Posts Tagged With: HMV

Why blokes never grow up…

Tom Butchart, proud owner of Sound It Out Records in Stockton

Tom Butchart, proud owner of Sound It Out Records in Stockton

“When I play a record, I can tell you where I was, who I was going out with…it’s all about memories.” So says Tom Butchart, owner of Sound It Out Records in Stockton-on-Tees. Tom has a theory that blokes like to collect things as a way of holding on to their youth. That way they never grow up. He admits that 99% of his customers are men. For Tom and the rest of us vinyl junkies, records are endlessly fascinating because they hold memories and emotions. We are forever trying to recapture the past. Through the music we hear on old vinyl records, we are transported back to a time of big hair, flared jeans and necking in the back row of the pictures.

Recorded in Oslo, pressed in Munich...I must hear it!

Recorded in Oslo, pressed in Munich…I must hear it!

Now as you may or not know, I was once myself a record shop man – the manager of HMV in Bradford, no less. I worked there from 1974 until 1980, certainly some of the best years for music, I’m sure you’ll agree. I was 18 when I joined and 24 when I left, so they were formative years, years when one’s musical tastes are cemented. But whereas everybody else who worked in the shop in those days has now forgotten about their experiences and moved on to other things, I haven’t. For some unfathomable reason I am obsessed by those 6 years of my life. So much so, that I have spent all the intervening years trying to find all the records that were in the shop at the time. And I mean ALL of them! Yes, folks, it’s a kind of madness.

A record I just HAD to hear in 1975...

Now does the music match the cover, I wonder…

When I started working in the shop, some of the big sellers were records like Sheer Heart Attack by Queen and Supertramp’s Crime of the Century. But I quickly became entranced by more exotic records, LPs with intriguing, enigmatic covers, recorded in Scandinavia and pressed in Germany; unpronounceable names I had never heard of playing racks of polyphonic synthesizers or odd instruments like bass clarinet.  Terje Rypdal, Bennie Maupin, Eberhard Weber, Annette Peacock – who were these people? Suddenly music wasn’t just for dancing or shaking your shoulder-length hair; it was something deeper, magical and transcendent. LP covers were wonderfully artistic, and often the music inside matched the aesthetic promise of the outside.

Here is a picture of 'heaven' for a bloke like me...

Here is a picture of ‘heaven’ for a bloke like me…

If my obsession is a kind of religion, then I worship at a temple in the middle of my sitting room, between two great big speakers. The records I play serve as little prayers and sermons, but without the dogma. In fact, music is a release from moral responsibilities, a suspension of worry and care, a flight of fancy, a time to sing like an idiot on the sofa. Old LPs transport me as efficiently as any time-machine. Now you can see why I, and Tom Butchart, and many other blokes, have never quite grown up.

Worshipping at a temple somewhere between 2 speakers...

Worshipping at a universal temple somewhere between 2 speakers…

Nowadays, we are constantly told to “live in the present”, whatever that means. Don’t think about tomorrow, don’t dwell in the past. Well, I’m sorry, but to quote an old Jethro Tull song, I am very definitely Living in The Past. Does that make me a saddo? Maybe. But for me, music is a kind of emotional touchstone. With the aid of my LPs, I am able to reach down into a well of feelings within myself. Of course, music also gives you a great sense of history – not just the history of music, but of cultural and social change. Reading is wonderful, too, but it tends to stimulate the intellect; music is a kind of  spark that instinctively sets our bodies and souls in motion.

Mental-as-anything Quo fan Shane in his favourite shop

Mental-as-anything Quo fan Shane in his favourite shop

There is a film about Tom Butchart and Sound It Out Records. One of the blokes featured in the film is a regular customer called Shane, whose obsession is focused on one band only: Status Quo (all together now, “Here we go-oh, rockin’ all over the world”). This guy appears to have a humongous collection of memorabilia and is on a permanent mission to buy anything associated with his rocker heroes.  There is a very revealing moment in the film where Shane looks at the camera and says: “I just like my Quo! I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I haven’t got a woman. What more could you want?” I have no idea what he means…

Categories: Blighty, Music, Vinyl | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The day the music died…

Nipper is now a stray dog...

Nipper is now a stray dog…

The news that HMV – the UK’s only chain of so-called “record” shops – has gone bankrupt and closed its doors hasn’t caused much wailing in the streets. Nobody liked the shops any more. Expensive CDs and DVDs, no atmosphere, supermarket-style checkouts and no personal touch. In short, a dull and empty consumer experience. But hey – it wasn’t always like that.

Way back in 1974, an 18 year-old long-haired youth gingerly entered a branch of HMV in Bradford, Yorkshire, and asked for a job. So began a six-year period of my life which not only formed my musical taste but seeped into the very fibre of my being. On my headstone should be written “Martin Fletcher, HMV Bradford, RIP”. Everything about the shop and the people who worked there appealed to me. My previous job had been fitting tractor wheels in a factory, and suddenly I was in heaven. Now I could go to work in my high-waisted flared trousers, platform shoes, cheesecloth shirt and a smirk on my face.

The happy staff I left behind. HMV Bradford, 1981.

The happy staff I left behind. HMV Bradford, 1981.

But it wasn’t all sugar and spice. We had to be respectful in those days. We had to call the manager ‘Mr Walker’. Then, lo and behold, at my first Christmas party, my naughty colleagues plied me with so much whisky that I got fuzzy and headstrong, letting my working-class roots show through. So what did I do? I only went and called the manager, Mr Walker, a ‘bastard’. That didn’t go down very well, I can tell you. I literally got down on my knees and begged to keep my job.

Turkey No 1 - Slade in Flame...

Turkey No 1 – Slade in Flame…

Turkey No 2 - Elton John, Rock of the Westies...

Turkey No 2 – Elton John, Rock of the Westies…

But I digress. You see, this is the story of six LPs. Six records that I encountered in my early days at HMV. Let’s call them the ‘Turkeys’, the ‘Naughties’ and the ‘Gems’. I discovered the Turkeys on my first day, when I went upstairs to look for the toilets. On the way I passed two huge piles of records gathering dust in the corner. These were embarrassing examples of bad buying by the management. Expecting huge demand, they had ordered hundreds. But these two – Slade in Flame and Elton John’s Rock of the Westies – hadn’t sold well at all. In fact, they had both gone down like a bag of spannersSoon I learned that one of my jobs was to send a few of them back to the record company as “faulty” every so often – and hope they didn’t notice.

Art or pornography? Roxy Music's odd choice of cover for 'Country Life'

Art or pornography? Roxy Music: ‘Country Life’

Never mind the WHAT? Censored, please!

Never mind the WHAT? Censored, please!

The Naughties were LPs that had such obscene or outrageous covers that we had to put stickers over them to avoid upsetting the public. It seems laughable now in the highly sexualised, four-letter 21st century. But HMV was part of EMI, part of the establishment, and we had to be seen to be decent and upright. The offending albums were Roxy Music’s very strange (pornographic?) choice of cover for Country Life, and the more obvious Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks. Another of my duties was to stand like a guard over the LP racks to make sure nobody tried to remove the stickers and peep inside. You had to be married to see nipples in those days (usually after closing time on a Friday night).

What a voice! Honey for the ears...Gino Vannelli

What a voice! Honey for the ears…Gino Vannelli

There is NO OTHER album quite like this gem from Gene Clark

There is NO OTHER album quite like this gem from Gene Clark

And now we come to my favourite category, the Gems. The manager had a habit of playing records in-store that he wanted to promote. Often it was because he had taken a gamble and ordered five copies and nobody had bought them. So, as I strolled around the shop, flirting with the girls at the counter and nodding to the customers, I was treated to the exotic and irresistible sounds of Gino Vannelli’s Powerful People and Gene Clark’s No Other. These two LPs have turned out to be a couple of my very favourite records of all time. I’m quite sure that if I hadn’t been there at that moment in time, in HMV Bradford, I would never have heard such cracking music. Thank you, Mr Walker, wherever you are.

I left HMV in 1980, just at the right time. I don’t think I missed much in the 1980s. Of course, some of you will be thinking I’m an embarrassing dad-rock dinosaur, hopelessly stuck in the 70s. But I was warmed by a recent interview with an artist who made his name during the 1990s – Ian McNabb (remember If Love was Like Guitars?). He was asked who he thought the new pioneers of rock were; which artists were the most innovative today. He said: “I don’t know – it was all over by 1980, wasn’t it?”

All together now: "Spent the last year Rocky Mountain way, da daa da da..."

All together now: “Spent the last year Rocky Mountain way, da daa da da…”

Certainly for me, the music died a long time ago. And so, in a way, did the people. I met a lot of great characters during my six years with the firm. Now they have all vanished into the ether. So, if anybody is mourning the demise of HMV, I would like to put in a word for all those eccentric, witty, music-obsessed weirdos I had the pleasure of meeting all those years ago. Luckily, the records remain to remind me of those happy times. Records, not CDs. Please – no CDs. LPs. Albums. Gatefold sleeves. And I still have the very first LP I ever bought at HMV in 1974: Joe Walsh, The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get. And if you think you understand the title, it means you weren’t there in the Seventies.

Categories: Global Crisis, Music, Vinyl | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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