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Virgin Records shop

This photograph shows an early Virgin Records shop at the western end of North Street. Nearby the Regent Cinema is closed awaiting demolition. Both of these buildings were demolished in 1974 and the site is now occupied by Boots the Chemists. A blue police box can be seen above the now filled-in public toilets under the clock tower.
Royal Pavilion and Museums Brighton and Hove

One of the first Virgin stores

The original Virgin Records shop which was where Boots is now, was not the first in the country. The first store was in Oxford Street, above a shoe shop at the Marble Arch end. But the Brighton store 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. Previously the building was an automatic sandwich shop. Everything was served from dispensing machines; we used to be fascinated by it when I was a kid.

Hundreds of bootleg albums

People used to sprawl around the shop all day. and there was a fair sprinkling of ‘residents’. Some of the original staff moved on to Richard Branson’s recording studio and then offices – ‘The Manor’ – I think it was. The best bit about the back of the shop was the bootleg albums, there were hundreds of them. Virgin moved up to a small shop on the left of Queen’s Road some years later, 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 the summer of 1977.

A ‘dodgy’ downstairs pub

The farewell party was held in the house I was renting in Walsingham Road, Hove, in the days when Steve was manager. Incidentally, the 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.

Do you remember?

Do you remember the Virgin Records shop? What records did you buy there? What about the ‘dodgy’ pub – do you remember that? If you can share your memories with us, please leave a comment below.

Comments about this page

  • Spent many a Saturday afternoon lounging around in Virgin c1973-4, listening to obscure albums on the headphones and then not buying them. A great way to pass the time and forget about the stack of homework I had to do.

    By John Wilkin (09/12/2013)
  • I was 16 years old in 1973 and I do remember the Virgin store. I also recall that the careers office used to be in the same building in the late ’60s until about 1974. I loved it as you could go in and browse for hours without anyone bothering you and you could strike up some great conversations about music with almost anyone. I remember buying Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd); For your Pleasure (Roxy Music) and Tubular Bells (Mike Oldfield) there. I also remember buying a couple of great additions to my collection at this store as I remember when David Bowie became popular and it was usual for fans to try and get most of the back catalogue, the very first LP on the Deram label was a hard find but I went in there one day there and it was for £1! I couldn’t believe my luck. I was also a huge Genesis fan as well and most of us were after ‘Genesis to Revelation’ that was on the Decca label. Again, Virgin got hold of some copies and I got one, this cost £2.25 which was a bit dearer but I had to have it. I still have them, both in pristine condition. I also saw a terrific support act at The Dome in 1975 called ‘A Band Called O’ (they supported Wishbone Ash by the way), the next day I went up to Virgin and they had their two LPs in the store, I would imagine they had them in stock as the band were playing in town but all the same it was great to get hold of them. My parents thought I’d gone a bit strange when they used to see me come home from school and say I was going to Virgin records and change into my tie-dye, jeans with a big red flare with my long hair that I just about avoided being expelled from school for!! Great days though.

    By Paul Clarkson (09/12/2013)
  • I can remember the record shop and bought the odd disc there. The Clock Tower toilet was very handy and I often used it when crossing the road. Also remember the police box – there was another police box at the bottom of West Street just before the George Pub backed onto the Ice Stadium car park

    By Dennis Fielder (09/12/2013)
  • Brighton in the 70s was just as ‘groovy’ as London. This venue was just down from the Station, cheap fares in those days and the way we all travelled. The Big Apple (back of the Regent), Virgin Records and, down the hill, The Dome: some of the greatest bands in the world played in Brighton. 

    By Ellie Roe (07/04/2014)
  • I lived in Croydon at the time but remember the shop and the cushions.  I also remember going upstairs to the original Virgin Records shop in Oxford Street (mentioned above).  The Brighton shop became a furniture store, I seem to remember, before the rebuilding as Boots – which, as with most such changes, delivered us a much less classy and less interesting building!

    By Adrian Figgess (28/10/2014)
  • Yep, we used to go there regularly and listen on the beanbags.  I purchased Tubular Bells there and some old T.Rex stuff as we’d seen them at The Dome before they became ‘stars’.  Sat next to Kevin Ayers once and he was beautiful.  After spending an afternoon there, we’d nip to The Dome to see acts like The Kinks, Ziggy Stardust, Monty Python, Free, Genesis, Roxy Music.  Tickets from the box office were about £1 – £2 and always great seats.  My appendix burst during Monty Python and I was taken to hospital that night.  I used to buy cheesecloth dresses from The Lanes and they had a particular wonderful odour which was mixed with patchouli.  We didn’t go to the ‘dodgy’ pub, as we were a bit young (still at school) and intimidated by the big boys.

    By Laura (and friend Nell) (01/11/2015)
  • Yes, I spent some time in the old “Virgin” shop. It was a pretty relaxed place and the idea was to listen to an album on headphones whilst sprawled over the cushions in the listening area. The shop smelt of patchouli or incense. I think that Steve Hillage and Gong may have played in the shop for free on one occasion. A regular there was Desmond, a tall, friendly, but usually incoherent black dude with a fondness for cider. RIP Desmond and the original Virgin shop.

    By stephen page (14/11/2015)
  • Good picture of the police box and toilets at the Clock Tower.

    By Dennis Fielder (15/11/2015)
  • I think the “dodgy pub” next to the Regent might have been The Galleon.  I remember going there with my sister and seeing the drag acts. Our parents did not know we went there, they would have been horrified if they had known – West Street was definitely “out of bounds” for us! 

    By Lesley Smith (05/01/2016)
  • I’m sure I’m right in saying that the Galleon was underneath the Regent and not next door.

    By Phil Lambert (06/01/2016)
  • The Galleon, my favourite place,  was indeed under the Regent. The room was shaped like a ship, with port holes and boarding. The best juke box in Brighton, the base sound reverberating through the boards.  If you went in to the ladies, there was an adjoining door which led into the Regent toilets, and then you could go and watch the film for free.  Naughty and wicked I know. 

    By Christine Possee (21/08/2016)
  • Loved this place. First album I bought there was Band of Gypsies. I used to sit there getting stoned, listening to sounds and talking rubbish. Good times.

    By Paddy Molloy (12/11/2016)
  • It really was the place to go – we’d head down there after school and feel really naughty, hanging out with the hippies and stoners.  But also, getting a properly good education about music.  I had tended to use Fine Records in the Lanes (Kaz would put me on the right track – he totally advised me to listen to Sandy Denny).  After he moved on, I started going to Virgin.  So many albums bought there – Floyd, Zappa, Zeppelin, Beefheart etc etc – plus of course Tubular Bells and the oddly disturbing Faust Tapes (which was only 50p!).  Happy hours rummaging through the bootlegs and imports in the back room.  And happy hours slouched on the beanbags with headphones on, listening to the potential purchases. I recall they’d put a really cheesy pop record on at 5:30, to drive people out – the Osmonds’ Crazy Horses was a particularly effective way of emptying the shop.


    By Marc Turner (16/03/2018)
  • I remember the toilets that were underneath the Clock Tower. When I was a young lad, more than once I witnessed some ‘unpleasantness’ going on in the Gents.

    By Hugo Rune (18/03/2018)
  • Oh yeah. I remember it well. One day. I sat outside for hours waiting for the store to open so that I could buy tickets for Led Zeppelin at Earl’s Court.

    By Tony (30/05/2018)
  • On visits to Brighton as teenagers, I remember sitting on cushions listening to music and feeling very grown up as we were only 14/15.  Then we would go over the road and buy a pair of ‘loons’.

    By Val (24/06/2018)
  • Got my Takoma imports from there. John Fahey, Leo Kottke. Funny smell, lots of cushions, coloured stickers on album covers. Now replaced by a Boots store which makes few concessions (height if
    I’m being generous) to the surrounding building environment and the character of the building(s) it replaced. Miniature modern brutalist I’d say.

    By NickB (14/08/2018)
  • I bought a copy of Tubular Bells at Virgin by the Clock Tower, when it was first released, I think 1973. I still have the copy numbered as V2001. It was a few years though before I found out that side 2 although labeled right was not Tubular Bells. I have no idea who it is on side 2. Of course, I bought the album again to get the second side to play properly. The wrong pressing is still in my possession, but I have no idea who it is…

    By Bev Pook (10/03/2019)
  • I still have an original Virgin records plastic bag from this store. I went to Sussex University in 1973 and spent many happy hours browsing here.

    By Felicity Cooke (05/05/2019)
  • I was also at Sussex University. John Williams had brought out a triple LP collection of classical guitar concertos. It was pretty cheap but I thought I’d go in there and see if they could get it cheaper. It took them a couple of days to get back to me and they could! I remember the LPs in wooden trays and wooden floorboards. It would have been 1972-May 1973 latest but can’t remember which shop it would have been. Around the time the first Pizza Hut appeared in Brighton.

    By Howard Lethbridge (05/11/2019)
  • Pretty certain the store opened in ’71. We used to spend Saturday mornings chilled out listening to great music relaxing on the cushions. I think the 1st album I bought there was Salisbury by Uriah Heep.

    By Mike B (06/01/2020)
  • I was friends with Chris the manager. Lovely black hair and beard and specs. He lived up by the racecourse and had a cat called Bebop. His house mate also worked at the shop. American Andrew too. I used to help out behind the counter. Downstairs in the basement was also a bit of a hang out.
    I have such fond memories.💕.

    By Heather Barnes. (28/01/2021)
  • Lounging across the huge soft coloured cushions, eyes burning from the incense and patchouli, we students from Sussex Uni were in heaven with our headphones on, listening , and sometimes buying amazing records at Virgin. Huge selection of bootlegs too, it was great, though could get crowded with folks eagerly waiting a turn. Coolest record store ever !

    By Oli Mitchell (05/11/2021)

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