Thursday, 2 April 2015

RIP Acorn Records (7 December 1973 - 4 April 2015)

Chris and I in Acorn last Saturday... when I stood behind the counter one last time

When I was 15 I started the best Saturday job ever. I worked in the local independent record shop… and through that job I got to hang out with PJ Harvey, was given my own pirate radio show, and met a lot of amazing people. This Saturday, that shop is closing. So I’m writing a few words to celebrate the passing of one of the UK’s last real record shops…

Yeovil may not be the coolest town in the UK. It may be more famous for making military helicopters and for formerly housing its football team on a sloping pitch, but one thing it does/did have in its favour was a bloody brilliant independent record shop. Acorn Records, which I flatly refuse to call by its moving-with-the-times newer name of Acorn Music. I became the original Saturday girl there in 1993. And I never really stopped working there until 2000.

This Saturday (April 4), Acorn will close its doors for the final time since opening in 1973. It should be noted this is not due to failing sales or a lack of enthusiasm from the record-buying public, but because owner Chris Lowe has decided - quite reasonably - that after 42 years of record-selling fun times it’s now time to put his feet up. (He won’t put his feet up, by the way. I’m not sure he knows how.)

Chris and Rob with Alan (centre), one of the reps, when PJ Harvey's 'Rid Of Me' was released. Photo by Alan Harwood

Chris set up Acorn with his friend Rob Bacon in 1972, although Rob sadly passed away in the late-1990s. Rob ruled the roost from his first floor office, from which he dispensed wisdom and bite-sized nuggets of information… all the while listening to the latest football results on his radio. On the day that Chris broke the news to me about Rob’s cancer, I promptly sold 10 empty CD cases to a customer… and then had to chase him up the escalator to reunite him with the CDs that should have been inside.



Independent record shops are few and far between these days, as chronicled in the book Last Shop Standing (which Chris was involved with; here's an extract from The Independent) (and which is also a film). But Acorn is/was one of the very last ones. Even in the early 1990s when I started coming into my record buying own, there were still a lot of choices in Yeovil. On the humdrum end of the scale, there was WH Smith and Woolworths. A bit more fun was the relatively short lived Music Market (first 7” I bought there? Amazulu), or the chain store Our Price (first 7” I bought there? Bucks Fizz), which was later superseded by HMV (I never bought a record there: they don’t sell any). There were also plenty of places you could find second hand records if you were prepared to rummage and delve - there was a model train shop that had a few racks of second hand vinyl, some old junk shops that had a real hotchpotch of records, and more charity shops than you could shake a stick at. Choices were limitless. It seems hard now to imagine how easy it was to buy vinyl back then.

What was the first 7” I bought in Acorn? They Might Be Giants, ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’, 1989. I was served by Mandy, who I would later work alongside.

Mavis (who still works in Acorn, aged 87) and Mandy, who was there when I first joined. Photo by Alan Harwood

Things that happened to me as a result of Acorn Records:

     Acorn was my first ever Saturday job, which I started in April 1993 when I was 15 and 2 months. When offered the job I was told the day’s wage would be £20 cash. I very nearly said: “No way! That’s too much money!” Seriously. (My previous job had been cleaning the local arts centre two evenings a week after school, for which I earned £5 a week).

     As a result, I saved enough money to buy my first ever Sony hi-fi stack from Curry’s… and later my first ever car (a VW Polo from my older brother, who had recently wrapped it around a lamp post and must have been laughing as I handed over £500).

    My confidence improved in leaps and bounds over the ensuing seven years of on/off work at Acorn. I went from being a very shy, introverted, awkward teenager to being someone who could cope with life and people. I worked every Saturday, sometimes after school, and regularly during school holidays. It didn’t feel like work, because I loved it. Chris used to say that working in a record shop wasn’t just listening to records all day… but a lot of it was.

My signed 'Rid Of Me' LP, from when Polly, Rob and Steve came to do an in-store

    PJ Harvey used to pop in! Just as she was going stratospheric, local music star Polly Harvey from Bridport came in on the day her second album Rid Of Me was released (May 1993) to play an in-store set and do a signing. So I came down after school to help out. Polly, drummer Rob Ellis and guitarist Steve Vaughan were all fabulous – and signed my LP (as Rob had briefly worked in Acorn, he wrote “Good luck as my replacement”, which I thought was pretty special.) You used to see Polly around quite a lot back then – whether buying hairspray in Boots or hanging around at local gigs by bands like Gutless and Elliot Green. She was always extremely friendly. True fact.


    I met my teenage sweetheart Ben in Acorn (*sigh*). He was in a band by the way AND doing an art foundation course. Therefore he was super cool. He also wore t-shirts that he had hand-painted himself. There was no better boyfriend for me at that time.

    When I went to Yeovil College to do my A’Levels, people I had no recollection of would come up to me and ask, “Are you the Acorn girl?” because I’d sold them some records in there the previous weekend. I felt pretty cool, not gonna lie.


    My record collection, which was by no means shabby as I was a committed music geek from a very young age (I blame this on having three older brothers, one of whom in particular was especially keen on music), became phenomenally huge. When the record company reps would come round on their weekly visits, I would blag loads of promos off them… as well as scooping up lots of advance copies of exciting new records that were sent to the shop for pre-release plays. That’s how I got a copy of the debut Oasis album, signed by all of the existing line-up.


    I was invited to host a three-hour Sunday afternoon show on the local pirate radio station Shockwave, which ran for six months in 1995. ‘Teatime With Jane’ mostly mixed retro easy-listening gems (ironic easy-listening was briefly cool at the time) with Big Beat (which was definitely cool at the time, thanks to labels like Skint and Wall of Sound), and it worked quite well. Hosting a show from a spider infested back room of a boxing gym (now knocked down and turned into flats) worked less well - particularly as there were vats and vats of what could only be urine from the male radio hosts piled up in the corner. And a big window from which you were supposed to make your escape if the police came knocking (it was a first floor studio. Although ‘studio’ seems a very grand word for it). I was the station’s only female presenter.


A big part of my life is coming to a close. Bye bye, Acorn. The shop may be closed, but turntables everywhere will keep spinning with records bought from your ace shop over the past 42 years. Happy retirement, Chris.

My 16th birthday card from the Acorn posse of 1994

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