Monday, 4 April 2011

Another One Bites The Dust (Almost)

It's close on two years since I last strode past the trollops half-heartedly displaying themselves in the doorways of the seedy titty bars on Soho's Rupert Street. As always, I was sweating in anticipation of getting my hands on something that I had been fantasising about for months. To the strippers' consternation the objects of my desire were housed in an establishment even grottier and more down-at-heel than their sordid clip joints, for I had eyes only for Cheapo Cheapo Records

Soho Vinyl Fetish

My determined gait and fixed gaze transformed into a stumbling lurch and wide-eyed horror as I saw that not only was the shop closed, but it was actually closed down. With my forehead pressed against the cold, hard shutters that separated me from my favourite musty vinyl hovel, I peered into the gloom of the shop, the shelves empty of all but dust. Ground level had always been the home of the CDs and DVDs, so part of me clung to the hope that the basement, where all the vinyl hung out, was still heaving with dusty gems and if I just waited long enough someone would spot me at the shutters and welcome me in. Figuratively, if not literally, I'm still waiting.

To say that I felt something approaching bereavement at the loss of my favourite digging spot is no exaggeration. Yes, a couple of hours in the dank confines of Cheapo Cheapo's basement usually left me feeling like I was in the grip of tuberculosis, but it was always worth it. Somehow, the Dickensian conditions and the need to heft boxes of unsorted records around to make sufficient space for my feet, added to the joy of finding some obscure gem or other that would leave me mentally crossing yet another item off my wishlist. The bloke who oversaw the record department, I think his name was Ian, must have had a time machine to take him on regular trips to the 1970s. How else could he suddenly get hold of multiple promo copies of albums by The Lavender Hill Mob, Easy Street, Aviary, Bobbidazzler and The Dixon House Band? Perhaps not rare according to The Record Collector Rare Record Price Guide, but priceless when, like me, you're a fan of the kind of bands who never quite got noticed enough in the first place to slip off the radar. I believe the store owner died suddenly - I hesitate to speculate that it was down to a respiratory disease - and the vinyl part of the shop was presumably no longer viable without him at the helm to deal in the bread and butter that was the sale of the devil's coasters and their moving-picture cousins, the DVDs. Turning up at his funeral to ask what had happened to all the stock was not something I considered. Not for long anyway.

But that's old news and I'm getting over it now. At least, my therapist thinks I'm making progress. What has brought all these feelings bubbling to the surface again is the fact that just this week I paid a visit to one of the dust and mildew farms that I started to frequent on the rebound from my prematurely terminated relationship with Cheapo Cheapo only to find that it too is soon to close its doors, permanently. The record shop in question is Music Search, a suitably fragrant and unkempt little dive in Chertsey, Surrey, which just happens to have all the ingredients that make for a perfect digging spot, namely: thousands of poorly organised records spilling out of grubby crates and boxes; friendly, anecdote-spewing staff; no discernable natural light; patrons who drop in just for a chat; and a flexible approach to pricing. The owner is rather fed up with the local hoodies breaking in to steal his petty cash of an evening and, as of August he is handing the premises over to a cobblers. Cobblers! While you still have the chance, get yourself down to Music Search, pick up a few bargains and a respiratory disease and, if you see Clive, the elusive owner, try to get him to reconsider. Tell him I sent you.

If you have a local record store that you want to tell the world about (by 'world' I mean the handful of discerning punters who visit this blog), let me know and I'll give your fave digging venue a mention here. Let's not lose any more of these wonderful places.


  1. Sadly missed. I used to love all of the odd west coasty/AOr stuff he had multiples of! Apparently the owner died and the stock was sold to Reaveal just up the road but I've never seen anything in there that looks like it was ever in Cheapo's :(

  2. I could kick myself for not grabbing all of the LPs that interested me whenever I went to Cheapo Cheapo. I was trying to be sensible and set myself a spending limit. I always thought there'd be a next time. I still have a mental list of the ones that got away. Torment!

  3. Hi there, yes, I too was devastated by the end of Cheapo and have written several posts about it on my blog - guide to the various posts here:

    Following up an ad in gumtree I actually had a chance to go through the remains of Cheapo's stock in May 2010, although by that time, I was told, the best stuff had been bought by a store or chain in Birmingham. The ad, which had been renewed a few times, doesn't seem to be in gumtree anymore, so the remaining vinyl may have been sold or destroyed. I was more interested in CDs and can testify that there was very little left of any worth.

    Phil Cording, the owner of Cheapo's, died on 29th January 2009 and the shop was closed two months later.

  4. Hi Pismotality. I read your blog posts with great interest. It's clear that a number of us have great memories of Cheapos. Can you imagine anyone seeing it as anything other than an inconvenience if itunes disappeared from our lives? There's something about a bricks and mortar shop that connects with us in a manner which suggests that the stock, of primary importance though it is, is just one of many factors that makes up the music purchasing experience. It seems that in spite of the unwelcoming owner, grubby environment and dank cellar ambience, Cheapo Cheapo Records had an indefinable 'something' which has prompted the sort of eulogy usually reserved for the passing of an idol or family member. I'm pretty sure that I bought a few items of ex-Cheapo stock at the Olympia Record Fair earlier this year - don't ask me how I know, just a hunch - but the buzz of recognition was brief, cancelled out as it was by the reminder of Cheapo's demise.

  5. Yes, there was a kind of purity about Cheapo - no pretence, at least with the late Phil, of small talk. You were there for the music. And for me it was one of the first places in London where I felt at home. You had to be there because you wanted to buy records - it was too cramped and unappealing to visit for any other reason. And there was a kind of jumble sale ambience - a kind of permanent jumble sale, given some of the bargains you could find, and the unlikely items you would take a chance on. I am still haunted by vinyl I ought to have given a home to.

  6. I spent most of my lunchtimes in Cheapo rifling through the dusty albums and it always made me late back from lunch. I was presented with the album to inspect and never dared to question its condition in case the owner would have ago at me! I came out feeling he had done me a great service selling me the album. Others, who didn't know him, sometimes questioned his stock.
    I cringed as I awaited his response. "Well don't have it then".

    Basil Fawlty had nothing on his Customer Service skills.

  7. Roger, Thanks for taking the time to comment. If you're looking for somewhere else to be verbally abused now Cheapo Cheapo has gone, can I recommend HAGGLE VINYL on the Essex Road in Islington: a quirky proprietor and some real gems hidden in the dust and chaos.

  8. I also loved this shop and went there many many times saw many "faces" in there incl Danny baker , Just read about the owner always wondered what had happened, he was some character not mad on conversation was he ha shame another great bit of london lost for ever, bet he would have banned mobiles being used in his shop as well ha , rip cheapos always loved soho frenchie

  9. Nice comment! I can't say I ever saw any famous faces in Cheapos, but I would probably have been too focussed on the vinyl to notice.