Friday, December 26, 2008

Ode to the record shop

With former Virgin Megastores going into administration, the day record shopping joins moustache-waxing in the graveyard of obsolete activities is getting closer.

Very soon popping into town to buy a CD, let alone a vinyl, will be remembered the same way some of us recall dialling numbers on a rotary phone. Completely obsolete. Our memories of hours spent bumming around record racks are destined to follow the footsteps of our ancestors' tales of fountain pens, moustache waxing or sword fighting.

I wrote 'destined to become' but, really, it's one step away. The news that Zavvi, known to a generation or two as Virgin Megastores, is going into administration, threatening 3,400 jobs, signals another blow to the old world of record shops and music-related purchases - at least in the way we grew to know them. Yet, in the words of Nick Hornby, author of that ode to the record shop known as High Fidelity, "at the time, it felt like it was there forever".

At some point in the 90s, I landed a crap job as a receptionist at a now defunct hairdresser's on New Street. Even though each shift felt like holding my breath under water, the job gave me a chance to be right in the middle of town and lunch time felt like an epiphany. Instead of wasting precious time chewing on Boots sandwiches or similar, I figured it'd be an excellent opportunity to hop from record shop to record shop.
I could spend ages in each, flicking through books, and sifting through records and CDs, staring hypnotically at the sleeves, wishing perhaps that I had enough money to buy at least one hundred at a time. To me, each band was a distinctive world made of song titles, sleeves, logos, photos and hairdos and, in the pre-google days, records and books were the only window to this mythical realm. The collection of music all stacked in one place, the magazine racks and the zines at the front, the dust and the musty smell were all part of a musical junkies' haven.

Town had a healthy range of independent stores. There was a tiny VIP outlet tucked away in the Piccadilly arcade off New Street with a remarkable supply of 7"s and CD singles that would make my wallet throb like fuck. Past the law courts, there was the legendary Plastic Factory. And then Highway 61 and Reddingtons Rare Records, the latter a real teaser with posters and the most unlikely memorabilia. Out of all the independent retailers there are only two survivors: Tempest on Bull Street and Swordfish on Temple Street, the place where a long time ago I managed to dig up the original 7-inch release of Hand In Glove.

Then there were the big ones. Birmingham was home to Tower Records on Corporation Street, while Virgin Megastore had a humongous place right next to Oasis market and, later on, another one in the Pavillions on the High Street and I can't quite remember if the big HMV next to it was already there. Some 'indie' kids would stick to the cliché that those corporate department stores lacked of atmosphere and were exactly the same all over the country. But for all their faults, like good old Woolworths, they felt immortal.

And yet, Tower Records kicked the bucket a few years ago, and when the one remaining Zavvi in the Pavillions shuts down next month, HMV will remain the last big record shop in town. Suddenly, it won't lack atmosphere and it won't look the same as everywhere else. But placed again a 'download here' click and an online shopping basket, now it's got the hell of a torch to carry.



In my town there isn't one music store nor is there in the next town which is much bigger. We don't have any shoe shops or decent clothing stores either. The town is littered with To Let signs where once businesses thrived.

Anonymous said...

I remember Plastic Factory. It was my hideout it was. Lord knows the amount of dosh I threw at them over the years. Top place, it was. Sorely missed.

Ben, Quinton.