The relentless pursuit of desirable vinyl takes avid collector Mark Elliott on another excursion to London…

Camden Market

Planning a trip to London for a day’s record shopping is tricky. Distances between the clusters of shops can be significant, and then there is always that gem tucked out on a limb, just calling out for your attention. I’ve reported that Soho’s crown as the cratedigging centre of our capital is somewhat tarnished; I’ve covered the trendy eastern side of the city and taken a turn round the north and north-east. So, if in doubt, it’s usually best to consider what one of your icons might do. Who better, then, for inspiration than Pet Shop Boys Neil and Chris who told us to ‘Go West’ on their last really significant hit? Yes, I know, strictly speaking the rallying call came from Village People songsmiths Jacques Morali, Henri Belolo and Victor Willis, but, sadly, the budget won’t stretch to the West Coast of the USA this month.

Okay, for the pedantic, Camden is strictly north-centralish London, but I’d say Notting Hill and Portobello Road definitely pass the synth duo broader compass measure. Camden’s another zone-one area decimated or evolved (depending on your perspective) by the ravages of the retail turf-war. Still, the market remains a big draw and many of the independents are doing well, even if we have lost some major record shops there over the years. The weekends are the best time to follow my route, as you’ll catch the Portobello Road Market at its best (and busiest) on a Saturday; while Camden is equally crowded most days of the week (especially across the summer when the foreign students descend in droves).

I’ll be honest: the compact European cities lend themselves best to a defined day of shopping, but this trip is do-able in a day, and I found travelling in from the west worked particularly well. Don’t be tempted to pass on the South Ealing store I went to first, as it’s a real gem. London, as we know, is expensive, but I’d say prices here are consistent with most of the cities I visit and the choice is world-class (especially given the number of imports you come across). In fact, one of them was to be the highlight of my trip, proving there are still some surprises out there for us all. Even someone with an all-consuming vinyl habit like mine.


SOUNDS ORIGINAL
169 South Ealing Road, W5 4QP
Opening hours: 11am to 5pm Wednesday to Saturday

Sounds OriginalLeaving behind the record fair circuit in 1983, Paul Green set up his first shop opposite Northfields Station, in Ealing, before moving to bigger premises near South Ealing Tube at the turn of this century. Like many travellers arriving in the capital from Heathrow, it’s a handy eight stops from Terminals Two and Three on the way into central London. I pop by on my way in and am really impressed by the range and uniformly excellent-condition stock. Billed as a collectors’ store, it has a strong reputation for 1950s and 1960s discs, but I find well-ordered sections covering every genre and era you’ll likely be after. “I’ve always been fussed about the condition of what I sell and have become known for that,” Paul tells me. “I even try to get the singles in the appropriate label sleeves. My customers are after all manner of variants, although singles have recently slowed a bit.” Paul has just sold three Beatles acetates to someone from Japan, but my haul includes a batch of nice Cliff Richard pressings from the 1970s (his stock of interesting 7″ singles is exceptional) and some great 90s LPs, including Sonia’s first post-Stock Aitken Waterman set; a 1976 soundtrack to Logan’s Run and the BBC Records’ Doctor Who – The Music collection from 1983. I buy far more than I had planned. I sometimes find London a bit hit-and-miss for cratedigging; perhaps it’s a little too familiar, but this is a great start to the day.


OUT ON THE FLOOR RECORDS
10 Inverness Street, Camden, NW1 7HJ
Opening hours: 11am to 6pm Monday to Sunday

Out On Records

Finally in central London, I conclude Camden is a great centre for cratedigging, although, as elsewhere, you’ll find many claiming its glory days have faded a little. Out On The Floor is central, perhaps the area’s strongest generalist and certainly its oldest. It’s actually two stores on one site, with the independent basement space focused on indie, with rock, reggae and soul more predominant on the ground floor. The basement’s slightly more fluid opening hours mean my descent this time is curtailed, but the ground floor has a good mix of everything. As with all passing stores in this busy area, traders have an eye on the casual tourist, so you’ll find the obligatory Bowie, Amy Winehouse and Beatles alongside the more unusual. Over the past 15 years, the store has developed a big reputation for a great range of ska and reggae. This is one of the capital’s best shops for this genre. That’s not my thing, but I do find Mantronix’s This Should Move Ya and the sixth volume of the excellent Street Sounds series. I’m gradually closing the gaps on this set, but it’s taking some time to find them in decent condition.


LET IT ROLL RECORDS
121 Kentish Town Road, NW1 8PB
Opening hours: 11am to 7pm Monday to Saturday; noon to 6pm Sunday

Let It Roll Records

Let It Roll has been trading for just under a year and is a few minutes’ walk away from Camden’s central market area. Like a lot of new retailers, this shop is nicely kitted out and is home to a small café as well. Business is solid and there are plans to join Record Store Day this year. There is a wide rock and metal range, alongside some good soul towards the back. The mainstream and pop racks yield some interesting finds for me, including Betty Boo’s Boomania on picture disc and the ZTT classic Laughter, Tears And Rage by Act (AKA Propaganda’s Claudia Brücken and Thomas Leer). The latter has been on my wants list for a while, so I’m very pleased to tick it off finally.


DISC DISCIPLES
Camden Market, Camden Lock Place, NW1 8AF
Opening hours: 10am to 6pm Monday to Sunday

Disc Disciples

Camden Market’s a bit of an ever-changing shapeshifter and, in truth, every time I come up here, some new stalls seem to have replaced old favourites. One that’s still running is Disc Disciples, tucked just inside the doorway of the Market Hall. Founder Danny Haywood has a decent range of soul, funk and jazz, but I’m pleased to find more disco than on previous visits. There’s a healthy 70s and 80s section too, which means this rates highly on my regular visits here. Just a stone’s throw from Disc Disciples is another stall packed tight into what looks like a railway arch with racks of vinyl. It’s here I pick up a near-mint copy of Madness’s Mad Not Mad from 1985. It’s the last album of the local heroes’ catalogue I need and, at £4, a decent price too! It may be their lowest selling from their first run, but it’s always been my favourite.


CAMDEN LOCK VINYL
Camden Market, Camden Lock Place, NW1 8AF
Opening hours: 10am to 6pm Monday to Sunday

Camden LockThis is a self-contained shop in Camden Lock and always carries a decent range of stock, with prices among the best in the area. There’s a strong emphasis on the bigger names (to tempt the hordes of tourists that make up the majority of the market’s shoppers, of course). I always find something here and, on this visit, it’s Jane Wiedlin’s 1985 debut LP. Interestingly, it features a pre-printed pair of postcards from the former Go-Go for purchasers to send messages to Reagan and Gorbachev pleading for more dialogue on nuclear weapons. It makes me wonder how Brexit might have turned out if Adele had done something similar with one of her albums.

 


MASSIVE INTERNATIONAL
Camden Market, Camden Lock Place, NW1 8AF
Opening hours: 10am to 6pm Monday to Sunday

Massive

Another Camden Lock institution, this reggae specialist has been here 25 years and, as well as a decent amount of vinyl to wade through, the shop acts as a hub for a range of activities associated with the Notting Hill Carnival. Following on from the Wiedlin theme, the conversation’s animated, but it’s about Brexit. Time to move on.


SOUNDS THAT SWING
88 Parkway, Camden, NW1 7AN
Opening hours: 11am to 6pm Monday to Thursday; noon to 7pm Friday and Saturday; noon to 6pm Sunday

Sounds That SwingNow here’s something I haven’t come across much over the years of cratedigging – a specialist rockabilly, early soul and rock ’n’ roll retailer. It’s been around 25 years (12 in this location) and is co-owned by Martin Heaphy and Neal Scott. There is a steady stream of DJs using the store to source new beats and samples, which keeps the clientele younger than you might imagine. The big growth area is rockabilly 10″s, and the continuing credibility of the genre keeps business steady. Vinyl Boutique, a broader specialist, is downstairs, but it’s unfortunately closed on the day I visit, despite popping by on one of the afternoons, Thursday to Sunday, it should have been open. Martin is a big buyer himself and admits he doesn’t fully understand the compulsion that keeps us all so captivated. It’s best not to question too much, we agree, as I buy a nice reissue of an Italian 10″ by Bill Haley E Seus Cometas. I always like to follow a trend


 

HONEST JON’S RECORDS
278 Portobello Road, W10 5TE
Opening hours: 10am to 6pm Monday to Saturday; 11am to 5pm Sunday

Leaving Camden behind, I head west to Notting Hill and Westbourne Green. Since 1974, although not always in this location, Honest Jon’s has been a much-loved survivor, evolving from a single shop to a small network and, latterly,
a label, releasing music from around the world with the support of Blur’s Damon Albarn. The reggae, jazz and soul roots of the retailer have broadened to sweep up blues, folk and a range of dance, with a decent balance of new and used vinyl. As it’s best to visit this area of London when the famous Portobello Road Market is on (there’s a great stall there on a Friday underneath the Westway, at 281 Portobello), the store is typically packed, but I spend a lot of time trying to decide if a Prince album is better on reissue or original pressing. As a sign of advancing age, I leave both in the end, overwhelmed at the scale of the decision. I do, of course, regret not getting the original pressing later.


ALL AGES RECORDS
27a Pratt Street, Camden, NW1 OBG
Opening hours: 11.30am to 6pm Monday to Sunday

All Ages RecordsNick Collins named his store after the track by Bristol hardcore band Five Knuckle and it’s one of the UK’s best and biggest punk specialists. He started selling on a market stall in 2000 and opened the shop three years later. “There has been no vinyl revival here,” he tells me. “It never went away. If you are in a punk band, you want to make a record, so the market has always been there.” Nick brings in stock from around the world, insisting that it’s one of the ways he can maintain the unique draw of a physical space: “I’m just not interested in dealing online, there is no loyalty there, so that’s not right for me.” Alongside the ‘secret’ DVD store out back, packed with classic films and TV shows, this is one of the most interesting stores I have ever visited. True, the music’s not really my thing, but I do stock up on some obscure 1970s TV series.


MUSIC AND VIDEO EXCHANGE
38 Notting Hill Gate, W11 3HX
Opening hours: 10am to 8pm Monday to Sunday

Music and Video

This retail chain is somewhat diminished from its turn-of-the-century peak, with branches across the capital falling victim to rising rents and tighter margins. Today, Notting Hill, once the heart of this empire, has crammed all its music into one store (and there is another great branch in Greenwich) but, despite the ever-evolving acreage of stock, everything fits snugly and the reputation for reasonable prices and clear cataloguing remains. The basement is where the classical section now sits; rock and pop (including collectables) are on the ground floor, while soul, reggae and dance is upstairs. I’m transfixed by a copy of OMD’s Universal, still sealed, in its small-run 1996 LP format. The original HMV price-label on the plastic wrapper reads £12.99. Music & Video Exchange want £300 on my visit (although a feature of this chain is that stock is marked down steadily until it sells). It’s a phenomenal return-on-investment for the original HMV customer, but a fair price – Discogs has a copy for £398 at the time of writing. My budget won’t stretch to that, or a copy of Duran Duran’s The Wedding Album on vinyl for nearly £100, so I’m hopeful both get a vinyl reissue someday soon. I do spend a bit on the Peter Straker curiosity This One’s On Me, a few 12″ singles from the bargain basement and some 90s soul. I expect I’ll get more of their vouchers for my birthday and I wonder how much I have spent in these stores over the years. It must be thousands and many, many hours peeling off those rather annoying stickers they use. Top tip: the green ones come off easier than the red. Always use solution to remove the red ones.


Peoples Sound Records

PEOPLE’S SOUND RECORDS
11 All Saints Road, Notting Hill, W11 1HA
Opening hours: 10am to 8pm Monday to Saturday

Reggae champion Daddy Vgo settled in London during the 1950s and set up this store to champion the genre. It’s his sound system that has been the soundtrack to so many Notting Hill Carnivals. The vinyl matches the CD selection and I spot a lot of ska.


 

ROUGH TRADE WEST
130 Talbot Road, Notting Hill, W11 1JA
Opening hours: 10am to 6.30pm Monday to Saturday; 11am to 5pm Sunday

Rough Trade

This is a smaller branch than you’ll find at Brick Lane over in the east of the city, but the two-storey store stocks new issues on the ground floor and the used stuff downstairs. Heading to the vintage vinyl, I come across the joy of every record collector, a release of something that had previously passed me by. I was aware that Marcella Detroit had been a backing singer and writer before fame in Shakespears Sister, but I had no idea she’s released Marcella as Marcy Levy in 1982. Underneath acres of permed hair and staggering layers of OTT make-up, that powerful voice shines through on 10 very of-the-era productions. I had no idea this record even existed – who knows how this US and Canada-only issue ended up here – and it sounds like a lost Laura Branigan album. Priceless! It’s the absolute highlight of many months of record shopping for me and seems a positive note to end today’s expedition on. I do wonder how many times something like that can still happen to me, but I’m already planning on where to try to repeat the experience. 

Mark Elliott

 

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