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The Ivor Arbiter Story (Part 1)

Part One: The Early Days



Ivor Arbiter's climb from a basement sax repairer to head of the U.K. arm of CBS, CBS/Arbiter, is a rags to riches story typical of the music industry. Many people were offered the chance of a fortune during the boom years of the early and middle sixties in pop — only a few managed to grab it and survive. Even fewer managed to take the chance and then build upon it. Arbiter's success is really a tribute to years of graft. Here he tells of the years that led up to the opening of his Sound City and Drum City Shops.

I first remember you as part of the retail shop trade that existed around the West End in the late '5Os and early '60s. How did you actually enter the music industry?

Well, I think we'd have to go back to when I was ten years old, about 1939. I went to America — I was evacuated and I lived there for four years, and I learned to play the trumpet.

I think my interest in music and musical instruments stemmed from that, plus my father's influence. I was brought up with instruments and music, and I was always intrigued with the mechanics of my trumpet. I can remember taking it to pieces as a youngster.

Why the trumpet?

It's one of those things, I don't know really, somebody bought me a trumpet, and I began to take it to pieces and clean it. I was fascinated by it, and in 1943 when I came back to Britain I went to work for a guy called Barney Lubelle, in a little place in Soho Street called The Saxophone Shop. I started off at 35 shillings a week as an apprentice saxophone repairer in November of 1943.

There was a fellow there at the time called Martin Block. His father was a musician, an old friend of my father's, and he more or less taught me the trade, and then went into the air force. I studied under him for a couple of years.

Then I left Barney and opened my own little repair shop when I was 16½ in Kingley Street.

I had my repair shop in the basement, I guess that the rent was about two pounds a week and we used the barber's gas without him knowing!

We started doing repairs for many of the shops in the West End and I worked both night and day for a long time. Eventually Martin wanted to get married and he left and I bought him out for £200. I think I paid him off at about two quid a week for four years or something like that. I then moved the business to Frith Street.

We progressed from there and I then went to a little shop called Lemwood Musicals with Mr. Lubelle again who had come back into the business in a tiny shop in Shaftesbury Avenue.

It had a frontage of about two feet and a workshop in the basement. I worked with Barney Lubelle there as his junior partner. My father at that time became quite ill, he retired from the business and I thought I ought to try and do something.

I left and went to, I think it was 78 Shaftesbury Avenue, and I took a second floor and borrowed a couple of hundred quid from an uncle of mine. I hadn't been able to accumulate any money, even though I was literally working night and day. During those days we used to get £3 from the trade for overhauling a saxophone. Today the same thing costs £30 or £40.

My father and I opened this second floor thing and we started buying and selling instruments and I was repairing as well.

A shop became available which we eventually opened in 1957, and I got some photographs of this in the Melody Maker. The shop was called The Paramount. We called it The Paramount because I lived in Paramount Court, up the road.

What lines did you carry then?

Well, it was saxophone and I spent much of the time repairing. About the time of Tommy Steele, when skiffle was just beginning, I was basically a band instrument and woodwind man. All of a sudden we couldn't get them here.

I made some enquiries about the possibility of importing some guitars and I found that in Holland there were a number of cheap guitar manufacturers and I remember making a phone call about this to a guy in Holland, he was a guy called Koekoek of all things — and I said "You won't know me, but I'm a retailer in London and I understand you make guitars". He said "Yes" and I said "Have you got any?" He said "Yeah" and I said "Right, I'll be over tomorrow morning in a van to collect them". A friend of mine who's in the dress business had a gown van so I borrowed it and drove down to Harwich, caught the overnight ferry and I got to his place in Amsterdam at 9 O'clock in the morning and I said "I've come to pick up these guitars". He must have thought I was a crazy Englishman!

Anyway, that developed into a regular routine. Eventually, I spent four nights a week on that ferry for nine months and ended up bringing back about 200 a week and then we were travelling around and he became my agent. We started supplying them to other dealers and in those days the kids weren't playing them, they were wearing them! You know, trying them on in front of the mirror and saying "Yes, I like the look of that one". So that was really the beginning, my first taste of what the industry is all about apart from being a retailer.


Series - "The Arbiter Story"

Read the next part in this series:


All parts in this series:

Part 1 (Viewing) | Part 2 | Part 3


More with this topic



Previous Article in this issue

Studio Diary

Next article in this issue

Frankfurt 1975


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

 

International Musician - Mar 1975

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Topic:

Retail


Series:

The Arbiter Story

Part 1 (Viewing) | Part 2 | Part 3


Feature

Previous article in this issue:

> Studio Diary

Next article in this issue:

> Frankfurt 1975


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