Ed's Note: #HMVmemories

on Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Words: Saam Das

Rumours circulated last night surrounding the potential administration of UK high street entertainment retailer HMV, along with a suitable Twitter hashtag. While there could be life in the old dog yet but the situation looks ominous. It's news that we've all expected for a while. I'm not going to attempt to dissect the situation, instead I'd rather reflect on some of my own #HMVmemories as both an employee and a consumer.

I have particularly fond memories of the flagship HMV store on Oxford Street. I often used to take the tube down to Oxford Circus and pop into the store after school, or if I was willing to brave the awful Oxford Street crowds, at the weekend. Most of the time I didn't even buy anything.

Generally, I was quite happy browsing the racks and racks of CDs and DVDs, occasionally taking advantage of their listening posts to get a better idea of what music I actually liked. One such formative experience came when I went to see Feeder play an instore gig at the Oxford Street store on 13th January 2003.

It was pretty incredible bopping along to the band with my friends Will and Chris, and the hundreds of other people lined up in the aisles. Sure, HMV may have only played a bit-part role in that special experience but nonetheless, it played a role. And seeing as Chris became guitarist in a little known band called Spector, perhaps it could be argued that HMV played a pivotal role in shaping some of the musicians of today.

It certainly shaped me - I have at least 100 7" vinyl records that I bought from HMV at my parents' place. Sure, I've embraced digital now and listen to most of my music through Soundcloud, Bandcamp, YouTube and Spotify but there was a lot of joy in dishing out a couple of quid and getting something that I could actually shove in my school bag. In an oddly caring manner.

I don't really want to get into a digital vs physical debate here, nor do I feel the need to discuss the potential effects that online retailers or illegal downloading may have had on the fortunes of HMV. I am however concerned about what it means for the workers - especially for my former colleagues at Fopp, who escaped insolvency a few years ago, thanks to HMV.

I spent a Christmas working at Fopp and thoroughly enjoyed it - the passion of the employees was obvious and even reflected in the customers from time to time. I don't think I'll ever forget the time that an elderly woman asked me whether a Jason Mraz or Perfume Genius album would be more appropriate for her teenage grandson. She genuinely seemed interested in my opinion, while simultaneously disregarding every other CD in the store.

I also had the displeasure of serving Marc Almond of Soft Cell at Fopp, one of the rudest human beings (let alone customers) that I have ever encountered, whose sneering attitude at my attempts to genuinely help him shone a light on his true nature. Other celebs like Griff Rhys Jones and the frontman of The Thrills were significantly more polite.

Before (and indeed, after) working at Fopp, I enjoyed regularly searching through their £3/£5 albums and DVDs. Or even occasionally splashing out, like that time I bought the incredible Australian crime drama 'Snowtown'. For seven whole pounds. I'll miss that kind of experience. Searching online doesn't have the same emotional response or resonance.

Sure, there are independent record stores, which I hope will see an upturn in fortunes but it's not quite the same. Stores like HMV are an important part of young (and old) people's musical experiences. Especially in towns where there are no independent record stores. Should HMV's time be up, perhaps some of those residents will join me in saying: HMV, I'll miss you. Even though you accidentally subjected me to a Joss Stone live instore once.

For updates, check hmv.com.

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