Sunday, 5 June 2011

Record shop memoirs, part one

I always liked those little independent record shops found in quiet streets, with narrow, creaky doors, windows displays of faded sleeves, and dingy alcoves containing stacks of LPs that looked as if they hadn’t been touched for decades.  Record shops whose interiors were like a club or bar, dimly lit with dark painted walls covered in tatty posters and flyers, and something obscure with a heavy bassline pounding out from speakers in every corner.  But the one where I worked in my early twenties wasn’t quite like that – it was inside a shopping centre (or a ‘mall’ if you’re in the US).  It was brightly lit, with no front door (just shutters) and no windows nor alcoves.   It was adjacent to the pedestrian entrance of a multi-storey car park and opposite the centre’s main toilets.  The car park’s sliding doors opened and shut frequently all day and acted as some kind of wind-tunnel device which, in the sub-zero temperatures of an English winter, sent icy draughts straight through to the shop, and in the tropical temperatures of an English summer, for some reason sent yet more icy draughts straight through to the shop…  You know, sometimes it was windier in there than it was outside, and the records almost used to flap in their racks. Then there was the constant smell of petrol fumes, diluted only by occasional whiffs of bleach and urine emanating from those facilities opposite.  Lovely!

Yet it was still a cool, independent and popular record shop in its own way, bearing in mind this was the 1980s  – it didn’t have the bland, generic feel of an HMV or Our Price and we were the only place for miles where one could stumble upon a Pearls Before Swine LP or order the latest release by the Fuzztones and not be greeted with a blank look.

Friendly, regular customers earned themselves a kind of honorary status; they were people you were glad to see, with whom you could have a good chat and enjoy thumbing through the weighty Music Master ‘Tracks’ catalogue to locate an elusive 7” for them. There were also some dreaded, very unfriendly faces, and as anyone who’s worked with the public would probably agree, customers can make or break your day.  The enthusiastic gratitude shown by a regular indie fan when we got him a 14 Iced Bears single on the day of its release was enough to keep you feeling sweet all day.  Conversely when you were being harrassed repeatedly by a lost (arse) soul who smelt of glue trying to convince you that the deeply scored slab of warped vinyl he wanted a refund on had never been played – well, I know it’s not like a day down the mines but let’s just say it could be a bit of a bore.

One way we found to keep ourselves halfway sane in the onslaught of such behaviour was to make a note of people’s requests - the ones that they got slightly wrong, that is.  It wasn’t that we were taking the piss out of customers in true Barry-from-High-Fidelity style, honest! But some slip-ups were just too good to forget and these quickly developed into a lengthy list.  It was impossible to resist the chance to illustrate some of these erroneous names/titles so very soon some little drawings accompanied the notes.  And, guess what, I’ve kept a copy!

So, by way of gratitude to to all those anonymous members of the public who inadvertently helped to keep me smiling (and drawing) through some of those draughty, diesel-ingesting days, here are just a few from the list…
"Have you got 'Hounds Of Hell' by Kate Bush?" ('Hounds Of Love')
"I'm after the Elvis album, 'A Lawyer In Hawaii'..." ('Aloha To Hawaii')

"Do you have any records by Pat Benidorm please?" (Pat Benatar)

"What albums do you have by Huey Lewis & The Nose?" (Huey Lewis & The News)

And let's not forget the time a customer said, "The title is something about memories, but I can't remember it..."


  1. Just stumbled upon this and found it really amusing - I had a Saturday job in a chemists when I was a teenager and some of the things we were asked for!

    1. Thanks! I think anyone who's ever worked in a shop (or with the general public in any form) will know what we mean. I can certainly imagine some of the things you may have been asked for at the chemists... and probably a lot of things I'd rather not!


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