Track record stands for itself in Edinburgh
Press and News article published on 5th Anniversary in 1994 by Edinburgh Evening News re Backtracksmusic Edinburgh shop re finding vinyl singles and albums and old sounds and music formats in Scotland. Read on for more information about us:
EDINBURGH EVENING NEWS Article
Track record stands for itself 10th November 2004
IN these days of instantly downloadable music and ringtones that change every week, it comes as a relief to know that there are still old-fashioned record shops, selling everything from the latest DVD to old eight-track recordings of obscure tunes.
And that there are still customers willing to search them out, customers who will be happy to know Tommy Robertson has been running Backtrack Music in Tollcross for 15 years.
"Back then, I was working as a hotel manager in the Suffolk Hall Hotel, and running a disco business part-time. Then the hotel was sold to St Margaret’s girls’ school and I was out of work. So I decided to go full-time into the music business," he says.
With his knowledge and vast collection of music, opening a shop seemed the ideal solution, and so, after looking around for a while, he found premises in Brougham Street, near Tollcross.
"It’s near the town centre, and also lots of students from Warrender Park, Marchmont. And so I bought this, and I’ve watched things progress," he says.
From record and tapes through to CDs and DVDs, and to the current menace of music pirated over the internet, Backtrack Music has followed it all, he says.
While developments such as file sharing and online music sales obviously threaten his traditional business, Mr Robertson is sanguine. "You just have to hold on to the traditional roots and remember that there will always be people who can’t find what they want online." People who come in looking for rare Beatles recordings, for instance.
"They go into the high street stores and they just get a blank look, especially if it’s something that was only on tape or record. Most of the high street shops don’t even sell tapes any more," he says. "And so that’s where I can step into the breach."
It’s all about knowledge, experience and personal service, he says.
"If someone comes in looking for something, for example, by Bob Newhart - well, he’s a well-known comedian from many years ago, but the chances are in most shops they’ll just look at them with an open mouth.
"And that’s where I hope to pick things up. I have specialised areas, and I do try to find things that people have been looking for, sometimes for years," he says.
How hard he’ll try depends on how much the buyer is prepared to pay. If you’re just interested and would pay a small price, he’ll keep your request in a mental list of things to look out for as he scans the wares on offer at record fairs.
But offer to pay more, say £100 or so, and Mr Robertson will put his sleuthing hat on. Record fairs, phone calls to people in the know and some wily searching on the internet can often come up trumps for the keen collector.
Of course, they could do all that themselves, particularly the online searching, without paying a premium to Mr Robertson "but there are so many crooks moving into the internet music sites, that it’s a big decision for people to go along that route".
Mr Robertson also sells secondhand equipment, from full hi-fis to computers, to games consoles and software. Other items that have passed through the shop recently include cameras, electric guitars, speaker stands and a Diesel watch - regulars pop in just to see what they can pick up.
"It’s all tried and tested before it goes on sale. A lot of students have good stereos at home but they just want something secondhand when they’re at university. And, indeed, a lot of these might not look as good aesthetically but they produce a bigger sound."
It’s a tough job. What with running the shop, searching through record fairs and the mobile disco business that Mr Robertson still runs, every week is a seven-day week.
"I need to keep working to feed myself! I never really switch off. If a customer says they want an old Bee Gees record, I’ll go and look for it for them."
The shop pulls in a turnover of around £20,000 per year, he says - enough to keep going but not enough to pay staff. The "around £20,000" is an approximation, Mr Robertson says, because "the one thing that suffers is my bookwork".
The Mad Hat Man disco business is, Mr Robertson believes, the longest established in Edinburgh. "It’s been going for 27 years now. I’ve played in back rooms and I’ve played in castles. I’ve done weddings for dukes.
"I would hire other staff to do it but DJs now are totally different to what I do. A lot will play music and that’s all. But with my hotel background as a maitre d’ I’m always aware of everything that’s happening."
"I used to play in clubs years ago but not now - I’m not of the mixing generation. I integrate the music into the overseeing of family events. My barometer of success is the dance floor!"
Or the footpath, it would seem. During the annual fundraising Great Scottish Walk, Mad Hat Man follows the walkers around town in his "boogiebus", encouraging people along.
In a kilt and variety of hats, Mr Robertson gives out prizes, flowers and vouchers to anyone in an interesting costume - or, of course, in a mad hat.
Mr Robertson’s shop is a treasure trove, full of gems to find if you look hard enough. "I think we probably have more items per square inch than anywhere else in town," he says, laughing. "It’s all in order, so it’s easy to browse."
Not that he can always help. "Someone came in yesterday, and they were looking for an eight-track player. They ended their days 20 years ago! But we do still have eight-track recordings, even reel to reel, tape recorders, record players - I can set you up with a record player for about £30."
The future, however, looks daunting for small traders like Mr Robertson.
"You’ve always got to be aware of what’s happening. Some things are fine, like the way that DVDs are taking over from CDs, but what really hits us is piracy.
"People are buying so much copied material and I don’t think the powers that be are doing enough to stamp it out. I see it every week when I’m out at markets, and it’s blatant, there’s no attempt to hide it. How they can let that go when small traders are getting squeezed - it’s not fair."