“I DON’T think I can remember a single day in the Commercial Street shop that we didn’t sell an AC/DC album.”
Clive Munro knows Shetland’s music tastes better than anyone. He would, of course, because he reckons he sold local people “well over a million” singles and albums over three decades back when buying physical music was a part of every day life.
It was nearly exactly 40 years ago – on 8 December, 1979 – that the music lover, rudderless after graduating from university in Aberdeen and back home working for P&O, opened his first record shop in Lerwick’s Burns Lane.
Surprisingly, given its somewhat admittedly mundane nature, Clive must have one of the most evocative and nostalgic first names in Shetland.
For those of a certain vintage, his forename will conjure up memories of that feeling – almost like a Roman candle whizzing inside your stomach – of picking up your favourite band’s new album on release day, while it may even just take people back to hanging out with friends in his shop on a Saturday afternoon, flicking through CDs and DVDs.
Clive was, of course, the man behind Clive’s Record Shop – Shetland’s premier music shop, which closed in 2011 in the advent of digital music and online powerhouses like Amazon, leaving a big gap in the local market.
But back to the beginning. It all started at Burns Lane, when Pink Floyd and Rod Stewart were ruling the charts, at a cosy record shop which later became the Shetland Folk Festival office.
“I finished university in Aberdeen about a year and a half before,” Clive says. “I ended up with an ordinary MA. History was my main subject, but walking down to meet my tutor at the start of third year, I decided I couldn’t face another two years of history.
“I came back and I ended up not really doing anything particularly degree-related. I ended up working at P&O at the old Victoria Pier. The main thing was that there was nothing. It was a wilderness. The Music Box [on Commercial Street] did have a pretty good collection of country music, but browsing didn’t take long.”
Clive roped in the help of Stewart Hay and after being pointed to an available property on Burns Lane, the two catapulted themselves head first into the world of running a record shop, with vinyl and cassettes on sale.
He was living the dream – a music-obsessed 20-something from Lerwick selling records, and with the help of a decent audio set-up, he provided the soundtrack to shoppers as they browsed.
“But we had no idea what we were doing,” Clive smiles. “After the first busy week we had nothing left hardly. We hadn’t even given it enough thought for having a proper reordering system. We just fumbled our way through it. It was a steep learning curve.
“It was just tiny, but you could fit a lot of stuff into it. Cram stuff in. Cassettes were usually stacked up against a wall and if somebody wanted one in the middle, you’d have to be careful in case the whole lot came collapsing down.”
It wasn’t just the cassette section that came collapsing down, though, with Clive closing the shop after a couple of years – a “failed experiment” in which the sums didn’t add up.
A continuation of the Lounge
“Actually turning up at certain times of the day and not having bottles of wine sitting around the counter” didn’t help either, according to friends, who encouraged him to try again in a different location, with a different mindset.
“It was anarchy in the UK, a bit,” Clive laughs, with a sparkle of nostalgia glittering in his eyes. “Not every day of the week, but Saturdays certainly were. It could be a bit of a gathering place, and a continuation of the Lounge at Saturday lunchtimes. I wasn’t all that conscientious.
“I loved it, but it was very amateurish really. I was 23 when the first shop opened, 25 when it closed, and I was just about 26 when I opened at the south end of Commercial Street. I had made up my mind I was really going to do it properly – no more signs up saying ‘back in 10 minutes’, ending up at the Queens with your pals having a pint or something.”
Clive’s second shop, near Bain’s Beach among the lodberries, was a conscientious decision to do things the right way. Agreements were set up with major record companies to ensure stock was coming in regularly, and at a more efficient price.
Sharing a similar music taste with a lot of the Shetland public, meanwhile, helped Clive start off with a strong footing – if you ignore the bottles of wine of the early days.
“What always helped me was that the music that I liked fitted quite well with a lot of folk in Shetland’s tastes anyway,” he reflects.
“It wasn’t like I was trying inflict some alien thing. Mine was basically like classic rock music and classic singer-songwriters and people like Creedence Clearwater Revival. I was already about half way there with a lot of the people anyway. I took the other stuff on board, because to be a good shop you had to accommodate the customers.”
His record shop allowed people to buy albums on the day of release, at the same time as the rest of the UK, although it “took a lot of arguing” with record companies.
“Folk were so used to them being in first thing on Monday morning, everyone would come in expecting the new whatever album,” he says.
This, however, meant having to rely on the ferry to Shetland for getting the goods in the days leading up to release date – not always an easy task.
“In the winter time it was a bit of a carry on sometimes,” Clive smiles. “And a lot of times they were really slow getting your stuff to you. So I’d end up jumping in the car and going out to whatever warehouse it was. How much time in my life I spent going through warehouses looking for my stuff. Leading up to Christmas as well. I remember going with my car and coming back with 20 boxes one day.”
It was during this time in Clive’s second shop that the music industry saw a step-change in medium, with the digital world of slimline CDs edging in, gradually pushing vinyl and tapes out of the picture.
Clive admits he “wasn’t really interested at first” in CDs. “I was a bit of a luddite. There was hardly any profit at the time because the companies were really milking it.”
The music man tried a vinyl-only shop in Harrison Square, but it didn’t last too long – and neither did a brief foray into the Orkney market.
CDs, though, formed the backbone of the next home of Clive’s Record Shop, on Commercial Street above the bookies, with his sister helping out too.
Initially starting off in the front half before expanding to the whole floor, the shop oversaw the introduction of DVDs and computer games as Clive diversified.
The final nail in the coffin
But the spider-like grasp of the Internet around the industry began to drain away sales, with outlets like Amazon and the increasing popularity of digital music causing real worry.
“And then when Tesco came, that was almost the final nail in the coffin,” Clive recalls. “When they expanded the shop, that made our sales fall away by about a third almost overnight.”
He says the decline in physical music sales was gradual, and one that was difficult to see reversing. “It was happening to everybody.”
Clive tried a scaled-down shop in a bid to keep the business going, but in late 2011 he called it quits for good.
“By the time we closed a second time, it wasn’t hard,” he says. “The population of Shetland just didn’t seem to be big enough to support the shop under those circumstances.
“It was difficult but it wasn’t a hard economical decision to make. The writing was on the wall. It was all I had done for 30-odd years, and I must admit it left me flat for a fair old while. It was like Clive the music man is no longer the music man.”
But for many, Clive will always be the music man. For over 30 years he had an enviable inner knowledge of what Shetland liked to listen to.
Aside from Aussie rockers AC/DC, he recalls ZZ Top’s 1993 album Eliminator selling like hot cakes, as did Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Shania Twain’s Come On Over (“we sold well over 1,000 copies of that”).
There was also an odd surge in popularity for rising American bands at the time like REM, The Long Ryders and Jason and the Scorchers – all thanks to word of mouth on one particular island.
“It always seemed to me that we probably sold more of some of those bands than any other shop in the UK at that time, because Whalsay is that kind of place that if somebody got into something, it would just spread like wildfire,” Clive says.
He reckons he sold between 1,200 and 1,300 albums a week on average during his shop’s peak.
Christmas, meanwhile, was “crazy”, with albums a safe-bet idea for presents. The shop sometimes enjoyed 10 or 15 times the normal weekly turnover.
Busy not just for Clive, but for the many staff too. Anna Leask, who originally hailed from Scalloway before moving to Sligo, worked in the shop between 1994 and 2000, from the back end of grunge and Britpop through to the Spice Girls and Shania Twain.
She said that working for Clive was the “best job I ever had”.
“He was truly kind. We were spoiled by him taking us out for meals and he really looked after us staff members and was very grateful to all his customers,” she said.
“He was so knowledgeable about all kinds of music – there was nothing that fazed him and no question was too daft from customers.
“Clive was like Google before there was Google. Customers would come in and sing him part of a song or they knew a few lyrics, and he just knew what it was, and he’d always order it for them if he didn’t already have it in stock.
“I also remember when Clive was invited to the Brit Awards, which was truly deserved.
“Shetland was so lucky to have Clive’s Record Shop and more importantly Clive. He always supported local musicians and made sure everyone got competitive prices on their purchases.”
The closure of Clive’s in 2011 left a void, but in recent years – allied with a revival in vinyl – the not-for-profit Bop Shop on Lerwick’s Harbour Street has sold mainly second-hand music once a month.
But has Clive ever had any thoughts about re-opening a record shop in Shetland? “Yeah, in the last couple of years, with the vinyl doing so well,” he says, his eyes glancing off to somewhere – perhaps away off to his fantasy music shop no doubt imagined up in his mind.
“But common sense says that Shetland is not big enough – there’s not enough vinyl fanatics to make it pay. Maybe if it was a one-man operation like I had, but you’d have to do CDs as well. I think about it a lot. But I wouldn’t want to risk my own money.”
Clive now works part-time at second-hand store Shetland Home Co, but music remains a massive passion. Not least in his collection at home, which probably has around 800 or 900 CDs and a couple of hundred records – a figure you get the feeling he thinks is a bit on the small side, though.
“I’m not a very specific person,” he says when asked there are any particular stories that stick out in his 30 years of running record shops.
“Everything in my life seems to go by general impressions about things. I read a book, but I can’t remember the details and I just have the feeling that the book gave me. And music is a bit like that too.
“With the shop, all I’m left with really is that overall impression of having good times with helping people find music that they really liked. I got loads of good feedback over the years and I get stopped and things said to me nowadays. I think it was a good shop, but it could have been better.”
Does he miss it? “I do in some ways, but there’s loads of music groups on Facebook where stuff is shared. But it’s not the same speaking to folk face to face and having a good yap with people you’ve known for 30 years.”
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