From 45s to download files

A view of Lynn Street at the junction of Musgrave Street. In the distance is the Empire Theatre, Woolworths and Hardy and Company
A view of Lynn Street at the junction of Musgrave Street. In the distance is the Empire Theatre, Woolworths and Hardy and Company

THERE’S an old saying that it’s very hard to remember which shop used to occupy a site before its present occupiers and it’s largely true.

I was writing a couple of weeks ago about long-lost bookshops in Hartlepool and several people around town have told me that, like me, they struggled to remember where places like Whitaker’s and Sage’s used to be.

If younger readers are smirking at us older lot, just wait a year or two until the new British Home Stores is established in the shopping centre and you will be arguing with your mates whether there was actually a Woolworth’s there at one time.

In passing, by the way, do you realise that it seems to be only in the UK that Woolies has bitten the dust?

In the last year or so I’ve shopped in its splendid stores in South Africa, Australia and Gibraltar!

Back to local shops, though, and my chats in taxis, supermarkets and DIY stores turned from books to records.

Note to younger readers again – a record was a device for storing music before cassettes, CDs and downloads.

When I first started buying records in the 1960s, the two leading shops in Hartlepool were Bruce Moore’s and Hoggett’s. Woolworth’s was involved too, but more of that in a moment.

Hoggett’s was considered a bit more trendy, and therefore my favourite, and it stood in Lynn Street, now the home of council offices, an empty Focus store and very pleasant new housing.

You could spend some happy time in a 1960s record shop, even if you were short of cash to buy anything.

They had a listening booth to check out the latest sounds, equipped with headphones and space for a few friends.

The shop assistants would be pleasantly tolerant for a while, but would then employ a range of techniques to move non-buyers on – from the diplomatically charming to the disgustingly direct.

Would I be right in guessing that most of us can remember the first record we ever bought? Mine was Picture of You by the splendid Joe Brown. He’s still going strong – and still has a full head of hair.

I can even remember the price of a single record then – six shillings and eightpence, exactly a third of a pound.

With Christmas money, and feeling flush, buying three records at once felt like being on millionaires’ row.

The price of a record leads to where Woolies came into the story.

Its Hartlepool store (was it where BHS is now?) sold cheaper cover versions of the big hits of the day under the Embassy label.

The minute Cliff or Elvis released a single, someone leapt into a studio to record a copy version – sometimes well, and sometimes not!

Having rekindled all these musical memories, I’ve just searched through the box room and spent more time than intended rummaging through carefully stored vinyl from my youth, including many I’d forgotten about.

Many experts claim that the sound from a real record on a turntable is much better than the modern electronic versions, and I’m tempted to agree up to a point.

Fifty years from now, I wonder if today’s teenagers will get the same burst of nostalgia from browsing through their download files.