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Sydney Record Stores of the Past

April 21, 2012

On Record Store Day I went record shopping in the city. This is something I have done for around twenty years, since the early 1990s when I was a teenager. Music was a magic door into another world for me in my early teenage years and my first explorations of the city on my own terms were through record stores.  I still navigate by them, even though they have all either moved or disappeared from their 1990s locations. The city for me today is a patchwork of what used to be, a mental map where past overlays present. This is a common feeling  for anyone who has known a city for any length in time: cities are by nature dynamic, and what is carries the shadow of what was.

Here is the invisible map of the record stores that I remember from the 1990s. There may be more, and others who are older than me could probably make a different map, so do comment and add your stories.

Red Eye Records 

The city record store I remember most fondly was Red Eye records when it was in the Tank Stream arcade, a dim, subterranean arcade which has now been replaced by a Coles Express supermarket. I came here for the first time when I was 13, excited to make contact with the physical objects which matched the music I heard on the radio. I could examine a My Bloody Valentine CD, or the Smudge 7″ of “I Don’t Want to be Grant McLennan”, even if the meagre funds allocated to me by my mother for whatever anodyne activity I said I was up to weren’t enough to buy them.

This is the place where I first discovered zines, and they thrilled me with their slapdash weirdness. It was the strangeness of the store – with its big bloodshot eye logo and the posters for bands I’d never heard of – that I came to absorb, even if I didn’t buy anything.

Red Eye existed in a number of locations in the Tank Stream arcade. It moved around the corner from the shop I first visited, and split into a shop for new music and a smaller secondhand shop across the arcade. Next to the secondhand shop was a tiled step at the edge of a bedraggled garden bed. If I was waiting for someone I’d sit here and watch people go in and out of the stores. I imagined these to be the most interesting people in the city.

Red Eye is still operating, and popular: it was full of people for Record Store Day.  After the Tank Stream Arcade was demolished it moved to another location on King St, and now has moved to York St. There is a secondhand Red Eye on Pitt st, but that store is closing soon.  Their album prices still end in their signature .98, so if I find a price sticker on one of my old CDs or records that ends in .98, I know where it came from.

The entrance to the Tank Stream Arcade, a photo from the City of Sydney archives.

Waterfront Records

I knew of Waterfront’s existence from their ads in the Drum Media. The ads ran alongside the gig guide and were densely handwritten with information about new releases as well as strange stories from the Weekly World News. I found the store just off George St, on Barlow St. I liked this for its resonance with Lou Barlow of Sebadoh and because it was an unassuming laneway slipped in beside  a 70s high rise: the McKell Building which I have never seen anyone enter or leave.

On Saturdays in 1990/1991 I had the job of escorting my sister to choir practise in Surry Hills, with strict instructions not to leave the building as it was a dangerous area. As soon as she went in to practice I took off, walking as fast as I could across to Waterfront. That it was forbidden for me to be there made it even more exciting. I saved up to buy band t-shirts from the display on the back wall – terrifying to me because it involved me talking to the people who worked in the store. I felt like a tiny mouse and imagined their cool, inner city lives with feelings of great inadequacy.

From "The Sell In" by Craig Mathieson, an uncredited image of Steve Stavrakis and Chris Dunn outside the George St/Barlow St Waterfront.

Waterfront moved to a much larger store on York st, and this store had a vast zine section where I sold many of my zines in the late 90s. Some of my records from this store still have the handwritten post-it note descriptions that were stuck to the covers, ephemera which then I barely noticed but now regard very fondly.

After some time digging in my cupboard, I found this Waterfront bag, from the days of it at 770 George St. The bloodshot eye on Red Eye’s bags was always a bit of a shock for me, I preferred the Waterfront cityscape. When I first started record shopping, seeing others walking around with bags from record stores made me feel like I was part of a secret club.

Waterfront closed in 2000. This, combined with the atmosphere of renovation in preparation for the Olympics, felt like the end of the Sydney I had grown to know. In the early 90s the city streets had many holes, deep excavated pits that were the result of developments that stalled in the 80s after the share market crash. As these began being filled in with developments, holes of a different kind started to appear, as record stores and bookstores began to be priced out of the city.

Waterfront still operates as an online store, with the same black and yellow cityscape as their banner.

Phantom Records.

Phantom, while not being a punk record store, seemed more punk to me, things were a bit looser there than they were at Red Eye or Waterfront. The store was on Pitt st, under the tracks of the monorail and up a short flight of stairs. Their slogan was “the big beat in the heart of the vinyl jungle”. I liked the sound of it, but it didn’t fit with how I envisaged Phantom, which was a jungle of boys with scruffy hair and scratchy guitars. I remember buying a copy of Crow’s first record “Sunburnt Throats and Happy Thunderclouds” there, from a pile of them being sold off cheaply. Phantom released this record and records by other great bands like Even as we Speak and The Hummingbirds, and multiple copies of these Phantom releases could often been found on the shelves. (A note here: Red Eye and Waterfront were also record labels as well as stores.)

My favourite memory of Phantom was seeing Lawnsmell play an instore in 1997. Lawnsmell were a Sydney punk band who I saw quite a number of times, they used to play a screamy punk cover of “Birthday” by the Sugarcubes which thrilled me.

Matt took this polaroid at the Lawnsmell show.

Phantom also published handwritten ads in the Drum Media, and would have periodic music auctions, where you would put in a silent bid on items listed in the catalogue. I made bids many times but only ever won one item, a Crime and City Solution 7″.

Phantom Records closed in 1998 and there is little trace of it now, apart from the occasional secondhand record discovery, where the label lives on:

An extensive history of Phantom records can be found here.

Pitt Street Record Zone

This is the name I’m giving to the two blocks south of Liverpool Street, which was once the secondhand record shopping strip. There is a second hand Red Eye Records there, but that was a later addition to the strip and is soon to close leaving only…

Lawsons

Lawson’s has been there for decades and pretty much as it always was, with the stale tobacco smell and the layers of posters on the walls, including this old State Rail cautionary sign:

Lawsons was always my least favourite of the Pitt St stores, although now it is precious to me as a final link to a past age of record shopping.

Ashwoods

Ashwoods, which moved to York St before closing down a few years ago, first started trading in 1932. Its Pitt St store, which closed in the early 2000s, was full of records all jumbled up with only rudimentary order, so to shop at Ashwoods was to search deeply through the history of recorded music. The records all had the trademark round edged square price stickers and the price scrawled in pencil on the record itself, perhaps to stop any pricetag switching. The store had a spiral staircase leading up to an less-used upper level, most of the action happened downstairs among the men (and it was usually men) flipping through records.

Ashwoods was an adventure, and as well as the records I found the sometimes irascible owner a great character. One time when I was browsing in the York St store, I listened to him hold forth on the topic of “why don’t we eat zoo animals” for quite some time.

A photo of the closed and boarded up Pitt St Ashwoods, as well as a remeniscence about Sydney record shopping in the 1970s can be found here.

Martin’s

On the corner of Goulburn St and Pitt St, across from what was once the Mandarin Club, was Martin’s, another secondhand record store which I liked most for the great importance given to cassettes on their awning:

Enthusiasms

Silver Rocket

In the above photo you can see some of the window of Enthusiasms, which previously was a store called Silver Rocket, although there wasn’t any link between the two stores as far as I know. Silver Rocket was more punk whereas Enthusiasms was more indie pop, and the first store to mark up 80s Australian records by bands such as the Laughing Clowns. This is when I noticed that these records, which I’d seen around my whole record shopping life, were suddenly becoming valuable. Another example of this happened recently, when I was looking for records released on Flying Nun for a zine I was writing about Dunedin. I remember secondhand Flying Nun records in abundance. There were many of them at shops like Enthusiasms, but then when I went to look for them in the remaining Sydney record stores, there were few to be found. Like my mental map of the city, I had failed to keep pace with the present.

Other Sydney record stores past:

Metropolis: This store was in the Mid City Centre, a shopping centre above a vast basement HMV. I only went there a few times before it closed down in the early 90s.

Virgin  Records: was also in Pitt St mall, a basement store where I saw an instore by Red Kross, having gone by myself in a daring early-teenage solo mission, and signed a petition for “We Want Moz in Oz”. This campaign also had bumper stickers, I stuck mine on my school folder.

Brashs: on Pitt St near the Greater Union cinemas, all completely disappeared now and a building site for a big tower. Brashs occasionally turns up in jokes made about the 90s or redundant retailers, for some reason.

On Record Store day this year I visited both Red Eyes, Mojo, and Lawsons. Then me and my record shopping friend paused on the corner of World Square, on the steps where two Coles employees were having a smoke break. We looked across the street at the CB hotel, a run down backpackers in a bedraggled 30s building, with a new white building shooting high up behind it, like a giant white spear. I realised we’d come to the end of the city record stores (we’re not into metal, so didn’t visit Utopia Records), although the ghosts of record stores past pulled at me. As if I looked for them they might be there. I wished they were.

81 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott K. permalink
    April 22, 2012 9:05 pm

    For the Melbournians who miss some amazing stores:

    Gaslight records.

    Au Go Go.

    Oh my god the hours wasted at these places. I’m so glad that Polyester are still there. Even if I don’t live in Melbourne anymore (I still visit frequently, and visit them every time).

    Enthusiasms –

    And yes. The Virgin on Bourke street also had a vibrant teenage culture surrounding it, and it’s near pop mecca qualities. But it was too expensive and refused to carry the more minor Melbourne recordings, virtually committing suicide in Melbourne at the time. HMV cut it’s own wrists in the same way.

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      April 26, 2012 3:46 pm

      Yes there were some great Melbourne record stores, I have fond memories of going on record store crawls in the city when I visited in the 90s. Missing Link, also. And there was even a goth record store in the late 90s, near the market, called something like Subterfuge, I can’t remember exactly.

      • zellie permalink
        July 9, 2012 8:36 pm

        OMGF, i forgot Greville Records. I lived for 20 years down the road and Warwick actually became a mate.

        Now I live in NSW and Music Farmers and Repressed are my favourites.

    • zellie permalink
      July 9, 2012 8:31 pm

      Er, Exposure!!! On Cotham Road, on the top of Glenferrie Road, I bought all my seminal Lydia Lunch there.

  2. April 26, 2012 12:15 pm

    I am originally from Melbourne but I loved your walking tour! The gaslight poster for its store was legendary. Every day they had a competition where you had to go in and do something, like ‘Who can stand kissing their partner the longest’. It was so entertaining.

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      April 26, 2012 5:49 pm

      I wonder if there is a list of all the competitions somewhere! That would be a fun list to read.

  3. April 26, 2012 1:49 pm

    What about Anthem Records and Robert & Eddie Kaleel’s shop (can’t think of the name!)

    I left Sydney in 1998, with 2000 records in tow. Now living in the US and my children are enjoying playing my choons!

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      April 26, 2012 5:51 pm

      I don’t think I went to Anthem, at least not that I can remember. I like that you were on first name basis with the owners of the other store! Maybe another reader can identify it.
      I love that your records travelled with you!

      • Peter permalink
        July 6, 2012 6:44 am

        Anthem was a great early eighties store that lost out to the Record Plant (Imperial Arcade) because of size. The baton was then passed to Red Eye by the mid eighties. These stores were similar in musical style – latest post-punk imports usually from the UK and experimental. Phantom had a more local focus and even had its own label. I always thought rockabilly with Phantom.

    • October 18, 2012 10:03 am

      Hey Vikki the store you are referring to is Soul Sense it mainly stocked R&B, hip hop, 80’s funk, soul etc etc. Anthem was down the alley way between Hoyts on George Street they had a lot of hip hop as well.

  4. Robyn St Clare permalink
    April 26, 2012 5:37 pm

    Great to trip down the dusty corridors of my brain and think of the old haunts…spent a lot of time in Phantom ;p thnx VB!

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      April 26, 2012 5:56 pm

      Hi Robyn! Lovely to hear from you, and yes I think you’d have plenty of record store stories to tell!

  5. Jon permalink
    April 26, 2012 7:49 pm

    On the electronic front there was Reach’n Records, run by DJ Sugar Ray on Crown St. Up the road a bit was Good Vibes (I think). Reach’n moves to downstairs at the corner of Crown & Oxford.
    Briefly there was Acetate records near Taylor Square, responsible for beinging DJ Roger Sanchez to Sydney for his first visit.

    Possibly still there is/was Central Station records. No where near central station on Oxford St.

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      April 27, 2012 8:33 am

      Central Station records is now the Oxford Art Factory, but the store is still going online – thanks for the filling in the electronic side of things! I went to Central Station a few times but I’m not an electronica or dance person so thanks for adding them.

      • Kit permalink
        April 27, 2012 5:38 pm

        Before moving to Oxford St, Central Station took up the entire double-fronted floor underneath what was Phantom at the time. Speaking of migratory shops, the ever-on-the-move Utopia probably deserves a mention…

  6. Georgia permalink
    April 26, 2012 11:42 pm

    Some great memories Vanessa! My friends and I used to catch the train into town after school in the early 90s to do a record store crawl around Waterfront, Red Eye and Phantom usually. Felt super daggy in our school uniforms but super cool that we were actually in the record stores. I remember Allison from Smudge working at Waterfront at one stage. Did you ever go to Half a Cow records on Glebe Point Road?

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      April 27, 2012 8:36 am

      I love that mix of feeling super daggy and super cool, which perhaps only comes when one is a teenager in school uniform!
      I did go to Half a Cow, yes, I thought about including it on my list but then I thought I’d stick strictly to the CBD area, as that’s where I visited on Record Store Day. I particularly loved the tiny Half a Cow, before it upsized and crossed the street. I bought a Meanines T-shirt there and plenty of zines – I liked that it was a bookstore as well, as that was/is my other love.

  7. May 13, 2012 6:34 pm

    awesome list, of course in the Pitt Street record zone was a shop known as ‘The Pitt’ which was even more of a mess than Ashwoods was. They had an extremely odd pricing policy where a $1 record was often priced at $9 and things that were normally expensive were often at knock down prices. One of the key things about record stores in those days was that the staff knew their stuff, they were often in bands or ran labels. However to a young me, I wasn’t aware of that. One day in 1989 I went into Phantom and asked the long haired young guy behind the counter about the new Hummingbirds single. He promised me it was coming. I went back every week and harangued this poor gent, not believing his promises and thinking to myself ‘What would he know?’. Of course, seeing him sing in front of the Hummingbirds that weekend put paid to that. Thanks Simon, the single did arrive!

  8. May 13, 2012 6:41 pm

    yeah, I still think of Phantom when walking past. They had so much cool stuff, and if you were poor you could pick up demo cassettes of unknown bands for a couple of bucks. Cash only, no eftpos.

  9. May 30, 2012 1:08 pm

    I bought a secondhand US pressing of the Sundays’ “Static and Silence” cd at the Red Eye Secondhand store on Pitt Street in 1998. I may have sold it on eBay since. There was also Disco City on Pitt Street near the Sydney Hilton, no prizes for guessing which genre they stocked. They had a big sign there “IF YOU STEAL FROM OUR STORE WE WILL CALL THE POLICE AND NOTIFY YOUR PARENTS” or something like that. That was around 1990 when I visited Sydney for the first time.

  10. Kate permalink
    July 5, 2012 6:00 pm

    I have very similar memories of record shopping in Brisbane in the late 80s/early 90s. Not as many awesome stores – trips to Sydney were always an opportunity to stock up on good stuff from Red Eye, etc. But how I remember the agonising bus ride home before you could listen to your latest purchase … hopefully with a gatefold sleeve. Thanks for churning up some great memories, and RIP Skinny’s!

  11. Kevin permalink
    July 5, 2012 6:10 pm

    I note that you amongst many failed to visit Timewarp records by the Town Hall in Druitt st. Just because they basically catered for “oldies” and went by the No Jazz, No Funk, No Disco…..there were always treasures lurking in the $ bins at the back and they extensive section of 45s from all eras, not to mention a huge collection of 60s garage, Psych & contemporary powerpop cds. Oh , I forgot to mention I worked there during the 90s as well

  12. Gina Monaco permalink
    July 5, 2012 7:19 pm

    half a cow at Glebe was also great….

  13. David Edgar permalink
    July 5, 2012 8:00 pm

    Then there was the Record Plant (I think?) located upstairs and up the back of some now non existent shopping mall off Pitt st. They had a great range of punk singles and albums and like the others the best and most expensive ones were plastered all over the walls. I remember forking out what seemed like all of my money at the time for a box set of the first 6 Sex Pistol singles from there.
    Thanks for the memories.

  14. King of Jamos permalink
    July 5, 2012 9:36 pm

    Wow what a trip down memory lane! I first went to Waterfront records when they were on York street and the QVB was still being renovated. It was like entering a war zone but nobody seemed to care much least of all Frank, Steve or Chris the guys that ran the store. The place was like somebodies lounge room where people just seemed to drop in.
    Although it’s not a record store you should give The Land Beyond Beyond on George St a mention. It’s owners were real excentrics they originally open the store to fund underground cinema.

  15. Jez permalink
    July 5, 2012 9:52 pm

    Wow, great trip down memory lane. In later years seeing Steph from Smudge working at Waterfront in York St, in earlier years rocking up to Phantom Records in Pitt st to get the free zines, Red Eye moving and moving again (and again), it’s a hard row to hoe nowadays. Looking forward to Repressed’s new digs and finally seeing a gig at Blackwire.

  16. July 5, 2012 10:01 pm

    This is a great trip down memory lane. Every time I went to Sydney in the early 90’s ( from Perth) I spent days scouring these shops finding all sorts of treasures that I couldn’t get hold off. I always loved the fact you coul walk into phantom buy a records ( in this case a died pretty 7 inch ) and then get Brett to sign it from behind the counter. Picked up a rare plimsouls album for 10 bucks from red eye plus a plundered 3 prong love beast t- shirt from waterfront! Compiling a history of late 80’s early 90’s handbills from Perth on playtheotherside.wordpress.com for a bit of fun at the moment. David

  17. Vanessa Berry permalink*
    July 5, 2012 10:03 pm

    Thank you for your comments everyone, and for filling in some of the other stores that I didn’t know about – The Land Beyond Beyond I never went to, but I have heard of it, it has such a fantastic name! I don’t know that I ever went to Timewarp, I think because of the “oldies” perception that Kevin noted. I should have been more adventurous!
    I noted that Repressed Records are having their 10th birthday this week and have some birthday shows coming up at the Red Rattler this weekend. . .

    • Ken permalink
      June 23, 2013 4:49 pm

      Thanks for writing this article. Like you, I still navigate the city by past record shops, night clubs, and bars.

      These record shops of old always had dj spinning tunes or a big speaker out the front blaring music. Soul sence opposite George St cinema in the lane way had huge speakers placed on the pavement. They could usually be heard across George St at the cinemas and in Pitt St. Even though I did not like R & B I thought that this was well cool.

      Pitt St was a scary place for a kid in the 80’s. Those three records shops,(ash woods, lawson’s, and *****) were in an underdeveloped and derelict part of Pitt St. There was no Avillion Hotel or flashy shops at that time. There were only boarded up shops, disused buildings and strange characters that lurked round. This made the record hunting experience even more exciting.

      Some others:

      Disco City in Pitt St opposite the Hilton. It was big and run by Lance.

      Shop in Oxford Arcade owned by Johnny Vestax(Asian guy) opposite central station records

      Shop in arcade Opposite Australia square near Wynyard in the late 80’s – black music

      Oscar’s record bar chatswood. Near the old Chatswood library.

      Bird something or other records – jazz records between Wynyard and town hall stations

      There was a record store on William St for a while where the prostitutes would stand at night.

      Fat Beats records on Liverpool St next door to Hungry Jacks- hip hop.

      Rent a tape in Wallace Way Chatswood. You would pay a joining fee and then rent a tape as if it were a library, making sure you brought it back in 3 days time.

      When HMV Chatswood opened I used to buy imported records after school with money saved up. It was 1989 and the manager asked if I would like to spin some records each day after school. They had a raised dj booth over looking the store like in night club. As a 13 or 14 year old spinning records in a dj booth in the busiest record shop in Chatswood was a real adventure. I loved it.

      Thre were many more record shops in Sydney that I would like to remember. I hope others add more to this. Thank you to those that do and to the author of this article.

  18. July 5, 2012 11:09 pm

    Land Beyond Beyond was one of my haunts in the early 80s when Terry Brown first set up shop in the old Crystal Palace Arcade. He was more into old movie and tv memorabilia to start with, then migrated into comics and whatever else he was interested in. Terry was heavily involved in experimental music – soundscapes, and the like – so there’s that music connection anyway.

    Below LBB was Ava and Susan’s – a music store that specialised in film and theatre soundtracks. Their passion was 40s and 50s musicals but in the pre-net days it was the place to go for rare pressings of Phantom of the Paradise or Rocky Horror.

    I love the new Repressed Records store.

    • idiotproof67 permalink
      July 6, 2012 12:58 pm

      Wow, I also went to Terry’s shop when it was at The Crystal Palace, then down the road past the RSL. Bought most of all my comics & film mags from him. I was in there EVERY single week. Don’t really recall much vinyl in the shop, but did rent the occasional VHS from him. He was teh oen taht I descired a film to him
      The only music he ever had on in his shop was his own radio show that was on 2MBSFM, ‘Stalking the Nightmare’.

      Great article Vanessa…

      You were missing Joe & Alan’s shop Floppy Disk at Wynyard, Gordon’s Disco City, Metropolis, Good Groove, Phat Wax, Soul Sense, The Lounge Room, Rays Records & Recycled (Glebe), Soul Central, Warped in KX… and a few others that weren’t open for long like that punk one up on Broadway.

  19. Kim Reed permalink
    July 6, 2012 12:36 am

    Wonderful story, Vanessa. I remember driving from Parramatta to Sydney on Saturday mornings as early as the mid-70s. We’d park on Pitt Street and join fellow vinyl junkies in the search. When it came time to moved back to the States in 1989 it was Chris at Red Eye who I sold approximately 4, 000 albums to. Red Eye still has a great website to order from since I can’t make my weekly rounds. There were a few great shops in Parramatta as well, and one of them near the train station sold hundreds of new bootlegs (Little Feat, Stones, etc) for a few months.

  20. Brian permalink
    July 6, 2012 8:52 am

    Amazing article. It brought back so many find memories.

  21. July 6, 2012 10:52 am

    Wow Vanessa, reading your story takes me right back to my own teenage years in so many ways. Your descriptions of the stores and how you felt at the time – the tiny mouse in the inner city – is like my reading own memories put into words by someone else. Only for me the records and the decade are different – the early 80’s. I remember when my older brother first took me to The Record Plant in the Imperial Arcade. It was like opening a pandoras box! When I first got into records at about age 10 I would go to the local suburban store and buy singles. But you had to be quick because once they sold out they didn’t usually get more in – never mind hoping for a picture sleeve! So discovering these city stores blew my mind as they had back catalogue and cool import copies with the sleeves – yep mind blowing!

    I would spend an hour on the train on Saturday mornings, get off at Central and walk through Belmore Park to Pitt St and begin at Martins. Next was a place about where Lawsons is now which I think was called Pitt Book and Records (?). I remember once selling all 16 of my mint condition Kiss albums there for $1 each!!! Then Ashwoods – a jumbled mess as you mentioned but easy to spot interesting stuff in the windows. In those days Lawsons was actually around the corner, I think on Liverpool St but it has been in it’s current location for a very long time. (Funny how they alphabetise everything by the artists first name rather that surname. It’s like they were preparing us for iTunes!). Phantom – full of spiky studded punks and a little scary for this kid but lot’s of great import 7″s. There was a small second hand store around where the Redeye second hand shop is now but I don’t remember the name. Then there was a place further up called Zounds but that was a bit more mainstream I guess. Then I think up to the Record Plant which was amazing! I still have many things that I bought there. Then there was Redeye and back then the owner had long curly slightly greying hair. Then Utopia which in those days was a very tiny store in Martin Place. It was always too metal for me though they did have other stuff as well so it really couldn’t be left off the map. The last one that I can remember was a place called Chelsea Records which was like a combination of a JB store and one of those $10 CD stores that were around a few years ago. In the early 80’s they used to buy album box sets in bulk, break them up and sell the records individually at bargain prices. I got so many Beatle albums for about 4 or 5 bucks each which was like half price. (albums were generally $8.99 or $9.99 then). And something that seems funny to me now was, I discovered that in the back lane behind the store they would dump all the empty box set boxes and so one day I got my dad to drive in and we took a bunch of these boxes home! Loads of them! Beatles, Stones, Lennon. Why? It just seemed cool having all these record boxes in my room! And I still have the Stones one that my parents ended up keeping their Scrabble pieces in!

    They were exciting days as those stores were like a window into another world and pretty much the only way find anything that wasn’t completely mainstream. How things have changed…

  22. Robert permalink
    July 6, 2012 11:52 am

    Thanks Vanessa for a great read. Yes (mis)spent so much time in those haunts on Saturday mornings…..and I remember Anthem as being in the Town Hall station arcade (under the George St Bus stop opposite Town Hall) They used to paint their import record labels with a black circle, to hide some of the info….no doubt to get around some obscure import regulation.

    There was also one in the Menzies arcade between George and Pitt, one level up from George. I distinctly remember they managed to procure me a copy of Heavy Jelly\’s \”I Keep Singing that Same old Song\” when everyone else had failed….that must have been on 1971 or thereabouts

    Robert

  23. Brett permalink
    July 6, 2012 5:25 pm

    I don’t know if this has been said, to many to read, but the Silver Rocket was punk orientated but they ended up selling more Reggae there than anything. Also I believe Silver Rocket is still going on line and sell more to the European market. Marik is the man.

  24. Colleen permalink
    July 8, 2012 10:40 pm

    White Light of course in the Tank Stream Arcade 1976..run by Mark and Lee…ripping open the boxes in the back room before the singles ever made it to the racks…

  25. Samuel permalink
    July 12, 2012 3:29 pm

    Heya it’s Simon’s cousin Sam! Great article Vanessa, nice to imagine that a resurgent interest in vinyl collection and ‘corporeal’ (as opposed to digital..) music might keep the remaining shops alive. You might be interested to know that my father Al began and co-owned Anthem records in Town Hall Arcade. A little before your heyday it’s true, but Anthem was notably the first import record store in Sydney; importing the higher quality pressings and elaborate sleeve art of UK and US releases instead of the cheaply produced Sony/BMG releases licensed in Australia. Dad still has a treasure trove of vinyl under the house I would love to get my hands on one day, haha..

    • July 12, 2012 8:48 pm

      Hi Sam

      Interesting post! Perhaps you could ask your father why the labels had to be blacked out on the imports….? Spent a lot of time in Anthem, because of the better pressings and better covers.

      Robert

      • September 10, 2012 12:16 pm

        labels had to be blacked out on imports because most of them were on Columbia Records in the US, which before 1990 was CBS here in Australia. Columbia was a separate label in Australia distributed by EMI, but began as an affiliate of Columbia US before they exited EMI for Philips in the early 1950s, then in 1956 released their artists in Australia under the Coronet label before changing to CBS in 1963. EMI kept the Columbia name and “magic notes” logo in Australia, but were reliant on artists sourced from Columbia UK (also part of EMI), independent US labels such as Cameo, Parkway, Gee, and its Australian roster (including country artists previously on Regal Zonophone). On the import records, people would be confused if the Columbia name was left in although they used the CBS logo because of the above.

  26. henry permalink
    July 13, 2012 10:42 pm

    great story Vanessa and certainly bought back heaps of memories from when I lived in Sydney, which was unitl recently. There were and are great record stores on the city fringes as well like Revolve & Pigeon Ground and I don’t think anyone mentioned one of the biggest record stores in the city, Utopia Records. I picked up heaps of cheap great eclectic vinyl there because most people only go there for rock and metal. Mojo and Time Warp were favourites as was Ashwoods up until about 10 years ago when anything decent seemed to be put straight on ebay.

  27. July 15, 2012 12:51 pm

    For those after record shops in Melbourne, there are still loads of them! Head into any shop and pick up a Digging Melbourne map, I think there are over 50 now that are all accessible by trains and trams. The vinyl scene in Melbourne is much healthier than Sydney’s, I was surprised about the lack of shops up there when I first visited.
    A few favourites in Melb:
    Heartland Records – maybe the best for new/repressed Indie/Alternative and Punk LPs.Loads of 45s also.
    Licorice Pie – solely vinyl. A great collection of all sorts and at very good prices I think.
    Polyester – great up-to-date Indie collection. Always my first port of call on RSD. Great classics, dance and Hip-hop collection too.

    I heard once that Melbourne has more record shops per person than any other city in the world haha. I live in the right place.

  28. Matthew R permalink
    October 12, 2012 8:11 am

    ‘I remember buying a copy of Crow’s first record “Sunburnt Throats and Happy Thunderclouds” there, from a pile of them being sold off cheaply.’ I did exactly the same thing! I still have it. I loved Waterfront’s hand written notes on adhesive labels. I have an Air Miami CD with at least three labels tiled together obscuring most of the cover art. Red Eye also made labels with short notes and they both overused the word ‘sophomore’. I used to find the staff in both shops intimidating. My mate and I were humiliated by one Red Eye staff member who corrected us on the pronunciation of The Durutti Column like some high school teacher [Found out years later we were right]. I also remember a display of 4AD [Pixies, Dead Can Dance] posters in Red Eye’s second hand store in the Tank Stream. I made the mistake of asking the girl behing the counter if I could buy one — no way! They were very rare, belonged to her and not for sale. I got a set of them in HMV a few weeks later. ‘I remember secondhand Flying Nun records in abundance. There were many of them at shops like Enthusiasms.’ Yep, I got a lot of Flying Nun stuff there incl. Straitjacket Fits ‘Hail’ LP only to find Dinosaur Jnr’s ‘Bug’ inside when I got home. I remember Anthem in Kent Street behind Hoyts cinema. My sister used to work in Town Hall Arcade and ordered stuff from them. I’m not sure if was same owners but I do remember the store closing and another Anthem opening up in the street next to the Metro Theatre [Central Street?]. I think it became more Soul/R’n’B orientated. There was also a record store in Bathurst Street [between George and Pitt]. I loved Half a Cow. They had a small store on then moved over the road. They used to stock loads of Simpson’s stuff [t-shirts, caps]. I loved their ads in the back pages of Drum Media. I went there one morning and the guy behind the counter was asleep. I had to wake him to get served. Metropolis in the early-90s was OK. They were well stocked with stuff coming out of UK at the time and had good imported t-shirts. Good memories.

  29. October 18, 2012 10:00 am

    Hey there was also a second hand record store between Lawsons and Ashwoods on Pitt Street cant remember the name. Does anyone remember? It probably closed down in the late 90’s?

    • WILLIAM ROSS TYSON permalink
      December 25, 2012 6:43 pm

      THE PITT WHICH IS NOW MARRICKVILLE BOOKS SYDNEY AUSTRALIA ON EBAY.

  30. Roy permalink
    October 27, 2012 8:15 pm

    What was the name of the record shop across from the old JOINT VENTURE Shop in the 80`s. It looked alot like the above photos of lawsons but Im sure it was something like The Subway or Underground Records. I bought my first Anti NO Where League Album from there.

  31. Vanessa Berry permalink*
    November 18, 2012 4:16 pm

    For Phantom Records fans, I found an online archive of their poster art: http://www.posterlane.com/?page_id=457

  32. John Foy permalink
    December 6, 2012 12:02 am

    I bought my first 4 lp’s second-hand at Ashwoods, all on the same day: Led Zeppelin III, Paul & Linda McCartney Ram, Black Sabbath Vol 4 & Deep Purple Machine Head. Went back home on the train with my friends to suburban Oatley and played both sides of all four in a row – then looked at each other, ‘what now?’ – and played them all in a row again, several times. From then on it was weekly visits to all those places people have mentioned, spending every bit of pocket money I could earn on records – many of them chosen on the basis of the cover designs. When I had all the albums of a particular band, I started buying the mysterious plain wrapper albums of live concerts – bootlegs! In a pre-Internet world where bands didn’t tour Australia very often, it was the only way to experience thealive sound of many bands. Buying those lead me to tracking down a then newly-opened store called White Light as they stocked mostly bootlegs! They eventually went more legit with regular boafide imports – and I got the dream job of running their bootleg mail-order biz, with the occasional stint behind the counter – then came the revolution: the 1st Ramones lp, plus the early Stiff singles… Mark Taylor the owner closed the store for two weeks while we did a total re-fit and re-opened as a hardline Punk & Psych only store – Australia’s first. It was a recipe for disaster of course – too much too soon and we inevitably closed along with end of the first true punk era. A year or so later, entrepreneurial t-shirt printer Dare Jennings bought the dormant White Light stock and tracked down White Light’s staff: Lee Taylor & myself and together we started Phantom Records, with Dare as principal owner, Lee and I as lessor share-holders – and that’s how Phantom ran for a year or so before it changed shape and staff for all sorts of reasons. I ended up printing t-shirts for Dare and with his generous permission, using his premises at night to design and print posters, many for the early Phantom Record label releases – my first-ever record cover deign was for the Shy Impostors debut 45. Politics became difficult at Phantom Records – with perfect timing, ex-Anthem Records’ Chris Pepperell invited me on-board at his newly-opened Red Eye Records where I was eventually made a financial co-owner and eventually started The Red Eye Record Label out of the back room – ironically with my pay-out from my modest share of ownership of Phantom. So, it’s amazing what can come out of casually visiting a record store for the first time when you’re a young buck from the suburbs – a lifetime of adventure! I’m deeply indebted to Mark Taylor, Dare Jennings and Chris Pepperell for being such generous mentors and allowing it all to happen. I write this while sitting in New York, surrounded by used records and a portable Crosley record player – on a buying trip for pleasure and profit. Records – it’s a way of life! Thanks for reading… John Foy.

  33. Tiger68 permalink
    March 3, 2013 5:28 pm

    What a great nostalgic article and many great comments to follow!! I came to the Blue Mountains from Vic for holidays as a kid then lived in Katoomba from 1990 to 2004 and spent WAY too much time in the city scouring the shops and this article has brought back some great memories. I’m a huge fan of Utopia Records and have visited all their stores over the years. My first visit there at the age of 16 felt almost religious!! The most magnificent music store and you don’t have to be a purely metal fan to find some great stuff. Time Warp was also a fantastic store for fans of 70s style rock. The sort of stores you could literally spend hours browsing in. The bottom end of Pitt St used to take up the first half of my day! The feeling of anticipation walking down the hill from Central was fantastic. I remember a store nobody has mentioned just near Ashwoods and Lawsons called Shake, Rattle & Records. Not sure how long it was there but it wasn’t a long time!
    I’m coming to Sydney from Melbourne in a couple of weeks and am looking forward to a long day in the city despite the multitude of stores that are now gone. Between Lawsons, Redeye, Utopia and JB Hi Fi it will make for sore feet and may require a 2nd day!!
    Cheers to everyone:)

  34. Rodd permalink
    March 13, 2013 3:10 pm

    I know you’re a child of the 90’s however to the list of former great record stores I reach back to the early 80’s when Chelsea records down past Martin Pl in Pitt Street was operating. Open 7 days had a lot of close outs and great range of punk, new wave, ska etc along with pop and regular top 40 stuff. Crammed full of stock, it was one on my Sunday morning haunts as a kid when only a few record stores and bookshops were open in a pretty much deserted city centre. I felt like the city was my own as I wandered from shop to shop on a Sunday morning. It was my secret world, no one I knew, knew about. :)

  35. April 11, 2013 4:24 pm

    Thanks for this thread Vanessa – I’ve only just discovered it! I am still a hungry vinyl junkie prowling Sydney streets, grabbing wax wherever and whenever and, in various shops, talking that feverish teenage shit collectors and record nuts specialise in. First up, a shout out to the lovely Vera at Recycled Record, Glebe (and husband Lee with his shop in Campbell Parade, Bondi): We miss you and fresh African LPs and all those terrific El Chino T shirts. A quick digression: please, somebody, find Jamie Leonarder from the Mu Meson archives and have him describe the weird pleasure of being admitted to that freaky Armenian dude’s shop in Dulwich Hill. I only made it past the locked door once and was astounded at the owner’s genius in protecting ‘his’ belly dance albums by asking hundreds of dollars for every one of them. He’d get pretty snarkey when you questioned his pricing structure I can tell you. Whatever fetish mobilised him he easily trumps all other Sydney record shop owners for outright screaming lunacy. OTHER MEMORIES: Warped Records, oddly funky in the heart of hell, Kings Cross; Anthem and then Birdland in its Barrack Street incarnation (the most erudite conversations with Keiran, Ashley, and Chris about jazz, soul, the genius of John Zorn etc.) Earlier recollections: Anthem when it was in the Town Hall station, ’80s urbanity complete with subterranean rumble of trains below – imagining you were in NYC as you listened to those Sugarhill, Sleeping Bag or Tommy Boy 12s (‘Watch the Closing Doors’ by Interboro Rhythm Team seemed to be a bang on selection). Or was that a dream, times and tracks conflated to make Sydney more bearable? And perhaps the best record shop pairing of genuinely cool characters – Keiran and Peter Doyle at the later-edition Anthem, always spot on with their dry wit and canny tips. Big up also Tom & dear old/young JD as we remember the jazzy trip hop days of Good Groove in Crown Street. What about those fascinating conversations with brothers, Robert and Eddy at Soulsense? Describing Sydney clubland back in the day: stories of open-shirted 70s nights, funk and coke-snorting fools at joints with names like Flashez and Freddys. Whole afternoons spent with Alan (RIP) and Joe at Floppy Disc, listening/talking through the endless intricacies and pleasures of reggae and dub. I wonder what Al would have to say about the homophobic moronism of some contemporary dancehall if he was still with us (probably something more perceptive than me I suspect). NOWADAYS: a tip of the tone-arm to Steve Kulak and the team at Title doing a fine job slinging reissue vinyl in Crown Street and across the country in the ever expanding Title/Fuse empire; Papa Neville and his Record Crate, opened this year just across the road from the old Recycled site in Glebe Point Road, sending howling blues and boogie (from original disc and live bands) out into that genteel cafe strip; Mojo Record Bar (Nev’s old enterprise) with the dark and vital commingling of records and booze in its underground York Street lair; Redeye down the same street in their current spacious basement location with a rapidly growing vinyl reissue and second hand selection, catering to sensible youth who’ve rejected CDs forever and now look for ‘physical’ versions of their ridiculously eclectic MP3 collections; Lawsons in Pitt Street, yes Vanessa, still a link with the glory days of those record wonderlands Ashwoods and the fondly remembered Pitt, now just limping on – a hive of sad middle-aged, Willy Loman-esque men spending their lunch hours flicking through the detritus of 80s Ozpop (but hey, I found a cool Machito LP there the other week so you can still pluck gems out of the mud); Egg Records in Newtown, a gentle haven which has me exploring the zydeco bin before going to physio sessions up the road.

    There must be other places, but who wants to sound like a tedious old record collector?
    My vinyl map doesn’t stop growing and every garage sale, op shop or hipster barbers-cum-bike shop that parks a crate of discs in the front window has the ability to re-ignite my deep addiction to black plastic and carboard. Long may we shop…

  36. April 11, 2013 6:28 pm

    Story about record store owners Vera and Lee:

    http://newslocal.whereilive.com.au/news/story/change-of-pace-for-hip-fans-of-records/

  37. April 11, 2013 9:16 pm

    Hello fellow groovers! Vanessa & Brent (and many others here) you’ve certainly brought many memories forefront… having begun my DJ life in 1982, I soon became a frequent visitor to the Ashwoods/Lawsons/Pitt St shops in search of the cast-off promotional records that most DJ’s sold to the 2nd hand stores (sometimes on their way home from the DJ meetings where they got them – shame, shame, shame!!). I always kept my promo’s for at least a few months in case they became ‘popular’ in the clubs where I played. You could always find something that someone else didnt want at those stores.
    I remember visiting Disco City in Pitt St (or was it Castlereagh) many many times, and being over the moon when I found an LP I’d heard when in London in 1972 by First Choice (Armed and Extremely Dangerous), which included the track “Smarty Pants” which had been top 10 in London when I was there, but no one in Australia had heard of it.
    The main stores I shopped at were Central Station (Oxford St), and sometimes Good Groove although their prices were always more than anywhere else and on my meagre DJ salary I needed to buy as much as possible, hence my visits to the low-end 2nd hand stores.
    As I moved away from disco & pop into the soul funk and R&B genres, I would often visit Soul Sense (Eddie, Freddie & Robert). Later on, Robert moved to Bankstown and started his own store called Soul City.
    I liked Mojo (in York St) for it’s obscure music collection and eleclectic blues music.
    There was another shop in York (or was it Kent) St whose name excapes me. The guy who ran the shop was a presenter at FM91.5 (before it became FM99.3, where I had and still have a radio show). He was a rough diamond of bloke who was mixed up with tow-truckers but loved his music. I remember providing the shop with huge hand-lettered posters of my top 20 singles & top 20 albums every month for quite a long time, which he displayed on the wall for customers to peruse.
    When Anthem (Keiran & Ashley) offered to sponsor FM91.5, the rough diamond chap refused to put my posters up any more because he thought my having Anthem as a radio sponsor was a conflict of interest!
    The other shop I loved visiting was Leo’s “Unsound” in the bowels of Town Hall Station. Many an obscure funk or reggae album was purchased there but I tried not to visit too often as I always spent more than I earned.
    Another place I loved was the 2nd hand shop under the escalators at Chatswood Station and Martin’s in the city was my favourite place to sell 2nd hand records.
    One time I was broke and a friend of mind set up a 2nd hand market outside Ashwoods in Pitt St on Sunday mornings. I sold nearly every picture disc I owned which I now regret, but I had to pay the rent! Ce la vie. Great memories!!

    http://www.allmusic.com/album/armed-and-extremely-dangerous-mw0000341042

  38. Prince Andrew permalink
    April 12, 2013 1:50 pm

    Most stores I’d been to have been covered. The first import store I’d ever been to was The Record plant in 1979, Situated up the first escalator in a mall in Castlreagh St opposite David Jones. They had all the latest imports in everything not main stream including Reggae.
    There was another store in the City down near the Angel acrade. This use to display records in the front window and remember my curiosity being drawn with Albums by Stigvators, the Dickies and some guy called Elvis Costello. At that period of time he was pretty out there.
    Not sure but no one seems to have mentioned the Soundtrack shop located in the old Crystal arcade on George St but can’t remember what it was called. I went there as early as 1980 and they had an excellent selection of Sound tracks.
    Just a few doors up was the old Goulds Book arcade near the corner of Bathurst and George St. Amongst the many books they had were stacks of bootleg live LP’s by various bands from the period. Never seen any of them before or since and where they came from who knows?
    The other thing no one mentions are the attitudes of the people serving you at Record shops. Some were friendly, some were cold, some were damn rude or gave you attitude. I remember one dance music shop who’s staff all had attitudes like they had large parsnips permently stuck up their arse but tried to remain cool under the emense discomfort. Always found bad attitude by staff in a record shop odd but at the same time challenging and never let them get the best of me but always had a good laugh afterwards.
    These days I rarely go to record stores as am more tempted by the music available on the net plus sadly older life leaves you with more financial obligations and thus no money to spend much on recorsds. Still back in the day the record shops were our internet, that’s where we got a lot of info not just from the imported records but the magazines and papers they’d sell.

    • Steven Green permalink
      March 26, 2014 8:46 am

      Love your post. I remember Goulds very well. A huge store with no order to anything whatsoever. That made it a real challenge & part of the fun of exploration. Rude staff seemed to be the norm in many stores. “It’s Perahia, not Periah” is one memorable quote from a “superior” staff member. Another shop where the staff actually frightened me was Ava & Susans but boy they had some wonderful & exclusive soundtracks there. I too shop online but I do miss the fun of trawling though the racks & true excitement of finding that elusive single or LP. Great days indeed.

  39. July 12, 2013 10:12 am

    Great post – I too made lots of wonderful discoveries/purchases at the above stores. Anthem was where I made my first ‘real’ record purchases – I would have been in Yr 10 and had just heard a Young Marble Giants special on JJ – so went out and saw it displayed – bought that – Wire’s ‘154’ and Glaxo Babies LP. Life changing stuff.

    Record Plant was wonderful – it felt like some illicit den [well to me at that age!] – so many weird and wonderful treats – it was there that I scooped on the entire initial Flying Nun releases having seen The Chills on Donnie Sutherland’s Sound Unlimited. I asked at the shop and they directed me to a cardboard box at the back of the shop which just had all FN releases sitting in it! Jackpot.

    But Waterfront was my absolute fav – I became such a regular that Chris would smile as I walked in – pull a brown paper parcel out and name a price – no mention what was in it and I’d buy it cold – I recall the thrill of looking at the contents on the way home – usually having no idea at the time what I was looking at. Mostly 7″s – most of these are highly collectable now.

    While I’ve embraced new ways of finding music – I still love to remember these amazing stores about Sydney and I certainly miss them.

    The Pitt St strip of Ashwoods/Lawsons/The Pitt were essential – especially for the late night nonsense programming I did back in the day on 2SER – The Pitt offered 2 original Harry Partch records for $5 a piece – looked like Harry played them with a mallet a few times but nevertheless pure gold. The Pitt also had a stellar ‘other’ section which had all manner of weirdness – obscure exotica/spoken word/free jazz/cracked electronics. Many the time I recall it being like a time machine – emerging 3-4 hours later which felt like 5 minutes – fingers blackened by the dusty covers.

    Thanks Vanessa!

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      July 13, 2013 10:01 pm

      Thanks for your comment Paul, and speaking of missing things, I miss Paul’s Play Lunch! It was the highlight of my Mondays!

  40. August 2, 2013 5:27 am

    Brilliant article!!! Ive been haunting the record shops of Sydney since the early 70’s. had a look at the comments but nobody seems to have mentioned Time Warp. No great loss there. My taste in music is all over the place like a mad woman’s muesli- anyway one day I found at Time Warp a CD copy of a Super rare triple live album from the 70’s- Beck Bogert and Appice- previously only available for a short time as a Japanese import- however it was 60$- I hesitated ever so slightly at the price but thought I will never see this again- better buy it now. I went up to the service counter and handed over my cash to one of the well known figures there, he was eating a slice of mud cake at the time. After the transaction I think he may have grunted something at me which I assume to be some sort of salutation- so I grunted right back and left. When I got back to work I examined one of the Cds and found that he had given me a free smear of mud cake across one CD – which I thought was extraordinarily generous of him! Anyway I thought of licking it off but I used a lint free cloth instead. Seriously, that shops stock was overpriced and the staff could be quite rude and arrogant- but selling me such an exxy item in that way was way beyond the pale.

  41. August 10, 2013 12:17 am

    There was also Discovery Records, they were an amazing store. They started out in West Ryde but moved to Hornsby after their first year. They stayed in Hornsby for more than a decade. I used to go there and to Ashwoods once a week, normally not on the same day since I had no transport and they were in totally separate locations. I live in Canberra now but when I get a chance to go to Sydney I try to check out Lawsons. It is sad that so many of these stores have gone now. Thanks for the article. Cheers.

  42. September 20, 2013 8:27 am

    My husband did a lot of the graphic design for some of the releases you speak of, and his band ‘The Whole World’ was released on Phantom. They had a hit called ‘Vanity’ on rotation on JJJ for a while. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  43. September 26, 2013 11:52 am

    I stumbled upon one in the Brisbane Arcade off Church St, Parramatta recently. Quite cool.

  44. goflipp permalink
    October 1, 2013 1:59 am

    Wonderful article! We can all identify with those exciting trips to lower Pitt St etc. I especially loved Floppy Disk, Metroplis (because I had a big crush on the owner) & Red Eye of course. However, I followed pop bands like Pet Shop Boys, Cabaret Voltaire, Scritti Politti & The The.

  45. james permalink
    October 7, 2013 1:39 pm

    There was another down in the Pitt St Zone, It was called either ‘Saturn’ or ‘Jupiter’ down in a basement. I only bought a few records there, on my days of school:) during mid to late 80’s, but on one rainy day the sales girl took pity on me and shared her lunch with me while the thunderstorm raged on above us. Most of their stuff was bargain priced 2SM or 2MMM of the era, but there was a decent selection of punk and goth mixed in.

    Also, below the Strand arcade (198? ~ early 90’s) was ‘The Strand’. They had a collection like Red Eye, but more mainstream in volume too. Though, you could often find local pressings at very good prices, compared to the triple cost import at red eye. Hey, I was a school kid.

    Sad to see now, so many stores gone and so little vinyl left that is in good, quality listening condition. I just visited Lawsons for the first time in about 20 years and they have CD’s now; lot’s of them! Phantom looked like a Chinese take-away. I blame myself, the last time I was in there I asked for an album on CD.

    • juan mann permalink
      October 31, 2013 12:33 pm

      There was another down in the Pitt St Zone, It was called either ‘Saturn’ or ‘Jupiter’ down in a basement.

      …that was zounds.

  46. Michael Krilich permalink
    November 18, 2013 9:06 pm

    There must be a mention of Zounds in Pitt St near Bathurst St…down the stairs for latest at DISCOUNTED prices.

  47. Michael Krilich permalink
    November 18, 2013 9:09 pm

    OH…The PITT (Pitt St. next to Ashwoods)…if your house got broken into and records stolen …they often ended up here!!!

  48. December 2, 2013 6:26 pm

    Nice moments at Sydney record stores.

  49. Bobcatbob permalink
    January 27, 2014 10:23 pm

    Like some forgotten dream I remember buying some ‘rare’ Beatles singles from a shop called Discontinued Records on one of my very first record-shop-Saturdays in Sydney around 1980-81. For the life of me I can’t remember where the place was, and I think it disappeared fairly soon afterwards. The singles were all tracks from the 1962 Decca auditions on coloured vinyl and in picture sleeves.

    Always remember that strange feeling walking around deserted parts of the city from one shop to another. Worth mentioning that although the Utopia dudes were all into the metal, they had a lot of good 60s stuff which I was into.

  50. Steven Green permalink
    March 25, 2014 8:17 am

    Your article has brought back many misty memories. I was born in 1950 so the 60’s were my start to music collecting. I used to haunt Ashwoods (I bought enough records there to finance the staff vacations) & Edels nearby for the new releases. I worked at Martins for a short while when it first opened & shopped at most of the other stores you mentioned.

    There was a store in Town Hall Station & I remember buying the Radio Birdman LP which had a bonus EP. Can’t remember the name for the life of me but that’s what happens when a child of the 60’s gets to his 60’s.

    We have lost so many great stores over the years & now it’s virtually all online. I know you can’t stop progress but when that time machine comes online i’m transporting back to Pitt Street for a does of nostalgia.

  51. Tony Clayton permalink
    April 25, 2014 1:18 pm

    I am loving the outpouring of memories from your article!

    Coming from Parramatta, I would catch the train to Town Hall, go to Anthem Records to see what was new & what was ‘coming soon’ then get back on the train & go home. If I had enough pocket money I’d pick up something, I got the first Simple Minds & Ultravox albums there.

    We used to follow the fortunes of the staff like they were celebrities …someone from Anthem went on to open the Record Plant so we all started going there instead.

    I did work experience at a strange import shop down towards the Quay called Peaches just so that I could hang out in the city all week & visit all the record shops. Work experience turned into a job & then Edels bought the shop so I ended up working for a chain store. They had a shop in Newtown that I worked at for a few weeks, it was the first time I’d been to Newtown & I thought it was the scariest place on earth for the first day.

    It is amazing to remember these shops, the people in them & the network that they created. Before Amazon developed an algorythm to suggest what else you might like, the record shop guys would spend so much time with you that they got to know your likes & always had something to suggest, sometimes quite passionately…

    Have a look at this from Sean O’Brien:

    https://open.abc.net.au/posts/old-weird-sydney-67Ed8Hw

  52. Ian permalink
    June 8, 2014 6:18 am

    Wonderful thread that I just discovered and it’s has brought back a flood of memories so I thought I’d share what i can remember from those long ago days:
    My record collecting journey began around 1976/77 when a friend at school told me there were second hand record shops in the city that sold albums for 50c!! So I saved up my pocket money for a month (less than $5 a week) and went on my first quest.
    I will tell you about all the stores I remember from that first 10 years or so beginning in Lower Pitt & George Sts and working my way up to Wynyard.
    First store I discovered after catching the train to Central Station that first Saturday morning was in Pitt St and the store was called “Martins” and in the window were all these unheard of Beatles albums which I later found out were bootlegs! The place was full of them. I even sold my first ever lot of albums to Martins a few years later.. thinking I’d make at least $50 on 20 odd records – I was bitterly disappointed when I was offered $10 or so. I learned quick! Apart from the initial days I rarely bothered with “Martins” as I could never “connect” with the owners unlike most other places and they steadily went downhill with their stock. Are they still there??
    Next stop was “The Pitt” (never a more apt name!) again lots of boots but they had had no rhyme or reason to their layout in the store it seemed. Then next door I walked into record heaven… “Ashwoods”… too many stories and too many dollars spent and too many great records purchased there over the next 15 years or so. I miss it a lot. And as someone else mentioned, I too remember vaguely “Shake, Rattle & Records” just up from “Ashwoods”. Don’t think they were there too long. I also vaguely remember “Zounds”.
    Now back in that late 70’s period opposite Ashwoods was another record store (that no one’s mentioned) that was upstairs from street level via an outside wooden staircase. It was unique as it had the rarest of rare records – many albums were US imports still sealed and their singles collection was only accessible if you pleaded to be shown out the back were a treasure trove of rarities were kept. I think they had a mail auction business going. I can’t remember the name of the store but it was owned by quite an old gentleman (at least in his 60’s). Not long after he moved the shop to Parramatta (left side of Church St up near the river) and then sometime in the early 80’s he briefly had a shop in Concord West. He also had a stall at the early Sydney record fairs in the 80’s. Anyone know who I am talking about?
    A couple of doors up from him on that same side of Pitt St was the first location of “Lawsons”. A year or so later maybe 1978/9? They moved around the corner into Liverpool St and then eventually back into Pitt St where they still are today. I knew the owners quite well and would be there every payday for many years spending heaps and getting some amazing finds along the way.
    Next block up was “Phantom Records” which was too indie for my taste but I did buy a few records there over the years.
    Back around in George St was the Crystal Palace Arcade. Just inside on the right was a record shop which I can barely remember but I recall being there a few times and buying at least one album from them. Was it “Ava & Susans” before they moved into Town Hall Arcade? I do know that upstairs at the arcade was a bookstore/ comic book/film memorabilia place that I distinctly remembering purchasing a full set of “The Monkees” bubblegum cards from (which I still have!). Was this shop “The Land Beyond Beyond”? and if so did they eventually move across George St to just below the Hoyts cinemas in a shop that was down the end of this enormous long corridor? I think I bought some books there circa 1987/88. There was also for a short time another record store further down that block in George St towards Chinatown that had a lot of folk Import albums. I bought a few there again around 1987-89. Can’t recall its name.
    Just up from the Crystal Palace Arcade was the infamous “Goulds Book Arcade”. A random mess of books, magazines and records including, once again, a huge selection of $5 bootlegs! Never really liked the place as the owner wasn’t terribly amicable.
    Next stop was “Anthem Records” at Town Hall railway station. It was probably the smallest record shop I have ever been in. It was tight when more than a dozen people were all there! I can’t recall when I first visited them as I would always get off at Central railway and walk up Pitt St but someone probably told me about them so I went and checked them out. It was there I think I bought my first ever import.. an UK issue of The Beatles Hamburg tracks. Would have been late 70’s.
    “Timewarp” was the last major record shop I used to venture into when they opened next to Town Hall in 1988 (they were formally “The Record Plant”). Lots of great times and purchases there throughout the 90’s until lack of money and loss of interest in vinyl collecting saw me there less and less until they closed up and moved to the North Shore and eventually became an online store only. That was about it for my vinyl buying days.
    Continuing our journey through Sydney…There wasn’t any Second Hand shops after Town Hall heading towards the Quay (that I recall) till you reached the Pitt Street Mall and around Martin Place down to Australia Square.
    However the main stream record shops I remember being: Brashes (Pitt St) (was a Hoyts theatre before then.. met Paul McCartney there in 1993). Further down Pitt St was Palings (bought my first keyboard there early 80’s). Back around in George St during the 60’s and 70’s (at least till 1976ish) was Nicholsons (They started their business in the very same building in 1895 I believe!!). They were Sydney’s biggest record/sheet music/music instrument store at the time (I Bought my first ever record there.. The Monkees “I’m a Believer” in 1967!). Can’t remember when they closed but I think Palings (before they moved into Pitt St before finally closing forever). There might have been an Edels store nearby too in the 80’s.
    “The Record Plant” (1975 – 1988) was in the Imperial Arcade (became “Timewarp” in 1988). Spent many a Thursday night and Saturday morning in the darkly lit store but I got on real well with the owners and purchased heaps from them. Wonderful memories of this great import shop.
    In the Pitt St Mall next to The Strand Arcade in its very early days (circa 1977-79) just about where HMV and Metropolis eventually had shops was, for a very brief time, a stall (they were still building all the shops but allowed some stalls to run in the meantime) that sold ex radio station singles (6 or 7 for a $1). I would come away with a huge bag full every time I went there!
    “Chelsea Records” I think was next on the corner of King and Pitt Sts (across the road from the Tank Stream Arcade entrance). I had always wondered why I was able to pick up lots of rare New Zealand second hand singles at this shop when, just a few hours ago when doing some research on the net, I discovered the owner was a Kiwi! They didn’t last long – maybe a year or two (early/mid 80’s?). Lots of bargains and it would be packed at lunchtimes.
    Across the street in the Tank Stream Arcade was the best ever import record shop in Sydney – “Red Eye Records”. I believe Chris (the owner) had worked at “Anthem” before then. I was one of their first ever customers back in 1981? and spent many hours and dollars there over the years (in all their first three locations).
    Next to Martin Place (Opposite the GPO) was the little Angel Arcade (was it actually called “Angel Arcade” or did it have another name? as I thought that “Angel Arcade” was just a bit further down between George & Pitt before being demolished in the 90’s). This is where “Utopia” record shop sprang up circa 1979. In those days they were a fairly mainstream import shop (I bought an Elton John EP there!). I got many records there before they went heavy metal (I never went back after that). Now I know there was another record store in that same small arcade (running parallel with Martin Place). You came down the stairs from Martin Place and it was almost opposite next to the other entrance that went out into the laneway behind. It was mega small and I knew one of the staff members. Was this the very first “Utopia” and then it moved to the other end of the same arcade in much bigger premises? Wish my old memory was better!
    I recall there was another arcade that ran between George and Pitt Sts just past Martin Place heading North that I am sure was the actual “Angel Arcade”. Anyway that had a very small record shop in it that I think was mainly imports. I remember stumbling across it one lunchtime when it was having its closing down sale and I picked up a couple of fairly rare albums for bargain prices. This would have been circa 1979/80 probably. It may have been called “Angel Records”. Just now, while doing some research online, it seems a shop called “Revolver Records” was also in the Angel Arcade and the manager left it to form “Phantom Records” in 1978. I vaguely recall “Revolver” but I don’t remember anything about it.
    Only other interesting record stores between there and the quay was one on the corner of the lane next to Australia Square on Pitt St. It was the first ever import record store I walked into after “Anthem”. Someone mentioned “Peaches” and that might have been it but I have a feeling it had another name. Fairly large store that I ordered some US singles from.. forgot about them and then got a phone call months later saying they were waiting for me! They seemed to be affiliated with an American record store or something. Online research revealed it was put up for sale in Feb 1981. Vague memories now some 35 years later.
    Can’t recall any more record stores in Sydney in those mid 70’s to mid 80’s period. Last time I walked into a second hand record shop to buy stuff would have been circa 1990 when I was looking to stock my own record shop that I owned for a few years in Eastwood until the second hand vinyl industry practically disappeared overnight.
    Talking of suburban record stores of note. Apart form the old guy’s shop at Parramatta I mentioned earlier there was another great store in Parramatta about two or three blocks past the town hall on the same side around the corner. Was that “Discovery Records”? Might be the same person who ended up next to the railway station in the late 90’s I think? Anyway they were good. There was only one other suburban store I ever went to in my early days circa 1979 – 1981 and that was a shop in Hurstvile that was hidden down an alleyway near the railway station. They were incredible. It might have been “Discontinued Records”? (who also had a store in the city for a short period but I can’t recall where it was). They had most of their singles out the back and would bring whatever artist you requested out for you to look through and they had 1000’s. I spent a fortune there building up my singles collection. Nice people who ran it too.. maybe a husband and wife?
    Hope I haven’t bored you with my “Sydney Record Shop History” but once I started I couldn’t stop lol.

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      June 9, 2014 11:38 am

      Thanks Ian, you have a good memory! Martins stuck around for longer than a lot of the other Pitt Street stores – I took a photo of it in 2005 so it was still there then, but not for much longer after that. It’s part of the Irish pub now.

      • Ian permalink
        June 9, 2014 11:18 pm

        Thanks Vanessa. That initial location of “Utopia” was bugging me so with a bit more research I have discovered I was right and it wasn’t located at “Angel Arcade” but was in fact “Challis Arcade” and they did have two stores.. a real small one then they moved to the other end of the arcade into a much larger one. Seems they began there in 1979 and moved to Clarence St circa 1982/83?. Another record store I remembered was “Folkways” up on Oxford St in Paddington who lasted there from 1973 – 2009. The original owner founded the Larrikan record label.
        The locations of Utopia over the years were:
        10 Challis Arcade, Martin Place, 20sq metres
        22 Challis Arcade, Martin Place, 50sq metres
        52 Clarence St, 200sq metres
        636 George St, 300sq metres
        525 George St: 700sq metres
        233 Broadway, 700sq metres over two levels

        Ian

    • Kit permalink
      June 19, 2014 4:02 pm

      The Land Beyond Beyond wasn’t opposite Hoyts, but on the next block down (so leave Hoyts, go past Greater Union and Village, then cross the road), down a long corridor on a block chock-a with second-hand bookshops and porn stores at the time, now almost all extinct. Mostly a comic shop, but with secondhand-vinyl racks, a room of psychotronic VHS for rent (membership involved a $100 deposit), and an age-restricted room for comics with sexy sexing in them. Also zines, art books, smatterings of movie memorabilia and old sci-fi paperbacks, etc… I miss it enormously and can smell it now!

      • idiotproof67 permalink
        July 11, 2014 7:05 pm

        The Land Beyond, Beyond was originally opposite Hoyts upstairs at The Crystal Palace Arcade at 590 George St. It opened in 1980. Terry moved down the road as the building was to be demolished circa 83.

    • Allan Kelb permalink
      June 19, 2014 8:53 pm

      That record shop opposite Ashwoods I am pretty sure was called Castles- yes it was run by an older bloke, who was quite a nice chap from memory- and he did indeed have a table at some of the early record fairs, I don’t know what happened to him, I guess he may no longer be with us. The guy who took over his shop in Parramatta was not a nice bloke at all- a greedy bastard basically.

  53. Keith Morris permalink
    August 11, 2014 6:49 pm

    I remember all of the above including Ava & Susans in Town Hall (and earlier near Central Street near Town Hall) and back in the sixties Palings Music Store opposite Wynyard in George Street and Nicholson’s Music Centre in George Street just up from Palings…good times.

  54. August 22, 2014 10:38 pm

    You know, i shopped at Enthusiasms for years and never had any idea that the guy running it was the lead singer of The Hummingbirds. How embarrassing. In the early 2000s the whole digital thing was having a dire impact on that kind of store and no doubt had a lot to do with the decimation of the entire area’s second hand shops. Lawson’s is still there, but that’s all that’s left — a lone record outlet surrounded by Korean grocery stores.

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