Saturday, 21 May 2011

Record shop memoirs: an introduction

High Fidelity - Barry, a lesson in customer service...

It’s the last Saturday before Christmas, 1983.  The big metal grilles at the front of the shop have just been raised and I’m standing behind the counter, heart beating fast.  The hordes of people who were outside those industrial shutters a moment ago are now all in here at once, a stampede of shoppers.  I feel like an animal in a zoo, trapped behind the boundaries of the shop counter, on show and somehow vulnerable, not knowing quite what will happen next.

It seems like a thousand people are simultaneously perusing the numerous carefully laid out and freshly filed racks of vinyl in this independent record shop that is now open for its first day of business.  It’s my first day too, my first full-time job and I’m wondering what the hell I have let myself in for.  The very first customer is a tall young skinhead with an imposing physique and a face that simply says, “Don’t fuck with me”.   It feels like he has made a beeline for me and I do my best to oblige with a rather feeble, “Can I help you?”  He proceeds to ask me if we have anything by the Chantells and I’m thrown.  In spite of priding myself on  - and getting the job on the basis of – a fairly broad knowledge of music I don’t know who he’s talking about.  I could have answered so confidently to a question about Bowie, or the Pistols, or even Peter Hammill and Van Der Graaf Generator… but not the band that the scary looking skinhead wants.  I blush, stutter that I don’t know and go to thumb my way through the long shelf of masterbags for artists beginning with C.  Once I remember where the C shelf is located.

Anyway, this was to be the start of four and a half years of working in a record shop that was in many ways both the best of times and the worst of times.   It was a surprisingly interesting job in which customers’ quirks and queries provided some colour and  humour - as on the day that someone made their way past rows of racks stacked with 12” albums (and the chart singles box on the counter) to enquire, “Excuse me, do you sell records here?”  On the plus side, I heard and bought loads of great music and made some good friends but, on the down side, had to deal with unsavoury characters and take a fair amount of abuse – on one occasion I was accosted by one of the town’s well-known drug addicts who came behind the counter, grabbed me and stuck his tongue in my ear.  Eww.  That’s no way to ask for the latest Madonna single, surely?  I’m just glad he hadn’t come in for W.A.S.P.’s ‘Animal [F**k Like A Beast]’…

I've often felt like writing a bit about it so I think I'll serialise some of it on here.  More soon.


  1. Bel Mondo said..... Oh how I miss record shops - the hours spent thumbing through the usual suspects only to uncover a hidden gem now and then, somehow the rather selective selections in the hip second hand stores aren't the same - already pre-chosen. I've picked up some great stuff from small town record shops over the years, the stuff that seems out of place amongst the chart fodder and the James Last - a pristine original copy of White Light White Heat that had lain dormant for maybe 15 years in The Fens before I took it home, and don't get me started on how I discovered The Action, The Gods, The Locomotive and more on 'My Generation' (not the Who one but an unloved obscure comp) that had been in the racks as long as I could remember....ah I can smell the vinyl now - much as I try to love digital it's true, you can't put your arms around an MP3 !

  2. Absolutely, Bel Mondo - nothing quite like the discovery of hidden treasures amongst the mainstream platters. Your discoveries sound great (I would happily get you started). I found one or two where I worked, one was a single by the Beyond ('84), a cover of Fire's My Father's Name Is Dad c/w the Hush's Grey, very obscure, and in our cheapie bin! It was good to get first pickings (and a staff discount!) Yes I can smell the vinyl now too and as for the joy of 12" artwork - well now don't get ME started! What a shame you never visited the shop where I worked, it would have been a pleasure to serve you.


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