“That was amazing, awesome. I couldn’t breathe,” said Bianca Ferrari as she staggered out Spillers Records in Cardiff after meeting a band she has loved all her life. “I’ve been coming to this record shop since I was seven and I adore it but that was just something else. Surreal – I feel like I’m on another planet.”
The sight the alt-rock legends Pixies insouciantly strolling along a Victorian arcade in the Welsh capital and perching behind the counter at Spillers, which claims to be the oldest record shop in the world, to meet fans was an other-worldly one.
It was appropriate that the US band fastened on Friday the 13th for the launch their seventh album, Beneath the Eyrie, with its tales witchcraft, lost souls and graveyards.
But the venue for the launch was surprising. Darren Floyd, another Spillers regular, said: “We couldn’t believe it when we found out they were coming here.”
The appearance Pixies at Spillers could be seen as rock music’s recognition a great Welsh institution, which is celebrating its 125th year.
In 2010 there was an outcry when the smartening up Cardiff city centre sent rents soaring and threatened the existence Spillers and other independent retailers.
Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen were among the global stars who signed a petition calling for it to be saved. The shop moved from the main drag into Morgan Arcade and continued to trade.
Those waiting in the queue to meet Pixies said it was the personal touch that made Spillers special. Justin Shaer said he visited every Friday – record release day – and there was ten a pile records waiting for him. He said: “They know what I like. I don’t have to ask for it. The records are there waiting for me.”
Pixies were opening their worldwide tour in Cardiff on Friday night so they had not travelled far out their way. But their decision to sign LPs and posters for 100 fans on the day their new record was released seemed charmingly uncommercial.
Ashli Todd, the owner Spillers, said: “They’re lovely, aren’t they?” Meanwhile the band’s frontman, Charles Thompson IV, AKA Black Francis, bobbed his head to the song On Graveyard Hill from the new album. His eyes were hidden by shades but he and the other band members seemed cheerful enough as they signed and chatted away.
Todd said: “It’s not every day we have living legends like this in our shop. I’ve worked here for 23 years. This was the most nervous day for me. I’m bowled over they chose an independent shop.”
The majority pre-orders for the album in Spillers were for the vinyl edition. “They’re definitely a vinyl kind band,” said Todd. A limited edition in white vinyl was going down particularly well. The resurgence interest in vinyl is helping Spillers.
Last year, more than 4m chart-eligible LPs were sold in the UK alone compared with 3.2m records sold in 2016. This is expected to rise to about 4.5m in 2019.
Earlier this month Rolling Stone reported that the revenue generated by record sales was likely to surpass that CDs – though it also points out that streaming is by far the most popular way listening to music.
It’s still a struggle for shops like Spillers. Todd said: “The economy has been going through a bumpy time. There’s a lot uncertainty in the UK – you can’t turn on the radio without hearing about more dramatic downturns on the high street, which makes events like this one so important.”
The signings done, the band ambled f. Pixies lead guitarist, Joey Santiago, a record shop enthusiast, paused to admire the scale (modest) the store. “It’s nice and personal,” he said. I’ve got a st spot for this sort mom-and-pop store. It’s real.”
Spillers Records is a Welsh rock and pop music institution. Before they made it big, Manic Street Preachers used to travel down from the valleys to busk in front the shop.
The like Cerys Matthews, Catatonia and BBC 6 Music, and the Welsh indie darlings Super Furry Animals used to browse the racks in search inspiration.
In 2010 when Spillers’ future was threatened by soaring rents, more than 20,000 people – including Justin Timberlake and Beyonce – signed a petition to save it.
Thankfully for record fans everywhere the shop carried on – albeit in a new location – and partly thanks to the revived interest in vinyl collecting.
Spillers has a rich tradition dating back to 1894 when Henry Spiller opened in the Queen’s Arcade specialising in the sale phonographs, wax phonograph cylinders and shellac phonograph discs.
In the early 1920s, Henry’s son, Edward, took over and, with the aid accordionist and band leader Joe Gregory, sold musical instruments alongside prerecorded music. In the late 1940s Henry moved the shop round the corner to a larger premises on the Hayes, where it remained until those rising rents put its very existence in doubt.
It closed for a month and reopened with a gig headlined by Gruff Rhys, the Super Furry Animals (the band’s Welsh-language album Mwng remains a perennial top seller).
Knowledge and the personal touch are the keys to the shop’s survival in the face fierce competition from downloads and streaming.
Long-time owner Nick Todd knew many his customers so well that when a regular arrived he would pop on a new tune he knew he or she would love and almost certainly guarantee a sale.
Spillers is now owned by Todd’s daughter Ashli Todd, who worked there from the mid-90s having been fered the choice by her dad mucking out the chickens at home or helping out in Spillers.