Over the past few years the humble bricks and mortar independent record store has made quite a resurgence, riding on the coat tails of the current heightened re-interest in all things vinyl. With the digital download age largely sounding the death knell for the previously dominant compact disc, the physical music medium considered to be a dinosaur not that long ago has now returned with a vengeance, with music disciples either discovering or re-discovering the joys of dropping the needle and spinning the black circle.
Rare Groove Records, on the Gold Coast Highway at Nobby Beach, has been around long enough to see it all unfold. And in fact this year they are celebrating 20 years of operation at their current location, a highly impressive feat in any retail environment, let alone one as dynamically shifting as physical music sales. To survive for this long as an independent record store requires one to ride out the bumps and strap yourself in for the long haul, and this is exactly the approach taken by Rare Groove owners Ray Parsons and Jenny Chipman.
“Over the past twenty years there’s been many peaks and troughs, where we’ve just had to battle on,” Ray told Blank GC.
“With the current resurgence in vinyl we’re doing reasonably well at the moment, but there’s been other times when it’s been very difficult. But we were determined to keep going, because we love what we do. It’s more a passion than a job. We just roll with the flow as they say!”
The Rare Groove story started back in the early 90s, when Ray and Jenny relocated their record store from faraway Tasmania to the warmer climates of the Gold Coast. Starting out in Burleigh Heads, after three years Rare Groove made the move to the highway at Nobby Beach, a thriving walk-past location that has served the business well ever since.
“A lot of tourists see us as they drive past from the airport on the way to their hotels, then they drop back in for a visit while they’re staying here,” Ray said.
Back when the store started out the musical landscape was very different to today. There was no such thing as digital downloads, and shiny silver discs ruled the roost. Ray recalls, “CD was king, but we still kept buying records all the time.”
“People would say to us ‘you’re mad’, but even then there was still new vinyl being pressed, which we were importing from overseas in addition to stocking second had vinyl.”
“You always still had your vinyl collectors, but that was the minor side of the business and CDs kept you going. Now though it’s come full circle and gone back to the records to keep us going,” he said.
I ask Ray why he thinks vinyl has returned with such a vengeance, and he pinpoints a few factors.
“It’s become a bit, dare I say it, trendy with the younger people, they’re buying classic albums from artists such as Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix. I had a record store in Tasmania back in the 70s and was selling heaps of records by bands like The Police, Dire Straits, The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. Which are all albums that young people are also coming into the store and buying now… perhaps they’ve discovered that their parents weren’t so unhip after all!”
“And in our mind vinyl has always had the better sound quality. When you hear a good copy of a record played on good sound equipment, you can’t beat it really, which is what more people are now discovering.”
Further words on the wonders of the vinyl experience also came from long time weekend employee and mad-keen music collector Anthony Tye, who has worked in record stores for over 30 years and has been with Rare Groove now for 15 years.
Anthony says he’s always found that listening to vinyl is a very tactile experience.
“People tend to listen to a record all the way through rather than skipping songs, as one tends to do on CD or with digital files,” he told Blank GC. “There’s also the physical side, the record covers and their artwork, and used records have a musky smell of musical history.”
“Then there’s the equipment, there are many different types of cool turntables and moving the tone arm across and putting the needle down on the vinyl is an enjoyable experience in itself.”
I ask Ray if they’ve ever had anyone of musical note visit the store.
“Yes we’ve had quite a few Australian musicians from bands such as The Saints (Ed Keupper) and The Celibate Rifles (Damien Lovelock). Probably the biggest international name we had was Mike McCready, the guitarist from Pearl Jam. He was a really nice guy and bought quite a few albums. We didn’t realise who he was at first, as he’d come out a few weeks before the band were touring and his image had changed a bit from the last picture I’d seen of him. But once we got talking it all clicked into place.”
I ask Ray if he sees a finish line for the store and he and Jenny’s role in keeping the flame alive but he says they take it year-by-year.
“As long as people still come in and buy music we’ll stay here doing it,” he said.
“Music is my life, whether listening to it, selling it or playing it. I can’t really see myself retiring. What else would I do, go and sit in the garden?”
As any true music aficionado would attest, nothing beats the physical record store experience when seeking a sound-fix.
So the next time you’re that way inclined, be sure to pop in to Rare Groove and say hi. As well as stocking a great bunch of music, you’ll be interacting with music lifers of the non-garden sitting variety, doing it with love and dedication.