London's Virgin Megastore Saved My Life

In the build up to Record Store Day on April 16, ST writers recall their favourite shops... Growing up in the shires in the early 80s was about as rock n' roll as Songs of Praise, then I was allowed to London and discovered the Virgin Megastore...
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Any tale of vinyl adoration requires perspective.

I grew up in Alton in Hampshire, as did Alison Goldfrapp (a few years behind me at Alton Convent junior school), which makes the place seem crazier/sexier than it was.

A newsagent on the hill was the town’s only record outlet: stockist of the hit parade and a Lynyrd Skynrd Freebird picture disc, which I purchased purely to deprive Hobson.

I’d fallen in love with music via my parents’ stereogram, a behemoth in Bakelite, and their entire collection of pop singles: Please Please Me, I Feel Fine and Les Bicyclettes de Belsize (Engelbert Humperdinck, since you’re wondering). While they watched Crossroads in the lounge, I sat on the carpet in the dining room playing those three seven-inches over and over again.

My own first two singles were Seasons in the Sun (1974) and Are Friends Electric? (1979), both bought by Mum since I was scared of people, and my first two albums were Greatest James Bond Themes and Rumours. Necessarily eclectic because that was all they had.

Then one day, when I was allowed out, I went to London.

Honestly, I was wary of entering a place called the Virgin Megastore because it felt like an admission of guilt. I’m so glad I got over that.

These days I too download – no cover art, no physical entity, no love – and I long for the days when the only option involved Engelbert.

Back in the very early 80s, when this tale is set, the Virgin Megastore went on forever. Rack upon rack of tightly packed records, as far as the eye could see.

Inside the door was a kind of foyer area, a warm-up for the main event, maybe two-dozen racks, parallel to one other, a minor display of military bravado. Wander past those, step up, and this platform of sounds went on forever. Nuremberg in pure vinyl.

It was mind-blowing, it was the city. I reckon my balls dropped right then.

I don’t remember where I started, that virgin visit – as far as I was aware, that wonderful hangar housed every recorded note since pre-history – or what I bought, but I do know it would have involved my first practice of that soon familiar fingertip-flick, through the tops of sleeves, head bowed, mind intent, lost in music.

Afterwards, trips to the capital became more regular.

Since I had no God – despite, or perhaps because of, the Alton Convent – I’d worship at the Megastore instead, in thrall to this cathedral of genie-bottled sounds. The covers, so much art, their contents all new, awaiting discovery. Imagine the delirious cacophony if all those songs were unleashed together!

I can still picture, with sunburst clarity, my celebratory purchase of Ultravox’s new Quartet album, one glorious summer’s day after I’d emerged unscathed from a physics A-level retake.

We came to dance.

Of course it could not last. CDs tainted the beauty beyond repair and one day they started selling mobile phones. The Megastore became Xavvi. Only yesterday I walked past the site, on a rare trip into Town, and the fucker had gone! Literally disappeared. As if benevolent aliens had taken pity on the former shrine, sucked it up into their spaceship and dumped it on the outskirts of Andromeda.

These days I too download – no cover art, no physical entity, no love – and I long for the days when the only option involved Engelbert.

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