by ola mazzuca
It was a cool December day in London. I was on the second last day of my first trip to the UK, where I joined my friend David Ander as she made her big move across the pond. We did Buckingham Palace, sipped Earl Grey at the Soho Secret Tea House, checked out a jazz show at The Troubadour and did drunk improv comedy in Camden Town. The last neighbourhood on the list was the ever-diverse and vibrant Brick Lane.
Not only was it the last stop, but there was another void in the mix - a record store stop. I've always been one to visit record stores while traveling, so naturally, Rough Trade in Brick Lane was imperative. Sure, I picked up a couple LPs in Manchester for a pound or two each, but that wasn't enough. I was on the hunt for real jungle (that's drum and bass to you), grime and mint condition dub/reggae/dancehall classics.
It's nestled in an alley way filled mostly with bars. Due to London's mild winter climate, tables lining the outdoor patios were filled with people drinking bottles of cider and tall cans of Red Stripe (the first I had ever seen!). As we walked up the ramp (accessible, bitches) to the store, I could sense a vibe I had expected.
Step inside and the music isn't too loud - audible enough to hear people ordering lattes and organic juice at the entrance cafe, and the couple rambling on about which book to buy for a friend's birthday present.
Let's be real. I wasn't overwhelmed. I've been to Amoeba Music in San Francisco - at the ripe age of 14 - where I nearly vomited at the sight of the metal section. I've been to Silver Platters in Seattle, in awe of their shelves stacked high with rare 45s. I'm a regular at Toronto's own Sonic Boom and Play de Record, where I stroll aisle by aisle, record by record, to ensure that I haven't missed anything I might like. It drives my friends crazy.
Rough Trade wasn't any different. Smaller, and a little more stark, but still holding that record store feel. The experts are behind the cash or shelving unit, immersed in liner notes and bar codes, minding their own until I asked, "what's playing on the sound system?" It was definitely a rare piece of jungle music - unlike anything I've ever heard. They disclosed it was Amen Andrews' News of the World, and I grabbed a copy and placed it in my basket. One purchase off the list.
As my fingers flicked through each LP, between Rinse FM exclusives, releases from Big Dada records, Channel 1 dancehall classics and a limited edition of FKA Twigs LP1, I realized Davida was no longer in my sight and 40 minutes had passed.
I found her in the book section, reading through an extensive music and lifestyle roster, and before I could state that I was ready to leave, a strange, familiar tune came on.
Gentle guitar strums, kind of hollow, and strangely haunting, filled the large room. It sounded like the dude from the Smiths. It sounded New Wave, but a little bit post. I think this dude left the band, but damn, I can't remember his name. What is this? This sound...
As I walked up to the cash register, again finding myself distracted by old copies of WIRE magazine, a renowned music publication highlighting avantgarde sounds, the staff began to sing - in unison.
It sounds so stupid now, but I pulled out my phone and frantically began to type...there's...a...wild...man...inside...my...head in my Notes app. I wanted the know the name of the song, dammit! (I could have just asked them - no different than I did for the jungle LP) By this time, the store had already closed. I had exceeded my limit by five minutes. Davida was tired - but so gracious and patient. It was time to head back to Earl's Court.
As we rode the tube home, I couldn't shake the song. The lyrics. The sonic elements. This melancholy voice expressing no sign of remorse.
Turns out it was Morrissey - an artist I had read about endlessly, but for some reason, never delved into. I realized later he sounded familiar because I had a Smiths album on my iPod (how it got there, I don't know - my library is quite extensive) and it must have come up on shuffle at one point or another. The track was quite simply, 'I'm Not Sorry' from his 2004 release, You Are The Quarry. It was placed in my ears at a strange, yet fitting time, as this trip also marked a period of transitory progression and self discovery - with no remorse. Hell, I had only been in his hometown of Manchester a few days prior.
So, Rough Trade. I'm not sorry for staying past closing time. I needed to hear Morrissey and witness the impact it had on your staff. It made a mark on me. I can't explain why. Do anti-apologies need a reason?