I was listening to Steely Dan’s track Reelin’ in the years this morning and I suddenly remembered where I bought my first Steely Dan LP, the day after I saw them doing that song on the Old Grey Whistle Test. It got me thinking about the places I used to buy records when I was young, there were so many record shops in those days and each of them holds memories of some sort. We used to spend Saturdays trawling from one to another and we were on first name terms with some of the people who ran them. Record shops were more than places to buy music, we met our friends there, talked about the music we were listening to, gigs we’d been to, gave and received recommendations, what was new and what to avoid.
The more I thought about it, the more came back to me so I thought I’d jot down some of those memories. Some of this is probably going to be a little hazy after 30 odd years and some of the names may be wrong or forgotten but here goes. We will start in Sunderland!
Bergs – this was probably the worst record shop in town but I’ll start with it as it was where I bought the aforementioned Steely Dan’s Greatest Hits double record set. Bergs was old school ran by one of two elderly Jewish brothers. If Mr.Berg had been Brian Epstein then Paul McCartney and John Lennon would have worked on a building site. I seldom bought anything in there – the only other thing I remember buying was Bob Marley’s Kaya as it was cheap (and I still wish I’d bought Exodus instead!)
New Record Inn – This was the name I remember it being called – I’m sure it had many others. Previous to this it had been called Middle Earth and had been a real hippy record shop. There are two memories I have of those days. The first was when I wanted a record and we couldn’t find it anywhere. Middle Earth was the only place left. My Dad insisted that we stay outside with my mum while he went in and asked – probably because the copper in him feared for what degeneracy we might encounter inside. The other thing I remember was that there was a picture of a naked woman in the window – funny what sticks in the mind of a young boy!
When we started frequenting it, the store had changed, but it was still probably one of two places that we would go regularly. I remember buying my first Bob Dylan album in there and also my first Roy Harper disc Bullinamingvase (with Watford gap of course). The other thing I remember was that sometimes they would sell White Label records (ones that had been given out as review copies) – I bought Pink Floyd’s Obscured by Clouds like that.
If Beamish ever have a 1970’s area then this is the sort of record shop that there should be in it. Ran by people who care about music who don’t mind if people spend all afternoon in there chatting and don’t buy anything. The racks were old and were probably home made – not like the sterile environment in the chains. The sort of place Nick Hornby would have felt at home in. I’ve always loved these sort of places -Reckless Records in London in the mid 80’s was another place where I could happily pop in and browse, sometimes I’d buy something other times leaving empty handed but with a head full of ideas.
Durham Book Centre – wasn’t, as you can probably guess from the name, a record shop but I probably bought more records here than almost anywhere else. It was a wonderful place, not so much a shop as an institution. A huge second hand bookshop that sold books and so much more- posters, badges, patches, photos of bands (I would later sell them some of mine) and of course second hand records, boxes of them that you could happily trawl through looking for that bargain.
People would sell their records for many reasons I guess, some were review copies that once written about were flogged off. People who fell on hard times or wanted some more money to buy new records would sell off their old albums. And I’m sure that some of them were probably being fenced. I seem to recall a science teacher telling us that’s where he found his when he was burgled!
We would all pile in there in our combat jackets, jeans and desert boots. I don’t think the woman who ran it ever got cross with us or threw us out. She was really nice, if there were LPs you wanted but couldn’t afford she would put them to one side for you till you could afford them. I remember doing this when a batch of Yes albums came in one day.
I vividly recall standing there looking up at all of the posters on the walls, there were two which stuck in my mind – one was that stoned again one where the man’s head melts between his hands and the other was a poem it said:
We’re going to a gang bang
My brother Jake and me
We know a girl just down the street
Who does it all for free
First we’ll take off her t-shirt
Then we’ll take off her jeans
Then we’ll take her knickers off
And fill her full of beans
Then underneath it added
(We’re going to f*ck her really but it didn’t rhyme)
Of course there was HMV – this was the only record chain shop in town at that time – Virgin didn’t open till much later. It wasn’t massive but it always had a good stock of LP’s. I remember looking at Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run numerous times wondering if I would like it and I lost count I picked up the first Steve Forbert album and put it back (I eventually bought the former but never did buy the latter!)
I did buy all manner of stuff in there, I remember buying Marquee Moon on 12″ vinyl – one of the first 12″ singles I ever bought. I think I also bought “Cor baby that’s really free” there too but had to order that one. I never did pluck enough courage to order the Wayne County single “F*ck off” though.
I applied for a job there once. I was walking past and there was a card in the windowI decided that working in a record shop part time while doing A-Levels would be an ideal job for me so I went in and asked about it. I was totally unprepared as I was taken straight out the back and interviewed by the manager. I remember he asked me what the last record I bought was and I couldn’t think what it was, instead of picking one at random I struggled to answer him. I didn’t get the job – in fact it went to a girl I used to go to school with and I think that any musical knowledge I could have shown would still have been overridden by her ample charms!
There were two other places that deserve honourable mentions.- firstly there was Boots, the record department used to be upstairs to the right as you came off the escalator, if you went left you ended up in the Home Brew department. In the early days we used to buy LP’s there – pretty sure I bought Jailbreak and Johnny the Fox in there – the LP’s were always in plastic sleeves! The other place was Comet, yes Comet.
In their early days as a warehouse electrical shop when you could still buy HiFi separates in there they used to sell records. The shop in Sunderland was like a huge warehouse with everything boxed up behind the counter. Very little was on show but the staff would unbox stuff for you to look at if you asked them. The speakers I still have in the living room were bought in there.
Up a flight of stairs there was a little room which contained the record department. I’m pretty sure we bought Tales from Topographic Oceans in there for my brother for Christmas as we had to take it back because it was pressed off centre and made it sound even more weirder than it does anyway. I don’t know what happened to it, one day it just disappeared and Comet didn’t sell records ever again. I think we missed the closing down sale as well.
So there you are a quick trip around the record shops of Sunderland in the late 1970’s but that wasn’t it! Newcastle was just a few miles up the road and again there were many record shops we used to frequent there too. A 25 minute train journey and you were there, very useful, if you had to go and buy tickets from the City Hall or were going to a gig then a trip around the record shops was always on the cards.
The most obvious reason for going to Newcastle was of course Virgin records which was a huge shop in the Eldon Square shopping centre. They had a huge range of records so if you couldn’t get it elsewhere then Virgin was the place to try. They also had a “Now Playing” board where when they played a record they would put the sleeve up so people could see what it was. We bought our Led Zeppelin tickets there and I also remember “seeing” and hearing the Sex Pistols in there for the first time. They played a video on the TV screen and I remember being both excited and curiously disappointed at the same time!
Curiously all the things I remember buying there were in that summer of ’77 – I bought my first Gong album there – Flying Teapot which I got cheap because it had a small rip in the sleeve. This has been a life long favourite which gets returned to time and time again. In fact I remember buying Gong Live Etc there too on the way to see Steve Hillage around the corner at the City Hall. I also bought the Sex Pistols single “God Save the Queen” there in the week of the Queen’s jubilee. Also that summer one of the most played 45â’s was a live ep from Barclay James Harvest – seems odd now.
Just outside of Eldon Square was (and still is) a little arcade and in there was a shop called JG Windows. This was primarily a musical instrument shop and when we weren’t drooling over the guitars in the window we would go downstairs where they had a record department. I don’t actually remember buying anything in there. One thing I do remember was a window display for the New Riders of the Purple Sage. I remember wondering if there had been once a band called simply Riders of the Purple Sage and this was a new version of them! The name stuck in my head and much later in life I would finally cross paths with the band after I “discovered” the Grateful Dead. But that’s another story!
There was also a HMV in Newcastle, I remember when Lindisfarne reformed they did a personal appearance there signing copies of the new album Back and Fourth. I managed to grab a copy of the sleeve off the wall display and get it signed by all four members who were there -“ one of the band as I recall wasn’t there due to ill health. I remember it being a mad scrum and the shop was packed to the rafters.
Further on up the road there was the City hall where we saw so many bands and just around the corner was another record shop in either Vine Lane or Ridley Place. I think it was always called Spin but I could be wrong. This was another great shop which specialised in very odd records and magazines! I remember buying my first copy of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic there and I also think I bought a copy of Homegrown magazine there too.
Two incidents spring to mind. The first was the night we went to see the Damned at the City Hall. With a few minutes to kill we wandered round to the shop and were looking in the window when the Police arrived. It turned out that someone had been seen tearing the tiles off the wall outside the shop and we were unlucky to be there when the cops turned up!. Luckily for us the Police looked at our hands and clothes and decided that there was no way we could have been responsible and let us go.
The other thing was the day I bought Television’s Marquee Moon album. I had to borrow some money off my brother and it was only afterwards that we realised we didn’t have enough money for our train ticket home. I had to pretend that I was under 16 and pay half fare and even then we only had enough money to get to East Boldon (the stop before ours) -“ we were going to stay on but the ticket collector, whose suspicions were already raised, was looking at us so we had to get off and walk from there!
Finally no visit to Newcastle would be complete without a visit to the Handyside arcade. The only shop in there that sold records was the Kard Bar which had a few boxes of second hand LPs – I remember buying the Basement Tapes there. The main reason for the visit though was over the road and was called Fynd. This was the archetypal Hippy shop with the overpowering aroma of Patchouli oil and incense. It sold afghans and kaftans and velvet shirts with flared sleeves (I bought one of those), there was always a beautiful hippy woman behind the counter and there was a candle shaped like a penis!
I used to love going there, it seemed to be a direct link back to the heady days of the 60’s when there used to be a club upstairs where Hendrix and the Animals had played. Local characters were always in attendance – I remember one in particular who was called Moondancer – who was always greeted with a strange reverence by us. There was always a box in there which had a few second hand records in which I always used to flick through but there was never anyone I had heard of. Oh to go back and have one last rummage!