Limerick will be a lesser place the day the music finally dies

Alan English, editor


Alan English, editor

LIMERICK Leader editor Alan English laments how local record shops fell by the wayside, one by one.

LIMERICK Leader editor Alan English laments how local record shops fell by the wayside, one by one.

AS HMV shut its doors this Wednesday, those of us who grew up in a city full of record shops are faced with an appalling vista – not a single place left from which to buy the new releases, or the browse the old stuff.

It’s unthinkable, but it’s true. The power of HMV itself put paid to some of old shops and now – barring a new business emerging from the ashes – the digital revolution has claimed the last store standing.

Those who download their music and movies will barely notice, but when you’ve grown up in a time when vinyl was king and then spent hard-earned money amassing CDs and DVDs it seems like the city is already a less civilised and interesting place.

HMV has been part of the Limerick landscape for barely two decades, opening as one of the flagship stores in the new Cruises Street back in 1993. Perhaps its fortunes could be seen to have mirrored those of the street it fronts: a retail proposition that’s no longer compelling.

One by one the city’s record shops have fallen, taken out by the unsentimental forces of change. Clancy’s, Woolworths, Golden Discs, Stardiscs, Empire Music, the old record department at the still trading Savin’s: all gone.

There were others, of course: secondhand stores and other places whose names I can’t instantly recall. What I do remember, though, is records I got there: the tiny shop at the bottom of Bedford Row where I bought the debut single of an emerging British band, Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits; the place in the now demolished Spaights shopping centre where I picked up a limited edition double single by U2 called Fire. It was supposed to be worth a few quid, that. Obviously I still have it, along with well over a thousand pieces of vinyl and a similar number of CDs.

Like many in Limerick, I suspect, I bought my very first record at Woolworths, the identity of which I’ve never admitted before. I remember the conversation with the girl behind the counter.

Me (somewhat nervously): “Have you got the Bay City Rollers?”

Girl: “The new one or the old one?”

Me (visibly thrown): “Ah, the new one ... I think.”

The singles were stored in pigeonholes, depending on their chart position. She reached up to the No 1 slot and handed it over: Money Honey, it was called.

A little to the left of where HMV stands now, at the far end of Tots to Teens, there was Stardiscs. It was small but somehow glamorous and exciting. As you walked in, they always had something good playing, like Heart of Glass by Blondie. They had the latest UK singles and albums charts from the centrefold of Music Week magazine pinned on the wall. I studied them avidly.

One day, I entered a competition on the pirate Big L station for which the prize was your choice of three free LPs from Stardiscs, with the only proviso being they had to be by artists sharing the winner’s initials. That lucky winner was yours truly and can still vividly recall the day I stalked the A and E sections, not finding much to my liking, before handing over LPs by America, ELO and the Eagles. I now realise, more than 30 years later, that I should have given Big L a bogus name.

For a brief, glorious period in 1988 I wrote a music column for the Leader and secured a sweet deal with Golden Discs, downstairs in Todds, which gave me three free LPs every week to review. Most of them got four or five stars: in fairness, I wasn’t going to waste my freebies on rubbish.

Around the same time two friends went into business together and set up Empire Music in the old Williamscourt mall, so then we got to hear about the record business from insiders. It was still flying back then, and the shop later moved to a prime pitch on O’Connell Street. But the world was changing and eventually Empire Music went the way of the others.

If HMV does close, could some enterprising romantic swim against the tide and set up a new music store here? It seems unlikely: the wishful thinking of a dinosaur at a time when even those who don’t download their music have been wooed by online giants like Amazon.

Tomorrow, depressingly, the only place you’ll find new CDs is the likes of Tesco. We can only hope that changes, but it’s not looking good.