Shakin’ Stevens: then and now, British Ideas Corporation, 2014

Shakin’ Stevens: then and now, British Ideas Corporation, 2014


In his first ever column, Shaky charts a lifelong fascination with the vinyl format and urges us to save our historic record stores

[So as you may have read from other posts, I had a grand plan to get a magazine off the ground, British Ideas Corporation, aimed at the over-40s, which was packed with cool British culture. Shakin’ Stevens massively slots into the ‘cool’ zone and I wanted him to be a columnist. He was up for it and wrote this for a test mini-mag that we gave to the revellers at Festival No.6 in Portmeirion. I thought Shaky alone would have been enough to attract a long line of investors. Not a dicky bird.]

British Ideas Corporation test issue, 2014

It took me nearly two decades to succeed in the music business, driven by an overriding passion for music: I can’t imagine a world without it. In my early days, the industry was a far simpler place. Now, the way that we buy and listen to our collections is constantly changing; although there are benefits, I wonder if the changes are entirely the better.

I grew up in Ely, Cardiff, the youngest of 13 children. In the Fifties, I was too young to be allowed to use eldest brother Jackie’s wind-up gramophone (which my brother Leslie subsequently sawed in half, in an effort to “modernise” it). Understandably, when a few years later another brother, Roy, became the proud owner of a Dansette record player, Leslie and I weren’t trusted to use it and had to wait until the Sixties, when a three-speed, auto-change record player was introduced to our home. With a speaker in the lid and another in the front, our “stereo” player was purchased by our mum on the never-never. It opened a new world for me.

Victor Freed’s in Wilson Road, Ely, was our local record store, near Harry Jennings, the barber, where we were sent for our short back and sides. (Leslie still believes that Harry Jennings was the most dreaded man with a pair of scissors; especially if he brought the basin out and put it on his head.)

While at school, I was lucky enough to be able to pick and choose from the singles and albums belonging to my brothers and sisters, until, one by one, they started to leave home. By the mid-Sixties, I was already gigging, and earning a few extra pounds to supplement my weekly wage – and I’d buy more music. About this time, I started using Spillers, the record store in Cardiff.

The brittle 78rpm records had a sound of their own, with all their hiss and crackle, totally different to the sound of the singles on 45rpm. But the best for me were the LPs on 33⅓rpm. When you bought a new album, it was a real occasion. Taking the LP out of the bag, looking at the cover artwork, taking the record out of the sleeve and holding it in your hands, putting it on the turntable, reading the sleeve notes on the packaging while listening to the tracks on the album – it was all part of the enjoyment. I was on cloud nine.

Music cassettes were the next format to be introduced, when CDs and downloads, and most recently music-streaming services such as Spotify, meaning that we no longer even need to download (and own) a personal copy.

Although I don’t get enough opportunities, I still get a great deal of pleasure checking out specialist record stores. I never rush. I take my time to discover music.

One area I used to visit was the basement of HMV in Oxford Street, where they stocked the more obscure material. So when, in early 2013, I entered to find that all the specialist shelves, including the gospel and blues sections, were empty, I was totally shocked! HMV’s temporary downfall was due to online competition, download sales, bootleggers and non-music retailers (who probably don’t care about music). Perhaps like the record companies, they lacked foresight. Although HMV has resurfaced, the outcome is that the specialist area has been heavily cut.

If you know where to look and what you want, then online can work. Not havint to purchase an album that is mainly “fillers” – that works for me! If I can buy a track that the record companies would not have released, as nobody had the savvy to recognise the potential demand for it, then, once again, I applaud it.

But I can’t wander around a virtual store and browse – not in the true sense of the word. It doesn’t enthuse me, and I don’t get the same vibe from a digital presentation of an album cover. In a virtual world, I will be told what a computer recommends, but not my peers or necessarily the people who buy the music – who really matter.

Digital is a great innovation, we can’t do without it, but let’s retain some of the magic that got most of us collecting music in the first place. There is room for the virtual and the physical: one doesn’t need to eclipse the other.

Remember the passion, respect and obsession of collecting music. While you’re at it, join in and celebrate Record Store Day ( and support the heroes who run the stores.