Thursday, 7 February 2013

Its Only A Shop, isn't it.....?

So today I have found myself reading the news websites in disbelief. Reading them with tears streaming down my face. These tears seem and feel utterly preposterous. Its only a shop, isn't it...?

Well to many of us, no. HMV is (was?) a place that became a shop that became a brand that became a product that went out of business. But once upon a time, not that long ago, before ISP's and VoiP's, jpg's and mpeg's, on a Saturday afternoon, we went to HMV, in the hope that our lives would be changed. Frequently we went there not expecting anything other than for the girl behind the counter to look up and notice the shy, poorly dressed youth slinking about the shop with a Talking Heads LP under his arm. That she would rush over, all boobs and tattoos, and offer her hand in marriage screaming  "you like such cool music!!!".
I have no idea where my love affair with music started, my parents weren't hippies, they didn't go to Woodstock, They owned Abba Arrival, and an Elvis Best Of LP. Mum loved Tommy Steele, Dad loved Russ Conway and Mrs Mills.There was a copy of Rolled Gold on cassette however. And if there was an epiphany, it was hearing the guitar intro to Its All Over Now.
Once I was old enough, I bought my records from Woolworth's (another store now gone, ohh how i scorned people that cried when they closed....).
HMV was a step up, a cool shop, a shop staffed by aloof, grown-up know-alls. HMV wasn't in our town so it was untouchable, a treat. Our nearest one was Guildford. To my memory it was dark, crowded, dusty and defeaning. I spent hours in there. You could then, they didn't try and 'upsell' you a DVD you didn't want, with your purchase.

So what am I blethering on about? I don't know. But I suppose I'm trying to tell you all that HMV was NEVER just a shop, it was where you went looking for Iron Maiden, and came out with the Pixies. You went to a 'pa', a signing session, and saw the place get wrecked (ref: Carter USM '91). Met famous people, made lifelong friends, and met old friends you couldn't stand anymore trying to get some 'discount'.
I ALWAYS wanted to work for them, and in Oct 1990, I was standing in a friends house and got a phone call from the Assistant Manager of HMV Trocadero, saying i had been accepted as a Christmas temp. I jumped up and down like a right berk. Almost ALL HMV staff seemed to start that way. Off I went to work on my 'cool'.

I went full-time, and spent two extraordinary years at that place, discovering Miles Davis, The Who Live At Leeds, Shostakovitch, crummy happy hardcore dance music, realising that I loved U2 however hard i tried not to. I foisted my bands demo tape on shoppers, I tried to explain that this indie group Neds Atomic Dustbin were the future, I wore DMs, I had floppy hair. I sneered, I thought Massive Attack's Blue Lines was shit, and that You've Got The Love by The Source was a pile of dancey drivel. E(beneezer Goode) would fix that.
Ultraviolet (Light My Way) just came on the stereo here whilst I am typing, and it has transported me back 22 years, to a memory of standing behind the tills (tills with ashtrays!!!) to a sudden melee outside, and people running inside the shop in excitement, Bono was on the roof of Tower Records (or somewhere) filming. It turns out this was The Fly video. Another melee was because Roddy Frame walked past (!). Stuff like that happened all the time, HMV were the centre of things. Richard O'Brien used to come in all the time, and carefully talked down to us lowly sales assistants, with great gusto. Morrissey came in, but wasn't mobbed by American tourists (the only people who thought Kill Uncle 'rocked') No-one turned up to a p.a. by Craig McLachlan and Check 1-2. No I don't remember him either. We heard about Jane's Addiction doing a warm up gig in the Marquee so off one of us went for a 'special afternoon break', in the name of music, to get tickets. We heard of REM's secret gigs as Bingo Hand Job, not so lucky there. We got free EMF tickets, and still went!
I noticed on MTV one day this hairy angry AWESOME band getting loads of airplay, (this is 1991 folks when hardly anyone had Sky!!). I said to my manager "I just can't keep Nirvana's Nevermind in stock, what should i do?". "Rack it out on the front wall, Nick". The rest, is history, with Pearl Jam snapping at their heels. So you see, I started grunge too.

We had our own section in those days too, I ran Rock and pop cd M-S (a guy in corduroys called Marcus ran the tapes section). This meant I had Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones (but not the coveted Beatles section). We did our own buying too, we had great relationships with all of the record companies, this meant frequent free tickets, free promo stuff, free t-shirts. When the guy from Silver Sound came in his van it was like Christmas, a truck FULL of hard-to-get imports!!!! I was also the t shirt buyer for quite a while, and made a success of Red Dwarf, Simpson's and James t-shirts. I had an affair with a one of the girls from one of the t-shirt sellers, at least with her voice, then one day she said her pic made it into a published book, I excitedly turned to page 113, there she was, my dream girl, pale, thin goth-like. Affair over. HMV girls often got me in trouble, one of them moved to HMV Sutton, and rang me asking for some Led Zeppelin Remasters on CD (VERY scarce at the time) - I had it all piled up to be sent, then the manager noticed and put a stop to it.
"If you had sent those I would have fired you, Nick". He needn't have worried, 18 months later I left HMV in cloud of drugs, stupidity and general teenage angst anyway, having been shipped off to their London warehouse to get me out of the way. The dream was over. I blew it.
In 2002 I went back to HMV. Things were different. Computer to search for stuff, instead of just having it all in your head. Shop playlists, strict controls with buying.
It went downhill once Amazon got their teeth. HMV sat back and arrogantly puffed on its (probably) Lou Reed promo cigars and waited for these upstarts to f*** off. They didn't.
And here we are. HMV gone. 
from this.......
to this.
So - my thanks to the HMV of Brian McLaughlin, of a passion for music, the HMV that gave me my best (wo)man at my wedding, the HMV that had Bowie for tea. 
Most importantly thanks to staff past and present:-
(Troc) Martin, Jenny, Boyd, Chris, Simon, Jim, Marcus, Dermot, Chris, Scotty, Anna and anyone else who put up with me in 1990-192.
(Northern Ireland) Dave, Michael, Dave, Ian, Sara, Anna, Fiona, Sarah, Trevor, Stan, Zoe, Joan, Paul, Dave, Chris, Ciaron, Jacqui, Warren, Danny, Jackie, Una, Gav, Joe, Ben, Cathy, Rachael and many many more who put up with me 2002-2008.
I leave you with a lyric that stuck in my head from the day i heard it, on the shop floor of HMV Trocadero in 1991, blasting out of the shop stereo, (with the older members of staff shaking their heads at U2's descent into Bowie-Berlin plagiarism)

"You can throw it up
Or choke on it
And you can dream
So dream out loud
You know that your time is coming 'round
So don't let the bastards grind you down".

1 comment:

  1. Love this Nick. Oh for the days when people could give you free stuff without anyone freaking out because it was a 'bribe'. I was never musically cool, always holding on to the shirt tails of mates who knew what was, but I still loved hanging around our local Smyths Records wondering what on earth the music on these albums was, and occasionally purchasing. Rushing home in extreme angst in case I hated it and had wasted my precious pocket money. Best purchase? Steely Dan's greatest hits - played to death.

    ReplyDelete