EMG – the shop

While hunting for information on the EMG name, I found this fascinating article on record buying back in the forties in London. Even though the author (I couldn’t find his name) was looking for classical records, vinyl fans of all types will be able to relate to his article. It was penned for Gramophone magazine in 1986.
EMG Record shop London
We bought for good, for ever, musically and technically. We had to look around, to search through piles of secondhand and deleted records. But we had far more specialist shops and far more fun, tiring and headache-making though it was. Very good geographically too, finding out where all the back streets were, panhandling along our cobbled Klondike.
In 1940, my regular record gathering programme commenced with the purchase of a 1s. 6d. return workman’s ticket very early on a Saturday morning. Then there followed a day of record (listening) before returning with, usually, two new discs, carefully chosen after hearing as many as I thought I could get away with, and still be welcome in the same shops the following week.
Arriving at Charing Cross from Kent before 8 a.m., so that the ticket was still legal, one walked everywhere. First of all up to the old and great Gramophone Exchange, at that time in large premises on two floors in upper Shaftesbury Avenue. At one time the main, ground floor was for new records, the basement for secondhand, but the two got mixed up over the years. ‘Pop’ Russell ran it and tall Bill Snow sat by the window behind the counter. Some years later they moved to Wardour Street which I never liked so much. We were reluctant to take records in for sale to stern looking Mr Russell. At the far end of the earlier shop were those listening booths, musical retreats we all loved so much (except when other people opened the door with the same inquiry you got in phone booths).
For each record I intended to buy I reckoned to hear three. In this way much time passed, except at HMV— at that time a fine, classical shop in Oxford Street (same position as now)—where they were a bit ‘stuffy’ if you played records right through and would often insist that you didn’t. Heaven for me was when I discovered the hidden EMG shop. This was tucked away in Grape Street, a small turning off Shaftesbury Avenue, so only a few yards from The Gramophone Exchange. At EMG you could only buy new discs, but they kept many records from the HMV and Columbia Special List and other foreign lists (notably the German and Italian) as well and, above all, would give you advice, the assistants knowing their repertoire—and knowing they knew it!
EMG had much the same booths as The Gramophone Exchange. The only snag was that the shop was so small. These two shops usually provided what I needed, but most times I would make it down to the more palatial HMV premises. All record booths, being small with doors that shut tightly to keep the noise in, were very uncomfortable after 15 minutes or so, but HMV’s were the most hazardous. Theirs had another factor, an odd, electrical sort of smell which made you feel ill. On every visit I was glad to get out and would occasionally commit the unforgivable, leaving before hearing all I wanted.
EMG moved on north of Oxford Street (Newman Street), then south to Soho Square as the record-buying scene changed radically. Now they aren’t even there! Neither is The Gramophone Exchange, though the name still exists in Betterton Street between Covent Garden and Shaftesbury Avenue, not far from its first home.
Roger Hewland, who worked in the Wardour Street shop for two and-a-half years until June 1981, bought the concession to call his present shop below Waterloo Station “Gramex” and there, sitting in his old armchairs or tugging records out of the shelves, you will find the nearest atmosphere to what I have been describing, fine records, good value, expert advice, often a fair degree of well-meant insult which everyone takes with a smile.

4 Responses to EMG – the shop

  1. david murphy says:

    There was also a record shop in New Oxford Street where I think a pizza hut or similar is now. One must never forget the basement /lower floor of HMV Oxford Street, and the one and only Harold Moores off Carnaby Street. I also remember the shop in the north corner of Soho Square one had to walk a considerable distance from the front door to the counter at the end where two mysteriously white coated men served, if that’s right word, you. You could order stuff you’d seen in the local library or heard of, I did that. They could get stuff imported as well. I remember a record shop in Peckham Rye – they got the Fischer Dieskau Keilberth Cardillac for me in a wonderful gatefold 2LP album. Those were the days when Philips had its HQ and showrooms at Conquest House Shaftesbury Avenue so you could check out those lovely hi fi kits of the sixties and seventies, turntables and amps…plus further up the road AR Zpeakers.

  2. Grumpy says:

    The author was one Ronald Hastings and his reminiscences appeared in the November 1986 issue of Gramophone. @david murphy: The shop in Soho Square, at No.26, was the last resting place of EMG, who hung on until about 1980. The whole EMG story is told in a book called… The EMG Story, by Francis James, Old Bakehouse Publications, 1998.

  3. Maggie Goren says:

    I worked for EMG for four years from 1956 to 1960 at 6 Newman Street, firstly as a telephonist on the first floor where the company’s wonderful Monthly Letter was produced, reviewing technically and musically all the latest LPs. I then moved onto the shop floor after having an interview as to my ‘musical’ suitability with Colonel Davy then the owner (?) of the shop who also operated from a Dickensian room on the first floor with a brown leather chaise longue with holes in it. He smoked a pipe continuously throughout the interview but somehow I convinced him, without being able to explain anything regarding Brahms chamber music, that I could sell music. He preferred girls who had music degrees to sell the records. I then became assistant manageress of the shop. All those who worked there loved music and all those who bought loved music and wanted the best recordings technically and musically. We had some illustrious clients and once the shop, packing area actually, was graced with the presence of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, because of chief packing lady worked for the Philharmonia voluntarily. Lovely memories.

    Maggie Goren (then Evans)

    • simon robinson says:

      Thanks very much for posting Maggie. Youngsters will be amazed that people had to be cleared to serve on the shop floor, but then working in a shop then could be a proper career if you wanted it to be.

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