McCormacks Music closed recently, a real shame as it had been a Glasgow mainstay since 1940. Maybe they hadn’t moved with the times to fight the internet wars with the proper application, maybe the bosses still wanted to sell trumpets and acoustic guitars while the customers wanted electric guitars, but that old-school attitude meant that the shop still had a huge range of everything.
Sheet music, triangles, double basses and a range of harmonicas and folk that you could ask about each one of them. Glasgow is full of guitar shops, but not many actual music shops, so when I was looking for a quality chromatic harmonica for Jimmy’s birthday there were now only two places that were going to have a good range.
One option is another long-standing Glasgow institution. It’s long been regarded with suspicion by musicians as they mixed their musical output with guns, knives, swords etc, often making a visit there to mingle with neds gazing starry-eyed at chibs in a glass case both a last resort and an uncomfortable experience. In more recent times the two sides of the business were more separate and we had a real music shop, but despite the youngsters in the staff being extremely helpful and knowledgeable, there lurked within a senior element who operated from a different agenda.
A while back, a foreign fella was visiting while I was at the till and was trying to make himself understood in his quest for some spare parts, the senior member of staff started shouting in this fella’s face at the top of his voice “I don’t know what you want, I can’t understand you, how can I help you if you can’t speak English!?”
The boy that was serving me looked me uncertainly in the eye with a little embarrassment as if expecting a reaction, I did fleetingly consider joining in the repartee at the back of the shop, but the visitor was leaving with a surprised look on his face and I had already typed my PIN number. So I just looked back with a raised eyebrow and neither of us needed to verbalise the obvious regarding the man and the incident.
I had to go back for the first time in a while as they have a huge range of harmonicas and I wanted to get the right one for Jimmy. Unfortunately the shop is now jammed with all sorts of shite. No weapons were evident which is nice, just electrical goods of various sorts which makes it look like a junk shop instead of a music shop which is a shame.
Still, I combed over the dozens of harmonicas and a familiar voice started up… “I can’t help you if I don’t know what you want, what one do you want? You need to let me know?!”
Some poor customer has asked about karaoke machines, asking for advice, options, prices, just the kind of thing that shops, shopping, shop staff, customers and money were perfectly designed for, a meeting of separate parts that meld into one special little thing that keeps us all happy, high street shops open and the economy thriving.
The discounted prices on the harps weren’t enough, I just couldn’t do it, the perfect Hohner Chrometta 10 may well be in front of my nose, but my wallet stayed in my pocket. This time I won’t go back again.
I went straight to Biggars, they do your less rock ‘n’ roll instruments, established in 1867 and they’re the most expensive music shop in town. With a nice cafe.
I went down the stairs, browsed, was assisted and advised with friendliness, humour and without pressure. I got my Chrometta, which sounds awesome, and paid extra for it compared to what I would have earlier. Worth it though.
It’s been a nice wee reminder of something, that good service, a shop with stock and knowledge to match are pure gold.
We turn wholesale to the internet and let the good shops close at our peril. If we lose that knowledge, experience, enthusiasm and the simple joy of standing at the counter with our new prize in our hands we lose something very important and very human.
The best blues harp player in the world, Al Blind Owl Wilson, yesterday.