THE year is 1993. The venue is Sony Music Studios in New York City. The band is Nirvana. Fans will later remember this MTV Unplugged performance as one of those rare TV moments that provide a jolt of dissonance, disturbance and drama to the established music scene. Like the Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Or Live Aid, when rock became the new religion; a globalised evangelical church sermon, saving us all from our sins.

Although this particular evening in 1993 is low key. Stripped of hubris and hyperbole, yet quietly momentous all the same.

Facing his young audience of rock disciples, Kurt Cobain hunches in a chair. A surly toad lumped on a lily pad. The cardigan he wears is the colour of dreich; knitted from wool that could easily have been sheared from a Scottish sky. His lank hair drizzles down his neck; its liquid limpness also redolent of Caledonia at its rain-raddled best.

What won’t have any echoes of Scotland, however, are the songs Cobain is about to sing. They promise to be freshly-minted American classics, written by Kurt himself, a native of Washington state. Songs like Heart-Shaped Box and Smells Like Teen Spirit.

But Cobain, always the perverse purveyor of his own legacy, decides to intersperse his popular originals with a selection of cover versions. And, lo and behold, Scotland does get a shout-out after all, by way of indy rockers, The Vaselines. Nirvana perform the Glasgow group’s song Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam. (Retitled by Cobain as Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam.) It isn’t a well-known track, even in the Vaselines’ home town.

Gollumish grasp

So how did a minor work by an under-the-radar Scottish band end up on the playlist of one of the seminal American groups of the 90s? It was all thanks to Sandy McClean. At least that’s what he tells me when I visit his record shop, Love Music, a cosy cube of a store in the shadow of Glasgow’s Queen Street station.

I’ve come for a browse; to flick through the large variety of vinyl on offer. Also to find out if the humble record store has a future on the high street. With the once mighty Fopp closing its doors for good, the future for quirky, independent retailers suddenly looks a lot more shaky. If such a thing as an ominous-ometer existed, it would be hitting the high numbers about now.

People can buy music on the Net, after all. Have it beamed directly into their skulls, courtesy of a slick streaming service.

But there are some things even technology can’t replace. The comradery of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow music obsessives, searching for that one sliver of grooved vinyl that will give your life meaning. (Until you start fretting over the next record you’ve decided to covet, then coo over, once it reaches your Gollumish grasp.)

Another reason to frequent independent record stores is you get to chat to guys like Sandy, who connect you to the music in a way that a Google search engine never will.

Google hasn’t been around the block, after all. Google doesn’t know the score. Unlike Sandy, who proceeds to give me a record of his life with records. First up, the Nirvana yarn…

Sandy isn’t just a shop owner. Since arriving in Scotland from Nova Scotia in the late 70s, and becoming captivated by the local punk scene, he’s owned a series of minor record labels that nevertheless had a major impact on Scottish music. One of those labels 53rd and 3rd signed The Vaselines. At the same time Sandy was swapping records with Calvin Johnson, who owned K Records over in the States. Kurt Cobain loved K Records, and therefore became well-acquainted with the contemporary Scottish scene. This would eventually lead him to cover The Vaselines’ music. They were just one of the many Scottish bands he admired.

Turn it off!

Not all of Sandy’s stories are so glamorous. He once released a funk record made by the late botanist David Bellamy. And was it any good?

“No,” he says. “It sold about 200 copies.”

Talents who do have a genuine musical bent have also crossed Sandy’s path. KT Tunstall performed at his store before hitting the bigtime, as did James Blunt.

And the most famous visitor to his shop? “Well, the guy who played Denzel in Only Fools And Horses came in once and…”

Come on, Sandy. You can do better than that.

“Okay. Right. Billy Connolly…” Much better, Sandy. Proceed.

“Billy came in with a BBC film crew when he was making that show, Made In Scotland.”

In the documentary Billy talked about his passion for 1950s country star Hank Williams. The BBC had already purchased a copy of the first Williams record Billy owned, Long Gone Lonesome Blues.

The idea was for the Big Yin to be filmed playing the record in Sandy’s shop.

“I was worried that because of his Parkinson’s Billy’s hand would shake,” says Sandy. “But it was absolutely composed when he put the needle on the record.”

After listening to the disc, Sandy flipped it over to the B Side, which didn’t impress Billy nearly so much. “That’s fuckin’ shite,” he roared. “Turn it off!”

Sandy later realised that the record the BBC bods had bought wasn’t actually Hank Williams. It was Hank Williams Jnr, the crooner’s sound-a-like son, and the song on the B-side of the disc was some awful jingle of his from the 1970s. The kind of thing that would never have passed the original Hank’s lips.

There have definitely been some entertaining times in the shop. But can it continue indefinitely, or will the sands of time bury Sandy and shop, like they did Fopp?

“For a while nobody was interested in actual records,” says Sandy. “But we now seem to be hitting peak vinyl. It’s really made a comeback, and I’m not sure why. I get two demographics in the shop – 16 to 21-year-old students and Mojo Man. Blokes between 40 and ninety.”

So is vinyl the vampire that will never die?

Sandy laughs. “It’s more like some obscure vegetable that grows in the dark, but it can’t be killed off by any pesticide known to man.”

High heels and dirty fingernails

Martin Hill has also noticed this resurgence. Martin owns Missing Records near Central Station. (Why do so many record shops sprout up next to train stations? Discuss...) Martin’s my next port of call in this day of record store roving.

Missing is a cavernous space. A long corridor leads to a large room with white walls, broken up by splashes of bright graffiti that celebrate a host of cockatoo-colourful pop stars of past and present.

“What’s really encouraging,” says Martin, “Is lots more females are coming in the store. It used to be a very male thing, record buying, but that’s changed. I’d say it’s about 50/50 nowadays. Music’s a lot less tribal, too. When I first set up many years ago you were either punk or metal. New Romantic or hip hop. Prog or country. But these barriers don’t exist anymore. People are into everything and anything, as they should be.”

Such cultural changes are for the good, undoubtedly, and reflect many positive advances in our society. From a journalistic perspective it would be very rewarding to further explore this fascinating anthropological avenue with Martin. Though let’s be honest, with the dude from the Diary in charge of the interview, there’s only one direction this chat’s heading…

So, Martin, spotted any celebs in the shop?

“Eminem’s been in,” he says. “Back when he was a huge star. Tiny little guy, though. Funny thing is, he came in at the same time some Rangers footballer was browsing. Can’t remember his name. But we got two celebrities for the price of one, that day.”

Libertines and Babyshambles singer-songwriter Pete Doherty also popped in. (Not on the same day. That would have been ridiculous.)

“He’s another little guy,” says Martin. (Who’s over six foot, so maybe everyone but basketball players and stilts-walkers are little guys to him.) “High heels and dirty fingernails, that was Pete Doherty. He tried to buy a record on the cheap, which was pretty cheeky since he’s a rock star. I told him that, and shamed him into paying full price.”