I knew my career wasn’t going well when I spent the first half hour of a day removing a Wispa chocolate bar from the mouth of a life-sized Elvis Presley mannequin. It was hard work though. Wispas are crumbly. Most of it came away in my hand, leaving a stump of chocolate wedged behind the teeth of The King, like he was sucking on a turd. It’s probably still there now, a year on.
Macclesfield doesn’t have many celebrities. The plastic Elvis Presley that stands outside the Magpie record shop in the town centre counts as one. Arguably Ian Curtis would be more appropriate – he was born, and died, in the town – but it’s a sad fact that most people in Macclesfield wouldn’t have a clue about Joy Division. A plastic Ian Curtis would also look a bit creepy.
Elvis and I were colleagues for a few months. He features in the local press more than the store itself. Local charities borrow him for fundraising events.
The King doesn’t look too good anymore. Pigeons shit on him all day. He hasn’t kicked the burger habit, despite being plastic. Chavs occasionally stuff junk food into his gaping mouth.
Elvis was the most noticeable thing about Magpie during my 8 months working at the shop. Ask Maxonians where Magpie is and they probably won’t know. Ask them where the statue of Elvis is, and they’ll give you exact directions.
The shop was a branch of an online retailer, formed in Macclesfield from the ashes of larger chain Music Zone (remember them?) and the only store to bear the Magpie name.
I could create a pleasingly inappropriate scene. Like the moment when a group of pensioners and grandchildren walked into the shop just as the vocals kicked in on Peaches’ ‘Fuck the Pain Away.'
Magpie was the only place in Macclesfield where you could buy a Kyuss CD, or The Go! Team’s debut album, or a copy of Miller’s Crossing on DVD. The other entertainment shops in town were supermarkets and WH Smiths, and the only music on sale there was whatever 20 albums had sold the most copies in the previous week. Of course, you could buy all that stuff at Magpie too, at a higher price.
The shop mostly offered bargain-bin music for the cost of a fancy coffee. Much of the stock was second hand, bought in for pennies and sold on for pounds.
Best of all, staff had total control of the stereo, within reason. Songs with obscene lyrics weren’t supposed to be played.
But if I learnt one thing in my time in the shop, it’s that most people don’t listen to lyrics. They happily hum along, oblivious to lines like “I awoke so drunk and full of rage / That I could hardly speak / A fag in a whale-bone corset / draping his dick across my cheek” from Nick Cave’s ‘Papa Won’t Leave You Henry.’ With some selective DJing I could create a pleasingly inappropriate scene. Like the moment when a group of pensioners and grandchildren walked into the shop just as the vocals kicked in on Peaches’ ‘Fuck the Pain Away. That was my Tyler Durden moment. That was the closest I’ve been to splicing a cumshot into a family blockbuster at a packed cinema.
Such puerile entertainment was needed, because working in a record shop can be just as boring as working in Marks & Spencer. Anyone who cares about music can only take so many requests for the musical output of Cowell-spawn.
Relief was provided by the regular customers. Dave the Rave, Pervy Pete, Charles the Rapist, The Plumber, The Wolfman, Drunk Alan, and the guy everyone loved to hate, Fat Prick. Behind these nicknames is a collection of strange, wonderful, annoying or creepy individuals, and far too many comic anecdotes to retell.
Every small-town local record shop might attract similar characters. They also attract the loyal and dwindling group of music fans who know the simple pleasure of finding something unexpected amongst the racks of second-hand Beyonce and Kylie Minogue CDs.
Cheap supermarket chart CD sales only cater for the narrowest and most popular tastes. Small record shops are places where people talk about the songs they love, and hear new or old music they may enjoy. They’re worth supporting.
Magpie might have changed its name to ‘That’s Entertainment’, smartened up and gone a little bit corporate, but when I worked there it had the atmosphere of an independent.
The King is not dead. He’s just standing very still, outside a record shop in an East Cheshire town. If you pass by, don’t give him a Wispa.
Regular customer names were changed.
Click here for Record Store Day’s official website
Click here to read more Record Store Day Articles
Click here for more Music stories.
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook