Saturday, October 5, 2013

Retail Therapy 5: Colin Morris Records, Wellington

If the Soul Mine was my record digging poison of choice when I lived in Wellington’s Eastern suburbs in the late Eighties, then later moves to more central locations like Aro Street, Majoribanks Street, and Dixon Street, meant I also found myself frequenting inner city record shops more than ever before. One of Wellington’s most iconic and best loved shops of that era was Colin Morris Records in the heart of downtown Willis Street, a staple of the Wellington record-digging scene for the best part of two decades either side of my ‘OE’.

I don’t really know Colin Morris, but I know enough about him to say he’s an expert in the art of music retailing. And he was always a mine of relevant information on those occasions I dared to engage him long enough in chat. For whatever reason, I always felt a little wary of Morris. I was perhaps a bit in awe back then, probably because he was that bit older, but also for the fact that he was prolific in music critiquing circles, and a regular contributor to The Dominion’s music pages – something that continues to this day. I guess it was because he was an authority in a field I was passionate about.

By the time Colin Morris Records became the most convenient central option for me, there was a mainstream shift away from vinyl and tapes, and CD’s had taken hold as the music consumer’s vehicle of choice. Me? … I had been buying vast quantities of music on cassette, mainly for the portability it offered … but the Compact Disc definitely appealed. I had a few, and I just needed to invest in some decent hardware before I could delve too heavily into that format. Curiously enough, it was my obsession with buying product that kept me too poor to do just that.

The thing about Colin Morris Records was not only its central location, but the sheer variety the shop offered. Morris is obviously a serious jazz fan, and as I recall it, his shop also stocked a wide range of classical material. I was not particularly interested in either genre, but it’s fair to say it was one of the most well rounded “small” record shops I’ve ever visited. I’m not even sure it was all that small, it certainly felt like it expanded in floor space sometime between the mid Eighties and mid Nineties, and I spent many a Friday night or midweek lunch break diligently digging through the seemingly endless rows of product on display.

My recall of the shop’s demise is hazy – it was at least a decade or so ago now, or maybe even longer if my suspicion that the shop as an ongoing music outlet was swallowed up by one of the chain brands is correct. Morris himself has continued a career in retail, and for a while ran a music mail order business called Slipped Disc. He’s clearly a passionate music man, and his thoughts on the subject can be found just about everywhere you care to look. He currently has shows on both National and Concert radio.

I’d loved to have sourced a decent photo of the shop in its prime, but sadly there don’t appear to be any online.

Such was its wide range of stock genre-wise, and its overall longevity, it would be impossible to sign off with a single clip truly representative of the shop, so here’s something local, something very Wellington, and something from an era I associate strongly with Colin Morris Records …


  1. Ahhh yes Mike, Colin Morris's Willis Street store was another staple for my music addiction, they always had a great selection of tapes, CD's and records etc of all genres.

    I used to love going there when all of the imports arrived and Stevie Hill would be flat out pricing them all in the back and discussing them with his regulars, some of those days were just madness as records would fly off the shelf as soon as they arrived, Clinton Smiley was always in there haha

    I vividly recall Colin being rather miffed at a customer that bought Snoop's Doggy Style CD and Colin said not even a thank you as the guy just grabbed his CD and change and left the store.

    I always wanted to work at Colin Morris but they never had any openings no matter how many times I asked the end I ended up working a few shops down from the old Colin Morris store in Flipside when we moved to Willis Street.

    Thanks for the memories again Mike :)

    It might be an idea to hit up Steve Hill, he might have some pics.

  2. cheers Jaz, I recall Flipside too, another lost record shop.

  3. Colin Morris was my musical mentor. I would go in and ask what was new. He knew me well enough to know what I'd like and he was always spot on. I had a sizeable LP collection, wish now I'd kept some of them.
    I worked up the road at Camera House for a year or two before it shut (the old Majestic Theatre building). I was moved to Camera House in Manners Mall and worked alongside another employee, Dave Gemmell, who ended up leaving and going to work for Colin Morris, must have been '87.
    I have three of Colin's 'Christmas' cards - 8"x10" colour photos that were staged and shot in a studio. They're brilliant.
    Thanks for the memory jog.

    1. Thanks Linda, these days (unless something has changed recently) Colin Morris can be found across the road in Willis St at Unity Books, I think on a part-time basis. Lovely man.

  4. Just found this post, Colin Morris was the best. Before I knew about Real Groovy this was the go to place for people who didn't necessarily want the top 40 stuff. For a young guy(under 18) I was a fairly regular customer. Before the internet if you actually wanted to find new music you had to go to a music store. I don't miss the inconvenience but I do miss the thrill.
    There was a guy who also worked with Colin back in 80s who looked like a guy from one of the many hair metal bands I was consistently buying. Don't know his name but thought he looked cool.