As regular readers will know, I have a very soft spot for all things musical and have written a number of articles for H.T. about local record shops and characters associated with them.
Well, I’m delighted to inform you this month that a new website called ‘The British Record Shop Archive’ has been set up by another such enthusiast, Leon Parker.
The aim of the website is not just to record for posterity the name of every record shop to ever open its doors in the U.K. but to also make sure that the social interaction, culture and day-to-day way of life that was buying a physical music product from a real person over a counter is documented and remembered.
Having been in more record shops than Sir Richard Branson over the years I have been having a whale of a time contributing photos, memories and memorabilia to the site and you will be glad to know, have personally made sure that Jack & Sonia London’s ‘The Record Shop’ webpage has been royally decked out and the part they played here in Hastings for 44 years properly recorded.
In fact, Hastings Town has played quite a large part in helping me to see that Hastings record outlets are not forgotten. As well as my article on Jack London, I have contributed my article ‘Remembering Alan Jensen’ about the man we knew and loved as ‘Big Al’ of The Disc Jockey and submitted the photos our sadly missed friend, Ron Fellows, sent me of Stylus Records.
Being a true ‘anorak’ I also sent in photos of a few old local record shop bags I found stored away in the loft as well.
Its sobering to think now that at the height of the popularity of vinyl records in the 1980’s there used to be thousands of independent record shops in the U.K. In 2009 that figure had dropped to just 269 (according to The Independent newspaper).
Somewhat surprisingly, the current total is actually a bit higher than that but this is tempered by the fact that of the larger chain stores only HMV is still with us and even most of their shops have now turned into larger versions of a supermarkets entertainment section. Gone from our high street are once familiar names like Virgin, Our Price and latterly , MVC and Borders.
While it is fair to say that I will not cry too many tears for the multiples, their passing is a relevant reminder of just how much of an impact The Internet and the buying power and pricing policy of the supermarkets have had in recent years.
So, thinking back to the early to mid 80’s for a moment, how many of the following Hastings & St Leonards record selling outlets do you remember?
The Disc Jockey – Queens Rd
The Record Shop – Queens Rd
Masons Music – Queens Rd
Woolworths – In Hastings and along Kings Road… I still can’t believe they went bust…
Greens – A department in ‘Debenhams’
Boots – Robertson Street (Oh yes they did! Upstairs)
W.H.Smiths – Who were then where ‘Yates’ is today and who had a second branch along Kings Road…
Abnormality Records – I think this was in High Street along the Old Town?
The Rock N’ Roll Shop – Not sure if this was its name but it was alive and rockin’ in George Street for years…
Stylus Records – My old shop in Castle Street.
Aside from all these I also remember Alan Whitfield’s second hand place at the top end of Queens Road (just past where ‘Morrisons’ is today on the corner), a short-lived record shop in London Road opposite The Old England pub and another hi-fi style shop that sold records in Kings Road itself.
Phew! Makes me dizzy just thinking of how many miles I must have walked visiting all of those places while collecting my 5,000 or so records!
The beginning of the end for most of these places came when the ‘Our Price’ chain took over the old Disc Jockey premises in Queens Road so you can see why I shed no tears over losing most of the multiples. Sadly, the same rule of thumb applies today, if you want to ruin something throw big money at it because as sure as eggs are eggs as soon as you do the biggest fish devour all of the little fish and leave you with a pool that’s unsafe to swim in!
I know I wax lyrical about how great life in a record shop was but as those of you who have worked at some time in a shop will know, the general public can be a strange lot to deal with (“Do you sell shaving cream? – “No. This is a Record Shop mate”. “Oh, what about Batteries?”) and quiet times can literally drive you nuts!
Thinking back to my days in Stylus Records, January and February were rather like volunteering for solitary confinement!
Mind you, this did have its merits because all there was to do was to stand at the browsers and look through the album sleeves and this came in very handy one afternoon…
I will always remember the day because a tired looking man of about 62 came into the shop. Looking at me in my rather brightly coloured clothes (I was a boy back then! HA HA) he kind of sighed as if resigned to his fate…
“I’m looking for a record entitled ‘The Ballad Of The Green Berets’ but I don’t know who its by”, he said, as if expecting a blank look in response.“ Oh, you need this by Sergeant Barry Sadler” I said, walking to the exact place the record sleeve could be found in the browsers. Well, you have never seen a man look so surprised in your life!
The man’s mood lightened up in an instant and he told me that he had searched high and low for information and been to numerous other record shops without success (there was no Internet to look things up on in those days) before coming to Stylus.
“ When I saw a young person like yourself was working here I almost didn’t bother to come in and ask”, he admitted before telling me the record was for his dying father who used to be a green beret and had asked to hear the song one more time before he died.
The memory of being able to help provide that man with one final piece of happiness for his dying father has stayed with me all these years. Neither before nor after that day has my obsessive knowledge of music served a better purpose and I doubt I will ever see anyone look more surprised than he did when I just ‘came out’ with the information he required as if I was asked for the record every day of my life…
So, please don’t tell me that High Street shopping is rightfully a thing of the past because I know differently.
You can visit The British Record Shop Archive at the following web address: www.britishrecordshoparchive.org/
Mick O’dowd….I can confirm that the one in High Street was called Abnormality and was run by a guy called Keith. He specialised in second-hand records and mainly of an “alternative” genre. I was a regular customer because I worked down the road from there for a while. I actually got “The Walls Ice Cream” Apple ep from him pretty cheap and a bootleg Elvis Costello, “Live At The El Macambo”.He always had good quality bootlegs
available under the counter. Just up the road near FILO was another shop which closed in the late sixties I believe and was run my Al Smith and i’m sure Andre would remember him. Although essentially a second-hand shop he had quite an extensive selection of albums and singles for sale. Also, I realise that the article was themed around the ’80’s, The Disc Jockey and Al Jensen had 3 Disc Jockey shops going at one time. There was the one in Queens Road that was virtually opposite your shop a couple of doors up from the Records Shop. The Disc Jockey +1 in High Street and one, I believe in either Kings Road or London Road.
Andre Palfrey-martin…. can confirm that there was a Disc Jockey Shop in Kings Road, by the steps to London Road, its now one of the St Michaels Hospice Shops, ran from about 1963 till I think about 1968.
Johnny Mason….I remember the shop near the filo, the guy would not let you look properly at the records and kept watching you and saying are you going to buy anything. Didn’t Attwells sell records in the piano shop on the seafront near London Road St Leonards?
Martyn Baker….Yep I remember the shop near the filo. I used to go in there aged about 14, in the hope of finding a cheap copy of Led Zepp II, or whatever, and got hugely distracted by the racks of secondhand porn. And yes. I used to get asked if I was going to buy anything too!
Andre Palfrey-martin….Quite correct Alan – see this advert from 1964 Observer
John….For anyone still interested in buying vinyl, there’s a new record fair starting up in Hastings. The first event is on the 29th of June 2014 at the Ore Community Centre, Old London Road.