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Belfast

Collector Mark Elliott takes a trip to the Northern Irish capital and finds a varied selection of vinyl stockists and great prices

The trip

Illustration Ben Talon

That Belfast has clawed its way into the Top 10 UK weekendbreak destinations is testament enough to the remarkable transformation this once-troubled community has undergone in the past couple of decades. Tourism is big business and, buoyed by major investment projects such as Titanic Belfast, it’s easy to see why its popularity is soaring. But what of the record shopping?

Two high-profile closures in recent months – Sick Records and Head, which was based in Ireland – have hit the headlines, but not the confidence of the retailers I spoke to in the city. Music is ingrained into the psyche of this place and, from traditional folk to the international success of acts such as Ash and Snow Patrol, everyone’s got an angle or a story to share about somebody. People can really talk here! The cab driver who drove me in from the airport gave me a track-by-track narrative of his experience of seeing The Beatles at Belfast’s King’s Hall in November 1964 as a young boy.

Even the concierge at the hotel asked if I was interested in his Van Morrison encounters when I told him why I was here. I wasn’t, in truth – I’d only asked for directions to the shopping area.

As in every city, people spoke fondly about the time when you could buy music everywhere.The bustling Smithfield Market and Gresham Street centres were referenced widely but, across the half-dozen or so places to pick up records, I found plenty to be optimistic about.The city is twinned with Nashville (my trip actually coincided with the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival), and with events such as the Sonorities Music Festival and venues such as the Oh Yeah Music Centre, there’s certainly no shortage of music to experience, even if that’s no longer defined by a weekly 7” purchased with pocket money.

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