On returning to Probe Records
I’ve been going to Probe Records since it started, up Mount Pleasant in Clarence Street, back in 1971. It’s in its fifth location around Liverpool now, and the truth is, I haven’t been there much lately. Over the years I have bought a few CDs from Probe, but I always felt CDs weren’t really what it’s about. Vinyl has always had pride of place at the centre of the shop and all over the walls, and it was vinyl I was returning there for today.
After my last post about returning to LPs, the turntable I’d ordered suddenly turned up sooner than I’d expected. So I spent a happy couple of hours on Friday afternoon putting all its bits together and finding my hands still remembered how to do arcane things like ‘balance the tonearm’ and ‘check the stylus is aligned.’ Things I’d never expected to do again in my life. Then in the early evening, both working, we’d had Spotify and iTunes playing in the background as usual. Until, work over, we moved through to the living room to listen to our one LP, purchased from Oxfam on Thursday afternoon, just after I’d ordered the turntable. And it was beyond wonderful.
“THAT is music’ Sarah immediately said. ‘Completely different to all the things we’ve been listening to in here for years.”
It wasn’t just about the clarity and energy of Paul Simon and Phoebe Snow’s singing, the punch and flourishes and timing of Steve Gadd’s drums, or that breathtaking Michael Brecker saxophone solo on ‘Still Crazy.’ It was the whole thing. Being entertained by a brilliant band who seemed to be right there in the room with us. And when it was finished we played it again. It was our only LP after all.
So this morning I got the bus into town to broaden our range, starting at the top of Bold Street, and eventually working my way to Probe Records.
Next I called in on ‘News From Nowhere’ Liverpool’s great independent bookshop. Because I always do, not expecting to find any second-hand records there. But I did, and straightaway found one of my principal aims of the day, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Héjira.’ The cover looks like it’s had a bit of a life, but the record’s in splendid condition.
“In the church they light the candles, and the wax rolls down like tears. There is the hope and the hopelessness I’ve witnessed thirty years.”
But I did find a much loved Ian Matthews album, which turned out to be made of red vinyl, so matching our turntable! Cutting through to Renshaw Street next, to 69A, where I’ve often looked pointlessly through their LPs, I came up with one of Sarah’s Dad’s favourites, Errol Garner’s ‘Concert by the sea’ from 1956. I also noticed a few other possibilities I may well be back for.
But I was hungry now, vinyl hunting of this intensity proving to be a tiring business.
Restored to fitness by mushrooms on toast I resumed my search. And before finally getting to Probe Records I decided to have a look at what the vinyl offering might be in Liverpool’s only remaining HMV, in LiverpoolOne.
And I was pleasantly surprised.
Much better than I’d remembered from a couple of years ago. And not just the classic Doors and Talk Talk you can see in the photo, but lots of current stuff too. Young people are putting out LPs. Good. But I didn’t trouble the till here as I knew I was about to go to Probe.
This is their relatively new place, in part of the Bluecoat building. It’s shaped like a chapel. And the vinyl is the principal congregation, filling the centre of the shop. CDs watching from the sidelines. And what a stock. I was delighted to find that, just like back in the early seventies, there is still a second hand LPs section, but today that yielded nothing. My search at the moment is for perfect LPs only and I was spoilt for choice. Disappointed not to find David Bowie’s ‘Hunky Dory’ or Stevie Wonder’s ‘Talking Book’ I could nevertheless have lugged 50 perfect albums over to the counter. But Burning Spear, Rickie Lee Jones, Talk Talk and ‘Close to the edge’ will have to wait for another day. ‘Wish you were here’ and ‘The hissing of summer lawns’ came with me to the till. Where, on explaining that this was the first Probe Records LP bag I’d been given for 23 years, I was, in the finest Probe acerbic tradition asked:
“Where’ve you been?”
Having asked if it would be ok to take a few photos, when I was leaving the shop I was stentoriously instructed:
“And don’t leave it so long next time!”
I won’t. Having one of the best record shops in the world in your home town carries with it certain responsibilities. And I know there are still some good second hand places I haven’t been to as well. This is going to be great.
And the CDs sulking in the hall? We’ll keep a few for in the car I suppose. But we already sold most of them last year, and most of the rest will now go to help fund this vinyl adventure!