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 …