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What Hi-Fi?
What Hi-Fi?
Alastair Stevenson

Tales from the Record Store: Lost punk classics, Elton John encounters, CD-fusion and more

Flashback Records store front.

Anyone who’s gone crate diving knows record stores are an interesting place. Enter one and you’ll find a diverse crowd ranging from established treasure hunters on the hunt for second-hand gold to newbie fans looking for the latest Taylor Swift pressing.

To help celebrate vinyl’s wonderful community this Record Store Day 2024, we caught up with the owners of three big-name independent record shops to find out their weirdest customer stories.

This coverage is part of our special Vinyl Week event, which we’ll be running all week until Sunday 21st April. Keep checking back with What Hi-Fi? for more reviews, features and interviews celebrating the analogue format.

Lost London punk found

Speaking to What Hi-Fi?, Flashback Records CEO Mark Burgess revealed his favourite customer story was a chance encounter that helped him discover and re-release a key piece of the London punk scene's history.

“My favourite story starts with a lady selling me her collection in our Islington branch one day. I bought the collection, paid her and she left the shop. A couple of hours later, as I was going through the collection, I came across a seven-inch Acetate which, enigmatically, just had the words ‘Bona Rays’ written on it,” he said.

“Intrigued by this I decided to play it in the shop. At that moment, the lady (Chas) walks back into the shop and says, 'You’re playing my record!' It turns out that this was two unreleased tracks by her punk band from 1977, which was not picked up at the time.”

As well as finding the gem, Burgess added the story had an even happier ending, with him helping her finally release the tracks.

“Had she not walked back into the shop within the two minutes the song 'Poser’ lasted, nothing more would have happened. I was impressed by the quality of the music and the historical and cultural significance of an original UK punk band from 1977 fronted by a black female singer,” he said.

“So I released the two tracks as a seven-inch single on the Flashback Label just before lockdown. After lockdown, Chas came to me saying she wanted to start playing live again and that I was to be the bass player. So now we are out playing live gigs as Bona Rays!”

(Image credit: Uni, DJM)

An encounter with a young Elton John 

Greenwich-based Casbah Records owner, Graham Davis, had an equally interesting story, relating to an encounter one of the shop’s regulars had with the legendary Elton John.

“Our favourite customer has been around a long time, (in his prime he would say) and apart from casually mentioning that he was outside Apple when The Beatles played on the roof, he also told us that when he used to shop at Musicland in Soho around the early ’70s, he met Elton John in there who was working behind the counter,” he told us. 

Davis said the encounter not only led to an unexpected friendship but according to the punter, also helped shape one of the artist's early hits – sadly we couldn’t confirm this with John’s communications team at the time of publishing.

“They struck up a friendship and one day Elton gave our friend a test pressing of a new song he just recorded, which was ‘Your Song’. He wanted to know what he thought of it and wrote his phone number on the label,” he said.

“Our friend rang him up and said, ‘It’s a good song but it needs something else on it’. Strings appeared and the rest is history. He brought it into the shop for us to look at and we gave it a spin, (very carefully) while we took a little film of it playing. A beautiful moment.”

A Sting obsession 

Sister Ray owner, Phil Barton rounded out the trio of owners we spoke to, telling us he has seen all manner of quirky customers enter the store, ranging from Sting obsessives to people who just can’t quit vinyl.

“Our best customer stories are updated on a daily basis as record buyers are a very quirky bunch. We have a regular who sold us all his vinyl and was definitely 'moving on'. He's now buying it all back having made a terrible mistake,” he said.

“We have another regular who will only buy records that involve Sting. He still comes in weekly to check the Police / Sting section in case something magically appears that he hasn't already got. Many years ago I also had a customer who returned a CD because it wouldn't work on his record player…”

Editor’s note: Are you a record store owner or vinyl fan with a story to share? Then get in touch with the team at What Hi-Fi? as we’re always on the hunt for new weird and wonderful stories celebrating the vinyl community!


Check out all the latest Vinyl Week 2024 features 

These are the best turntables we've reviewed

Our pick of the best-sounding vinyl records

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