I actually associate records shops with actual records. Even though I’ve owned thousands of records that I have no recollection of buying (in fact, I own a fair few that I have no recollection of owning – bet they’re crackers though), certain records stick in my mind. I can remember the conversation with the shop assistant, the excitement of hearing and the journey home with my shiny, new, shrink wrapped wonders.
This is a very personal account of some of the record shops (and records) that I knew and loved in my teens and early twenties. Most are just rapidly fading memories, others are still around but barely resemble the establishments I used to know.
Record and Tape Exchange (Camden Town) - I grew up in North London, so this was local. First got dragged down there Dad on a Sunday (he bought a Bad Company LP), I bought my first 12” there and have spent/wasted many hours digging through piles of crap in the basement, normally whilst being subjected to some form of avant garde rock or white noise by the staff. Sold things like the Weatherall mix of Skunk Funk and the first Sabres of Paradise (the one with the flick knife on) down there when everyone loved Weatherall the second time round, plus loads of junk too. Also bought my first £10 record in there (Project XYZ), picked a first pressing of ‘Nude Photo/The Dance’ for £2, and last time I was there (a while ago) I got copies of Blunted Dummies ‘House For All’ and Eddie Grant ‘My Turn To Love You’ for 10p each. A happy hunting ground but you’ve got to be in the right frame of mind because there is soooo much rubbish to sift through to find anything decent.
Harum Records (Muswell Hill/Crouch End/Archway) - A small North London chain. It was one of those shops where the assistant would play a record for the customer and it all smelt kind of anti-static. Bought my first record ever when I was 10 in the Muswell Hill branch (Kings of the Wild Frontier) and my first house record (Big Fun). Always good for 99p new major label releases but also stocked independent stuff. Bought things like ‘Your Love’ and ‘Who Is The Badman’ in there for pennies. I used to drive for a builders and I managed to snap the key of in the van’s ignition after visiting the Crouch End branch when I should have been somewhere else. That went down well with my boss. They’re all long gone now but Archway was the first go - which, fact fans, is where Nick Hornby used to work and the shop on which his book Hi-Fidelity is based.
Pure Groove (Archway) - My local decent record shop. Hard to imagine that the it used to be pure house in there. Ziad was cool but Roots (of KCC) was cooler and knew exactly what I liked, cos it seemed to be pretty much the same as what he liked. Happy memories of sitting on the number 263 back up the Archway Road with sealed copies of things like Gypseymen ’Hear the Music’ and Ralph Falcon ’Every Now and Then’, examining the labels in detail and all excited about opening them. Stopped going in there when it went all hard house and I moved to NW London. When I came back North, it turned all indie rock but it had a good £1 sale box, in which got a whole bunch of copies of that Incogdo bootlegs and sold them on Discogs for a fiver each. Was absolutely gutted when it moved to Farringdon.
Trax (Soho) - As covered else where in the blog, this is my all time favourite record shop. It used to have charts on the whiteboards up on the walls, including all the tracks off a ’Short Film About Chilling’ when that was hot information. I was going out pretty much twice a week, every week at the start of the 90s and this where you’d find that latest Italian screamer you’d heard out at those parties. None of this listening post nonsense, every Saturday there was a massive five person deep scrum round the counter while Craig and Oscar played the latest arrivals and people fought over copies. Fortunately, as I was in there every week, they used to sort me out. I remember not wanting to go on holiday in case I missed something new, I was obsessed - I got paid cash on Thursday, was in there on Saturday and more than once I left with quite literally not enough money to eat the next week. Sadly, I think most of those ‘must have’ records that left me hungry, ended up at Record and Tape, where I probably got 5p each for them. Fashion is a fickle thing.
Zoom (Camden) - Firstly above the shoe shop with Rob and Zaki, then in the basement place, with Billy Nasty and Roots (again, yay!). Great shop, bought Jam and Spoon ‘Stella’ in there, along with things like Acorn Arts, Liberty City ‘Get Some Loving’ and, err, Felix ‘Don‘t You Want Me‘. It’s also where I first heard ‘Drum Attack’ and became a Wonka fan, whiling away many a minute discussing what an ace label it was and how cool a Wonka t-shirt would be with Billy. Think I bought all my Wonkas in Zoom, when I think of one, I think of the other.
Discount Records (Shepherds Bush) - Worked opposite for most of 1989 and basically bought half of Centre Force’s play list in there - ‘French Kiss’, ‘Strings of Life’, ‘Quadrastate’, ’£10 to Get In’, ’Meltdown‘, ‘Afro-Dizzi-Act’, etc. They also ID’ed Dee Dee Bridewater ‘Lonely Disco Dancer’ off tape for me, although it caused a bit of a storm when it was played and half the shop (ok, two people) rushed to grab a copy, only to be disappointed. Can’t remember when it closed, might have been 1989, might have been a couple of years later, but they had a great sale in which I picked up a load of Cameo stuff on Casablanca and Chocolate City (I was a Cameo fan, you see). I can only imagine what I could have picked up if I had known my onions back then.
Record and Tape (Goldhawk Road) - The best 50p basement ever because they really didn’t have a clue. The builders I worked for had a big job in Chiswick so I went pretty much every day for months. They always had new stuff (and I really mean new, like not out in the shops yet) down there. Guerrilla promo central! Also got things like La Banderita ‘Mediterranea’ and Fidelfatti ‘Groovin’ when they were out on import, so someone with a short attention span must have been dropping records in there. Best of all, I got an unplayed promo copy of ‘Promised Land’ down there, when you just couldn’t find a copy anywhere (post-advent of the internet record shoppers will struggle with this concept) and sold it in Vinyl Exchange in Manchester for £25. Also got the Boys Town Gang (on 12” and LP) in there after seeing Mark Moore chart it Mixmag. Still love that LP, woo-woo-woo!
Vinyl Exchange (Manchester) - One of my best friends (who, as it happens, is now my wife) went to Uni up there and we used to fund trips to see her (and all her new female mates) by selling records we found easily in London up there. The aforementioned ‘Promised Land’, The Adventures ‘Broken Land‘, Scarlett Fantastic ‘No Memories‘, and 3 copies of Geneside II ‘Naramine’ for £20 each. Then found a copy of Dee Dee Bridgewater ‘Lonley Disco Dancer’ in the sale bins on the floor for a quid. It’s a funny old world.
Body Music (Seven Sisters) - Ostensibly a reggae shop but good for a bargain bin find or two. It’s where the 3 copies of Geneside II ‘Naramine’ came from.
Black Market (Soho) - Not much to say but I preferred it when they had the foam sound proofing on the walls, no listening post and the echo FX thing on the mixer. That is the way record shops should be, the staff engaged, playing music and punters keeping their grubby little paws off the vinyl. I bought so many records in there, it’s untrue. I think fav though is Ocatve One ‘I Believe’, Still gets rinsed. Ashley Beedle was good in there, as was Rob Mello and more recently, Ben Chapman. Bit too pricey these days, to be honest. Can’t see it lasting in it’s current format but let’s hope they do.
Red (Soho) - Rubbish. Full of teds and that counter 8 foot in the air was a joke. I did, however, get R-Tyme ‘Use Me’ in there, which is one of the best records ever made.
Caroline Radio Records (Highgate) - A short lived venture in the early 90s but they had a load of disco bits like ‘Body Music’, ‘What I’ve Got (is what you need)’, ‘Magnificent Dance’ and ‘Mr Right’ which was a god send at the time.
Bluebird (Soho) - Also shit and I thought Lewis was a patronising dick (sorry to any mates of Lewis). Did a party one Christmas Day, maybe 1991, and dropped flyers in. It started a discussion about the merits of such a venture during which I said it was that or watching ‘The Great Escape’, to which replied with a sneer, he’d watch the film. He slunk away when Danny Rampling, who was in there at the time, piled in my side though. Oh and the party was mobbed… but a word to the wise, you can’t get a taxi at 2am on Boxing Day morning, so I had to walk from Grays Inn Road to Highgate.
Hitman (Soho) - Coolest slip mats ever but seemed to always shit stock by the time I started going there around 1990 and thus, always empty. Shut down not long after.
The Record Stall on Rupert St (Soho) - I was there almost every lunch when I worked in Soho in 1990 and it was amazing for promos for pennies (well, £1.50). The bloke who ran it was one of us, you’d see him out and about, so he was cool and good for a lunchtime chat about clubs and stuff, which was pretty much all I could think about at the time. Bought half my Creation records there, Hypnotone ‘Dreambeam’, Sheer Taft ‘Cascades’ and stuff like that. He used to get older stuff sometimes too. I remember him gloated about getting a copy of ‘Someday’ with the acappella on (the git wouldn’t sell it) and I also got John Carpenter’s ‘Escape from New York’ on ZYX there, which was a bit of an odd one but a tune I had taped on the VHS when I was 15. The prices of all the records were also written inside the sleeves, so I still seem them now and I get a little warm feeling inside. Think all the stock was knock off though.
Sister Ray (Soho) - The original little one, again while I was working round the corner it was great for cheap big label releases like ’Where Love Lives’ (before I hated it) and the place for indie dance in central London. The Farm, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, and, err, the Soup Dragons, all came from there. Turned into a decent techno shop in the end too, then moved up the raod and expanded on the site of Select-a-Disc.
Fat Cat (Covent Garden) - Another shop I never felt entirely comfortable in but did get some great records in there, including ‘Acid Effiel’, which I recommended to Ralph Lawson who I bumped into on the way out that day.
Wyld Pytch (Soho) - Used to sell house actually and had a great bargain bin. Got the ‘Classic EP’ on Serious Grooves, and Jus Friends ‘As One’ in that bin.
Choci’s Choons (Soho) - Started life out the back of a novelty shop in Carnaby St, which was very strange. Only thing I remember getting in there was a Cling Club white label I hadn’t been able find anywhere else (label done by hand with glue and glitter!), but used it more when he was under BOY. Like Roots, he really knew what I was into and it made shopping there very easy. I went in once and he was said “I’ve got two new records you’ll love”, dug them out an passed them over. They were ‘That Nervous Track’, the MK mixes of ‘I Can’t Get No Sleep’ and he was right, I loved them. Didn’t try to sell me anything else, just those two. Wasn’t sure about the last version of the shop, too banging. Lovely bloke though.
Flying (Kensington) - Never was a great fan, mainly because it was such a hike from North London, although I visited in both it’s basement (Barbara Dixon ‘I Got Over You’) and ground floor (Hardrive ‘Deep Inside’) incarnations. Preferred the Soho version, in which Andy Baker introduced me to Morgan Geist (not literally, I mean he played me a record).
TAG Records (Piccadilly/China Town) - Initially in the weirdest location for house music record shop - the fledgling Trocadero Centre in Piccadilly, where I remember paying over the odds for records (maybe the rents in the fledgling Trocadero Centre had something to do with that), before moving to Rupert Court in China Town. I can remember asking for a copy of S.A.I.N. 2 and being told they didn’t have one. Explaining I wanted it for a gig that night and them popping downstairs to return with a promo double (slack but then ace). True to my word I played it out twice that night and it went down a treat. They didn’t seem to do as much business in US house though, so their bargains were always worth a root – the first release on Shelter, Kerri Chandler's mix of KCC ‘Heaven’ being a stand out find. Still one of favourite Kerri Chandler mixes.
Uptown (Soho) - I think this is still there. I haven’t used it for years, as it became the domain of UK Garridgers and then funky-housers. I think. I don’t really know to be fair but that is the impression I got. It wasn’t always that way, when it opened it always seemed to be on point with the latest Victor Simonelli stuff, Zak Toms, 95 North, Bassline Records and all that other crisp, US vocal house that, err, went on to form the basis for UK Garage and funky house. Oh, I see what happened there now.
And that, my friends, is it. I might well explore some of these shops in more detail in the future, if I can track down the right people with the inside track.