and he will be wearing his Boston finishing shirt.

Explosion at Boston MarathonThe explosions happened at what is one of the biggest sporting events in the US

Sports Tours International, which organised a trip for 51 people - 40 runners and 11 non-runners - said all were accounted for.

David Mouncey, from Bristol, who finished the marathon 15 minutes before the explosions went off, told the BBC: "I hadn't planned to do Boston next year, but I would very much like to go back to support the Boston people and show that [I'm] not cowed by what's happened."

Another runner, Owain Griffiths, from Cyncoed in Cardiff, said "a day of enjoyment" had descended into "unthinkable horror".

Marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe posted on Twitter: "Situation looks awful, thoughts with everyone. There are some very sick people out there, who would do something like this?"

Police say they have also launched a review of security for the Greater Manchester Marathon, due to take place on Sunday 28 April.

Are you taking part in Sunday's London Marathon? Have you run the Boston Marathon before? You can send us your experiences using the form below.

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