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‘Bob Dylan came in on my day off’ – the story of Archway’s Harum Records

PUBLISHED: 15:08 12 June 2017 | UPDATED: 15:32 12 June 2017

A Harum Records bag.

A Harum Records bag.

Archant

Record store owner Graham Umbo tells the Gazette about the good old days when musicians would pop into his shop – and how the Indian restaurant that replaced it kept getting records in the post.

Harum Records in Barnet. Harum Records in Barnet.

At Harum Records in Archway, Graham Umbo rode the crest of the vinyl wave.

The shop – whose name arose from Graham and his business partner Mick Harding’s names – opened its doors in the mid-1970s. By that time, the record industry was booming. Label bosses had not long ago realised the huge money to be made by selling albums to young music lovers.

Nestled among a terrace of small shops at the top of Holloway Road, Harum dealt mostly in chart music, but wisely catered to the local clientele, too.

“We sold mainly pop records,” Graham told the Gazette. “But there was a minority of customers for Irish music in Holloway, a genre about which we knew nothing and had to learn!”

The store’s success enabled Harum to open branches in Muswell Hill and Crouch End, next door to what is now Flashback Records.

Artists would regularly visit while on breaks from recording in the nearby Church Studios in Crouch Hill, and Graham once agonisingly missed out on meeting a true music legend who popped in. “Many musicians visited,” he continued. “Eurythmics, Pete Brown who wrote songs like Sunshine of Your Love, and Fergal Sharkey.

“One day Bob Dylan came in, but I was not in! Lots of musicians on promotional visits would come because we were a chart return shop and contributed to the sales numbers.”

An urban myth that Nick Hornby once worked in Harum and used it as the inspiration for his bestseller High Fidelity was put to bed in the Gazette’s Record Store Day feature with Flashback owner Mark Burgess.

And Graham added: “Somebody put two and two together and got five! The closest I’ve ever got to Nick Hornby is reading his books. He may have been a customer but I never met him.”

As CDs took over in the late ’80s the shop closed and was replaced by a jazz-themed Indian restaurant, Sitara, which is still going strong today. “We went back for my birthday and the owner remembers buying it,” said Graham. “And they were happy to keep receiving records through the post long after we left!”

Graham is now enjoying the renaissance of the vinyl format. “I’m pleased to see it,” he said. “I don’t know whether it will last but I was surprised to see it come back anyway. I see records on sale for four times the price I sold in the shop. That’s progress!”

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