You’ll have to wait for my review of “Girl, Woman, Other” (which I fairly ploughed through over the weekend) (spoiler alert: I loved it) as I’ve managed not to get round to writing up a review of this excellent read from the other end of my TBR. Why I read half the books I bought from Foyles with a gathering of book tokens in May 2018 almost immediately and am only now tackling the other half is just one of those mysteries. They’ll be going pretty quickly now, though, as I can’t access the up-to-date end of things behind a Terrible Pile. Anyway …

Garth Cartwright – “Going for a Song: A Chronicle of the UK Record Shop”

(22 May 2018, Foyles)

A good if exhaustive (not one for a fickle read but a book you need to sit down properly to) examination of UK record shops from their first inception to their last guttering out, or plucky survival in a few cases. It bobs around the years a bit as it takes themes for chapters from types of music as they arise and sees those genres through: I can’t really see how else it could have been done, but there is a little bit of repetition and cross-reference.

I learned a lot. It was interesting to find out that 78s were originally available in hardware and other shops, and I didn’t know that the album got its name from the practice of selling series of linked records (all a composer’s symphonies, for example) in a bound folder. Supercilious record shop staff have apparently been with us right from the start, and that’s recorded, however much of the history Cartwright documents is almost invisible in the public record – including the existence of a whole record shop, distribution and label-owning family, the Alis, and many of the shops features here, so he does an important job of making them known and saving what details there are. Lots of oral history and interviews flesh things out and nice connections are made between the known locations of musicians and the known or possible shops they frequented.

I was particularly interested in the Birmingham side of things and also the shops of Berwick Street, which I used to haunt in my London days. I was sad to learn of the demise of Cheapo, Cheapo, where I picked up many peculiar low-priced favourites, although I was never on any level of intimacy with its staff or owner as Cartwright clearly was. A massive labour of love, written from the inside and the outside, also filled with wonderful images of the shops in question and their ephemera.


I’m still reading Clair Wills’ “Lovers and Strangers” and have also been reorganising my bookshelves a bit, as I managed to score two tall “CD Rack” bookcases from a local charity shop in the week, which have fitted in the remaining 20cm-wide gaps in the house where a book storage item can fit. I now have all my Iris Murdochs, hardback and paperback, together, and a new collection of Sport and Nature upstairs. Iris Murdoch is on the landing, indeed!