HMV opens on Oxford Street, 1921

HMV opens on Oxford Street, 1921

I imagine a number of people would be mystified as to why I would care about HMV going into administration. They would assume that my tastes in music would lead me to alternative and independent record shops. Sure, put me in Shrewsbury 20-odd years ago and I wouldn’t immediately seek out HMV, it would be Rainbow Records, Durrants and Cobweb – even Virgin before HMV. Chester, would see me head straight to Penny Lane. Bristol? Replay and Revolver and London seemed limitless for other options. In fact, it is even quite hard for me to recall the great albums or singles that I may have purchased from HMV and I do have clear memories of some classic purchases – Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ on vinyl from Our Price in Shrewsbury, Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ remastered on vinyl and on sale in Penny Lane, Chester and many, many more. HMV played a different role in my life and it would be far more important now if I still lived in the UK. Though I can’t remember my first HMV purchase for the life of me, I did get Frank Ocean’s album in the Birmingham New Street branch last summer along with a few other things that must now be the last things I will buy there.

HMV was there! Last summer, in central Birmingham, I found very few shops that I personally would want to head for. I did my research in advance and found that HMV was the ONLY place to buy music in central Birmingham. There were a couple of places in the suburbs and I did find another place that seemed to claim the Swordfish name, but it was nothing like that wonderful shop used to be back in the early 90s (Primal Scream’s ‘Come Together’ 12″). Oxford Street was always a nightmare for crowds but a shop like HMV would be one of my oases of calm along with Virgin if I had time to kill. Obviously, I’d rather head down to Soho for Selectadisc, Sister Ray, Mr. Bongo or Mr. CD and Rough Trade in Covent Garden was not too far away and not to be confused with rough trade in soho which meant something else entirely.

HMV had big sales. Really big! Bargains were there to be had, or possibly not as that may explain why I can’t remember what I bought in there on so many occasions. Cheap DVDs could be found, music books at reduced prices and even a Hong Kong Phooey t-shirt (Chester). I could kill time happily by deciding I would get 5 CDs for £20 and then spend an hour compiling a long list before selecting about 8 or 9 and then trying to use logic to whittle them down to 5 and then usually discovering another ‘must have’ (translation: ‘rarely listen to beyond that week’) at the last minute and either starting again or walking out with 10 CDs for £40 and realising that I’d spent money originally intended for clothes or even groceries.

"You won't be carrying any of that awful 'jazz' that's ruining me, will you?" - Elgar on the far left at the HMV opening luncheon.

“You won’t be carrying any of that awful ‘jazz’ that’s ruining me, will you?” – Elgar on the far left at the HMV opening luncheon.

HMV has history. The first branch was opened in 1921 by Elgar! Elgar, for chrissakes! I must admit I only discovered that today and it kind of blows my mind. Incidentally, don’t think of pomp and graduation themes, instead listen to his first symphony (this is a rare example of my classical music knowledge so I have to use it while I can). It grew out of EMI, it took over Waterstones and merged it with Dillons, Fopp and the dreadful Zavvi shops too. It may have been rather an arrogant shark if the truth be told and the mergers have certainly help to homogenise British high street shopping but nevertheless, if it’s gone then so have all the previously mentioned brands. This is clearly where they went wrong. HMV attempted to take over the high street book, CD and DVD market just as Amazon and iTunes had managed to take people off the high street. HMV bought something that would have made them billions in the 80s or 90s but would only produce diminishing returns in this decade. Surprisingly, record sales are back on the rise but nowhere near the amount required for an organisation like HMV which explains why certain well-run independent record shops seem to be thriving even if more provincial ones are closing down than ever. HMV failed to move with the times and, when they opened, Elgar was going out of fashion too.

Nipper!

Nipper!

HMV had Nipper, the little Jack Russell that peered into the gramophone horn with curiosity as if to say “This Armstrong cat sure can swing it, now pass me some legal cocaine so I can like listen really carefully.” Apparently, Nipper wasn’t a pure bred Jack Russell but that didn’t concern me as the attraction was that he looked like my dog, Tuppence. Maybe this was the first thing to pull me into my obsession with music? From looking at the cute little dog to seemingly infinite Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy albums in just a few decades. Thus a name for a blog involving my two dogs was born. So that’s just nostalgia then.

So, it looks like HMV will disappear and it will be even harder to get me into a high street for very long. If Waterstones closes then there will be nothing to keep me out of the pub – a function society might regret on a national scale….obviously, I include other people in that statement and not just me on a national high street crawl. HMV was by no means the greatest shop in the world but I will miss it and wonder what on earth these groaning gaps in high streets will be filled with, or will they be abandoned like so many derelict city centres in the USA. Maybe we need to look to attempts at regenerating the likes of Detroit or Baltimore for answers and try not to dwell too much on what we assume from The Wire – no longer available as a box set from a high street near you.

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