Sunday, November 10, 2013

Retail Therapy 6: Slow Boat Records, Wellington

Aside from the two Wellington stores I’ve covered in previous blogposts, there has of course been a host of other local record shops which have at various points along the journey served as depositories for my hard earned cash.

Going way back, there was the weird and wonderful Silvio’s Emporium on Cuba Street, a treasure trove of pick n mix delight, a shop that ceased to exist sometime back in the early Nineties, maybe even a bit earlier. There was the self-proclaimed “largest record shop in New Zealand”, Chelsea Records, in Manners Mall, which I think eventually got swallowed up by one of the large faceless chains. And more recently, right up until a couple of years ago, there was Real Groovy Records, also on Cuba, a shop with just about everything any self-respecting music consumer could possibly wish for.

But to conclude the Retail Therapy series of posts, I wanted to write a little bit about Slow Boat Records, an institution in Wellington music retailing. Unlike all of the above – and the two Wellington stores I’ve blogged about previously – Slow Boat is still operating, still a going concern as Cuba Street survivors for more than a quarter of a century. Selling both new and used music, in every format, stuff from all eras.

When I wrote about the Atomic and 24-Hour Party People nights at San Francisco Bath House recently (SFBH being just along the strip), I identified the sense of community at the venue as being something pivotal to the success of those nights. That same sense of community, indeed, a wide circle within the very same community, has been at the heart of the Slow Boat success story.

Owner Dennis O’Brien is himself a local muso of some renown, and he leads a passionate and knowledgeable team. Nothing ever feels too rushed at Slow Boat, it’s a great place to browse, or just to hang out as a voyeur. A place to feed off the sort of warm organic vibe you can only get amid racks and bins of pre-loved product. It is easy to get a little lost in there sometimes, even if the carefully categorised sections ensure you can never really stray too far.

It’s just a little thing, but I really like the display of Slow Boat’s picks for the greatest albums of all-time, taking pride of place over on the far wall. Something like that works on several levels, most obviously as inspiration to finally pick up that “all-timer” you’ve always wanted but never quite got around to buying. But it also works as a discussion point, and it informs the punter that these guys have a sense of history … a love of what they do. It’s an acknowledgement that for all that popular music is so often about the present, about the now, it also has a rich and vibrant past, and Slow Boat is a place where you can engage with that. It feels a bit like an inadvertent mission statement … of sorts.

In the opening post of this series I bemoaned the fact that nowadays I don’t get across town to Slow Boat often enough. I’m really going to have to do something about that. In my defence, I did many times set out on lunch-break treks across town, with Real Groovy the target destination, only to run out of time because browsing at Slow Boat got in the way. I could never quite make it all the way up Cuba Street within the allotted hour … and now I have no reason to.

So perhaps I’ll have to revive a Friday night routine from a few years back and make the effort to get there more often. Whatever happens, it’s nice to know Slow Boat Records is still an option for me, a throwback to the past, one that just keeps on giving …

I reckon the small but nostalgia-rich New Zealand music sections at Slow Boat are among the best I’ve ever seen, especially in terms of used vinyl, but more generally across all formats. Here’s a tribute to indie record stores from NZ band The Brunettes …


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