Old haunts that no longer exist or current gems still going strong, find out where the industry’s music addicts do their crate digging
Records / vinyl are experiencing their most popular period since the late 1980s. After the CD largely replaced them in the 1990s and then digital downloads after that, 2007 saw the beginning of the ‘vinyl revival’ and, with it, renewed interest in record stores and the launch of global events such as Record Store Day. But what are the favoured crate-digging haunts of adland’s biggest music heads? Is it a current favounikorite dishing out wildly rare world music, or an old haunt that’s sadly since ceased to exist?
LBB’s Addison Capper picked the brains of said music heads to find out.
Downtown Records, Essex
Chosen by Paul Cooper, head of new business (and resident record fanatic) at Little Black Book
"Picking a favourite record shop is tough, whenever I visit a new city or town it’s the first thing I check Google for, so I have lots to choose from. There are shops I love across the UK, in France and the US. I’ve found brilliant stores in Dublin, Stockholm, Berlin, Barcelona and Lisbon but I’m going to pick the place that developed my record buying habit as a kid.
"From the age of thirteen Downtown Records (RIP) in Romford, Essex was somewhere that I’d visit pretty much every day after school to spend my dinner money in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. I didn’t eat a school dinner for years, I’d fill up with six Weetabix every morning which saw me through until I got home, but I amassed a lovely collection of punk 45s. A good record shop isn’t just a place to buy records, I went to gigs with the staff that worked there, had snowball fights with them on days that school was closed due to heavy snow and bumped into local musicians flogging their DIY records and tapes. You don’t get all that on Discogs."
‘ear ‘ere Records, Lancaster
Chosen by Paul Cartledge, head of production at Yellow Boat Music
"‘ear ‘ere Records was tucked away behind the market in Lancaster. As well as having a great name it was a paradise of ramshackle shelves stacked with records of every genre, and it had that wonderful record shop smell of printed sleeves and freshly pressed vinyl, plus a few other odours possibly of more dubious origin. It was founded by Barry Lucas and Nigel Waller in 1971. Barry was the booking agent for the Great Hall at Lancaster University and famously turned down the Rolling Stones who wanted to play a warm up gig there during exam season. There was also a legend that he had booked The Sex Pistols and then been told to cancel it because people objected to the names of their support acts, The Vibrators and The Damned.
"The shop definitely had an edgy and artistic aura. When I used to go in, the staff running it knew everything and anything about the world’s recorded music archive, and for good measure they also flogged tickets to gigs by people like The Jam and The Stranglers. I lived about 15 miles away in the farming area of North Yorkshire, so it was a real treat and a cultural adventure to go into the big city and part with my pocket money in return for hanging out in a cool shop, plus I got to take home some amazing records and insights into the music scene. Along with reading the NME, ‘ear ‘ere was THE place to go to find out what was going on with music artists and gigs in the pre-internet era."
Bleecker Bob’s, New York
Chosen by Marlene Bartos, EP/managing director at Yessian
"Back in days when New York was gritty, edgy and everyone had a point of view along with a cheap place to live, there was one place that exemplified the loucheness and creative energy of the downtown scene. Bleecker Bob’s was so much more than a record store, it was a messy riot of overflowing bins and milk crates frequented by punks, poets, students, music reviewers, and recording artists who came to peruse the latest imports, look for that obscure recording no one else had or just soak up the thick vibe. On any given night, anything was possible. I can’t think of any other store selling vinyl that can boast a clientele that Bob had - Patti Smith, Joey Ramone, Debbie Harry, Bowie, Billy Idol and Robert Plant, to name a few.
"Bleecker Bob’s was best visited after hours, since it was open as late as the clubs within walking distance which at varying times included CBGB, The Bottom Line, The Palladium and Max’s Kansas City. If Bob himself was there, you never knew if you’d encounter the quintessential music geek excited for anyone in the store to hear his latest find, or the surly New Yorker yelling abusive epithets at employees and customers alike. It wasn’t just a store, it was an adventure."
Waxie Maxie’s, Virginia
Chosen by: Ayla Owen, head of music, BBH
"I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, just across the river from Washington DC. Although geographically my childhood home was a mere 10 minutes from DC’s buzzy college district Georgetown, I remained blissfully unaware of the existence of ‘cool’ record stores until I got my driver’s licence at 16. Until then, there was Waxie Maxie’s.
"Suburban America is absurdly spread out - you will, quite literally, die without a car. So starting from the age of around 10 years old, my mother would drop my friends and I off at Skyline Shopping Center on a Saturday morning so that we could spend the day bingeing on arcade games, crappy PG movies and most importantly, record shopping at DC area chain store Waxie Maxie’s. My friends and I knew that this place demanded respect because we’d seen their ad on local TV (“...when it comes to great music, Waxie Maxie’s is MUSIC to your ears!”), so they had to be legit, even if the voiceover was the same dude that narrated the local used Chevy commercials.
"I find myself achingly nostalgic about this cookie-cutter, suburban strip mall record store. Waxie’s was honest in its wholesome blandness: strictly top 40, country & Western, classic rock, heavy metal - none of that weird Eurotrash shit that you’d sometimes see on that brand new channel MTV. There was a microscopic ‘alternative’ section of the store shoved all the way at the back corner, and it was here where I would scour the bins for new releases by ‘exotic’ British artists like Depeche Mode, The Cure and Squeeze. The spotty teenage boys working the till seemed omniscient, and by that I mean they had heard of Joy Division and knew how Ian Curtis died and stuff. Swoon.
"Waxie Maxie’s was a mainstream, American shopping mall record store. It wasn’t underground, specialist or remotely ‘cool’. But in today’s world of instant online access, I now recognise there was a comforting innocence to Waxie’s limitations: it didn’t overshare. There would be plenty of time for me to discover more rarified record shops in the big city. At Maxie’s, it was enough to just to enjoy being a kid buying a $1.00 Duran Duran poster."
If Music, London
Chosen by: Harriet Moss, managing director at Manners McDade
"My favourite record store is If Music. The experience at If is really special - firstly it’s through a private door in Soho on the second floor so you have to buzz up off the street, it’s so so quiet up there and you feel like you have all the time in the world. They really specialise in world, jazz, ambient and experimental music. Jean Claude (the owner) talks through every purchase with you and makes recommendations without tying you in. His taste is excellent! The soundsystem is also brilliant, you can listen to anything you want before going ahead with the purchase - or listen to something totally new.
"If you’re ever about to travel anywhere around the world, Jean Claude will give you tips and recommendations for wherever you’re going - as well as sending you along your way with some local music to get into."
Streetwise Music, Cambridge
Chosen by: Toby Slade-Baker, founder, director at Thirty Two Music
"In many ways my current path started in Streetwise Music. I first braved opening the door at about 15 / 16 years old as I was getting into house, techno and drum and bass. We had monthly nights at the Junction called Good Times (House), Clueless (Techno) and Warning (D&B) - Warning is still going now - which opened our eyes to a whole new world... and we never looked back. Streetwise never had the cliquey, exclusive atmosphere you often find in record shops. We were kids and they welcomed us, guided us through the racks, put tracks on the system for us when we walked in and, after not very long, kept big piles of records for us under the counter knowing we would soon be there with whatever money we could scrape together. It was here I discovered the classic underground electronic records that I missed by being born slightly too late, and here that I discovered my love of digging for hidden gems and random B sides. Thank you Streetwise and Simon (pictured) for opening my eyes and being genuinely lovely people. If you had been dicks who knows where I would be now."
ZudRangMa Records, Bangkok
Chosen by: Michael Cromwell, senior manager - sales and marketing, BMG Production Music
"Nestled down an unassuming side street in the heart of bustling Bangkok sits ZudRangMa Records – your one-stop shop for all things Thai and psychedelic. Specialising in reissuing obscure ‘Luk Thung’ - if you’re into finding that world music record that breaks Shazam, this is the place for you. From when you walk past the fragrant noodle stall at the top of the street to the moment you walk into the unassuming store, this is truly a sensory experience. You’ll find anything ranging from local traditional psychedelia to Thai covers of Black Sabbath. However, aside from the retro Thai tracks, this is the perfect crate digging opportunity for all sounds worldly and unparalleled.
"If this all floats your boat then the store owner, DJ Maft Sai, also has his house and bar further up the street where you can fill your ears with these eclectic sounds and all with a drink in hand."
Sounds Of The Universe, London
Chosen by: Jonathan Watts, producer, Adelphoi Music
"My favourite record shop... This was a tough decision because there are so many great record shops and London still has some of the world's best. I’ve chosen Sounds Of The Universe, as it is more than just a record shop, and has become something of an institution in the heart of Soho over the last 25 years, and it's still going strong! The shop is on two levels and is a real treasure trove of disco, house, funk, reggae, punk, new wave, electronic music and beyond. Step downstairs and you’ll find a myriad of books and vinyl rarities you’re not likely to find anywhere else.
"This is the place to head for if you want to avoid the confines of the mainstream. The music that influences the mainstream before it's diluted and becomes formulaic. Not that it's all about the glitterati, but its delights have been good enough to satisfy the hunger from the likes of Prince, Questlove, Four Tet and Gilles Peterson, which is hardly unsavoury company to be serving!
"Alongside the shop, and operating in the same building, is their record label Soul Jazz Records. The label unearths some hidden gems and curates some amazing compilations. The love and detail that goes into the packaging of some of these compilations is something to behold. The sleeves, liner notes, photography and the story behind each project is an education in the people behind the music, and the cultural resonance.
"I do feel a slight pang of guilt being asked to name a favourite, as there are so many others, such as Eldica, If Music, Phonica and Love Vinyl."
Rush Hour, Amsterdam
Chosen by: Alex Lavery, ECD & co-founder at Pitch & Sync
"Rush Hour. Always a favourite vinyl fix when return baggage allowance allows, BUT since Rush Hour's love affair with Dave Afro Synth AKA DJ Okapi, it's an essential Amsterdam stop. In conjunction with Okapi, Rush Hour's label has been releasing South African Bubblegum Disco amongst a steady alternative African infused repertoire which certainly tickles my taste buds. Along with a regular release schedule of pure dance floor heat, the Rush Hour label is an essential steer on some of the best vinyl available. In the shop, you will without fail pick up new bangers, classic re-issues, re-edits or discover something wonky and new from the friendly counter staff who add to your stack in an informed fashion."
Raven Records, London
Chosen by: Lisa McCaffery, Curved Arrow Music Supervision
"The early '80s was a fun time to be lucky enough to work in Raven Records in the Fulham Road (opposite the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital).
"There was an interesting string of customers – from the Chelsea supporters every other Saturday, to Joe Strummer who, due to a misunderstanding with other staff members, insisted on being served only by me - the most junior member of staff (mildly alarming to say the least!). Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers fame was a regular, as were John Oates (Hall and Oates), Brian Ferry, Marianne Faithful, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Steve Winwood, John Mellencamp, John Lydon and Keith Levine of Public Image, Quentin Crisp and David Puttnam.
"There was also the lovely Rory Gallagher (who would frequently buy us all pints at the end of the day) and many other amazing characters both famous and not so famous, such as Mr Piper, a journalist for the Economist who won my undying admiration as, although he was in his sixties at the time, was as likely to order a Jimmy Dorsey Big Band album as the latest Clash album - they were all drawn in by those pristine vinyl discs.
"There was such genuine enthusiasm for the arrival of (certain) new releases by staff and customers alike - an anticipation and enjoyment that is sadly lost with the instant consumerism of today.
"The best part of working at Raven Records was working with people who had such an obsessive love of music of all genres. Managers Dougal and Kim, and Simon and Chris were a team who all had an absolute passion for music and helped to broaden my musical knowledge tenfold. We were all allowed to play whatever we wanted in the shop – which other Record Shop would have allowed me to play the full 17 minute version of Iron Butterfly’s ‘In–A-Gadda-Da-Vida’?!"
Chosen by: Nikolai van der Burg, Sizzer
"This is my favourite record store in Amsterdam, one of the last ones standing in central Amsterdam. I could tell you about the knowledgeable staff, the nice vibe in the shop, the beautiful building in which it’s located, the used and new vinyl section they have in the basement, or even the concerts they organise in their coffee shop next door. But the real reason I love Concerto is that a visit there always makes me feel like a kid in a candy shop and I always walk away with something cool and interesting. (Also, they put up my first record for sale when I asked them <3)
"So, next time you’re in town, take an hour out to dig through the crates and find yourself a gem."
The Trading Post, Gloucestershire
Chosen by: Ian 'Arge' Hargest, ENVY Advertising
"The record shop in the country town where I grew up. I went in religiously everyday walking home from school. The Trading Post, Stroud, Gloucestershire. They'd often slip me the odd freebie 7 inch for the Hospital Radio station, which was always much appreciated. I'm pretty sure all those plays of Terence Trent D'arby on my Friday night show made him famous to be honest.
"The Trading Post is still going strong 40 years later. Purchased by a similar fan of the store to me, who probably took the same route home from school as me too.
"I often wonder if they still have that picture disc of Welcome To The Pleasuredome I could never afford."
Sister Ray, London
Chosen by: Rich Martin, ENVY Advertising
"Berwick Street 1994. The market still sold fruit and veg, the shops still sold fabrics and The Duck and Rice was the intimidating barrow boy pub, The King of Corsica. I was a runner at Silk Sound, and had my first disposable income (if you prioritise records over food).
"There were more record shops than pubs in Berwick Street at the time, and while SelectaDisc and Reckless might get a visit at some point on an urgent run, my heart belonged to Sister Ray. It was opposite Silk at the time, and there was nothing better than popping over after the Monday morning breakfast rush to see what the the new releases were. The guys behind the counter would set stuff they thought I might like to one side. Never wanting to disappoint, I’d dutifully make the purchase, and skip dinner.
"These were heady days for music; while the Britpop wars were being fought in Sister Ray, trip hop’s intoxicating beats would waft up from the basement of Daddy Kool’s reggae shop directly next door. Occasionally, I’d be sent round to ask them to turn down their sound system. I’d do no such thing of course, it just seemed to renew their enthusiasm for the little sound effect box that’d emit 8-bit bomb drops, and i’d inevitably return with my tail between my legs, and a Trojan Records boxed-set that i didn’t know I needed."