Rummaging through London’s best music havens
-Funk soul brother or hardcore punker? Check Out LondonNet’s lowdown on the best record shops in town…
Probably the nearest the casual record buyer would come to understanding the minds of dedicating musos is by watching Steven Frears’ hit film High Fidelity, based on the novel by Nick Hornby. There’s a scene early in the film where record shop owner, Rob, talks about his customers. "I get by because of the people who make a special effort to shop here, who spend all their time looking for deleted Smiths singles and ‘original not re-released’ – underline – Frank Zappa albums." The serious music buyer, the SMB, is more likely to be found rummaging with brow-furrowing concentration through the racks at a small independent shop than the monochrome megastores. If you feel youself nodding in agreement then chances are you’ll need to check out LondonNet’s record shop guide pronto! Read on…
Rough Trade, was, and still is, the quintessential model of all independent record shops. RT was a second hand shop-which later developed into a label- set up in 1976 by Geoff Travis. While the label, responsible for spawning the Smiths among others, went into liquidation in 1991, the shop became a thriving business and the bastion of independence. Tucked away in Neals Yard, Covent Garden, this shop is a must-visit for the SMB. It’s also spearheaded a culture with its regulars being a mixture of hippies, dreadlocks, scuzz rockers and fanzine writers.
Many of the best shops are clustered together on Soho’s Berwick St, just a few minutes walk from Oxford Circus tube. Here you’ll find Selectadisc, Reckless, Sister Ray, Mister CD and Music And Video Exchange.
Reckless Records closed in January 2007 and was replaced by Revival Records. A shop which is on first name terms with limited 12 inch singles, Revival is pretty damn good at sourcing rarities and even has a separate shop for soul and dance. Those after guitar-based rock would find it in their interests to have a good rummage through Revival’s racks. Like most independent shops they’ve got separate sections on US indie, some of which goes under label headings such as Domino and Matador.
Just across the road is Sister Ray, another good stop for second hand stuff. Arranged alphabetically and well priced, with separate metal ambient and trance sections, singles atat the front and new releases neatly filed on the left as soon as you walk in, the SMB can’t go wrong here. Sometimes difficult to manoeuvre, it can get a tad frustrating during busy hours but it’s still well worth investigation. Tourists are likely to be happier milling around Mister CD. With all the latest chart CDs and older popular stuff it’s usually rammed at the weekends. Most chart albums don’t go for more than a tenner and there’s a separate metal section as well. Down in the basement CDs go for as little as £1. Be warned though, don’t expect to hear music here – the footie’s usually on.
Second hand buyers should check out the ubiquitous Music And Video Exchange which has branches in Soho, Camden and Notting Hill to name a few, and is crammed full of music bods at the weekends. With a slacker style ambience and DIY ethic, MAVE is, unlike some select shops, devoid of muso snobbery. Their madcap pricing policy means you can go in and find some stuff reduced a week later, but the range of stuff (bags of promos) is pretty exhaustive.
Wandering around Soho, it’s quite possible you may stumble into the aptly named Cheapo Cheapo Records. A belter of a tiny shop found located on Rupert St that has cheesy vinyl and oddball stuff hidden amongst its dusty shelves. An assortment of second hand vinyl, Cheapo Cheapo might resemble a jumble sale inside but you can lose yourself for hours.
BM Soho on D’Arblay St is well stocked on every style of dance music you can think of – along with plenty of listening decks as well.
Jazz enthusiasts probably don’t need telling of the two specialist jazz shops. Ray’s Jazz shop in Covent Garden reigns supreme in blues, gospel and world as well as jazz.
The record shop darling of East London is Rough Trade East on Brick Lane. There’s a great cafe, a huge stock of rare and vital records and regular live music sets.
North of the Capital, well Camden Town to be precise, you’ll find yourself among the trendiest music buyers. Camden, home to many of London’s toilet venues such as the Dublin Castle (Blur kick-started their career here) and The Monarch, should quite rightly be flourishing with good record shops. And it doesn’t disappoint – there’s Resurrection Records, which specialises in black metal industrial and goth. Resurrection regulars are most likely to a) in need of a long-overdue trip to the hairdressers, b) have king-sized chunky boots – so mind those feet! and c) wear any colour as long as it’s black.
Heading west towards Portobello Rd in the very trendy Notting Hill you’ll come across a wide range of outlets including the first Rough Trade shop for lo-fi gems and punk, Intoxica for re-issues and obscure vinyl, and the near legendary Honest Jon’s for the latest reggae hip hop soul and r’n’ b. If you’re after a quirkier shop, rumour has it that the owners of Minus Zero, a sixties obscurities heaven, run their shop somewhat different to other record owners. Minus Zero is owned by two men who then fell out. Consequently they own half the shop each and, allegedly, have a curtain pulled across the half that was closed if only one of them turned up to work.
Finally, heading South of the river, the quotient of record shops down Sarf London matches that of its Northern counterpart, especially in soul and reggae. One worth checking out is Soul Brother in Putney. With more imports than you can shake a head full of dreadlocks at and a comprehensive back catalogue selection, you can always be sure to find it well stocked with vintage classics.
– Catherine Chambers
Of course there may be other shops that we may not have stumbled across or in blind ignorance neglected to mention in our list! If you know of an ace little record haven that is worthy of mention, please bend our ears! Feedback page