Described by famed Liverpool music writer Paul Du Noyer as "the semi-official control room of Liverpool music", the Probe story begins when in January 1971, when former Cavern regular Geoff Davies established the shop in Clarence Street, halfway up Brownlow Hill. As Du Noyer states, "All he (Davies) wanted was a decent place where he could buy the records he couldn’t find in the shops." Originally a beacon of the underground/hippy movement, stocking radical publications and fanzines as well as music, the shop’s location and its aesthetic may have changed over the years, but it has always reflected the cutting edge of Liverpool’s music concerns.
I had the good fortune to be a student in Liverpool between 1974 and 1977. I still have many of the records I bought in Probe on Matthew Street, over the road from where the Cavern was and, presumably, is now reincarnated. They also had a branch in Penny Lane. They stocked jazz and blues as well as rock and were supportive of the punk scene, particularly local bands. Big in Japan were pretty big in Liverpool too. Their singer, Jane, I remember as rather peculiar and fearsome. She had been in another band previously, but I can't remember who they were.
My favourite memory of Probe is asking them if a second hand Commander Cody album I found in their rack was any good. They said it was, and they were right. Phil Abel Sound of the world forum.
I didn't give a shit about music until I walked up Probe's stairs on Button St Liverpool back in the 80's. Comment: Hopfrog
I grew up in Liverpool and started visiting now legendary Probe records in about 1980. As well as the names you mentioned I recall Wayne Hussey from the Mission either working there or hanging out a lot. Visiting the shop filled us with excitement and trepidation. If the stellar staff cohort didnt like what you asked for you may be sniggered at, your taste openly questioned or in the case of Paul Rutherford, given a silent impassive shake of the head when asked if they had a copy of the first New Order single!
Burns was scary, but his Dead or Alive drummer buddy who also worked there was, despite his fearsome appearance, quite helpful. He invited me to stick my nose in the sleeve of a certain Damned album. After a moments hesitation, I did so and detected the scent of Strawberries. He grinned in childlike glee!
Fantastic times, fantastic shop!
Thank you Probe!
Formerly of L13
I was served by Pete Burns (massive bloke incidentally) in Probe - he would denounce you to the whole shop if you bought soemthing he thought was 'utter shite' Bought Tago Mago in there. Comment: Al Tutt.
(Apr 21, 2014) Anonymous said:has every one forgot allen parkin re allen day made egs possible
(June 20, 2013) Anonymous said:I remember when Probe opened in Clarence St, not far from Liverpool institute where I went. How did they get so much stock in such a small space? I bought the Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour" album their on import - and the 'All Things Must Pass' box set at a massive saving. - Murray
(July 9, 2015) In the 70s Julian Cope and other Liverpool characters of the period worked at Probe Records. John Poole
Never saw Cope in Probe, John, but Pete Burns and occasionally Pete Wylie often put in a stint behind the counter. Burns was notoriously rude if asked for a record he disapproved of. Hugh Weldon.
( March 18, 2016) I visited Probe in the early eighties when I was in the record retail business myself. I don't remember the address but it was a corner site - might have been an old branch of a bank or something -and I went up some round edged stone steps to get in. When I walked in my first reaction was that this was the dirtiest untidiest shit hole I had ever stepped into. By the time I left after about an hour I thought it was - and still do- the best record shop I had ever been in. I learnt something about retailing that day. Because what they did was have the right stock in the racks and presented it in such a way that the shop was greater than the sum of the parts. It didn't matter whether they had what you wanted you just knew you had to buy something here because the very act of buying from them was such a cool act in itself. That in retail is the holy grail. Thanks Probe. Comment:Truats Heytarl
Record Collector August 2016
Wouldn't have fancied your chances trying to buy Communique by Dire Straits tbh - even at £3.99
David Fisher@thefish1962 · Oct 24@RamAlbumClub He bollocked me for buying a Clash single.
John Black@JB_1964 · Oct 24@thefish1962 @RamAlbumClub He told me "We don't sell that shit in here" whenI asked for a copy of 2112.
ampersand@andyglaves · Oct 24@RamAlbumClub He would stare right into your soul, pout, and then either serve you or tell you to do one.
RamAlbumClub@RamAlbumClub · Oct 24To: Netflix Subject: Idea for new film Synopsis - Like High Fidelity but with Pete Burns throwing shade to the punters in Probe Records
Gnom Icide@GnomdePlume · Oct 24.@RamAlbumClub took 30 minutes to pluck up the courage to ask how much that Kiss picture disc was. Still waiting for an answer.
RamAlbumClub@RamAlbumClub · Oct 24RamAlbumClub Retweeted Nigel Campbell
DID ANYONE ACTUALLY MANAGE TO BUY A RECORD OFF HIM WITHOUT A DRAMA?
Nigel Campbell @nigelccampbell
@RamAlbumClub distinctly remember loitering in the corner waiting for him to be busy if I didn't think he'd approve of a record choice
Haloween 🎃@EatMyHalo · Oct 24This is brilliant, people are sending @RamAlbumClub memories of being shaded off by Pete for their music choices when he worked in Probe #ff
Jeff@ellibin · Oct 24@RamAlbumClub #PeteBurns literally threw my copy of OMD's 'Enola Gay' single across the counter at me when I ...
Pete once refused to sell me a Half Japanese box set in Probe one Saturday afternoon. "I'm not lettin' yer waste yer money on that shite..."
Paul McGee added,
Woozle@the_woozle · Oct 24Such sad news about the death of Pete Burns. The anecdotes about his time working in Probe Records shared by @RamAlbumClub are wonderful tho
Neil Scott@66zimbo · Oct 24@RamAlbumClub I got a perfectly civil, 'There you go, queen.' Bit disappointed, truth be told.
Tony Schumacher@tonyshoey · Oct 24@RamAlbumClub we dared a mate to go in and ask for Long Haired Lover From Liverpool. He nearly got stabbed. It was great fun. #RIP
chris shepherd@chris__shepherd · Oct 24@RamAlbumClub I liked it best when PeteBurns sold albums wearing his completely black contact lenses and watching the scallies freak out.
Clare McDonnell@Claremacd · Oct 24@RamAlbumClub told me to put a Japan single back and pick something decent...
Jillster@jilljanoully · Oct 24@RamAlbumClub Asked for Julian Cope album, curled his lip, said 'He's a prick but he's our prick. Go 'ead.' #Memoriesofashopassistant
Nigel Sarbutts@NigelSarbutts · Oct 24Nigel Sarbutts Retweeted RamAlbumClub
Brings back so many teenage memories of being terrified and fascinated by Pete Burns in Probe Records. Those black contact lenses.
Nigel Sarbutts added,
“Pete Burns - Memories of a Shop Assistant”
Robby Brookside@RobbyBrookside · Oct 24Robby Brookside Retweeted Wrestling Arcade
I went into Probe records at the age of 14 & asked Pete Burns for I Hate People by Anti Nowhere League. He fell to the floor in hysterics.
Robby Brookside added,
Wrestling Arcade @WrestlingArcade
@RobbyBrookside I found this earlier https://twitter.com/i/moments/790630684754866176 … "Pete Burns - Memories of a Shop Assistant"
RamAlbumClub@RamAlbumClub · Oct 24Honestly, I'm binning the album club book and gonna start a new one based on people trying to a record off Pete Burns.
Name Pete C Comment: Pete Burns was not the only Professor of Sarcasm at the Probe University of Abuse. I tried to buy a copy of Pil's Metal Box on the evening that it arrived in the shop. I had to endure being put in a headlock, having my face licked and other 'initiation' style ceremonies before being allowed to make a purchase. ( Dec 26, 2016)
I was 14, and shitting myself bought a single off him, I wish I could still remember what it was - it would've been something pun - he must've approved of my choice, or else couldn't be arsed as the transaction passed off without incident and came away unscathed much to my relief - then we walked up the road to Eric's for the Saturday afternoon matinnee show, and fuck me he's on stage as the support act in his band Nightmares in wax
I worked at H & P Marsdens from 63 to 69 and remember Sue who ran the record dept. What happened to you?
The shop closed down in 1983 after the owner passed away.
Anyone know anything else about the shop please add?
The original "Probe" was in Clarence St. I bought George Harrison's All Things Must Pass in 1970 there which I've still got.
I used to go out with a guy in the early 80s who worked at probe….big muscles and a crew cut but I can’t remember his name! Any clues anyone? In those days, Pete was prepared to sign his autograph on a Dorothy Perkins bag…
Loved that place so much. A regular weekly hang out as a 16yr old into music.
Punk Rock An Oral HIstory John Robbb