Thursday, 7 July 2011
Where are Penang's old record shops?
The mention of Wing Hing Records in yesterday's blog post set me thinking deeper. Where have all those old vinyl record shops in Penang gone to?
I know for sure that Wing Hing was located in Campbell Street, George Town, because this place was the most familiar to me. The proprietor was my father's good friend and we bought most of our stuff there. When the owner died, the business was taken over by his son, Jimmy. But alas, the shop is no more. Eventually, the growng popularity of the compact disc meant that fewer people were buying records and this forced him to fold up the business. I've completely lost touch with Jimmy but today, the shoplot is part of a tour agency's office.
There were other well-known record shops around the city then. The other one that I frequently went to was Hinson Records on Penang Road, very near to the junction with Hutton Lane. I knew the owner. Mr Yeoh, who should be well over 90 years old now if he is still around, was a member of the Old Frees' Association. The last I met him was in 2009 or 2010. Still strong and hearty then. Anyway, Hinson Records has also disappeared.
In fact, there is no big-name record shop left in Penang. Ngee Fah Records in Penang Road, a stone's throw from the Penang Road/Gladstone Road/Magazine Street/Brick Kiln Road/Dato Kramat Road intersection, which the locals called Goh Pah Teng, closed down after the Penang Development Corporation acquired the land to build the Phase 1A of the present KOMTAR podium block. I do remember that business was once so good that Ngee Fah Records extended to two shoplots but they used to stock a large selection of locally pirated records.
Then at Burmah Road, there used to be Rio Records. Although this shop was run by the father of an old class mate, I had never bought anything from there. It's rather too late for regret, actually, because it converted later into a music shop selling music instruments. Nowadays whenever I whizzed by Burmah Road, I hardly noticed this shop, not knowing whether it still exists or not, possibly because I'd be concentrating more on the traffic. This stretch of the road is too busy to risk diverting your attention.
There also used to be a record shop at the junction of Penang Road and Bertam Lane but I've forgotten its name. It survived the closures of Wing Hing, Hinsons, Ngee Fah and Rio by many years but inevitably in the 1990s, the business folded as well.
The years after the Komtar podium block was built, records were still a very popular music medium then. There were at least two or three record shops that opened here until the early 1970s. But Infinity Record Shop has closed while DB Music Centre still survived until today. After records, DB Music Centre went on to selling cassette tapes and compact discs. And these two shops had a thriving side business by selling customised cassette tapes. For a fee that included the cost of a blank cassette tape, people could just walk into the shops and requested them to tape up some music from their stock of records.
Wembley Park (known to the locals as Choon Man Hnooi) used to be located across from the Traders Hotel. It was previously the last surviving amusement centre in the city (the others being the Great World Park and the New World Park) that showcased entertainment like bangsawan performances and ronggeng parties. There were also dance halls, gambling stalls, food stalls and of course, the Wembley Cinema. There were lots of traders here and I do remember seeing two or three record shops. Unfortunately, these shops, like the Dragon Gate Record Store, were selling exclusively records by Chinese singers. I had no interest in them and so, I did little to visit them. Today, the Wembley Park is no more although I hear that the cinema will be converted into a hawker centre. The land was bought over by a developer in 2007.
Possibly the last surviving old-fashioned record shop in Penang is Angel Records in Hutton Lane. But there's no point wasting good time to search for music there as the shop stocks only old Hindi and Tamil records. There's hardly any customer anyway, and the shop's opening hours are very erratic.
What's left for people searching for first-hand records in Penang nowadays are the modern music outlets in the shopping malls. However, they don't carry records like in the old days. Invariably, they stock only a few pieces of the modern re-issues or releases that come on 180g or 200g vinyls. Meant only for the specialist market or the curious hifi enthusiasts that want to dabble in analog sound. And of course, you'd have to pay through your nose in order to own a modern-day record. Hardly cheap any more.