It’s an online world today. Even if you are only somewhat familiar with a web browser, there’s nary a thing you can’t get online, but because you can get just about everything your heart desires, it’s easy to fall into the quality trap. I’m sure you’ve been there. You bought it on a whim and it turns out to be faulty, not suited to your purpose or just plain crappy.
If you are into music as much as I am, the Internet age has provided us with so many tripwires that shopping for new releases or reissues online has become somewhat of a drag. The new remaster of this or that sounds like it might be nice and it turns out to be abysmal. The reissue of some classic album has faulty liner notes, the cover is wrong and the typesetting is shoddy. That old jazz session you waited to buy for something like 10 years ends up missing two essential tracks. The list of pitfalls is endless.
Of course, you can – as I do – read a ton before you buy anything, but with today’s pre-order price tags it is often a good idea to buy into something early even if there is a danger of it turning out to be faulty in some major way, which is, unfortunately, often the case. Yes, there are many websites around that help with the purchasing decision, and I frequent them on almost a daily basis, but even those cannot always look into the future and judge an unreleased item that nobody has managed to get his or her hands on yet. So, you buy it and end up with a faulty item anyway … and with all the hassle returning it or getting a replacement for it.
It is at those times one tends to reminisce about past times and how easy it was to avoid those pitfalls.
When I lived in Denmark ages ago, from 1977 to 1982, I had a favorite shop from which I never left unhappy. I simply cannot recall ever having returned an item I bought there and I certainly cannot remember having been wrongly advised. I always walked out with something, often with something I had previously never heard of and, astonishingly enough, I never regretted a single purchase. Never, ever.
The reason was that at the “Bristol Music Center” there were employees who knew their stuff. And they went out of their way to make sure that only satisfied customers left their shop. I spent hours in there at a time, getting the heads up on new and exciting releases, special editions, reissues and the latest news on just about anything I had even a passing interest in. Hell, although I had them I didn’t need any magazines. These guys (and very few girls) were walking news outlets and, most importantly, being fans, they were extremely quick to pick up on any criticism that might have been leveled at a product. If you picked anything up that they knew someone in the shop or others had any doubts about, you were sure to find out on your way to the cash register, usually from several people or from other customers present. It was absolutely foolproof.
“Bristol Music Center”, a comparatively large record shop with different sections dedicated to heavy metal/hard rock, jazz (at a time, they called themselves “leading #1 jazz record store”) and the like, was conveniently located just behind the entrance to Copenhagen’s world-famous pedestrian precinct, Strøget, on the right side, a few meters past the Burger King on town hall square (which I worked at for quite a while). I was practically forced to walk past there several times a week and somehow always ended up inside. I also always ended up buying something, usually from the downstairs heavy metal department.
To give you one example: I distinctly remember one cold winter’s day in 1978, walking into a buzzing downstairs department where something was up. Awesome music was blasting from the speakers and everyone was milling around a guy with a record cover in his hand, standing around a box filled with a new LP that every customer seemingly wanted to get his/her hands on first. There were simply too many people in the area so I tried to retreat to the shelves in the back trying to find what I had originally come for, a copy of the Scorpions’ “Virgin Killer” which had gotten lost at some party, but there was no getting through. So, I decided to jump into the crowd and pick up what I could. “Did you hear that guitar? Amazing! Who IS that guy?””, “Who’s that crazy singer?”, “Dutch? No, they’re from L.A.”, “Bullshit, they’re European!” … and on and on.
It was Van Halen’s debut release (Van Halen I, 1978), which had just landed, and I can still recall the raw excitement around that release. People were actually cheering the guitar antics coming from the speakers. Naturally, I walked out with that record and forgot all about “Virgin Killer”, (which I picked up a week or two later) and I remember studying Van Halen’s debut in detail for a few weeks. It is still a mainstay in my collection today.
A few years later, by the way, I was given one of the funniest Van Halen concert “reviews” by one of the staff one day after Van Halen had played live over in Sweden (this must have been around 1984 or so?). The guy was positively ranting about how irritating it had been, with David Lee Roth break-dancing on stage (an absolute NO-NO then and now for the long-haired population) and crappy sound, and, and, and. He went on about it for about an hour and even made me promise to trash all of my Van Halen LPs. Of course I didn’t, but I was glad I hadn’t shelled out the money for that particular gig.
Although I am a CD guy today, I still have all of those records that haven’t since been ripped off (=borrowed indefinitely) by “friends” and going through what I have from my time in Denmark, “Love Gun” by Kiss (which was released in June of 1977) must have been the first record I bought at Bristol Music Center, probably shortly after I arrived in Copenhagen that same summer. I have never been a KISS fan, but at the time – in 9th grade – we thought KISS was cool and, as far as I recall, lots of people were trying to draw the KISS makeup styles (especially that of Gene Simmons) everywhere at the time, on note- and textbooks, steamed-up subway coach windows, onto Burger King Trays with Ketchup … and other more or less apt places which marked the culture of my youth.
Besides the camaraderie in the basement, “Bristol Music Center” was also the place to go for more in-depth information on upcoming concerts. Since there were so many of them all the time and all over Copenhagen (still today I am astonished to see how much live music there is all around the city whenever I happen to be there) and because my money would not have stretched far enough to make more than a few of those, the concert listing on the wall plus the expert advice given on new acts to see live helped me tremendously. It was in “Bristol Music Center” that I started branching out, moving away from predominantly heavy metal to anything else that was recommended to me. Jazz, fusion, new wave … whatever arrived and was deemed worthy by any of the staff whose taste I relied on, I checked out.
On top of that, new arrivals were posted on the wall weeks before release and at the time I actually made sure to be there on that day, picking up whatever I had set my sights on previously. As was often the case, on release day one would run into the usual people who always showed up for these events, cutting classes to make sure to not miss out on whatever new release we had set our sights on.
There are so many recollections from that store.
I met Dizzy Gillespie in there (the same day he played on the walking street for Extra Bladet (I think it was), a yellow press rag if there ever was one, and didn’t get a single Danish Crown in profits. People thought he sucked (and that in one of Europe’s jazz capitols) and preferred to give their money to that mentally challenged man down the road with his little glockenspiel who haunted the walking street for decades (he was still around in 2009, banging out incoherent notes … endlessly).
I met Teddy Wilson in there (the night after his second concert in Tivoli’s “Slukefter“, a fabulous small jazz venue) who was wearing a very big hat in order not to be recognized. Ed Thigpen and I were along (Ed had invited me along for the meeting because he knew how much I idolized Teddy Wilson already then). Wilson needn’t have worried. It was so early that the jazz crowd was still asleep. We spent an hour or two in there, discussing I don’t know how many jazz classics. Afterwards we went to a pub just around the corner and spent the rest of the day there … until too many people accosted him and we decided to leave.
Friends of mine bought me a copy of Rainbow’s “Down to Earth” for my 1979 birthday there. The copy’s sleeve was torn. One of the staff at Bristol Music Center told me that this did not constitute grounds for returning it as it had Graham Bonnet singing disco shit on it which would make any other copy’s seams split as well.
I saw a guy playing Frisbee with some Olivia Newton-John LPs in there, predating one of my favorite films, “Shaun of the Dead“, by about 2 to 3 decades.
The only time I ever bought anything that a staff member advised me not to get was “Union Jacks” (January 1980) by The Babys which I still enjoy today. The guy just couldn’t stand John Waite, but for me it was my summer album that year. By the way, I always thought that if Chrysalis had gotten behind that record it would have had a lot more potential but, alas, it sank almost as fast as it was released.
The nicest thing which ever happened in there was a gift I got from one of the jazz guys I had endless conversations with (although I am not sure if Ed Thigpen was in on it). I wanted a copy of the Oscar Peterson Trio’s “Plays Porgy & Bess” and for some reason, they weren’t able to get hold of a copy for 6 months and beyond. One day, when I was once again spending hours sorting through new and old jazz records, another staff member came up to me and handed me a plastic bag with a used copy of the LP (in, for all intents and purposes, pristine condition) and a simple note attached to it which, from memory, read something like “So you don’t have to wait another decade.” Although I tried hard and many times, I never found out who had gotten me a copy, but it was an absolute highlight for me that year.
“Bristol Music Center” is virtually non-existent on the Web today. No photos, a few sentences of info here and there on Danish forums or on a personal page or two. Fragments. Mostly forgotten.
When my love for heavy metal had faded somewhat and, influenced by my time with Ed Thigpen, I started delving into jazz more seriously, “Bristol Music Center” was pushed off my musical map in favor of “Music Mecca”, “GUFF” and other (usually smaller) shops in the greater Copenhagen area, some of which had actually headhunted some of Bristol Music Center’s staff away to help them handle their affairs.
I still dropped by here and there but, somehow, the magic was gone. Most of the staff I had associated with was gone, at some point (and my memories are very hazy here) I remember the shop downsizing its affairs and an actual move just across the street (or a bit further down) … and one day it was just gone.
Nowadays, whenever “Record Store Day” rolls around, those old and often faint memories resurface and with them comes that feeling of a time long gone, relegated to (perhaps only few) stores like it today around the globe. I usually seek out small record stores wherever I am, but a larger one like the old “Bristol Music Center” in Copenhagen, with the same atmosphere, I have never come across again since the middle 1990s. They might still exist elsewhere on this planet, but, unfortunately, not in my immediate universe.
P.S.: Thanks to D.K. for providing a scan of the sticker which, if you look closely, you can make out in the featured image at the top of this post.