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Elgin Music

Article from International Musician & Recording World, May 1985

Billy Punter in the hip surrounds of Ladbroke Grove

Elgin — for the unpretentious musician

It's real urban rebel country down in Elgin Cresent. Deep in the heart of the Portobello Road/Ladbroke Grove encampment, where real men wear shades and there are so many examples of guerrilla chic that it makes Beirut refugees at home, it's a rough tough business flogging gear.

Or at least it used to be. Elgin Music itself has only been going a few months, and before that there was a true street-credibility haven on the same site. The sort of shop where the assistants are four times as cool as any superstar that might come in, and where they would refuse a guitar on the grounds that it was too clean. The floors sloped at a thirty-degree angle (or was it the dense clouds of highly hallucinogenic smoke?) and the creak of leather almost masked the noise of bullet belts jangling together. Nobody ever tried out an instrument, of course — that wouldn't have been anywhere near cool enough.

The trouble with this place, of course, was that nobody ever bought anything either. If they weren't put off by the permanent sneer on the staff's faces it might have been the dingy lighting or the problems of trying to attract people for long enough to get a (very) tentative price on any piece of gear.

So us normal mortals who have never been in a band with any member of the Clash or been thrown up on at a Killing Joke gig (early Killing Joke, of course, when they sounded like an accident on the Westway and played in clubs the size and smell of an outside bog) may have breathed a small sigh of relief when the place suddenly turned into a neat, fairly respectable shop. Maybe it's not very Rock'n'Roll, but what's so Rock'n'Roll about buying a top E string for your classical guitar anyway?

The new shop fits in well with the short parade it's in — a couple of bookshops, a branch of The Body Shop selling shampoo made from crushed pomegranate leaves at £4.36 per ounce, an antique shop... you know the sort of thing. The sort of place you pop into on your way back from the Venetian blind shop or the earthenware pottery shop.

The window is a bit schizophrenic. And I don't mean it's double-fronted; just that there's the usual guitars and combos, not to mention a couple of keyboards — good value makes like Casio, Westone and Pro-Amp — and also a few of the normal band instruments like trumpets, clarinets, recorders and so on.

Not entirely surprising, however. The shop is owned and run by three experienced instrument repairers who specialise in strings, brass and woodwinds respectively. A good bet, therefore, if you need your instrument sorted out — and a fair bet that they won't sell any real rubbish because they know enough about instruments to tell the good from the garbage.

When I went in there things were quiet — mind you, it was pretty early on a Wednesday morning so all good urban freedom fighters were probably still in their foxholes. I spotted some nice instruments, but noticeably nothing that wasn't very good for the money. There didn't seem to be any of the big music shops' 'we'll never sell the Glattaratanasti 25715637d because it costs £467,000 but Mucus Music have got one so we ought to...' attitude. There were small combos from Session and Pro-amp, guitars from Tokai and Westone, not to mention a couple of second-hand ones and a few decent acoustics, and the keyboards selection was again small but value-conscious, containing as it did one of the excellent Yamaha pf electronic pianos and a Casio or two.

And then there were the brass, woodwind and orchestral string instruments which, although they're not our usual fodder, did seem to be an equally well-chosen selection. Another high point seemed to be the selection of accessories — wide and obviously a large part of the shop's turnover, which is good for continuing business. After all, if somebody pops in for a jack plug every so often, the chances are that one day they'll spot an effects pedal they'd like, or a guitar or maybe (as all shop owners dream) a very very expensive keyboard.

The service was friendly and accommodating, and when I asked to try out a twelve-string of an unidentified Italian make, selling for an impressive £80-odd, there was no hesitation in getting it down from the wall and handing it to me. After a ridiculous length of time spent inexpertly tuning and even more inexpertly strumming the beast, the assistant was not at all displeased when I said I found the string spacing a bit wide for my taste. Not even when it was completely obvious that it could have had an action like a 1957 Les Paul and I would still have sounded like someone biting an egg slicer.

He cheerily suggested I keep popping in because they have a good flow of second-hand instruments and wished me a happy farewell. So I strolled off down the road — pausing only to reflect that Elgin Music is a good unpretentious shop for those without oodles of ackers. Oh, and pausing also to adjust my shades, polish my three bullet belts, do up the buckles on my ankle boots, zip up my leather jacket, put on my beret with the death's head badge, and pull down my Clash World Tour '79 T-shirt...

ELGIN MUSIC (Contact Details)

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Musical Micro

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A Picture Of Health

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - May 1985

Donated by: Neill Jongman



Feature by Billy Punter

Previous article in this issue:

> Musical Micro

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> A Picture Of Health

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