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.

7 thoughts on “Moothy”

  1. When i was wee, every new year we’d go up to my Granda’s (about 2 minute walk away up the hill). We’d go up there on new years day about 2pm and all the family would gather. When i say all the family i mean about 35 folk (mum has 13 brothers and sisters, add to that their kids!). Anyway the drink woudl flow then it’d be time for the sing song. Out would come my granda’s moothy. He’d play and all my aunties and uncles would sing along with tear inducing harmonies – of the good variety. There is nothing better than a group of people singing all the same songs in the living room of a well loved and well used house where the coal fire kept them all warm. Now everyone piles to our house and the moothy was never brought out again when my granda died. Nowadays its uncle Brian on the guitar my dad on his drum. The same brilliant singing is there and the fire has been replaced by central heating but the love and warmth and the wonderful harmonies are still sung. The songs, well they just stir up lots of good feelings.

    Thanks for reminding me.

  2. So sad to hear about mccormacks. Had a gig nearby at Celtic connections two years ago. Needed new strings and they were very helpful. Guess just not sexy enough for 21st century.

    Will never forgive that knife/music shop for giving me a pittance for a lovely trace acoustic amp when I was skint living in Glasgow…. swine!

  3. Ange, the ability to make and share music is a wonderful thing. Songs bring back memories so vividly, I love the songs of my childhood as much as the anthems of my teenage years and whatever catches my ear now.
    It’s a good thread to have woven through your life.

    Feepole, that’s what McCormacks had a reputation for going way back, helping out when folk really needed it.
    Having traded gear in at the same shop as yourself, I share your pain!

  4. It’s memory lane tonight. My Grandad was a whaler from Shetland – the kind that rowed out in a wee boat and threw harpoons (born in 1888). We used to go round and he’s play the accordian while my Dad played the moothie or the spoons. Honestly, it was like the Broons.

    You don’t need to be THAT old to remember what now seems like another planet, and the old shops are a part of that. I’m not from Glasgow, but I knew McCormacks and it really is a shame to hear its closed.

    I never mind paying a little extra for service and a bit of humanity, and we all need to be wary not to be seduced by online prices if we can help it. The bottom line is that all shops sink or float because of us. So go on, give your money to the people you’d like to see have it.

    I just wish I could find a small, friendly outdoor shop!

  5. Small, friendly outdoor shop? In Edinburgh? Good luck with that.

    Hearing tales from grandparents was always fantastic, a window to another world that was still tangible because you were hearing the voice that was really there.
    So important that stuff, a chance easily missed in the rush of youth.

    Used to go to traction engine society rallies with my dad in my early years, that was all accordians, moothies, spoons and jews harps, and big bloody steam driven organs. I used to roll my eyes at the time, now I just smile at the memories.

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