Back in the groove: Cork's remaining record stores

Record Store Day was originally set up as a response to the digital onslaught. Ellie O’Byrne visits the five remaining stores in Cork to hear about the ever-changing industry, as well as their plans for tomorrow’s big event.

Vinyl Lounge at Golden Discs

A year ago, Golden Discs opened their Vinyl Lounge in the lofty-ceilinged first-floor surrounds of its St Patrick’s Street store.

Golden Discs manager David Donovan at the store’s Vinyl Lounge on St Patrick’s Street, Cork.Picture: Dan Linehan.

The music chain may have been a little late to the feast in terms of the vinyl revival; 2017 was the 12th consecutive year of growth for vinyl album sales, even as overall physical music sales continued to fall. Classic albums aren’t the only ones that have been selling on vinyl: 2017’s best-selling album on vinyl was Ed Sheeran’s Divide.

The Vinyl Lounge offers music fans comfy sofas, free wifi, coffee and listening posts, as well as hosting all-ages gigs and exhibitions of music photography.

Manager David O’Donovan says his clientele are a mix of all ages.

“We have regulars adding to collections they’ve had for years, but now we’ve lots of kids coming in who are just starting their vinyl collections,” he says.

Over Christmas, we get people coming in looking to get that present of a first record for their kids or grandkids.

Sound quality is a major factor in customers’ loyalty to vinyl, O’Donovan believes.

Top sellers are mostly classic albums: “Everything from Frank Sinatra to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, to the U2 albums.”

O’Donovan expects queues outside the shop on Record Store Day. As well as special offers, promos and giveaways, The Vinyl Lounge will also host a DJ.

Music Zone

The only record store in the suburbs, Music Zone in Douglas Village Shopping Centre is the brainchild of former Golden Discs employee Ray O’Brien.

Ray O’Brien at the Music Zone store in Douglas Village Shopping Centre. Picture: Eddie O’Hare.

He set up shop in 2001 and weathered what were the darkest days not only for vinyl, but for all physical music sales, as streaming and digital downloads gobbled their way through their competition.

By 2011, O’Brien says, despite running his own online store, his business was “clinging on”.

“I came close to walking away from it; it wasn’t fun, and I don’t think I could live it again,” he says.

The vinyl revival kept us open. I wouldn’t be talking to you now if it hadn’t happened, and it happened just at the right time. We used to have 200 vinyl records in the shop. Now, we have more than 3,500 LPs.

In the relatively settled and affluent suburb of Douglas, O’Brien’s clientele are generally male, over 30, and quality- focused, he says: They’re attracted to records for their great sound. Are they music nerds?

He laughs: “Let’s just say, our best customers frighten me with their encyclopaedic knowledge at times. They’ll know who played bass on some obscure ‘80s album.”

Community spirit and supporting emerging acts are important to O’Brien; Music Zone will host nine 30-minute gigs on Record Store Day, including Transmission Club, August Wells and The Shaker Hymn.

Bunker Vinyl and Studio

Open a year, Bunker Vinyl, a riverside basement record store at Camden Quay, is the newest kid on Cork’s independent record store block.

John Dwyer at Bunker Vinyl and Studio, Camden Quay. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Bunker Vinyl combines selling new and secondhand records with a studio where Cork musicians Aileen Wallace and Dan Walsh teach lessons in drums, guitar, piano, and music production. Owner John Dwyer is also techno producer Bipolarbeats.

Dwyer says he’s noticed an emerging demographic.

“I call them ‘the indie-kids’ kids’,” he says.

There are all these kids whose dads are in their forties and they’ve given them the record collections. Sometimes I’m blown away by how much they know: They’re asking me for things like Frank Zappa first editions.

Dwyer gets new releases from an English distributor and sources his eclectic array of secondhand albums from a variety of places, including his own record collection.

However, it’s not only a shop for lovers of techno and EDM: He says Irish Indie is a strong seller, including, most recently, a demand for local alt-pop icons the Frank and Walters, following the success of Cork-based TV show The Young Offenders, which featured a version of ‘After All’.

True to his independent spirit, Dwyer will be offering special deals on records he’s selected instead of Record Store Day’s annual list of releases, which he feels are over-priced.

DJs will also play live sets in-store.

Plug'd

Just a year ago, Plug’d was Cork’s only independent specialist record store. Following last summer’s relocation from The Triskel art centre to the upstairs floor of The Roundy bar, owner Jimmy Horgan says the business has been “finding its feet” in the new, more compact premises.

Jimmy Horgan at Plug’d at the Roundy.

Horgan has been in the business in Cork for a long time, having taken over the Comet Records premises on Washington St in 2003.

One of the things that sets Plug’d apart is careful and ongoing curation of stock: It’s definitely a store to discover music you’ve never heard of before, often on the basis of what Horgan himself is playing.

At the moment, customers are responding well to Thai-Texan three-piece Khruangbin, Horgan says.

“We have always sought out and stocked new music that excites us, and that attracts a certain type of customer,” he says.

Our customers also turn us on to sounds we haven’t heard. It’s a constant exchange. If I was only selling reissues and big new releases, it would get a bit tired.

He says his clientele merge streaming and digital download habits with buying vinyl: They research and preview albums online before buying the physical copy.

Record Store Day is extended into a weekend that’s “a bit of a party” at Plug’d: DJs, a 25% off sale, and gigs including Brigid Mae Power, Anna Mieke and Senior Infants.

Records and Relics

Colin Biggs and his partner Eilís Dillon run Records and Relics, a vintage store on Lancaster Quay that also sells secondhand vinyl. They don’t stock new releases.

Colin Biggs of Records and Relics on Lancaster Quay.

Sourcing secondhand collections that come up for sale online, buying albums at the counter, calling to people’s houses: Biggs and Dillon source their records from “everywhere and anywhere”.

Biggs says a quest for authenticity is the common factor amongst his diverse customer base.

“People want the real sound, and to get that you have to buy the original,” he says.

“CDs and digital downloads are all digitally mastered, so they’ve really gone away from the true sound of the original recording.

I have people who buy records who don’t even own a record player, and I know that sounds crazy. They’re beautiful. The album art is impactful, you can read the sleeve-notes, and older vinyl has a distinctive smell.

The growing popularity of vinyl poses its own threat to the store’s trade in original vinyl. Biggs has noticed a change in his top sellers as a result.

“Led Zeppelin, Dylan, The Beatles all used to go really easily but they’re being remastered and re-released now. New vinyl shops are stocking them, so it’s changing. Instead, people are buying things like prog rock and psychedelic rock: stuff that isn’t likely to be reproduced.”

Records and Relics don’t stock the discounted releases that Record Store Day officially promotes, but will still celebrate being a part of Cork’s vinyl-loving community with instore music and wine and cheese.


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