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Sick Records, Belfast


Opening in March of this year, Sick Records has captured the imagination of Belfast record collectors.

Alongside Dragon Records it couldn’t come at a better time, what with the fabled Hectors House and Dr Roberts stores now gone.

NI based record collectors will undoubtedly recognise Sick mainman Kenny Murdock from his stalls at various record fares around the country.

Now that he’s decided to open up a shop, Chris Owens popped in to ask some questions.

***

Why start a shop, especially in this current climate?

My reason for opening a shop is simple. I always wanted to do it but felt that my life was too busy, my kids were too young and I didn’t want to be an absent father or that it just wasn’t a good time to open a record store because of the financial climate.

I have used various excuses as reasons not to do it over the years. Truth was, I just wasn’t brave enough to do it. Now that my kids are independent, it seemed like the perfect time to “give it a go”.

The upturn in the sales of physical product over the last two to three years was a huge factor but I’ve found that only a small percentage of customers are new to buying records. Like me, most had grown accustomed to buying on-line. Hopefully the people of Belfast will value the relationship that can develop with a good independent store.

Do you have any particular aims that you’d like to see the shop achieve?

Our aim is not too lofty. I’d be happy to survive and still be trading in 18 months. Honestly, I’m not looking too far ahead. I’m of the opinion that opening the store was the easy part. Keeping it going and making it a success will be the tough part. We’d like to develop our relationship with the music community in Belfast.

We’d like to play our part in helping good local talent thrive and, to that end, we’d encourage local artists to call in and say “hello”. We would like to make the front of the shop available to local bands / artists on a Saturday afternoon to come in and play live to help promote a new release or just to help spread the word. I think it’s important that we’re not just a retail venture.

Currently, Belfast has Dragon Records, Sick, Head, HMV, Good Vibrations as well as a fine stall at St. George’s Market. Realistically, does Belfast need another record store?

I hope so. I think we provide something which hasn’t been available in Belfast since the demise of Dr. Robert’s in 1999. I’ve always looked at the multiple music retail outlets in other cities in Ireland and the U.K. and wondered why Belfast couldn’t sustain a good independent retailer.

I believe that it can but it took a huge leap of faith to take that chance. Thankfully, the people of Belfast seem to feel the same way. We feel very fortunate with all the goodwill we’ve been receiving in our first year of business.

We’ve been given a huge opportunity here, not to make squillions of pounds, but just to be integral to the music community here. And to matter. We promise we’ll try not to screw that up.

Are you aiming for a particular kind of record buyer in the market?

Not really. Perhaps, because of our own obsessions, we’re aiming at the avid music fans. I like to think that very little of what we stock is incidental music. It’s not meant to be on in the background. And I’ve been told that our name is aimed at kids. There might be some truth to that. It’s difficult to introduce new music to some older vinyl-heads like myself. We think we know better, you see.

What is the biggest selling genre in the shop?

At the start, it was metal. By some distance. Belfast has always had a very discerning metal fraternity and we knew we had to cater for that. We’ve been trying to provide different catalogues like Southern Lord, Relapse & Earache and trying to keep the stock fresh at the same time. It’s true that sales of Metal were huge at the beginning but it continues to sell steadily.

I think our sales of Alternative and Electronic music has eclipsed the sales of Metal but those genres are more dominant the shop. More than any other genre, metal bands place a huge importance on multiple sales to each individual customer. Limited versions and multiple colours are normal practice, sometimes only available through the label.

It doesn’t help if those aren’t available to us and places an onus on the fan to order on-line.

Describe the average record-buyer in the shop?

That group dynamic doesn’t change, really. We get predominantly middle aged males whose kids are independent and who finally have some disposable income. We’ve had a lot of young males 17-28 who buy lots of metal and experimental metal but the older generation have really embraced the Electronica explosion around at the minute.

What have been the biggest metal/hardcore sellers this year?

I had to take a look at this because, as I’ve said before, metal is not my field of expertise. Our biggest selling new releases have been Earth – Primitive & Deadly, Sunn O))) – Terrestrials, Code Orange – I Am King, Scott O))) – Soused and Swans – To Be Kind. Our biggest selling re-issues have been Sleep – Dopesmoker (by a mile) and Earth – The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull. I’m expecting the new Obliterations LP to make a push into that list by Christmas.

Has there been any of those releases which has crossed over so “normal” types are buying them?

Definitely the Scott O))). Not sure what they made of it though because it seems like it’s un-cool to diss that album so I’m not sure everyone has been honest in their appraisals. And the new Earth LP seemed to attract a lot of Lanegan fans,….. perhaps even more than the last Lanegan album.

Now that it’s been nearly a year since the shop opened, how is it holding up?

We’ve been open for 8 months and it’s been fantastic. There were a few long days through the summer months but, all in all, it has exceeded my expectations. We’ve concentrated on stock to the end that we’ve succeeded in doubling our numbers of titles in that time.

I had previously targeted achieving this in 18months -2 years so we’re way ahead of schedule on that. We’re also making contacts on a weekly basis with bands and smaller labels who are self-releasing. I think we’re still only scratching the surface. There’s much more to come.

How much has location played a part in the success of the shop?

I always knew that the shop had to be in Belfast. Then it was a case of finding the best affordable unit. North Street is pretty central and we’re on the ground floor. Having a door which opens out onto the street is a huge plus. Hopefully the on-going expansion of the local University, which is only a few hundred yards away, and the increasing footfall on the street, which is visible every week, will help.

– Christopher Owens ::: 14/12/14


5 Comments
  1. I’ve visited Sick a couple if times. 3 out of 5. I still have send away for the records I want. Hipster Metal seems to be the rider of the day.

  2. standuppaul Says:

    Looking forward to visiting the shop at Christmas. Hope you’re open on the 27th!

    Paul.

  3. GaryFreakFlag Says:

    Excellent shop for my taste which stretches beyond metal e.g. my last shop the other week was, off the top of my head, 2x Minor Threat records, 2x Small Faces, Meatbodies and the Ty Segall Band.

    I would easily spend between £80-£100 per visit, every 6-8 weeks.

    It’s a small shop and they can’t be expected to have every Metal (or otherwise) release you expect to find. Nor do they stock a lot of obvious titles such as Beatles, Stones, Springsteen. HMV etc has that covered, can buy in bulk, and sell for cheaper than an indie like Sick.

    Don’t be shy. Introduce yourself, chat to the guys, tell them what you’re interested in and maybe see about getting some records ordered in. It’ll benefit the shop getting to know it’s customers and benefit you in having a dealer that knows what you’re into. I’ve had records suggested to me based on what I was purchasing at the time and usually leads to another one or two purchases. They’ll even put a record on if you’re unsure. Win – win.

  4. What the fuck is hipster metal? ‘hipster’ seems to now become just a word people attach to something they don’t happen to like.

  5. Gotta agree with Gary, a great shop where the guys know what they are talking about and make suggestions. Long may it continue

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