25 January 2018

Cheapo Cheapo Records Memories

Oh Lord, Rupert Street 1975. Cheapo Cheapo Records would have been just there on the left, chock full of gold & wonder. I'd give a kidney to get into that pic right now.
Having shared my own feelings about Cheapo in the previous post, here are some extracts from pieces and discussions found online in order to fill out the story.

Rob Baker, who tweeted the above observation by Danny Baker, is the author of High Buildings, Low Morals, about the sleazier side of London. I presume that that is the source of the photograph though I don't know whether Cheapo features directly in its pages.

Sadly, I can confirm that it doesn't in the highly entertaining Last Record Shop Standing by Graham Jones, discussed here. Be warned that some of the anecdotes - Billy J Kramer performing in a white suit springs to mind - may cause considerable discomfort should you need to suppress your laughter on a busy train journey, as I did: the result was a strained Muttley sound, plus my eyes streaming uncontrollably.

I first encountered Cheapo in 1985 and knew not of its pedigree but on the Soul Source Forum, here, Ian Dewhirst provides details about its earlier existence:
Cheapo Cheapo was for many years in the late 60's/early 70's THE place where record hounds would congregate whenever they visited London. It was probably the main place in town where any collectors from the North would tend to head for ...
When someone on the forum mentions the "awful" Duke Baxter record I Ain't No Schoolboy Tony Rounce, who worked there in the 70s, says:
I think we had close on 1000 copies upstairs in the storeroom at one point ... it was the one record that you could always guarantee to find at least a couple of copies of in the stall stock somewhere! They came from John Anderson, as did a lot of Cheapo's stock in the mid 70s.
Dewhirst adds:
I loved it because you could generally bolster a nice collection of UK promos and oddball releases for 25p a pop as well because I presume plenty of Promotion guys used to drop stuff off there.
In a piece entitled The Art of Ian Clark by Mark Wallace on The 6T's Rhythm and Soul Society site, here, the formation of Kent Records is linked to Cheapo and other London shops and stalls, and John Anderson is once again credited as a major supplier of stock:
Kent Records, UK can trace its roots back to the early 70s to dusty record stalls in Berwick St Market, Soho or down at Cheapo Cheapo's (owned by Phil Cording) or Rock On Records in Camden. This was where DJs like Ian Clark and soul music hawks Ady Croasdell, Randy Cozens, Tony Rounce and Roger Armstrong would often be found stalking or selling US 7'' Soul and R&B 45s, or awaiting crisp new stock shipped down from John Anderson at Soul Bowl Records.
The British Record Shop Archive website has a page of memories of Cheapo here; it is particularly recommended that you visit the original page in order to savour all the comments so I'll content myself with three extracts here: Lester Bowers' insight into Cheapo's origins:
I started buying off Philip when cheapo cheapo was a stall in front of the Chinese shop which later became the cheapo cheapo shop, that must have [been] the late 60s early 70s. They used to have all the promo LPs that reviewers or DJs did not want. I used to fiddle my way up west and this shop was part of the circuit of stores.
Bob Ensell's experience:
I regularly visited through the '70s and '80s, usually making for the basement where the jazz, blues, soul and gospel records were kept. The staff in general were unfriendly but maybe this was the price you had to pay because Cheapo Cheapo lived up to its name and was stuffed with vinyl at the lowest prices in town. They'd also offer a price for pretty well any old records you took in. Best deal was to take a credit note and and use it to buy some new stuff. There was an excitement in thumbing through the racks, anticipating the sudden appearance of a yearned for classic. John Peel often mentioned the shop on his Radio One programme.
Finally, Robert Greenwood's observation:
Very miserable staff, though. It was like a TV sit-com about selling records but scripted by Samuel Beckett.
Mark Barry has written a review of the Rodriguez album Cold Fact which can be found here. He dedicates it to Cheapo's staff and remembers:
Sometimes in a lifetime of scouring through racks for musical thrills - you stumble on something just a little bit special that it seems no one has noticed (including myself). Back in the Nineties when I was upstairs in the grotty and cramped Cheapo Cheapo Records in London's Rupert Street on one of my twice-weekly forages - Vincent who worked that floor would stand behind his tiny counter space and smile because he knew I always spent money and would take chances.

So there I am - flicking through manky reused plastics - once again raiding the soundtrack section to add to my 40 or so John Barry vinyl albums. And if the mood took me (and it always did) - I'd then move over and mosey through the nearby Easy Listening Section where Phil Cording (the cantankerous old geezer who owned the place and worked downstairs) would lump all sorts - Labi Siffre, Nick Jameson (of Foghat) and Rodriguez. I'd see the sleeve of what Phil clearly thought was some Jose Feliciano lookalike and think naught of it. "Cold Fact" would in fact sit there for months on end at £2.50 - and no one but no one would pay any attention to it all (even the Soul Boys who would be scouring the basement area for Kent compilations on Ace Records). But then years later came the American reissue label Light in The Attic Records quickly followed by the sensational 2012 movie "Searching For Sugar Man" (see separate review for the BLU RAY) and Rodriguez LPs stopped being sold for £2.50 'real fast'...

A post about Cheapo on Shelf-Stacker's blog A left ear, a right ear and a VINYL FRONTIER can be found here. I quote from his piece at length as his initial feelings of disbelief at Cheapo being shut so precisely echo mine:
My determined gait and fixed gaze transformed into a stumbling lurch and wide-eyed horror as I saw that not only was the shop closed, but it was actually closed down. With my forehead pressed against the cold, hard shutters that separated me from my favourite musty vinyl hovel, I peered into the gloom of the shop, the shelves empty of all but dust. Ground level had always been the home of the CDs and DVDs, so part of me clung to the hope that the basement, where all the vinyl hung out, was still heaving with dusty gems and if I just waited long enough someone would spot me at the shutters and welcome me in. Figuratively, if not literally, I'm still waiting.

To say that I felt something approaching bereavement at the loss of my favourite digging spot is no exaggeration. Yes, a couple of hours in the dank confines of Cheapo Cheapo's basement usually left me feeling like I was in the grip of tuberculosis, but it was always worth it. Somehow, the Dickensian conditions and the need to heft boxes of unsorted records around to make sufficient space for my feet, added to the joy of finding some obscure gem or other that would leave me mentally crossing yet another item off my wishlist ... To say that I felt something approaching bereavement at the loss of my favourite digging spot is no exaggeration. Yes, a couple of hours in the dank confines of Cheapo Cheapo's basement usually left me feeling like I was in the grip of tuberculosis, but it was always worth it.
Shelf-Stacker's response, when I left a comment, seems a perfect way to conclude this post about memories of Cheapo. Quite apart from anything else it reminds me of the thrill I had when contributing, in 2000 to a doo wop message board and unexpectedly finding an answering emotion in others:

It's clear that a number of us have great memories of Cheapos. Can you imagine anyone seeing it as anything other than an inconvenience if itunes disappeared from our lives? There's something about a bricks and mortar shop that connects with us in a manner which suggests that the stock, of primary importance though it is, is just one of many factors that makes up the music purchasing experience. It seems that in spite of the unwelcoming owner, grubby environment and dank cellar ambience, Cheapo Cheapo Records had an indefinable 'something' which has prompted the sort of eulogy usually reserved for the passing of an idol or family member. I'm pretty sure that I bought a few items of ex-Cheapo stock at the Olympia Record Fair earlier this year - don't ask me how I know, just a hunch - but the buzz of recognition was brief, cancelled out as it was by the reminder of Cheapo's demise.

 Earlier posts about Cheapo:

The complete story in a single post
The first post, A Wreath for Cheapo, with comments at the end
A guide to all the original posts 

No comments:

Post a Comment