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.

The Test of diminishing time

As any cricket lover of my vintage will tell you, test cricket is the one true faith. One-days and 20:20s are all very well (and they are very well), but they’re not the real thing. (As for the new format that is about to be unleashed upon the game, heaven help us. It is a horse designed by a committee. If tobacco sponsorship was still legal, it would be called the Camel Cup.)   Continue reading

Brexit. Again.

In a hundred years’ time, historians may know whether or not Brexit was a good idea. They will write analyses that portray a divided country, one half of it angrily in favour of leaving and the other half fervently in favour of remaining. In the unlikely event that these blogs survive till then, I hope that some historian will look at them and try to tell the story of those – possibly a majority – who didn’t have the first fucking clue what should happen.   Continue reading

The free market and fairness

The second crisis of capitalism (part 5)

Do we support a free market?
The answer is clearly “maybe”.
We’ve nothing against the free market,
just as long as it doesn’t stay free.

That is from a poem I wrote in about 1990, satirising Labour Party policy. Neil Kinnock was trying to walk a precarious tightrope between traditional socialist policies and the new economic (and electoral) realities of the time. Now I look at the lines again, I am disconcerted to find that – far from satire – they come quite close to saying what I now believe.   Continue reading

The rich and the super-rich

The second crisis of capitalism (part 3)

In last week’s blog, I summarised research published by Thomas Piketty that showed how economic growth was increasingly being diverted into the pockets of the very rich. The result is that inequalities in wealth are now at a level, throughout the Western world, approaching those obtaining at the start of the First World War. Piketty has shown how, even at an average rate of return on investment and with taxes paid, the growth in the wealth of the wealthy will, year by year, outstrip the growth in the wealth of everyone else.   Continue reading

Why the moderate Right should listen to Piketty

The second crisis of capitalism (part 2)

I will admit to having had two expectations when I opened Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. The first was that the author was a left-wing economist, possibly a neo-Marxist, the darling of the European left, and someone with whom I was likely to disagree. The second was that I expected his book to be essentially polemical in style, long on diatribe and short on evidence.   Continue reading