Roger Mortimer, owner of Sound Knowledge, is a Wiltshire lad, born in Melksham in 1959. He tuned into music at a young age, having an older brother and sister, and spent his early years listening to their musical purchases, including the Beatles, the Stones and Otis Redding. The listening habit developed during summer holidays spent at his hippy sister’s village house, where he had access to a huge record collection to while away the time.
On leaving school he pursued a career as a thatcher in the New Forest and started an apprenticeship in the summer of 1976, one of the hottest on record. Thatched roofs were burning down all over the forest, so work was plentiful. Roger loved the job and could picture this as his future career, but there were problems. One was the distance he was travelling each day on his trusty moped. Secondly, on the apprentice wages of £11 per week, it proved difficult to make ends meet.
Roger found himself constantly clashing with his boss, a grizzled west country yokel who didn’t appreciate his laid-back, hippy attitude. Roger began to think that thatching wasn’t for him. The final straw (forgive the pun) was when his moped broke down, leaving him stranded in the middle of nowhere.
He landed a new job at Wessex Records, an independent shop in Bath which was later bought out by Rival Records, and more recently became a Fopp store. The shop at that time was run by two elderly women Mrs Gallop (who was the wife of the mayor) and Mrs Gumption. While both of them knew their Elvis, neither of them knew much about the cutting edge of music, so young Roger brought a bit of youth and enthusiasm to the shop. Both women were chain smokers and Roger remembers having to peer through a misty haze to see the far end of the shop. The two women never quite grasped punk, and Roger recalls Mrs Gallop removing a youth from the shop after he asked if she had the Snivelling Shits: not a medical malady, as she evidently thought he meant, but the punk band fronted by Giovanni Dadamo, who later became a respected music journalist.
Bath as a city had yet to embrace punk and the shop received a visit from the local constabulary shortly after displaying a copy of the Sex Pistols album Never Mind the Bollocks in the window. The day Elvis died, Roger recalls the women in tears for most of the day. His relationship with them was not improved after Roger made the observation that the King’s current single “Way Down” was a suitable epitaph, as that was where he was heading.A year or so later, Roger resigned as the daily commute to Bath (by now on a Suzuki 120, not much more reliable) was becoming tiresome, and he took up an invitation to take an extended holiday to the USA.
Upon his return Roger worked in a flat-pack furniture manufacturing company called Dreamscape, a place he describes as not a dream but a nightmare. He spent a lot of his wages in the local record store, PR Sounds, where he got to know the owner Pete Randall who suggested could have a job vacancy coming up. Roger took some more time out for travelling. After two years doing a variety of odd jobs in France, he returned to Wiltshire and paid a visit to PR Sounds, where he was greeted with the words “Are you still interested in that job?”
Pete started immediately and in due course Pete appointed him manager of a new shop that he was preparing to open in Devizes about 20 miles east of Bath. Pete and Roger spent weeks getting the store ready, purchasing stock and preparing for the shop opening. As the big day approached a hard blizzard and sub-zero temperatures hit the county. Pete arrived at the new shop opened the door and saw a bunch of LPs floating out on a torrent of water. The pipes had burst and the men spent the first day working in freezing conditions, trying to repair the damage and sort out an insurance claim.
Roger thought things could not get worse, until he received a call from his landlord to tell him that the pipes had also burst in the house he was renting. Furthermore, the landlord was holding Roger responsible for not having kept the flat warm enough, and summarily evicted him. He refused to give Roger his deposit back, saying he was keeping it to pay for the damage. Pete graciously allowed Roger to stay in the room above the shop in Devizes until he got himself sorted out. He stayed working in the shop and living above it for the next 15 years.
Pete eventually opened his own record shop in Marlborough, the town with a famous college once attended by Nick Drake, where some of his earliest songs were written. The opening day was an improvement on the disaster that struck the previous shop in Devizes, but not by much. With the store due to open at 9am, he was delighted to see a gentleman already eager to come in. Roger opened the door and proudly informed him that he was the shop’s first customer. “I’m no customer,” the man replied. He was in fact from the Performing Rights Society (PRS) and had come to check there was a licence to play music at the premises. Roger had to pay up before he had played or sold a single record. The next visitor was an elderly chap who approached the counter to tell Roger that the shop was doomed. “This part of town has had so many failed businesses, they should change the name from Hughenden Yard to Grave Yard,” he said. Roger thanked the merchant of doom and asked how he could be of assistance. “Oh, I’ve not come down to buy anything,” he said. “I thought I would just let you know that your business has no chance of succeeding here.”
Mr. Happy couldn’t have got it more wrong. Sound Knowledge has thrived. The shop has become a firm favourite with the students at Marlborough College. It has been trading for more than twenty years and become a gathering place for music lovers far and wide. Punters travel from miles around to attend the free in-store events and personal appearances which they regularly put on. These are held in the café/bar next door to the shop, and the small stage there has been graced by Ed Sheeran, Newton Faulkner, Tom Odell (plus baby grand piano), Scouting for Girls, the Pretty Things, Ethan Johns, Turin Brakes and Jade Bird. They do brisk business with signings after the performances.
Located in a market town in the depths of Wiltshire, the shop seldom picks up the publicity it deserves. If it were based in London, it would be a media favourite. Sound Knowledge is the perfect independent record store.
Top tip – When entering the shop, it appears as if it is all on one floor. In the far-left hand corner is a beautiful spiral staircase that leads up to a loft studio space that is full of vinyl.
I asked Roger about what Proper releases he was currently enjoying:
Jade Bird – Jade Bird
The young British singer-songwriter is already making waves on both sides of the Atlantic with her powerhouse vocal and hooky songwriting- instant classics like “Uh-Huh” and “Love Has All Been Done Before”. Having made the BBC Sound of 2018 longlist, this year saw her debut, produced in Woodstock by Simone Felice, released to rave reviews. We were lucky enough to host Jade for an in-store performance the day after her album came out, on a sun-kissed Easter Saturday and witness her undoubted talent first-hand.
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – End of Suffering
The former Gallows man has been a vocal supporter of the indie sector, playing a typically visceral live set at the official launch of this year’s Record Store Day and embarking on a UK tour organised in conjunction with record shops like ourselves. The Rattlesnakes project has allowed Frank the musical freedom to interrogate his sound further and the group’s third album is a wild, widescreen ride to and beyond the limits of post-hardcore.
If you would like to be Proper’s Featured Store, contact Graham Jones.
Tel: 01672 511106
Vinyl, CD, In-stores
Monday – Saturday: 9am – 7pm
Sunday: 11pm – 4pm
22 Hughenden Yard, Marlborough