too-tone-tony-awaits-you-2I’ve spent a lot of my life in record stores. I’ve even planned overseas trips around record stores to be visited. Although still in the prime of life I’ve seen the heyday of record stores and now the twilight of record stores (as well as the rise and decline of progressive civilisation it seems).

Yes, despite the much-discussed ‘vinyl revival’ and best year for new record sales since 1991, the small independent stores that kept the format alive throughout the dark years as well as the good years continue to drop away.

Sadly Dunedin’s iconic record store Too Tone Records, out in North East Valley, closes on Sunday 15 January 2017.

Too Tone Records started out in the back of Chick’s Hotel about 2008 or 09. It was a much better idea in theory than it was in practice. I enjoyed the regular pilgrimage out to Chick’s in Port Chalmers, and browsing the record bins while waiting for a show to start. But it wasn’t really a happening place for a record store, despite everything else going for the location.

By the end of 2010 Too Tone Records had moved to North Road in Dunedin’s North East Valley; the city’s artist quarter, if Dunedin had such a thing. More musicians past, present and future than any other Dunedin neighbourhood at least.

Dunedin’s record stores have played an important part in the music scene here. From the mid 1970s to the 1990s it was Roy Colbert’s Records Records in Upper Stuart Street. The main indpendent record store during the 1980s and 1990s was Echo Records on George Street. It was bought out by Auckland-based chain Real Groovy Records, moved into a huge warehouse next to The Police Station and then closed, several years ago now.

In recent years Portil had a short but useful run in the centre city before Relics started nearby. Relics continues to trade – new and used vinyl as well as CDs – and long may it run.

Too Tone Records is/ was a special place. It’s rare in the world of used record stores to have such a meticulously ordered and aesthetically pleasing space. The wall displays – including seasonal themes – were ordered and displayed with an art curator’s eye for colour and order. That care extended to the carefully washing of all used records and their re-bagging in new anti-static sleeves.

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The New Zealand music selection is/ was legendary. Sure some locals grizzled about the prices, but not the visitors who knew a good deal when they saw it. The reason for such a strong local music selection in Too Tone Records is that Tony refused to do what every other record store in the country did which was putting all their rare local stuff on E-Bay and Discogs for overseas collectors to obtain. Tony had no problem with overseas buyers, he just preferred to see them visit Dunedin and his store in person.

Apart from the records, a visit to Too Tone was a chance to view great original art. Tony is a renowned comic artist/ illustrator, and a recent focus of his artistic skill was the ‘re-purposing’ of paint-by-numbers paintings, acquired mostly at the rubbish tip recycling shop, into giant green octopus-themed works of art.

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A Tony octopus-themed paint-by-numbers modified artwork.

Despite Too Tone Records’ proprietor Tony Renouf’s carefully crafted image as an idiosyncratic curmudgeon, he has always been a very welcoming and genial curmudgeon, as long as you didn’t come into his shop drunk or indulge in other anti-social or record-store-inappropriate behaviour.

A visit to Too Tone was also a chance to discuss the weighty topics of the day, or just to grizzle generally about the things that annoyed us most at the time. Tony was a good listener. He’d say that’s because he’s partially deaf from years as a dub reggae DJ, and is therefore used to just looking at people and nodding thoughtfully when they speak to him.

Visiting Too Tone Records you’d find all the local LP releases available and also have a good chance of bumping into a famous Dunedin musician or two, or even a former England cricket international, or a touring US rock band.

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Tony shows members of Real Estate the Clean EP pop-up art while they purchase Sneaky Feelings’ “Send You” LP and The Orange “Fruit Salad Lives” EP in 2012.

Anyway, Tony has decided to get out ‘at the top of his game’. Can’t disagree with that. You can still follow Tony’s art exploits via his blog.

Thanks for the vinyl, the art, the conversations, the patient listening, the salesmanship and the whole Too Tone Experience.

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