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…

6 comments

  1. Wow, I stumbled on your blog and it brought back so many great memories, and I thought I was the only northern straight fella into this music! The amount of stick I got from girlfriends…although I’ll be honest, I did have all the man2man remixes with those dodgy picture sleeves.
    And I actually visited Record Shack in about 85, on a trip from the north east. Think I may have bought a Bobby O record.
    I used to frequent Rockshots in Newcastle, bringing my girlfriend along too, what was I thinking. We saw Divine live there one night around 85, my girlfriend fainted due to the ‘fog’ of heavy poppers.
    I finally got rid of my collection a few years ago, they’d been collecting dust in the garage and I was paranoid my teenage son would find them.
    My favourite from those days – probably Catch me by Marsha Raven, or maybe Take a chance on me by waterfront home.
    Great days!

    1. Wow, I’m jealous. I never got to see the Record Shack shop – or Divine ! I also loved Catch Me by Marsha Raven. Did you know that it was actually Norma Lewis who sang on that track, but as she got a job with Shakatak just after recording it, the record label decided to put it out as ‘Marsha Raven’ instead.

      1. Ah I never knew that, makes sense I suppose. It seems like they churned out records and the artist name was almost an after thought. There’s a few Bobby O tracks which have different artist names but clearly are the same singer. He was a bit of a svengali though.
        I sometimes hear that hinrg influence in current music, I remember first hearing Get Lucky on holiday, I was sure it was an old eurobeat song.
        There was a great record shop in Newcastle at the time, Hitsville USA, they had promo copies, early pressings, the lot. But the staff were really intimidating, they were okay with me, probably cos I spent all my money there, but sometimes they’d chase punters out of the shop if they got too pushy demanding refunds for bad pressings.
        Happy days!

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