Liverpool, England. The city, once awarded as the City of Music by UNESCO, gave birth to the world-influential band —- Beatles. Music has become the language of this city. As part of music, a lot of vinyl record stores endure in this city of music.
Probe Records is one of those vinyl record stores. It is located at the central of Liverpool with a history of more than 45 years. Though not big, it has various vinyl
records. Its business is quite well, and customers sometimes have to queue outside the shop.
In 2015, UK vinyl record sales set a record over 21 years. We could also judge from this shop that UK does have a good record business.
Recently, we entrusted some oversea students to visit Probe Records, and chatted with the owner John about Probe Records and his stories with vinyl records when he was available.
CMBN: It is said that Probe Records has moved four times since its opening. Could you tell us its history and reasons?
John: This record shop opened in 1971. Geoff Davies, the owner at that time, was a fanatic music lover. So the reason of the former two removals is that he hoped that his record store could get closer to music.
In 1976, the store was moved to Button Street where Liverpool punk and new wave music gathered. Indie bands and indie musicians were regular in the shop.
Later, with record industry turning downwards, it moved twice under the pressure of rental and other reasons. We last moved here five years ago. Many record stores that I frequently went to when I was young has disappeared. We are the bunch of people
who still cline to run record stores independently. I hope that it can avoid moving anymore, or I have to spend another month sorting all the records in the shop.
CMBN: How’s your business now? How many records do you own? Are they affected by the removals?
John: They were affected for some times. But it was not so serious. Compared to us, the records are only a small part of the shop. I remember the time of the largest amount of records. Added by CD, there were more than 40,000. Since the removal, the number surpasses 30,000 now.
CMBN: Is it very difficult to manage so many records? If I name one record, can you find it?
John: Of course. It’s been 20 years and I’m well aware of this store. Managing this shop is quite difficult, for it is changing all the time. The increasing of any new
record could influence the position of others.
Music genres are also too complex. For example, there are several types under rock. There are several thousand records placing in the shop. Fine, I have to admit that I made a joke just now. In fact, I couldn’t remember positions of one fourth of the records. My memory declines with my age. So for me, the shop is new every day.
CMBN: Faced with such complexed work, what is your greatest pleasure here?
John: My greatest pleasure is that I can meet various kind of people. People love music, and they love collecting records. So they would travel around the world and
find all kinds of record shops in order to collect music works. I can meet people from different part of the world just as you. I’m very happy.
I like to chat with anyone who comes here. We talk about music, of course, and about many other things except music. It’s quite interesting.
CMBN: People like to collect music. Are there many crazy music fans collecting vinyl
records, or others only collect but do not listen?
John: Sure, there are such kind of people. But I don’t regard them as crazy. They only enjoy the process of collecting. Sometimes, they are addicted to it. For example, I like to collect first editions.
CMBN: Do you know other collecting hobbies? What’s the pleasure of collecting vinyl records?
John: Collecting hobbies vary with different people. Some like to collect the same record with different versions. Sometimes, they even collect it because of another color of the package. Others only collect secondhand vinyl records. They tend to think
that record wear is more important for good sound quality. Sure, I do not quite
understand such behaviors sometimes.
I’m not clear about where the true pleasure lies. But whenever I find records that I love and see them listing on the shelf in my home, I feel happy.
Music won’t stop, so the process of collecting won’t stop. Maybe every day, you hope to find a record which you have not seen. It makes people feel that life is full of hope.
CMBN: What kind of age group do people buying vinyl records in your store belong to? Is there any difference among customers from different countries?
John: There’s no fixed age group of people buying records. Customers are among all kinds of age groups. But you might also notice that the majority are male. I don’t know the specific reason. Maybe men and women have different hobbies, just like ladies are more fancy buying clothes.
Young people are frequently choosing heavy metal and hard dance music. Senior gentlemen might prefer rock music in 70s, 80s or even earlier. Pink Floyd is very popular here.
Of course, most will buy Beatles, especially foreign travelers. So some people think that you have to come to Liverpool to buy Beatles. They have a sincere expression
Also, some regular customers are more and more demanding, always wanting to buy records that other people do not have. This is the spell of record shops. You can
always discover and find the new and special things.
Besides, people always told me that they listened a song in a bar and asked me whether I have any record that contained that song. Even though our shop do not have it, they would book it. They always say what they were doing, who they were with, and how happy they were, when they listened to the song. So they must have it.
Therefore, to some extent, vinyl record is the media of their stories.
CMBN: Last year, the number of vinyl sales reached 2.1 million in UK, with an eight-year increasing to hit the record over 21 years. What do you think is the reason for its good development in UK?
John: First of all, as a record shop owner and vinyl record fan, I’m very happy about this. At least, it means that more and more people are paying attention to and starting to love vinyl records.
As for the reason, I’m not pretty sure. Maybe each industry that declined once might pick up for some time. Vinyl records could enrich the collection, for its quality
and nice covers. Now many labels add song download codes when releasing vinyl
records. Therefore, people can enjoy the convenience of downloading audio as well
as the pleasure of physical records. I think it happened for various reasons.
Of course, older people like vinyl records for the purpose of recalling old memories. This is also the reason that prevents vinyl records from disappearing. Now, many young people also fall in love with them. I think this was triggered by retro trend.
They start to wear vintage clothes and try to love vinyl records. They have
freshness and curiosity towards old culture.
So, you can see many vintage shops also sell vinyl records. For example, there is one on Renshaw Street. Vinyl records are even available in modern shops like on the
second floor of Urban Outfitters, Liverpool.
CMBN: What do you think of vinyl records sold in non-specialized stores? Tesco has already entered vinyl record market.
John: I can only say it should be a good thing. It means that vinyl record market is growing. More methods and channels are helping vinyl records to get back to people’s
life. However, I still feel it quite strange, for buying vinyl records in Tesco is as ordering a bottle of water in a bar.
Tesco is doing bundled consumption of records and beer. I think it only wants to stimulate beer sale, rather than for record industry. Other places that sell records, such as HMV, sometimes are better than mine. But it’s too cold in HMV. It has no difference from other shops which do not have music stories. People who buy vinyl records in record stores are those who truly love and understand music.
Maybe I’m only on the view of record shop owners. However, if those help the development of record industry objectively, it must be good.
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