London, with its ever-expanding population and still vibrant club and live music scenes, will always have space for stacks and racks. Since the advent of downloads, online retail and eBay, the lifeblood of the independent record shop seems to have been fading fast and many of the city’s most hallowed havens have sadly disappeared. Yet the ability to easily pick up the latest tunes or spend an afternoon flicking through the stands for surprises is a reason in itself for some to visit or live in the capital.
Whether it’s due to the personal preference of audiophiles, a love of the physical or simple fetishization of apparently outmoded media, who knows? Who cares? The continued resilience of the real record store is something to celebrate, so we’re going shopping with a guide to a few of London’s finest:
Jewel of the East
Rough Trade East Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane London E1 6QL
The number one destination of the independent-minded music fan since the heyday of punk, Rough Trade (which spawned the Smiths-signing label of the same name) has always managed to please while moving with the times. Their newer store, just off the East End’s legendary Brick Lane, is Wi-Fi-friendly, with a café and performance/exhibition space, making it something of a hip hangout. Naturally, the 5,000sq ft is also home to a vast array of records and CDs, spanning the entire independent and underground field – indie-pop to hip-hop, punk to post-rock, folk to funk, retro to right now. RT also sells music-related books, DVDs, magazines and merchandise.
The older, much smaller West London site (130 Talbot Road, off Portobello) is also well-stocked and retains more of a traditional indie store feel with a vintage/rarities basement that serious diggers will find is well worth a visit.
Central London, the Soho Specialists
Sounds of the Universe 7 Broadwick St, W1
Part of an independent mini empire that takes in the Soul Jazz Records label and club nights, Soho’s SOTU goes from strength to strength. The shop’s massive range of reggae, jazz, hip-hop, soul, Latin, electro, disco, dubstep (and more) is now complimented by the appropriately stark and dark second-hand basement. The same enthusiasm and expertise that informs Soul Jazz’s peerless compilation output comes through in the shop, where recommended titles are clearly highlighted with superlatives. A nifty selection of merchandise is also stocked and the knowledgeable staff – when not manically busy serving the hordes of regulars – are helpful and friendly too.
Sister Ray 34-35 Berwick Street, W1V 3RF
Immortalised (in its previous incarnation as Selectadisc) on the cover of Oasis’s What’s The Story Morning Glory, this new spot for permanent Berwick St fixture Sister Ray was saved from administration in 2008. Owing to its broad range and low prices, Sister Ray should be the first port of call on any music shopping binge. Check here before the entertainment superstores or other specialists for CD and vinyl bargains in all genres. SR is especially good for indie rock, classic albums and reissues alongside discounted DVDs, merchandise and books, and unlike many stores is open seven days a week.
BM Soho 25 D’Arblay Street, W1
Wall racks filled to bursting with UK, US and European releases, exclusives, promos, white labels”¦BM Soho (formerly Black Market Records) is the home of the 12″ single. One of dance music’s longest standing institutions, it has steadily serviced both the superstar and the bedroom DJ since its inception in 1990. Staffed by producers, label owners, DJs and promoters, BM is relied upon for its matchless expertise so is nearly always crowded. Get in there early on a weekday for the best access to the newest and finest of all forms of house music, drum & bass, dubstep and techno.
Reckless Records 30 Berwick St, W1
For a brief period Reckless was aptly renamed Revival, and this last remaining UK branch keeps Berwick Street’s longstanding tradition of second-hand specialism alive. Slimmed down into one somewhat narrow store, there’s still an awful lot packed into its small space. Vinyl classics, oddities and rarities of all genres remain the bulk of the business and are generally competitively priced against other London outlets. These guys really know their stuff.
Harold Moores, 2 Great Marlborough Street, London W1F 7HQ
Despite being a few moments away in either direction from the Soho indies and the sparkly superstores of Oxford Street, Harold Moores seems to belong to another London altogether. For 30 years, this wooden fronted classical specialist has stood its ground by relying on excellent service and know-how. Contemporary and historic performances are stocked on CD and second-hand vinyl recordings of the highest quality are also available in abundance.
The best of the West
Intoxica! 231 Portobello Road, London, W11 1LT
A truly special store, a couple of minutes stroll from Portobello Road Market, Intoxica! would almost be worth visiting for its Hawaiian beach shack décor alone. The real treat though is the treasure trove of vintage vinyl (no CDs), that nestles in amongst the fancy fixtures and fittings. Their expertly handled catalogue of rare, collectable second hand and quality reissue platters covers 60s beat, psychedelia, soundtracks, surf, ska, soul, blues/r’n’b, punk and exotica.
Honest Jon’s 278 Portobello Road, W10 5TE
Originally established in 1974 and catering for the jazz crowd, Honest Jon’s has grown to become the premier exponent of a join-the-dots aesthetic. Expect to find the finest selections spanning a global groove spectrum that takes in soul, reggae, Latin, African and the furthest outreaches of folk, rock, hip-hop, house and electronica. Bolstered by the success of the highly regarded Honest Jon’s record label – co-founded with Blur/Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn, HJ’s will hopefully remain a permanent fixture at the quieter end of Portobello.
Music & Video Exchange 38-40 Notting Hill Gate, W2 4DS
The UK’s oldest second-hand chain, MVE not only has the largest selection of vinyl, CDs and DVDs – including many rarities – it also has nearby satellite stores stocking just about everything from books and comics to computer games, household items and vintage clothes. From the main store, which specialises in rock, pop, blues and folk, it’s a short walk to the equally well-stocked Soul & Dance, Classical and Games Exchanges and the Retro Man and Retro Woman fashion shops.
What do you make of our selection? Do you have any recommendations of your own? Let us know in the comments section below.