The coolest record stores in the UK


The coolest record stores in Britain

Spotify and Pandora may be booming, but you can’t beat the atmosphere of an independent music store. Ben Travis picks Britain’s best

Sound It Out, Stockton upon Tees Photo: Tom Butchart

Despite Spotify, Deezer and the like offering free streamed music, vinyl is back in fashion, with sales in 2013 reaching a fifteen-year high. Where better to buy old-style records than one of these community-driven cultural institutions?

1. Rough Trade East – London
Dray Walk, Brick Lane, E1;

Photo: Kathy deWitt / Alamy
The daddy of UK record shops. London’s Rough Trade East, which opened in 2007, may be the younger brother of Rough Trade West, but is also one of the biggest independents in the country. The store sells predominantly new stock of vinyl and CDs, racked up across a huge 5,000 square-feet, and has a handy cafe at the front. Rough Trade is more than just a shop – it’s also one of the most influential labels in the UK, and has put out influential records by The Smiths, The Fall, The Strokes, Arcade FireBelle & Sebastian and more. Rough Trade East also plays host to in-store gigs, film screenings, and talks on film, music and literature.

2. The Music Exchange – Nottingham
Stoney Street, Hockley;

Photo: Mark Richardson / Alamy
The Music Exchange is more than just a music store – it’s also a social enterprise, and works with homelessness charity Framework to offer vulnerable people the opportunity to gain retail experience by volunteering behind the counter. Since opening in 2009, The Music Exchange has evolved from a tiny second-hand music shop in Nottingham’s West End Arcade to a bustling outlet in the trendy area of Hockley. The shop has gone some way to filling the void left when Nottingham’s legendary Selectadisc closed.


3. Probe Records – Liverpool
The Bluecoat, School Lane;

Photo: The Bluecoat

In a city with such a fine musical pedigree as Liverpool, it takes a lot to stand out. Though it’s moved premises through the years, Liverpool’s Probe Records has been going strong since 1971. Pete Burns and Paul Rutherford of Frankie Goes to Hollywood have worked there, and in the wake of punk, Probe became Liverpool’s go-to record shop, attracting clientele from Echo and the Bunnymen and OMD. The shop launched its own record label Probe Plus in 1981, which has released work by cult Merseyside act Half Man Half Biscuit.

4. Sound It Out Records – Teesside
Yarm Street, Stockton-on-Tees;

Photo: Tom Butchart
The last remaining record shop in the Stockton-on-Tees area is a focal point for the community, welcoming everyone from teenage metal fans to wannabe rappers and stragglers from local pubs through its doors. Filmmaker Jeanie Finlay’s documentary Sound It Out perfectly encapsulates what the store means to locals, while owner Tom Butchart has the last word on the enduring appeal of vinyl: “records hold memories”.



5. Pop Recs Ltd – Sunderland
Fawcett Street;

Photo: Paul Alexander Knox
Sunderland band Frankie & The Heartstrings had a novel idea when it came to the release of their second LP, The Days Run Away – they set up a pop-up record shop for two weeks to promote it. Over a year later the shop still stands, and has made more of an impact than the album that inspired it. Pop Recs Ltd has been a major boost for Sunderland, galvanising local music fans, and promoting inclusiveness and enterprise by selling locally produced coffee and hosting art exhibitions. Maxïmo Park and The Ordinary Boys have already played there for free, while Franz Ferdinand did a gig for a fiver (or £2.50 for those receiving benefits).

6. Rise Music – Bristol
Queens Road, Clifton;

Photo: James Hankins

After growing Fopp from a market stall into a chain of over 100 stores over 25 years, Gordon Montgomery founded Rise in Bristol. The store is impressively diverse, selling a carefully curated selection of books and DVDs alongside CDs and LPs. Now with two more stores in Cheltenham and Worcester, this regional chain continues to grow, and has hosted live shows from acts like Peace and Slow Club as well as film nights and DJ sets. The Bristol store includes a Friska cafe, while the shop even has a vintage clothing arm called Rise Revival.

7. Good Vibrations – Belfast
North Street; Good Vibrations Record Shop – Facebook

Good Vibrations, as depicted in the film, with Richard Dormer as Terri Hooley. Photo: Steffan Hill

The film Good Vibrations, named after the legendary Belfast record store of the same name and released last year, was brilliant. It told the story of local music lover Terri Hooley’s attempt to expand his store into a label that would go on to release Teenage Kicks by The Undertones in 1979. But the film’s popularity also sparked the store back into life. Now in its 13th incarnation, and proclaiming itself as “Belfast’s poorest record shop”, shoppers can still bump into Hooley, now 65, working behind the till.


8. Spillers Records – Cardiff
The Morgan Arcade;

Photo: Polly Thomas
Lots of record shops claim considerable heritage, but Spillers Records in Cardiff takes longevity to the next level – established 120 years ago, it’s the oldest record shop in the world. Opening in 1894, “H Spiller” originally dealt in phonographs, wax cylinders and shellac discs. As the decades passed, the shop evolved along with the music formats, and it now stocks a selection of CDs and LPs, and hosts in-store gigs.

9. Banquet Records – Kingston upon Thames
Eden Street;

Photo: Banquet Records
Some record labels have emerged from record shops. Banquet Records is a shop that emerged from a label that itself emerged from a shop. In 1973, record shop Beggars Banquet opened in Earls Court, with an accompanying label launching in 1977. The label has since grown into the Beggars Group, which owns or distributes some of the most respected independent record labels around, including 4AD (Bon Iver), Matador (Queens of the Stone Age), Rough Trade (Jarvis Cocker) and XL Recordings (Adele). A second store, Banquet Records, opened in 2002, but became independent of the Beggars Banquet shop in 2005. It runs successful club night New Slang and has hosted in-store performances and signings from FoalsLaura Marling and The Vamps.

10. Jumbo Records – Leeds
St Johns Centre;

Jumbo is appropriately named, given its history of upscaling. The shop took its first proper residence in Leeds’s Queens Arcade in 1972, before moving to the Merrion Centre shopping complex partly due to a lack of space. In the late Eighties even more space was required, prompting a move to the St Johns shopping centre where the shop remains today. In recent years the shop has held gigs from Hot Chip, We Are Scientists and Lily Allen. Last month Jumbo’s founder Hunter Smith and his wife Lornette stepped down from running the store.


Further recommendations:

11. Sister Ray Records – London
Berwick Street, W1; Sister Ray Records – Facebook

An excellent store in central London, just off Oxford Street, Sister Ray was originally an offshoot of the London branch of the sadly defunctSelectadisc. A new vinyl-only branch will launch in Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel on July 29.


12. Piccadilly Records – Manchester
Oldham Street, Northern Quarter;

Piccadilly Records is one of many record shops in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The stock is nicely varied across several genres, though their rock / pop / indie selection is particularly strong.


13. Love Music, Glasgow
Dundas Street;

Formerly the Glasgow branch of Edinburgh’s Avalanche Records, Love Music specialises in rock but caters for a wide range of tastes. The shop stocks a mix of LPs and CDs, with a particular focus on Scottish artists.


14. RPM Records, Newcastle
Old George Yard; RPM Records – Facebook

Down one of Newcastle’s artsy back alleys is RPM Records, a true treasure trove and stalwart of the local music scene. It holds a great selection of old and new records, has extremely friendly staff and also sells an array of classic record players.


15. BM Soho, London
D’arblay Street;

If dance music is your thing, you can’t go wrong at BM Soho. Covering every sub-genre you could ever wish for – funky house, liquid drum and bass, dubstep, you name it – it’s the place to go for new 12″s.


16. Groucho’s Record Store, Dundee

Groucho’s in Dundee has been running for 38 years and is well-loved by the locals – it has been a frequent winner of the city’s Independent Retailer of the Year award. Be careful what you say in the shop though – the hilarious ‘Dinna ask’ page on the website highlights “choice words from people ‘two tracks short of a single'”.

Leave a Reply

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