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By: Elizabeth Ivanovich (justin) 2012.03.20



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A Guide to London's Independent Record Shops

It would take a lifetime to compile a full list of London's music shops. Nevertheless, I hope that the following sampler will help the novice and the veteran music junkie alike. I have grouped the stores both by neighborhood and by the time I found necessary to explore their inventories. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)

It can be difficult to locate indie record shops in London without knowing their locations in advance, since many of them are crammed into poorly labeled storefronts. This is especially true of the Hanway Street stores, which are in a back alley off the busy corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. (During my first London trip, confused by the listings for Hanway Passage and Hanway Street in my London A to Z map book, I walked the same four blocks for more than an hour and a half trying to find these shops.) This hidden aspect adds charm as well: Diehard record sleuths will feel as if they've stumbled on a secret gold mine, while casual browsers will enjoy the stores' low-key feel. Phone numbers listed are for use within London; you will need to omit the first 0 and add the appropriate country code 44 if you are calling from elsewhere.

22 Hanway Street
(020) 7637 7734

Division One's selection is concise but eclectic, which makes browsing a pleasure. (Your eyes will adjust to the kitschy fluorescent paint scheme eventually.) The store has released its own compilation CD, Real Fidelity, which features songs from the Castaways, the Beach Boys, and Tim Buckley, among others.

36 Hanway Street
(020) 7637 8934

On The Beat is reminiscent of a rock expert's garage sale. Issues of the defunct music papers Sounds and Melody Maker are displayed on the walls; everything from glam rock to trendy pop fills the record bins. The inventory of records, CDs, magazines, and vintage music newspapers appears somewhat disorganized, but the kindly owner will lead you directly to your quarry if it's there. I once found a Big Star single for pound 5!

When the cookie-cutter atmosphere of the Piccadilly Circus chain stores gets to you, escape to nearby Berwick Street for some alluring new options. Who would expect so many great record shops on one short thoroughfare? (For extra cognitive dissonance, come on a day when the open-air fruit and vegetable stands have set up nearby.) As might be expected, the fashionista Soho shoppers have a certain aura of cool, but it doesn't resemble snobbishness so much as Zen-like concentration on the browsing at hand. After all, whether you're searching for the latest Poptones release or the first Jasmine Minks record, opportunities abound for comparison shopping.

26 Berwick Street (rock, pop, rare records)
(020) 7734 3144
30 Berwick Street (soul and dance)
(020) 7437 4271

Reckless has four locations in London; two of them can be found on Berwick Street. The original Reckless is in the Islington borough, with a new branch open in Camden. Reckless claims that the 30 Berwick Street shop is its busiest, but the 26 Berwick location has a basement of rarities that simply screams to the record hound. The 26 Berwick Reckless also does mail and special orders.

34 / 35 Berwick Street
(020) 7734 3297

A favorite of the BBC's Steve Lamacq, Selectadisc has one of the nicest layouts of the London shops: spacious and clubby, complete with turntables in the back. (Seven-inch records are lumped in with the 12-inches, however, so be prepared to search those bins carefully.) The store has a tempting selection of T-shirts featuring album covers by the Pixies, the Stooges, and even the cult German group Can. Devotees of (British, not American) football will find team-logo jerseys for sale as well.

94 Berwick Street
(020) 7287 8385

If there is still such a thing as alternative rock, one will certainly find it at Sister Ray. This compact shop is packed from ceiling to floor with vinyl and CDs, and has one of the most comprehensive mail-order Websites around (for those music shoppers who aren't planning a London trek anytime soon).

12 Berwick Street
(020) 7437 3535

Considered the definitive spot for reggae aficionados in central London, Daddy Kool has a generous selection of soul, roots, and disco as well.

While Hanway Street and Soho boast a little bit of everything, Notting Hill caters to devotees of particular genres, especially those that aren't given much love in the States. Are you a forlorn power-popper who gets razzed by pals for loving Cheap Trick? Find sanctuary in Minus Zero (I did). Is your girlfriend sick of hearing that if she tried harder, she could look more like the Cramps' Poison Ivy? Then Intoxica! is the place for you. Even if your weakness is old-school indie rock, you will find tunes to feed your addiction at Rough Trade.

231 Portobello Road
(020) 7229 8010

Intoxica! is the happy London emporium of rockabilly, punk, and surf music. Unfortunately, the garage aesthetic doesn't extend to many items' pricing. Stick to the books and fanzines if your wallet is feeling light.

2 Blenheim Crescent
(020) 7229 5424

Minus Zero Records is a power-popper's dream come to life, and is possibly my favorite record store anywhere. Those with a penchant for crunchy guitars and angelic harmonies will find a treasure trove of records and CDs in all price ranges, as well as an extensive selection of pop fanzines.

Proprietors Mick Dillingham and Bill Forsyth will be happy to play selections you're curious about, and converse with you at length about bands from the Beatles to the Wondermints. Minus Zero is also a record label, which has garnered recent acclaim for the Orgone Box's jangly, psychedelic self-titled debut. Walk over to the right-hand side of the room to find Stand Out!! Records, which places a greater emphasis on American '60s and '70s garage, rock, and folk think Mojo magazine come to life. The shops are open Fridays and Saturdays only.

130 Talbot Road
(020) 7229 8541

Rough Trade holds a place in many an indie-rocker's heart. The Rough Trade label released music from the likes of Pere Ubu and the Raincoats back in the New Wave era, and today its roster includes the Strokes and Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval. (Rough Trade recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a four-CD boxed set.) The deceptively cozy Talbot Road location boasts a staggering array of releases in all formats, as well as fanzines, T-shirts, and memorabilia. (If you're lucky, you might catch an in-store concert there; call or check the Website for the current schedule.) The Talbot Road location can be difficult to find, as the street numbers appear to go down suddenly once you pass the 120 block. No need to panic; just keep walking along for several more blocks, and you will see the shop. A smaller Rough Trade shop occupies the basement of Covent Garden's Slam City Skates (16 Neal's Yard, (020) 7240 0105). It emphasizes electronica and boasts quirkier, if fewer, zines than the original.

Secondhand fans may have luck with the MUSIC AND VIDEO EXCHANGE branches around town (see for locations); they are a particularly good source for CD singles and back issues of British rock magazines. If you're not claustrophobic, CHEAPO CHEAPO RECORDS (53 Rupert Street, (020) 7437 8272) is overflowing with items that live up to the store's name.

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