There’s a fair bit of discussion around the blogs at the moment regarding record retailers. I might graduate to my own views on the subject in time but I thought it might be interesting to frame those with some indications as to where I’ve come from. To start this then I’m going to go right back to 1980 and to my first real exposure to record buying.
I’ve said before that I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to music before I went to university. So pre-1980 the few records I purchased would tend to be bought in the likes of John Menzies. To anyone familiar with WH Smith now that might be something of a surprise but the market for music was so large that a lot of the larger chains such as Menzies and Woolworths had reasonably extensive catalogues.
There were local record stores (loads of them in fact, at least one in every town) but they weren’t really of that much interest to me at school.
A move to uni though tends to broaden horizons and that was very much the way with music for me. Quite quickly I established two principal areas for record buying – the West End (where I was staying) and the city centre.
Although I was in the West End more than the city centre, I’m going to start in the city.
As well as the usual mix of independent retailers, which I’ll come to, the city centre boasted the two major chains at the time.
The names Virgin and HMV are these days synonymous with entertainment rather than exclusively music but in 1980 there were no videos and certainly no games. When located on Union Street, (they would move sites but much later on) both of these were essentially record shops – although even in 1980 Virgin was starting to branch out.
Virgin in particular was impressive in that it was spread over several floors with LPs on the ground floor and singles on the first. I suspect another floor was dedicated to t-shirts but am I wrong in thinking there was a further floor of some description? (and maybe a basement?).
I’ve two early memories of the shop – on the ground floor debating with myself (although not out loud!) whether to spend my £4 on the debut Echo & The Bunnymen LP ‘Crocodiles’ (with bonus 7” single) or ‘Remain In Light’ by Talking Heads. The ‘Do It Clean’ 7” swung it for the Bunnymen.
On the first floor I remember coming across a single by Rockpile and being surprised to do so since the band had, up til that point, not released a record in their own name. Clear yellow vinyl as it happens.
These shops distinguished themselves by virtue of the range they stocked – or at least Virgin did. For that privilege you would likely pay extra with their LPs ranging from roughly £3.99 to £4.29, whereas in the independents £3.99 would be top whack and you may well have picked up LPs for £3.49 or £3.75.
In truth HMV suffered next to Virgin and was always the poor relation, costing as much but lacking the range of stock. I can really only remember buying one LP in there and it was an import at that (the Dutch ‘Enz’ compilation by the Comasat Angels).
Otherwise there were a clutch of indies located close by. At the foot of Renfield Street there were two stores opposite each other, although I’m struggling a bit with names. Not sure I was in the store on the West side of the street too often after I went in and found that everything was ordered by record label rather than artist!
The shop on the east side may have been a Listen but it never seemed to me as well stocked as the West End shop, although the Comsats feature in my memories of that store as well – I distinctly remember buying my first Comsats’ record in there – ‘The Eye of the Lens’ 12” for 49p!
Slightly further north and just round the corner on St Vincent Street was another store (probably Bloggs). I genuinely can’t remember every buying anything in there. Then further north again on Bath Street was 23rd Precinct which was a store I never fell in love with, partly because it always seemed slightly moree expensive than its competitors. Having said that I’m fairly sure that I bought the first Smiths 7″ ‘Hand In Glove’ in there.
There were undoubtedly more shops even at that time but I’ll return to Glasgow city centre at some point soon.
And so to the West End. Most regular port of call was Listen Records on Byres Road which was conveniently on the way home for a couple of years. My recollection is that the new release LP rack was just on the left as you came in the door but my most striking recollection of the shop was the singles. The 7”s were not on display as such but instead were advertised via a handwritten noticeboard listing of punk and new wave singles on the right hand wall.
I guess Listen must have been the shop I used the most but I’m struggling to assign too many efinite purchases to the shop although I do recall entering with the anticipation of getting my hands on the slightly delayed second Bunnymen LP ‘Heaven Up Here’. I suspect that Listen was where I would have bought the TV21 LP ‘A Thin Red Line’ too.
But there was also De Courcy’s Arcade, just off Byres Road which always seemed to have some form of record shop in it. It’s perhaps best known as the original home of A1 Records (which was to become FOPP), which was the biggest shop I remember in there. Another Comsats memory – I got the first LP in there, albeit tracking back after getting the second one first. Of the smaller shops I also remember one which stocked bootleg tapes in there.
Further east, Lost Chord, Park Road still seems to be going as a second hand store. It was a slightly downmarket shop inasmuch as it seemed to stock a lot of Portugese (?) imports that were sold around about £2.99.
I also remember a couple of years later that there was a shop whose name I simply can’t recall on Gibson Street, a basement if I remember correctly, usually with a girl behind the counter. It probably became more of a port of call in 1982-83 because I’d moved but I have clear memories of trying for several weeks to get the third U2 LP in there and being told it wasn’t out! What I can’t remember is if they did finally get that custom for that particular record, which like the Bunnymen LP above, was probably deliberately delayed by the record company to raise expectations. Did that use to happen quite a lot?
More record shop memories at some point soon (before I completely forget them!)
Footnote: I’ve added a couple of names to my memories above based on this forum.
Picture by Debbie Woods – from the Edinburgh Gig Archive