“The story of how a family run record shop has faced adversity and tragedy but with support from the local community are still bringing pleasure to the music fans of the Boston area”
Fanatical Sunderland football fan Gareth Skinner has established his shop Nevermind as a meeting place for music fans on the cobbled streets of Boston. He is happy to chat to all his customers over a cup of tea about anything music or football related. The shop stocks all types of music but specialises in punk, metal and rock.
Gareth started working in a record shop earlier than most people. His dad owned Discount Records in Durham and from the age of 6 he would spend a lot of Saturdays and school holidays accompanying his dad to work. When Gareth was aged 10, his dad closed the Durham shop and opened The New Record Inn on Sunderland’s high street. It was next door to a Sunderland landmark, the fondly remembered Old 29 pub. It was demolished many years back but was a haven for live music in the city. The shop did a roaring trade in ex-jukebox singles. These were 7-inch singles with the middle punched out and, as jukeboxes had to keep up to date with the latest releases, the companies that ran the operations would flog the old stock off cheap to record shops. The shop would do a roaring trade at 25p each, or 5 for a £1. It was also a major vendor of pre-owned comics which his dad would buy in huge quantities from the USA. Gareth has fond memories of taking his break in the basement, sitting on a huge pile of comics whilst reading some of them. He would sit opposite an iconic poster on the wall of Frank Zappa sitting on the toilet, known as the “Zappa Krappa” poster. Zappa once joked that he was probably more famous for that poster than anything else he did. Young Gareth thought the sight of a man sitting on the toilet was very amusing.
Soon Gareth was given his first opportunity to make money as his dad put him in charge of the badge board. These were the days of punk rock, and button badges were incredibly popular. Selling them at 20p a badge, he experienced his first taste of business. Like all good family concerns, Gareth kept his money in the family by using his wages to buy Marvel comics. Working in a record shop means you will often be recognized on the street and Gareth recalls, with no fondness whatsoever, people commenting “There goes the little ginger badge boy from the record shop” as he walked around Sunderland. His dad decided to expand, and they moved to a new location and re-named the shop Chartz (probably not the best name ever for a record shop). His father had also taken over the premises next door, which he used to sell alternative clothes. Gareth’s dad sure had a thing for basic names; he called it The Alternative Clothes Shop. Gareth now combined his time helping in both shops, and even modelled the Oi T-shirts and bondage trousers the shop did so well with.
When Gareth was 18 his dad announced that he had sold the shop, as in his view the music industry was finished, and he was off to Spain where he had bought a pub. It was a shock for Gareth who suddenly had to stand on his own two feet. For a while he worked in another clothes shop, then spent some time selling audio books before obtaining a job with Impulse Promotions. They were one of several companies, such as Full Force and Platinum, who were employed by the record companies to get their singles higher up the chart.
Gareth gave me a fascinating insight into how these chart promotions companies worked and his job role. Every Monday he would visit the Woolworths stores of the North East where he would leave quantities of stock. Record companies would pay Impulse to take this stock – which was then given to the shops free of charge. In those days, the shops would display the Top 40 singles next to the counter. Positioned in a prominent position next to the Top 40 was a “recommended” board of new releases. These releases were recommended not because Woolworths thought they were fantastic records, or because they came from exciting new bands. The criterion was simple: give us the records for free and we will recommend them to our customers.
The records that received such favourable exposure in all the chain’s stores were almost certain to be in the Top 40 the next week. A place in the Top 40 would ensure plenty of radio and media exposure and would qualify the artist to appear on Top of the Pops, a major influence on the singles chart.
From Tuesday to Thursday, Gareth would sell stock to independent shops and the HMV stores of the North East. This would involve him visiting the shops with a car packed full of stock. Fridays were spent visiting the independent radio stations of the area. Here he would try to meet the head of music to leave free stock and talk through the releases Impulse were promoting. Interestingly, he would never visit BBC stations.
On a Saturday, he would work as part of the Weekend Team. Record companies would receive a mid-week chart position, so if one of their records was just outside the Top 40, the team would be employed to visit as many shops as possible and leave them free stock of the record and explain to the shop that any help with promotion of the record would be appreciated.For Gareth, Saturdays were a mad rush to get around the shops in time to make sure he never missed a Sunderland home game. Impulse would often give out gifts to record shops to make them aware of certain records. To promote a single by an act called the California Raisins, Gareth was instructed to give boxes of raisins to his customers. The campaign was a flop as it did not achieve its aim of raisin’ the song up the chart. The California Raisins were a fictional rhythm and blues animated musical group of cartoon raisins featuring the American drummer Buddy Miles on lead vocals. Amazingly, they released four albums and their biggest hit was the aptly titled “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”. Personally, whenever I hear that song I think of the person who came into a record shop and asked, “Have you got that record by Marvin Gaye where he hurdled through the grapevine?”
An even stranger promotion involved the Fat Les record “Vindaloo”. This song, written by Alex James of Blur, session bass player Guy Pratt and comedian Keith Allen, was released as a single to tie in with the FIFA 1998 World Cup, and peaked at No.2 in the UK chart. Gareth would pick up his parcels of stock at the local Securicor depot. One day he had a few extra boxes and when he opened them, they were full of Sainsbury’s pre-cooked chicken vindaloos. The idea was for him to give away the chicken vindaloos to the shops to remind them of the record. The first thing that he thought of was these meals were normally kept in the chiller and the boxes he had been sent were anything but cold. There was only one thing for it, he needed to test the batch. That evening his family dined on vindaloo and as none of them suffered any negative consequences he thought it was safe to drop them off to his customers. The only problem was that it took him a week to get around them all and by the end he was seriously worried that he was giving his customers pre-packed food poisoning. Luckily there seemed to be no ill effects amongst them. A few did mention that they got a bit of Delhi belly. I wonder if they thought of the Fat Les record while they sat on the toilet, or was it par for the course with Vindaloo?
Things seemed to be going well for Gareth at Impulse, so much so that after much discussion with his wife they decided to splash out £800 on some bedroom furniture. Back in 1997 it was a big investment for the couple. After much sweat and frustration, they finally got it all assembled. Just as they were admiring their handiwork, the phone rang. It was Gareth’s boss with the untimely news that Impulse had been sold and the promotions team would all be made redundant. It was unfortunate timing. If he had received the call a few hours earlier he could have taken the furniture back and saved himself a lot of stress and money.
What Gareth really wanted was to run his own record shop. An opportunity arose when he heard that Volume, which had a few record shops in the North East were looking to dispose of an outlet they had in Washington shopping centre, creatively named The Washington Music Store. Gareth’s bid was accepted. However, to raise the money, he had to re-mortgage his house, sell his car and trade in his prize possession, a vintage jukebox. He even considered selling his new bedroom furniture.
It was an exciting time running his own business, though not easy. He loved his little shop but one thing he did not like was the shop next door which constantly roasted chickens, so that his shop always smelt like a KFC outlet. After a couple of years of trading there, the Washington Centre informed Gareth that his rent was to rise by 40% prompting him to relocate to Boston. He decided to rename the shop Nevermind after the classic Nirvana album, a title which, in keeping with his positive mindset, also happens to be Gareth’s favourite catchprase.
He found a shop with a flat above and although it was a bit cramped for his three children it was within the budget, so he and his wife purchased it. After a few days of getting the shop ready they announced to the local media that the big opening of Boston’s new record shop on the following Saturday. Unfortunately, on the Friday evening, his eldest daughter Natalie fell through the floor of the upstairs flat, causing a collapse of part of the shop’s ceiling. They postponed the opening until the Monday and called in a builder in to make urgent repairs. If you are visiting Nevermind, you can still see the part of the ceiling that they call ’Natalie’s patch’ where she had the accident.
The most memorable day in the shop’s history occurred on the December 7, 2013. Gareth heard the news that an extremely high tidal surge was expected in the town at 7 o’clock that evening, and those living near the River Haven were advised to seek alternative accommodation and secure their homes. As he lived just 50 feet from the river it was, to quote the mod band Secret Affair “time for action”.
With the help of his family, Gareth started the monumental job of removing his stock from the shop downstairs to the upstairs flat. He could hear the commotion in the street below as the sound of police sirens and people knocking on doors could be heard. As predicted, at around 7pm, he heard the water gushing down the street and discovered water pouring into his basement through the air vents. In what seemed no time at all the basement was full, and he was splashing around in ankle-deep water. His wife and children left the building, got into the car and reversed down the street through the fast-rising water. Film of his family fleeing the flood was shown on TV and YouTube and was used in an advertisement shown in local cinemas warning of flooding in the area.
With the flat upstairs full of stock, Gareth started piling stuff up on the stairs. Soon there was a loud knocking on his glass door. It was a policeman shouting that he must leave immediately as his life was in danger. Gareth was surprised how quickly the water had risen, it had now passed his knees. He shouted back that he would leave in five more minutes. He just had a bit more stock to move. The noise of the water made it difficult for the policeman to hear him and he continued knocking and ordering him to get out “NOW”.
So enthusiastic was the policeman’s knocking that he smashed the window of Gareth’s door. It really was time to go and Gareth performed the rather pointless task of locking the front door, which by now had no glass in it. Around 10.30pm the water had subsided, and he returned to survey the damage. The shop was a disaster area with debris floating about. The next morning the fire brigade pumped out the basement and with the help of family and friends, they went about the task of cleaning up. The timing could not have been worse. With Christmas just three weeks away, the shop had never had so much stock in. All his CDs between B and D were ruined so the Beatles, Bowie and Dylan were all missing. Also completely lost were artists from P to S including Pink Floyd, Queen, the Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols.
His insurance company sent around an assessor. Gareth’s experience was not like the adverts where a smiling insurance man sorts everything out in minutes. Having lost 8,000 CDs and DVDs and more than 1,000 vinyl records, Gareth did not agree with the valuation, and it was clear he would not be getting any money until after Christmas. Gareth had a serious cash flow problem: he had lost half his stock and had nothing in the bank. He phoned the record companies to ask if they would give him a bit longer to pay his December bills and if they would give him some extra credit so that he could re-stock the shop. Some were sympathetic while others refused.
He went to B&Q and spent the last of his money on six heaters, while the one good thing the insurance company did was rent out some humidifiers to help dry out the air in the shop. With his financial position perilous, Gareth put an appeal out on social media announcing that the shop would re-open on the Saturday with a flood sale, and asking those people of Boston who were planning to buy music for Christmas to check out his shop first. This only applied to people who wanted to purchase albums by acts whose names started with A, or E through to R or T through to Z.
The people of Boston did him proud and a queue formed outside before the grand re-opening. One of the first people in the shop approached the vinyl rack and pulled out the whole section of over twenty LP’s and brought them to him at the counter. As Gareth surveyed the artists, Abba, Anthrax, Alien Sex Fiend, AC/DC, etc., he knew that it was unlikely the man could have such a broad taste and asked him why he wanted to buy all the vinyl in the shop beginning with A. “I just want to help you out for Christmas,” the man replied. Gareth was incredibly moved by this kind gesture but explained that he would much rather the customer buy something he was going to listen to. The man put the A section back and instead picked out twenty LPs that he did like. This was typical of the spirit shown by his regular customers and by many people of the town who were visiting the shop for the first time. They all wanted to help a local independent business.
As feared, the insurance company paid out nowhere near the amount Gareth had valued the stock at, and it has been a long process and a financial struggle to get the stock back to its 2013 level. He reckons he is 90% there. There is one album that he always keeps in stock and whenever he looks at it in the racks it reminds him of the pre-2013 days when things were a bit easier. It is Bob Dylan’s Before the Flood.
In October 2018 tragedy struck when Gareth suffered a heart attack and sadly passed away. It came without warning as he had seemed in good health. I was lucky enough to speak to Gareth each week to sell him Proper releases. I would always look forward to talking with him. He would normally be in despair about the fortunes of his beloved Sunderland FC, but our conversations would finish with him telling me a joke. Some were crackers but generally most would struggle to feature in a Christmas cracker.
Many thought the shop would close but the Skinner family wanted to keep the shop going. Lillian, Gareth’s wife now runs the shop with the help of the family they have shown real fortitude to keep the business going. They can be extremely proud of themselves, so if you are ever in that part of the world, do pay this family shop a visit.
If you would like to be Proper’s Featured Store, contact Graham Jones.
Tel: 01205 369419
Vinyl, CD, DVD, Clothing, Merchandise, Skateboards
Monday – Thursday: 10am – 5pm
Friday: 10am – 5:30pm
Saturday: 9:30am – 5:30pm
10 Church Street,