Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

My musical happy place

My late teens and early twenties were spent listening to a lot of music, and some of the bands I enjoyed back then became the soundtrack to my life. I have a pretty wide range of musical taste these days, although I’ll admit to being a bit of a music snob for a while when I was young and didn’t know better. Some of the “mix tapes” I made were made more by trying to being obscure—or to feature well-known songs by alternative bands—than necessarily being any good. (That being said, I was quite surprised how much I enjoyed this playlist, which I recreated in Spotify just recently from a CD.)

I used to have a couple of IKEA towers of CDs at home until we moved to a smaller flat, and I laboriously digitised them to that I could listen to them on iTunes and on my old iPod until I began my subscription with Spotify in 2016. When a friend—a much more avid collector of CDs than I ever was—decided to get rid of his entire collection, I took several shopping bags full of wildly mixed stuff home, and even went as far as listening to some of them.

I also have a box of old cassettes stored away, although I decided to bin the majority of them some time ago, when realising that the nostalgia for low-quality sound was never likely to amount to anything.

A different friend showed off a wonderful (and very expensive) hi-fi system in which he’d invested a few years ago, which drew me back to wanting to listen to CDs again. I knew that I wanted to start listening to higher-quality music through proper speakers; a simple Spotify stream to my Sonos Beam just wouldn’t cut it. I wanted to go through the musical equivalent of a Japanese tea service: selecting a CD from a limited-edition booklet cover, then listening through wooden, cloth-covered speakers whilst flicking through the more modern equivalent of liner notes. I have a small number of comparatively rare vinyl pressings of my favourite bands—E.P.s and singles—but as yet, I’m refraining to buy a record player, thanks to the additional cost and lack of space at home.

After buying a pretty wood-encased digital media and CD player by Roberts to sit on the desk in my home office, I began thinking about how to extend my music collection. Having disposed of a large number of all but a few dozen favourite CDs a good while ago during a particularly vigorous clear-out, the next stage was to slowly start re-building my collection.

As I tend to go all-in when I collect things, I set myself specific boundaries, so that I wouldn’t go nuts and spend hundreds and hundreds of francs. I prioritise only albums and not CD singles; I prefer collectable versions and preferably limited-edition issues; and I prioritise second-hand originals over new re-releases.

The Rock Box in Camberley, as I remember it in the 1990s

I used to love visiting record shops when I was younger: Spillers in Cardiff (the “oldest record shop in the world”), various Our Price stores (including the one where I got my limited-edition CD copy of R.E.M.’s Monster in 1994) and, mainly, The Rock Box in Camberley. The latter, a favourite haunt next-door to the golf shop where I worked when I was seventeen, used to be great for a music lover: hundreds of CDs, records, t-shirts and posters crammed into a tiny little space on the London Road. I revisited the shop fairly recently in newer premises and although I’m pleased it’s still operating as a business, I was a little heart-broken that it’s become much more sparse: more of a second-hand shop for more popular music than a collector’s haven of a wide range of genres. This may only be nostalgia, of course.

I worked in the city of Bern for a number of years and had a vague memory of passing an old-style music shop every day on the tram, so I went back last year to see whether there was anything worth having. Oh, my goodness. What a wonderful place. The pleasures of my youth came flooding back when I squeezed in through the narrow entrance way: piles and piles of vinyl, shelves and shelves and shelves of CDs, all crammed in at street level and also down a steep staircase to an even more cramped basement.

Just as was the case in Camberley all those years ago, there’s hardly room to move when there are other customers browsing, and if there’s a band you can name, they have something for you. Old Elvis Presley vinyl, classic 70s rock, vinyl box-sets throughout the decades. And that’s before you start looking at the CD racks: everything you could possibly imagine and more. From the earliest editions of CDs from even before I began collecting them, to brand-new modern albums. If you want anything, then just ask the owner: he’s such a muso that not only has he heard of the 90s indie band from Britain, but also knows what he has in stock and where to find it.

(An insider tip to wrap up: if you hand over your email address, you’ll be added to the mailing list and get 10% off second-hand purchases. A worthwhile number, when you’re heading home with a rucksack full of a dozen albums to enjoy.)

The Oldies Shop in Bern: a music shop as it should be

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google’s reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.