The second entry in our ‘For the Record Shops’ series comes from Graham Jones. Graham has worked in music retail and distribution since the 1980s and his book “Last Shop Standing” documents the journey from the crazy chart-rigging 1980s heyday, to the more challenging present. He tours some of favourite shops around the country and discovers just how the music industry got itself into such a mess, and finds out how the real stalwarts of the Record Shop world are fighting back against free downloads and supermarket discounts. You can buy the book from many of the shops featured on our site. Visit lastshopstanding.co.uk for more information.
“Where would the music industry be without record shops? It is they who support new music and local talent. Nowhere is this more evident than in Manchester where the shops of the city have been at the forefront of introducing so many great bands to the world.
But record retailing is an industry in crisis. I highlight in my book Last Shop Standing (Whatever Happened To Record Shops?) the reasons why 540 independent record shops have closed in the last 4 years alone. As somebody who lived in Walkden for 5 years Manchester record shops have always been close to my heart. I currently work at Proper Music and for over 20 years I have sold to the shops of the city. What I like about Manchester as one shop closes another one opens ensuring that unlike many other cities in the UK the local music scene stays healthy. Everybody has their favourite shops. I have always been a fan of Piccadilly Records surely the shop Nick Hornby based Hi Fidelity on. Beatin’ Rhythm surely the best Northern Soul shop ever. Vibes in Bury and X-Records in Bolton are others I am a fan of but my all time favourite is the eccentric Church Street Records.
This is the story of my first visit there taken from Last Shop Standing.
I turned up to discover that it was a collection of wooden racks out on the pavement with a timber roof, which was there to stop customers getting wet in the rain. At the end of this collection of racking was a garden shed. Inside were two men, and I asked if Tony, the owner, was about. “No, Tony is not in today,” the taller man told me. I asked the gentlemen when he would be in, and asked their names.
The taller gentleman told me he was Paul and that he was Tony’s identical twin brother. He then introduced me to the other man, called Bernard. As I had come all that way, he enquired whether I would like some hot chocolate. He sympathised with me for missing Tony, but assured me that if I called back at the same time next week, he would be there. Bernard passed me the drink, which was the weakest hot chocolate I had ever tasted, but I felt it would be rude to say anything. We chatted for a few minutes and then I announced that I should go and would call back next week. “You haven’t finished your drink,” Paul shouted, so I went to gulp it down. As I drank, I choked when a huge lump of congealed powder went down my throat. It was clear that the drink had never been stirred. Paul and Bernard had burst out laughing as I choked and, over the coming months, I realised that offering people a drink was just a big joke to them. They never had one themselves and, although there was a tea and coffee machine, if you asked for one of those beverages, they never had any. The only drinks they ever had were hot chocolate or soup. They would never do business until you had finished your drink. It was like some strange initiation ceremony in which you had to drink this warm water, followed by a congealed lump, whilst they stared at you until the cup was empty.
The next week I turned up to be greeted by Paul. “Hi,” I said, “is Tony in today?”
“I am Tony,” he replied. Crikey, I thought they are identical. Bernard offered me a hot chocolate, which I politely declined, but Tony insisted and told me that it would be rude to turn down his kind hospitality. After I had suffered the drink Tony came out to my van, which I sold CDs and LPs from and, like a whirlwind, just pulled out piles of stock and threw them on the floor. Many of the LPs were falling out of their sleeves and numerous CD cases were smashed. After only a few minutes he announced that he had spent enough and, with that, leapt off the van leaving me to sort out the wigwam-shaped pile in the middle of the floor. When I raised the invoice he had spent over £500, so it was well worth putting up with his eccentricities for an order that large. I dropped his stock off into the hut and Tony told me to watch something before I left. With that he picked up a large megaphone, crept up behind a customer and, at the top of his voice, shouted through the megaphone, “BARGAINS BARGAINS!” The poor customer jumped out of his skin. Tony came back laughing his head off. “Don’t you lose lots of customers doing that?” I asked, whilst stifling my laughter.” Of course I do,” he replied, “but it’s worth it for the laugh.” Over then next couple of years every visit would end with him getting his megaphone out and scaring another poor customer witless. It’s a bit sad, but it used to be my highlight of the day and, amazingly, I never witnessed one customer resort to violence. I will never forget the wonderful Church Street Records or the amazing characters who somehow made a living there”