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Music Shops - old and new


Martin Cooke
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I originally started this post as a reply to the Rushworth and Dreaper post elsewhere but in the interests of possibly wanting to refer to other people's anticipated contributions, I have started a this new topic here...

There is something rather special about the old music shops and their names and I'd quite like to see a list developing. A visit to any city always meant finding the music shops and a good browse through the organ music, LPs and latterly CDs.

Could we make a list? And it would be useful to comment on whether they are still operating and whether they keep any stock of organ music? So... I'll start!

Newquay, Truro, Plymouth - Yardleys - something remains in Truro, minimal organ music - perfunctory only. There was also a really good record shop in Pydar Street - long gone - I bought lots of organ LPs there including The King of instruments - a big moment! Yardleys in Newquay, I remember as a boy, but an old friend (Denis Osborne of St Columb and Newquay fame) some of whose organ music I inherited, clearly bought a lot from them as their stamp is on many items.

St Austell - not sure of the name but there was a good stockist of all the old OUP and Novello folders in, I think, Fore Street, but that's been gone for many years - a shame

Bath - Duck, Son and Pinker, Milsoms - (all one walk through shop) - all gone - much missed - in its hey-day, a great treasure trove.

Salisbury - Stangers - now something else (was Percy Prior's) - minimalistic approach to organ music - Caleb Simper albums, Novello Bach, etc

Winchester - Whitwams - gone. (Some of these names had a real ring to them - Stangers, Whitwams...)

Chichester - Ackerman Music (West Street) - very good current and interesting selection of music - one of the best I know now for actual browsing and always call in when in Chichester

York - Banks, of course - a long time since I've been - but judging by what I bought when on a conference in the city, the selection must have been impressive. And Banks Music Publications seem to always be producing interesting works - FJ, of course, but also Andrew Carter and especially Antony Baldwin - anything of his is worth playing and thoroughly enjoyable, in my experience

London - where to start? Happy memories of visiting OUP and Novello as a teenager - (70s) - more recently, have enjoyed Chappells in Wardour Street, Foyles - a great character, who, I am sure, is well-known to some forumites, works in the excellent music department here with lots of browsing available. I bought a piece and found he had composed it! Also Schott in Great Marlborough Street - lots of organ music to view. Also Chimes in Kensington, but haven't been for a long while. 

Stoke on Trent - am I alone in remembering what was, I think Presto Music Supplies? Was it Maggie?? They used to source lots of stuff for me in my formative years and I had many phone calls with them.

Gillingham (Dorset) - I still lament the loss of the wonderful Allegro Music and the excellent services of Barbara. Of course, they only moved to Dorset latterly. 

Could we keep going, please?? 

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Canterbury - Forwoods - I was at school there in the early '60s, and my (school) house was only just round the corner, so I spent many hours (when I should have been practicing, perhaps!) reading The Gramophone and chatting to old Mr Reginald Forwood about records and hi-fi.  It was just the one family shop then, but now they've moved and run a rather effective mail-order business that I've used a couple of times.

Reading - Barnes & Avis - In my childhood my piano was a "Barnes & Avis" upright; the music shop was founded about 1910, I think, and sold a lot of pianos, some branded with their name; I believe Avis had been a piano tuner, but I don't think Barnes had any link with the Barnes who built pianos in London in the earlier twentieth century.  I have little memory of the shop itself.

Oxford - Blackwell's barely needs mentioning, of course; I bought many early hardback volumes of the Neue Bach Ausgabe, organ and more, from their nicely obscure secondhand department (a subscriber had died), and was once introduced by the staff to a harpsichord maker (Michael Thomas), to whom I subsequently presented a dead pear tree, which he favoured for jacks.  But from my school and student days I also remember Taphouse's (his son was at my prep school, but not in the cathedral choir), and Russell Acott's.  The latter would always stock up with music required for the Oxford Music Festival, and when one year there was an Alkan class (only my son entered) they stocked up with all of Alkan's piano music, just in case.  They had a huge music sale when they closed their shop in 1998; I bought some music still priced in £.s.d, and they honoured the prices on the old tickets!  After a short period as a hire piano setup, they've finally closed. 

Paul

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There were a couple of music shops in South-East London which I recall - the Dulwich Music Shop which I seem to remember had a good stock of organ music; and another one on Denmark Hill which had a fair selection. Both may well be trading under different names now or gone, as I can't find much on the net about them. 

Britten's Music in Tunbridge Wells has an organ music section but it wasn't regularly restocked with new items when I used to go in a few years ago - perhaps I should pay another visit! 

 

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There used to be a music emporium occupying several floors in Nottingham called Kent and Cooper.  I'm speaking of my schooldays now, rather more years ago than it's polite to mention.  I don't know how long they survived thereafter though.  It was the most incredible place, full of pianos for sale on creaking wooden floors which were winched up on an ancient lift.  Somewhere near to the attics was a set of dusty gloomy rooms which were hired out for various purposes such as ABRSM exams, and while waiting in the anteroom I still recall the names on some of the doors - a Mr Mark Meller was one who presumably rented his room as a studio.  I can only describe the whole place as a Dickensian hangover.  Although electric light had been installed, it seemed as though the management only went as far as 40 watt bulbs, usually without lampshades.

Having said that, the firm provided an excellent public service and you could go in there to ask for almost anything.  Even if they hadn't got it, there was always someone who would offer advice.  On one occasion I was renovating some organ keyboards and needed some thick felt.  Since they did a lot of piano repairs and restorations, they had some of course, but it was red rather than green.  But no matter, it added  touch of class I thought.

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Bayley & Ferguson in Glasgow were a good source for me in the 70s.

There was also the long-gone William Reeves booksellers (& publishers). When I knew them in the 70s, they had a large warehouse somewhere in South London full of new and s/h music. I bought piles of stuff from them amazingly cheaply!

Like Martin, I also recall Duck, Son & Pinker who had a shop in Gloucester.

There were occasional bargains to be had in Foyles as they never seemed to update the prices which were all pencilled on the cover and sometime old stock could be very cheap!

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Bristol I remember a Duck, Son & Pinker in Bristol, but (probably erroneously) recall it being in the centre of town or Clifton somewhere rather than its present location. Mickleburgh of Bristol is still in business in a relatively prominent corner location on Stokes Croft, which I passed every day on the way to/from school.

Newcastle Nowadays J G Windows in Newcastle, in the Edwardian Central Arcade right in the middle of town, expanded somewhat a few years ago and has a very good sheet music section, as well as a huge assortment of musical instruments. I will probably not get around to playing, or being able to play, all of the music I've bought there, but so what - it's a nice place. In the Arcade itself there is often a busker playing Northumbrian pipes, creating a unique and pleasant atmosphere.

Leiden Colin's comment about a performance room for hire in a piano shop prompts me to mention Emile van Leenen in Leiden here in the Netherlands, which is exactly the same sort of piano shop, and has a rather nice performance area on the top floor. I have been to several performances and concerts there. I thought it was unique! Happily not 🙂 

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There was one in Manchester, cannot recall the name though, it was (if I remember) on the same side of the road as the cathedral and was a "modern" shop. I only remember, as its where I bought a copy of the Whitlock Sonata from, to give to a Polish friend (who the previous night had given a recital at the Cathedral). He learnt it, and played it at Durham Cathedral 2 years later

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Leamington Spa  A shop, the name of which I cannot remember, was in a small side road just off The Parade. They sold a large selection of music for most instruments including an impressive selection of organ along with a good range of smaller musical instruments. Most of my JSB books, one or two of which I bought in an unjustified spirit of optimism and still are in almost pristine condition, plus several useful compilations were bought there in my teens after a train ride from Stratford-upon-Avon. 

The shop went years ago but our local Hospice charity bookshop does have quite a decent selection of organ music at very reasonable prices.

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Hi

Presto Music have a shop in Leamington - and they stock some organ music.

Going way back, there was a music shop in Rye whose name escapes me.  When I used it (1970's) it was basically the base for a local piano tuning set up, but the shop had NOS folders of Oxford organ music - and they only charged the prices on the labels (some still in LSD).  I got some bargain there.

Every Blessing

Tony

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I remember going to Whitwams in Winchester when I was on holiday in my teens, and buying my copy of Messiaen's Le Banquet Celeste. Happy times!

Here in Belfast in the late 1980s and 1990s, my late father and I would go to a CD (and cassette) shop called Koinonia located in Pottinger's Entry, which was small but had an excellent and carefully-curated stock of classical music, with a very good organ and choral section. It was listed in the old 'Gramophone Blue Riband' catalogue if anyone remembers that!

It was there that my Dad bought or ordered most of his orchestral CD collection, and he would allow me to choose an organ disc for myself once a month or so. I think there may also have been some jazz and world music in stock, but I wasn't interested in it at that stage. It was run by a chap whose name I shamefully can't remember, and his elderly father also helped out. They never seemed to take a holiday, knew the catalogue and new releases intimately, and were immensely informative and helpful in their recommendations. Members of the Ulster Orchestra would always be in and out of there for a chat with them as well.

Also, anything you wished to listen to before buying would be popped into the player at once, and conversations would ensue about different approaches to this or that passage by other conductors or soloists etc., and other discs would be fetched for comparison. Just try getting that level of service from HMV! Equally happy times! Sadly, they closed at some point in the late 1990s I think.

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Banks when in Stonegate 1970s was a treasure house for organ music scores-every last inch used in the attic rooms - presided over by the venerable Miss Banks and Nicholas who knew everything about your most obscure requests

Reeves warehouse was in Norbury . Rae Mcintosh George St Edinburgh,Largs Whitehall St Dundee and BruceMiller George St were excellent in their heyday

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Cambridge had the incomparable Brian Jordan on Green St. I'm looking now at the second-hand copy of John Blow's keyboard works I bought there 20+ years ago, with Peter Holman's signature and a date of September 1976 on the front cover; I spent £4.50 on it.  The late, eponymous Mr Jordan was a dapper, tweed-clad figure often to be seen around the town and in the congregation at Little St Mary's, the main Bells-and-Smells church. For a while there was also a pretty good CD shop on on Rose Crescent just off the Market Square; a friend who was a gap-year lay-clerk at St John's used to work in it.  Was it called EMC or is memory playing tricks?  It's long gone of course - now a shoe shop I think. I bought many more Philippe Herreweghe Bach CDs there than I could afford: all treasured now!  And does Heffers still sell any music?  HefferSound, their classical CD shop next door on Trinity St, is now a clothes shop.  Last but certainly not least, there is Miller's on Sussex St (originally owned by the organ-builder Alfred Tubalcain Miller in the 19th century); I bought my piano there recently, but it has sold all sorts of musical goods in its long existence.

Does Prelude Records still exist in Norwich?

Market forces are not to be resisted, but these little havens of quiet beauty in our great towns, almost always staffed by incredibly knowledgeable people, are much missed.  The future holds very little place for them, I fear.

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I wonder if the Leamington Spa music shop was Geoff Gough - just off the lower end of the Parade near All Saints Church?  I used to buy both piano and organ music there.  My preferred shop was Cranes in Smallbrook Queensway in Birmingham - they always seem to have just about anything in stock and I used to get the train to Brum as a teenager to buy stuff - all now gone, alas.  One that is still going strong (since 1823) is McCullough Pigott in Dublin - again used to have a good stock of organ music - my Irish Granny used to treat me there by buying me pretty much anything I wanted when I was a 10 year old every time we went into 'town'.  Great memories.  BTW Presto (mentioned above) have a great online operation for CDs and sheet music and their in-shop staff are very helpful and are mostly musicians themselves.

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4 hours ago, philipmgwright said:

Banks when in Stonegate 1970s was a treasure house for organ music scores-every last inch used in the attic rooms - presided over by the venerable Miss Banks and Nicholas who knew everything about your most obscure requests

I remember Nicholas well and there was another guy in there who was almost as good! I can see them both but his name escapes me!

As for the Venerable Miss Banks, I always felt a little the same as visiting the Headmaster's office whenever I saw her! She was formidable! I think it was Ray Lovely of Lovely Music in Tadcaster, an excellent music shop, long since gone, who said, on hearing of the death of Miss Banks that "she didn't die, she went out of print!" 

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1 hour ago, Keitha said:

I wonder if the Leamington Spa music shop was Geoff Gough - just off the lower end of the Parade near All Saints Church?  I used to buy both piano and organ music there.  My preferred shop was Cranes in Smallbrook Queensway in Birmingham - they always seem to have just about anything in stock and I used to get the train to Brum as a teenager to buy stuff - all now gone, alas.  One that is still going strong (since 1823) is McCullough Pigott in Dublin - again used to have a good stock of organ music - my Irish Granny used to treat me there by buying me pretty much anything I wanted when I was a 10 year old every time we went into 'town'.  Great memories.  BTW Presto (mentioned above) have a great online operation for CDs and sheet music and there in-shop staff are very helpful and are mostly musicians themselves.

Yes, that's the one. Thank you. Funny how you remember when told... It looks as if Presto's shop isn't far away from All Saints either. Incidentally, I often went to Bank Holiday recitals there but have missed the last couple years which may or may not coincide with Mrs H's retirement... A fine organ but in need of some work when last I heard it.

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20 hours ago, SomeChap said:

....

Market forces are not to be resisted, but these little havens of quiet beauty in our great towns, almost always staffed by incredibly knowledgeable people, are much missed.  The future holds very little place for them, I fear.

Very true. However there is an upside to the way things have gone in my opinion, and that concerns what used to happen when things went wrong with a purchase in those days.  As just one example, I bought  a CD of the Lincoln organ many years ago from one of these types of shop we are talking about - I won't mention either the CD or the shop here.  Having got it home, I found it had mains hum on the recording.  At low level, but it was definitely there.  It was particularly noticeable and irritating in the track of Franck's Andantino in G minor (the one that goes oom-pah oom-pah in the pedals), where you could distinctly hear 1 Hz beats between the quiet pedal G's at 49 Hz and the mains at 50 Hz.  Taking it back to the shop, the owner put it on the mediocre system in the somewhat noisy store and declared (surprise, surprise) that he couldn't hear it.  Result - no refund, and I'm still stuck with it.  I did write to the manufacturer (again, no names, no pack drill) and got a reply which - rather to my surprise - didn't actually deny the hum was there, nor try to blame my system, but merely said that "the Lincoln blower is a bit noisy".

Today, if you buy online from places like Amazon, you get the money back almost before you've requested it and sometimes they don't even want the item returned.  This has to be a factor in the disappearance of the some shops of yesteryear, and indeed in the decay we see in our High Streets more generally.  In those earlier times the downside was a widespread attitude of complacency, rudeness and couldn't care less for the customer on the part of many small shop keepers, who have now been well and truly hoist by their own petards nowadays.

----------------------

PS For the technically minded, I did do a test to see whether my equipment was to blame by doing a spectrum analysis of (a) the CD player output before a track faded in, and (b) during the quiet moment after the fade in but just before the music started.  In the case of (a) there was no 50 Hz spike visible, but for (b) it was clearly there above the slight background 'presence' due to the blower and other ambient sounds.  So the hum was definitely recorded on the CD itself, not that the said shopkeeper took a blind bit of notice of this evidence.  Although this incident was a long time ago, it was not so long that I didn't have the means to do this easily in the shape of an early PC with an audio interface.

 

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All good points and agreed about the modern attitude to customer service being better in some ways!

To answer my own question, it looks like Prelude Records in Norwich is no more - it lasted until about 2017.   A wonderful shop; I got a stash of Messiaen there once - including lots of Jennifer Bate at Beauvais and the Turangalila Symphony. Alas.

This may be way off-topic but I've got an old, interesting and irreplaceable tape recording which suffers quite badly from 50hz hum, and I was wondering if Dr Pykett or other forumites might know a way to remove it?  I've got it digitised in Audacity but had no luck there so far. It would be worth uploading to the Archive of Recorded Church Music if it is possible to improve it.  (Happy to take offline if it disturbs this thread.)

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My favourite music shop (with a large emphasis on organ music) was Macdonald Music Services in Steyning, run by the much-missed and inimitable Charles Macdonald (former York Minster organ scholar under FJ).

It was a delight to visit, browse the shelves, try out anything of interest on the practice instrument in the basement and be treated to coffee and plenty of stories.

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2 hours ago, SomeChap said:

This may be way off-topic but I've got an old, interesting and irreplaceable tape recording which suffers quite badly from 50hz hum, and I was wondering if Dr Pykett or other forumites might know a way to remove it?  I've got it digitised in Audacity but had no luck there so far. It would be worth uploading to the Archive of Recorded Church Music if it is possible to improve it.  (Happy to take offline if it disturbs this thread.)

I agree it might be best to discuss this elsewhere, but maybe a post might be acceptable.  There are a number of members who are well qualified to respond to this, but for what it's worth from me, you will need to use an app which does noise reduction.  I don't use Audacity so don't know whether it does.  However the digitised file which it produced will be readable by other apps.  I use WaveLab (excellent in almost every respect but rather expensive) and an old version of something called CoolEdit which was free - and presumably still will be if you can find it (later versions were not).  It has one of the best, if not the best, denoising capabilities I've ever come across.  It also has an excellent suite of other processes not relevant to your question which other apps do not.  Anyway, when denoising, you must have a section of the file which contains noise only without any music or other programme material - the longer the better, although just a few seconds can often give good results.  Using this noise-only part of the file, which you can select with the mouse or whatever, you first tell the app to derive a 'noise profile' from it.  Then you tell it to use this profile to subtract the noise signal from the rest of the file.

The noise must be constant (not varying in amplitude or in any other way) throughout the recording by the way, otherwise the denoising will be degraded.  So it's possible that wow and flutter on the recording, which came from the original tape, might degrade what one might expect from a denoising process.  However I'd be surprised if you didn't get a noticeable improvement nonetheless.

This is the essence of it, though I might not have told you anything you didn't know.  Best of luck!

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For noise reduction, WaveLab is pretty good.  It's not expensive when put alongside programs like iZotope RX (a very powerful noise reduction package).

The late CoolEdit (which I used to master a couple of commercial CDs before I got WaveLab) morphed into Adobe Audition.  It's a very capable package, but I no longer use it, as for years now it has (like all Adobe software) only been available on subscription.

In this case, a 50Hz hum might be readily removable with no more than a very sharp notch filter.  But more likely, it will have harmonics as well.  In that case either the noise sample and subtract technique mentioned by Colin can be used; or, for instance, iZotope RX has a specialised hum filter which applies a very sharp notch filter to the hum frequency and also to as many harmonics as you specify, and has a mode which makes the filter adjust to follow the hum frequency if it varies (e.g. because of tape or record wow).

Paul

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Incredibly helpful and knowledgeable replies, thanks both.  I did give profile-based NR a try in Audacity but wasn't happy with the results, and couldn't seem to find a notch filter.  I do recall some upper harmonics on the hum (a septieme I think). Serendipitously iZotope RX Elements (their budget offering) is currently on a crazy discount sale down from $130 to $20!  It explicitly lists hum removal as a feature.  I think I may be reaching for my credit card ...

Thanks to all for indulging the topic-swerve! 

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Hi

Thanks for the reminder of Charles MacDonald's shop in Steyning.  I visited a few times when we were in the area.

As to De-noising, I've done a fair bit using basic software.  The key is not to overdo the processing.  Sometimes, a bit of residual noise is better than the degraded sound of heavy digital processing, which can produce various audible artefacts.

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It's interesting that we've just had this exchange about noise.  Only a few minutes ago I was listening to Classic FM where they broadcast Allegri's Miserere, apparently from an album recorded in St John's Cambridge.  The background noise level was unbelievably high, sounding rather like a not-very-well-oiled organ blower.  Yet why would this have even been switched on in this unaccompanied piece?  I suppose it might possibly have been air conditioning of some sort, as the recording was made mid-covid in 2020 at a live concert or service of some kind according to the DJ (Aled Jones), so maybe they wanted to encourage air movement.  The effect was made even worse by Classic FM's tiresome noise-pumping due to the dynamic compression they use.

I cannot for the life of me imagine why this track had apparently not been run through even the most basic noise reduction app as part of the mastering process, since the noise level and its other characteristics appeared to be constant apart from the noise-pumping imposed during transmission.  It probably wouldn't matter or even be noticed in the noisy environment of a car with its usual mediocre audio system, but listening at a realistic sound level on good equipment, as I was doing, it was a travesty.

What a pity the performance was degraded in such a manner.

PS  A youtube recording exists with a similar problem, though I don't know whether it is the self-same recording I mentioned above.  But to my ears it's equally unacceptable and not something I would want to spend money on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSjNp7BZ49k

Very strange.

 

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