I can remember when Richard Branson swept away the cushions and headphones and put security guards on the doors at the Virgin store in Manchester in the early 80s to stop the shrinkage.
It was the end of of any illusions that a national chain of record shops could be a flagship for youth culture, a place where you could discover Phaedra by Tangerine Dream or Gong’s Camembert Electrique among the chart mainstream.
HMV was always more corporate – a retail outpost of EMI, the first label that couldn’t handle the Sex Pistols – and marched across the land in tandem with the other store chains that turned our high streets into clone streets.
It long ago afforded DVDs and console games equal shelf space with CDs and token specialist vinyl. Only on Oxford Street in London has there been space for the widest range of music and staff with thorough knowledge of jazz or blues or folk or opera or heavy metal to support the genres and share their enthusiasm with potential buyers.
On the high street and even in the bigger malls – Bluewater or Westfield – the choice has been little better than in a Boots or WH Smith of the mid-70s. That is, execrable.
The latest attempt to turn round HMV’s fortunes – by shoehorning in tablets and other “technology” at higher prices than Currys PC World – reduced even further the choice of music. It was hardly a strategy to lure people away from the download sites.
So the news that HMV is about to go into administration – the morning after they sent out emails announcing a Blue Cross sale with 25% reductions – will be mourned by me more for the likely loss of jobs than for the threat to the last record store chain. See the Guardian’s story here.
Does this mean there’ll be an opening for a latterday Rob Gordon to turn in a decent profit from his enthusiasm for the music, without having to satisfy shareholders or get the branding just so, let alone discounting to compete with the fake top 40 that the supermarket down the road never quite keeps fully stocked and where the staff can never introduce you to the next big thing.
It may even be that a sensible landlord or two will take the long view and offer up some floorspace at an affordable rents for a small business to do more than limp along before closing. High Fidelity? High hopes.