I first came across Beatdown Records (or Steel Wheels if you’re a little older) during my first year at university in Newcastle. I had caught the ‘record bug’ several weeks earlier when I was introduced to the geeky delights of vinyl by my friend Stuart whom I met on my first day in the city. Bonding over a shared love of Belle and Sebastian and slightly arty European looking girls that were always too good for us. From the off I was fascinated by the black discs scattered around his room, everything from their smell to their artwork and the static crackle they made on his tiny turntable. Before long I had stumped up some money and got my own record player and quickly threw myself into scouring charity shops for music to add to my collection.
It wasn’t long before we discovered the delights of Beatdown Records. A stone’s throw away from the university campus, we had chanced upon the place whilst taking a short cut down the kind of alley that was only really good for midnight pissing and scoring crack. Stepping across the threshold of the shop you were immediately greeted with a room covered in a mosaic of CDs covering every genre imaginable. The airwaves usually being ruptured by the sharp burst of some DIY punk or metal band.
Walking to the very far side of this room was a rickety stair case that had probably not seen a lick of paint since the 80s and was as steep as it was fragile. After braving the stairs you were immediately greeted with a room straight from the mind of Nick Hornby. Rows upon endless rows of vinyl records stacked into the most expansive (and arguably most complicated) order known to man. There were rows of metal, punk, folk, pop, jazz trance, funk, funk trance, jazz trance funk fusion metal, stretching right the way around the entire shop. Often spilling into the flooring space beneath the shelves. Walking further into the room you would be hit square in the face with some eclectic music that you’d never heard of but my god you wanted it – closely followed by the smell. A scent that I can only really describe as that of my Grandmothers attic and a Yorkshire working man’s club just before the turn comes on. It was the scent of tradition and a nostalgic longing for times gone by.
Nick would offer us the choice of either being paid cash-in-hand £5 an hour or £7 an hour in the form of records.
Depending on the day you would find a mixture of people floating around the store, some casual passers-by, some regulars and some of whom seemed to be pretty much residents. A favourite would be a middle-aged man called John on the wrong end of senility, who would arrive like clockwork every Saturday at the same time. Strutting through the door with his collectors Elvis wristwatch and Elvis emblazoned bowling shirt he would march straight up to the counter and demand to see’ it.’‘It,’ was an apparently very rare Elvis live recording worth a considerable amount of money. John had been trying to buy the record unsuccessfully for several years for a fiver. I would watch each week as he would grasp it in his hands before declaring it a, ‘knock-off,’ and offer them, ‘a fiver or nowt,’ in his thick Geordie accent. Each week the owner Nick would gracefully decline his offer followed by John storming from the shop in a mist of profanities. From what I can gather the LP is thus far, still unsold.
Nick was a man with a constant glint in his eye who got no greater delight than introducing you to some aged band that had somehow changed his world. If ever there was a man who was put on this earth to sell records it was Nick. His partner in crime, Paul, was a man that had an almost psychic ability to deduce your taste in music. While Sherlock Homes would read your composure to discover your crimes, in the same way Paul could watch your walk and face to know even your guiltiest of listening pleasures. In the blink of an eye he would be able to tell you whether you were looking for a rare Big Star 7inch or a Three Degrees compilation and either way, he would never judge.
After hanging around the shop for weeks on end whenever we had any spare money we eventually convinced Nick to give Stuart a job holding a sign in the street for Beatdown. Through sleet, snow and blistering sun Stu would set up a chair on Northumberland Street with his ‘Beatdown This Way’ sign, every Saturday between 9am and 3pm. Occasionally I would cover his shifts for him, though usually I would be by his side regardless, both of us dreaming of what we would buy when his shift finished. In return for such valiant services Nick would offer us the choice of either being paid cash-in-hand £5 an hour or £7 an hour in the form of records. We would always choose the records.
In my final year of uni the store re-located the majority of its stock to the far side of town and I didn’t get to visit it nearly enough, but I was always greeted with a nod, a smile and a new recommendation when I did pop in. Around this time I would find myself visiting the more accessible and equally as brilliant RPM Records just off of Grey Street and since then I have had love affairs with various other stores across the land. I will however, always remember Beatdown as the first record store that truly captured me.
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