diamond geezer

 Friday, October 11, 2013

Remember record shops? Back in the 20th and early 21st centuries these were street-based retail outlets selling music and other entertainment media in physical formats. They were once very popular, but became steadily less profitable as people turned instead to cloud-based audio-visual solutions delivered via rental streaming. Today only a few of these archaic disc repositories survive, supported by a rump of consumers who've not yet embraced their digital future. I've been to visit one, simultaneously very old and very new, because I suspect you haven't been yet.

HMV opened its first shop on London's Oxford Street in 1921. "His Master's Voice" was the record label of the Gramophone Company, purveyors of spiral vinyl, which would later evolve into EMI. Their flagship store was at number 363, with a recording studio upstairs where the Beatles' first demo disc was cut, and an increasingly large stock of LPs as the decades rolled by. A much bigger store opened later at number 150, a cavernous space on several levels, and the two coexisted successfully for some time. Later the original shop closed in favour of a new bigger store across the road, but this Oxford Street duopoly lasted barely ten years before the newbie shut. Administration beckoned, but the store at 150 survived as part of a slimmed-down rump nationwide. And now, about a fortnight ago, the original HMV at 363 has reopened to sell its wares again.

They've done a nice bit of branding outside. The modern 'hmv' logo is muted, appearing at lintel height and also on a thin vertical perpendicular sign. But in dominant position across the entrance are the words "His Master's Voice" in imitation neon, alongside an illuminated Nipper the dog staring into a gramophone. The design is deliberately reminiscent of fifty years ago, indeed it looks like a fairly convincing copy of way back then, but without the words "Home Entertainment and Electrical Housekeeping" emblazoned underneath. Enough to tempt customers old and new back inside, it seems.

I'm sure I remember the store being bigger. Maybe that's because last time it covered more than three floors, or maybe I'm just thinking back to Footlocker which was mostly empty space. The front's all chart albums and film racks, as you'd expect, with the usual two for £10s and prominent back selection. If all you do is wander in off the street and back out again, your chance of spotting One Direction is maximised. Here too are a suspicious number of sideline offers, things like t-shirts, mugs and calendars, generally grouped by theme such as Doctor Who or Twilight. Why sell just the video if there's considerably more mark-up in ceramics? And then the whole of the back of the store is for games, because they're the future, plus they have a hefty cover price. And racks of headphones, obviously, should you want to walk the streets of London looking like a Shoreditch Cyberman.

The two escalators aren't well labelled, so it may be pot luck that takes you to the "film and tv" basement. People still want DVDs, it seems, and Blu-rays of films they've already bought once on other formats. World cinema gets a wall, and musicals a third of a rack, with a fair-to-middling chance of finding the film you want (but best ignore Sharknado, £9.99). Down at the television end of the floor the big thing these days is box sets, in greater bulk than I remember seeing before. Waste away your weekend by watching something you could have taped off the telly if only 'series record' had worked, or avoid paying a Netflix subscription by forking out £50 for four-fifths of Breaking Bad. If HMV manages to stay financially afloat into the future, our appetite for long term sofa marathons will have assisted.

And then there's the real HMV, the record department, upstairs. It's almost all CDs these days, which isn't bad for a generation-old format. All your actual chart records and cut-price compilations are at the top of the escalator (can you believe we're now onto Now 85?). Rock and pop from A to Z gets the lion's share of the space (although it'd have to be a lion cub to live comfortably here). One long rack features the back catalogue of the Beatles, Clash and Led Zeppelin, a direct appeal to the wallets of tourists and middle-aged fifty-quid-men. Classical is diminished to one corner, now with a rather limited Naxos-heavy selection. Specialist genres such as heavy metal, soul and dance also have their place, with enough obscure new artistes amongst the classics, although not the in-depth catalogue of old. If what you're after's not obvious, the pink t-shirted staff hurrying around should be able to help - there are certainly enough of them.

What happens next, of course, is that the HMV megastore at 150 Oxford Street closes down. Sports Direct have their eye on its prime retail space, swapping entertainment deals for budget footie strip and hoodies. And then HMV's sole presence down this key West End Street will the modest building in which they first started, holding out against the barrage of fashion shops that now thrive here. It's encouraging to see a 90 year-old business reborn, holding out against the inexorable rise of Amazon et al. And those of us who like to own our music, rather than rent it out, still have longer to browse and buy before His Master's Voice falls silent.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream