A trip down Memory Lane

Pound Lane, to be precise. A few weeks ago I found myself in Godalming, the local town of my latter schooldays. After lunch with my old friend David, my main adult conduit to the record business, I thought I’d go and see what now stood on the site of Record Corner, my main teenage conduit to the record business.  

I had a shock. What stands on the site of Record Corner is Record Corner.

It not only stands there, but is almost completely unchanged. The classical room is in the front; the pop room at the back. Once, before my time, the front door apparently took you into the classical section, but it was then moved to between the two sections, “so that pop fans and classical music buffs did not have to encounter one another”. The quote is from the shop’s website: one of the few innovations.

The racks of vinyl are exactly where they were. The two counters are exactly where they were. The only noticeable change is that the listening booths have gone. However, the woodpulp pegboards that used to provide the sound insulation to the booths are still there, possibly repainted.

Record Corner belonged to Mr White and Mr Stroud, both – I would guess – in their mid-50s at the time. Michael White was a cultured man, probably an emigré from central Europe. He ran the classical section. It obviously pained him that he had to give half his shop over to pop music, and it pained him even more when some of us bypassed his exquisite offerings and headed straight to the pop section. Over the years, he made several attempts to lure me into his part of the shop so he could convert me to classical music. Shortly before I left school, and only so he should believe that there was some future hope for me, I bought an Elgar LP from him. I have only bought one classical music album since.

Leslie Stroud ran the pop section, but recalling him now (and I can still see him and Mr White with crystal clarity) I suspect he was really a jazz enthusiast. In those days, and at the age he was, suede shoes and roll-neck sweaters meant jazz. I didn’t know that at the time. At any rate, neither he nor Michael White knew anything about pop music, which must have been a drawback for record shop proprietors in the ’60s.

An informal deal was struck. I would tell them which new releases would be hits, and which they should order. They would let me stand in a booth all afternoon, listening to whatever I liked without buying it. This was a highly beneficial arrangement for both parties. No doubt, there was a close correlation between the records I wanted to hear and the records I thought Record Corner should stock. But I did have a commercial ear in those days, and there was also a close correlation between the records I wanted to hear and those that became hits.

In time, I started helping out behind the counter, along with the wife of the school librarian. She also knew nothing about pop music. I was the only expert in town. I don’t recall any money changing hands, but I expect a few 45s came my way.

Over the years, there have been changes, but their cumulative effect has been to return the shop to how it was in the ’60s. The website again: “The ‘listening booths’ were removed sometime in the ’80s and CDs replaced vinyl. Later the ‘sheet music’ department was introduced and Hi-fi no longer sold. Of course, vinyl was re-introduced several years ago and now comprises about half the pop music stock. Although over-the-counter sales have always been the main business for Record Corner, mail-order made an important contribution in the ’80s, particularly for classical music LPs and CDs. This service has now moved on-line and Record Corner now sells all types of music via services such as ‘discogs.com’ and ‘Amazon Marketplace’.”

The most noticeable change to me, of course, was the absence of Michael White and Leslie Stroud. They retired in the ’80s, but someone who worked in the shop in the early ’60s is now one of the partners, so the link goes on.

Record Corner opened its doors in October 1958, the month that King Creole entered the charts. In a few weeks, it will celebrate its 60th anniversary. From Elvis to digital downloads, and barely a change in the process.

Is there another independent record shop in the country that can boast such a history? I can’t say how thrilled I was, and am, to find out that it is still there.