HMV & Blockbuster, The Melting Glaciers Of My Past

How one branch of HMV kept Radio Caroline afloat in the 80s, and Blockbuster rescued my life

Blockbuster

The new that both Blockbuster and HMV in the UK have gone into administration this week would have been a huge blow to my much younger self, for whom those stores were an essential component of living.

I remember the first time I saw a Blockbuster Video – it was such a revelation compared to the tiny stores that were all we knew in the mid 80s, and where any enquiry for a popular video would be met with the new that their only copy was out on loan.

The arrival of Blockbuster in Ashford, Kent in 1989 was quite the most exciting thing to happen to the town since . . well, since my arrival earlier in the year.

Ashford in modern times has grown to a massive extent and now has a huge international station, but when I went to live there in 1989 it had little in the way of excitement, and the only cinema was soon to be demolished. Apart from the lure of the nearby countryside, the only thing that possibly kept me there was the girlfriend who had lured me to Kent in the first place.

Blockbuster was great, there was dozens of copies of each video, and many more titles than you could get elsewhere. I was a firm customer in those days.

I can’t remember when I last rented a video or DVD, it would have been sometime in the late 90s, but by 2000 it was more economic to buy rather than rent, especially as I can be something of a collector.

So I guess I’m as responsible as anyone for the demise of the store.

HMV-OxfordSt

HMV is a different story. This is a store I still use to this very day, for although I no longer buy music from them (preferring to purchase online) I still regularly impulse buy DVDs from their store in Dublin. In fact you could say that they were the beneficiary of my lost Blockbuster custom.

One store will always have a special place in my heart though – HMV in Oxford Street, London.

Here it was during my period as Programme Controller of Radio Caroline in the late 80s that I would come to buy music in bulk, to bring out to the North Sea with me. Usually hotfooting it over from Chelsea, following a meeting with Ronan O’Rahilly, I would have a bundle of money provided for music purchases, and I would spend this carefully, buying as many new albums as possible, rather than singles, so that we would have fresh music for the weeks and months ahead.

I remember one day spending £400 in the store in a single visit – which, in todays money amounts to £884 (or over a thousand euro).  My arms were aching by the time I had dragged my two heavy rucksacks of music from oxford Street, all the way to Victoria Station, down to Dover on the train, across to Calais, and on to Dunkirk from when our supply ship departed.

The Oxford Street store also had another connection to Caroline – it had an in-house radio station where many DJs worked while on leave from the ship – I remember Simon West being the mainstay there, but there were others too. Simon always made sure that advance or promo copies of new tracks given to the station were left in a package for me to collect and bring out to the ship also, so it was a “safe” way for record companies and promoters to get their product out to the ship.

In later years, that same store was where I bought my first console games – Super Mario 2 and 3, and Zelda for the Nintendo.

Hopefully the stores can survive, though these are indeed changed time, and I fear they will not.

Another iceberg from my past melted to nothing.

Steve


2 Comments on “HMV & Blockbuster, The Melting Glaciers Of My Past”

  1. […] Steve Conway on HMV entering administration I went into the HMV ‘Closing Down Sale’ in the Manchester Market Street branch the other day. Discounts haven’t get reached the “clear the shelves at any cost” stage. When Wollies closed I came out of the local store with about fifty discs for a tenner. […]

  2. Andy B says:

    Hello Steve, Chris Pearson was another of the Caroline and Radio HMV stalwarts, he gave me my break on Radio HMV in 1988.
    http://cy.linkedin.com/in/chrispearson1

    I did Christmas, Easter and Saturday shifts on Radio HMV while in my student holidays. Happy days. I remember having a terrible ‘Pat Sharp’ haircut and enjoying browsing the bargain bins. I also remember the shop staff didn’t much like the DJs and the shop managers would complain if we tried to play anything a bit ‘alternative’. Chris P left for Ocean Sound and fortunately Simon didn’t offer me a full-time job otherwise I’d almost certainly have given up my degree course which would in hindsight have been a very bad move.

    I made it out to Caroline in July 1989 following contact with Paul Graham and sharing a student house with Andy Bradgate in Loughborough (of which the less said the better!)

    I have quite a few of tapes of myself Radio HMV – more than of Caroline as they went into the drink on the way home – I think I must have left on the last tender before the raid and tensions were pretty high.

    Best Wishes
    Andy Parka (aka Joss Stick)


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