A new book traces the history of the UK’s record shops, including Peckham’s long-held place as London’s reggae hotspot.
Journalist and self-proclaimed ‘music obsessive’ Garth Cartwright started researching his book, Going for a Song: a Chronicle of the UK Record Shop, in 2009.
He said: “When the financial crash saw big high street music retailers go bust, it seemed like the end of the record shop era. The book is a story of how music got sold and how certain key shops came to define music throughout the 20th Century.
“And now, with the vinyl revival, new record shops are opening in places like Peckham, which has long been a centre for reggae records from the Caribbean that you can’t get anywhere else.”
The UK’s oldest known record shop still trading is Spillers in Cardiff, founded in 1894.
Mr Cartwright has not been able to find a definitive ‘first’ record shop in Southwark, but has collected record sleeves from as early as the 1920s from resident record traders.
Throughout the early 1900s, he explained, many records were sold in shops retailing other goods, like bicycle shops or electrical stores, and in the gramophone sections of department stores, like Rye Lane’s Jones and Higgins.
The inter-war period was a boom time for 78-inch vinyl as the more socially-liberal Jazz Age went into full swing.
In Southwark, the famous A1 Records on Walworth Road, opened in the 1920s and continued trading until the mid-1990s. A1 was a lamp shop with the record bar tucked out back – older Southwark residents still recall how A1 had a record stall at East Street Market every Saturday.
By the 70s and 80s, Peckham’s independent, small record shops set up by the black community had become hugely influential on the reggae scene.
Mr Cartwright said: “John Peel would catch the train from Victoria to Peckham every week to buy records to play on his Radio 1 show. This demonstrates just how influential a small, independent record shop could be when it was run by people who knew what they were doing.”
“In the 60s and 70s, before music TV, places like Reeds and In Tone, were the places for like-minded people to go, where bands were made and friendships were formed.
“New releases from Jamaica would land at Heathrow on Friday ready to be sold on Saturday morning – a tradition still kept alive by Rat Records in Camberwell who continue to put out their new tunes on Saturdays. The DJ would play the new records and people would stick their hands up and shout with joy if they wanted to buy it.”
One of the most successful shops to come from Peckam was Dub Vendor, set up by duo John MacGillivray and Chris Lane in 1980.
Mr Cartwright said: “Chris Lane, who is still based in Southwark in Bermondsey, told me how their Peckham shop moved to Ladbroke Grove after being broken into and having all its equipment stolen.
“Dub Vendor went on to be the world’s foremost reggae shop and their in-house label Fashion Records launched many careers, including Smiley Culture who had hits with ‘Cockney Translation’ and ‘Police Officer’”.
He continued: “The record shop chains like Our Price and Virgin put a lot of local high street record shops out of business.
“Then download culture came and killed off those chains and many other longstanding independent record shops.
“Now there is a renaissance of record shops with young people going out and buying vinyl again.
“Camberwell’s Rat Records has a queue half way round the street every Saturday and in Peckham we have places like Rye Wax, Lorenzo’s Record Shack and Maestro to name a few.
“Lorenzo’s has fantastic stock with jazz, funk, reggae, African, soundtracks and while Rye Wax is selling great dance, soul and electronica.
“In the book I look at how places like Rough Trade became so influential, how Brixton helped pioneer ska and reggae in the 1960s and the invention of dubstep in a Croydon record shop at the turn of the 21st century.
“What I didn’t know when I started writing it, was that the story of the UK’s, and Southwark’s record stores, would have a happy ending.”
Going For A Song: A Chronicle of the UK Record Shop is published by Flood Gallery Press on March 22.