Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Cheapo Cheapo Closure Closure

Hmm ... not quite as I would have wished in every particular, but those who have read the earlier posts lamenting the loss of Soho's Cheapo Cheapo Records may be gratified to learn that I have unexpectedly achieved what amounts to a kind of closure today. And it all came about from a conversation at a party (ooh, get me) on Sunday.

I was talking about records to a former bouncer and mod, who bought a lot of Northern Soul in Cheapo, which led to my googling for recentish comments about the shop and finding the Gumtree advertisement mentioned in the previous entry. I emailed enquiring about CDs (the ad only mentions the large stock of vinyl) and today phoned to arrange a time to come and view whatever there was. I said to my colleague, only half-joking, "This feels like happiness," comparable to a wonderful moment during my dominie incarnation when I was given a week off normal duties (still paid, mind you) to take part in a sitcom summer school. Ohhh yessss. And the knowledge that my colleagues received no comparable dispensation made it, I have to admit, all the sweeter. (The eventual fate of a sitcom I wrote a few years later kind of balances things out, but no more o'that.)

Anyway, off I trot to a warehouse near Hanger Lane. The actual process of reaching it is unnecessarily arduous, largely because the directions at a bus stop are, in effect, upside down, causing me to stride away from my goal until I can figure the matter out. Not to worry, I say to myself: it's a kind of a quest, Christopher Vogler-like. Riches and fulfilment await once the obstacle of my essential stupidity in practical matters such as these is overcome.

Alas, not quite. The fulfilment, I mean. Or the riches. But I'm certainly glad I went. There is a great deal of catalogued vinyl which hasn't yet been sold, so if you are reading this and are interested, please look at the previous entry, which has a link to the original gumtree ad with contact details. Or simply click here.

For work purposes, I could only really be interested in the CDs, and there were only about four or five trays of these left. The person in charge said that a shop or chain of shops in, I think, Birmingham, had come and gone through everything and creamed off most of it. So there wasn't a huge amount on the jazz/nostalgia or 50s/60s pop front. And I can't really say I found some unexpected gems - some of the most enticing didn't have discs inside.

But on I went, in the end choosing about forty CDs, although some of them had warnings on the front about scratches, and quite a few were classical ones about which I'm not in a position to make a judgement about. I took a few cassettes as well, including a Beatles bootleg - unusual fare for Cheapo.And one from EMI's Golden Age of series, because of the association with the Hutch cassette in the same series.

The whole thing, from entering the warehouse to leaving, took about two to two-and-a-half hours, a good average for a browse in the actual shop. I had taken a great deal of cash in the event of some mammoth haul; let's just say there is a lot of change to hand back to our accounts person. And despite having back problems, the amount I was carrying didn't even justify a taxi.

At the station I texted my colleague that what I had got was "mostly tat but very cheap tat." A lot of it will prove useful, even so, at one point or another, at work, just as some obscurities found in the shop itself and bought on spec have done: a CD of American parlour songs has filled recording gaps in more than one songbook, for example.

My dream scenario would have been to pass the shop by just before (or after) it closed for the final time, and been tipped the wink to come in and lingeringly take my fill before - well, just before. Then, oh, then would I have rushed to the jazz/nostalgia section as to a long lost lover, ensuring that never again would there be any gap in any forties songbook, and every Gershwin or Rodgers'n'Hart toon would have around fifteen or twenty versions for comparison ... mostly from the mid-forties, but you can't have everything.

And all those 50s/60s pop compilations which I'd held off buying as we probably had about ninety per cent of the songs ... it really does come down to what I said in my original entry (A Wreath for Cheapo), about wanting to show the shop, as though it were a person, that someone loved even those seemingly unlovely parts.

No, my experience today didn't quite live up to all that. Quite apart from the fact that most of the best stock was already gone (even the jazz/nostalgia items which I didn't imagine many others would want), not being in the original environment changed matters, lessned the pleasure of searching: I had to stoop over the trays (sort of like baker's trays) so it wasn't that comfortable, although the person showing me over the stock did what he could to ease things. And there was no sense of hurry but, in truth, there wasn't really much to linger over.
This wasn't the lesiurely leavetaking I was once privileged to have with a dear friend: more like the "Challenge Anneka"-type experience I once had when obliged to go through the belongings of someone who had lived in a housing association flat in the knowledge that everything not chosen and taken was going in a skip a few days later. Well, no, even that wasn't the same, actually, as no hordes of Birmingham record store people had descended on the flat earlier. And there was a pleasing pay-off there, as the bereaved family were grateful that some, at least, of his many books were going to enrich the lives of others.

In the case of my friend, the length of his illness and his foreknowledge of its inevitable outcome allowed him enough time to sort out and sell on batches of his books, and even now I can be stopped short when a seemingly innocent copy of one of them is proffered to me with the magical signature inside. After his death, his widow asked me to sort through what was left; it didn't seem right to let the heavily annotated poetry books and playscripts go out into the world, even though I know (or I earnestly hope) I shall never have cause to use them in any kind of a professional way again, and so they sit in a box which I shall probably never open and never look at but never throw out. (Hey, it's a guy thing. Don't worry about it. You can't deal with sport. We can't deal with grief. Though actually, I'm not that good at sport either. Aaaanyway ...)

I also got a bit of information about why the shop closed when chatting as I went through the CDs in the warehouse. The owner, who had had the shop at a fairly cheap rent, had died, and there was really no one to carry on, especially as his filing methods had apparently been highly idiosyncratic. When in Cheapo, I talked mostly to a younger assistant, but I think the owner was the fairly taciturn bearded man mentioned in some online forums. As I said in that earlier entry, I don't think his manner counted as rudeness, simply an awareness that the stock sold itself, and you came to Cheapo in order to find things you couldn't find anywhere else - which you certainly did, time after time.

And now it - and he - is no more, and now there can be no tantalising illusion that all the stock, just as it was when I last went in, is just waiting somewhere for me to go through it. Today's browse was, I suppose, equivalent to chucking soil on a coffin: not that great to do, but comforting in a ritualistic sort of way.

And in a public service sort of way, let me repeat the message of the previous entry: at the time of writing, Cheapo's vinyl stock is still for sale - click on previous entry for contact details. If you email the address in the ad you will be sent a fuller list of what is on offer. There isn't now much left in the way of CDs or DVDs although there are a lot of music videos, mostly classical and operatic, including many unopened ones.

I hope the LPs, in particular, find a home. Presumably they were, individually, loved once. (Yes, yes, apart from the review copies, obviously, but don't spoil the mood, eh?) The familiar covers which seemed to have been in the shop since I started visiting Cheapo were a unbroken link to the libraries and record shops of the past which nurtured my love of music and ultimately led to this blog. By coincidence, there is a current Radio 2 series about the demise of the record shop to which I was listening as I went on my expedition to Hanger Lane: blame was squarely put on the supermarkets, rather than the web, able to command large discounts and not interested in anything not in the charts. The guy I was talking to on Sunday had talked with a kind of reverence about the knowledge of either an assistant in Cheapo or maybe the ownere himself, and the surprise when there was a soul record which he couldn't immediately call to mind - or to hand. And not with any kind of showman-type flourish, just: here it is. That one.

Revising this piece a couple of days later, I'm also struck by the oddness of the leavetaking ceremony: although there was someone to bear witness - or to stop me pocketing the stock - it was essentially a solitary act. In a way, that's as it should be, as record collecting is essentially a solitary pursuit (I never invited my Cheapo Gaffe Friend back to the shop for seconds), but I'd like to think there was some kind of reluctant cameraderie, as well as rivalry, among most of those who haunted the shop, all pursuing an ultimately futile quest for the perfect record, the magic all-solving discovery - which rather recalls another concluding passage, now ten years old:
Meanwhile, I'll keep hoping, as doubtless we all are, to catch the echo of those all-solving, all-healing sweet words of pismotality from that ideal doowop record which nestles somewhere in the track listing on the next CD compilation I buy.

Or the one after that ...
So I'm sorry that they couldn't have shared in the opportunity I had, and hope that they will find some way of working out their own impacted grief. Guys (cause it is guys), I have laid me down - or at any crouched me - over those remaining crates of CDs for you. Sort of. Like some kind of a bridge over a river of wistful sighs emanating from those who suddenly come across the news that Cheapo is no more, or who pass by then find they can no longer just pop in. I got the knees of my trousers all dirty too. For you.  

It is, of course, also about time passing: almost twenty five years of my life going to Cheapo, and this year the amount of time I have lived in London shall be equal to my time in Scotland. There may, I suppose, be other record shops in my life - and I suppose I have to hold on to that.

But there won't be another Cheapo.

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