Musical Rooms

January 23, 2009

Remembering Road Records

Filed under: Music,News/Politics,Personal — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 12:04 pm
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Dave Kennedy of Road Records

Dave Kennedy of Road Records

It was appropriate that my last ever visit to Road Records, this week, was on “Blue Monday” – supposedly the saddest day of the year. The legendary Dublin record shop is closing its doors after 11 years. A heartfelt online statement from the owners last week cited multiple reasons for the closure. To some, this is just an economic sob story, and to one commenter on The Ticket’s On The Record blog last week, it’s “just another record shop”, but for legions of music fans and bands this is a devastating loss. There has never been a record shop like it in Dublin. Its closure signifies the end of an influential cultural institution. Road felt like a drop-in centre, musical co-op and, in the days before myspace or music blogs, one of the best places to discover new music.

Prior to 1997, Dublin had its fair share of independent record shops, but Road’s open-door friendliness marked it out. My teenage record-buying experiences in DTK, Comet or Freebird were mostly non-verbal transactions, with the odd derisory snort about your choices. So it was a big gulp of fresh air when Road arrived – it had no hint of High Fidelity snobbishness. Dave Kennedy and Julie Collins, who ran Road, are to Irish independent music what Richard and Judy are to new authors. They have been that influential in supporting, distributing and encouraging new music in Ireland. No matter how small the pressing of your obscure post-rock seven inch, Collins and Kennedy were always happy to sell it. Their unfailing friendliness meant that every customer’s name was remembered and enquiries after kids, jobs and life in general were always genuine. People made lasting friendships with other customers and Glen Hansard, post-Oscar, still drops by when he’s in Ireland.

“Obliging” is a word often used about Road. If a new album arrived and you couldn’t pop in to retrieve it immediately, they were happy to hold it behind the counter. Not a policy you’d get from a large retail chain, and it resulted in the shop’s toilet/ante room being clogged up with a sea of bags. Customers were encouraged to listen to albums before indulging in record-buying sprees. Like many, for years my weekly ritual involved a Saturday visit, but it was always more fun dropping in midweek when it was quiet. There would be the offer of tea, much shooting the breeze and, obviously, music – with never any pressure to buy. Thanks to those random listening sessions, I discovered all kinds of music, from my first Low album to Limerick’s Out On A Limb label; from obscure reggae and Sigur Rós’s debut album to Señor Coconut’s Latino covers of Kraftwerk. The latter holds my most personal memory of Road, when a good friend and I were in the shop chatting with Julie, laughing at the cha-cha reworking of ‘Autobahn’. I bought the album; my friend asked to have one put on hold. A week later, he died in an accident and in the days before his funeral I found myself in the shop, reminiscing with Julie about him. Without a word, she produced the Señor Coconut album from behind the counter, scribbled a note on the sleeve and told me to pass it on to him (it was one of many things put into his coffin by friends and family). It was an incredibly touching thing to do, and I’ve never forgotten it.

The weekly mail-out involved a review or blurb, usually written by Dave, for every release. It served as a guide for fans, and validation for many local bands, who often used Road’s verdict alongside quotes by music journalists on their promo bumf. Collins and Kennedy were unflinching in their support for Irish bands trying to get their music heard, from pushing it word of mouth in the shop to stocking EPs – even if there were only a handful pressed. For five years, they ran the Road Relish label, which released split seven-inch singles featuring Irish acts they liked, including The Redneck Manifesto, Decal and The Jimmy Cake. Road, like any music shop, sold gig tickets, but Collins and Kennedy always refused guestlist offers from local bands, preferring to pay in and show their support.

Road’s closure will leave a gaping hole and it will be harder for small bands to find a guaranteed retail outlet for their music. Collins and Kennedy’s huge appreciation of music and their passion for introducing people to new bands is unparalleled. The debt of gratitude owed them by countless bands is huge. Just read the sleeve notes of most independent Irish albums released in the last decade and you’ll find a thank you to “Dave and Julie at Road”. Such is the regard the shop is held in, many Dublin bands are not collecting money from Road for albums currently held in stock. An upcoming all-day tribute event will feature a mini record fair and performances by several acts with proceeds going to the couple.

As the Fade Street doors prepare to close, there is tentative talk of an online venture. It’s unclear what the future holds, but it will involve spending time with their six-week old son, Paddy, who has no idea what an amazing record collection awaits him when he’s older, or the impact his folks had on Irish music.

Road Records, Fade Street, Dublin 2, http://www.roadrecs.com. The Road Records fundraiser will take place in March at Vicar Street, Dublin

This article originally appeared in The Ticket, in The Irish Times on Friday January 23rd.

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