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An opportunity missed

Michael Stuart on the state of UK music retailing

There is a particular track on the 1986 Van Morrison album No Guru, No Method, No Teacher that resonates with me for entirely personal and sentimental reasons.

A couple of months ago I was talking to a lady of about my own age who works in the local travel agents’ shop. Over the course of some business we were doing she let slip that she was a fanatical Van Morrison fan. Completely by chance, the next time I went to the shop, she revealed that her daughter had quite recently died from cancer.

I asked whether she knew of the track referred to in my first paragraph above and was surprised to learn that she had neither heard of it, nor indeed of the No Guru, No Method, No Teacher album on which it features. I decided then to make it my quest to obtain a copy of the CD of the album for her in order that she could hear the track in question, both for its outstanding music and poignant lyrics.

A week or so later when collecting my holiday tickets, in order to whet her appetite, I dropped in a copy of the lyrics to the song which I had downloaded from one of the many websites offering a ‘lyrics’ service.

No GuruThe task of getting hold of the CD of the No Guru, No Method, No Teacher album has proved much more difficult.

I have probably owned at least four copies of the CD over the past twenty years, but – despite a search the length and breadth of my flat – I cannot seem to lay my hands upon any of them.

And so to purchase one.

My first stop was the internet. Through Amazon, I was linked to a large number of specialist websites offering copies for sale – but for prices ranging between £29.99 and over £80 (for a new one) and starting at about £16 for a second-hand copy albeit ‘in good condition’.

This all seemed ‘over the top’ for a CD that in the past I have bought brand new for £10 or less in an HMV store under a ‘three for the price of two’ bargain basement offer.

Yesterday I travelled to the HMV store in the Bentall Centre at Kingston-upon-Thames, confident that they’d have a copy for sale.

Fat chance.

The entire range of Van Morrison albums on offer comprised just three CDs – one of interest only to completest fans (1967-68 Sessions) and then two copies of a newish anthology of Van Morrison music over the past forty years.

Not a single example of any of the 35 or so albums that he has released during his near-50 year career.

I’m not sure exactly which aspect of modern life in the 21st Century this situation reflects most upon – the vagaries of supply and demand, which made a specific Van Morrison album worth just £10 in a ‘special offer’ sell-off about five years ago … or yesterday me eventually having to go online and buy a copy for £29.99 [to be dispatched from Spain of all places!] via Amazon, simply because no record store in the UK appears to have a copy.

No wonder CD stores like HMV and bookshops like Waterstones are under pressure in the high street. They’re chasing the short-term fast buck and concentrating upon diversifying into all sorts of non-core products and trying to appeal to young kids.

Maybe they feel they have to – for all I know, received opinion from a herd of business and marketing consultants may have told them this is the only way to go.

Of course I’m only a customer, but I’d have thought there is (or ought to be) a place in the market for a record store that stocks complete sets of albums released by major artistes over the past 75 years.


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About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts