Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996

Here’s another music-related post for you — about another music-related exhibition.

On Saturday I got the bus into town, to see an exhibition about fifty years of record shops in Soho. It was the last day before the exhibition closed, and it also happened to be Record Store Day.

Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996
(there’s a better view of the map here)

The exhibition was in Berwick Street, which used to be home to so many record shops that it was even known (amongst my friends, anyway), as “The Famous Street of Record Shops”. I think at one point we counted 16, if we included music stalls in the market, and some of the shops on the streets leading off Berwick Street, so although we used the name ironically, it was also well-earned.

Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996

As part of the Record Store Day celebrations, there was a mini music festival in Berwick Street, so the area was rammed with people sitting in the streets, although they all seemed to be waiting around for something to actually happen, and there wasn’t any music playing. I didn’t notice many of them holding any record shop bags, either (mostly they were just holding beer), but the sun was out and there was quite a nice atmosphere. You really can’t beat Soho in the sunshine.

Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996

The exhibition itself was pretty interesting, and there was quite a wealth of information, ephemera and memories crammed into a small space, of which the images here were only a small selection.

One of the first things I noticed when going around the exhibition was how many of the shops’ bag designs had the same red+black+white colour-scheme.

Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996

Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996

Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996
(oops, just realised that Musicland bag is featured twice, oh well)

The other thing was that I didn’t spot anything of the shops I used to go to back in the 1990s, like Selectadisc (which closed down, but still has a shop in Nottingham) and Sister Ray (which is now in the spot that Selectadisc vacated, though it used to be further down the street). I was also puzzled as to why the collection only went up to 1996, which is almost twenty years ago. I know 1996 is fifty years on from 1946, which is a nice round number and all that, but they could have extended the dates to 2006 and celebrated sixty years of Soho record shops, which would have included more of the time I actually shopped there myself (although I was shopping in Selectadisc and Sister Ray before 1996, as well). Hopefully they’ll be able to extend the exhibition and put it on again next year, when it will be seventy years since 1946. In fact, they really have enough stuff to make it into a book. They should make it into a book. (If you fancy reading more about the record shops in the 1990s, this is a great post on those days.)

After seeing the exhibition, I popped next door to Gosh (one of my favourite bookshops), to say hi to my artist chum Lizz Lunney who had mentioned on Instagram that she was going to be there (she currently lives in Berlin). Unfortunately I didn’t really get to chat to her because the shop was heaving with people and she was busy painting the window (one of the things I love about Gosh is that they regularly get artists and illustrators to paint their windows with wonderful pictures). On the upside, I bumped into another artist chum, Andy Poyiadgi who has a new comic being launched at Gosh this very Friday. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s about a postman who finds all the things he’s ever lost have been stored in the local lost-and-found, which is very similar idea to this artwork by Lally MacBeth, don’t you think? It’s funny how certain ideas seem to find their Time.


2 Comments to “Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996”

  1. Oh, this looks WONDERFUL. I’m such a fan of typography and anything old so I would’ve been like a kid in a toy shop here. Many moons ago when I lived near Gatwick and its great links to London, Soho was my back yard for a few years. I really must go back soon. I passed by in November but it was cold and dark and I had somewhere else to be.

  2. We still have a couple of great record shops up here in Sheffield – There’s nothing quite like a rummage through the racks. Brings back great memories of Saturday mornings as a teenager. I loved the stained glass windows at Temple Place – what an amazing building! xx