Writing about Probe Records the other day reminded me of this earlier experience.
It’s 1973, I’m 19 years old, working in a Liverpool City Council housing office before starting at the University in the autumn, and I’m about to have a very good day. A day I remember large bits of very clearly, even now.
It’s summertime, Saturday, and I go to my favourite place in town, Probe Records, still then in its original tiny home in Clarence Street, up Mount Pleasant from the city centre.
Me and my friends have been coming here pretty much since it started in 1971, much of that time to gaze longingly at the covers of albums we could rarely afford to buy. We’d talk with Geoff Davies, who owned the shop, and his mate Dave who worked in there about bands we’d seen and ‘Who’s on next at the Stadium?’ And occasionally they’d interrupt their own music listening to satisfy our curiosities about ‘What do the Velvet Underground sound like?’ or ‘Can you play us some Van Morrison?’
This day in 1973 they’re probably both there but my memories are all of what’s in the second-hand racks. It’s always the first place I look, near to the counter, two racks full of whatever they’ve recently bought in or are never going to sell (like the ‘Toe Fat’ LP that lived in those racks for years.)
I know the racks pretty well and can soon spot the new arrivals, the covers that have not yet been bent by the constant ‘LP-flicking’ of eager searchers. This day I immediately find two new arrivals that I know, from my meticulous weekly reading of New Musical Express, Sounds and Melody Maker, have only just been released. They’re the first two albums by Bruce Springsteen.
The cover of one of them is strange, kind of a gatefold, but the front section like an oversized postcard saying ‘Greetings From Asbury Park N.J.’ This one has the lyrics on the back sleeve, words like:
“Madmen, drummers, bummers, and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat”
Idealistically impressed and having never heard what he actually sounds like I buy both albums. And don’t recall Geoff or Dave saying anything about my choices. Unusual, as mostly they were either admiringly positive or savagely negative about other people’s taste. But at this time Bruce Springsteen is an entirely unknown quantity so I leave the shop without comment.
And go to the shop upstairs.
This is ‘Atticus’ the first bookshop I ever knew where you could get mugs of coffee. I don’t think you even bought it, just made it yourself with the kettle in the corner.
Atticus will continue to grace Liverpool until 1996, though moved to Hardman Street. But this day the summer sun streams through the windows of Clarence Street all afternoon and all the books I pick up there seem to contain new ideas and interesting lives. But having spent most of my money downstairs I leave with only one of them: ‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac.
After this? I probably go and meet my friends, including my girlfriend round in O’Connor’s pub on Hardman Street. I don’t remember.
But the next thing I do remember is I’m back home, still with my parents in North Liverpool. Everyone’s gone to bed and I get sat down next to my brother’s Pye Black Box stereo, put the headphones on, Bruce Springsteen on the turntable, and open up ‘On the Road.’
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” Jack Kerouac, On the Road
And as the dawn comes in and I’m nearly tired enough to sleep I end the night with several plays of this. A song I still sing in my dreams:
And when I woke the next morning I knew I’d changed. I’d been infected with the idea that you can do what you want with your life. I’m infected still.
Thank you Probe Records, Atticus Books and one glorious summer’s day and night back in 1973.
And of course, Probe, gloriously survives as an independent record shop to this day.