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Culture: There's a warm welcome waiting at Polar Bear; Music Peter Bacon's Jazz Diary.

Byline: Peter Bacon

"man bites dog" reversal of the norm stories.

So, how about this one: Record shop re-opens?

Strange, but true.

The record shop in question is Polar Bear in York Road, Kings Heath, and yes the "record" adjective is appropriate as they do sell vinyl as well as CDs. Now they will be selling gig tickets as well.

Polar Bear, one of the longest-running independents around, has been something of a hidden treasure for a while now - a record shop in the tradition of the one in High Fidelity, where you could hear new and exciting things, and even discuss them with fellow shoppers, who could include members of bands like the Editors or Broadcast, as well as the local postie.

For jazz lovers, it not only had an intelligent jazz section, but one where a full ECM range and, even rarer, a full Rune Grammofon range, could be found among the Blue Notes.

Last year it was the only place in the city where you could buy the fabulous book about ECM, Horizons Touched.

It wasn't a big shop and it stocked music from rock, folk and Americana through to jazz and electronica. The crucial element therefore was in the choice of stock.

The man behind the counter, Steve Bull, had astute taste and if he stocked it then the likelihood was that, in whatever genre it happened to be placed, it should be worth a listen.

But times are hard for record shops - and a source of guilt for anyone who has ever bought a CD from Amazon - yes, I hold up my hand: guilty as charged.

We all love them, but we let them die.

It was more than a year ago that a friend from Belfast told me that his favourite, Hector's House, had had to close.

On a recent trip to Derby I was looking forward to popping in to Reveal Records - not only a great shop but it had its own label too, and released the first Joan As Policewoman album.

Alas, the shutters were down and any sign of a relocation notice sadly absent.

Polar Bear's sister shop in Oxford's Cowley Road had gone the same way, but still the Kings Heath shop hung on.

Now, after a brief period when it was closed for refurbishment, it has re-opened and boasts that it will be all it was before, but better, including - wait for it - an expanded jazz section.

Steve is claiming he now has the most extensive jazz selection in the Midlands, an increased variety of alternative music of all kinds and more space to display them.

My treasured purchases from there have included Derek Bailey's disc of Ballads released on John Zorn's label and Rune Grammofons by Food and In The Country. Steve has got me interested in old Can albums as well as Japanese rock fusionists.

So, why not get back to the record buying equivalent of slow food - eschew the simple click, click of online music shopping and get your fingers flicking through the racks.

You might just discover something unlike anything you have ever heard before. And meet some real live, like-minded enthusiasts, too.

You don't get that on Amazon.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 7, 2008
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