Just a day before the release of his sixth studio album - Metronomy Forever - we took Joe Mount right the way back to rural Devon and Totnes High Street for a record shop tour… but nothing like you might expect, this has more in common with a Christmas Carol.
Illustrated by Lee O’Connor
Deluxe: So… I am not sure which character I am - the ghost? - and I don’t really want to frame you as Ebenezer Scrooge, but we are going back through the ages today to visit record shops past and present-ish and get a feel for how that influenced us. We don’t have to draw any conclusions either, are you ready?
Joe Mount: Am I ready? I am totally ready, I might even remember one or two more than you…
D: Well, before we start let me ask you this, what was your very first ever record shopping experience?
JM: You know what, this is already going incredibly well, because it would have been in Woolworths in Totnes. I remember distinctly they had a proper singles collection as you went into the shop on the right hand side, with cassette singles, records and later CDs. I remember buying a California Raisins LP. Weirdly it was before I knew what it was and what they were but it was in my price range. I distinctly remember my Dad saying that it would be something like Pinky and Perky, but little did he know that it was essentially soul music. It is sung by raisins but the raisins had great voices. I love that refusal to acknowledge that part, it’s like, “Why would they have stupid voices?”
D: (laughing) Them being raisins has no bearing on their beautiful soul voices.
JM: The best track on that record (laughing) was “Heard It Through The Grapevine”, which was of course the only track that made any sense, crossing over between both soul music and the premise of the band.
D: Do you still have it?
JM: Yeah, it’s a great record… I definitely have it somewhere.
D: We're going to take a trip backwards through time, and start geographically at the very bottom of Totnes high street, at Waterside Music.
JM: Great place, great shop. I remember buying quite a lot of things from there, I bought Nirvana, possibly Soundgarden? It was pretty good that shop.
D: Worth pointing out for those who don't know, it was actually a classical music specialist, but a fair chunk of the shop - quite extensive in fact - was err… not classical.
JM: That was all on the left hand side of the shop as you went in, I remember that as well.
D: You’re proving surprisingly good at the in-shop geography of all this.
JM: I remember it being mostly quite specialist music, but the guy clearly realised the times were changing and that he had to adapt and stock some alternative rock. I think when we were getting into music the Red Hot Chili Peppers were super popular, that and the Levellers. The guy behind the counter was probably asked by so many people if he had either, he just changed his business model accordingly.
D: Shooting fish in a barrel.
D: I was going to mention the posters, because on the back right-hand side of the shop he had one of those Athena style poster browsers. Funnily enough when the shop finally shut down we inherited it, but it wasn't really usable and I ended up having to take it to the tip… my point was however that he had a range of Levellers posters and I remember that many of our contemporaries had “Levelling the Land” on their wall during that period… did you have that?
JM: No I didn't. To be honest with you I inherited a lot of my musical tastes from my sister and she was hanging out with people that would have been listening to the Levellers, she had CDs and maybe even a long-sleeve t-shirt? But I definitely remember seeing that poster at everybody's house. I think to be honest even my sister wasn't objectively into them, it was just a weird thing that everybody liked them without listening to them? In their field (laughing) - excuse the pun - they stand very much alone.
D: That’s so brutal (laughing). I really like the idea of a genre shop, even acknowledging that Waterside Music both was and wasn't really a genre shop. What kind of genre record shop would you gladly spend a few hours in?
JM: Nowadays, God knows… I used to go into quite a few leftfield electronic music shops when I was in Brighton, but these days… Funk? Soul? It's hard to tell.
D: We’re going to leave Waterside Music and go across the road and up the High Street a little to number 17. We’re going to Zounds… Do you remember Zounds?
JM: Wait.. what?
D: (laughing) Well, apparently there was a record shop. I actually read a bit and found out that it closed in the summer of 1985… but then someone else said that it may have continued for a short while under the name Mirage. It had a listening booth by all accounts.
JM: Oh gosh, I was what, four years old? I have no recollection of that I am afraid, do you?
D: No, I have to be totally honest, I found a picture of the paper bag and then did a little bit of digging backwards which is how I know what I know, but I never was aware that there was a record shop there either. I know what building it was, we can still visit.
JM: Nope, afraid I just don’t know what one.
D: I guess that's quite interesting in a way that it just came and went. Do you think about legacy with Metronomy?
JM: I used to. I think these days what you realise when you become an adult, then a parent, they're the only real legacy. I was so into the mythology of the Beatles, thanks to James Hoare most probably, I remember watching all that stuff and thinking “Wow, this is all incredible”. As you get older you become, not necessarily more cynical, but more aware of things like that… they were the architects of all that stuff you know? They sure did a lot in a short period of time and were very important, and I noticed a while back that they produced the films, it was all self-made and part of a quite modern approach to raising profile and awareness. The only reason that my children have heard the Beatles is because I have some connection to them. The legacy of anything only lasts a couple of generations really, unless it's something super important like … the first man on the Moon? You know what I mean? Everything is quite short-lived, and I think it's a lot more fun to try and enjoy it for what it is.
D: I mean, Zounds is basically shut today isn’t it? Let’s keep going up the town. The next stop is down an alleyway just up a way, it’s called Catalyst.
D: Do you remember it? I am very hazy… I feel like they had something to do with coach trips and maybe a hairdresser?
JM: It sounds weirdly familiar… There was a record shop that used to be the upstairs part of somewhere else, they sold drum and bass almost exclusively. Maybe that was it? It sounds kind of like the same shop.
D: It was the mid-90s, so the sort of time we’d have been kicking around.
JM: We're talking about the same shop, I think I may even have tried to sell some of the very earliest Metronomy CDs to that one.
D: Devon always seems to have had an affinity with dance music, not always necessarily discerningly so, but how much of an influence did the dance music scene have on you?
JM: I remember more the skateboard scene having an influence on me to be honest, hanging out with older people who were into stuff like Mo Wax and Warp. It was Mo Wax that really led me into that direction of intelligent dance music. Before that everybody seem to just be into drum and bass. That was just always so intense, people went mad for it...
D: Were you fond of a dance?
JM: … no.
D: (laughing) Me neither… that was always the stumbling block for me.
JM: I think to be honest even when I was a little bit older and went to clubs, I used to just actually enjoy listening to music, listening to any music really loud is always good fun.
D: We’re going to leave dance music where it is and head up the hill a bit now to number 53, we’re going to Backtrax.
JM: Oh yeah, I remember Backtrax! I remember it very well, but I think I left the area and was more of a visiting customer, but it was quite good.
D: Exclusively catalogue. I occasionally really want a CD or tape for the car and wish that I had a really good catalogue shop at my disposal. What do you currently have in your car?
JM: Gosh, (laughing) In my car all I have is a tape that I can adapt to plug my phone into.
D: Oh man, you have all of recorded music history in your car...
JM: I have Outkast’s “Stankonia” CD, the one with “Miss Jackson” on it, I found it at a car boot sale, but it's really scratched so it doesn't really work that well which is really annoying. But Backtrax was the location of one of my best buying stories ever. I went to Rowcroft Hospice shop in Totnes one day and I found someone had dumped this amazing record collection, perfectly kept vinyl including stuff like Exodus, Marvin Gaye’s “What's Going On”, Todd Rundgren, Steely Dan… They were all in absolutely pristine condition and 50p each. Half of the collection I didn't know but I bought all of them just because they were in really good condition and only 50p. I spent maybe £10 or something like that and went through them and kept half and then took the ten or so that I didn't want down to Backtrax and sold the ones that I didn't want and made loads of money.
D: Oh man, went for a mooch, doubled your money and got turned onto Todd Rundgren all in one day...
JM: Yeah, so in a Totnes hour and a half or so I managed to really make some great deals, the Backtrax guy had a good deal too because he bought them for a few quid each and marked them up. I think the “What's Going On” record was a first edition, certainly early and it might be worth a bit of money actually, it was a great day. It was a sad ending to Backtrax wasn’t it?
D: It was, yeah. When I was doing a bit of research I ended up speaking to a few people and it was a really sad story how it came to close, it was a tragedy at Christmas.
JM: God, that's really sad.
D: I mean, we were the other record shop in town so lots of people came in throughout that period and wanted to talk to us about all the lurid details. People are such twats sometimes.
JM: Either way, we are remembering Backtrax fondly.
D: We are going to leave them though, we're going to walk a little bit further up the High Street and go to the market square and underneath the Civic Hall to visit Rare Records.
JM: Brilliant. Rare Records, Great shop. I don't think I ever bought anything there (laughing).
D: I had a mental block and really couldn't remember the name of the shop the other day so I actually texted James Hoare and he was able to bring me up to speed. I had to show him a picture so he could remind me exactly which unit it was. What I really like about it is that their name was kind of to the contrary, he didn't in fact sell records that were all that rare.
JM: Which as you say is weird.
D: What is the worst named record shop you have ever come across?
JM: Gosh… I feel like in Brighton, I'm not going to be able to remember a specific one, but there were quite a few dance specialist shops that had really lame names but I can't remember them I'm afraid.
D: Feel bad for them, but seeing as we’re not buying anything, let’s move onto the last shop on our trip. We’re going to go up to number 91 High Street and World Video & Music… or of course, Drift Records V1.
JM: Oh yeah!
D: Did you ever go in for music? Or did you go in to rent video tapes?
JM: Well now you're talking about something interesting because we're covering the other hidden story of Totnes, the VHS rental library ghost trip of Totnes, because we used to go to Video Venture, but then World Video & Music became the place to go to because you could get more interesting films.
D: All the racy ones.
JM: Exactly. And the CD presence started off as a CD rack then started encroaching onto the shop right? I'm not sure I actually bought music from there to be honest, we rented a lot of videos. When was the tipping point of it becoming more about music?
D: We've spoken about this before, but the big turning of the tide for World Video & Music was the release of the Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack in 1997. That was the big change and it showed us that music could sell… and how.
JM: I definitely remember buying a gift for my mum and dad around that period of time.
D: … Buena Vista Social Club I’d assume?
JM: (laughing) Most probably. We had a definite Friday and Saturday night video rental ritual at the shop, and I remember being quite excited about the fact that it was getting more musical, but this was all about the same sort of time that I would have left Totnes I think.
D: One notable time you popped back to Drift (as it had then become) and you bought the Holiphonic Records early edition of the “Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe)” CD as a beautiful book bound edition. I may have in my head made this up, but we were we the first people to have had them?
JM: Did you get them for me personally?
D: I can't remember whether it was you or perhaps your sister. thinking about it (laughing), it could well have been both of our mums being involved in the transaction as well.
JM: (laughing) As I recall I had quite a few of them as the first version had lovely packaging but there was no real distribution deal in place, so I personally took some to a shop in London, a jewellery shop called Tatty Devine which I knew, so I took some there. Weirdly there were some randomly specific buildings that had it and you were one of a very few places.
D: I can accept “one of”.
JM: When I say “one of” it really would have been one of maybe, two or three places.
D: It’s part of our legacy. We've reached the top of town now, this is kind of the end of the tour now. The last question is this, based on these fine buildings, I want a recommendation from each of them. What would you ideally purchase? We’re in a classical music shop first, so what do you want from the classical music canon?
JM: (laughing) Except, from that specific classical music shop I would have purchased the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
D: (Laughing) Fine. Next, a standard UK indie shop circa ‘82 - ‘85?
JM: I probably would have gone for a bit of Siouxsie and the Banshees, is that about the right sort of time?
D: Oh perfect. Rave period dance shop?
JM: How about the KLF. Can I have the KLF?
D: You can, and there you go! Another Devon connection to it.
JM: The rumour used to be that KLF stood for “Kennicott Liberation Front”... I don’t think it was true. It is quite funny that you could grow up thinking that there was some feasible way that your Sixth Form College name could be the “K” in the KLF’s name.
D: Next, rock and roll, prog or psychedelia made almost exclusively by white men?
JM: Yeah, Yes? No, actually… Weather Report.
D: ‘Not’ Rare Records, alternative music around 1993?
JM: God… what was happening in 1993… Blur?
D: Very much so, I did in fact buy either “Leisure” or “Modern Life Is Rubbish” from Rare Records. To the last building then…
JM: OOOH!!! I remember what I bought from World Video!!
JM: God it's all coming back to me, I did buy records from you, I bought Cornershop “When I Was Born for the 7th Time” from your record shop! God amazing, I remember buying that from World Video & Music. You know what, if I went and looked through my record collection I am sure that I would remember more things that I specifically bought from you.
D: They probably have our stickers on them. Man, this is the end of the tour… the end of the Christmas Carol, I hope you have either had fun or learned something?
JM: I have, from the California Raisins to Cornershop. I think we need to get to the bottom of this Catalyst thing because I feel like there is some connection between this shop down an alleyway and this shop that has the top floor of the other place, maybe like a cafe down stairs?
D: Oh God! You’re right… you had to go upstairs didn’t you? Okay… there was somewhere else wasn’t there, it was above Fat Lemon’s cafe.
JM: I just hope that wherever it was I can still buy my KLF record.