“It may not be a post office any more, but it still delivers”
Situated in an area sometimes dubbed the North Norfolk Rivieria, Holt Vinyl Vault began life as a record shop based inside a working post office, where customers could browse the LPs while sub-postmaster and proprietor Andrew Worsdale served the queue of customers posting parcels or wanting their passport applications checked.
Queuing in most post offices is a chore. You’re bombarded with adverts from a TV screen while waiting for a booming voice to direct you to “Cashier number 12, please”. It was a lot more relaxed at the Vault, where Andrew played classic rock or reggae while you waited to tax your car or buy your stamps. Soon, following rave reviews in Record Collector and The Guardian, customers more interested in Graham Bond than premium bonds began travelling from all over the country to visit this unlikely emporium.
After leaving university, Andrew worked in London in the civil service while his wife Jane was a teacher. The couple would spend weekends exploring the beaches of England’s east coast, and eventually took the life-changing decision to relocate to the seaside town of Sheringham. Jane remained in teaching and the couple bought a post office in the town for Andrew to manage. The building had plenty of spare space and, inspired by the record fairs he frequented, Andrew filled it with pre-owned records. This proved extremely popular and soon attracted plenty of local publicity.
After he had been trading from the premises in Sheringham for three years, Post Office Limited decided to close Andrew’s branch. Undeterred, Andrew moved his vinyl operation and his postmaster’s datestamp to a post office in the nearby market town of Holt where in 2010 he opened Holt Vinyl Vault. The shop is much larger than the Sheringham branch, and he filled the extra space with lots of new as well as vintage vinyl.
The Vault became famous worldwide after it was featured in the Tim Burgess book Vinyl Adventures from Istanbul to San Francisco (a bit more glamorous than Vinyl Adventures from Istanbul to Holt, Norfolk, I presume). The book is the story of how Tim, the Charlatans singer, goes on a journey to track down vinyl recommendations suggested by his famous friends such as Johnny Marr, Paul Weller and Iggy Pop. Andrew is proud to have had in stock three of the albums Tim’s friends had asked him to obtain.
Tim Burgess had been living in Holt for a while before writing the book. He would pop in to the shop to collect record-shaped packages sent to him in the post and often came up to the counter with a selection of vinyl from the racks under his arm. Andrew was keen to engage Tim in conversation but, being so busy with post office duties, it was months before he had the chance to introduce himself. From then on whenever Tim paid the shop a visit the two of them would discuss music and vinyl. Tim featured one such chat – about Dexys Midnight Runners – in his book to illustrate the way old-school record shops bring people together to share their love of music in all its variety.
Another of Andrew’s less famous customers was a shy young man known as Bobble Hat, since you could always rely on him to have his woolly hat on whether it was sunny, rainy or snowy on the North Norfolk Riviera. He came in several times a week, investing most of the wages he’d earned as a kitchen porter on mountains of vinyl, which he’d carry home in various teetering boxes to his bedroom in his father’s house down the road.
It took Andrew a while to become attuned to this customer’s needs. It was clear that Bobble Hat did not have much money, so Andrew was keen to help his limited funds go as far as they could in building a credible, and reliably curated, record collection. Naturally shy, Bobble Hat would creep up to the post office counter and whisper a band or artist’s name, such as Simple Minds. This was Andrew’s cue to explain that he was once a big fan of Jim Kerr’s band, and that although he had albums from throughout their career in the Vault, Bobble Hat might consider not carrying forward his stake in the band beyond 1982’s New Gold Dream LP, after which, in his considered opinion, their cold wave deftness and wistful angularity of sound gave way to stadium rock bombast.
“Trust me,” implored Andrew, seeking to build a solid bond in the record-buying heart of Bobble Hat, as he recalled witnessing the first flush of the band’s painful, though undeniably lucrative, decline “from ballet to ballast”, while hanging dejectedly from the balustrade at Hammersmith Odeon in 1983. That said, the indicators had already been there in the shape of their release Sparkle in the Rain, which in his view was the worst-produced album ever released in the UK.
Alas, Andrew’s impassioned advice went unheeded. Bobble Hat was revealed as a Simple Mind-ed completist and continued to assemble his Kerr and co. vinyl collection before moving on, with unerring alphabetical logic, to Simply Red where the same scenario unfolded. Before long, he was targeting Rod Stewart, at which point the public servant ethos of the self-styled spinning subpostmaster compelled Andrew to offer Bobble Hat the view that after some classic early albums, Rod’s Smiler album was the dividing line between “divine rock god Rod” and “dreadful, dad-dancing, disco lothario Rod”. Again, Andrew’s advice fell on deaf ears as Bobble Hat wanted, quite simply, to own every Rod album in the known world.
Next, breaking the alphabetical sequence it was Everly – Don and Phil, in every known singularity or combination, then Everett. Which Everett, though? It turned out that it didn’t matter: Betty, Roy, Vince, even Kenny – Bobble Hat bought every record he could find in the Vault with Everett on the label or sleeve. Next, he moved on to artists featuring the word “everything”. He quickly purchased all the Everything But The Girl records, before making a request that was somewhat premature: he wanted everything by media darlings Everything Everything, who hadn’t actually released anything on vinyl at the time.
The shop also had its own JR Hartley moment. Anybody who watched TV in the 1980s will immediately recall the fictional character who appeared in an advertising campaign for Yellow Pages. The advert showed an elderly gentleman asking in several pre-owned bookshops for Fly Fishing by JR Hartley. No bookshop had it in stock, and the old man goes home dejected. His daughter, sympathising, hands him the Yellow Pages, a pre-Google phone book publication, listing all the different businesses in the area. After phoning numerous shops without success, he finally locates a copy. He is delighted. The shopkeeper asks for his name, and he responds “My name? Oh, yes, it’s JR Hartley.” The advert was voted one of the best of all time.
Fast forward nearly 30 years and one Ian David, a charismatic gentleman who had enjoyed a short-lived pop career, had been searching the UK’s record shops for a copy of his 1989 single “I Must Just Leave A Kiss”. His search had been fruitless, but he was determined to obtain a copy to prove to his daughter that he once had a pop career. One day he called in to Vinyl Vault and asked Andrew if by any chance, he had a copy of his record. To his amazement, Andrew replied he might. A few days earlier a man had come in wanting to sell a vinyl collection that had belonged to a recently deceased BBC producer. Among the records in that collection Andrew remembered seeing a sleeve image that could have passed for the face of the man now standing before him, 28 years after the picture on the sleeve had been taken. I have a theory that record shop owners would make great detectives, because they are so good at tracking things down. This was a great example. Sure enough it was the long-forgotten single that his customer was looking for. Everybody won. Ian David was over the moon. His daughter was delighted to receive a record sung by her dad and Andrew was chuffed to dispose of a record he thought he was unlikely to sell.
In addition to some singular customers, Holt Vinyl Vault has many unique features, one of which is the shop’s mascot, Jonny Record created by Andy Ward, who adorns a plethora of postcards, badges and flyers. Andrew still uses the original wooden counters from the post office, and the back room has a two-way mirror, originally used so the postmaster could keep his eye on his staff. The shop also has two large safes, so Andrew has no problem storing the day’s takings – although on a dark, cold, winter’s day in Holt, a piggy bank might suffice.
Sadly, for post office fans, Andrew was forced by yet another reorganisation of the post office network to relinquish that side of the business at the end of 2016, and to concentrate on being a stand-alone record shop. At least this means he is no longer plagued by jokers asking for post-office related records, such as “Return to Sender” (Elvis); “Please Mr. Postman” (Marvelettes, Beatles or Carpenters); “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” (Stevie Wonder); and “Telegram Sam” (T. Rex).
The shop still looks like a post office from the exterior. However, the original, lit-up Radio 1 ON AIR sign and various Jonny Record-related posters in the window give the game away. Inside, it looks as if a designer with a penchant for bees has been let loose. The long-suffering post office carpet has been ripped up and everything – floors, walls, even chairs – is painted black and yellow.
In 2009, Andrew published a novel FM247: This Is Radio Binfield! written with his best friend Rob Spooner. It is the sort of book most music fans will enjoy (myself included). It tells the story of The Emperor, a DJ from the community radio station, Radio Binfield, who experiences a mental breakdown during the search for his childhood friend, The Captain, whom he betrayed. The Emperor presents his all-time favourite 100-song countdown. The songs are presented as vignettes in the style of his favourite DJs from his youth, who used to broadcast on the fictional Radio Fun from the 1960s to the 1980s: Tony Sideburns, Simon Mates, Johnnie Talker, Steve Trite, Mike Lead and the legendary John Zeal. The songs eventually come together to tell the whole story. Buy a copy from the shop and help Andrew reduce his stockpile. You won’t regret it.
One of the most rewarding responses to my own book, Last Shop Standing, was that of the many vinyl fans who subsequently kept in touch by informing me of how many of the 50 record shops featured in the book they had visited – rather like soccer fans attempting to visit all the football grounds in the country. Some asked the shop owners to sign my book. Anybody trying to do something similar with this book will find that Holt Vinyl Vault is located many miles away from any other record shop. My tip would be to visit the area on a sunny weekend. Look through the shop’s wares and buy one of its iconic Punk Office T-shirts, along with a copy of Andrew’s book. Spend the rest of the day on the beach and return for one of the regular Saturday-evening events, when the shop is transformed into a nightclub with Norfolk legend DJ Trevor Half Nelson behind the decks playing reggae and Northern Soul. Later in the evening Andrew, in the guise of Postmaster Flash, magically takes over playing music by anyone from Sun Ra to his personal hero Prince. You may be lucky enough to catch a set by one of the guest DJs such as funkmeister Sugar Beat, disco don Hitman Hawkins or indie expert Shelia Take A Bow.
These are nights when cheap booze and classic music combine to heady effect, and are popular with visitors and locals alike. North Norfolk has golden beaches and a classic record shop, so it is a trip you won’t regret.
This extract is taken from the book The Vinyl Revival and the Shops That Made it Happen.
I asked Andrew about what releases he enjoys from Proper.
“As well as new releases Proper has some fantastic back catalogue . I am a big fan of the Charly label and their Northern Soul double LPs are superb. I do very well with the Funkadelic and Townes Van Zandt catalogue and the label has a great selection of those artists”.
If you would like to be Proper’s Featured Store, contact Graham Jones.
Holt Vinyl Vault
Tel: 01263 713225
Monday – Saturday: 10am – 5pm (Sundays in school summer holidays)
Holt Vault Vinyl
1 Cromer Road,