Virgin, 126 North Street, Brighton, BN1 1RE and other locations.
It might be open to debate as to whether the curved Virgin branch that was located opposite the Jubilee Clock Tower at 126 North Street, Brighton, BN1 1RE which opened in 1971 and closed in 1977, was in fact the ‘original’ Brighton store. In 2012 a chap called Ray posted “Before Virgin opened the shop at the Clock Tower, they had a small shop in The Lanes, opposite the Bath Arms…this proved too small and they took over the vacant shop at the Clock Tower which used to be a 24 hour vending machine place called The Automat”. Then three months later in October 2012, a chap called Nick added “I am reassured by Ray’s comment as I remember in early the ’70s a Virgin record store at the junction of Union Street and Meeting House Lane, by the church now a bar (The Font?). Scruffy place, bearded soul in an Afghan coat that looked like a young Branson”.
The North Street branch certainly had some notoriety with the back of the shop littered with bootleg albums, and hippies lounging around on beanbag cushions all day. Apparently, Gong played in the store to maybe 15 people, with Steve Hillage sporting a long knitted bobble hat and sleeveless afghan coat.
My fondest memories were during their punk and post-punk days, when they moved across the road to the more compact 5 Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3WA, branch which was originally Hayden’s Tailor Shop. I was always in there and the staff got to know me. I remember tall Vic who had a massive smile and was studying at Sussex University and also a guy called Steve. Steve was pretty good at pointing me in the right direction of the latest releases as he knew my taste. I can remember being invited up to the staff room upstairs on occasions. I was most envious of the Tubeway Army 7” ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ picture disc adorning the wall, as I didn’t have one at the time. I have known people buy records just because of the covers. The only time I have ever done so was in this store, when I discovered ‘Europa & The Pirate Twins’ 12” by Thomas Dolby. I loved the boffin cover. When I got it home, I loved the record even more – result!
Branson’s empire had by now outgrown this site and so business was transferred to Unit 2, 157-162, Western Road, Brighton, BN1 2BB from 1985 to 1998. This new store included the two floors above street level as was initially occupied by DIY chain Fads until the mid 1980’s. Virgin was now solidly in competition with HMV. They were selling CD’s, books, posters etc. I can recall being late back to work one day as I got carried away flicking through the rows of music and immediately outside the store was to my surprise Björk with two older ladies in fur coats. I was a fan, but didn’t stop to talk – I wish I had. She was going out with Goldie at the time and he was playing in Brighton that night, I found out later, so it definitely was her.
Brighton’s final Virgin Megastore was at M S U 5, Churchill Square, Brighton, BN1 2TB, which was nearly opposite HMV on the ground level. The store had several levels and certainly was the business. It became one of their Zavvi stores. T.H. Baker Brighton jewellers now occupies part of the old site.
I don’t remember a record shop near the Bath Arms (though that’s not to say it’s not possible). If so, it was short lived, and must immediately predate the Clock Tower site.
“The North Street branch certainly had some notoriety with the back of the shop littered with bootleg albums, and hippies lounging around on beanbag cushions all day. Apparently, Gong played in the store to maybe 15 people, with Steve Hillage sporting a long knitted bobble hat and sleeveless afghan coat”.
The Alternative Brighton entry (1973) says: ‘Virgin, a place many people go to just to sit around and listen’, and in a separate entry: mostly rock lps at discount prices, some US, German imports, current singles at 40p, headphones and cushions, hypie effete place. (there was something of a snobbish backlash against Virgin among the older alternative cognoscente).
There was a curved rack that formed the back end of the counter that had the bootlegs and German imports (Kraftwerk, the Ohr label stuff – Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze etc). I recall the Gong gig, rather more than 15 people, but less than 50. I think Suzie who managed it went to Virgin’s recording studio The Manor later, and she’s on the cover for an album recorded there. Despite being fierce competition for us, she was always pleasant, and sent me postcards after she left).
“also a guy called Steve. Steve was pretty good at pointing me in the right direction of the latest releases as he knew my taste”.
Steve was the manager, and a great guy. He was endlessly frustrated they weren’t allowed to sell punk records (see the Fine Records entry above), especially as he was one of The Fall’s greatest fans. He was utterly frustrated when, being able to sell the Sex Pistols first lp the shop closed down days before its release for the move to the old Boots site on Western Road. I had a desperate week trying to keeping the album in stock, and much to Steve’s chagrin he was told by Virgin Head Office that as they were closed, he was to transfer me their 250 copies against my account to tide me over!
The first Sex Pistols album came out in 1977. so the closure mentioned above just before its release was prior to the move to the small Queens Road shop, not the Western Road megastore.