Tag Archives: Dixons

August 9th 1975

“Dixons. Gave in notice. Bloke gave me SME headshell. Played new LPs in evening. Fairport Convention – great. Pete Wingfield – Good. Alex Harvey – not good on first listen”

So, Dixons lost the best hi-fi salesman they ever employed. In entirely unconnected news, I resigned from Dixons.

My final day of standing doe-eyed under the blisteringly hot spotlights in the department (not really knowing what the hell I was doing) did offer me an unexpected bonus with a grateful customer gifting me an SME headshell for my record deck. As I recall, installing it really DID make a difference to the sound, those collection of holes evidently an intelligent design tweak. I can remember hanging onto this headshell for the longest time, transferring it from deck to deck as my hi-fi habit grew in the ensuing years. So, thank you nameless stranger!

It looks like I spent my last day’s Dixon’s earnings on some new tuneage… most probably from Francis Records using my newly restored staff discount…

Let it be known that I REALLY don’t care for Fairport Convention. Folk/Rock – as their genre is often described – invariably leaves me stone cold, and all that plinking and plonking (plus the peculiar habit of artists sticking their finger in their ear to sing) often grates.

However, “Rising for the Moon” wasn’t a straightforward folk album (which is why I was drawn to it) the band eschewing their roots and instead performing a collection of songs that veered closer to acoustic rock than anything else. Think “Cat Stevens” rather than “The Dubliners”.

Despite Sandy Denny’s wibbly-wobbly vocal style I liked the title track in particular and held onto this LP for years afterwards before eventually falling out of favour with its content. When I was intrigued enough to listen to it again it proved quite the elusive item and – to be honest – haven’t bothered since. Maybe I should see if I like it better as a 52-year-old farty than as a spotty teenager?

Pete Wingfield is perhaps the ultimate One-Hit Wonder, his “18 with a Bullet” as fantastic a perfect pop song now as it was when it was released back in 1975.

I would certainly have bought “Breakfast Special” on the strength of that hit – not the first time I would have succumbed to the brilliance of one single and splashed out on the accompanying album. However, unlike many other occasions this would be one where I would not be let down by the other cuts.

“Breakfast Special” is – at least in my opinion – an overlooked pop masterpiece, chocked full of superb and sublimely catchy tunes and easily as good as anything (the likes of ) 10cc were putting out at that time. Check out “Whole Pot of Jelly” and “Shadow of a Doubt” for proof!

Thankfully, Wingfield’s career has not been limited to the proceeds from his one solitary hit single – which ironically landed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at… erm, Number 18. He’s played with the likes of BB King, The Everly Brothers, Van Morrison, The Hollies and Paul McCartney, and has produced seminal albums such as Dexy Midnight Runners’ “Searching for the Young Soul Rebels”, The Kane Gang’s “Bad & Lowdown World” and The Proclaimers’ “Sunshine on Leith”. He has also written smash hit singles for others, including Olivia Newton-John’s “Making a Good Thing Better” and The Pasadenas’ “Tribute (Right On)”

It’s a shame that his public persona is limited that one song but better to be known for one thing than no thing I suppose? As a treat here’s a BLISTERINGLY fine reggae version of “18 with a Bullet” by Derrick Harriot on the ever-reliable Trojan Records label in 1975. I didn’t discover it until several years later but adore it almost as much as the original…

My diary has retrospectively embarrassed me many times before, and will doubtless do it many times again.

This is one of those times. To deem the SAHB’s “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” as “not good” is nothing short of a travesty and I herewith apologise.

As a forthcoming diary entry will report though, all is not lost!

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August 2nd 1975

“Split trousers at work – had to buy another pair £4. Sold about £100 of stuff, got 98p spiv”

SpongeBob SplitPants

 

A day that was evidently both pants, and all about pants. 

This post told us that I was paid £4 a day plus commission at Dixons. 

Therefore – thanks to getting trousered – I earned the grand sum of 98p today in 1975. 

However, as pitiful as that appears, it is still 98p more than I will have earned today in 2010!

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July 26th 1975

“Sold about £480 of stuff at work and got £2 spiv for selling 8-track. Phoned up Lorna!”

The 8-track cartridge was a most peculiar music format. It launched in 1964 and was huge in the USA – mainly the result of the Ford Motor Company installing players in many of its vehicles during the mid-to-late 60’s – but stalled across most of Europe as many were dubious of its so-called advantages.

The cartridge itself was designed – by the Lear Jet corporation of all people – as an “easy-to-use” upgrade of the more popular and recognised reel-to-reel tape decks which had found favour with some audiophiles as a viable alternative to vinyl. The tape inside the cartridge was a continuous loop of ¼-inch oxide-coated plastic, with the songs split across all eight tracks of its surface. The end result however was often very poor sound quality and many album’s songs being split up as the player’s head changed tracks on the tape. Another quirk was that some albums had to have their track listing altered to accommodate the tape length or songs were cut short to fit. In some instances the shorter songs were repeated and/or had instrumental content recorded to make up the time.

Despite the quirks and appalling audio reproduction, USA music fans snapped up both home stereo and boombox models of the 8-track machines, hailing its portability as an advantage. The format took an even more bizarre turn when, in 1970, quadraphonic tapes and machines hit the market so that listeners could now hear poor quality sound from 4 speakers instead of two!

It did admittedly have some fans in Europe, but many more music fans – myself included – had migrated to the FAR simpler and FAR better quality compact cassette as their alternative to vinyl. Plus – a big advantage – you could record on a cassette, something which was impossible to achieve on 8-track cartridges (at least, as far as I know?!).

If I was a betting man, I would say that my “£2 spiv” (“spiv” being a slang term – long forgotten by me – for sales commission at Dixons) was given as a special bonus, the result of me persuading some poor sap to buy an 8-track player when it’s days were most certainly numbered in terms of popularity. I wonder if the buyer has ever forgiven me?

Anyway, emboldened by my increased income I evidently called Lorna to ask her out of a date.

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July 12th 1975

“Started at Dixons. Only sold a pair of headphones all day”

Dixons’ Southampton store was located at the (relatively) unfashionable end of the town’s High Street. But, despite being in competition with the likes of Comet or Rumbelows (not to mention the plethora of independent electronics retailers), it handled a lot of foot traffic and was very busy indeed.

The hi-fi department was at the rear of the store on a raised platform. I was put under the training and supervision of Dave H., an experienced Dixons’ employee and somewhat archetypal old school salesman who ‘hustled’ customers wherever he could.

I think that’s probably why I only sold a pair of headphones all day. Dave would either beat me to any customer who expressed even the vaguest interest in things or would happily steer my customers in his own direction whenever I didn’t have a clue (which was often) and had to ask him a question.

Also, unlike him, I was perhaps a little to ‘honest’ with my answers to customer enquiries. If they asked me if a particular amplifier or tuner was any good I would refer to my memory bank of ‘magazine reviews’ and tell them what I had read. Not always with a positive spin. That would often send potential buyers away to think again.

For all his public persona, Dave was actually an OK guy. Very friendly and very approachable when he was off the shop floor. We shared lots of long chats about the hi-fi industry whilst we had our tea breaks or lunches together, and he confided in me that he was hoping to get out of Dixons “very soon”.

He and a pal of his had started up a loudspeaker company and they had just started manufacturing top quality speakers which they planned to sell via ads in the specialist hi-fi magazines. I showed immediate interest in his plans and he promised that he would loan me a pair of the bookshelf models they built for my appraisal, a promise he kept just a week or so later.

So, anyway, my ‘career’ in the hi-fi industry had commenced. I’ll be honest and say whilst Dave was a decent enough supervisor and the pay was OK, the job was horrible. Apart from the short breaks I was on my feet all day long, and I felt very out of my depth in dealing ‘cold’ with customers and trying to talk knowledgeably about things I (admit I) had scant knowledge about. Plus I was forced (rather than out of personal choice) to wear a ‘shirt & tie’ outfit which made me feel uncomfortable, not least because the heat in that low-ceiled claustrophobic hi-fi department was often unbearable.

How long will Dixons hold my attention? You will have to wait and see where fate takes me next… to be honest it was something of an unexpected twist.

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July 5th 1975

“Start a new job next Saturday at Dixons – will get £4 a day plus commission”

Remember my letter to Dixons back in April?

Well it looks as if my planned defection from the record industry – or maybe my foresight about how things were panning out at Francis Records? – paid off?

I can’t remember ever having an interview, so maybe they hired me based entirely on the contents of that letter?

So, I’d swapped life behind a record shop counter for the equally attractive (at least to this geeky 17-year-old) hi-fi market.

Dixons (a name apparently chosen at random from the phone book) started life in 1937 as a photographic studio in Southend. The business, started by Charles Kalms, was one of the few which flourished during WWII because there was high demand for family portraits and photographic services.

Charles’ son Stanley took over the business in 1950 and he started not only advertising in specialist camera magazines but also selling camera equipment, eventually needing considerable staff numbers to deal with the 60,000 mail order customers it attracted every month.

Dixons grew and grew, added a colour processing laboratory to its ‘photographic’ mix as well as expanding the numbers of stores it owned and opening up floorspace to the then (in the 70’s) public interest in all things ‘hi-fi’

Which is about where I came in.

How would this career change pan out? You will have to wait and see.

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April 13th / 14th 1975

● “Drafted letter for Dixons”
● “Typed and sent letter to Dixons”

Yes, you may well be asking yourselves just what I was writing to Dixons about.

Dixons were, as some of you may recall, the UK’s premier retailer for televisions and hi-fi in the Seventies.

The clue to my letter is in the word “hi-fi”

Was I about to turn my back on the record industry?

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March 29th 1975

“Bought new Amp: Prinzsound SA3001 £39.95”

Rather than being any kind of major manufacturer, Prinzsound was actually an in-house brand of the Dixons chain of high street shops. Given this, I think most people in the seventies who were hi-fi ‘geeks’ (and who would have normally eschewed what was considered ‘cheap rubbish’) were surprised to read über-glowing reviews of the SA3001 amplifier in many of the respected hi-fi magazines.

Hi-fi magazines which yours truly devoured from cover to cover. Yep, reviews which impressed me enough to fork out almost £40 on a new amp, a mere 18 months after I bought my last one.

That photo above is actually the SA4100 which came a while later, but the design of my SA3001 was very similar. Brushed aluminium and real wood side panels. A relatively simple and minimalistic design, certainly when compared to the ludicrous pieces of equipment I would buy later in my life.

I’ve more recently discovered that Prinzsound equipment was actually rebranded items from a company called Weltron, a Japanese manufacturer who actually came up with something of a design classic.

The spaceman-helmet inspired radio/8-track player seen on the left turns up time and time again in films and TV shows set in the seventies and spawned a whole slew of imitations, including a full-sized console that housed a record deck, amp, cassette player and tuner. There were even matching armchairs!

My diary may call me a liar a few months down the line but I do believe my Prinzsound amp served me well for quite some time.

The Dixons chain would also play a brief, but important part of my life in 1975… all of which will be revealed in future EFA70sTRO entries.

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