A music store like no other: Slow Boat Records
Local musician Samuel Scott (The Phoenix Foundation) on what draws everyone from famous musicians to All Blacks and politicians to this Cuba Street institution
The record stores that have survived the rise and fall and rise again of music retail through the turbulence of the digital revolution have had to be both full of resolve, good character, and great knowledge. You’d be hard-pressed to find one anywhere on earth with more of this vinyl chutzpah than Slow Boat Records on Wellington’s Cuba Street.
Slow Boat's international reputation means celebrity sightings are a very regular occurrence with visiting bands make it their first stop in town. Robert Plant, Beastie Boys, Johnny Marr, Foo Fighters, MC5, Radiohead, Noel Gallagher, and Billy Corgan have all been spotted browsing at Slow Boat. You'll also spot the occasional All Black, poet, and politician.
Founder and original owner Dennis O’Brien opened the shop back in 1985, originally as a stall on Plimmer Steps, then as a smaller shop a little further up Cuba Street (now a kebab shop), then finally to its current site at 183 Cuba Street which was a former bank (the original vault is now filled with records). In 2020, O'Brien took a step back from the business with staff Jeremy Taylor and Steven Hinderwell buying the lion's share of the business.
Slow Boat has always operated at its own pace, kept up with the times but never been sucked into fleeting trends. “We’ve survived by sticking to our knitting.” Jeremy Taylor, co-owner and general everyone-knows-him-man-about-town-guy, tells me. “We never sold skateboards, or shoes, or jeans. Hopefully what people get here is an authentic experience of a real, fair dinkum 'Mom & Pop' records store - 'cos that's what it actually is.”
In recent years one change the shop has gone through is having more in-store performances. Punters have been able to catch acts as sought after as Courtney Barnett, Kurt Vile, Neil Finn, Dave Dobbyn, Tiny Ruins and Nadia Reid performing for free. “The joy of seeing people's faces when they have gotten to see Neil Finn, or Courtney Barnett, The Phoenix Foundation or Lawrence Arabia in an environment like this, where it is defiantly non-transactional, is a powerful thing,” Jeremy says. “It’s a great reinforcement of the sense of community that Cuba Street, in general, possesses in abundance.”
I think hearing music in a store and walking up to the counter, asking what it is, and buying it, is my favourite way to discover music.
Jeremy Taylor, Slow Boat co-owner
One of my great joys in the shop through the years has been trying to squeeze knowledge out of grizzly old (other co-owner) Steven Hinderwell, the man you’re most likely to find behind the counter. High Fidelity comparisons would not be inappropriate here. But don’t be fooled, when you crack through his contempt for everything you’ll find that he also kinda loves everything and knows everything and will be able to sell you something you didn’t know you wanted that might just change your life.
While the world around it might change at a ridiculous pace, it’s nice to know there is somewhere you can always go and have insane and irreverent debates about what the best Nick Drake album is and know the best LPs of all time will always be in stock.
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