The Disappearing World of Soho's Independent Record Shops
A look inside Harold Moores Records: One of a series of eight portraits shot by Spencer Murphy
Whether from rapacious property developers or the internet, the independent record shops of London's Soho are under threat. Barely a month goes by without another one disappearing. Designer Ali Augur and photographer Spencer Murphy decided to document these musical treasure troves and their owners before they become a distant memory.
Independent: A Celebration of Soho’s Independent Record Shops, opens this Friday at 63 Broadwick Street in London. The show’s main focus is a series of eight photographic portraits of record shop owners in situ in their shops - from junglist hero Nicky Blackmarket at BM Soho to Harold Moores Records - taken by Murphy, although it was Augur who kickstarted the project.
Another shot of the interior of Harold Moores Records
“It all started when I first heard the lyrics of Earl Zinger’s Saturday Morning Rush,” explains Augur. Zinger's track describes in glorious detail the journey of an obsessive vinylphile as he rushes around London, from shop to shop on a Saturday morning trying, increasingly desperately, to get a copy of the latest hot release, before rushing home so he can get ready to go to a wedding. "The track came out around the time I was doing flyers for Plastic People in 2002," Augur continues, "and I knew all the record shops mentioned in the song so listening to it conjured up vivid imagery. It made me really aware that things were changing as some of the shops were disappearing practically as soon as the record was released. Things change so quickly, blink and you’ll miss it and I’m really interested in that.
"So I thought - I’m going to illustrate the lyrics to that track and I contacted Rob (Earl Zinger) Gallagher and he was really up for it. Even at the time there was an air of threat over some of the shops like Atlas and Release The Groove and everyone was having a bit of a tough time. But I didn’t get round to doing it. I kicked myself every time I heard something was changing, a shop was closing. Shit, that moment has gone. I didn’t do anything about it but then, when Reckless Records on Berwick Street shut, about a year ago, that’s when I thought - 'I can still do something, there’s still time'."
Interior of Sister Ray on Berwick Street
Through his contacts in advertising and at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, where he works as a designer, Augur contacted photographer Spencer Murphy who was up for getting involved. "I took two days holiday from work," says Augur, "Spencer took time out, borrowed equipment and we approached the shops and decided to do eight. We could have done more but decided to keep the project within the geographical marker of Soho. We shot eight portraits in two and a half days last December."
Portrait of junglist Nicky Blackmarket inside BM Soho
While Augur art directed the shoots, he admits he didn't have much to do. "The guys in the shots were naturally framed because there’s something in front of them (the shop front in most cases), they’re surrounded by their stuff and so from an art direction perspective, it really was very easy! I was half expecting some of the shots not to work - but they all did. Working with Spencer on this was amazing."
Augur has also created a set of limited edition posters, which are folded and housed in a seven inch card sleeve, numbered and stamped on the back in an edition of 400. "I took a lot of time out to get the posters right. [Printers] Quadroprint did a great job too with it because the poster is folded in an unusual way, there’s a spot varnish, they made the seven inch sleeves too – and they made sure that the poster lined up perfectly with the circular hole in the card sleeve."
Ali Augur designed a folding poster that includes all the photography and an introduction to the project by Time Out's Cyrus Shahrad. Limited to 400 stamped and numbered editions the poster comes in a seven inch record sleeve
There is also a set of eight flyers - each one showing one of the eight portraits on one side and info about the exhibition on the reverse. Each flyer can be found in the relevant record shop. "This makes them collectible and hopefully will drive people to the other shops," he explains.
Note the logo for Snorkel on the above flyers. Snorkel is the collective enthusiasm of a group of people at ad agency BBH where Augur works - that includes Mark Reddy and Fred Uribe Mosquera. Its objective is to "develop interesting projects that hopefully stimulate and delight"
Since the shoot, two of the record shops have closed. "Mister CD shut down about three weeks after we were in the shop taking the shot – and then If Music closed about a month ago," Auger tells us. "Both shops are still trading online but the shops themselves are gone."
Sadly no more – one of the decks available for customers to use in If Records, which closed last month
"Actaully another thing happened a couple of months ago," adds Augur. "You know the bottom of Berwick Street, opposite Somerfields? That bottom corner has been demolished. It’s gone. We’ve got some photographs of that building but it's completely gone now. So while the project’s about six years late, it's incredible to think that since we took the shots, two of the shops have gone and the bottom of Berwick Street has disappeared. I’m really glad I finally got round to doing the project."
The old shop front of Deal Real records. Now the store is located at 3 Marlborough Court, just off Carnaby Street
Independent: A Celebration of Soho's Independent Record Shops runs from 16 – 24 May at 63 Broadwick Street, London W1
Memory remains of record shops go round and round like broken records. Bin after bin, covers of sonic sin invite you in... to play. A good cover concept is a great 'pick-up line'. Records are 'hand-jobs' that promise intercourse... if only you take'm home.
But theres a new pimp in town; DownLo! He bitch-slapping Record Sto, kicking her to the curb, shout'n, "You ain't got no money for me HO!?". Everybody get'n _Free Ones!_", Sto complains. "Or maybe you just a _has bin!_, DownLo mumbles -as he goes in search of the new money making model.
(Footnote: he's still looking! Last I heard he's suing his former customers for taking "free ones").
I was in London last week for the first time in several years and visited Berwick Street to browse through the racks of some of my old haunts. I was disappointed but hardly surprised to find few of them remaining. Looking at the pics they certainly now look as if they're from a bygone era.
dusty fingers for life!..........just not sure how anymore
being from Canada, I am happy I have had the pleasure of walking around Soho popping into a number of these stores. I would say BM-Soho is still going strong, and Nicky is a stalwart and knows why we keep going there. It's the social aspect more than the records. Blackmarket is the social HQ of the jungle scene (and other scenes) and you still don't get that community feel if you're shopping online(and probably never will?)...
And hey, if you buy a couple 12"s while you're in there chatting tunes and parties, then all the better.
part of an ongoing trend for the corporations to wipe out all competition. starting with the swallowing up of independents then moving onto the second tier of 'medium sized' businesses until there are only a handful of corps holding a monopoly.
the only way to fight the tide is to support the independents. STOP buying,(where possible), from the 'majors' and make informed choices, (Freedom of choice is almost the last bastion we have), about where we spend our, (decreasing), cash.
the internet is the place where independents have the best chance of survival for obvious reasons, (small overheads), and we have the power to build online networked communities to support whoever we choose. rather than spend our 'reddies' on what we are told to buy.
As we move into an age of 'Prosuming' it is very important that we support the small producer and ignore the exploiters who are only interested in robbing us.
Does anyone know were Trax record shop in Greek Street has moved to. Thanks jim
but isn't it just because CDs have been invented, and also now everyone can download stuff for free. which is good for 99% of music lovers really. sad for the shops, but i'm sure they'll be replaced by something people actually want, despite the general publics lack of good taste.
stunning photographs, and a really special project altogether . . .
to chris fizik.
it´s interessting you talk about the social aspects of the record store. not only shows the decline of the record shop culture the changes in the industry, it also holds relevance to people like us, finding pleasure in meeting people in a record store, chat about good and bad stuff and dig the stax of wax, connecting for new projects, etc. i don´t know where i should do that in the internet with comparable excitement... well well well
in fact: record sales are pretty stable, so it´s not about a decline of consumption. sellers are simply sparing the shoprent and sell the stuff online. the crapy social effects on us never count for the capitalist seller
it's not the record stores fault that rents get put up to stupid prices by greedy landlords until only the likes of starbucks & tesco can afford them!