Gibbs Record Store on Clifton Street Cardiff – 2003
As a teen in the mid 1980s I was really starting to get into music and was keen to build a personal library. With limited fiscal means there were only so many ways to get that music. The funds generated by pocket money and part time paper-round and bottle-boy jobs did not stretch far. In my early to mid teens an LP would need to be saved for over weeks. There were ways to get music for nothing – many people my age will recall sitting by the radio on a Sunday afternoon to tape tracks from the top 40, or swapping LPs and cassettes with friends. These methods were fraught with issues though. DJs would invariably talk over the beginning and end of your track and traded records would seldom be returned unscathed. Having an original copy was always the goal for us music lovers.
At that time I felt quite lucky as from where I lived on Stacey Road, there were three places in easy walking distance where I could find music to buy for myself and more importantly were able to cater to my lack of funds with cheap records. All three are long gone, pretty much like the analogue media they sold (although I hear vinyl’s making a comeback…) Here’s a bit of info on these three places which were on Broadway and Clifton Street in Roath / Adamsdown (depending on which decade you were in.)
For me the best of these shops stood on Broadway between the Bertram Pub and Roath Labour Club – (Google Streetview) – and I think was prosaically called Broadway Records but I’m not 100% on that. (UPDATE: Have since learned it as actually called Record Browser thanks to Bryan Turner for the reminder).
It had a great range of second hand music from the latest pop of the time to highly collectible rock and psychedelia from the 1960s. It also had a regular turnover of stock which meant frequent visits were often rewarding and as the area was a student one, there were lots of exciting bands and records that might have otherwise passed me by. It was my gateway to artists like Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, The Ground Hogs, Sex Gang Children and many more.
It was run by Tom Riley, a gigging drummer whom it’s fair to say was into his blues and 1960s rock. He’d often have some obscure grungy 1960s blues rock on in the store, to provide the back drop for the hours of searching we’d frequently do in there. Tom had been in many bands over the years, several with local guitar legend Micky Gee, and worked with a number of greats including Joe Cocker. Often there would be musicians in the shop talking to him about playing and equipment. The shop is now long gone, but it remains fondly in my memory – so much so that I’ll come back to it at a later date with its own post – there’s so much I’d like to write about the place that it may detract from the other shops I also wanted to mention. So moving off down the road and round the corner, on to the next one – Woolworths in Clifton Street.
Now, for me Woolworths was the place to go to for new records, charts, latest releases and recent releases at discounted prices. Whilst it didn’t have much of a range there, they had enough to make it worth dropping in every now and then to pick stuff up. I’ll mention a few music only related highlights as that Woolworths is also worthy of its own post sometime in the future, that I don’t want to digress here (you did know it was once a cinema, right!?)
Parade Of Pops Vol 21 – Chevron CHVP 22
The first thing I remember buying there was a cassette hits collection called Parade Of The Pops. I was so excited to buy it as it had a number of songs on there I loved at the time – Adam and the Ants’ Stand and Deliver, Toyah’s Will You and Stars On 45’s self-titled track were particular favourites that made the tape desirable. I would have been 9 or 10 years old, and would listen to the top 40 every week and knew exactly which artists the tracks were by. I didn’t realise that the cassette didn’t actually mention the artists’ names besides the tracks, and being a naive child I thought I was getting a load of great tracks for not a lot of money. The compilation was dirt cheap compared to either singles or normal LPs so I was over the moon.
The happy smiley woman on the front promised lots. There she is look, to the right – go on take a look at her. How could a nine year old boy suspect anything but the best? It took me a couple of listens to realise that something wasn’t quite right. It slowly dawned on me, none of the songs on the tape were by the original artists. They were all cover records by an unnamed cover band. I’d been stung. I didn’t realise that Woolies were renowned for these cheapo knock-off compilations. Sadly I remember an immense sense of pride when I went to buy this only to be caught out. To add insult to injury, the tape soon started to warble and drop out after only minimal plays. Whilst it was a covers LP, I listened to it lots, but always with a frown on my face.
In later years I’d buy a number of singles and LPs there, mostly from the bargain section where the singles went after they dropped out of the charts. Some of the earliest singles I bought there we by bands like The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Cult, Sigue Sigue Sputnik and Aha. I’ll never forget that Aha single Take On Me. I really loved it and bought it when it first came out, before it hit the bargain section. I was really stoked to get my copy and took it home excitedly. Don’t ask me how, but as I was preparing to play it for the first time, I accidentally sat on it, splitting it cleanly into two equal pieces. I was absolutely gutted. I did try super-gluing it back together, but unsurprisingly that didn’t work. I can definitely remember buying a couple of my early vinyl long players there, which were The Cure’s Staring at the Sea and Prince’s Parade. LPs were a luxury that didn’t come around very often as by that point my paper round money didn’t go very far. But at least I never fell for one of their knock-off compilations again!
The third shop was the furtherest away from me, which probably explains why I’d not visit as often as the first two. Gibbs Records was at the far end of Clifton Street (from Broadway), a rarely travelled place. I believe it was established in the 1950s by Paul Gibbs and for the majority of its time specialised in new music, charts and LPs. Paul retired roughly around 1989/91 at which point the shop was leased out to a new owner who kept the Gibbs Name on the store, but specialised in second hand records instead of new releases.
I remember buying a couple of singles in there when they sold the new stuff, but it’s fair to say most of my paper round money went on music bought in Woolies and would not reach the end of the street to Gibbs. I do remember going in there a few times when they’d switched to selling second hand, but for my taste it was not essential record browsing. The stock at that point seemed to be more charity shop (classical and Des O’Connor), and they were chaotically piled and stored without much care. Compared to the carefully racked and alphabetised stock in Broadway, lifting cardboard boxes off each other and struggling to look through crammed record racks was enough of a turn off that I gave up on Gibbs during the 1990s. There’s a great little video of the shop in 1999 below.
I recently learned the shop briefly spent a period at the other end of Clifton Street, on the corner of Sapphire Street whilst the original shop was refurbished. Those signs were recently uncovered as this photo by Graham Carrick shows. I don’t actually recall the period it was there before it moved back to the other end of the street, but I do well remember the one shop that stood in that location on the corner of Sapphire Street in my time, which was called Casperjacks. It was full of cheap electronics and tat, but worthy of note here as it was the place I’d go for cheap blank C90 cassettes (they usually stocked Memorex, Scotch or BASF) to record the records I’d bought on to for playing on my cheap knock-off Walkman, or to copy ZX Spectrum games or music from the Radio One chart show.
I think Gibbs didn’t last long into the new millennium. The last time I saw the shop still there was in early 2003, which is when I took the below photo. It’s not great quality as it was a very basic digital camera, but their distinctive front signage can be seen. In fact, I’m not sure if it was still open at the point this photo was taken, the run down look of the shutters and sign would suggest not, that or it’s just not opened for the day yet. One thing I know is, that this, like Record Browser and Woolworths it’s now a distant memory.
Gibbs 2nd Hand Record Store on Clifton Street Cardiff
There were other places to get records in the area. For instance, you’d find a single box of singles with their middles taken out in a number of the news agents around Clifton Street and Broadway. I think they must have come from Jukeboxes, and were often quite random selections and hit and miss as to what they were, and you had to have the bit to fit in the middle to play them. And there were the charity shops too, but the stock there was 99.9% rubbish. For me though, the three shops I’ve covered above were ‘the’ vital locations for me as a music fan. They will forever sit in my memory for their atmosphere and the important music (and the memories related to that music) that they furnished me over the years.