Conspicuous Consumers: Robert Smith

During my 57-year career slaving working in record shops, I met, and served, a fair number of famous people. Each and every time I did so, I proved how unsuited I am to journalism; I was constantly tripping over my words, employing undeserved platitudes and making all of my well-known punters feel entirely ill at ease while they were supposedly shopping for pleasure.  After many of these encounters I stored away little ancedotes, which I’m going to regurgitate here, pretty much for my own amusement.  As a brief intro, I moved from Ayrshire to London in 1989 to escape unemployment, the fate of many a Scot under the Thatcherite regime.  As a stop-gap (they all say that, in the beginning), I began working for Our Price, a music chain store well known for harbouring knowledgable, witty, cigarette-and-coffee stenched staff, and attracting customers who were put off by both small indie-store snobbery and megastore impersonality.  Initially attracted by this potential slacker existence, I was, unfortunately, placed in an Our Price concession at the rear of the ground floor in Selfridges department store on Oxford Street.  Staff were restricted by Selfridges’ dress-code (shirts, ties, “non-aggressive” footwear), “no quibble” refund guarantee (‘you’ve had this 78rpm Andrews Sisters gramophone record for 68 years but you no longer like it, that’s no problem, sir’) and the kind of snooty, rich, upper-class twit clientele that no other Our Price store’s staff ever had to put up with.

The up-sides were that the largely wonderful staff (many of whom are still friends of mine) were steeped in jocular cynicism, and we also had a good, steady flow of celebrity traffic.  My first famous customer was one of their regulars, The Cure’s Robert Smith.  I was called through to help out on the classical music counter as there was, unusually, a queue.  “That gentleman there is first,” I was informed.  Oh shit, I thought, it’s Robert Smith senza makeup.  We didn’t have famous people where I came from.  He said hello, I trembled, he smiled, I smiled a hello back and grabbed his pile of about six CDs.  Only then did panic set in.  The CDs were not out ‘live’, we kept the discs behind the counter; I suddenly realised that classical CDs were filed by catalogue number and not alphabetically by composer – no one had shown me this.  Still, I had my pride, I wasn’t going to let that stop me from serving Robert Smith.  Only, I was. Ten minutes later, I was still crawling around the floor looking for the first one; the queue had gone, the classical assistant assumed I was fine and disappeared, and I had to make a bumbling apology to The Cure’s frontman for my lack of competence.  In all fairness to him, he was very nice about it.  Thank you, Robert Smith – since I became a music hack, I haven’t once reviewed a Cure product.  That’s because I owe you one.

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