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Crap custard, hairy mutha's and Tomorrow's Dream: The 2015 review according to Left For Dead

Left For Dead began 2015 with the resolution that come what may, we wouldn't be seeing the year out in the same location as where we saw it in. Christmas had been a non event (the Custard Factory didn't launch their Christmas campaign, 'Digmas', until the 20th December) and despite over 5.5 million visitors to the German market in Birmingham over the Christmas period, it didn't look like any of those people had ventured into Digbeth. 

So January was a month of meetings and scouting locations for a second shop. Meanwhile, Viet Cong released their stunning debut album (which would go onto be rated #2 in Left For Dead end of year poll), the Aphex Twin put out his second 'official' release in twelve months, the brilliant 'Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments PT2', and there were album releases from Gaz Coombes (#16), Sleater-Kinney (#11), Jessica Pratt (#30), Decemberists, Belle & Sebastian and Pond, whose psych-pop masterpiece 'Man It Feels Like Space Again' mind bogglingly failed to register in our end of year poll.

February saw the release of Father John Misty's 'I Love You, Honeybear', (#3) a collection of confessional love songs filled with a perfectly weighted balance of warmth, caustic sarcasm and just enough belly laughs to help us get over the dismal weather. Public Service Broadcasting delivered their second album 'The Race For Space' (#45) on indie-shop-only limited edition coloured vinyl, a supportive and much needed practice that has increased in significance in a year that has seen supermarkets like HMV and Tesco jump on the vinyl bandwagon. Other releases this month included Moon Duo's 'Shadow Of The Sun' (#21) and Ty Segall's 'Mr Face' EP, which consisted of two seven inches, one blue and one red. Included in the sleeve was a pair of 3D glasses and when you overlapped the records the blurry sleeve suddenly made sense. Sort of. Oh yeah, and we found a location for our new shop.

March in the indie record shop world is all about gearing up for Record Store Day in April. Having started the process of signing off on the new shop the realisation dawned that this might be our last RSD in Digbeth. We thought long and hard about keeping the Digbeth shop, but there simply wasn't enough footfall to justify it and so we approached our RSD with the idea of saying a massive thank you to all of the people who had supported Left For Dead during the previous 18 months. Meanwhile, Melbourne's Courtney Barnett had us bouncing around the shop with her second album 'Sometimes I Sit And Think...' (#5), Tobias Jesso released a pretty good impression of Randy Newman with 'Goon' (#49), Sufjan Stevens returned to his earlier dazzling form with 'Carrie & Lowell' (#6) and Bjork and Prodigy put out impressive unit shifters that would help us pay for Record Store Day.

Record Store Day has become THE biggest date in the vinyl calendar and this global annual event held in April is one of the principal reasons for the massive rise in vinyl sales in recent years. Record Store Day is a celebration of the independent record shop and it's intention is to drive people passionate about records back into their local indie's to see what a brilliant and vital job they are doing; championing new music and generally being the last standing heroes in an increasingly homogenized and corporate world of X factor rubbish. Anyway, tons of artists release exclusive limited edition records and shops put on bands who play for free and much fun is had by all. So far so good. However, the record industry wouldn't be the record industry if there wasn't an attempt to sabotage something as wholesome and well meaning as Record Store Day would it? So this year we had a couple of record labels letting off an almighty stink about RSD selling out to the big boys and how it wasn't about the indie shops any more so much as the major record companies flogging loads of old back catalogue and clogging up the beleaguered pressing plants with represses of crap nobody wants. And to a degree they're right. We've still got copies of the Brian Wilson seven inch to prove it. Plus, RSD isn't cheap. There's no way a business the size of Left For Dead could hope to stock every RSD release and there is a certain amount of pressure on shops to cover as many of the releases as possible but ultimately, no one forces the shops to spend money they don't have, and as long as shops take a pragmatic approach to what they can stock, which is how they run their business the other eleven months of the year, there shouldn't be any reason NOT to have a great Record Store Day. And what a fantastic RSD we had! Birmingham folk heroes Boat To Row played the queue (many of whom had been waiting since 6am) into the shop. Then at midday Wolverhampton's finest hairy mutha's, Goddamn (who later in the year would go on to secure the support slot for the Foo Fighters) and Nottingham punk mentalists Baby Godzilla made an almighty and riotous racket in front of a huge crowd. In the meantime we sold tons of records and made lots of people very happy. As the sun went down Matthew Edwards closed the live show with some glorious acid pop and we were left to reflect on a job well done. Nice to go out on something like that.

The summer months are traditionally quiet in music retail, and although a few killer albums came out; Thee Oh Sees (#8), Jamie XX, Goddamn and Holly Herndon, we were busy setting up our new shop in Shrewsbury and watching Viet Cong, Sleaford Mods and Thee Oh Sees tear it up at Primavera, Barcelona. Nuff said.

July saw us launching our brand new Left For Dead in Shrewsbury and although the business was eighteen months old at that point it was very much like starting the business from scratch; however instead of people asking for the door code to the 'public' toilet in Digbeth, we had (a helluva lot more) people in Shrewsbury asking us if our records were like, seriously, brand new? Oh yes. New albums by Ryley Walker (#12), Tame Impala (#37), Ezra Furman (#27), C Duncan (#10), Sleaford Mods (#17) and Ultimate Painting (#46) helped establish Left For Dead as the place to go for great records in Shropshire. One of the pleasantly surprising things about the new shop was the amount of CD's we were selling. In Birmingham we'd started to run down our CD offer, but in Shrewsbury we were selling as many CD's as we were records. In hindsight, this probably says more about the poor footfall of the Digbeth shop than the spending habits of the people in Shrewsbury and Birmingham. When we planned the Shrewsbury opening we envisaged a vinyl only shop but it was clear from our opening couple of months that there was a future for CD's. Don't believe the hype!

With the festival season coming to a close the record companies ramp up the releases and August & September saw a glut of great records destined to end up on 'Best Of...' lists come the end of the year: La Luz (#36), Four Tet (#29), Wilco, Gwenno (#31), Foals, Yo La Tengo, Destroyer (#38), Beach House, PIL (#35), Blank Realm (#4), Low (#14), Kurt Vile (#7), New Order, Joanna Newsome (#13) and Wand (#22). Also released in September was a much anticipated album called 'Have You In My Wilderness' by a singer songwriter from LA called Julia Holter. We had enjoyed her previous records but the new album took her to a whole new level and it wasn't long before we were proclaiming it our favourite album of the year. A superb show in October at the Birmingham Glee club sealed the deal for us.

Given the disappointment of last Christmas we couldn't wait to get into the winter months and sure enough, Christmas was an absolute cracker and it didn't take long for us to feel vindicated for making the tough decisions we made back in January. In fact, as far back as July when we'd only been open a few weeks it was obvious we'd made the right decision!

And so now we're about to head into the New Year with loads of great idea's for 2016 and lots to look forward to. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone of our customers for all of your support. Have a good 'un and we'll see you on the other side.

Andy, Jennie & Joe

Left For Dead

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