The Record Stores of London

Mar 25 2023
The Record Stores of London

At the beginning of 2003 I was suddenly made redundant from the music merchandise company I had worked part time at for about nine years. We had no warning, the boss just ran off with all the money, leaving everyone owed £££. It was the end to both a reasonable alt-culture job, but also marks for me the beginning of the end of record stores. Though this was a longish process, what had been a huge scene in the USA and UK began to evaporate. In the USA I think it's been a bigger loss, it started I think with the filing for chapter 11 (bankruptcy) of the CD Warehouse mega chain. This massively affected our merch business, as the sheer number of stores meant that a big chunk of trade began to disappear. CD stores made a lot of their income on merchandise, probably more than 50% in many stores. Ts, posters and pins (badges) were the big sellers, with other stuff also selling. Headshops sold a lot of bongs and smoking paraphernalia, and we sold a lot of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh to them. But, the legal aspect changed for import posters, and what was known as 'the banana tax' started to cover any poster, not just domestic print posters. We sold film as well as music posters and related stuff all across the USA (I had about 250 customers, including Brann Dailor, when he worked for Junkman's Daughter's Brother), and were able to circumnavigate (mostly legally) the copyright laws because we were import merchandise. Of course some of the stuff was hooky, but a lot wasn't. We sold one-sheets too - big gig or promotion posters - and at one point I had a good collection of rare material from people like Radiohead, Massive Attack, Sigur Ros, BRMC, a very rare Gong gig poster, plus 'sought after' hooky stuff by people like Slipknot, which at the time sold like crazy. I learned to love American low-fi and post rock and really loved that job, in a weird way.

In London, what had been taken for granted as a thriving multi location variation of stores would shrink away to much less than before, though it took a while. Because Id seen the signs from what was happening in America, I was aware that this would happen, and might wipe everything away - though that didn't happen, in the end. I took photos of the stores. This is some of what Ive found but Ive got other photos, if they survive, of stores in other West London locations like Shepherds Bush/Goldhawk rd, as well as Kentish Town, Hanway St and elsewhere (possibly the Fulham high st Beggars Banquet too if memory serves). Sure enough, some of these places are now gone, along with many others I didn't photograph (I'm thinking all the other CD stores on Portobello rd, or Camden (which I was less familiar with). But of course since then there has been a steady rise in the popularity of vinyl, which is now seen as de riguer for DJs and real music buffs.

Selectadisc was still there in 2014 when I visited with friends for a Record Store Day thing, with huge crowds gathering outside trying to get in, so maybe that was a sign of survival, and new stores have no doubt also come up. Stores from the photos that are still around: Berwick St Reckless, Selectadisc, Sister Ray; Talbot road Rough Trade; not around (or in the form as before): Dub Vendor, Mr CD, all the Record & Tape Exchanges including those in Notting Hill area, I dont think the Reckless in north London survives; stores mentioned but not photographed: Beggars Banquet went to Kingston.

The photos are taken between 2002-2004, I think. One or two are pretty poor quality because I used a very basic tiny pocket camera, but at least they exist. Mostly they're taken with an Olympus CZ3030, which was fairly good quality for the time. I'll add to the gallery if I find more images.

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