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Interview: Rough Trade Nottingham Turns Five

9 April 19 interview: Becky Timmins
photos: Fabrice Gagos

It’s hard to remember Broad Street without Rough Trade as an occupant. The record store, bar and gig venue turns five later this year, and over the past half-decade has earned its stripes as an integral part of Nottingham’s music scene. We caught up with bar manager, Sam Allison, to talk Drag Bingo, Record Store Day, and footprints on the ceiling…

Some people were surprised that Nottingham was chosen for the first UK Rough Trade outside London. Do you think the doubters have been proven wrong?
I don’t think there were any doubts to begin with – just a lot of positivity. It was the time when Jake Bugg and Sleaford Mods were around, and Maximo Park had just recorded an album here. Nottingham had a history of bands doing big things. You had Music Exchange, a charity-run music organisation, and Rob’s Records, selling primarily second-hand stuff. The city was crying out for an independent record store that was bringing out new releases every week. Nottingham swiftly becomes the favourite store of people working in the company and also with artists. They’ll play all three Rough Trades – East London, Bristol and here – and often say how amazing the Nottingham store is.

Has the record industry changed since Rough Trade opened in Nottingham?
The industry itself has grown. Music Exchange went shortly after we arrived, but you’ve got Forever Records now, which is a great record shop doing fantastic things. They have a nice niche amount of records, and stock things which we perhaps don’t. You see a lot more record fairs popping up now too, so the record scene is much healthier. And we’ve grown as a business year on year. We’re doing better and better, with bigger artists coming through, and local acts doing great things in store. We’ve hit a little bit of a plateau now, but the record scene has certainly flourished since we’ve been here.

What do you think caused the vinyl revival?
When I joined Rough Trade over three years ago, I had a few pieces of vinyl, but nothing to play them on. Since working here, I’ve seen people bringing out records which have something different about them. It’s the enjoyment of a piece of physical media which someone has put a lot of time into. It’s music, but also artwork, inserts, special things that come with the record. There’s a Father John Misty record, I Love You, Honeybear, that pops up and plays the intro to the first track when you open it up. I also think we had got into an attitude of only listening to a few songs off albums, because they were the ones we liked. Now, people want to listen to albums in full again; there is something more immersive about it.

Rough Trade is so much more than just a music store. Was it always the plan to have such a jam-packed events programme?
Throughout the whole of March, I think there were three nights when there wasn’t something happening. The scope here was always to use the space upstairs not just as a venue for label-related stuff, but as a hub for the community to put on events, not always related to music. We go from having the likes of Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods doing a Q&A, to a plant swap, to a night hosted by the Punk Society at Trent Uni - three nights that are completely different. We try to be a venue where people can come and try things out. Drag Bingo is a good example - it’s such a good laugh. It’s one of those events where you see people from different walks of life just having a good time, playing some bingo, laughing along with some drag queens.

Things are good, and you know what they say: don’t fix what ain’t broke.

The in-store shows are so intimate, and you host some major artists. Tell us some highlights from the past five years…
Idles last year was absolutely insane. And we did the in-store for Sleaford Mods when they released English Tapas, and that was an amazing show too. Another one that stands out is Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes. It was the only time we have ever cleared all the furniture out from the bar and let the band play on the floor; they set up the drums and amps in the corner and played with everyone in the space. Frank Carter is one of the best frontmen I’ve ever seen – he was on the bar, upside down in the crowd…his footprints are still on the ceiling somewhere.

What have you got planned for Record Store Day this year?
It’s a real celebration of records and the industry as a whole. Last year we actually had someone queuing outside the store from 2:30pm the day before! But the majority of people start to queue from about 3am onwards. We have the same approach every year: the queue forms outside, we bring them up to the bar early, and then call people down in groups of twenty. With Record Store Day releases, nobody gets reservations. What’s there is there, and it’s first come, first served, so the earlier you get there the better. We run that system until about midday, then the record floor is opened to the public. We have live music upstairs from the early afternoon, and that’s when people start to chill out a bit.

Have you got any celebrations planned for your fifth birthday later this year?
We’ll have to wait and see. With the amount of stuff going on here, there isn’t time to think about the fifth birthday just yet. But birthdays are always a really good one. We have local bands in who we’ve worked with on a regular basis, and that’s really special.

What are Rough Trade’s ambitions for the future?
I personally hope there will be a new Rough Trade store opening somewhere soon, and it’ll be interesting to see where that might happen. But here in Nottingham, right now it’s business as usual. Things are good, and you know what they say: don’t fix what ain’t broke. We’re just happy to be so well-loved by everyone in the city. 

Record Store Day takes place on Saturday 13 April

Rough Trade website

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