Brian Monteith: Oh yes, those were the days

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I can quite clearly remember buying my first 7in single with my pocket money in 1968. It was Mary Hopkin’s Those Were The Days and I got it at a wee shop called the Melody Maker in Abbeyhil that is now long gone. I was only ten, and dead proud in that childish way, when it went to number one.

Those were indeed the days. I went on in the seventies to buy loads of vinyl and at times seemed to live in record shops. Distance didn’t matter. Every local high street in Edinburgh had a wee music shop and I would get on a bus to Clerk Street, Portobello or Great Junction Street to see what they had.

Two shops became my home, Bandparts in, first, Leith Street and then Antigua Street, and latterly Sound Centre (now Ripping Records) on South Bridge. Many people went to Bruce’s Records in Rose Street – the point is that most teenagers had their favourite shop like adults had their favourite pub. It was where you would hang out, trade jokes and have a snog in the doorway waiting on the last 
No. 5 bus.

Rarely did I buy a single in Princes Street; there was no dedicated record shop there, although you could get singles and albums from John Menzies or Boots. These stores were efficient and sometimes cheaper, but – and this was an important but for me – you couldn’t spend time chatting to the young shop girls behind the counter picking up music business gossip or swapping opinions . . . or you would get thrown out for your trouble.

All this began to change in the late 70s going into the 80s when small independents began to see larger chains develop, such as Virgin’s record shop moving in quietly to Thistle Street, on to Hanover Street and then Princes Street. By then The Other Record Shop had come down from Inverness (amazing, I know) and dominated before being bought out by Londoners Our Price and so the 
big megastores started. HMV arrived in Princes Street to a fanfare and 
competed head-on with Virgin.

But even that changed as we soon witnessed the opening of out-of-town shopping centres like the Gyle and Kinnaird Park. I would think nothing of driving to the HMV at Newcraighall or Ocean Terminal to look for the latest bargains as I slowly rebuilt my vinyl collection in CD. I had a computer but I didn’t have the internet, and anyway I liked the browsing and Amazon was a big river with man-
eating fish. Or so I thought.

This week we can see just how much all of that has yet again changed as HMV went into administration.

Frankly, and I don’t think I’m alone, I find all this sentimentality about the demise of HMV a lot of eyewash. Maybe it’s something to do with the age of people producing the news on television? Maybe they spent their youth blethering in HMV, but I just don’t get it. Compared with, say, Marks & Spencer or Woolworths, HMV has hardly been around as a national retail force.

Yes, I know, HMV is an old company with its own place in the annals of record industry history – but its presence in Princes Street is a mere footnote compared to that of Jenners or other names that we have completely lost, such as Binns, Smalls and Darlings. These shops were around for two, three or more generations, not 20-odd years.

So what has happened – why this change? It has little to do with the economic climate and everything to do with the way we shop. Just as I moved from the wee local shop, to the back streets of the city centre, to Princes Street and then the commodious outskirts of town, so too people have now deserted the big CD and DVD shops where you pay at least a tenner to park or get a parking fine.

HMV couldn’t compete on price as it has high rentals and its online competitors have vast cheap sheds in the middle of nowhere, using tax haven status to avoid VAT or corporation tax. Meanwhile, our crazy Scottish government subsidised Amazon to locate in Fife and compete with our own domestic businesses.

HMV will not die of course, the brand name has a “goodwill” value and the accountants will try and sell it on, possibly with a smaller range of shop finding a new market – maybe becoming more like a Hard Rock Cafe but with a retail side.

Sadly, and scandalously, the administrators are doing their best to devalue the brand they are wishing to sell by refusing to accept gift vouchers bought by loyal customers that kept HMV going. Vouchers are a vital part of Christmas, and I don’t care about the terms and conditions, to keep the shops trading but not honour them is nothing short of theft. Where’s the goodwill in the brand name now?

Like the wee Melody Maker and HMV, a time will come when Amazon will collapse under the weight of its own complacency and somebody will say “Those were the days”. But I for one will be long gone and I reckon I got the best of it.