From a stall in Blackpool to a Preston institution – behind the scenes at Action Records

Miles away from its humble beginnings trading tapes from a stall in Blackpool, Action Records is gearing up for the biggest day of its year.

Over more than 40 years, the Church Street record store has become a Preston institution. And throughout the years, owner Gordon Gibson has watched it change as it keeps up with music’s changing trends.

He started Action Records from a stall in Blackpool in 1979. The stall traded records and cassette tapes from the resort before moving to its Preston shop in 1981.

Today, Gordon and his team are preparing for Record Store Day on Saturday (April 23) where he expects people to queue from the early hours of the morning to get their hands on new, limited edition releases – including one from Taylor Swift.

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He told LancsLive that Action Records has ‘varied’ since it began in ‘79. He said: “It’s been bigger and smaller with a dance shop in between, things have changed over the years. There’s been massive trends in music, you have to remember at one point, you could only buy vinyl. When we started in ‘81, we couldn’t buy CDs, they hadn’t come along at that point. We only had vinyl and cassettes.”

As a dance shop, Action records would host DJs, but when streaming came along Gordon said it ‘changed the whole scenario’ as DJs switched from vinyl sets to digital.

(Image: James Maloney/Lancs Live)

“It just killed the dance side so we let that side of the shop go, so now we just concentrate on the big shop. We do bits of dance, we do everything in here, but we’re not the massive dance base that we used to be.”

Action Records often host in-store and out-store gigs in accordance with record companies in Preston. Recently they hosted small capacity gigs for bands such as The Boo Radleys. Bigger capacity gigs are done in partnership with Blitz Club who host 400 capacity gigs such as Sea Girls (May 5).

“With streaming and all that, we have customers who come into the shop and like to own the items,” Gordon continued, “and with Record Store Day some of these items are very limited, nice colours, all sorts of shapes and people want to walk out with those items, and it’s great.”

One of the biggest consumer shifts in music over the last decade has been the switch from buying a physical album to streaming. Now, fans can pay £10 a month on average to listen to albums from all of their favourite artists, rather than spending money to own each individual item.

(Image: James Maloney/Lancs Live)

Despite this, its a change Gordon has said he welcomes. He believes fans still want to experience the ownership of their favourite tracks and streaming even works in the store’s benefit.

“Streaming, I can’t knock it too much,” he said, “all my customers stream a new album, listen to it, think I really like that, and go and buy it – and you can’t blame them. If you’re realistic about it, it’s not cheap to buy vinyl nowadays, so people will stream it to check it out.”

During the pandemic, Action Records faced another challenge when trade was put on hold to limit the spread of Covid-19. Gordon told LancsLive at the time that he was determined to stick to his guns and keep doing what he had been successfully doing in the past four decades.

He added: “You have to understand that good music is good music. You don’t just follow fads, that’s where you go wrong if you only follow trends.

“You have to follow trends but not totally change your shops so you’re always keeping the backbone of a good music shop. When it goes back to normal and people come back, you want them to think, ‘yep it’s still the same’ and not ‘oh god what have they done here.”

(Image: James Maloney/Lancs Live)

Now, Action Records have spent the past week gearing up for Record Store Day. Its the one day of the year which sees over 260 independent record shops across the country come together to celebrate their culture.

On the run up, Gordon said he was awaiting the arrival of some huge sought after items including Taylor Swifts’ 7” edition of The Lakes – inspired by The Lake District. The records, as well as Sam Fender and the Sea Girls finally arrived on Wednesday morning.

“I was absolutely dreading Saturday morning not having Taylor Swift or Sam Fender, can you imagine? I didn’t even want to think about it.

Action Records will be preparing to open their doors to queues at 8am on Saturday morning and said they expect people to be waiting from around 6am. Gordon is even warning Swifties to arrive as early as possible to get their hands on the new release.

“A lot of people will start queuing hours before then, we even get some crazy people queuing the day before from the Friday afternoon. In general, depending on how keen you are, six in the morning is a good time.

“There are some really limited edition items this year that a lot of people are after. Mainly, Taylor Swift 7”, Sam Fender, David Bowie, these are the main big items, plus hundreds more, but we’ve been inundated with people asking for these items.

“It’s great because Taylor Swift has quite a young audience and a lot of this stuff appeals to an older generation, but this year with Taylor Swift, Sam Fender, Sea Girls, these are great because it means younger people are coming in. Older people get them too, don’t get me wrong, but we are attracting a new audience now which is great.

“That’s why I’m trying to explain to young people, if you really want to get this Taylor Swift, get down at 5 or 6am.”

Gordon also points out that while people can be ‘negative’ about Record Store Day, its really just about people enjoying themselves. He says even those queueing for hours come into the store with a smile on their face.

“The people in the queues, everyone enjoys it, it’s fantastic. People stay out there for 24 hours and they’re still smiling when they walk into the shop the next morning. People just chat away all night, it’s a good atmosphere.

“People say negative things about Record Shop Day but they’re not getting it – it’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun for a load of people. We see the same people every year, and I know a lot of them, in general people really love it.”

Gordon said there are rules in place to make sure everyone gets their fair share of new releases. Items are restricted to one per person. He added: “They can buy as many items as you want, but you can only get one copy of say, Taylor Swift.

“I’m not letting somebody walk out with five copies, you must be joking. The main rule is we start serving at 8am. They can buy 100 different titles, but it has to be one of each,” he added.

Gordon will be tending to the queue pre-8am to ‘speed up’ the sales inside when the doors open. He said he’ll be asking everyone what they’re after.

“I’ll be wrecked after working Saturday, one pint and I’m on my back,” he laughed.

Action Records will be open for Record Store Day from 8am til 6pm on Saturday (April 23). It will also be open on Sunday 10-4pm.

Lancs Live – Blackpool