9/7/09

A SAD DAY FOR RECORD COLLECTORS



Last week my good friend in London, Bill Allerton (left), emailed to tell me that me that sometime next April he and Bill Forsyth would be closing their legendary side-by-side London record shops, Stand Out and Minus Zero.

In a follow up phone call, Bill told me the toll of “running a counter service shop” for 25 years had been “quite enough,” and he was very happy about the prospect of having some more time on his hands. For many years, record collectors have been doing more and more of their buying online, fewer people have been traveling to London to look for records, and of course Bill Forsyth had been talking about closing for some years. And so they finally decided the time had come. Bill told me he was “frankly thrilled” at the prospect of taking some time off, traveling, and shifting his record dealing to the web.

I can’t help feeling that what is good news for Bill & Bill, as they’re often referred to, is terrible news for their friends, disciples and customers. Their twin stores are an essential stop on any record collector’s pilgrimage to London.

I met Bill Allerton in 1975 on my first trip to London; I’d been corresponding with him and his best friend Colin Baker for some months (I found them through their ads in “The Rock Marketplace”; Alan Betrock’s primordial record collector magazine). When I wrote them I was coming to London, they arranged to meet me, and we’ve all been close ever since.

At the time, Bill was working in accounting for Virgin Records, but his true love was record collecting, particularly the Velvet Underground and Arthur Lee & Love. He lived in a one room flat in Clapham, filled with records, floor to ceiling piles of 60’s music newspapers, some pinball machines, and “fruit machines” (slot machines.) If you were careful, you could work your way around the room without hitting anything.

He sold rare records through the mail and on Saturdays in London’s famed Portobello Road market with Colin, under the “flyover.” His regular clientele made their way to him each weekend, looking for hard to find singles and albums, and hoping to absorb some of his and Colin’s tremendous knowledge. They knew more than anybody about 60’s records, and I felt lucky to have been adopted by them (over the years, I’ve probably made 25 or so trips to London, often staying with Colin, and chauffeured by Bill.)

Early on, I met Bill’s friend, Bill Forsyth, another collector/dealer who’s obsession was Bob Dylan, and in 1984 “the Bills” teamed up to open a record store, Plastic Passion, at 2 Blenheim Crescent in London (just around the corner from Portobello Road.) Plastic Passion was a vinyl wonderland, a long, very narrow space with heavy wooden doors at the front, a cramped office in the back, and walls covered with records even the most sophisticated collector had rarely if ever seen before. Immediately it became the prime hang-out for local collectors, and a must-visit location for anyone traveling to London. In those pre-internet days, most serious collectors visited London periodically, and they all turned up to see “the Bills.”

I spent countless hours there talking music with Bill & Bill and whoever happened to show up; one day many years ago an odd looking man with a top hat and leopard skin coat showed up and Bill A. introduced me to his regular customer, Screaming Lord Sutch (the legendary horror-rocker and early employer of Jimmy Page and Richie Blackmore.) Robert Plant was a regular customer too, as were many other “names.”

In 1990, Bill and Bill decided that while they enjoyed having a record store, working together just wasn’t working, and in a brilliant move, instead of closing Plastic Passion, they just split the long narrow space down the middle and opened two (very narrow !) record shops—Bill Allerton’s Stand Out Records on the right side (named after an Arthur Lee & Love song) and Bill Forsyth’s Minus Zero records on the left side (after a Dylan song, of course.) And so it has been ever since; two great record stores, each curated (I think that is the right word) by a very knowledgeable collector-dealer, filled with rare vinyl and for many years now, huge selections of obscure CD reissues that one could find nowhere else.

Their odd—probably unique—setup has been profiled in Mojo, The Wall Street Journal, Time Out London, The Guardian. But Adam Duritz, the dreadlocked singer of Counting Crows and another frequent customer, perhaps described best what makes the Stand Out/Plastic Passion setup so special, in an article in “Down The Rabbit Hole” magazine:

“Once upon a time, Immy and I were sitting in our favorite bi-polar record store in the world, London’s wonderfully schizophrenic two-stores-in-one Stand Out Records/Minus Zero Records, talking to the respective owners, the Bills (Stand Out’s Bill Allerton and Minus Zero’s Bill Forsyth), during one of our usual 2-4 hr visits to the tiny store(s). You see the way it works is that we go there with one or two ideas of things we think we want (and that’s all well and good) and then we end up spending the next two, three, or four hours endlessly listening to music as Bill and Bill compete across the two foot aisle that separates one store from the other to play us different music they’re sure we’ve never heard before (they’re often right) that they’re certain we’ll love (they’re pretty much ALWAYS right) and therefore purchase (they get us there too). We nearly always spend every penny we have and leave with several huge bags of CD’s each. Half the great music I’ve discovered over the past decade was played for me by the Bill’s in their tiny wonderland on Blenheim Crescent just off Portobello Road. It might seem strange to those of you who aren’t utterly obsessed with music, but they’ve been as big an influence in my life as any of my musical idols.”

The internet has been a mixed blessing for record collectors—sure it’s been great to find many of those records I’ve searched for fruitlessly, for so many years. But it’s hastened the demise of many a great record store—Rhino in LA (where I worked when I first met Bill Allerton), Beano’s in Croydon/London, even the Tower chain. And now Stand Out and Minus Zero.

I’m writing this as a requiem for two of the world’s great collector’s stores, but also to urge you, if you are in London or happen to be traveling there, to visit Bill & Bill before it’s too late. I’ll be there in November, and though Bill Allerton can’t wait for the end to come, I know it’s gonna be a sad sad day for a lot of record collectors around the world. Thanks guys, for so very very much.

Until they close, Stand Out and Minus Zero are discounting everything in their stores 25%.

Stand Out Records/ 020 7727 8406 /bill@standout.f2s.com
Minus Zero Records/ 020 7229 5424 /minuszero@fairadsl.co.uk /www.minuszerorecords.com
both at 2 Blenheim Crescent, London W11 1NN
Open Wed/Th/Fri/Sat 11-6
Sunday 12-4
Closed Mon/Tues

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jeff,
I received the news from Bill Allerton and Forsyth as well and i've been thinking about them ever since...of the great times i've spent in their store(s) over the years. These guys were a constant source of inspiration and joy..and great friends as well! For me this was the best store in the world and where i found amazing music and artists...the passion that Bill A. has for the Velvets and Love...we need it!!

I remember a couple of years ago that i spent all day at Minus Zero and Stand Out (in the store and in the back of the stores...i wish i could be there now...) and, in the end of the day, we went in Bill's car to an amazing Arthur Lee and Love show...great memories...

I'm glad that they're happy about it though.

I'll keep in touch with them, hopefuly. But i'll miss the store...i'm missing it already...

Best wishes, Nuno Robles

Stan Denski said...

My first trip to the UK in 1998 I went from Margate to London with Malcolm Galloway (formerly of Funhouse Records) two the Two Bills. It was my introduction to London. A magical place that will be remembered as a piece of an older world that's moving on. Best of luck to both Bills.

jimmy said...

I'm always sad to see stores like this dissapear. I live here in Kansas City and we had at one time 5 to 10 GOOD record stores and about 10 years ago they all started to fade away. Theres nothing like the smell of a record store!

Barry Gutman said...

Jeff,

My dad was a hobbyist, from model railroading to building and flying radio controlled airplanes. As a kid, I often accompanied him to our neighborhood hobby shop on a Friday night or Saturday, where the owner and some of the regulars heartily welcomed him as Norm always was at Cheers. I loved watching him and his pals talk together, give each other tips and share their enthusisam about their hobbies.

I've gotten that same rush of joy, camraderie and contentment every time I've visited Bill & Bill -- mostly recently on 29 May of this year. My trips to the UK from Pennsylvania were always highlighted by these visits, which I usually paid on Saturdays, as the carnival-like atmosphere on the way up Portobello Road to Blenheim Crescent was a perfect prelude to the intense fun and joy of discovery that awaited me there. Bill F and Bill A are wonderful gents -- the former so immediately warm, the other a bit reserved until he gets to know you, at which point he's extremely kind. I've had wonderful, enlightening conversations with the customers and staff I've met on various visits, including past and present staff members of the great fanzine "Bucketful of Brains".

I totally agree with everything you've said, and I'm shedding crocodile tears -- London just won't be the same without Minus Zero/Stand Out! But if Bill & Bill are happy, I'm happy for them -- they've certainly earned love and best wishes from me and so many others!

Best, Barry Gutman

Colin Baker said...

Fine sentiments Jeff!

I recall the stalls the two Bills had, side by side, on Saturdays on Portobello Road market which preceded the opening of Plastic Passion. Boy, it could be COLD in winter standing there all day – even in the snow on occasions – and that dedication has continued for 25 years and has resulted in one of the finest venues for record / music collectors to practise their obsession, aided of course by the two Bills. To have survived the enormous changes in record buying habits in recent years is also testament to their great knowledge and tenacity.

It is sad it is all coming to an end but I feel privileged to have known them both and wish both of them well in their future exploits!

Frank said...

It really is a shame,ive worked on portobello market all my life and i remember at 4pm every saturday my father would give me a few pounds to spend on records.I would frequent them as a young lad looking for rarities and what not but to be perfectly honest i prefer the internet.Its alot quicker to hunt down what i want rather than to browse shops but after this news it really hits home that its costing these shops money by me doing that.
Ive always been a elvis record collector (from sun 45's to thai bootlegs i have them all) minus zero/standout never stocked these but what they did have was a wealth of 60's records and hard to finds that i will never see again.
They may have been pricey but you got a service,buy on ebay and you get a page for paypal.
Its a hard decision for alot of collectors out there. but i will pop in for a few visits and see what i can find.
TC
Frank

Patrick said...

Ah yes. Such a great place. Later today I will add some personal memories of Plastic Passion to my "Eternal Now" blog, with a link to this page.

// Patrick The Lama

noble said...

such a shame...
i moved to london in 1996 when i was 21 years old. i was looking for the Idle race compilation, and somehow found this store. Bill Alleron became my mentor of music. I bought countless cd's and albums over there.
When i moved to Notting Hill gate i used to go there even when the shop was closed.
I belive that the best music i got to know throght that store is the Left Banke comiplation. I still listen to it every day.

sad news
shy nobleman

rainbow chaser said...

yes more than sad news, a tragedy.....april 2010 is coming, London will probably never be the same without these guys and the amazing moments spent in the shop.
Xavier, french rainbow chaser.

rainbow chaser said...

More than sad news, a tragedy. So many amazing moments spent in the coloured shop amongst fantastic guys happy to be here. Incredible and unkown bands at that time like Wondermints, Cherry Twister and late 60's Lp.............the first time i came i bought 30 cds and 15 Lps , surely one of the most beautiful day in my life in the sunny springtime of the street whistling pop tunes in my head.
April 2010 is coming, i went to the shop last december....it seems London will never be the same anymore .
Thanks for all BILLs !
Xavier, France.

Simon said...

Minus Zero Records, conjoined with Stand Out Records, closed down on Saturday 1 May 2010.

It has been a wonderful place to buy records for 26 years. Here is a tribute and some photos and audio from the last day: www.http://eccentricsleevenotes.com/Minus-Zero--Stand-Out-Records(1924550).htm

Simon

Anonymous said...

A visit to Stand Out recalled those heady days of the late 60's when One Stop and Musicland were essential for all the latest imports - particularly after having heard John Peel on Sunday afternoons! Greatly missed, but of course the music lives on.

Anonymous said...

A visit to Stand Out recalled those heady days of the late 60's when One Stop and Musicland were essential for all the latest imports - particularly after having heard John Peel on Sunday afternoons! Greatly missed, but of course the music lives on.

Hugh Jaeger said...

Bill Forsyth and his family were my next door neighbours in Blenheim Crescent. His part in my musical education was huge. The Forsyths are also lovely people, and it was a pleasure to have known them. Good luck whatever you are doing now!