Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Customers of Note

My little record shop was tucked away in a small town on the east coast of England, a place not known for being a celebrity hangout, so, in the course of my 14 years of loyal service, man and boy, I was singularly untroubled by a-listers browsing my wares while being hotly pursued by the paparazzi, had no incognito visits from megastars discreetly purchasing the latest Michael Bolton LP and gave refuge to no teen heart-throbs evading the affections of their over-zealous fans. In fact, off the top of my head, I can recall just three names of note who graced my modest establishment as customers, or potential customers, in all those years.

There was Twink, a man who happens to be a connecting link to many of my musical interests, who turned up one day in the early 1990s, with the initial aim of flogging me some stock from his own record label, but stopped back intermittently over the next couple of years as both supplier and customer. I'm sure I bored him to death with my fanboy questions about Tomorrow, Steve Peregrin Took and Syd Barrett, but he cheerfully indulged my enthusiasms, before gradually turning the subject back to pushing his latest Pinkwind or Hawkfairies release.

Then there was the day I looked across the shop to see a vaguely familiar face, looking down, browsing through the CD racks. It was one of those faces you somehow recognise, but was wildly out of context in the surroundings of my shop. Luckily the owner of the face made a purchase and paid by cheque, enabling me to confirm the identity of my unlikely customer. It was Walthamstow based psych-rocker and one time Countdown contestant, Nick Saloman, a.k.a. The Bevis Frond. Before I could strike up a conversation he was gone and so I don't know what brought him to my neck of the woods in general, or my shop in particular. He did, however, make an album with Twink back in 1990, so one assumes they were chums. Who knows, perhaps he checked out my gaff on Twink's recommendation?

In the mid-1980s, it seemed that every gig I went to in London was also attended by Andy Kershaw, he was everywhere. By the mid-1990s my omnipresent shadow at London shows had become Stewart Lee, whose musical tastes at the time clearly overlapped my own, judging by the sheer number of times I spotted him in audiences all over the city. In 1995 (or possibly '96) Lee and comedy partner Richard Herring brought their 'Fist of Fun' tour to a hall in my little town. It was an optimistic booking for a venue best known for its family variety shows, tribute acts and the occasional Irish country singer. On the afternoon of the show, Stewart Lee walked into my shop. 'Aha. Do you know....', I blurted out without thinking, ''ve been at practically every gig I've been to in London recently...' I'm not sure what the exact legal status of stalking was in the mid-1990s, but Lee would've been quite justified in expressing concern at my over-excited opening gambit. To his credit, however, he flicked through my stock for a few minutes, as we chatted about bands we'd seen and would like to see. Eventually he turned to me and, gesturing at my racks of LPs and CDs, said 'You've got some good stuff here', which was nice of him to say, but he didn't actually buy anything! The Fist of Fun show that evening was very funny indeed, but, as I feared, appallingly attended, perhaps 50 of us in a seated venue with a 900 capacity.

All that was in another lifetime and although I haven't crossed paths with Twink or Nick Saloman in the years since, I have continued to admire the work of Stewart Lee and a couple of evenings ago I caught a date on his latest stand-up tour, 'Much a-Stew About Nothing'. Unlike his previous live shows, which usually have a linking theme throughout, by necessity, 'Much a- Stew About Nothing' consists of four unrelated individual sections. The necessity arising when, soon after the BBC dropped his TV show 'Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle' after two series, the programme won a BAFTA, causing a swift (and, I would imagine, somewhat embarrassed) re-think. Two further series were belatedly commissioned by the Beeb and Lee has used this tour to knock the material, destined for Series 3, into shape, refining a rotating selection of half-hour set pieces over the past four months. On Saturday evening he was thought provoking and hilarious. Really hilarious. I'd love to elaborate, but you'll be able to see for yourself when the new series of 'Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle' airs in the Spring.


Anonymous said...

Twink! In your shop! Personally, I think that is WELL worth writing home about. I definitely wouldn't have recognised the Bevis Frond fellow but I did own one of his many albums once - played a few times and given to charity. Is there something wrong with me? As for Mr. Lee, that's great. I do think he should have bought something, though. Glad you had a swell time at his show - wish I could catch him myself but I'll wait for the telly.

Having spent much of my life as a customer in record shops, you'd think I would have seen loads of musos but I don't recall that many, to be honest. Down here, it's so common to see people like Euros Childs or Gruff Rhys (who nearly ran me down on his mountain bike once) that it's a bit 'Who cares?'. My mate Paul did once see Arlo Guthrie flicking through the racks in Spillers and then we both noticed him having a Japanese meal in a restaurant later the same day. We did stare a bit through the window like Dickensian urchins but what made it worse for poor old Arlo was that both of us were stood right be front of him at his gig. He's never been back to Cardiff. Now, I expect that IS stalking!

The Swede said...

Musos I've seen in other record shops? I might just have enough to wring another post out of that one day - thanks for the suggestion SB. Personally, I'd be honoured to be run over by Gruff (or Euros come to that). We are untroubled by celebrity out here, with the singular exception of Bernard Hill (a.k.a. Yosser Hughes) who lives locally and is periodically seen around town.
Great Arlo story by the way!

C said...

Great post...and what can you say to people you recognise without seeming too stalkery or sycophantic? - it's quite hard. Funnily enough I share Twink and Nick Saloman with you, both times at Record Fairs rather than record shops - we bought some tapes off Nick, our first intro to obscure 60s psych, so have much to thank him for! Didn't speak to Twink though, he was too busy hawking!!
We have Bill Wyman, Jack Bruce, Mick Abrahams and Steve Harley in this neck of the woods...but I don't think they shop in Help The Aged as much as I do ;-)

Old Pa's Corner said...

Enjoyed that TS.....what was the small town?
Never heard Mr Lee but that clip was spot on and I must look out for his show

Anonymous said...

If we are allowed to stretch things to OTHER types of shops, I can also add Nicky Wire in Focus DIY (buying plants), Mark Stewart in Boots and Joe Calzaghe in Asda. OK, I know Joe isn't a musician but I'm getting desperate now!

C said...

Love the thought of Nicky Wire in Focus DIY, SB! I can offer Nick Cave and Jaz Coleman in the Notting Hill Record & Tape Exchange (but not at the same time)...

The Swede said...

C & SB. These are brilliant. The streets are clearly awash with celebs doing their shopping - you just have to know where to look!

Old Pa. Stewart Lee is highly recommended, he has a fair few stand-up DVD's available and a couple of full shows are up on YouTube.
I believe you might be in occasional contact with Mr Bear. I sent him a couple of not-for-publication scans of my shop recently, which I'm happy for him to pass on if he still has them.

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