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Saturday morning, 1st April 1989. Thousands of children have just missed Sarah Greene and Five Star being sworn at on Going Live! because their Mum had been dragging the vacuum cleaner back and forth in front of the telly.

For the millions of other mothers who had just bore witness to Eliot Fletcher’s “fucking crap” outburst, the cat surely ended up covered in Shake’n’Vac. For the nine year old me (whose mum would never allow the television on of a morning) the seismic event never happened. Because, like every Saturday morning, I was in Church Street, browsing the racks of HMV.

Anyone with any kind of interest in anything will have heard about HMV’s high street troubles, entering administration in an attempt to keep themselves going. Any news reporter, business analyst, spokesperson anywhere will say it’s due to the ‘digital’ age and the rise of iTunes and Amazon – frankly they’re talking nonsense.

Online stores have been around for a long, long time now. High street stores have had plenty of time to adjust themselves to the changes – one thing they haven’t bothered to change is their pricing or how they approach their business/customer service model.

It’s no longer possible to charge £15 for a CD or £499 for a washing machine that retails elsewhere at £320. We’re smarter nowadays. And we don’t take unrealistic markups lying down.

For instance, on finding a product in the recent Comet fire sale. I spent more time searching on my phone for cheaper prices online as I wandered around a massive black and yellow warehouse with flashy lights, a few tills and the dusty, skeletal remains of a customer service assistant. I bought nothing.

Like other suffering high street stores – “His Master’s Voice” has never been ‘cheap’. But it did used to be essential.

The old Church Street store (now replaced by River IslandEDIT: Now were the Keys Court entrance burrows into Liverpool ONE) in the 1980’s was like some kind of all consuming, mystical music palace where you could buy a Thompson Twins 12” one minute then have a Burger King burger shoved in your gob the next. At least that is how I imagined it, when my eldest brother used to drag me around the aisles as a six year old looking for a Smiths album. But that’s when the addiction set in. And it stayed with me throughout my teenage years.

I bought my first vinyl compilation in HMV, with the aim of learning to DJ and mix records together until my ears fell off. I wasn’t the only one with this idea – hundreds of shaven headed lads in Lacoste tracksuits would queue up every weekend at the two battered Technics 1210’s that were placed at the side of the counter at the back of the store, listening intently with the one working headphone as their arms flailed everywhere trying to set the weight of the tone arm.

As I reached my early 20s I had money burning a hole in my pocket and club nights Bugged Out! and Cream to look forward to at the weekends. I was hooked on DJing and gripped firm in the warm, loving bosom of a vinyl obsession. Unless you’ve experienced it, few people understand what it is like to need a record before anyone else – having a white label before your friends was the real coup de grace.

All this just so you can go home, record a mix onto a C90 cassette and vainly attempt to impress people going to work on the bus as you deafen them with Force & Styles – Pretty Green Eyes (as later covered by Ultrabeat).

Having now amassed what must be a few thousand records (and angered my parents) over the years, a large proportion of those will have helped line HMV’s coffers. In the process, it probably cost me the price of a small car too.

Fast forward a few years, this past December: HMV in Liverpool ONE resembled a TV box set jumble sale, with the rows of music pushed aside and used as a confusing attempt at a queuing system. This made me feel a bit sad and reflect on the amount of time I had spent in the old store over the years, searching for that infamous Halo & Hipp-E record I knew they had hidden somewhere, if only my fingers were lucky enough to run across it as I flicked through hundreds of those precious sleeves.

In the words of the Bluetones, Vinyl is making a slight return, with sales up due to indie labels running small prints and remastered issues of classic albums. This is an area that HMV should be embracing, taking some advice from independent stores who have stood up to this kind of onslaught since time immemorial.

After all, His Master’s Voice wouldn’t be the company it is without that spinning black disc, with magic laced in its grooves. As someone on SevenStreets’ Facebook page wisely said – it’s a nice irony that Probe Records has outlived HMV.

Simply put, HMV’s current business model has failed. In the run up to Christmas they should have been piling it up and selling it cheap, not continue down the beaten path of attempting to fleece your loyal shopper into paying over the odds.

I know nothing about marketing or sales but how about giving something back instead of taking away. Like the odd in store appearance from a boy band for instance – offering a personal feeling to a fan that Amazon and iTunes are unable to offer. If Katie Price or Gok Wan can block off the street, imagine what Harry Direction and his band of chums turning up would do. Not only for their business but for the city centre economy as a whole. Make the shop an experience. Not just a place to have a go at Halo.

People are more keenly aware than ever of how to get something at the fraction of the cost, especially in these frugal times.

Large scale retailers need to adjust with the times. After all Phillip Schofield stuck his hand up a duck and ended up on morning television, Eliot Fletcher is probably lapping it up on a warm beach somewhere.

But does anyone know where Sarah Greene is these days?

  • http://twitter.com/KevThompson Kevin Thompson

    HMV was based in what is now Keys Court entrance, alongside TopShop (in the old Woolies). Anyone else remember Burger King upstairs in there? Always remember the sets of decks to the back of the shop with the vinyls.

  • Gareth

    Thanks Kevin. I made few mistakes with my historical accuracy! I hope you enjoyed the rest of the article!

  • Will Adams

    Well said. I’d forgotten all about the vinyl section at the back! The other problem is that HMV seem to have stopped taking risks with the music they stock – many a time I used to impulse-buy the obscure house and Detroit techno CDs I’d find at the Church Street store, but now it’s the same major label stuff I see in the L1 branch so my hand stays in my pocket. I’m sure they will continue to have a Liverpool presence, but they need to focus back on the music as well as the medium.