The news a couple of weeks ago that Sister Ray had gone in to administration tweaked my coincidence. I spent quite a proportion of my teenage years browsing in record stores and by the time I started work was probably a major contributor to the annual cash flow of a number of stores. I generally resisted the lure of the big chain stores (except on Sale days when I felt it was justified) but as the Internet came to the fore and cheap CDs became more easily obtainable I found myself in a proper record shop less often. Family responsibilities take their place and value for money becomes more important. Amazon, CD-Wow and more recently HMV all offer albums at fantastic value if you keep an eye on fluctuations in price. However I do miss the excitement of finding an album you never knew existed or just flicking through the racks and taking a chance on a record with an interesting cover.
1. The Record Shop (Kingston) - I bought my very first records from W.H.Smiths and Woolworth's but when I started college I discovered the best record store in Kingston and my all time favourite. I spent a lot of my teenage years in here and became good friends with a lot of the staff. I'd moved away by the time they were forced to close down, suffering from the rise of the chain stores and the Internet. It was a sad day. The other record shop in Kingston was Beggar's Banquet. Beggar's was aimed at the Indie fan whilst The Record Shop was for the Rock and Metal fan so there was always a friendly rivalry between them. As my tastes changed I did occasionally sneak into Beggar's for a guilty browse through the latest Indie. The nineties saw the rise of Madchester and baggy and I was starting to expand my horizons. I still kept the faith with The Record Shop boys though. Beggar's is still operational now trading as Banquet Records and seemingly quite active in the local live gig scene.
2. Shades (London, Soho) - THE shop for Metal Heads during the 80's I'd often make the pilgrimage up to town to have a browse through the racks. The journey up to town to find a basement tucked away between the strip clubs and clip joints just to buy a couple of (probably fairly dire) thrash metal LPs or some new woven patches for my denim jacket probably seems a bit ludicrous now but it really was the only way to get hold of some of that music at the time. Shades was also famed for in-store appearances by most of the leading lights of the scene at the time. A nice article here at Thrash Hits.com. It's a cool name too.
3. The Rock Box (Camberley) - The first (and possibly only) of my Top 5 that's still alive and kicking. It's a bit of a trek but worth the effort. Specialising in Rock and Metal they cover a decent spectrum of genres. It's a good size for browsing and has a wide range of CDs and vinyl. Sold a couple of boxes of Vinyl to them the other week and got a reasonable price as well. If you live in the area you need to make a visit. http://www.rockbox.co.uk/
4. Select-a-disc (London, Berwick Street) - Select-a-disc was probably my favourite London based record emporium. Nice and roomy and with a broad selection of styles it was a shock to hear they had been taken over by Sister Ray (prior to their fall into administration). Sister Ray's original shop had never been up to much, too small and lacking an environment where you felt comfortable just having a browse. They did pioneer the mail order service though, thereby contributing to their own down fall to some extent. There's a Select-a-disc in Nottingham which I've not managed to visit yet. I believe it's still open so I will make the effort if I'm ever in the area again, before it's too late. http://www.selectadisc.co.uk/ and http://www.sisterray.co.uk/
5. Fopp (Glasgow, Byres Road) - This shop was a bit of an eye opener when I first encountered it. It seemed to be a bit of a chain store (similar to the briefly successful MVC) but had a good catalogue at reasonable prices. I'm happy to pay a little bit extra to buy music from a proper shop and Fopp's policy to offer classic albums at a fiver suited me down to the ground. Shortly after I first discovered them they made an attempt to expand that I think went badly wrong. They went into administration and were (if my memory is correct) bought out by HMV. Haven't been back to Glasgow since (nor to any other Fopp branch) so I don't know how this has affected their stock but I doubt it's a good thing. http://www.fopp.com/stores/
A special mention for Langley Records in Molesey. A bizarrely large record shop for a fairly small catchment area. This was a spot I spent a bit of time in when I should have been studying for my A-Levels at Esher College. The details of my truancy are for another forum but a long walk to Molesey and a couple of hours browsing round the Langely racks were a favoured way to spend my time for a few months. I'm not sure I ever actually bought a great deal but I do know I picked up a rare Andy Bown album there (ex-member of The Herd and keyboard & harmonica player with Status Quo since the late seventies for the non-Quo fans amongst you). It wasn't very good. They were also located opposite a public toilet that had a certain reputation which may have been the site for the fall from grace of a certain member of eighties pop heroes Five Star. Langley Records aren't online (which is another good indication that they're a shop worth frequenting) so if you fancy a trip you can find them at 466 Walton Road, West Molesey, Surrey KT8 2JG (Tel: 020-8979-3648).