Anyone who remembers 'Ear 'Ere In Lancaster knows what I mean. It was a cosier and friendlier version of the record shop in Nick Hornby's Hi-Fidelity. It was also where you could get tickets for gigs at all kinds of places around the North of England.
But from my early forays in there after school, to look meaningfully at prog album covers from the likes of Genesis and King Crimson, to the more serious record buyer I became it was the centre of my world.
I remember going in as a young teen one Saturday and looking through the racks. Some lad approached me and asked me what music I liked. He was probably just being friendly, but it seemed at the time to be the equivalent of the "got the time, mate?" question at a concert or football match. So I bolted and caught up with my Mum on Lancaster market. Back then there was a ferocious mob called the Marsh Mods who had lined up outside punk gigs and battered anyone in sight. Then there was the Morecambe Punks who would use belts and chains to mash anyone who crossed them. We developed myths and scare stories about the violence these gangs would inflict on you. Most of it wildly exaggerated, but it hung over you and was a caution not to stray too far from safety.
But in reality Ear Ere was safe neutral ground. As I became more confident (cocky?) I became a regular in there. You could listen on the headphones by the counter, get recommendations from the staff, especially one character who worked there called Malcolm. The manager was Roger, or to most of us "beardie". A nostalgic Facebook post earlier has elicited the comment from an old mate that these guys had as big a stamp on his musical DNA as John Peel.
You could put your name down to pre-order records and it was the first time I'd use a nickname rather than my surname with adults. I remember a few of us sneaking out at lunch break from school to buy Going Underground by The Jam in 1980. Swaggering back in with possession of the fastest selling single of that era.
I used to be in awe of people who would ask for rare records that they didn't have in stock, but would get the staff working hard looking through books and old stock lists and seeing if they could try and order it for you. They'd also sell fanzines, a few t-shirts and badges, some they'd even give away, but mostly it was shifting units in the golden age of pop music.
And these plastic bags were such a status symbol around school. You'd cart your school books to lessons in an 'Ear 'Ere bag, the height of cool, but woefully impractical for such a purpose.
I don't buy much music these days, but I fervently stick to the principle that the local record store is a totem of a civilised culturally advanced society. So when I want a new album by a band I still follow slightly slavishly - Elbow, Manics, etc - then Piccadilly Records in Oldham Street, Manchester get my custom. I also love their devotion to new music and always sample something new from their top 100 of the year. It's hit and miss, but those moments of serendipity are what makes life interesting. It's what has always made life interesting - so on this day of all days, I raise a glass to the greatest record shop ever - Ear Ere in Lancaster. May perpetual light shine upon your memory.