Feelers on the Dealers
Tim Gentle Music
And so to Milton Keynes, home of the concrete cow, and butt of a thousand jokes. Or rather, to Newport Pagnell – familiar to most, if at all, as only a service station on the M1. In fact, it's a rather pleasant, quintessentially English little market town, now on the verge of being subsumed by a Pseudopod of MK's bland urban sprawl.
Take a stroll along the High Street, and there at number 74, a couple of doors down from Boots, you'll find the Milton Keynes third of the Tim Gentle music shop empire.
The Saturday morning I payed my visit, the modest little frontage, wire caged on either side of the door, featured a shiny red Premier Projector kit in one window, and the usual small bric-a-brac of general music shops everywhere in the other: a second hand Roland Bassline, strings, straps and the like. From the outside, nothing very special.
Step through the door, though, and Tardis-like, the shop opens up – or rather back, as its three rooms recede quite some distance into the rear. The entrance area is given over to the counter on your left, and a pretty decent selection of new and secondhand guitars to your right.
Unsurprisingly with their UK headquarters just up the road, the Yamaha range of guitars and basses was pretty well represented, as were Westone and Fender. The new gear was all mid to budget-priced stuff, the second-hand selection (two or three guitars that day) ditto. No oddities, no sensational bargains, just a good solid selection of the more popular shapes and styles. The same goes for the small selection of amps on display – a couple of Carlsbro combos, a secondhand Fender Reverb Twin...
Venturing into the alcove-like midsection of the shop you encounter a TV showing Pop videos (all adds to the ambience, I suppose), a small stock of keyboards – a second-hand Yamaha CS15 was good value at £185, an SH101 less so at around the same price, a CZ1000 going for its RRP at £495... and surprisingly for a shop this size, two electronic drum kits, an MPC and an UP5, both going (before haggling, of course) at their RRPs. This section also boasted an EMR/Beeb MIDI set up, a TR909 drum machine, and a Yamaha RX15.
I thought it might be interesting to see how well the sales staff could put over the intricacies of the RX to a newcomer to drum-machines, especially in view of recent stiff competition facility-wise from Roland's 505 and Casio's RZ-1... But first, the last room. Given over entirely to real drums, there were two Premier kits set up and ready for use (albeit shoved into their respective corners) three or four more kits and part-kits stacked on the floor, and a pretty comprehensive stock of general-purpose, mid range cymbals, heads, sticks, and small fiddly bits of drum things probably only Bob Henrit knows the proper name for.
Quite a heavy-duty stock for such a small shop. Again, could this be anything to do with Premier having their HQ up the road? (Half the music manufacturers in Britain seem to live on one of MK's numerous industrial estates.) Anyway, back to business. Putting on my best Punterish smile I went back to the front of the shop and explained to Gerry (for that was his name, he told me) that I had a couple of MIDI keyboards, was thinking about getting some kind of computer-sequencing at a later date, and wanted a drum machine that could fit into such a system without breaking the bank. Would the RX do the job?
Certainly. At £325,the RX was a good-value and pretty versatile machine for the money. (True, all true). But had I heard of Roland's TR505? That was almost as good, and a £100 cheaper – less still if I placed a definite order.
"So you haven't got one in the shop then?"
"No, but we can get you one in a couple of days."
You could have knocked me over with a feather. Faced with a naive punter in the hand, these chaps weren't beating around the bush, but actually advising me of alternatives – and they didn't even have an alternative to flog me! I was impressed. The boss, a guy called Steve, even dug out a review of the 505 for me to read. Great!
Not quite so great was Gerry's demo of the RX which followed. After letting me play around with it in a fairly loud sort of way for 10 minutes or so, he came over and tried to show me some of the more outre aspects of its programming – and couldn't. To his credit, there was no bullshit – just a slightly sheepish "Well, I haven't used one of these for a while", and a reaching for the manual. There followed an engaging 20 minutes of mutual "Um, what's this button do?", "What if I try that?", "Do you think this is what they mean?" and so on. Despite the shop gradually filling up with Saturday-morning musicians, Gerry showed every indication of staying with me and the RX until we'd both got the whole thing totally sussed. Admirable attitude, that.
We played around a bit more, and after what seemed a sensible period, I made my excuses and left, taking with me a memory of well-intentioned if not overly well-informed service. So: Tim Gentle Music – a good place to go for workaday gear, spares, the occasional second-hand goody. Not the place to go for the latest all-singing, all-dancing MIDI Wunderkind. On the other hand, and most importantly, a place where you can at least expect patient, all-willing, and honest service.
Tim Gentle Music (Contact Details)
Feature by Billy Punter
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