Uncut Editor's Diary
Bryan Ferry And The Beauty Of A Decent Record Shop
I’ve just been reading Re-Make/Re-Model, Michael Bracewell’s new book on the formative years of Roxy Music and was particularly struck by an early passage in which Bryan Ferry – thankfully not talking about fox-hunting or the Third Reich – waxes nostalgically about a music shop in Newcastle called Windows, where as a teenager he spent many astonished hours browsing through racks of records he couldn’t always afford, but liked anyway just to spend time poring over.
I knew the feeling exactly. When I was growing up in Port Talbot, a small town in South Wales, there was a local record shop called Derrick’s which acted as a kind of lifeline from the humdrum world I knew to an altogether more exotic universe.
I used to spend whatever money I had in Derrick’s, which for a shop so remotely located had an incredible stock of the latest albums. Whatever I read about in Melody Maker, I could usually get there.
And when I ran out of money or was saving up for something, I used to go there anyway, and spend afternoons just going through the records, gawping at the sleeves, reading the liner notes, checking out production credits, reading anything including the small print.
I’m sure a lot of readers have similarly affectionate memories of shops like Windows and Derrick’s and I was about to ask for you for them, when coincidentally I got an email covering the same sort of territory.
It’s from Alexi, who lives in Kidderminster – which surely can’t be as bad as he makes out - and it’s a reminder that for all its many conveniences on-line shopping isn’t always a credible alternative to the sense of discovery you might feel when you unexpectedly uncover some previously unimagined gem.
Take it away, Alexi.
“My main impetus for writing has to be the demise of Fopp records. For many readers of UNCUT, I'm pretty sure this was a hard one to swallow. It was doubly-so for me, as a person living in the cultural desert that is Kidderminster, Worcestershire. Despite the size of our town, we have never had a decent record shop, apart from the appalling Our Price which thankfully bit the dust years ago, and before that, Sounds Around, a non-descript ma-and-pa store during the 80's.
When I first discovered Fopp was in our town, I thought I was hallucinating. It was like an UNCUT magazine in the form of a shop - and everything was so bloody cheap! I had to forcibly ration myself, otherwise I was in danger of spending all my wages. Foreign movies, an 'Americana' section, great paperbacks, superb art books... It was exactly what I, as a culturally plugged-in 30-something, wanted. I gorged myself on books (buying multiple copies of Paul Auster's fantastic True Tales of American Life for all my mates), and CDs such as Dream Theater's voluminous back-catalogue, Laura Veirs, Murder By Death, Ry Cooder...
Soon, I was encouraging my friends to meet me for what we called a Fopp-fest, where we'd spend an hour or two browsing. My mate James said that it was the first time he's bought anything from a real shop in five years, after having spent the last half a decade shopping online. And he basically underlined what was so great about FOPP: the browse factor - something you really do not get from online shopping. You'd go in looking for Ray LaMontagne, and come out with a book on Brazilian graffiti, the new Megadeth CD, a Fellini DVD, and a remastered Doors album. All for less than £25!
And yet, at the back of my mind, I knew it was too good to last. Every time I went in, I'd check with the guy behind the counter how business was doing, and the answer was always 'very good'. Even in a shit-hole like Kidder, the shop was always packed with people who weren't grannies, chavs, or mail-order-goths, but discerning folk who knew good stuff when they saw it.
A short while after that, it mysteriously closed. Unable to contain my paranoia, I rang the shop to see if anyone was in. The manager answered, and for a moment I thought they were open again. My hopes were completely dashed when he told me that some suit high up at Fopp had the bright idea of buying the ailing Music Zone chain, and unfortunately, it sank the whole company. The manager and his staff hadn't even been paid their last wages.
Now, whenever my mates get together, we talk about the good old days of Kidderminster's Fopp (all seven months of them), about what we had planned to buy
(I'm still finding lists around my house ), and share stories of great purchases we made.
I know that, to outside observers (eg. our women-folk ), we probably take male rock autism to a level not seen since the (superior to the book ) adaptation of High Fidelity. But the fact is, it illustrated how on-line shopping is not the panacea that we think it is. I've lived here twenty years, and Fopp was the first time I actually had a reason to go into my own town. Now, it's back to being like any other provincial backwater: a sink-hole containing nothing but shitty markets, charity shops and low-common-denominator super-sheds like Matalan. Kidderminster needed an establishment like Fopp.
I really hope that someone at Fopp manages to recover the company. I have heard that HMV have bought six stores, and are re-opening them. Well, I for one don't trust their motives, but we'll have to wait and see.”