Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Virgin Records Coventry - 1973 Onwards.

Pete Clemons latest for the Coventry Telegraph -

Buying Records at Virgin.
Pete Clemons 

DOES your memory stretch back to when the Virgin Record and Tape shop used to exist in the Arcade close to the birdcage and the old Climax pub as it was then? As teenagers we all used to use it to buy our records and cassettes. Along with a good friend that I grew up with I spent many a happy hour in the place browsing through and chatting with staff about the new releases.

And yet, as much as I have since tried to research it, I can find no evidence of the actual opening. The shop just quietly appeared. There was no fuss and, unlike other record shops at the time, no advertising that I can remember in the local press. The shop simply went about its business in a quiet and effective manner. Or so it seemed.

Of course, unknown to us at the time, the opening of this humble g t tn shop, with I guess its then shocking name, was at the beginning of what would become one of the greatest empires in entertainment history. In fact the Virgin name would go on to, and 40 years on continues, to spread into many facets of our life from travel to banking and from media to health.

Virgin Records and Tapes in the Arcade, Coventry, which opened early to mid 1973, was one of the first of a dozen or so stores opened by Richard Branson. It followed on from the opening of his original store above a shoe shop in Oxford Road, London during 1971. A second shop quickly followed in Notting Hill and then the name was rolled out nationwide. Lots of music fans, though, were already aware of the name thanks to Virgin's very popular mail order operation.

A short while after Virgin had opened its doors a gig that involved David Allen and his band Gong was held in the parking area at the rear of the shop. Maybe this event marked the official opening.

Almost simultaneously to the shops opening nationwide the Richard Branson's next move was the creation of the Virgin record label complete with its distinctive Roger Dean design 'twins' logo. The labels first release was Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells' which proved to be an instant success.

The original guys that ran the Coventry shop were Malc, whose full name I cannot find, and Mike O'Hare. Both of them knew the music well and were very friendly and helpful people. They were also very open to what was happening in the music scene locally, created a much laid back atmosphere in the shop, and were always happy to help. Such as with a magazine that Trev Teasdel helped produce called Hobo. The shop was more than willing to sell copies as well as write reviews of new albums.

Malc and Mike even compiled a singles and album chart, for the magazine, of what was selling in the shop at the time.

Around 1974 Dave McGarry joined the team at the Virgin shop. During his stay there he developed a love of Texas music. He remained at the shop till around 1977. 'Texas' Dave McGarry, as he is now known, now resides in Australia and is renowned for bring the best Texas acts to that country.

Pete Waterman also moved into the Virgin shop during 1974. Pete, of course, moved his 'Soul Hole' record outlet from the 'I Am' store on The Burges to the top floor upstairs at Virgin.

Richard Branson, as has been proved throughout his career, is not the type of person to rest on his laurels. He knows that things must always be freshened up. During 1975, and to widen his roster of bands, he made an audacious bid to sign up The Rolling Stones. But that attempt failed, however 17 years later, he would realise that ambition.

From the mid to late 1970s the Virgin shop employed a number of local luminaries such as Gordon Montgomery and John Coles. Under names like 'Fopp' and nowadays 'Rise' Gordon would go on to build his own entertainment and music outlets. John Coles, of course, captured in great detail the early days of 2-Tone on film and even now continues to delight us with his shots. Stu Knapper of Coventry punk band Riot, original vocalist for The Specials' Tim Strickland, Chris Long of 2-Tone band The Swinging Cats and, the then, future drummer for The Specials, John Bradbury, all served time in the shop. These guys knew the music scene incredibly well at that time very and, in particular, John Bradbury certainly introduced me to a few new bands back then.

1977 saw an opportunity that the company just could not miss. Virgin records, I think it is fair to say, had become associated as an outlet for those with longer hair than most and had a little more of a laid back approach to life. That image was soon ditched when the record label made the master stroke signing of The Sex Pistols. They were soon followed by a host of other punk and post punk bands. This diversification of the music also spread to reggae and other genres.

The Virgin record shop was also attracting customers who were based in Coventry while studying at the city's various universities. Simon Frith, the celebrated rock music sociologist, frequented the Coventry store. Radio 1 DJ Simon Mayo apparently queued up at Virgin to buy Gangsters when it was released, while he was at Warwick University, while The Specials bass player, Horace Panter, in his excellent book 'Ska'd for Life' recalls standing in Virgin pretending to browse the record sleeves but really watching people buy The Specials 'Gangsters' single.

And in 1980 the 'Sent from Coventry' compilation album sold 8,000 copies in its first week as it went on to reach number eight on the UK Alternative charts. Local records stores like Virgin records played a large role in this success as did the then new Coventry music magazine of the time, Alternative Sounds, produced by Martin Bowes.

During the early 1980s Virgin had acquired the Charisma Records label, along with their back catalogue, which included the likes of Genesis. All of a sudden names like Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel became known the world over and not just on the underground.

After ten years the Virgin Record and Tape Shop in Coventry moved premises. During 1984 it had moved into The Precinct. The shops, or stores as they had now become, were rebranded as Megastores.

The company continued to grow and diversify as other artists like Soul II Soul and Janet Jackson signed to Virgin. This move would see their careers flourish worldwide. Branson eventually sold Virgin Music to EMI for in excess of PS500million in 1992 in order to finance other interests that the Virgin Empire was growing into.

Despite the sale the Megastore name continued under its new owners. By then vinyl was being replaced by compact disc and cassettes had almost disappeared. Games, phones and other forms of media were now being introduced as technology, and rapidly, advanced. But of course it advanced so far that music began to become downloadable. All of a sudden the physical product was not a necessity.

A management buyout in 2007 saw the stores rebranded as Zavvi but this was short lived as Zavvi, itself, entered administration less than two years later. Some of the stores were sold to HMV and this is where the Coventry store remains today.

Pete Waterman's Soul Hole record Store was upstairs at Virgins c 1974 - next two pics from Hobo Magazine 1974

Peter Waterman, John Bradbury, Pete Chambers and photographer John Coles in this pic of the Two Tone plaque launch at Virgin Records Coventry c 2009

John Coles and John Bradbury with the Virgin Records plaque.

Virgin Records Two Tone plaque again.

Trev Teasdel - editor of Hobo - Coventry's Music and arts magazine 1973 - 75 - on sale at Virgin Records during that period.

Among the many albums for sale was a very special one full of Coventry bands initiated by Martin Bowes - Alternative Sounds.

Stu Knapper of  Coventry Punk band Riot Act worked at the store in the late 70's - Riot Act youtube below.

During Stu Knapper's time at Virgin, Simon Frith - author of  The Sociology of Rock and a professor at Warwick University in the 70's was a regular visitor to the Coventry store. Simon was very familiar with the Coventry music scene.

Texas Dave McGarry worked at Virgin records Coventry c 1974 onwards before moving to Australia to promote texas Music artists touring down under. His story is here -

Hobo Magazine 1974 - Virgin (Coventry store) charts and album reviews by Virgin staff appeared in Hobo

Some of the Virgin Charts (Coventry Store) from Hobo Magazine.

VIRGIN RECORDS ALBUM CHART (Coventry Store) August 1973
Compiled by Mike O'Hare and Malc)
1 Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells
2 David Bowie - Hunky Dory
3 Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
4 Faust - Tapes
5 Santana - McLaughlin
6 George Harrison - Material World
7 David Bowie - Aladdin Sane
8 Genesis - Live
9 Clifford T Ward - Home Thoughts
10 Roy Wood - Boulders
11 David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust
12 Cat Stevens - Foreigner
13 Terry Riley - Rainbow in C
14 David Bowie - Man Who Sold the World
15 Lindisfarne - Live
16 Alan Hull - Pipedream
17 Mott the Hoople - Mott
18 Genesis - Foxtrot
19 Pink Floyd - Meddle
20 Beatles - 67-68

Virgin Album Charts (Coventry Store) October 1973
1 Rolling Stones - Goat's Head Soup
2 Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells
3 Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
4 Status Quo - Hello
5 David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust
6 David Bowie - Man Who Stole the World
7 Pink Floyd - Meddle
8 David Bowie - Aladdin Sane
9 Beatles - 66 / 70
10 Yes - Yes Album
11 Led Zeppelin - 5
12 Uriah Heap - Sweet Freedom
13 David Bowie - Hunky Dory
14 Yes - Yes Songs
15 Van Morrison - Hard Rose the Highway
16 Slade - Sladest
17 Budgie - Never Turn Your Back
18 Beatles - 62 - 67
19 Faust
20 Steely Dan - Countdown to Ecstasy

Virgin Album Chart (Coventry Store) FEB 1974

1 Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells
2 Leo Sayer - Silverbird
3 Roxy Music - Stranded
4 Yes - Tales from Topographical Oceans
5 ELP - Brain Salad Surgery
6 Who - Quadrophenia
7 Black Sabbath - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
8 Bob Dylan - Dylan
9 Gong - Angels Eggs
10 David Bowie - Pin Ups
11 Fripp and Eno - No Pussy Footing
12 Elton John - Yellow Brick Road
13 Santana - Welcome
14 Alice Cooper - Muscle of Love
15 Wings - Band on the Run
16 John Lennon - Mind Games
17 Faces - Faces Live
18 Donovan - Essence to Essence
19 Ringo Starr - Ringo
20 Nazareth - Loud n Proud

Virgin Album Charts (Coventry store) March 1974
1 Free - Free Story
2 Tangerine Dream - Phaedra
3 Joni Mitchell - Court and Spark
4 Deep Purple - Burn
5 Bob Dylan - Planet Waves
6 Wings - Band on the Run
7 Steely Dan - Pretzel Logic
8 Roy Harper - Valentine
9 Slade - Old, New and Borrowed
10 Incredible String Band
11 Eno - Here Come the Warm Jets
12 Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
13 Pink Floyd - A Nice Pair
14 Steeleye Span - Now we're Six
15 Sutherland Bros / Quiver = Dream Kid
16 Montrose
17 Lou Reed - Rock n Roll Animal
18 Mick Ronson - Slaughter on 10th Avenue
19 Carly Simon - Hot Cakes
20 Temptations - 1990
Virgin Album Charts (Coventry store)
1 Gong - Camembert Electrique
2 Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells
3 Rick Wakeman - Journey
4 David Bowie Diamond Dogs
5 Wings - Band on the Run
6 Uriah Heap - Wonder World
7 Sparks - Kimono
8 Tangerine Dream - Phaedra
9 Bonzo Dog Dog Do Dah Band - History of
10 Bad Company

Virgin Singles Charts (Coventry store)
1 Sparks - This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us
2 Bad company - Can't Get Enough
3 Montrose - Bad Motor Scooter
4 Brian Ferry - The In Crowd
5 Allman Bros - Jessica
6 Captain Beefheart - Upon the My oh My
7 Kevin Coyne - I Believe in Love
8 Jan Akkerman - House of the King
9 ELP - Jerusalem
10 Black Oak Arkansas - Jim Dandy


From Alternative Sounds c 1979 "We talked to Tim and John here. Virgin records have been open for 6 years in Coventry. They stock everything here (except from brass bands0 and are open 6 days a week. As they are a chain store, it means that they can get most records but there are often delays cos they don't deal with the distributors direct. A chart single costs 75p here. they also have discounts on the top 50 albums (about £1 off) plus various bargains in their 'cheap rack'. This is the only shop in Coventry where they have headphones for you to listen to records first" Martin Bowes.


Hobo Magazine Album Reviews from Mike O'Hare and Malc of Virgin Records Coventry c 1973/4

Here are the links to their album reviews on another part of this site. Complete with youtube.

1. Manfred Mann's Earth Band - Messin'
2. Clifford T Ward - Home Thoughts
3. Todd Rundgren - Wizard a True Star

Below is a sticker from Virgin band Gong which was given to me by the Virgin staff while I was producing Hobo magazine.


  1. Fascinating article M8....The vintage chart listings make fascinating reading too!....You may know about our Facebook group but if not...

  2. Thanks Mike, I didn't know about your Facebook page but have just requested to join and noticed you have posted a link to this post and article by Pete Clemons. Thanks, good to know it was appreciated. Trev Teasdel

  3. Great article, especially liked the old charts - a lot of love for Prog rock, which suits me fine!

  4. I well remember travelling on the Midland Red 747 bus from Goodyers End Lane in Bedworth to the city centre in 1973 to visit the Virgin record and tape shop in the lower precinct and then going to the Silver Sword pub for a lager when I was 15!
    Ah, the good old days, and then on to Brandon in the evening on a Halls Coach to see Coventry Bees vs Leicester Lions and others.