Why it's hard to mourn the loss of HMV

Peter Kammerer's sadness on hearing of HMV's troubles soon changes as he realises that the music stores he loved are already gone

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 4:53am

Like a vulture, I swooped through the doors of the HMV shop, ready to devour any clearance specials that might be on offer. Alas, my presumption that the British entertainment retailer's filing for bankruptcy last Tuesday in London would have early knock-on effects in Hong Kong was unfounded. But it was not simply the prospect of bargains that had had me waiting outside the Telford Plaza branch for opening time on Saturday; there was also a hefty dose of nostalgia involved.

Back before the internet, I haunted music shops. There is a belief that visually-impaired people love music and while blindness is a characteristic, not a definer, I fit the perception perfectly. Give me a genre and I will gladly explore its depths. But it was also through the many outlets for music that once existed that I built my geographic knowledge; I would hear about a new shop, make my way there to rummage through its racks, and then after a purchase or disappointment, check out surrounding streets.

A music shop was also a refuge and a meeting place. It was where the male of the species could confidently go while the girlfriend, wife or kids went in search of clothes, cosmetics or toys. There was no better location to rendezvous - the new releases could always be leafed through if someone was late. For those times when it was necessary to escape from life, solace always lay beyond the welcoming doors.

Online shopping and digital downloads have all but put paid to those pastimes and pursuits. Where once I had to budget a few hours to go in search of a specific audio fix, now it can be obtained in a few minutes without moving. It is just as well technology came along - high rents have forced shop closures, downsizing and diversification, leading to fewer titles and more clothing, games and gadgets. Consequently, over the past decade, I have rarely ventured into an HMV store or one of its ilk.

I got a taste of what I have been missing during a recent trip to Australia. Funky jazz drew me down some stairs off a Sydney side street and I found myself in a shop selling specialist music. The first thing I noticed was the long-forgotten smell: a mixture of vinyl, plastic, polish and Berber carpet. The guy at the counter was middle-aged, and as should be the case in any music shop, friendly, knowledgeable and just that little bit eccentric.

It was in such places that, as a teenager, I learned there is more to music than pop. Browsing in the sections devoted to blues, jazz, soul and punk, were people with a different take on the world and society. I found out about live bands and music bars, magazines and trends. Like-minded fanatics were encountered, some of whom became friends.

Such thoughts were in mind as I entered HMV on Saturday. A bargain might be had, but so, too, could be a hidden gem that had escaped the attention of reviewers. As it was, a compilation of TVB theme songs held slight interest; the vast collection of headphones compared to music was perplexing; and the rotation of Justin Bieber tracks was nauseating. Of course, music is for all tastes and that is what makes it so special. But as I rushed for the exit, I realised that as much as I lament the passing of the music store, I will not be sorry to see it go if this is its model.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post