17 October 2013

Mister CD

Recently when delving into my many boxes full of the random detritus from years of flatting and travelling, I came across an artefact of a sadly departed fixture of the London music scene - or at least, a fixture of my own small London music scene. It was a simple used plastic carrier bag from the now defunct Soho music shop Mister CD, an establishment that I used to frequent with an almost devotional regularity during my London years. It was particularly important during my first years in London during the late 1990s, chiefly because my income was so comically low at that point. I usually couldn't afford the full-price music for sale on Oxford Street in the Virgin or HMV megastores, but I still enjoyed browsing their comprehensive collections for an occasional bargain. But if I absolutely had to have an album, it was Mister CD that usually provided.

Located in a tiny old shop at 80 Berwick Street, it was always a mission to infiltrate the premises, because the aisles were tiny and the browsing customers went plentiful. CDs were shelved from floor to ceiling, so much of the challenge was finding the right spot and surveying the entire shelf without being edged out of position by your fellow, equally determined, music shoppers. This was in the day when £13 for a new CD was a lot of money to me, so it was great to have the slightly down-at-heel Mister CD option a short walk away from the big stores, and where you could usually pick up a new release - like Pulp's This Is Hardcore or Catatonia's International Velvet for example - for a tenner or less. 

But my main loitering space at Mister CD wasn't in the ground level shop. I usually made a beeline for the rickety stairs down to the basement dungeon where the remainder CDs were displayed. Down there, if it was a Saturday, the stereo was usually blasting a football match for the benefit of the sales clerk, and the CDs were scuffed, displayed in craft-knife-hacked cardboard boxes from the supermarket, and of widely variable quality. They were also, as you might imagine, fantastically cheap. It was often possible to pick up some pleasingly obscure reissue or remainder stock for a pound or two, if you could put up with the football. I have fond memories of securing a review copy of the first ENZSO album for a mere quid there.
I was never much of a Selectadisc devotee (the shop at 34 Berwick Street that specialised in much hipper vinyl collections - now run by Sister Ray). For me, Mister CD was all I needed. Even when I returned to live in London a second time in the 2000s and could afford to spent a little more, I still made a regular pilgrimage to Berwick Street for the bargain sifting. But, sadly, by that time the shop was on its last legs. Mister CD closed in 2007, earning a sympathetic news report from a BBC business reporter, who noted:
Mister CD's imminent closure marks another chapter in the decline of what used to be renowned as the street with the greatest concentration of record shops in London. Collectors from all over the world flocked to Berwick Street to look for vinyl rarities in its second-hand shops, while others were tempted by the chance to snap up new CDs at low prices. The street was so well known as a haven for music fans that it even featured on the cover of one of the UK's all-time best-selling albums - (What's The Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis.

Mister CD couldn't compete with online retail, the threat of downloads and the cut-price competition from the big stores and Scottish chain Fopp, which opened an impressive discount store nearby on Shaftesbury Avenue. But for a decade and a half, Mister CD was a stalwart of the London music scene - a no-nonsense outlet for fans and bargain-hunters alike.

See also:
Gig: The Magic Numbers, Shepherd's Bush Empire, 11 October 2010
Gig: She & Him, Shepherd's Bush Empire, 10 May 2010
Gig: Liam Finn & friends, Scala, 2 December 2008
Gig: Jarvis Cocker, Shepherd's Bush Empire, 26 November 2008 
Gig: Grant-Lee Phillips, Scala, 27 April 2008
Gig: Aimee Mann, Indigo2, 27 July 2007
History: Denmark Street, 18 January 2010
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