Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Wobbly Feeling

As I mentioned last time, the family got a few days in SoCal last week. We get down there about once a year, and it's a great spot for us because we all have our favorite places to go. Mine has always been Wombleton Records in L.A.'s Highland Park neighborhood. I found out about the shop in a most interesting way. Back in 2012, while in Edinburgh, I popped into many record shops. I asked David, the owner of a terrific music and book shop at Leith Walk called Elvis Shakespeare, if he had a particular 12" single by Close Lobsters I had been seeking for years. He told me he didn't have it or very many records like it because these two American chaps had recently been in and had cleaned him out. He said the lads had their own shop in Los Angeles, and they were traveling all over the UK looking for finds to stock the store. He gave me their card, and I made it a point to look up the shop when I got back. My love affair with Wombleton was born.

Ian, the owner, has made multiple trips to Scotland, Germany, Holland and many other places around the world looking for rare first-edition vinyl, most of it seemingly catered just for me. No filler. No reissues. He has brought back 50,000 LPs and 20,000 7" singles in the past six-and-a-half years. While Ian is traveling the globe looking for records, his pal Elden minds the store. He is passionate and knowledgeable about every record in in the bins. That might not be so rare for a counter jockey, but his friendliness certainly is. The shop itself looks like the sitting room of a home in the UK, right down to the wallpaper and furniture. You will never find a cozier place to buy records. To sum it up, there isn't another record shop like it in America, and I have always been more than happy to go to Disneyland (for the kids) and outlet shopping at Desert Hills (for the Mrs.) knowing I will get my hour at Wombleton.

Here's where this tale takes a turn. It's over. With zero fanfare and nary an announcement, I discovered Wombleton has closed its doors. I feel like I have lost a friend. What happened? I have found an article in L.A. Weekly with some quotes from Ian that sheds some light on Wombleton's demise. I have written about this shop a time or two, and I have always made it clear the records are expensive. Of course they were. You can't travel the world and select each record by hand, pack them, ship them by boat and get them through customs and pay all of those fees without passing on all of that to the customer. These were not records you could find on a store shelf anywhere else over here, and it was worth paying the prices. What Ian told L.A. Weekly I found more interesting was his sources were depleting. A record he used to find abroad for £6 was now costing him £30. It's obvious a business model like that can't be sustained, but the depletion factor is far more depressing than just this one store closing. My family will continue our treks to the L.A. area, I'm sure, but it just got a little less fun for me.

How do I honor Wombleton today? I'll spin what I have bought there on past trips. What else can I do? Off the top of my head, I know I picked up records by the Hit Parade, Orange Juice, Josef K, the Go-Betweens, Rosehips, Wolfhounds, Sugargliders, the Wedding Present, Soup Dragons, Mighty Mighty, Strawberry Switchblade and Hurrah! Nice hauls, one and all. Let's listen to a few songs and ponder what happened to the stock that was still in the bins when Ian shuttered the place.

I'm thinking of you today, too, Swede. As a former shop owner, I'm sure this doesn't bring back pleasant memories.

The Go-Betweens - "Spring Rain"
The Hit Parade - "Forever"
Hurrah! - "Who'd Have Thought?"


Swiss Adam said...

Sad. The price of vinyl (and the vinyl renaissance generally) is getting on my tits.

JTFL said...

Speaking of sadly missed in Los Angeles, this post reminded me of Acetone, who broke up after the suicide of bassist Richie Lee. Their final LP, 2000's "York Blvd.", shows that street in Highland Park, a few blocks away from where Wombleton was.

The Swede said...

Sad news all round Brian. I've noticed the vinyl renaissance effect here over the past few years. Charity shops, house clearances and car-boot sellers pricing their records as if they were all mint condition, first edition privately pressed rarities, when in fact most of them are by Don Williams, Daniel O'Donnell or Michael Bolton. The eventual knock-on effect is that fine sounding establishments like Wombleton can't possibly survive, particularly in the niche market they set up for themselves. It's never nice to hear of a good Indie going down. It sounded like a great store, your tribute has done them proud. Thanks for sparing a thought for me too.

drew said...

As SA said. It really is a pisser the price of some vinyl I saw a copy of the 2nd House of Love album for £20 in Oxfam music in Glasgow, taking the fucking piss that was, that particular shop is getting ridiculous.

I am sorry to hear about the shop but I did smile about the owner coming over here looking for vinyl I thought that the digging was all one way traffic. I have dreams of coming over to the States and digging for soul but sadly it will never happens as I can't do any flights over two hours that's as much time as I can handle.

drew said...

Btw - the picture on your classic album recommendation shows the Red Road flats, if I' m not very much mistaken, there is a hole in the Glasgow skyline where they used to be now.

friend of rachel worth said...

Great post Brian , would have loved to have broken up a disney trip with a visit in years gone by

Rol said...

Sad news, but a great tribute. I agree with all of the above about the problems with the market at the moment. Greed spoils everything.

Brian said...

Thanks for all the kind comments, everyone. If only we didn't like those round pieces of plastic so much, eh?

Drew, I have Shoebox Full of Secrets on vinyl. So nice big cover to analyze. Stunning photo, actually. I can't find a reference to Red Road flats in the liner notes or online in reference to Andy Pawlak, but I have looked at many photos of the old buildings today. Sure looks like the same place to me too. Not a place you would have wanted to visit, I suspect. Reminds me of the infamous Cabrini Green complex in Chicago. That's where the old TV show Good Times was supposed to take place.

drew said...

I had a friend who was a psych nurse who lived in one of the blocks. They were rented out to student nurses in the late 80s. He lost his motorbike and it turned up burnt out on the 12 th floor.

charity chic said...

Mrs CC lived there when doing her nurse training aged 17
She also worked with the asylum seekers housed there shortly before they were demolished

Brian said...

Sounds like you have a keeper there, CC. My mother is a registered nurse as well. She got her degree after having four children and has been at it for 30 years now.

JC said...

So sorry I haven't been around these past few days to have contributed timeously to this very sobering post.

The Swede and Drew have covered my viewpoints perfectly. For years, I have loved going round second-hand stores in many parts of Scotland and indeed in any city that I found myself visiting in the UK and further afield, seeking out vinyl and enjoying paying decent prices with the odd bargain thrown in.

I just don't do it anymore as I only get angry at the greed that is on display. If I buy second hand vinyl these days it tends to be via Discogs as there are some dealers who are still on the right side of rip-off, although their numbers are decreasing.

Part of me is tempted to digitise everything and cash in on what I have - but then I think of folk like your good self and others who have a love for vinyl for what it is rather than what it has come to represent and I know I'd rather give it away freely to someone who cares than live with having taken cash for the LP to end up in the hands of a show-off.