It was, as all good record stores should be, a place where a warning notice should have been placed on the door on behalf of all claustrophobics. There were vinyl records everywhere, in the masses of rows and in boxes underneath them. Groucho’s store at the former Overgate shopping precinct in Dundee during the 1980s was a haven for collectors, and the first time I had experienced a boutique vinyl store other than Woolworths and John Menzies in my home town.
I bought Blue Monday by New Order, on the recommendation of my friend Gordon, – a brilliant pointer as it turned out – and later, the 2-Tone classic Dance Craze for 50 pence. Further up the road was another grubby little store, with a particular odour, called Rock City (at least I am sure that’s what it was called but I can’t find a single mention on the net). They also had racks and racks of records, but this place seemed to have more obscure stuff, and having just gotten into indie and alternative music, provided a challenge as I attempted to make a connection with the bands I’d heard recently (Jesus and Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins, Echo & the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes etc) with bands that had far less chart success than any of the above, or had been lost in the mists of time.
The city also had in the mid 80s, The Other Record Shop, in the Overgate which according to a photo posted on the Retro Dundee blog, had a rack of CDs in 1984, among the masses of vinyl. Alas that situation would soon be reversed. To be honest I barely remember this but one of my favourite haunts in the city was Chalmers and Joy, near the bus station. Downstairs there were plenty of Scottish traditional, folk and so on, but upstairs was where anything new and alternative was sold. It would be easy to mock the hierarchy of the musical genres, but upstairs had a lot more space so would have been more ideal for the array of records they had. It was also memorable for the staircase on which every space was taken up by a poster.
There were others, a little one in the 90s on an obscure back street that probably didn’t last long, the chain stores such as HMV, Virgin and Our Price, and several in the 1970s – Bruce’s being one of the main ones, but that was way before my time.
All the others mentioned have since gone to the wrecking ball hitting independent stores but Groucho’s remains and, after moving out of the Overgate, was located in a couple of places before finding it’s home nearby. When I began reviewing CDs I would sell the offcuts – which accounted for the bulk of what I was sent – sometimes for hundreds of pounds. These were the days when record labels would throw albums at even the most lowly newspaper in a bid for a review. But in order to sell this rubbish I had to endure the steely eyes and ‘strictly business’ mannerisms of the assistants who were clearly employed without a personality in mind.
In the 1980s I was also taking my hard-earned cash to Aberdeen, where One Up was the Daddy of record stores. Like Groucho’s I recall it as a shop battling for space, in one of the small alleys off the city centre. On finding this jewel I was mesmerised by the giant Che Guevara poster – in bright red, of course, and before the man became an icon to people with little knowledge of socialism – but the eight pound price tag was beyond me. This was when albums cost about a fiver. Records were what I wanted, and it was a lot of the nascent shambling/ twee scene that I stocked up on, The House of Love being one that maybe wasn’t in that bracket, but the shop assistants helped me in getting pretty much everything that was available by them. They even resisted the temptation to laugh me out of the shop when I asked for Johnny Hates Jazz (chart fodder with a chiselled cheekbone of a singer) for my sister.
One Up moved to Belmont Street, no more central but far more spacious. Among the normal stuff record stores sell, it was one of the places in the city that sold Aberdeen FC fanzines, a frothy, droll A4 rag with enough anti-Rangers bile to satisfy a Celtic fan.
Other than One Up Aberdeen didn’t quite have the quota of good quality indie stores as its southern neighbour … there was Bruce Millers’ on the main drag, Union Street, though that specialised in instruments; a traditional Scottish store at the eastern part of the thoroughfare, which I popped into once because I just couldn’t walk past a record store; and a very prominent and rather excellent HMV bang in the middle of Union St. Best memory of that store was obtaining Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ much-maligned Don’t Stand Me Down for 50 pence. Given its elevation to something of a ‘lost’ classic, clearly this was a diamond buy.
At this time, a fantastic source of cheap records was a stall in the Mercat, the localised way of saying market. On a rampage I pulled out a 7″ by a punk band with four skinheads on the cover, thrust it toward the assistant, and claimed it was pro-Nazi propaganda. She said she would point it to the owner, but I later discovered I had got it very wrong and I should have bought the bloody thing instead. Still, you can’t fault my noble intentions.
Much later, Fopp records opened in Aberdeen, next to a butchers, and sold masses of CDs and books at very amenable prices. Sadly it has gone, though the one in Glasgow I believe is still going strong.
Elsewhere, in the north-east, there was a cracking wee store in Arbroath that had a limited lifespan, and one in Montrose that sold almost wholly vinyl. It was not rare for small towns to have a store, owned by someone whose passion was in music and certainly not money .. on my travels I came across such stores in Stirling, Kirkcaldy and Falkirk, but that was just the tip.
By the time I moved down to England, I discovered an equally enthusiastic scene in cities like Hull, but more of that later.
Thanks to the Retro Dundee blog, http://retrodundee.blogspot.co.nz/