The golden age of records
8:50am Friday 22nd February 2013 in News
TO those of us who were teenagers in the 1970s — the great age of vinyl — the thought that a town the size of Bolton could be left with just one record shop 30-odd years later seems unimaginable.
But following the news that the HMV store in Exchange Street is to close along with dozens of other branches across the country over the next few weeks, that is the sad reality.
If you ignore the supermarkets and their racks of chart and discount middle-of-the-road CDs, only the wonderful independent retailer X Records in Bridge Street is left flying the flag for those of us who still buy real records rather than download.
It is a far cry from how I remember the town in the 1970s, when I would pop into Bolton after school and wander around from shop to shop in search of a rare Genesis album or new punk single.
Yes, I had pretty eclectic tastes back then, but I kept the prog rock quiet from my mates.
My earliest memories of buying records were a few years before that, probably around 1973, when the charts were dominated by the likes of Slade, Sweet, Bowie and T-Rex.
And you could get the latest glam rock hits from so many different stores it made the mind boggle. I used to go to Tracks in Mealhouse Lane, which was apparently owned by WH Smiths, but was slightly cooler.
They also sold records in Smiths’ main shop in the precinct, as well as Boots next door, but that was where your granny went to buy you stuff for Christmas.
I remember a lad with red hair working in Tracks — he was probably only about 18 or 19 back in the mid-70s — but he seemed to know his stuff.
And then there was Derek Guest’s in Knowsley Street. I can’t actually remember what they sold in the rest of the shop, but they had a great selection of old and new albums, as well as a cafe.
They even sold records in the long-vanished Comet store at the junction of Halliwell Road and Blackburn Road if you fancied a quick stroll out of town.
But for me the arrival of punk music in 1976 heralded the golden age of record shops in Bolton.
My favourite shop at the time was Javelin, which was just off the precinct. The staff were mainly cool kids with long hair who smelled of patchouli oil and played Gong records over the shop speakers.
They were also one of the first shops to stock the latest punk and new wave records. I remember buying the first Devo album in 1978 on yellow vinyl there — though I could have chosen from blue, green, red, orange or white.
Another shop was called Ames, and though I can’t remember exactly where it was, it too was a haven for teenagers searching for the latest sounds.
And as unlikely as it seems, the best place for obscure new wave singles at the time was upstairs in the Edwin P Lees electrical store on the corner of Newport Street.
I remember an elderly lady (well, she was probably about 50) working there who certainly knew her Beat from her Buzzcocks.
Sadly, even by the early 1980s the times they were a-changing.
Ironically, the arrival in town of HMV may well have hastened the departure of some of the smaller stores, although I’m not sure which went first.
Javelin, Tracks and Ames are distant memories, though in fairness by the 1990s there was still HMV and the newly arrived Andy’s Records just around the corner.
But like so many before it, Andy’s too fell victim to competition from supermarkets, together with the increasing presence of online shopping and downloads.
And so here we are now, with just the supermarkets and X Records — Bolton’s jewel in the crown, although probably a bit too specialist for casual punters looking for the new Little Mix single.
Will there be any record shops at all in another 30 years’ time?
Probably not, but by then we’ll probably merely have to think of a song and some gadget worn around the neck will pluck it out of the ether and send it directly into the tiny speakers implanted in our eardrums.
I wonder what the (by now) elderly lady from Edwin P Lees will think about that!