After my first year at university, I worked in an independent record shop called The Woods for the summer holiday. It was small, industrious, staffed by geeks and maniacs and a haven for select odd-bods in the Bognor Regis area. While it certainly had its share of High Fidelity-style top-five-of-everything discussions, it also had quirks to spare, from its boss to its labyrinthine filing systems and, most gloriously, to its clientele. Sadly, the shop is no longer gracing the parade down to the seaside, but the mail order portion of the business continues to thrive in classical and jazz fields. For me, though, it was all about the shop in that one summer holiday. The racks upon racks of alternative records expertly picked by the staff, the boxes of sale CDs that ran the length of the shop floor, the DVDs on carp fishing and locomotives…
It’s probably best to start at the top, with the boss himself. A tee-total born-again Christian, he had no qualms about flinging CD cases about the stock room if you’d put something in the wrong place. Equally, he was quite happy shouting “you fucking DICK” from the back of the shop if a flingable case wasn’t to hand. It’s for the better of my own health that this was so often the case. He was, however, brilliantly knowledgeable about exactly why Anthony Pay’s recording of the Weber clarinet concerto was superior to anything by Emma Johnson, and always ready to point out articles on Paul Siebel in that month’s Mojo magazine for me to devour.
The remainder of the staff were genuinely lovely and genuine enthusiasts, but prone to the occasional lapse in professionalism. Before I joined the team for my stint, one worker literally had to make excuses and hide in the back room for several minutes, such was the crippling, fist-gnawing embarrassment he felt after one ill-judged remark to a customer. A local band had recently made good, released a record and even appeared on Top Of The Pops when their guitarist decided to commit suicide. Two customers came into the shop very shortly after this (crucially, before the employee in question knew it had happened), one a local DJ and friend of the band, the other the guitarist’s girlfriend. Being a local record shop to the band, it stocked several copies of a limited edition version of an early single, and the DJ wanted to completely clean us out of them. My colleague instinctively asked, “what, has one of them died or something?” and had to cower in the back room for several minutes afterwards.
Most of the customers were far less challenging than that, however, and provided as many laughs and cries of terror as the staff. The man who used to come in, under supervision from various council-employed folk, and simply bellow “STRANGLERS” at me before I showed him the same live album each week was a personal favourite, as well as delightful old Mr. Runneccles, a mail order customer whose phone calls would invariably begin, “Hello… (near-interminable pause)… Runneccles here…” I have fond memories of various tweens approaching the counter with BBFC-certificated DMX albums and calling me a stupid cunt for not believing that they were old enough to buy them. Similarly, when one young man skipped the queue and asked a colleague “Where’s your garage?” I was delighted to hear him reply “On the side of my house. Get to the back of the queue.” Another mail order customer went by the improbable name of Mr. Wildblood. Another still would only ever adorn their postal envelopes with stickers of Dame Tanni Grey Thompson in a medal-winning pose with no explanation.
Of course, now that the shop is closed everything I remember about it is slightly rose-tinted, but even before I worked there I knew it was a special record shop. Another retail unit a minute’s walk from The Woods was variously occupied by Our Price, HMV, Zavvi and Virgin record shops, all of them effectively beaten off by the range and cosiness of their local rival. The shop’s stereo would variously pump out an alternating mix of old and current releases, the vinyl racks would bulge with dust-covered obscurities and they stocked more videos than DVDs. Basically, short of a leather sofa and Black Sheep on tap, you couldn’t have made The Woods any better, or more homely to me, than it was.
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