In August 2012 the British Record Shop Archive was set up online by - me, Leon Parker,- to save the history of how we found, listened to and bought music. For the last four years Record Store Day has grabbed media attention and reminded us of the value of record shops. As this event happens just one day a year I thought we needed something that truly celebrated the classic record shop as a great British institution. That is how I came up with the idea of putting on an exhibition about an iconic record shop.
Until 1989, when Dobells finally became another victim of rent rises and redevelopment, Dobells had been a Mecca to music lovers for more than four decades. Dobells was one of the first record shops outside the US to stock Jazz, Blues, Folk, World, Latin and African music. It was also a meeting point for a remarkable network of different people — musicians, both the famous and the forgotten, anarchists, Tory politicians, doctors, dancers, dockers, writers galore, union leaders, eminent academics, film stars, journalists. school kids still in uniform and bankers (not to mention some distinctly dodgy Soho characters) — all rubbing shoulders drawn by a passion for music into a cramped, smoke-filled and frequently alcohol-fueled record shop in Soho.
Dobells was the first port of call for visiting American musicians. Many would come to Dobell’s from Heathrow and buy records before they found a hotel room! BB King loved Dobell’s while once Janis Joplin dropped in with a bottle of Southern Comfort. You could find Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Red Allen or half the Ellington band shopping and gossiping. It acted as a fertile learning ground for the youngsters who went on to lead such legendary British bands as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Cream and from Belfast Taste. The listening booths were research libraries to a whole generation and on Friday afternoons wage envelopes were torn open for rare Blue Notes, Riversides, Topics Folkways and Blue Horizons. And Dobells is where Bob Dylan spent a lot of his time during the long winter of 1962 when he lived and performed in London. Dylan even recorded in Dobell’s basement as Blind Boy Grunt.
The Dobell’s exhibition will be the first ever free exhibition of an independent record shop and will celebrate how this shop played an important role in the development of Britain as home to much of the world’s greatest popular music.
If you want to commemorate the crucial, still-ongoing role of Dobells in the cultural and musical life of Britain, or celebrate the great record shops of old, or if you were a Dobells customer, then please donate whatever you can and sponsor this unique exhibition about a truly unique place.
All those making a donation will have their name posted on British Record Shop Archive website to acknowledge your support and thanks.
I have 50 original shop bags also to give away free to those donors who give over £20. You can see an image of this iconic bag here:
Risks and challenges
I set about searching to find ex- Dobells shop staff and customers. Those I found helped me build up the story of Dobells and they also have shared a great selection of photographs to be used in the exhibit. When Dobells closed in 1989 many of the shop’s regular customers insisted that The Museum of London must save the shop fixtures. This was duly done yet for the past twenty three years the Dobells artifacts have been sitting in storage with no plans ever to display them. The Museum has let me have some of these items on loan for my exhibition, plus the use of images of other items.
I have also now secured a place to exhibit. The exhibition will be in partnership with Chelsea space which is renowned for its programme of popular culture exhibitions. Chelsea space is a public exhibiting space where invited art and design professionals are encouraged to work on experimental curatorial projects that may not otherwise be realised. I am working on a purely voluntary basis and not charging for my time.
For the exhibition to succeed I have to raise the funds to cover the costs of borrowing from the Museum Of London and printing of various donated images and copy write. This will cover the costs of packaging, transport, display units and insurance for the Dobells items loaned from the museum.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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