Down the spiral staircase to Virgin Records, Nottingham
Growing up in a small town, there weren’t many opportunities in 1978 for buying records, apart from the small section in Boots the Chemists. So a day trip to Nottingham was needed whenever you wanted to buy records, gonks or alternative magazines.
My friend and I used to get the train and then lark around in central Nottingham for most of the day. This generally involved riding on the stone lions in the market square and going to the Wimpy bar, which is still there 40 years on.
But the best bit was going to hang out in the Virgin record and tape shop nearby. In the days before megastores and media, the Virgin brand was cool, alternative and the only place to hear punk records in Nottingham. There’s another local chain called Selectadisc, but they seemed slower to take on the punk thing.
The Virgin Records shop in Nottingham was one of the coolest places I’ve been to. On the ground floor, it was nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but it had a spiral staircase that led down to a really dingy room where punks seemed to hang out the whole time. Apparently, if you asked, they would play any record that you fancied hearing, but we were too much in awe of the leather-clad boys and girls down there. There’s a kind of thrilling fear that you get when you’re just a young kid entering this kind of cool den. Generally I’d just buy a fanzine or a couple of badges, but I felt like I was living the punk dream in that shop.
The manager, Chris Seale was a true punk hero, because he fought the law – and won. When the Pistols’ album ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ came out, Virgin Records shop front windows were decorated with the album sleeve and posters
On Saturday, November 5, 1977, a policewoman named Julie Dawn Storey spotted the Never Mind The Bollocks display in the window of the Virgin Records store in Nottingham. She went inside, confiscated a couple of albums, and informed shop manager Christopher Seale that the appearance of the word “Bollocks” in the display violated the 1899 Indecent Advertising Act. Then she arrested him. For the couple of weeks before the trial, nobody could risk the legality of the album’s name—shop owners were forced to sell the album under the table, and a Pistols’ expensive ad campaign appeared to go to waste because no publications would dare to run it. Naturally all of this had the effect of adding to the Pistols’ reputation as the most controversial band in Britain.
Christopher Seale and the Sex Pistols’ immortal album art
On November 24, 1977, the court convened to rule on the fate of the shop owner, Christopher Seale, and Virgin Records. Defending the Sex Pistols was a fusty-looking chap who didn’t look like he belonged on the same continent as the Sex Pistols, much less the same courtroom. His name was John Mortimer, and by the time of his death at the age of 85 in 2009, his status as one of the most beloved attorneys and novelists in British history would be rock-solid.
Naturally, the Virgin shop has gone now; there’s a huge Nottingham Virgin megastore where you can buy a huge range of records, but I don’t think you’d want to hang out there for any length of time. If I ever go to Nottingham now, I stand in King Street and reminisce about the amazing shop with the spiral staircase before going for a Wimpy.