Blast from the musical past at Left Bank record shop
By Devon Live | Posted: February 21, 2013 By Mike Byrne
IT was where you heard your first wax on Stax, listened to the Dells on the Chess label or just took a frothy coffee with your friends and enjoyed a little California dreaming.
It was the Left Bank record shop at 17 Paris Street where the Beatles met Zappa and everyone else in between.
For many the Swinging Sixties started in Exeter on February 23, 1963, when Richard Wilson set up what was to become one of the top record shops of pop music's golden age – classical upstairs, coffee on the top floor.
Now 50 years later Richard, former staff and customers are coming together on February 23 for a reunion to remember old and happy times.
They are all meeting up at St Matthews Hall off Lower Summerland, Newtown, that evening.
"If enough people are coming I'll even buy a barrel of beer," said Richard, who now lives in Cornwall and is a practitioner of the oriental healing art shiatsu and a qualified, advanced bricklayer.
He said: "February 23 is precisely the date in 1963 that the Left Bank opened thanks to my wife Charlotte dreaming up the idea and coming down, eight months pregnant with our third daughter Natasha to find Tony Fulford and his father at the estate agents almost directly opposite.
"The rent was a very reasonable £1,000 a year on a 21-year lease, the length of which would be unthinkable now.
"Not only was the rent £1,000 but so was the value of the opening stock of records, LPs, EPs (extended play) and singles.
"After eight years that became £30,000 so expansive was the record business, the welcome from the local people and the nature of the marvellous staff whom I am inviting back for the celebration.
"Their response, which is almost total, suggests they saw it as a halcyon era in their lives as it was for Charlotte, myself and our four daughters, Julia, Amanda, Natasha and Lucinda."
The store's real golden era was the early 1970s.
"By 1972-3 we had a turnover of £185,000 with an enthusiastic and wide range of customer," said Richard.
"I stocked in-depth pop and rock but also folk, classical, ethnic, light, orchestral, jazz and the spoken word. So good was the service from the major companies like EMI and Decca, I could offer to obtain a record within 24 hours.
"We opened only a few months after the release of the first Beatles' single and just before their first LP but the biggest seller, by some way, was Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Waters which topped 600, although I remember feeling very daring when my opening order for The Who double album was 150.
"It was heart-warming to discover about 10 years ago at one of their concerts in Worcester that Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, of Show of Hands, bought records at the Left Bank.
"Initially an integral part of the shop was a café upstairs – which led to Exeter University students asking if they could hold folk sessions there – and so the Exeter Folk Group sprang up. I think a kind of relaxed charm was the principal feature of the shop."
The Left Bank was sold to the shop Pitts in the late 1970s. David and Michael Wallace, who had the leasehold of Pitts in the High Street, took on the name and goodwill as well as some of the staff.
Sadly Left Bank, and Pitts, have joined the list of long-lost Exeter music haunts, like Caterpilla in Well Street and North Street, home of the short bloke with a beard and the tall bloke with a beard; Henderson's; Destiny One, Millets, Opus and the much lamented Martian Records in Gandy Street, founded by Ian McCord and Martyn Alford in 1989, who have all become memories for golden oldies.
Former customers or staff of Left Bank who would like to attend the reunion should text on 07565 539764 or call 01392 874475 and leave a message.
Read more at http://www.devonlive.com/blast-musical-past-left-bank-record-shop/story-18201566-detail/story.html#1ha9x7hJ4uRZGtqZ.99re to edit.
Looking for the Name of the Person that was the Owner of Pitts Record Store that replaced Left Bank Records in Paris Street Exeter in 1979? Thank you
Hello, I used to pop in every so often when I was staying either at the Royal Clarence Hotel or the Rougemont. I occasionally had to visit Exeter from my Cornish home when on auditing work. I remember buying some very tasty Jazz and Blues LPs e.g Muddy Waters on Chess.
I now live in Somerset and visit Exeter more often when the Covid allows. I can remember where the shop used to be and frequently point it out to my wife! Great days.
In the mid-seventies, I lived 20 miles from Exeter and used to visit both Left Bank and Pitts on the same day.
I don't recall the latter supplanting the former (Pitts was in the basement of a shop premises about a third of a mile along the High Street). It may have happened after I relocated in November 1977 to Bristol, where there were so many record shops that I don't think I visited either Left Bank or Pitts ever again, though I fondly remember both and (probably) still have a few LPs bought from each.
I started working in the Left Bank in 1972 - on Paris Street. When Pitts took over The Left Bank, Martin Dyer became our manager. As the lease expired approx 1984, we moved into Pitts in the High Street. I looked after the Classical sales in the basement, later moving to the first floor overlooking the High Street. In April 1988 I was offered employment by Sheila Delow in her Classical shop in the Guildhall Centre. Sheila & I had worked together in the Paris Street Left Bank. Sheila decided to sell Opus in 2004 - the shop was bought by Iain Oag. Iain was at the helm until early 2012 when sadly we closed. BUT I took on the Mail Order side of the business which is still in operation to-day!! Some 'heart' from the 1970s lives on even to-day!! Opus Classical/Nola 20/08/2021
I grew up in Exeter just 10 minutes walk from the Left Bank, I bought my first record there (a Slade single!) Saturday mornings a group of musically like minded friends and I would cram ourselves into one of the two listening booths to sample the latest offerings from Yes, Tull, Led Zep…happy days!
I’m so glad I was growing up in the 70’s, no CD’s, no Spotify, I still listen to 90% of my music on vinyl, including records I still have that I bought at the Left Bank.
I worked at The Left Bank for a few years in the early 70's. I think I started just doing Saturdays in 1971/2 when I was doing my A Levels. Then working school holidays, and then full time for about 18 months before going off to College in London. It was an incredible place to work - fantastic group of really knowledgeable staff, and really great customers. A very happy time.
The Left Bank was my first commission as an independent architect and came about through my school friendship at Bedales with Charlotte & married to Richard Wilson, The contractors, also friends (and eventually became Lewes Design Contracts) worked through the harsh winter of 1962/63 that made weekly site visits by mini van from London, particularly challenging.
When I lived in Exeter visited the Left Bank often from soon after it opened. My band of folkies could often be found in one of the booths listening to blues, jazz or folk records. First heard Dylan’s Freewheelin’ there and some Muddy Waters. One of our number, John Skinner I think, played a mean blues harp occasionally. After I moved to Somerset I would often hitch down and the Left Bank was the meeting place and often there would be a jam session up in the cafe. I remember Sarah making great milk shakes with all the trimmings! Happy memories and It forms an important part of my Exeter experience. It was the Left Bank that started off my lifelong passion for music. So wish it was still there . Many thanks to Richard for the vision.
Born in Exeter, 1948, parents moved to London for work. Spent many happy holidays visiting my Grandparents at their home in Regent street St Thomas’s. Middle teens made some good mates like David Milford and Steve Braunton and we would spend time at the left Bank. Also the Quay Club brings back many good memories. Christine Heyford from Exwick and my first love Jacquelin O. Bunker from Northernhay Street. A lovely lady but the distance proved too much what with trying to establish a career. Steve and Dave at Hay Tor, we did laugh a lot, plenty of Worcester sauce on them pasties. Yeah the Left Bank and Jackie are still with me today. Miss you all. XXX
- Mark Venning
Loved the Left Bank and the sound booth . Used to pop in for a whole morning or afternoon in 1972. While visiting my grandfather who lived in St. Thomas area and I'd take the bus in for a music adventure. Still have some rare LP's 50 years later living here in Canada.
I loved the Left Bank but don't remember the coffee shop
that place was so cool