Over the past 40 years the music industry has seen countless transformations, but as people’s relationship to the way they experience and consume music has changed, there has been one constant in Sligo: The Record Room.
he shop was first opened in 1983 by Aidan Mannion, Gerry Taheny and Kevin Flannery and is located right in the heart of Sligo town on Grattan Street.
“The main sellers at the time were 7-inch singles, cassettes and LPs. Usually it was pop music, it tended to mirror the charts,” Aidan said.
“We actually had a machine connected to the Irish card system that recorded sales made in Sligo, which in turn helped create the Irish cards.”
As an integral part of the Sligo music scene, the shop sold tickets to concerts and even went the extra mile and arranged to literally bring customers to concerts.
“We were hiring buses and bringing around 50 to 100 people to places like Slane Castle in Dublin to see a particular gig,” he said.
Over time, LPs fell out of favor and the store adapted and began selling CDs, merchandise and even VHS video tapes as well.
Today, it’s come full circle and vinyl records are still going strong, but even in uncertain times, the store has never lost sight of its roots.
“Vinyl is a great format. We always stuck with it even when there wouldn’t have been a lot of vinyl sales, which is why we kept the Record Room name,” he said.
Vinyl sales have grown year on year and have recently overtaken CDs as the top selling physical format in Ireland.
Last year, 407,000 records were sold in the country. This can be compared to 309,000 in 2020 and 218,000 in 2019.
Aidan says the upsurge in vinyl’s popularity comes as no surprise to him because the listening experience is vastly improved when listening to recordings on a quality hi-fi system “with a proper set of speakers”.
“Vinyl does something other formats don’t. Today, we want to control everything, but with an LP you generally have to listen to everything from that side, it can be pieces that we haven’t heard before, you may or may not like it, but you’re picking from something something new,” he said.
“Last year Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors was the best selling LP in the country. This album came out a long time ago and it’s lasted, young and old want to hear it, good music never not age.
Another great thing about vinyl, according to Aidan, is that “it’s a physical thing” that people can really latch onto.
“There’s the artwork, the liner notes and, when you play it on a good system, the quality of the recording,” he said.
“People might say I’m an antique dealer and I’ve been in the business for a long time, but for me the right way to listen to music, if you can’t see it live, is with a good high fidelity system, a good set of speakers, sit in a room and you put the LP or CD on it.
“In my opinion, the CD is still undersold for the quality you can get from it as well.
“I remember a long time ago Gerry Taheny was in New York and he bought the first CD player I ever saw.
“He took it back to Sligo and I was at his house, he was playing Sultans of Swing and the quality of the CD was amazing,
“I honestly thought the band was on the fireplace, it sounded so good.”
Although there are a lot of people these days who only listen to music on their smartphones or in digital formats, Aidan says a lot of the quality of recordings can be lost when it’s experienced. in this way.
“People are bound by headphones and digital downloads, but there’s a lot of compression taking place online that affects how music sounds,” he said.
Aidan is a true music lover and over the years the Record Room has been an integral part of Sligo’s music landscape, not only as a place for music fans to discover new artists, but to become one themselves, because they also specialize in the sale of musical instruments and accessories.
Aidan’s experiences in the music business actually predate the opening of the Record Room and date back to 1971 when he was a young student graduating from Summerhill College.
“We won the All Ireland Football Championship and had to earn money to go and play in Switzerland.
“The college gave us the use of the old gymnasium to hold gigs and we had Thin Lizzy play twice for us, admission was 50p and we made lots of money to fund the trip.
“I remember dealing directly with Phil Lynott and Brian Downey from the original lineup,” he said.
The store’s ties to Ireland’s musical heritage run even deeper as Aidan recounts stories of interactions he’s had with customers in the store.
“Reminds me that I was in the store recently and a man bought a guitar with his young son. About a month later they were back to buy a Rory Gallagher record, it was Taste’s On the Boards which also happens to be the first LP I’ve ever bought.
“I told the dad it gave me confidence in the Irish music business. Then he tells me he’s Phil Lynott’s son and he’s Phil’s grandson.
He also remembers the mother-in-law of legendary American songwriter John Prine, who died of Covid-19 in 2020, visiting the store.
“John Prine’s wife is from Donegal, and this lovely lady walks in and collapses because I have two John albums hanging on the wall behind me.
“He was one of the most prolific writers of great songs with a serious back catalog and personally his mother in law loved him she said he was one of the nicest characters she had never met,” he said.
Aidan says “good music never dates” and “it’s amazing how long an artist’s popularity can last”.
“Take Johnny Cash, for example, who came to Sligo and recorded a single with Sandy Kelly called The Woodcarver at Markree Castle,” he said.
“We would have sold Johnny Cash from day one in the store and he is still selling today.
“When something’s good, it’s good, even in dance music, I play dance music in the 1980s store and young people are curious and say what is it? It clicks with them.
One thing that separates the Record Room from other music stores that have come and gone over the years is its specialization and the way it caters to all types of fans and music collectors.
“That’s why we’re here as long as we are. We have an old 78 record from the 1920s recorded by a musician from Sligo in New York,” he said.
“There are all these little niches, and people listen to such a wide variety of music. For a small store, we have around 4,500 to 5,000 titles at a time.
“One thing we have focused on in particular over the last five to 10 years is Irish acts. Distribution in Ireland was very bad because a lot of distributors went out of business.
“We go straight to the acts themselves and buy from them and as a result we offer things you won’t find in other stores.”
The Record Room stands as one of the last strongholds of independent music stores, in a business that increasingly relies on chain stores and replication, it is unique.
“We’re still here after 40 years, open and paying, we’ve seen opposition and competition and like everywhere today in terms of retail, it can be very difficult, but music is a very special.”