Madmen, drummers, bummers, and Indians in the summer

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.

Now, on the corner of Mount Pleasant and Clarence Street.
Now, on the corner of Mount Pleasant and Clarence Street.
This was the original home of Probe Records, the doorway to the left leading upstairs to Atticus.
This was the original home of Probe Records, the doorway to the left leading upstairs to Atticus.

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.

Z0003796The 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.Pye Black Box

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.’

I stay up ’til dawn. Turning over the LPs every twenty minutes or so before getting back to the road trip across America. I read things like:tumblr_kz6suoxwq11qzn0deo1_500

“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.

Many years later, my postcard from Sarah and Rachel, Summer 2011.
Many years later, my postcard from Sarah and Rachel, Summer 2011.

Picture of Probe when it was in Clarence Street, with Atticus above it hereA history of Probe from Liverpool’s Nerve Magazine here.

And of course, Probe, gloriously survives as an independent record shop to this day.

Published by Ronnie

Writing about life, Liverpool and anything else that interests me. As well as working with others to make the world a fairer and kinder place:

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  1. Ronnie, you’ve brought many happy memories of flicking through the album sleeves at Probe, first in lunch breaks next door to where I worked in my first job at Central College on Clarence Street, then in the Button Street shop. By then I had moved to Old Swan Technical College where I was lucky enough not to have classes on Friday afternoons, so I’d head down there, starting across the way in the Armadillo (Remember those trays of food warmed over steaming water? Remember their praline?). Then to Probe to spend a happy hour browsing, usually heading home with something new to explore. I see Jeff every now and then – he lives in our avenue. Great days.

    1. Thanks Gerry, glad about the memories, the ‘flicking through’ is a bone memory that my right hand has never forgotten.

      And the Armadillo! I remember there. Sue Flackett and her ‘bains-marie’ as those keeping the food warm things were called. More places where we must have almost coincided.

  2. Heady words from Bruce Springsteen, good advice for J who flicks through files and files of comics like you did with records – so did I but I was searching for musicals and wishing I could afford LP’s. Happy days for you and a good memory. By the way I remember bains-marie keeping food warm…

  3. I’m infected, too, by all the wonderful memories. I saw Van Morrison in concert in the summer of 1974 at the Montreux Jazz Festival. He was fabulous. Thanks for bringing me back to the seventies, a special decade for music and for diehard fans.

      1. I too remember Probe as I was an apprentice wood machinist and attended the college next door from 1970-1974. They had great music in there. I bought the triple album Glastonbury Fayre I think for £3.00. Also ordered Tangerine dreams Alpha Centauri. It was the vibe there that made the place special you felt you belonged there as it was really cool and hip. What happened to the owners and Dave who used to work there?

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