Few record collectors in the UK can be unaware of the Record & Tape Exchange shops, centred mostly in and around London. I’ve been shopping in various branches for as long as I can remember journeying to London (though there is one a little nearer now in Manchester, opened in 1988 -though strangely it’s not listed on the bags or website, so maybe they’ve gone their own way). Indeed I’ve been going so long, that I still refer to the stores as Record & Tape Exchange! Strictly speaking it’s now Music & Video Exchange (or possibly Music & Goods Exchange, as their website now phrases it). Which shows how daft it is trying to keep up with technology, the fascias will need redoing any time now.
The basic operation at a R&TE store is simple. Seller flogs records to R&TE (“nothing legal refused!“). R&TE whack a (removeable) price sticker on the cover and rack it out. Periodically (they aim to do this monthly) staff checks rack and knocks the price down.
So in theory the longer the record stays there, the cheaper it gets. It’s a bit like Russian roulette for record collectors – pay the original price or gamble on it coming down and risk someone else getting to it first! As my own visits are infrequent, I don’t have the option to play, so it’s a case of ‘that’s a good price, I’ll take it’ or not. Some of the stores also have bargain boxes, all priced at so many records for a fiver, and you often find interesting material there too.
Which is more than you can say about the history of the chain, about which I can find very little, though one article reckons it is owned by an eccentric millionaire called Brian Abrams. Certainly the store must have begun at least in the early seventies, as the founder of Beggars Banquet remembers working there back in 1973/4 at the Shepherds Bush branch. Indeed the store has given innumerable musicians, label founders and record store folk a start, and continues to do so. I think Word magazine did a feature on this aspect of the shop some time ago. R&TE also branched out into genre specific stores in the 80s, so around their core store in Notting Hill are branches devoted just to classical records, to soul and even retro clothing and homeware.
Anyhow, we had a little trek out to Greenwich recently and I stumbled on a branch of R&TE there which I didn’t know about. So while my partner and sister heroically dived into the cafe immediately next door, I ambled through about a third of the stock. It quickly became clear that it is run for a more cutting edge music shopper than myself, and the sections on classic rock and pop were smaller than in the main branches. So I just nosed through mysterious music categories on the lookout for a interesting sleeves, which weren’t hard to find. £40 got me a dozen or so fab covers, and it’ll be fun to see what the music is like.
R&TE must have a monosyllabic staff cloning room somewhere; they were terse but efficient as at their other branches. It must be something which comes over them as soon as they get to the business side of the counter! The forums are full of people moaning. There are also some funny stories, including this confession – which better remain anonymous:
“I am ashamed to admit that as 21-year-old Record and Tape Exchange lackey many moons ago, I acted mosy c***ishly by giving some poor old rocker a tenner exchange, I believe it was, for his vast and sprawling binbag of mainly knackered old Serchers, Hollies and Kinks 45s… amongst which was a fairly nice copy of Jimmy Page’s punk-beat opus She Just Satisfies. Which accidentally fell into my bag on my way out.”
Anyhow they let me take a few snaps for the blog, so I’m not grumbling, and it’s hard to make small talk over a bunch of vinyl you know nothing about…
So, if you’re visiting what I’m told is one of the top tourist attractions in the UK, and fancy a culture break… but be warned, Greenwich gets almost over-run on weekends, so plan a visit carefully. Or do what we did and spend some quality time checking out the stunning yet almost deserted Hawkesmoor designed Georgian church round the corner instead.
The website which gives details of all the stores and opening times : http://mgeshops.com/