Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Retail Therapy 3: Fopp Records, Glasgow and Edinburgh

The ‘OE’ has become almost a rite of passage for anyone growing up in New Zealand. I’m not sure if that is simply because of the sense of isolation we feel from the rest of the world, being an island nation “off the coast of Australia”, or whether it relates to some kind of lower curiosity threshold, but an “overseas experience” is often considered something akin to an auxiliary university degree. So we all leave, have a look at what the rest of the world has to offer, and some of us return.

Fopp, Cockburn Street, Edinburgh
Thanks to a couple of barely anticipated long-term relationships, my OE came quite a bit later than I’d originally intended, and I was in my late 20s by the time I arrived in the UK, specifically Glasgow, Scotland, alone and homeless, in early 1993. I quickly found a place to live in a loft floor “bedsit” right in the heart of party central, Sauchiehall Street, home to some of Glasgow’s best nightspots. That I ended up working nightshift at a large inner city hotel meant my body clock was tuned to stay up all night, quite the bonus come the weekend or those precious nights off. Apart from the love affair I developed with all things Celtic FC, it’s fair to say that music and nightlife soon dominated the very fabric of my being … hey, it was a hard life, but someone had to do it, and even today I still pay for those sins with periodic bouts of hard-out insomnia.

That lifestyle naturally led to me having plenty of daylight time to discover all of the “new” record stores at my disposal, whether that meant a brisk afternoon walk out west to the bohemian delights of Byres Road, or just a lazy stroll around some of the more centrally located shops. On more than a few occasions I found myself leaving Glasgow altogether – sleepless and wired – on a bus or train bound for Edinburgh, the monumentally gothic and unbelievably beautiful city about an hour to the east. I was the proverbial pig in hog heaven.
Fopp, Byres Road, Glasgow
And it happened that Edinburgh’s Old Town area was home to Fopp Records, in Cockburn Street, a short walk up from Waverley Station. This was a little bit before Fopp became a nationwide chain of more than one hundred outlets, and the sense back then was that Fopp had an MO unlike any other music shop I’d ever encountered … it not only sold music, it sold books, posters, all manner of pop culture paraphernalia, plus the odd Tee-shirt or three. I think I’m right in recalling that Fopp did this before any of the major chain stores really caught on, common practice though it is today.

Fopp (the name taken from an Ohio Players record?) started life in the early Eighties as a market stall located in the aforementioned Byres Road area of Glasgow. It grew and grew to the extent that it eventually had shops in London before the vast majority of stores were sold and rebranded, as is the cut-throat way of the retail chain.
I’m fairly certain that Fopp, Cockburn Street, was one of those casualties and the shop – as at 2013 – no longer exists. Edinburgh still has a Fopp in Rose Street, on the other side of the gardens that dominate the city’s main drag, plus outlets in Glasgow – indeed, there’s one in Byres Road. But the Cockburn Street shop was definitely the one to turn to back in the Nineties, a shop so worth visiting I’d often forego the option of a decent day’s sleep in order to sate my "need" to browse the bins. Racks and bins that frequently hid a long lost gem or that rare dance mix I'd only ever heard once before in a club. It was a treasure trove of retail love.
Its pricing also seemed much less complex by the way prices were rounded up or down – discs were £5 rather than £4.98, or £10 rather than £11.99 … psychologically it always seemed so much easier to part with cash when less numbers were involved (I have no idea whether this is an actual cunning plan within retail circles or merely an accident of chance when it comes to me).

And so this was about the time that my CD collection really started to expand. It coincided with the rise of indie music in my wider consciousness, and although dance music remained a big part of my life in terms of going out, indie and post-punk releases formed the core of my early CD collection at that point. So I’ll sign off with this clip from 1993, a noisy two minute trip of such pure velocity it puts me right back on the Glasgow Central to Edinburgh Waverley Express in an instant ... here's Elastica with 'Stutter', turn it up and breathe in the bitumen:


No comments:

Post a Comment