RENTON’S RECORD SHOP, HIGH STREET, LEAMINGTON SPA.
The following is about a shop that used to be here in Leamington Spa. I remember it as a teenager, before I went to live in London in the late 60s, but when I returned some years ago, it had unfortunately closed. Luckily both Kevin Renton and June Compton are still in the area and were recently generous with their time to talk about the shop. Matthew Wright
Arthur Renton lived in Tiptree, Essex and worked with his father in antiquarian books and stamps but his overriding interest was in antique gramophones and records, importing and exporting 78s, mainly operatic. He needed a shop to rent from where he could trade, in order to gain a franchise, and found one in Leamington Spa. He opened the shop in 1956 at 25 High Street, running it with his wife, Gwen, and living in the flat above with their son, Kevin. It was one of the very few places in the town to get records at the time, and it soon moved from selling only operatic recordings to the more financially viable market of current 45s and LPs, rock & roll, pop and jazz. A speciality in the 60s was Blue Beat and Ska singles which were popular with West Indian workers from local factories Flavells and Lockheed. It also gained a reputation for sheet music and books, and branched out into stocking guitars, strings and other instruments, supplying local schools.
After studying at Birmingham Art School, Kevin started working in the shop on a full time basis, around 1968, and the stock soon started to reflect his musical interests. These included jazz in particular, having seen Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Erroll Garner, the MJQ, Ornette Coleman and others performing at Birmingham Town Hall during the mid 60s.
June Compton worked at the shop and remembers it with fondness. She was told about the job by Ted Doyle and Johnny Thurston who were local disc jockeys at the Cavalier in Smith Street, Warwick. She worked at the shop from the mid 60s to when it closed. She remembers local musicians visiting – members of the Edgar Broughton Band, Selecter – and occasional visitors such as Martin Carthy and the Dubliners, who came to buy new strings when they appeared locally.
In the early 1970s the shop moved to larger premises next door at number 23, giving it more space for instruments. The shop had already benefitted from the 60s folk music revival and in the early 70s Kevin was taking more notice of world music. This resulted in “accumulating instruments and recordings from around the world; not a lot of them sold.” It coincided with the local area becoming something of an alternative enclave, with a political/radical bookshop, The Other Branch, and a wholefood shop, Cornmother, opening nearby and generating further interest in the shop. By that time the stock included improvised and world music, folk labels such as Lyrichord, Monitor and Folkways, as well as the music associated with Recommended Records, Kevin having become friendly with Chris Cutler of Henry Cow. Increasingly he became involved in this area of music, and after the shop closed in 1984, he used his skills in making instruments, largely from wood and recycled materials, working in schools and community ventures.
- March 10, 2013
Kevin talks about a life in music, from Rentons Rare Records to playing home-made instruments (watering can, anyone?) on TV’s Blue Peter and in many local schools.