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Talking Shop


From a fairly unpromising start as a major re-development area following some horrendous bomb damage during the Second World War, Croydon has grown in significance to such an extent in recent years that it is now the epicentre of commerce, leisure and administration for much of South London and Surrey. It comes as something of a surprise therefore to find that the area is blessed with only one music shop of any importance (discounting a couple of home-organ dealers, that is).

The shop in question is RockBottom, and its location - a little way to the north of Croydon's centre along the London Road - is one which enables it to serve musicians from as far away as Watford to the north and Brighton to the south, thought it should be emphasised that in addition to selling equipment to personal callers, the company also do a considerable amount of mail order business which, of course, covers the whole of the UK and beyond.

RockBottom was founded seven odd years ago under the guidance of two musicians, Carl Nielsen and Neville Crozier. From the start, their aim was to provide far more than a warehouse at which customers collected their instruments in brown paper bags, and handed over their cash to unscrupulous proprietors without so much as a demonstration or even the promise of a money-back undertaking should the product prove faulty. To this end, they ploughed almost every penny of profit back into the business, with the result that the shop rapidly became known as one of the best-stocked music shops in London's suburbia.

This in itself would not have been a problem had it not been for the fact that, at that time, RockBottom occupied only the ground floor of 74 London Road. Controlled expansion (mainly in an upwards direction) has resulted in the shop currently being composed of no fewer than five storeys, housing - from the ground up - new guitars and amplification, secondhand guitars, keyboards, drums and drum-machines, and acoustic guitars.

Since both of RockBottom's founding members are essentially guitar-orientated, the keyboard side of things had tended to be neglected before the arrival of Ian Penman-Dick, who is now in charge not only of pianos, organs and synthesisers, but also of mixers, effects and home-recording equipment. Under his guidance, the keyboard department has undergone rapid expansion in the breadth of its coverage, and hand-in-hand with this has come a policy of letting whoever might come into the shop play with whatever instrument he/she chooses for as long as he/she cares to. Although this can cause the regular staff not inconsiderable strain, it's based on past experience that has taught Ian never to judge prospective customers by their appearance, as he himself recalls:

'I remember there was one guy in particular who kept on bothering us. He can't have been more than eleven or twelve, but every Saturday he'd come in and mess about with the synths, distracting other (more serious) customers. I was tempted to just show him the door on several occasions, but one day he came in and said "that's the Roland Jupiter 8 isn't it?" I nodded and he played about with it for a while, and then he said "OK, I'll take it" and promptly handed over the requisite two and a half grand! Apparently an uncle or someone had left him the money in his will, but it only goes to show.'

The trend in recent months, according to Ian, has been a decline in monophonic instruments and a corresponding increase in the interest shown in polys. Among RockBottom's top-sellers are the Roland JX-3P, the Korg Poly 61 and the almost ubiquitous Yamaha DX7.

Apart from an exceptionally wide choice of hardware, all the shop's departments have one thing in common - lack of space. As hinted at earlier, this stems from the shop's owners' desire to plough profits back into the store, with the inevitable consequence that it's almost impossible to move freely in any of the departments without knocking over something. This isn't too bad on a weekday such as the one we'd pencilled in in our diary to visit Croydon, but on Saturdays the situation worsens considerably, leaving the RockBottom staff with little option but to consider transferring to larger premises.

Which is exactly what they are about to do.

By the time you read this, preparations should be well under way for a move two or three doors down the road into a larger and more modern building. Obviously, the move won't cure RockBottom's problems overnight, but it should ease the overcrowding a little and, perhaps more importantly, allow a slight but significant re-organisation to take place.

Ian Penman-Dick, for example, wants to see the keyboard department split into two, with the bigger, costlier instruments (such as the Rhodes Chroma and PPG) occupying one area and the smaller, more mass-appeal ones another. The drum department could also do with such a division, because with the enormous increase in the popularity of electronic drums, it's been difficult for the followers of both camps to rub shoulders amicably in the same room.

RockBottom claim to have the largest stocks of any non-specialist hardware retailer in South London, and it's a claim that's difficult to refute, the new premises should provide an additional incentive to the already-bulging list of assets which could make any musician within striking distance of Croydon take time out to visit the shop. The atmosphere of a dealer run specifically by musicians for musicians is one well worth travelling for, and in addition to the advice and expertise which all the RockBottom staff have to offer, there is now an improved service department with both a low turnaround time and a reasonable scale of charges - both rarities on their own, let alone together.

Even more excitingly, the same service department is currently working on one or two projects not unconnected with MIDI interfacing, though as yet details are a little sketchy. It's further proof of RockBottom's commitment to serving their customers and serving them well. I wouldn't be at all surprised if, in the not-too-distant future, Rock-Bottom find themselves contemplating a further move - into still larger premises.

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Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Electronics & Music Maker - Jan 1984

Donated & scanned by: Stewart Lawler


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