Nostalgia: ‘A gramaphone was a luxury item then’

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With the future of 92-year-old entertainment giant HMV in jeopardy after the administrators were called in, one man who has outlived the company shares his early musical memories.

War hero John Laidlaw, who will celebrate his 100th birthday in March, was a key figure in the establishment of the NHS in Edinburgh.

He recalled: “When I was growing up, a gramophone was considered a luxury item, and our family couldn’t afford one, so though I wished I could invest in the classical recordings you could get in HMV, we just didn’t have the money.

“Thankfully we could make our own music. I learned how to play the violin at an early age and my sister Sarah, who is now 96, played the piano.

“When I was older I formed the John Laidlaw Quintet, which also included musicians who worked at Edinburgh University. We used to play at 
various venues, offering such things as theatre interval music, for example in the Little Theatre at the Pleasance.

“We needed lots of sheet music, which came from two main sources. I either sent away for it from advertisements in Melody Maker, also sadly no longer with us, or you could buy it from Rae Macintosh, which in those days was located on George Street and dealt primarily in sheet music and musical instruments.

“That was actually the shop where my parents bought Sarah’s piano too. I was in there a lot because they had a rehearsal studio that the Quintet used.

“They moved premises in the 1960s and they’re now on Queensferry Street, just across from Ryan’s Bar. They’ve been trading now for about 160 years, so they must be doing something right if they’ve been around even longer than I have!”