Shops seem to open and close with alarming regularity in Brighton, especially the small independent traders, particularly record shops. Despite this, at least one name has remained throughout the economic ups and downs. The Record Album, the oldest record shop in Brighton, was established in 1948 and is still going strong today with the current proprietor, Mr George Ginn. He’s been dealing in records since the late 1950s, when he started buying records for himself and for his friends. He got the opportunity to take over the shop lease in the 1960s; he began to specialise in his main love, film and theatrical soundtracks, soon afterwards. However, Mr Ginn insists that his professional involvement in the subject and indeed, his presence in Brighton, is more or less accidental.
Born in 1930, the first film that George remembers seeing was ‘Camille’ starring Robert Taylor and Greta Garbo, when he bunked into a cinema in his home town of Portsmouth in 1937. After having been picked up by the scruff of his neck and ejected by the Commissionaire, it was some years before he saw the end of the film. George’s interest in film scores began when he and his boarding school moved to North Wales during the war (his home in Portsmouth having been bombed three times) and started once weekly visits to his local cinema. “If I had to identify one film which really inspired my early enthusiasm for musical scores, it would have to be ‘Kings Row’ (a 1942 film starring Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings and Ronald Regan) with music by Korngold” says Mr Ginn. “Korngold was a contemporary and close friend of Mahler, who called him a musical genius, and was reckoned to be the first child prodigy after Mozart.”
By the end of the war, George’s mother was staying in Nottingham. She had to move, but had no idea where to settle. “She closed her eyes and stuck a pin in a map. The pin was stuck in Brighton. I suppose we were lucky she didn’t stick it in the middle of the Channel!”
George maintained his interest in film and theatre throughout his time in the RAF, between 1948 and 1960. He also served part-time in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in the 1960s being stationed in Wartling with 3618 Fighter Control Unit, still operating the wartime Chain Home radar installation. His service with the RAF covered many postings, including Cranwell-Oldenburg in Germany and finally Tangmere in Sussex.
The Record Album moved from North Road, then to Queen’s Road and to its present site at 8 Terminus Road in 1983.
Mr Ginn stocks over 2000 soundtrack titles, mostly new and deleted material, including some second-hand as well. Horror and science fiction films are popular with his customers who range across all ages. He caters for classical music enthusiasts, having a very comprehensive stock. CDs are less attractive to collectors, he says, because of the cover artwork and the sound quality. As he puts it, “People buy CDs, but they collect LPs”. The continued existence of his shop proves there have always been enough ‘vinyl-junkies’ around who agree with him. Indeed, the recent years have seen the great vinyl revival.
The dramatic come-back of the LP has helped make up for the reduction in his once-thriving, pre-internet, postal business to collectors all over the world from Argentina to Australia, from Bali to Brazil. Over the years, George has built up international music contacts in USA, Japan, Holland, Germany, France and Russia and this enables him to find soundtracks as well as deleted classic and pop records. The cast of Dad’s Army, Simon Callow, Patrick MacNee, Richard Baker, Brian Eno, Steve Coogan, Keira Knightly and other names from the stage, screen and music industry have all visited his shop. The late Julian Slade, writer of the perennially popular stage musical, ‘Salad Days’, contacted him in 1994 to try and replace his own copy of the original 1958 recording. It is an indication of his contacts in the business that even though the composer was unable to obtain a copy, Mr Ginn had one in stock.
Although he refuses to be called an authority on the subject, when pressed, he did admit to being well-known internationally; he certainly has a formidable and wide-ranging knowledge. From early 1930s recordings, such as Laurel and Hardy, through to Hans Zimmer’s music for ‘Gladiator’ in 2000, if it’s a soundtrack or a recording of a musical score, The Record Album man will be able to tell you about it, and if it is available, he can get it. His own favourite period is the 1940s, especially the works of Max Steiner, who composed (among others) the score for ‘Casablanca’, Alfred Newman, Dimitri Tiomkin, Miklos Rozsa and other composers with a classical background. George thinks LPs are set to increase in value, so hang on to those old records in your collection (if you haven’t already swapped them for CDs or streamed music).
Which recording would Mr Ginn most like to own? “That would have to be the soundtrack for a Humphrey Bogart film, ‘The Caine Mutiny’. As far as anyone knows, there was only ever one copy in existence.” Now that’s what you call a collectable!
Highlights of his theatre-going over the years include Laurel & Hardy at the Brighton Hippodrome (their last tour in the 1950s); and at the Theatre Royal, Bela Lugosi in his last stage appearance in ‘Dracula’; Ingrid Bergman as the Israeli Premier Golda Meir; and Charlton Heston in ‘The Caine Mutiny’.
Nephew to Frances Griffiths, famous for the Cottingley Fairies photographs in 1917, George has an incredible work ethic. At an age when most people are enjoying a well-earned retirement, he still works 6 days a week in the shop which is open from 11am until 4pm, Mon-Sat. He’s just renewed the lease for another 5 years. “Hope over reality” he calls it. Great news, I’d call it. If you’re looking to expand your vinyl collection, what better place to start than in The Record Album?
Colette Wilson, updated with help from George, from Alex Fenton’s article originally published in The Whistler April 1994
Photo by James Kendall