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We'll miss the little dog

But don't mourn for HMV, as there are far better places to browse for music.

india Updated: Jan 21, 2013 23:10 IST

Celebrity dogs, real or otherwise, had a terrible week. First, the dashing dachshund Alan TBH Plumptre, the in-house pet at Tatler, was caught in a revolving door in Mayfair, and, despite the attendance of two fire engines and 10 firefighters, died. But there was worse to come (sorry, Alan): HMV, the music giant whose logo for more than a century has been the cute fox terrier Nipper listening to his master's voice on an early phonograph (picture on the right), called in the administrators.

The disappearance of the last large chain of what used to be called record shops has set off a tsunami of warm memories of such places. There have been tales of the joy of earnestly flicking though the seemingly endless racks of LPs by Led Zeppelin, Snafu and Tonto's Expanding Head Band and of afternoons spent eagerly tramping the aisles housing those shoulder-to-knee cascades of CDs. In some towns, apparently and definitely unbeknown to me, the HMV shop was even the centre of the local romance scene, of what the Human League called Love Action.

Such nostalgia is understandable and not misplaced. For generations of casual record buyers and obsessive music heads alike, HMV was the place to go and get your mainstream sounds. For many, it was the starting point of a wonderful lifelong love affair with music - and, in truth, the rather less welcome consequence, the battle between an ever-lighter wallet and the need to move to a bigger house in order to accommodate your burgeoning collection. As the operations hub of many people's musical odyssey, the record stores of the 60s, 70s and 80s continue to inspire dewy-eyed recollection.

It's a fondness I share. The first LP I ever bought with my own money (earned from a Saturday job filling the bacon and cheese fridges at Sainsbury's) came from a branch of Harlequin; the album was Curtis Mayfield's 'Roots', in case you're interested.

Not very long ago, HMV's flagship store in Oxford Street, London, was still at the centre of a ritual that I recall with hazy affection. For years, after one of our award-winning but strangely sackable shows, my radio sidekick Danny Baker and I would make our way down there, stopping on the way to medicate our valuable vocal cords with a few cold drinks.

The HMV of then is not the HMV of now. For reasons too boring to explain, once a month I find myself stranded in the West End on a Saturday morning. Occasionally I will while away the time in the high gothic quiet of the beautiful All Saints church in Margaret Street; but usually I make a dutiful trudge round that self-same pink and grey cavern near Oxford Circus. For a couple of years now HMV has been an absolutely dismal place. Its music stock, determinedly unadventurous, varied between those CDs featured in an eternal 2-for-1 sale and other offerings of such enormous expense - compared to their internet competitors - that the box sets were secured to the wall by something that looked suspiciously like an electrified fence.

HMV was brought to its knees, obviously, because it couldn't compete with the no-longer-new digital universe where you can download a piece by Mahler for 80-odd pence or buy the new Tame Impala CD with a single leisurely twitch of your index finger.

But, hey, no regrets. The world of digitised music, and online buying, was supposed (if you listened to the traditional retailers) to be a sterile, soulless, corporate desert, devoid of the sense of adventure, revelation and shared experience in which the record shops of yesteryear specialised. It has turned out to be no such thing. It has turned out to be the opposite.

I'll miss the little dog - you'd have to be made of flint not to - but don't mourn the tumbling down of his massive kennel. Technologies change, as do social mores and shopping habits, but music continues to find unpredicted and life-affirming ways into our hearts and minds.