"Wandering around Soho, it's quite possible you may stumble into the aptly named Cheapo Cheapo Records. A belter of a tiny shop found located on Rupert St that has cheesy vinyl and oddball stuff hidden amongst its dusty shelves. An assortment of second hand vinyl, Cheapo Cheapo might resemble a jumble sale inside but you can lose yourself for hours." (Londonnet / pic: Laura Appleyard)
I was really sorry to learn of the demise of Soho's Cheapo Cheapo Records last year. If you don't live in London, it probably won't mean anything to you, and maybe other people's favourite record shops are intrinsically uninteresting to the rest of the world - a bit like other people's babies - but I felt a sense of loss that I'm going to try to explore.
And just as people with children are interested, sort of, in other people's children - if only to make withering comparisons - record collectors may find something to interest them in the following.
First off, and ridiculous as it sounds, I feel I have gone through a kind of mini-grief process. There was certainly that casebook sense of initial disbelief, partly because I'd been to the shop a few days before when a sign on the door had simply indicated closed for stocktaking. Then a week or two later a new sign simply said CLOSED. No, lose the block caps, I'm not ready: Closed. That's better.
I'm not sure whether, at that point, the stock was still enticingly present - enticing, that is, if like me you enjoy the incidental journey through a certain amount of old tat - nor am I sure whether I altogether believed - or quite understood or even wanted to understand - that new sign at first glance. Closed as in "closed-closed", as Whoopi Goldberg might have put it? Not a shop which had been around, endlessly generating new (in the sense of newly acquired) stock at least since I first came to London in 1985.
I dreamt about it, about being inside once again, a few nights later. The pain, really, is in not having one final chance - not to plunder, a la the ill-fated Apple boutique, but to pay my last respects, and maybe finally buy some of those fairly pointless and inessential jazz/nostalgia CDs which hovered on the margins of possibility on each visit. And to do that not so much for the music as to perform a kind of final, altruistic - I might as well saying loving - act: to show that someone finally cared even for those unlovely parts of the shop.
I had developed severe lumbar pain towards the end of 2006 which kept me off work for several months and ever afterwards had been much more cautious about the amount I would carry from Cheapo in one go; even the necessary actions of standing still in one place or bending slightly as I went through the racks would lead to the onset of warning pains, so although I didn't stay away from Cheapo once staggering (in the time allocation sense) back to work, my body no longer allowed for the absolute immersion over extended periods which had once been the hallmark of those visits. And after all, I must have told myself, it didn't really matter if I didn't take absolutely everything my heart had desired and my eyes devoured on any one visit: this small and cluttered record shop would always be there, with its infinitely extendable stock ...
But - just as I might have done when in Cheapo, and settled in for an hour or two - I digress. The warning signs about the shop's possible demise were certainly there, and had been for some time. As one assistant there put it, when someone comes in with no conception of overheads, quotes the Amazon price for an album and expects you to match it, the writing is on the wall. Maybe the wonder is it had endured so long. I overheard another worker (possibly the boss; I don't know) evidently at the end of his wick one Saturday night, complaining about the number of tourists who came in demanding directions, alternating with junkies. (Both went, literally, with the territory.)
There was something slightly odd in this change of relations, however. I'd been patronising the shop for over fifteen years before becoming a professional punter, as it were, and during that time there had been no need for greetings or pleasantries. This wasn't about rudeness (although elsewhere on the net you can find reference to the dourness of one worker there) but a recognition of what we, shopkeeper and customer, were there for: it wasn't HMV or Tower Records; the surroundings were far from spacious, and when it was crowded at weekends there'd be a fair amount of squeezing past people, but the point was this: the stock was the thing, and the stock spoke for itself.
I once took a female friend to this almost exclusively male domain; buying an LP, she felt obliged to say to the assistant, by way of explanation: "Reliving my lost youth." I ought to be ashamed of my glee as I pounced ("Wrong!") on this solecism as soon as we left the shop; sadly I'm not. It was my world and she had made a dreadful - if, let us be fair, understandable, what with being a woman and all - error. We were all there for our lost youth. It didn't need pointing out.
Over time, the available areas of Cheapo shrank a little (yes, you're right, I'm softening you up for the death, but let me tell it anyway; I, for one, need to hear it at the appropriate pace). An upstairs area was no longer in use, although I don't know whether that means that large chunks of stock had been successfully sold off or not. I think some of the upstairs vinyl was the nostalgia-based stuff which then found a home on the ground floor at the back. There was a basement which concentrated on soul and jazz; many cassettes in those long-lost cassette-playing days were bought there, including those of Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson, a Grenadan cabaret singer whose music was the soundtrack for an important relationship; I commemorate both the singer and the other listener with the image below:
Once the darling of Mayfair (and Edwina Mountbatten in particular; see the biography by Charlotte Breese), Hutch was buried in Highgate Cemetery at a poorly attended funeral, although messages still appear in The Stage on the anniversary of his death.
I could go on with lists of records and artists but I think it should be clear by now that the main point about Cheapo is that it is bound up with so many of my memories. There is probably even, on some level, an association with the annual visits to Glasgow in December when very young, my little legs aching with the vast distances covered, to see Santa in one or other of the posher old-style shops - Copeland's, Pettigrews and some others - later to be swept away by cheaper alternatives. It was in one of those, or possibly in the Dalziel Cooperative in Motherwell, who also put a lot of effort into their Father Christmases, that one year there was a kind of tunnel you had to go through to reach Santa; years later, when I walked through a basement room of the art school's Blytheswood Square building, all of whose surfaces had been entirely covered in newspaper (by a fellow art student, Sheila Calder), I had a tantalising, elusive sensation of deja vu which I knew was associated with those Christmas visits without being able to summon up a precise image. And even though Cheapo was about interests developed in adolescence, the cramped and cluttered areas, the tiny staircase, now seem interwoven with both of those memories: more burrow or lair than cavernous emporium of the sort found just down the road at Picadilly Circus, it was the kind of record shop that Kenneth Grahame's Badger might have felt at home in. It was a place where you could lose yourself, or rather find once again that truer self, that non-coporeal identity, a thing of undefined hopes and dreams: a record collector, exactly as you were at sixteen. So I have to admit my cruelly maligned friend's "Reliving my lost youth" was precisely right, although I still say the utterance of that intention was wrong or, at best, superfluous - rather like, if you have the appropriate faith, saying to a priest mid-Mass "You do realise that this ceremony is quite important on a spiritual level?" Babe: they already understand. That is why they are record shop assistants. Or so I'd like to think.
I wish the former workers and owner well in whatever they undertake. They were, as I think Andrew Loog Oldham said of Immediate Records, part of the industry of human happiness. The last conversation I had with the Cheapo assistant whom I'd come to know a bit was, I fear, slightly cut short by me, as I had other stuff to buy, and it was getting late; I wish now that I had stayed longer. Ah well.
I don't want to make this piece just a list of records but I do want to mention one more which can stand for so many others. The area around the entrance had been largely taken over by DVDs but towards the back of the ground level area of the shop there was still a lot of vinyl which compelled you (or me, anyway) to linger.
The image found on the net, above, is not quite right, but at least you can glimpse beyond the DVDs to the very back where (trust me) waist height shelves were stocked with jazz and nostalgia CDs. Vinyl was just to the left. So many albums I'd seen on record shop shelves in Glasgow in the seventies, there they were again, and I'm not just talking about artists of the day: most of those budget rock'n'roll reissues of the seventies which I've talked about in other entries were there too.
And I suppose it's partly that which makes the loss of the shop so poignant: here was a magical second chance to acquire or reacquire those albums and I didn't take it.
One which I particularly regret was a double Jerry Lee album in a gatefold sleeve with a tinted archetypal picture of the young, blonde-locked Killer. I'd totally forgotten about this album, issued on Phonogram before the advent of Charly, which had been played at an art school dance, possibly on Halloween 1975, and I have a vague but pleasing memory of connecting with the older student whose record it presumably was, so that it has come to represent a token of that promise-laden time:
Like pilgrim's withered wreath of flowers
Pluck'd in a far off land.