Clive Munro talks with sadness about the demise of his eponymous record shop
The owner of Clive’s Record Shop has confirmed that he is calling it a day for good after an unsuccessful experiment running it in scaled-back form in recent months.
Clive Munro, who has devoted nearly the whole of his working life to the shop since the tail-end of the punk era way back in 1979, said this week that a combination of the advent of digital music and competition from internet shops and local supermarkets meant the business was no longer profitable.
It comes as another blow to Lerwick’s already beleaguered Commercial Street. The shop on Tuesday began a closing down sale with 20 per cent off all stock, and Mr Munro expects to finally shut in the next month or so.
The shop – which he has run in partnership with Caroline Miller for nearly 20 years – closed for a few weeks earlier this year before re-opening as a smaller entity in April. The premises have been for sale since then but Mr Munro said that despite some interest there had not been any concrete offers.
“We reduced the size of the shop and tried to concentrate on back catalogue and older films, which we thought there might be a market for,” he said. “[It was] stuff that doesn’t run quite so heavily into competition with the supermarkets so much. But to be honest, after five months the sales haven’t even been up to our lowest expectations, so it’s time to knock it on the head.”
It is sad news for music fans in the isles, many of whose collections have been largely built up using the shop. Mr Munro is credited with helping to shape the musical tastes of two generations of Shetlanders, always willing to share his views on the latest rock, pop and country music offerings with browsers in the shop.
While warmly appreciating the sympathy received from some of his regular customers, Mr Munro said he was a bit bemused by expressions of sorrow from those who rarely used the shop, describing it as “ironic, irritating even”. “We’ve got 722 ‘friends’ on Facebook – if I’d even seen half of those as regulars over the last few months we wouldn’t be in [this] predicament.”
He will retain many fond memories over three decades of working with music, which he has an obvious love and passion for. Mr Munro, 55, began selling at the end of the punk era and remembers The Jam’s classic Going Underground topping the singles chart in his first week. Pink Floyd’s The Wall was the number one album and the first LP that he remembers shifting in significant numbers.
The shop oversaw the shift from vinyl to cassette and then CD, followed in the past decade or so by the arrival of mp3s, and a mini revival in vinyl sales which latterly saw him restocking the format.
He remembers the ascendancy of synthesizers for a period in the eighties when “horrible stuff” like Ultravox and Visage followed in the wake of Gary Numan. But the big sellers in Shetland have always tended to be in the realm of classic rock, often with a strong flavour of country, folk or blues – happily coinciding with his preferred taste.
“A lot of folk would come in maybe not intending to buy something, they’d hear Creedence Clearwater Revival or Tom Petty or something and say, ‘oh, what’s that?’ and get into it a bit like that,” he recalled.
He remembers selling as many as 200-300 copies of Steve Earle albums in the late 1980s. The likes of Earle, Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam never charted particularly highly in the UK but “I’d be selling more of that than any Michael Jackson album that was out at the time”.
Although clearly disappointed to be pulling down the shutters, Mr Munro says he is pleased to have lasted longer than independent stores in many other similar-sized towns around the UK. Though he has never owned an iPod, which might make him “a bit of a dinosaur”, he doubts that embracing new music technology would have made any difference.
“Right now, I feel a mixture of sadness, and relief as well that I’ve finally made the decision,” he told The Shetland Times. “I’ve felt a bit in limbo for probably more than a year, to be honest. I knew that the writing was on the wall when the Tesco extension came, probably about the final straw on the camel’s back. That probably sounds like I’m blaming Tesco, but that wouldn’t have mattered if people hadn’t all decided to go there.
“Digitisation is part of it, I’m sure. According to official statistics CD sales haven’t actually fallen that much – they’re on a gentle decline rather than a steep decline, so I guess people are still buying CDs but they’re buying them elsewhere. Our chart CDs and movies really fell away reasonably sharply when Tesco’s extension opened, but I think really Amazon and Play.com … is the biggest factor.”
As to the future, he has no idea what to do with himself having devoted his working life to the shop. Although he studied politics at university in Aberdeen in the 1970s and last year wrote a handful of letters to this publication about SIC-related matters, he has no aspirations in that area. For the moment he is looking forward to being able to spend a “normal” Christmas with his family.
He added: “I’ve enjoyed the craic – that’s why I never could be bothered to go into the internet. The face-to-face contact and speaking to people has been a big part of it.”