Clock Tower

The Virgin record store

by Sedat Nemli

I was a student at Sussex University (Falmer) and lived in Brighton and Hove between the years 1974-1977. I remember the old Virgin Records building at the Clock Tower with great affection. After all, where else in those days could one actually listen to records before or without having to buy them ? I also recall one Steve Harris who worked there, a local drummer, first with the band Flatfoot, followed by the wonderful Amazorblades. The latter (whose best, sadly unrecorded, song was called 'Seven Dials'!) frequently played the Alhambra pub on the seafront which has also disappeared, I believe.

sent to website by e-mail on 05-12-2002
This page was added on 22/03/2006.
Comments about this page
My dad believes that this was the first Virgin records outlet in the country although websites appear to tell me otherwise. Do you know if this is true?
By Adrian Hemsley (09/09/2003)
I played in a jazz band with Steve Harris for four years. He is back in Brighton (2004). One of the best jazz drummers I've ever played with. My ex-girfriend's older sister who was at Sussex University in the early seventies, told me that the Virgin Shop would let the local homeless hippies crash on the floor overnight. Try doing that in the Virgin Upper Class Lounge at Heathrow!
By Josh Greifer (11/03/2004)
The original Virgin Records shop (where Boots now is) wasn't the first in the country - that was in Oxford Street above a shoe shop at the Marble Arch end. But it was one of the first, opening around 1973. The building was curved and on the corner - the main shop a three quarter circle with a further semi-circle on a raised level behind, covered in cushions and headphones. People used to sprawl there all day and there was a fair sprinkling of 'residents'. Anyone remember the friendly giant wino Black Dez now long dead?. Some of the original staff moved on to Richard Branson's recording studio and then offices - The Manor - I think it was. Suzie was the first manageress. The best bit about the back of the shop was the bootleg albums - hundreds of them. Before that the building was an automatic sandwich shop - everthing was served from dispensing machines - we used to be fascinated by it when I was a kid. Virgin moved up to a small shop on the left of Queen's Road some years later - roughly where the Albion shop is, and then to Western Road after that. I've still got a copy of the 'Farewell Virgin' record shaped invite I did for their closing party in Summer 1977. The party was held in the house I was renting in Walsingham Road, Hove, in the days when Steve was manager. Incidentally, that block which was demolished for Boots, also housed a dodgy downstairs pub next door - was it The Standard? They had a constant fight with the council over drag nights and strippers. Of course there was the Regent Cinema and Ballroom. I'm currently collecting data on 'The Big Apple' club that ran there in 1970-2, if anyone's got anything, get in touch?
By Paul Kaczmarek (11/05/2004)
Anybody have any photos of The Whippet Inn (formerly The Electric Grape and later The Crazy Lady)? It's still a pub on the left as you go up from the Clock Tower. I'm looking for pics of punks and skinheads in the pub, or anywhere round town from 1986 onwards' Any photos would be appreciated. www.punkbrighton.co.uk has loads of info on Brighton in the 70s. Cheers.
By Lex (12/07/2004)
About the wonderful Amazorblades - whose best, sadly unrecorded, song was called 'Seven Dials' - frequently played the Alhambra pub. They were one of a succession of bands who rehearsed in an improvised rehearsal space in a shared house in Ditchling, next to my room.
By John Traxler (27/10/2004)
This is for Paul Kaczmarek. I remember the Big Apple Club. I went there quite often and Donovan is the only person I can remember. That type of music has never been my forte. Were my memory to be jogged I could tell you more. It used to be the 'in' place to go and meet everyone, then it quietly closed down.
By Bernardo (18/03/2005)
I used to go in to Virgin, you could listen to loads of albums all day. I remember black Dez he would show you porno pics he had in a booklet. I was scared of him.
By Phil Hemsley (13/08/2005)
I remember seeing them at the Central Hotel opposite Worthing Central Station in 1970s. I loved 'em! Anyone know what happenned to them?
By Ray Hennig (14/02/2006)

The Virgin Records shop was on the corner and long before that (1960s) this had been a branch of a bank that was closed due to an amalgamation - possibly it was the 'National & Provincial' that became Natwest. Odd that eventually Black Dez reigned there.

By Adrian Baron (25/01/2007)

The Virgin Records shop opened 1971 or early 1972. While working at American Express, I rang Virgin in London and spoke to Richard Branson about getting a job in the shop when it opened. I left Amex in August 1971, so this conversation must have been before that and the shopfitting was already under way. (Nothing came of the job conversation.)
The bank was Barclays, before the pretentious building was built lower down North Street. See this for a photo of the bank:
http://www.citylibraries.info/pictures/default.asp
search for Brighton Town Centre, North Street.
The picture is "Marching Band, 1940s".

By Barry Parks (08/08/2007)

Barry is absolutely right - it was indeed a branch of Barclays Bank. They must have moved because it was too small, to say nothing of the noise of traffic going past.

By Adrian Baron (13/09/2007)

I seem to recall going to a Job Centre over the top of the building on the corner, unless my memory is playing tricks on me! I remember looking out to Burtons and the Clock Tower. Virgin stores was a great place to go.

By Jennifer Tonks (nee Smith) (17/10/2008)

Remember the Big Apple, I saw The Stones there.Mick Jagger wore a pink suit

By Peter Scott (04/10/2009)

I do remember going to the Virgin shop as a youngster - in 1973, I saw Genesis at the Dome and went to buy their latest album 'Selling England by the Pound' as it was on special offer at something like £1.89!! I remember noticing the Faust Tapes as a new album at only 50p - bought a copy and it was horrible, but money was tight and cheap records were a big draw for the shop. It did feel like entering a different world - from prosaic England of 3-day weeks into an exotic "Casbar", populated by old Hippies!! ;-) Frightening to a teenager, but exhilarating!

By Bruce Lindfield (15/04/2010)

I do remember going to the Virgin shop as a youngster - in 1973, I saw Genesis at the Dome and went to buy their latest album 'Selling England by the Pound' as it was on special offer at something like £1.89!! I remember noticing the Faust Tapes as a new album at only 50p - bought a copy and it was horrible, but money was tight and cheap records were a big draw for the shop. It did feel like entering a different world - from prosaic England of 3-day weeks into an exotic 'Casbar', populated by old Hippies!! ;-) Frightening to a teenager, but exhilarating!

By Bruce Lindfield (16/04/2010)

I remember spending most Saturday mornings in Virgin's during 1971 and 1972. The 1st album I bought in there was 'Salisbury' by Uriah Heep.

By Mike Bovington (09/12/2010)

I saw the Stones at Big Apple in March 1971 - I still have two photographs of them playing that gig. I remember Mick throwing a basket of daffodils into the audience and my friend Linda managed to catch it! Aah, what memories...

By Diana Lambing (19/12/2010)

"..played the Alhambra pub on the seafront which has also disappeared, I believe.." The Alhambra was a small venue and bar - but definitely had a great scene of Brighton bands in the punk era. I used to go every Friday night and play pool in the back bar with friends and you could hear the bands for free! It was similar in feel to the original Concorde, although that venue played host to nationally-known artists and was great for intimate gigs with great bands - total opposite of Concorde II. Sadly the Alhambra was knocked down to provide space for the Ramada Renaissance Hotel. After that the bands moved to the Zap club on the sea front and I played there a few times in local bands (bass/keyboards) and was once given a life membership badge as a regular performer!

By Bruce Lindfield (21/12/2010)

Lol, I remember Black Dez, I knew him as Desmond and if I remember rightly he used to carry a pair of bongos around with him. He was always in Virgin records crashed out or freaking people out. Cheers and happy days 

By Mike Peckett (23/06/2011)

I have just been reading about the old Virgin records store at the clock tower with a heavy heart. Seems really sad somehow that such an era can pass by especially as it was before my time. I knew about it but never set foot in it and can only vaguely recall seeing it but it has become a near mythical memory for many. Actually, I was reading something about it via Van Der Graaf Generator on their website and that triggered off a wave of nostalgia for something I never even knew. I also recall local face, Tony Green, regularly waxing lyrical about its virtues, particularly as a great place to get wasted on a comfy sofa whilst listening to some mind blowing music. Also, I used to hang out with a crowd of cats at The Electric Grape back in the early eighties and Steve, the manager of Virgin lived upstairs. He often lamented the loss of the old shop and then went on to run the new megastore when it opened. I imagine he had a private 'lounge' up in the executive suite. Ironically, it was Boots the chemist that forced the old shop to close and the demolition of the entire corner of the top of North street including the old Regent ballroom/cinema. Virgin later acquired the old Boots building in Western road for its megastore. Touche'

By Ian Van Groove (31/07/2011)

I remember, as a 16 year old, being in the Virgin store in Brighton near the clock tower in July 1972.  I was on holiday with my mate Nigel and staying at my Nan's in Hove. There were people lying everywhere, all with very long headphone wires disappearing into different sockets in the walls and you had to hurdle over this vast array of stoned looking hippie types and their accompanying stretched and twirly wires to get to the counter. Still, I bought Free Live and Free at Last from him that summer and helped catapult him towards the vast fortune he has today, and all achieved while wearing the jumpers that style forgot. Ahh  halcyon days.

By Leigh Buck (17/09/2011)

I loved going into Virgin record store at 15/16 years of age (in early 70's) ,sitting on the big cushions and listening to albums through headphones. I can only remember standing in a booth in Boots Western Road before that. Sadly my mother banned my sister and I going as 'it was full of hippies' and she was convinced we'd get headlice from the headphones!

By Belinda Lumsden (18/09/2011)

Ian Van Groove - your memory is playing tricks on you. I did manage Virgin and lived upstairs in the Electric Grape but I didn't go to the megastore! Having banned the hippies lying on the floor of the old shop, we all moved upstairs! I can still be be found 'lamenting' in Queens Road, even now recalling great catalogue numbers of the past for anyone who will listen. Find me at the Clock Tower every Saturday. I'm moving on to ISRC codes now - not like the good old days though!

By Steve (12/02/2012)

Before Virgin opened the shop at the Clock Tower, they had a small shop in The Lanes, opposite the Bath Arms...this proved too small and they took over the vacant shop at the Clock Tower which used to be a 24 hour vending machine place called The Automat.

By Ray (21/07/2012)

Ref-Bruce Lindfield, did you live in Hollingdean? Ref- Big Apple Club. I saw every band there, apart from the Stones, who played on a Wednesday night and I had to work - great venue, it had cushions to sit on, which of course were then thrown at the stage. There was a bar at the back. Best band I saw -Colosseum - and their live album has tracks recorded at Big Apple Club. Great times

By Terry (19/08/2012)

In the early '70s my friends David and Linda managed the Virgin store and I remember those days fondly. I also worked behind the bar at the Big Apple Club - sadly I can't remember many of the bands; the Stones and Pink Floyd stick in my mind.

By Cara Dunne (04/09/2012)

I am reassured by Ray's comment as I remember in early the '70s a Virgin record store at the junction of Union Street and Meeting House Lane, by the church now a bar (The Font?). Scruffy place, bearded soul in an Afghan coat that looked like a young Branson.

By Nick (02/10/2012)

I always thought there was a Virgin Records shop in Queens road on the left as you look up, about opposite the Seagull shop; this was before the corner shop at the bottom of Queens Road. I remember the Automat 24 hour vending shop before it was Virgin Records and I remember black Dez too, he used to frequent the Alhambra pub on the seafront.....

By Michael Brittain (04/10/2012)

I was a pupil at Lancing College and spent many an afternoon sitting on the cushions listening to records. Probably half my record collection (that I still have) was bought there. Uriah Heep's Demons and Wizards was bought there on it's first day of release back in early 1972.

By Mike Taylor (26/11/2012)

Ahh Virgin Records - an exciting and dangerous place for young teenagers, but oh, the music. Can't remember my first purchase there, but it would have been a Zappa album. Seem to remember getting concert tickets there too. And the odd bit of blow. Someone mentioned the Job Centre upstairs - they are right. I can remember having to go there when I got kicked out of school. The floor above that was used for the Young Explorers youth club. I well recall being there on a Friday night when an articulated cab lost control down Dyke Road and turned over and crashed into the shops opposite - it must have missed demolishing the Clock Tower by inches!

By Marc Turner (10/02/2013)

I remember Virgin records at the Clock Tower very well as I bought most of my albums there when I was in my teens. I used to listen to albums whilst sitting on the cushioned area with the headphones on and you could browse for ages without any pressure from the staff. I well remember when 'Dark Side of the Moon' by Pink Floyd was released in early '73, I was still at school and one afternoon when I went to buy it they told me they had sold out and they had about 50 coming in the next day. As I was in my last year at school I could go in late as it wasn't an exam day and went to the store at around 8.30am and there was a queue. I couldn't believe it, I had queued for tickets before but not an album. I was relieved when I finally got into the shop and bought my copy which cost me £2.20.

By Paul Clarkson (11/02/2013)

There was a Virgin record shop on the left of Queen's Road, which I remember opening before the big one on the corner. I worked at the Amex until July 1972, and shortly before that, went to the Virgin record shop (on the left of Queen's Road) during my lunch-hour. A few hours later, at tea break, wanting to pay for my tea, I found I'd lost my purse. The only place I'd been, was Virgin, so I went back, and there it was, still on the counter by the till where I'd left it.

By Renia (28/07/2013)

I don't think you are right there Ren. I'm sure that the "Boots" one opened first, then as I recall the smaller one further up Queens Road opened, I think probably about 1978. I think the "Boots Virgin Records" closed due to the development of Boots which went on for some years. Virgin moved up Queens Road during this period (on the other side), and when Boots moved to the new store, Virgin moved to the old Boots store in Western Road, a bit like musical chairs really!

By Peter Groves (29/07/2013)

I'm fairly certain it must have been a different record shop Renia. Virgin were operating as a mail order company until 1972. I'm fairly certain the shop openings were funded by Tubular Bells, which wasn't released until 1973. The later Virgin Shop up Queens Road was originally Hayden's Tailor Shop. I used to go to the upstairs flat to have tea with the Hayden's son, Matthew, who was at school with me. "Boots Corner" was for hippies, Queens Road for punks!

By Marc Turner (30/07/2013)

Anyone remember Hazel who was manager at the original Brighton Virgin on the current Boots site? Her partner Dennis was also working there (or was he just hanging out?). I think Hazel may have been the first manager of Brighton's Virgin Stores?

By Martin Sinnock (03/10/2013)

I was one of those sprawled on the floor of Virgin Records at the Clock Tower and one of those in the Big Apple club jumping around to the likes of Free and Wishbone Ash. Great days, great nights. Pity about the tinnitus.

By Pete (25/10/2013)

Those mattresses were filthy where you listened on headphones. Went in there as a shy school kid the day it opened and brought James Gang 'Rides again' and Alice Cooper's 'Love it to death'. The hippy girl asked if I was sure I wanted it! There were some strange folks hanging around there. A black guy called Des who had bottles of whiskey in his trenchcoat and was permanently out of it. Gong played there one Saturday afternoon. Virgin was okay, but I always thought Tiger Moth records in the Lanes was better and The Cottage was the best second-hand record shop ever!

 

By Mark (11/02/2014)

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