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‘In praise of the humble record shop…..’

4 July 2017 Blog The Queen Street Observer

I settled in during the week to watch ‘All Things Must Pass – The Tower Records Story’. I wasn’t disappointed. The story went like this – company founder Russ Solomon’s dad had what was essentially a corner shop selling everything from a needle to an anchor. Russ suggested that maybe they could sell second hand records too, there might be a buck to be made. His dad agreed and it went from there. The company grew from one store in Sacramento California to a globe spanning chain including a store in Dublin.

Solomon’s management style was unconventional by anyone’s standards, with most of the people who ended up in senior management positions having started life on the counter as store assistants. Workplace practices were very 1970s West Coast in style too, Solomon asking his staff if they might refrain from smoking dope while they were working. You know, if it’s not too much trouble, like.

Anyway, Tower Records grew and grew until the inevitable decline. In short, it spread too thin. Too many stores, too many bank loans, the rise of illegal downloading via Napster et al and a seriously ill thought-out decision to stop selling singles (The thinking being if you like the single then buy the album – more profit) which didn’t go unnoticed by the public all contributed to the downfall. Tower still exists as an entity, there are branches all over Japan for instance and the Dublin store still thrives, it’s just not owned anymore by Russ Solomon and his unique board of directors. So the programme ended and I was feeling that warm, satisfied glow you have when you’ve watched something you really enjoyed, my head filled with thoughts of record shops as they used to be. Like Sinnott’s, for instance.

Located in John Street in Waterford City between Boston Cleaners and Tony Delicato’s chip shop it began life as a sweet shop owned by Mrs. Sinnott which backed onto Manor Street school, where the school’s pupils could stock up each lunchtime on toffees and suchlike. I don’t know when exactly the conversion to a record shop took place but I’d hazard a guess at 1966 or ’67 (If I’m wrong about this feel free to correct me). Mrs. Sinnott’s son Noel was responsible for the change of direction and on the face of it it was a natural progression, Noel having flirted with band management during the showband boom in Ireland in the 1960s.

I first ventured into Sinnott’s in 1971 – I almost hate admitting that now, it makes me feel and sound ancient even though I’m not (well, not much). I was ten years old and flush with Birthday money so it was the obvious place to go, given that I’d recently discovered Radio Luxembourg plus the fact that ’71 was such a year for great music. You had The Who’s ‘Won’t get fooled again’, T Rex with ‘Hot Love’, Blue Mink’s ‘Banner Man’, Ringo Starr’s ‘It don’t come easy’ and Slade beginning to get noticed with ‘Take me bak ‘ome’. I could be here all week adding to the list. My first ever purchase was a single by Family called ‘In my own time’, closely followed by Greyhound’s ‘Black and White’, thus beginning a long association with Sinnott’s.

It was a tiny place, not much bigger than the average sitting room with a pokey little office at the back, but crammed into that space were row upon row of shelves packed with LPs of all descriptions. On the counter you’d find a Top 40 Singles chart pinned to hardboard with the singles in stock marked with an asterisk. My life would have been easier if I’d been a fan of less obscure and more mainstream artists, that’s for sure. In 1976 I popped in to ask about Ritchie Blackmore’s latest release, ‘Rainbow Rising’. Noel peered at me through his glasses perched on the end of his nose, cigar fixed firmly in his mouth.

‘A new release, is it?’

‘Yes, Noel. It’s just come out.’

‘Okay. I’ll order it. Should be about two weeks’.

Two weeks later and still no sign of it – this went on all summer. It eventually came in after about two months. This was no fault of Noel’s I’d hasten to add, it’s just how things were in those days. Not rocketing up the charts? You’ll be waiting.

There was nothing to compare to the day you went in to find your order had actually come in. It was akin to a child on Christmas morning as you’d marvel at the array of colours on the sleeve. Next step, get home as quickly as possible, carefully remove the record from the sleeve, smell the vinyl, place it on the record player and play it loud!

While Noel could occasionally be grumpy (‘I told you two weeks, last week!’) it was never a problem. I’m sure he must have been frequently exasperated by people like me. A mention too for the staff. There were the Ryan brothers, Jimmy and Patsy, Jimmy being the more chatty of the two, always friendly and helpful with my enquiries. Patsy was a bit more stand off-ish but no less a gentleman as well as having an encyclopaedic knowledge of country music. He eventually opened his own unfortunately short-lived record shop in Georges Street in the city. The last I heard Patsy had re-located to Nashville which was no great surprise given his love of the music. And then there was Hymie.

Jimmy ‘Hymie’ Griffin, regarded by all as Noel’s Aide de Camp, as well as being wickedly funny would be full of suggestions on days when I’d be browsing through the racks. ‘You like them so you might like this. Have you heard it yet?’ This carried over into the early 80s when I was on radio. Hymie would ring me with recommendations for what I should play as well as requests. I remember him being particularly fond of Dire Straits’ ‘Twisting by the pool’, not surprising as it had a slightly retro 60s feel to it which was his thing.

By the late 1970s I’d discovered Neil Bullock’s Five-O Records which stocked a lot of stuff suited to my tastes at that time, and it was to be a liaison which would have a profound effect on the course of my life (More of which in a future blog) but I’d still be in and out of Sinnott’s on a regular basis. By the 1990s Noel had retired and handed over the reigns to his daughter, Jane, with a new and much enlarged store in Michael Street. Sadly, the John Street shop became a bit of a backwater at this time with the new place being pushed as THE store, and while it was undoubtedly a fine place filled with much to keep the punters interested, I did hanker for the claustrophobic, cigar smoke filled original shop.

One of the last times I was in there before it finally closed I picked up a couple of AC/DC CDs to replace my worn out vinyl copies.

‘You having something of a mid-life crisis, Colin??’ says Jane.
‘Ha! Yes, Jane. I think I might very well be!’

The world’s a poorer place without the small, family-run record shop, be in no doubt.

More next month!!

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