A PILGRIMAGE TO BERWICK STREET, SOHO

When I were a lad, I was a bit of a fan of popular music. Of course I still am. The cheesier the better – i’m no music snob. I had a particular affinity with HI-NRG dance music, and in particular with anything released on Record Shack records, which was located at number 12 Berwick Street, London.  Pride of place in my vinyl collection was the double album ‘Record Shack Presents volume 1’, which contains classic tunes from the likes of Miquel Brown, Evelyn Thomas, Eartha Kitt and Break Machine (I really couldn’t break-dance though). Each side was sequed by Ian Levine, who produced the majority of the label’s releases. Imagine my delight when I discovered volume 2 and then volume 3..sheer bliss. I also owned a growing collection of 12″ singles from the label, many of which featured on those compilation albums.

xxxxx2 xxxxx3 xxxxx

In the mid 1980s I wanted to visit the Record Shack store. I wanted to meet the owners, I wanted to meet Ian Levine, and I wanted to meet all the artists that they recorded. I just wanted to stand in there and browse the racks to see, in the flesh, many of those releases I  could only read about in the pages of Record Mirror magazine, and see going up and down the magazine’s HI-NRG chart. Bradford and Leeds had their fair share of record stores but they didn’t sell the more obscure releases – Record Shack sold every single HI-NRG record that was ever released (or so I imagined) so I had to go.

My girlfriends never really understood why I bought records such as ‘So Many Men, So Little Time’, and ‘I Love Men’. Nobody would give a damn on Berwick Street.

Alas, by the time I’d graduated to University in the midlands, and at last got the chance to visit the big smoke, the store was gone. Record Shack was gone. I was a year too late in 1988. I knew the label had gone bust, and that the store had been leased to Bluebird records (another record store at least) but I charged down Berwick Street stridently, ignoring the masses, the market sellers, and the friends I’d gone to visit the capital with. I had to see 12 Berwick Street for myself.

I didn’t buy anything that day. But I did go inside. It wasn’t Record Shack, but it had been. I didn’t tell anyone why I had gone there, because they would never have understood, or cared. It remains one of my few regrets in life that I never got there when I wanted to, but to a Yorkshire lad with no money a visit to London was a rare experience.

It’s far easier these days. I try not to go, as I find the place so unfriendly, but I was there last weekend to see Bradford City annihilate Chelsea. When I am there, in and around Oxford Street, I always make that short detour down Berwick Street to remember those early days when I discovered music and formed my own tastes. It’s not even a record store any more. Most of the record stores that lined that street are also gone, as have times changed (Sister Ray survives, I always like to nip in there). But I was there again. Nobody knew (or cared) what my motives were. I took a photo or two, turned round, and headed back for ther tube. I didn’t want to miss kick off…

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