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.

Harold Moores interior
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.

Harold Moores interior
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’.”

Sister Ray interior
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.”

Nicky Blackmarket portrait
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.”

seven inch folded poster pack
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.

independent flyers
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.”

One of If Music's listening posts
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 Deal Real shop front
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

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