I remember when the Chrises Hart and Priestly opened the little Real Groovy shop at the top of Mt Eden Road in the early 80s. I watched Stefan Morris design the classic Real Groovy Records logo in the Rip It Up office. The movie-house strip along the base of the logo was my idea.
Later, when I came back from London, I'd walk past the social welfare office most weeks to sell a little more of the 12" promo booty I'd hauled back to Kerry Buchanan at the Queen Street store ($12 a pop!). A few years on from that, I unloaded about $600 worth of vinyl when we were pulling together every dollar we could to get into the house we still own. I wrote on and off for Real Groove magazine over the years. And, of course, I've spent thousands of dollars at the shop.
The shop hasn't always done itself justice. Once, when the late John Peel went in during his visit to New Zealand, he was treated dismissively, like a silly old man. Bemused and annoyed, he left the store and went and spent his money up the road at Gary Steel's Beautiful Music shop, where someone was there to talk fan-to-fan to him, and make recommendations (such as the first Ermehn album) for local music that later got played on Peel's famous radio show. Scale isn't always a good thing.
On the other hand, the Queen Street store has long been a must-visit destination for touring musicians. The huge purchase of old vinyl from the US a year or two ago only enhanced its reputation as a place where treasure might be buried. Ironically, it appears that it is a bad currency transaction around that purchase that have helped tip the business into receivership, after fruitless attempts to sell it over the past four months.
But that's surely not the whole of it. In recent years, I've personally gone from visiting the shop (and using my club card) weekly to perhaps once every couple of months: I've become an online purchaser. The Soul Jazz back-catalogue release that costs 40 bucks on import can be legitimately had for a fraction of that in MP3 form on eMusic. The internet is better for discovery than wandering the aisles.
And if I want physical product, well, there's a JB Hi-Fi five minutes from my house now. The staff are helpful and the prices are very good. Real Groovy was never cheap, and it was never in a position to compete on price with JB: it's not going too far to say that the huge catalogue purchases JB made on entry to the New Zealand market helped save a couple the major record companies.
There's also some doubt over whether buying the failing Echo Records stores in the South Island several years ago was a sound move. Hart and his partners might have been better to have sat with their Auckland and Wellington stores and served the nation via Real Groovy's successful and effective website -- although this slide show of uncertain provenance suggested developing the online business and opening more branches. At any rate, Hart seemed happy enough when he talked to the Herald in January.
There's also a good discussion about the closures on the Biggie forums.
So where to now? Things change: Groovy's founders cut their teeth at Record Exchange in St Kevin's Arcade and the world didn't end when that shop ceased trading. It appears that the receivers have potential buyers for at least three of the stores, and Real Groove magazine has already been bought by its management. That huge pile of vinyl isn't going anywhere soon, and it would seem that it'd be smart to keep the brand alive, and perhaps link independently-owned stores via the website.
I'm just not sure that the support is there for the present scale of the business: it's not big enough to take on the listed-on-the-ASX JB Hi-Fi, but too big for a fan store. We'll see. In the meantime, thanks Chris and everyone else. It's been fun.
Staying with the music theme, Grant McDougall has cooked up the following meditation on "if New Zealand political parties were rock bands" ...
NATIONAL would be THE ROLLING STONES - absolutely unbeatable in their '60s and '70s heyday and blessed with an amazing frontman. They're still wildly popular of course, but they seem content to recycle their greatest hits and haven't came up with anything fresh or inspiring for yonks. As for the frontman, well, these days he seems more interested in finance than what's happening on the street. Think Big is their Dirty Works.
LABOUR would be U2 - superficially exciting, but basically merely bland and efficient. Plus their leader has an annoying tendency to come across as a pompous know-it-all. Also wildly popular, but despised by their detractors.
THE GREENS would be THE FALL - they've been around for ages, but have never been huge and never will be. Everyone knows what they do has loads more merit than everyone else, but it's all a bit too weird for most people. They're a cult act and will always have their followers, but will never gain widespread appeal.
ACT would be CULTURE CLUB - their schtick was huge in the '80s, but completely irrelevant and badly-dated now. Who the hell listens to Culture Club these days? No one, that's who.
NZ FIRST would be BB KING - hugely popular and influential in his day, but basically a cabaret act now that should just retire.
THE MAORI PARTY would be PRIMAL SCREAM - half the members are utter loose cannons, the rest are plodding journeymen. They also always talk total crap in interviews and seem wired up on any number of drugs.
UNITED FUTURE would be COLDPLAY - dreadful, bland, hated and sensible. The frontman is a smug twit that really ought to be smacked hard on the head with a cast-iron frying pan.
JIM ANDERTON would be JULIAN COPE - was moderately important in the same scene as U2 in the early '80s and had an unexpected career revival in the late '80s, early '90s, but obscure and irrelevant ever since; generally regarded as a nut-bar by most and an endearing eccentric by his equally-loopy band of followers.
And finally, the nice people at Universal Music have offered us five CD copies of the new Lucinda Williams album, Little Honey to give away to Public Address readers. To be in the draw, hit Reply and email me with the answer to this question: "About which person is the song 'Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings' said to be?" Please write your answer in the subject line of your email.
PS: Pete Darlington has kindly kicked off a Last.fm group for Public Address readers. You're warmly invited to join up.