I went to Zavvi last Friday, tempted like thousands of other vultures by the announcement of the closure of 22 of its shops. There were of course no real bargains to be had; 20% off a full price album in a world where no one dreams of paying more than £8 a CD, is hardly boomtime. So what next for those of us who still enjoy buying music?
I went through my accounts over the weekend and discovered I'd bought more music last year than ever before, admittedly of a back catalogue nature. This was largely due to the fact that it all appears to be £5. So albums I'd always been curious about but had seemed too much of a punt at £15, were now worth grabbing. I didn't have too many disappointments either (apart from perhaps The Pop Group). And despite the trips to Fopp that I have written about here before, where did I pick up my Soft Machine, Rich Kids, Supertramp, Peter Gabriel, DJ Shadow, Kevin Ayers, Rory Gallagher etc? You already know the answer. Must buy less this year. And that's why Zavvi has gone. And why Pinnacle has gone, EUK and Sister Ray. And who knows where HMV is going to end up.
Part of me is sad and wants to support the high street. As well as the reason above, I went into Zavvi on Friday because when I'm in Oxford Street I always go into The Megastore, it's been part of my life. I used to go when it was Virgin. My brother used to steal vinyl there regularly on Saturdays, which is how we discovered the complete Bob Dylan, Doors and David Bowie catalogues without any financial strain. And before that, when Virgin was over the other side in New Oxford Street (where Argos is now), we used to go to the really exciting Our Price just down from the Astoria (where Boots is now). That's where I bought Another Music In a Different Kitchen when I was 13 - my second punk album and my first ever solo trip up to "London" from Blackheath.
This year is also the 50th anniversary of Warner Brothers records, a celebration that I suspect will not have the same timbre as that of Motown. Having said that, I really do think we should give Berry Gordy's baby a rest for a moment - I mean, haven't we all heard Dancing In The Street, I Can't Help Myself and I Heard It Through The Grapevine etc enough for now?
In the end we found the reception on another floor in another room - it really is all about rooms with Pinter isn't it? Dad, who used to be relatively chummy with Pinter in the 60s, introduced me and I shook the great man's reassuringly large hand - it was slightly cold and the shake was loose. I think, in a feeble attempt for him to like and remember me, I told him I lived near Thistlethwaite Road, the road where he grew up in Clapton. He muttered something about it and, I think, Michael Billington piped in with some useful biographical background - clearly the Guardian's theatre critic knows more about HP than the man knew himself.
By the way, if you are daunted by Pinter and find the cliche of his plays being full of boring, confusing pauses and silences off-putting, I would recommend you see 1973 film of Peter Hall's production of The Homecoming. It's as funny, frightening and frankly confusing as all of Pinter's best stuff, but has enough semblance of conventional drama to keep you transfixed. I saw it in November 1982, the week that Channel 4 launched and it was as revelatory as hearing Anarchy In the UK or kissing a girl. It also helped that we never had Pinter as an A Level set text so reading his entire works felt rebellious and exciting. Another thing about Pinter is his swearing - like the Derek and Clive sketch ("a prick in Pinter's hands is pure gold") he has a knack of a well-placed expletive that has only recently been equalled by The Thick of It. No one else could have come up with the insult "Minge juice bottler".
So, Motown and Pinter - two institutions that we'll probably never see the like of again. I've got another Pinter anecdote which I'll tell you another time but right now I've got to grab Esther and find out what's happening with the Wattingers and the Pontipines.