Love Brisbane: Sound Tracking The City - Rocking Horse Records - Visit Brisbane

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Love Brisbane: Sound Tracking The City - Rocking Horse Records

Rocking Horse Records has been a City institution for a record-breaking 46 years.

This business longevity even surprises founder Warwick Vere, who never expected to be the proprietor of Queensland’s oldest and largest independent record store.

More than a retail outlet, Rocking Horse Records plays a pivotal role in introducing generations of Brisbane music lovers to new artists while supporting the live music scene and nurturing local talent.

“I didn’t expect to last 46 years,” Warwick says. “In the beginning, it was more of a pastime or hobby and you get a buzz out of it, but I think that’s the wonderful thing about the store – I still enjoy coming to work.”

As a young lawyer, Warwick moved from Sydney to Brisbane for a judges’ associate role and ended up buying a friend’s record store, establishing Rocking Horse Records in Rowes Arcade in 1975.

“I inherited some second-hand carpet, a cash register, some records and an order for some imports from America and that was the beginning,” Warwick recalls.

The little shop in Rowes Arcade started as an import and second-hand record business and morphed into a CD supermarket before specialising in vinyl again.

“It’s back to the future. We started out with vinyl and 46 years later we are still 85 per cent vinyl. It’s not a fad, it’s here to stay this time.”

It has weathered the wax and wane of vinyl, cassettes and CDs; digital downloads; a 1989 obscenity trial; the global financial crisis and a pandemic and continues to be a beacon for music lovers and collectors in Brisbane City.

In many ways, Rocking Horse Records is a reflection of Brisbane’s societal values and the cyclical nature of trends and can chart its success against the economic changes of the past four decades.

As a specialty store, Rocking Horse continues to attract an eclectic mix of shoppers from collectors of 1970s vinyl and nostalgic shoppers looking for favourite CDs and cassettes through to teens after Harry Styles and Taylor Swift albums.

Pre-internet, it was one of the only retail outlets where you could buy tickets to music festivals such as Big Day Out, Livid Festival and Splendour in the Grass, too.

Rocking Horse has also hosted a festival-worthy line-up of live performances, both in-store and in Queen Street Mall, with the likes of Powderfinger, John Butler Trio, Paul Kelly, Ball Park Music and Sheppard, as well as in-store signings by touring international musicians.

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From its early days in Rowes Arcade, the store relocated several times. It set up shop on Adelaide Street from 1978 until 1990 before moving to another Adelaide Street tenancy in a two-level space that Warwick dubbed ‘the mushroom’ due to its narrow ground-floor retail footprint and expansive upstairs area.

In 2004, the record store moved again to Albert Street off the Queen Street Mall, initially occupying a ground-level shop before moving downstairs in 2015 to its current location in the former basement and administration space.

“When we moved around the corner to Albert Street in 2004, it was like we had been discovered for the first time ­– it knocked us off our feet for the first few years with the increase in customers,” Warwick says.

“I’ve always thought The City was the hub of everything and there was no better place to be.

“The City thrives on being a location with an indie feel and I would love to see more independent and interesting stores open that continue to make The City a destination for specialty stores and the odd little shops that you could only find in a central location.”

“The CBD as a whole is quite resilient and at Rocking Horse, we’re in the middle of a fairly wonderful period – the interest in vinyl is not slowing down and our foot traffic on weekends is back to 2019 levels. It’s looking pretty rosy.”

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