Founded seven years ago by Bill White as a logical extension to his successful Sunderland-based White Sound shop, Rock City originally occupied a small site in Newcastle's Cloth Market. However, the general upturn in the music business meant that in 1978 larger premises were required and the shop moved to its present location where it now occupies four floors and some 4,000 square feet packed with assorted equipment and instruments.
Store manager Tom Cleugh and his friendly staff give the place a lively, yet relaxed atmosphere that is conducive to equipment testing. There are no eager salesmen trying to pressure you into buying gear but the staff are on hand to demonstrate products and give you the benefit of their knowledge and experience if desired.
The ground floor area houses the amplifier, guitar and percussion sections whilst general accessories, microphones and effects pedals are available from the main counter. Guitars stocked ranged from Hondo copies at around £80 to Antoria, Ibanez, Yamaha and Fender Squier models. A left-handed Hayman electric caught my eye on special offer at £69. The often neglected bass player is well catered for with Alembic, Squier Jazz basses and Wal, the latter being especially popular with Rock City customers. Two walls of acoustic guitars included a selection of Cimar, Kay, Yamaha, Washburn and Fender Malibu and Catalina models.
Unlike many music shops, Rock City have seen an 18% increase in recent guitar sales due, Bill said, to the quality range of Squier electric guitars which sell like hot cakes! All guitars are carefully checked from the manufacturer and if necessary, are correctly set up by in-house luthier John Coleman who also provides a guitar repair and customising service. A free action and fret adjustment is also given on all guitars during the first year of purchase, in addition to the manufacturers guarantee.
The amplifier section is dominated by Marshall stacks which are big sellers (remember the North East is the home of Heavy Metal) as are Fender Champ and Princeton amps. In addition to established lines Rock City also stock their own range of Little Rock and White amps and PA gear.
The shop specialises in Tama and Rod gers drums and accessories, representing they believe, exceptional quality at an affordable price. A large backup of hardware is available and a large stock of Sabian and Paiste cymbals is always carried. A recent addition to the department was a Simmons Kit which to the disappointment of other drummers was quickly snapped up by local group Lindisfarne, but more have been ordered according to Dez Mulvaney who handles the percussion section.
Roland Drumatix, DR55 and TR808 rhythm units as well as the Korg KPR77 are on sale and interest has been expressed in stocking the Drumulator and other digital machines.
Upstairs two rooms are given over to keyboards and effects such as the Roland Rack system. The larger room is well laid out with all keyboards stacked on chrome stands and available to play. A wide selection of both old and new instruments were on display including a Clavinet, Roland VK-1 organ. Opus 3, Korg Mono/Poly, several SH101 and SH09 synths, a Juno 60 and Pro One monophonic amongst others. Both Oberheim and Yamaha's impressive DX keyboards have been put on the list of future additions.
In the adjacent room I found customers busy playing away on the latest crop of poly synths from Korg and Roland, whilst a Prophet 5, two Prophet 600s and a Casio CT1000P were all evident at reasonably competitive prices.
In one corner stood a Polymoog which had been part-exchanged, according to keyboard demonstrator Jim Corbett, by a club musician for a Memorymoog. After a recent seminar on the Rhodes Chroma given by Jethro Tull's Peter Vetesse, the two Chromas Rock City had in stock were immediately bought up — one by a local club performer(!), the other by Richie Close of Granada TV.
Monophonic synths, however, are still very much in demand, demonstrated by the fact that 18 Pro-Ones were sold recently in a single month! Customers keyboard needs are varied and Rock City help cater for this by stocking the less expensive Casio PT20 and PT30 keyboards which are proving more popular than the larger CT701 and CT403 models. The provision of individual headphone monitoring for all keyboards is a further example of the attention Rock City pay to their customers needs.
The Ibanez DM1000 digital delay is a recent addition to the ancillary equipment range and has already proved successful with the home recording fraternity. Sequential Circuits Poly Sequencer, Roland's System 100 synth modules and the Korg SDD 3000 delay also help to satisfy the visiting electro-musician.
The second floor is the domain of Steve Wood who's responsible for all amplifier and keyboard repairs. Part of the floor is also devoted to the guitar surgery whilst glassy eyed guitarists could be seen admiring the vintage guitars that adorn one of the walls.
Finally, the third floor is used for large scale equipment testing and instrument tuition classes. Guitar and bass lessons are currently available and Bill White hopes to re-open the synthesiser classes as soon as they can be arranged.
Even with four large floors space is at a premium and the storage room behind the guitar repair area is planned for conversion to a specialist keyboard section which will house the more demanding keyboards like the Emulator, Chroma and Jupiter 8.
All equipment is available on No Deposit HP terms and a fast mail order service is available if required. All of the staff at Rock City are approachable and appreciate that today's pennyless youngsters are the musicians of the future and treat them with deserved respect and that's got to be admired. Prices in general are appealing as is the equipment.
Rock City tend to do their own thing and will no doubt continue to serve the huge silent majority of musicians for many years whilst also continuing to be, as Bill White conveniently put it, "proud to be provincial."
Rock City, (Contact Details).