Retail Unit 1, The Bluecoat, School Lane, Liverpool L1 3BX
Opening Hours:Mon-Sat 9.30-6pm Sundays 12.30-5pm
Telephone: 0151 708 8815
Described by legendary Liverpool music writer Paul Du Noyer as “the semi-official control room of Liverpool music” – it’s probably a bit of cliche to describe Probe Records as a Liverpool institution but…it really is. Founded by Geoff Davis in 1971, Probe has supplied Liverpudlians, nervous students and unsuspecting tourists with their musical needs through good times and bad. In spite of numerous challenges and location changes they are still at it.
Julian Cope’s excellent autobiography ‘Head On’ paints a vivid picture of the scene around Probe during the late 70s post punk era when it was based in perhaps its most iconic location on Button Street near to Eric’s and the site of the Cavern Club – you could expect short shrift from Probe staffers including Pete ‘Dead Or Alive’ Burns and the numerous, sulky scenesters hanging around there. That vibe persists to this day – albeit slightly more world weary. Don’t expect any ‘counter banter’ or advice on the latest new grooves – this is not Piccadilly Records – if you’re lucky you’ll get a smile and a nod of recognition off whichever misanthrope is on duty – but hey, that’s Probe, and I sort of wouldn’t want it any other way.
Probe also has probably one of the coolest looking shop fronts and coolest record bags of any shop in the world. I’m not sure who does their designs but they are a thing of wonder (I’m sure they could make a nice sideline in Tote bags and t-shirts with the designs on if they could be arsed…which they probably couldn’t).
Today, Probe is now in a unit at the front of the Bluecoat Chambers just off Church Street – a prime spot between the hipper end of the city and the Liverpool One shopping behemoth so they get a steady stream of visitors. It’s a small shop but bright and airy and although it doesn’t quite have the historic echoes of the Button St shop I much prefer it to the rather dreary premises they had on Slater Street for many years. There seems to be a large area at the back of the shop which could easily accommodate more stock but instead serves as an office/brew area for the staff to escape from the customers – up front you’ll find a decent mix of Vinyl and CDs – the walls lined with classic reissues, tempting curios, fanzines, highly desirable box sets and other eye-watering treats. To browse the record and CD racks of Probe is to poke around inside the DNA of Liverpool music history – Beefheart, Syd Barrett, Love, and all manner of Fuzz, Garage and Psych and similar Cosmic Scally listening fodder are heavily represented as are local legends like Shack and Half Man Man Half Biscuit (still released on Probe related label ‘Probe Plus’). You’ll find a bunch of new releases, erring toward the more Indie rock end – not so much electronic and dance music but there is a well stocked section of Reggae, Dub and jazzier, funkier stuff too.
Probe does still hark back to the days when Record Shops could be quite intimidating places to visit, and bucks the trend of today where a lot of shops are very chummy and go out of their way to welcome you in. It must also be the most high profile Indie shop in the UK without a website or much social media presence. That said, I have a great affection for it and bought so many great records here in my student days and to be honest whenever I call in I usually end up buying something on the strength of the descriptions on those stickers they put on the records (still written in the same spidery, psychedelic handwriting of old).
Long Live Probe..and as their beautiful record bags state: “still the greatest disaster of them all”.