I am a bargain-hunter, blighted by the need to pay the lowest possible price for anything I desire. It is a burden. On the unfortunate flipside of my affliction, I also have an irrepressible compulsion to buy anything simply because I believe it to be the cheapest it will ever be, anywhere that I may see it, regardless of whether I have any interest in owning it. This could be a reduced pack of blackening chicken livers, a misprinted Ikea pillowcase, a pair of golf shoes (I don’t play golf) or even a book I already own – there are no exceptions.
Occasionally, reason will present itself, stipulating that if I only stopped buying things I didn’t want, just because they were bargains, I would have the money to purchase what I really wanted for a price that wasn’t implausibly low. It’s the kind of logical thought, so obvious and pure, that I expel it from my mind with the same type of urgency as you would an incontinent dog from your bed.
I have struggled for many years to come to an agreement with myself to simply pay what I believe something to be worth. Sadly, it is still the case that if I think I can find the same item elsewhere for less then I will do just that, passing up the opportunity to own it then and there. In essence I have condemned myself to a lifetime of trawling charity shops, flicking my way through dusty record shops and generally thrusting my hands into boxes that a tramp would not even aim his steaming sugar-puff piss stream at. Everyone likes a bargain, but for me it’s a necessity.
The only time when I am happy buying something is when I find it at a price I believe to be the cheapest I will ever find it. This is such a rare occurrence that it’s a miracle that I own anything at all. It is also the reason why I feel compelled to share with you my week of musical purchases. Over the past seven days, I have found several albums priced at what I am satisfied is the cheapest I will ever find them. Some greater force has granted me a reprieve from the burden that plagues me…
The June Brides – Every Conversation: the Story of the June Brides and Phil Wilson
It began, unusually for me, not in the bottom of some discount bin but instead among the endless shelves of the World Wide Web. And again, unusually for me, it was not vinyl I coveted but a lowly CD. For longer than I care to remember, I have been rummaging record shops across the country in search of vinyl copies of The June Brides’ Peel session EP and their album, There Are Eight Million Stories.
Judging by the blank looks on the faces of record shop owners, these releases are as rare as an incontinent dog in a newly made bed. And all the while I continue my search, I am missing out on some of the finest fiddle-laden mid-eighties indie jangle to ever delight my ears. So online I went, searching various outlets for Every Conversation: a double CD on Cherry Red Records of every track the June Brides and Phil Wilson ever recorded, including the aforementioned and incredible Peel session. After some serious cyber surfing, I was eventually satisfied that Amazon was the cheapest at just £5.29.
The CD arrived on Thursday, replete with lovely art-work, lengthy sleeve notes and the delicious heady feeling that I probably, almost definitely, couldn’t have found it cheaper.
Kimya Dawson – Hidden Vagenda
The experience of shopping online was not without its perks: chief amongst them an instant global price comparison and a break from those men with thick glasses, wild hair and almost always a carrier bag filled with strangely-shaped objects that frequent record shops. These characters of indefinable age may not be able to look you in the eyes, but boy, can they spit out facts about obscure jazz drummers like the bastard spawn of Rain Man and Scatman John.
I encountered one such man this week when I made the post-work dash up the hill from Lewes station to Rik’s Disks. As I rifled through LPs, I heard a conversation about the minutiae of military collecting start up. Whilst I crouched flicking through Neil Young’s back catalogue, I was treated to a discourse on World War II binoculars that was so boring I would have chosen the Somme over another minute of this man. It was also dawning on me that there were no records that I wanted, or perhaps more accurately, none that were bargains. I was just about to escape when I caught sight of that wonderful word – Sale. Within minutes, I had found a copy of Kimya Dawson’s fourth album of lo-fi gems, Hidden Vagenda on CD for just £2. My brain was certain that I would not find this album anywhere cheaper, ever – it was mine.
Barry White – The Man
Price: 49 pence
Saturday is for shopping; just as Friday is for drinking. These are the simple mechanics of the working week and the capitalist curse. On Friday, you put all your effort into poisoning the stress that has built up in your mind and body over the proceeding five days with hard liquor. With the stress dissipated and replaced with the following morning’s obligatory hangover, it is then time to spend your meagre earnings on things you don’t need so that you have a reason to go to work the next week. It’s depressing but it doesn’t stop me making my way to Hastings on Saturday for my own tortured take on retail therapy.
Hastings is a good place for bargain hunting and quite bad for pretty much everything else. Hastings is the end of the line. You can go no further. And it feels like it. A dead seaside resort where tourists have been replaced with strange shadowy people that blow in and out of nooks like gulls dragged from the clouds by the sea breeze. It is out of season, perennially. The must-have accessories for your average Hastingsite are a can of Stella clasped in a claw-like hand, a permanent grimace, a hoodie pulled over your face and a leg that drags behind you, like one of the worms from Tremors perpetually chasing you in slow motion.
It is said that Aleister Crowley, who died in Hastings, cursed the town, but this is not true. It is a myth spun to excuse Hastings’ blatant shortcomings. Yet on a blustery January day this is where I want to be because it has records; it has records at bargain prices. In Hastings, there are piles of cheap LPS tucked into forgotten corners of antique markets, their location only revealed by a dull glint in the glass-eyes of the taxidermy animals, and racks of dusty discount 45s in mildewed boxes beneath suspended fibreglass acrobats in reclamation yards full of peeling iron gates and cracked bird baths.
Before heading into the Old Town area of Hastings, I check the charity shops in the town centre for vinyl goodies. It is in my second box of LPs that I find a copy of Barry White’s The Man. At just 49 pence, it is guaranteed to be the cheapest in the UK, if not the world. The superb version of Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are is worth the money alone. (Later, when I get it home, the intro to It’s Only Love Doing It’s Thing is so ridiculously erotic that I am forced to blink my Sudoko back into focus several times. As Barry intones, “I must relax you, I mean, I mean, totally relax you because love is a kinda thing that you shouldn’t do unless you’re totally at ease. So baby let me, let me, totally relax you till you feel like you are ready, ready for an-eeee-thing. Let me put my hand… lord have mercy,” my stereo suddenly becomes so sexually charged that one of the speaker’s puffs out a cloud of smoke.)
The Peddlers – Birthday
Leaving the town centre, I make my way along the seafront and through the Old Town, walking past the organic cafes, upmarket florists, antique shops and retro fashion outlets to Rick’s Records. Little more than a shack in a car park, it is a vinyl Valhalla, a graveyard for the dog-earred, tacky and downright lovely.
I start working my way through jazz to folk via nineties dance and soundtracks. It’s cold and my hands seize up but I don’t care because the thrill of the hunt is upon me. A gas fire in the far corner does little to warm my fingers as I struggle to flick efficiently through the racks of LPs. Rick chain smokes from his seat by the door. He whistles along to sixties hits on the radio and waits for the next pile of records to be placed in front of him.
A couple, the kind that come to Hastings because they’ve read in the Sunday Times that it is a Mecca for antiques can’t believe that vinyl still exists and spend a fortune buying crap from the 80s in what seems to be an overwhelming surge of nostalgia. Every ten minutes or so, the woman hysterically murmurs, “I’ve only got 24 pounds with me and already I have 37 pounds worth.” Still she flicks and still she exclaims as she unearths yet another The The album. Somewhere on her husband’s person are a near endless supply of crisp twenties and she knows it.
Not blessed with my own roll of notes, I have to be more selective. I fillip a disconcertingly moist copy of Dylan’s Street Legal back onto a pile and frisbee a scratched Lee Hazlewood Best Of despite coveting both. And then I find something special, a copy of Birthday by The Peddlers. An album I have never seen in the flesh. Unfortunately, the person that owned it previously was a cretin, someone wholly undeserving of such an album. And why? Because they decided to write the song titles all over one of the most stunningly conceived gatefold album sleeves of all time. And in blue biro no less. Still it gave me a way in and before you could say OCD, I had managed to talk Rick down to just £4. And my God was it worth it: the eerie take on By The Time I Get To Phoenix, the tumbling drum solos, and the unexpected piano breakdown in Girlie PS I Love You Girlie.
The Peddlers – Freewheelers
After my success at Rick’s, I continued to ride my luck at the Antique Arcade where a lovely little collection of vinyl awaited with me. There was Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie; Mortal Sin and the Bonzos – yet, all of it, I felt I could pick up elsewhere for less. I wrestled with the maths of purchasing the All Hail Urusei Yatsura white-vinyl 10” and a battered, scratched copy of Scott 4 that was until, in a mind-boggling statistical seizure of fate and chance, I discovered another rare The Peddlers album. With a pristine sleeve and vinyl that gleamed, I actually had Freewheelers right there in my hands. And the price, three English pounds. It was mine. With Stormy Weather and Smile, it was mine. Like all of the week’s musical purchases and my entire retail life, stormy weather and smile.