Firstly before you start reading this article let me make it very clear that this is not an extensive survey of Scottish music retailers. I would love it to have been able to do that but I was limited in terms of location and time. At best this is only a snapshot of those still trading in music but what a selection of quality shops there is represented here and if there are others out there as good, then I for one, and I am sure the AIHFA readership would like to know about them as well.
To that end I am opening Adventures in High Fidelity Audio to submissions from record shop owners and their customers, to broaden the scope and content of this article (1)
RECORD SHOPS IN SCOTLAND 2010
Lets be honest here the traditional record shop, be it a multiple or an independent is under threat. In the last few years we have lost Our Price, The Virgin Megastore, Zavvi, Music Zone, Tower Records, MVC, much of Fopp and numerous independent shops, some small and some large up and down the length and breadth of the UK.
These losses are as a result of numerous factors, some down to bad commercial decisions and changes in how the general public buy or don’t buy music any more but regardless of the reasons the bricks and mortar record shop is an endangered species.
With the recent decisions of HMV to adopt a less physical music focussed retail model, instead opting to sell downloads online, technology zones, Computer games and DVD rather than offer extensive new and back catalogue music choice. In fact very recently HMV UK wide have moved their music departments to other parts of their stores rather than on the ground floor-near the door. You would almost think that listening to music and buying it was some sort of dirty activity to be hidden away.
Music is now very much and obviously so of less importance to HMV and while I do understand their commercial reasons for doing this, they are in effect alienating and declaring that customers like myself are now irrelevant to them. It is sad that HMV has opted to move away from its once core activity but by doing this many of the retailers I spoke with in Scotland have benefited from this decision. With HMV less of a music specialist now-days the music lover has had to move back to buying their music from smaller specialist retailers, both online and in bricks and mortar premises such as those I visited during my recent trip.
It is my view that good record shops should be both cherished and used regularly as it is only by doing this that we can insure that real human beings who cherish music for its art, who are enthusiasts and are in music retailing as much for the love of music as to make a living can survive.
Call me old fashioned (and many do) but I love talking to real people about music and while online and in forums is okay up to a point, for me many of the most interesting conversations about music in my life have taken place in or at the counter of record shops. The number of groups, singers and genres I have encountered and learn’t about in record shops is way too large to go into here but to those guys I offer a hearty thank you, for you have all enriched my music listening life massively.
My first port of call on Saturday was Glasgow and sadly within the city centre area there is not much happening now in respect to music retailing.
With Virgin (2), Music Zone, Tower Records and Borders now gone (and others I don’t know of) we are left with Fopp on Union Street and three HMV stores with one of those now occupying the old Virgin Megastore site opposite Buchannan Galleries.
Frankly all three HMVs in Glasgow are in my opinion very poor compared to how they once were. The HMV at Buchannan Galleries is perhaps the poorest of the three in regards of, A not filling the old Virgin pitch very well and B looking like it is about to close down at any minute. The vast empty areas and sparsely filled racks give that impression.
However you can still buy some vinyl here unlike many HMVs or the other two within a mile of it but the choice is poor compared to a few years ago. However on that basis that they still sell vinyl I feel this store is still worth a visit….but only just.
Number 19-27 Union Street, Glasgow, Scotland.
If I must thank HMV for doing anything in recent years it is that it bought and saved a few of the Fopp shops after the group went bust a few years ago (3) While initially it seemed Fopp would not be tampered with too much by HMV I am sad to report that this seems not to be the case any more; as I spotted a Technology Zone in the Glasgow shop and a marked reduction in back catalogue stock.
Their once packed to bursting display racks, full of £3 and £5 CDs are much thinned down compared to how they used to be; as is the rest of their stock too. However despite this the music being sold here was still much more varied than that found in any HMV store I have been in recently and the Glasgow shop had a fairly big vinyl section still….thank fully.
I spent a fair bit of time browsing in this shop and some purchases were made but compared to a few years ago the experience was not as good as it had been then and this is simply down to the reduction in stock. Prices overall seemed to be cheaper than those to be found in Fopp’s owner HMV.
However a word of warning, while Fopp quite often is cheaper than HMV it is not always so; so check before buying. I found that out to my slight cost later on in the day.
Fopp’s basic website is here http://www.foppreturns.com/
There is an HMV in Stirling but the only real record shop is………
Number 10 Friars Street, Stirling, Scotland.
What can you say about Europa Music ? Well amazing is one word that comes to mind, as this long, very long shop manages to cram so much into its narrow space, that frankly it will take you hours to browse it properly; assuming you have a fairly broad taste in music.
Europa Music is split in two, with the front section housing both new and S/H, stock of CDs, DVDs, Cassette tapes and various music related items and they even stock back issues of American comics too.
“The story of the shop starts in September 1982 when Ewen took over a record shop in Alloa. The shop was briefly managed by Adrian Wightman prior to Ewen’s takeover but when he took the reigns in ’82 he decided to keep the name – “Europa”. The name orginally came to the shop as it was the model name of the previous owners car but in 2008, after over 27 years of trading, “Europa” is now synonomous with Independent music retail in Stirling.
The shop first moved to Stirling in September 1992 where it found a home in the old Arcade where it remained for three years. In 1995 the shop opened in it’s current location on Friars Street and is now the last remaining Indie music store in town.” taken from their website.
The staff are friendly and keen to chat, with shop owner Ewen even asking customers if there was anything they would like to hear played over the shop’s quite good sounding audio system.
I visited the shop twice once before deciding to write this article, when I had a chat with Ewen regarding buying some music from his brother Stuart at a record fair and then on another day when Ewen was working elsewhere. On that day I had a very long chat with the staff and took lots of photos as well as buying a lot of vinyl.
Pricing is reasonable both on new CDs and Vinyl but also on the S/H stock as well. There is also of course higher priced collectors items available on display round the shop. The shop layout is a tad cramped but still well organized, with clearly marked sections. Ewen has used every inch of his shop to the best of his ability and there is a really nice atmosphere there.
The real star of the show though is Europa’s vinyl section at the back of the shop. In fact it is in its own building and what a selection of vinyl it houses. Everything is in sections organised into specific genres and there are LPs, 7inch and 12inch singles available. I spent ages browsing and found some really nice albums at very reasonable prices.
Europa Music claim that this is the biggest selection of vinyl available in Central Scotland and I can say that I have not seen a bigger stock of vinyl anywhere else in very many years. My photos do not really do justice to what is on offer here, you must visit to see for yourself.
Having spent a number of hours in Europa Music on two separate days I must say I enjoyed my visits a lot and several bags worth of purchases were made on both days.
Talking about bags for a minute, the clear bags Europa Music provide for carrying your vinyl purchases away in are of very high quality indeed and this is not only a nice touch but vital as there is very little worse than having your bag rip and your records hit the ground…..ouch !
I look forward to a return visit sometime soon.
You can find Europa Music online here http://www.europamusic.co.uk/
Number 132 Nethergate, Dundee, Scotland.
“Once” according to Groucho’s owner Alastair (also known as Breeks) Brodie “Dundee had many record shops and the competition was good and healthy but like many other places around the UK there are very few now” He feels that the reason they have survived…..” is by doing their own thing and not pandering to trends”.
Unlike many they are still trading and doing well so they must be doing the right thing and in the last few years as recognition of their work Groucho’s have won awards for being the Dundee City Centre Independent Retailer of the Year. Groucho’s have been awarded this honour not just once but three times in 2008,2009 and 2010. This is a fact that Alastair is very proud of indeed and rightly so.
Groucho’s stock is all S/H (bar some new accessories, blank media and selling concert tickets) and they stock CDs, DVDs, Cassette Tapes, Music Books and lots of vinyl.
The shop layout is open and airy and the interior in its own right is very interesting to look at with a high vaulted ceiling and an almost Wedgewoodesque look above the counter area.
“After a couple of years learning the trade at Edinburgh’s Cockburn Street Market two 22 year old lads with £500 and a record collection found themselves opening a tiny shop in Dundee virtually by accident.
Formerly a greengrocer’s and now part of the Parrot Café, the shop had no toilet, no back door, always smelt of joss-sticks and fairly soon was crammed with all the young punks in Dundee making their regular pilgrimage up the Perth Road and going home with the latest singles, t-shirts, badges and memories that can never be erased.
It was the birth of a Dundee institution although we certainly didn’t know it at the time as it was simply about survival during changing times.
In 1982 the landlord decided not to renew the lease so reluctantly new premises had to be found.”
“Being chucked out of the Perth Road shop was a blessing in disguise as the move took Groucho’s into the town at the west end of the old Overgate Centre under the Angus Hotel. Ideally situated close to the student area but with far less of a trek for city centre shoppers. Formerly a jeweller’s, the shop was still fairly small but at least it had a toilet and a bit of space in the back shop which was soon to be overflowing with an ever increasing range of punk/goth/mod clothing and footwear along with the second hand vinyl and new indie albums.”
A new shop was also opened to offer Alternative Clothing and Footware so Breeks entered the world of fashion….sort off. “This was a huge shop in comparison to the record shop, a corner site with lots of display area and a wide selection of clothes and shoes that were unavailable anywhere else in town. Tonic suits, pork-pie hats, pixie boots, brothel creepers, bondage trousers, bowling shoes and crazy colour, the list goes on.”
“After two and a half years fashion became more casual and less music-based so it was felt the shop had run it’s course”
Not long after the move the two lads that launched Groucho’s parted company and Breeks was left as sole owner.
The amount of space needed for the clothing made the next move a necessity. The former R. S. McColl shop a few doors away was targetted and before too long we were operating two shops.”
1987 – Thursday 25th June – Breeks clothes shop closes.
After selling off all the stock and the shopfittings we finally closed the doors with a live show from The Beaver Sisters and Big Blue 72 (video footage still exists).
Everyone was paid, we had a lot of fun, no debts were incurred and we went back to operating the one shop.”
The Overgate shop ran for quite a few more years until “After years of uncertainty over the future of the Overgate Centre, landlords came and went as did the plans to upgrade and modernise until all that was left was full scale demolition, starting at the west end where Groucho’s was situated. Once again our hand was forced into moving but this time we were offered a large unit at the other end of The Overgate on a temporary basis while we searched for a permanent home.”
This move saw them occupy “The former Top Girl boutique, this shop was about six times larger than the one we came from and for the first time we were in the heart of a covered shopping centre. At last you could bend over and flick through the album racks without the chance of getting a thick ear from a wayward back-pack.”
“The search was still on for another home for the shop but this was proving to be incredibly difficult as there were all the other displaced traders from the Overgate doing the same thing. After three aborted attempts to move in two years the landlords finally stepped in and helped us find premises to relocate to.”
“After sixteen years and four shops Groucho’s finally became the last independent trader to leave the Overgate. Now they could get on with completing the demolition which had come to a grinding halt at Groucho’s front door”
“The final move to their current location “At last Groucho’s found a permanent home on a corner site diagonally opposite the now demolished Marketgait store. Previously the shop had been a restaurant, a dairy, a cycle shop and laterally a hairdressers’ supplier. In fact you can still make out lettering on the stonework from the early 20 th century when barefooted urchins peered in the window at the bicycles on display realising they would probably never own one.”
“It required a major refit to reinstate original architectural features and satisfy all the demands of current building control. We had a blank canvas to work with and plenty of space to keep a supply of all music and film formats and allow customers to browse in a comfortable environment although we retained the original speakers we bought in 1976 which are still working perfectly 34 years on!”
“The shop is ideally situated at the gateway to Dundee’s Cultural Quarter and is the only retailer amongst all the pubs and cafes that stretch from the dual carriageway to the DCA. The over –the-counter sales of concert tickets for local events is still a major part of our business as can be seen by the window displays for shows without a CD or record in sight.”
“The changing nature of how people listen to music has meant that the majority of independent Record Stores in the country have sadly closed but we sincerely hope the Groucho’s experience will still be available to the Dundee public for some time to come.” taken from Groucho’s website.
The current shop is split into two sections with the front part of the shop being given over to CDs along the left wall, a large middle island storing CDs on its left side and a mixture of different genres on vinyl on the right side of this central island. The far right wall has tall bookshelves storing DVDs and books relating to various music related subjects.
Below the central island (both sides) and left side wall under the CD browsers, multiple boxes house thousands of vinyl records; most only being a pound each. More vinyl is also stored at the divide between the shop and counter area and this tall unit is full of all types of Jazz records.
A nice touch I thought was the provision of a long box to the left side of the Jazz records, that was set aside to display newly obtained S/H vinyl. I assume this vinyl sits here for awhile before being finally put away into the various permanent genre areas.
I spent quite awhile here chatting with Alastair and another member of staff, as well as having a really good look through the CD racks (one of the main reasons for my coming to Groucho’s). This browsing netted me some very nice music, including quite a few Anthony Philips CDs. For me the thing about looking in a real shop, rather than online is the chance discoveries you can make within the displayed stock. I had not gone into Groucho’s with anything in mind to buy but found quite a few items none the less by just looking through all the browsers.
Sadly a lack of time prevented me from looking through the vinyl at floor level but I did see a lot of excellent records in the chest level areas. However I already had much of this music.
Like Europa Music in Stirling Groucho’s has a very comprehensive stock covering many varied genres and staff who are passionate about music and willing and able to offer expert help to their customers.
As I was leaving the shop I noticed a collection of vintage record players and radios above the doorway. Like Europa Music it really pays to have a good look around as you just never know what you might miss by not having your eyes open.
It was a real pleasure visiting Groucho’s and chatting with the staff and the owner Alastair “Breeks” Broodie during my visit.
Groucho’s can be found online here http://www.grouchos.co.uk/
I only include HMV here as the Princess Street branch has retained its specialist section for Classical music, Jazz and Blues. This area is walled off behind glass and is a haven of tranquillity and class within the busy DVD department upstairs.
Sadly the main music department downstairs has like all other HMVs been destroyed and is a pale imitation of what it once was. The only plus to this, is that shops like Coda, Avalanche and Vinyl Villains will benefit from this as other Scottish independents elsewhere have.
Currently at (but moving soon) Number 63 Cockburn Street, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Avalanche who have been at their 63 Cockburn Street location (there is also a renamed Avalanche shop in Glasgow http://www.lovemusicglasgow.com/) for a number of years are currently in the process of moving to a new shop in the Grass Market area of Edinburgh. Despite the information which I had been given prior to coming to Scotland (by a friend) that they had already moved to the Grassmarket proved to be incorrect.
A fruitless tramp around the Grassmarket revealed no Avalanche Records….I did however spot a new to me Science Fiction bookshop there which I had not known about before. The shop was nicely laid out and comprehensive in its range of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror books. You can read more about Transreal here…. http://www.transreal.co.uk/
Battling my way up the Royal Mile through the activity surrounding the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I eventually made my way to Cockburn Street and thankfully found the shop still there and open.
Like many of the other shops in this article I have been going to Avalanche Records (every time I have been in Edinburgh) for many years and while it is small it does have a varied stock of CDs, DVDs and vinyl. However over the last few years the amount of vinyl on display has shrunk a little compared to the first few times I visited.
Avalanche stocks both new and S/H music and DVDs and overall the pricing is very good on both types of stock.
“Avalanche has been trading in the heart of Edinburgh for over 20 years and is Scotlands largest Independent high street record shop. Nominated for ‘Music Retail Store of the Year – 2010′ for the third year running in the national Music Week Awards. ”
Pushed for time I did not have a chance to talk with the guy in the shop much bar asking permission to take a few photos for posterity.
Next time I visit Edinburgh, I will update this item with a lot more information and photos of the new shop.
I wish Avalanche all the best in their move.
You can visit Avalanche Records online here….http://www.avalancherecords.co.uk/
Mound Music Ltd (trading as Coda Music) Number 12 Bank Street,
On The Mound,Edinburgh,Scotland.
Coda is a specialist in traditional Scottish music and Folk music in general. I have no real interest in these genres myself but Coda has an excellent reputation and the shop is open and airy and well laid out.
The stock is CD only from what I could see. However if there are current folk music releases on vinyl no doubt Coda could order them for you.
If you are into these genres Coda is well worth a visit.
Coda online can be found here http://www.codamusic.co.uk/info.php
Number 3-15 Rose Street, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Unlike the Fopp in Glasgow this particular Fopp had no Technology Zone, that was evident. However like the Glasgow shop the Edinburgh Fopp sadly showed the same trend as HMV in that while the stock was more varied than HMV it was also much reduced since my last visit.
There was still a vinyl section but most of the CD genre sections have been shrunk and there are more DVDs present on the ground floor than in the past. This is sadly par for the course with new owner HMVs own shops….so much for not messing up what Fopp is all about.
However despite my comments above the shop is still worth a visit.
Number 5 Elm Row, Leith walk, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Vinyl Villains has been a fairly recent discovery for me. It was only with the fairly recent major road works on Leith Walk that I was once forced to walk on the right side of the street on my way to visit Retro Reproductions and this is how I found Vinyl Villains for the first time….. frankly I don’t know how I missed it in the past.
While the shop is not very large, Andrew has insured that all his stock is well arranged in genres, clearly labelled and that every inch of it is utilised to its fullest. As you go in the main door the left side of the shop, along its full length is devoted to vinyl and the other side of the shop CDs and pre-recorded cassette tapes. The middle of the shop has an island which houses more CDs. There is also a selection of DVDs as well.
They have this to say about themselves and frankly they touch on some topics I could not express any better myself…..
“Vinyl Villains, established in 1983, is one of a small number of surviving old-school record shops. A combination of factors, which include economic conditions and the increasing reliance on the internet for shopping, has killed off two-thirds of our independant record retailers. I tend to hope that the main reason for Vinyl Villains’ continued survival, (although there has been a few close shaves!) is that there are still a huge number of like-minded people out there, with a discerning taste in music, who refuse to be brainwashed into accepting the regurgitated gunge that passes for culture today.”
Andrew Watters owner of the shop was very busy when I visited Vinyl Villains, so we did not get a chance to chat. Hopefully I will be able to remedy that when I visit again in the future.
I had enjoyed my visit a lot but sadly on this occasion left empty handed as I was unable to find anything I was interested in that I did not already have …..oh well such is life sometimes.
Vinyl Villains can be found online here http://www.vinylvillainsrecords.co.uk/
It is a sad fact that all round the country and I guess other parts of the world both large and small specialist music shops are closing and indeed this is true in Scotland as well.
Over the last ten years or so I have been visiting Scotland usually twice a year and in the last few years some of the record shops I liked visiting have closed their doors, like Goldrush Records in Perth or changed and not for the better as is the case with Fopp. However despite the closures and the changes, a few hardy passionate music retailers have battled through changes in music purchasing and the current retail climate to offer a traditional music buying experience and offer advice from an actual human, something which in all areas of life is becoming rarer in this increasingly digital virtual world.
If you love music and haven’t visited a real rather than virtual music store in a while then I would really encourage you to step out from behind your keyboards and computer screens and try buying music from a human who shares your passion and can offer you knowledge and ideas for new or back catalogue music purchases in away that is spontaneous and fun.
I believe in supporting and cherishing real bricks and mortar businesses and record shops in particular need the collective support of all of us music enthusiasts. Not because they are a charity case worthy of our support for that reason alone but because they offer in my opinion so much more to the music enthusiast than buying music via a computer, can ever offer.
So support your local record shop and in particular the smaller specialist independents.
Part Two THE STATE OF INDEPENDENCE TWO – More Record Shops in Scotland can be found here…..
An addition to the article…..
As I called in with Graham of Retro Reproductions after leaving Vinyl Villains I thought it a tad unfair to not include him in this article as he does offer a vinyl exchange/swap scheme….on a low key basis.
Number 28A Haddington Place, Leith walk, Edinburgh.
Retro Reproductions is not a record/music shop, it is an audio specialist, but the owner does swap vinyl and CDs from time to time if the music you have is of interest to him (it needs to be in mint condition and interesting) and what he has is of interest to you.
Retro Reproduction is just across the way from Vinyl Villains and I could not really finish this article without suggesting a visit if you want to here your music on some very interesting audio equipment.
Owner Graham Marjoriebanks shop stocks mostly S/H modern and vintage items as well as a select range of new products.
The shop is an Aladdin’s cave of audio history and well worth a visit to browse, chat and improve how you listen to the music you have bought in all the nice record shops dotted around Scotland.
I have myself obtained a couple of my Leak Trough-Line tuners reviewed here on Adventures in High Fidelity Audio from Graham over the last few years and it is always a pleasure to call in with him for a chat.
Retro Reproductions is online here http://retroreproduction.co.uk/
(1) If any Scottish record shop would like to be included in this article, then please send me details of who you are, where you are, your history and a link to your website + photos of your shop firstname.lastname@example.org. I will then include your shop in a Part two feature.
Links to items mentioned in the text
(2) Virgin Megastores http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_Megastores
© Text and Photos Copyright 2010 Adventures in High Fidelity Audio. Except the exterior shots of the old Groucho’s and the interior photos of Vinyl Villains Copyright here belongs with Alastair Brodie of Groucho’s and Andrew Watters of Vinyl Villains- photos used with kind permission.
NB No part or portion of this article may be reproduced or quoted without written permission.