A new book traces the history of the UK’s record shops, including Peckham’s long-held place as London’s reggae hotspot. Journalist and self-proclaimed ‘music obsessive’ Garth Cartwright started researching his book, Going for a Song: a Chronicle of the UK Record Shop, in 2009, writes Katherine Johnston…
“When the financial crash saw big high street music retailers go bust, it seemed like the end of the record shop era,” Garth told the Weekender. “The book is a story of how music got sold and how certain key shops came to define music throughout the 20th Century.”
“And now, with the vinyl revival, new record shops are opening in places like Peckham, which has long been a centre for reggae records from the Caribbean that you can’t get anywhere else.”
Garth has not been able to find a definitive ‘first’ record shop in Southwark but has collected record sleeves from as early as the 1920s from resident record traders. Throughout the early 1900s, he explained, many records were sold in shops retailing other goods, like bicycle shops or electrical stores, and in the gramophone sections of department stores, like Rye Lane’s Jones and Higgins.
In Southwark, the famous A1 Records on Walworth Road, opened in the 1920s and continued trading until the mid-1990s. A1 was a lamp shop with the record bar tucked out back – older Southwark residents still recall how A1 had a record stall at East Street Market every Saturday.
Garth said: “John Peel would catch the train from Victoria to Peckham every week to buy records to play on his Radio 1 show. This demonstrates just how influential a small, independent record shop could be when it was run by people who knew what they were doing.”
“New releases from Jamaica would land at Heathrow on Friday ready to be sold on Saturday morning – a tradition still kept alive by Rat Records in Camberwell who continue to put out their new tunes on Saturdays. The DJ would play the new records and people would stick their hands up and shout with joy if they wanted to buy it.”
One of the most successful shops to come from Peckham was Dub Vendor, set up by duo John MacGillivray and Chris Lane in 1980.
Mr Cartwright said: “Chris Lane, who is still based in Southwark in Bermondsey, told me how their Peckham shop moved to Ladbroke Grove after being broken into and having all its equipment stolen.
“Dub Vendor went on to be the world’s foremost reggae shop and their in-house label Fashion Records launched many careers, including Smiley Culture who had hits with ‘Cockney Translation’ and ‘Police Officer’”.
Nowadays Camberwell’s Rat Records has a queue half way round the street every Saturday while in Peckham places like Rye Wax, Lorenzo’s Record Shack and Maestro are all bringing vinyl back.
“What I didn’t know when I started writing it, was that the story of the UK’s, and Southwark’s record stores, would have a happy ending,” Garth said.
Going For A Song: A Chronicle of the UK Record Shop is published by Flood Gallery Press on March 22.