Spinning back through time

Our story in June concerning the emergence of the distinctive yellow stripy Kempsters record shop bag evoked a lot of memories among readers

Our story in June concerning the emergence of the distinctive yellow stripy Kempsters record shop bag evoked a lot of memories among readers

First published in News Swindon Advertiser: Photograph of the Author by

FROM the rhythmic piano of Charlie Kunz and the classically-furnished duets of Layton & Johnstone to a quirky array of oddities such as Leslie Sarony’s Ain’t It Grand to be Blooming Well Dead and the beergarten hits of The Obernkirchen Children’s Choir.

There was no lack of music in pre-war Swindon… and no lack of music shops from which to acquire it all.

Our article on the discovery of a stripy paper bag in which Swindonians of various musical persuasions brought home their newly acquired rock’n’roll, punk, northern soul and chart records from Kempsters during the Seventies provoked some sepia tinted memories.

It also produced – from a reader who wished to remain anonymous – a cache of aging ten-inch 78s discovered in a battered old suitcase during a house move.

These scratchy old discs harked back to the days when local music shops, mostly in the “between the wars” period of the Twenties and Thirties, used their own customised and often fanciful sleeves in which to house the platters they sold.

Anyone purchasing a 78rpm recording from Lock’s, of 38 and 56a Fleet Street acquired their prized slab of shellac – the substance that pre-dated vinyl – in a cardboard sleeve illustrated with a classical Roman column complete with a harp-strumming nymph perched on the top and a bevy of fluttering fairies.

“10,000s of records always in stock” effused the sleeve on behalf of Swindon’s “radio and gramophone” experts.

Ten-inchers snapped up at AP Slatter of 5 Commercial Road were contained in a grey envelope-cum-sleeve that also advertised “pianos – cash or hire purchase” while trumpeting its position as “accredited agent for His Masters Voice and Academy Gramophones.”

Kerslake’s were based at ‘Melody House’, Regent Street (Tel: Swindon 526) with a branch in Cricklade Road. Their sleeves show images of what are now considered antique records players but at the time were state-of-the-art – one contained in a cabinet with a wind-up handle.

It stocked records on some of the biggest labels of the day: Columbia, His Master’s Voice and Itonia while also selling “all that is best in wireless”.

The only 12-inch platter among the crop (Barn Dance b/w The Valeta by Harry Davidson and His Orchestra, in case you were wondering) was released a decade or so after most of them.

And it was sold – da dah – at Kempsters. Or at least the emporium that musician Jack Kempster founded when he relocated to Swindon from Trowbridge in 1952.

It was called The Music Shop then, selling accordians and harmonicas along with records and sheet music. The plain brown sleeve, though, was a clear precursor to its well-known yellow and white successor, using the same familiar typeface.

Upon seeing the sleeve for the first time in decades, Jack’s son Jeff, 68, who stills runs the shop which continues to sell instruments but gave up on records 28 years ago, said: “This certainly predates the stripy one by some considerable time.

“The official trading title Kempster & Son was registered in 1976 but before that was ‘The Music Shop’, then ‘Kempster & Son (The Music Shop)’ until finally losing the Music Shop reference.”

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