Click image to go to CC MUSIC!
Jimmy is co-owner along with Steve Caban of the music shop CC Music. An institution in Glasgow’s West End, many famous bands and musicians have passed through the doors over the past 30 years. Jimmy Egypt’s Guitar Repair Shop is located on the lower floor of the shop. Come in and experience a real music shop!
The following article, printed in The Scotsman 31 December 2011 just about sums it up. Words: Pictures: Robert Perry
Music stores seem to be surviving the high street slide, but it’s more than just the guitars that keep their customers coming back
IF YOU’VE never struck a power-chord in anger, guitar shops can seem intimidating. The atmosphere might be oppressively reverential or as rowdy as an unsupervised youth club.
The abundance of stock paired with a shortage of retail space means the walls are invariably tiled floor to ceiling with guitars, hung by their necks like culled, colourful game birds. For six-string devotees, being amid this crush of expensive examples is exhilarating. For neutrals, it’s nerve-wracking. The last thing you want to do is brush against a 1959 Gibson Les Paul and unwittingly free it from its moorings.
Under the risk-averse criteria of the non-muso, CC Music is the best kind of guitar shop. Housed in the basement of a former bonded warehouse on Otago Street in Glasgow’s west end, it has scores of sweet instruments on display, but there’s still enough room to turn sharply in a duffel coat without dislodging them. The store also incorporates Jimmy Egypt’s Guitar Repair Shop, a sort of gee-tar ER established in 1975. A legendary pick-up artist, switch doctor and expert in Fender reassignment, Jimmy Egypt – real name James Cannell – is just the man to have on hand if a flying V does actually go flying. And for novices recently gifted a guitar for Christmas, or anyone resolving to improve themselves by taking up a stringed instrument this year, CC Music is the sort of shop that will nurse the flame of your musical enthusiasm in the hope that it becomes an all-consuming addiction.
On the day I visit, original founder Steve Caban demonstrates more than a dozen instruments personally – “I make sure I can play everything in the shop,” he says – and while his technique is fluid and often witty, it’s never so virtuosic that potential buyers flee, thinking such complex fretwork hopelessly beyond them. Caban believes that recommending the right instrument at the right time can create a customer for life. (And as anyone who has lived with a guitar enthusiast will know, one instrument is rarely enough.)
Among the stunted skyline of amplifier stacks on the shop floor, almost everyone I speak to is a returning CC Music customer. Justin Currie of Del Amitri is exchanging banter with staff at the counter. A guitarist from critically adored band Frightened Rabbit is loitering by the banjos. Dee Bahl, the manager of Biffy Clyro, tells me he was the first customer to buy a guitar in the current manifestation of the shop, a symbolic gesture to support his friends Caban and Cannell. “So much of the Glasgow music community comes here,” he says. “My age group came up through the shop, but you need new blood. You need places like this for when you’re a wee guy and you can’t even afford a guitar.”
Like the best rock bands, CC Music has a deep back catalogue – it’s been around for more than 30 years – and has enjoyed an itinerant lifestyle, complete with wild parties and damaging break-ups. The shop originally opened in a small unit in Park Road near Kelvinbridge underground. “I got married in 1979,” says Caban, “and at that time I had over 50 guitars, hanging off nails on the wall at home. And that wasn’t on with the wife. So I opened the wee shop and could just sit there surrounded by guitars.” This was the time when Deacon Blue, Del Amitri and Simple Minds were emerging on the Glasgow music scene, and many future stars of Scottish rock frequented the premises. “They used to come in, often with their dinner, and we’d have a wee jam,” remembers Caban.
Since those early days, the shop has moved twice, and was featured as a location in John Byrne’s beloved 1987 BBC series Tutti Frutti before eventually being absorbed into the nationwide Sound Control chain. Things went a bit Fleetwood Mac in early 2008 when Sound Control abruptly went into liquidation, but Caban and Jimmy Egypt promptly regrouped, reclaimed the original name and reopened CC Music as an independent store (other becalmed Sound Control refugees established the popular Red Dog music store in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket.)
Sandy Nelson, a playwright and actor who also performs stand-up, is negotiating a pushchair down the stairs. “I got my first guitar as a gift at 14, but the first guitar I bought for myself was from here,” he recalls. “I was 20, working with Wildcat theatre company at the time, and I bought a Squire Telecaster. It was a cheaper model they’d licensed from Fender. I’ve still got it, and I still play it.”
Nelson’s son, not yet two, must be inured to the sound of riffage, sleeping soundly while 22-year-old Andrew Pattie cranks out sprightly surf guitar licks on a Fender Jazzmaster nearby. The guitar is actually his own; this impromptu performance is to test-drive the amplifier, a matching Fender Reverb amp that costs a smidge under £800. “I’m looking to upgrade,” he says, “but it still needs to be portable.”
Pattie has been playing in a band, Honey And The Herbs, for the past three years, and has some insights into the retail experience. “I actually work in another music shop,” he says, “but it deals with a different sort of clientele. This is a shop that’s geared toward guitarists, I know I can come and try this amp and really get a feel for it.” Growing up in rural Dumfries and Galloway, Pattie initially got into music because “there was nothing else to do”. But if a string broke on his guitar, that was it. “The nearest music shop was miles away so you just had to get by without that particular string until you could get it fixed.”
Even if you live in the city, learning to play guitar can be a solitary experience, so music shops often become places to exchange tales of chord-wrangling and bloodied fingerpads. The hangout vibe of CC Music extends to having a coffee machine for customers, while the vestibule at the bottom of the entry stairs is plastered with “musicians wanted” ads, some typed, many handwritten.
“Like 90 per cent of inhabitants of this city, I play guitar and vocals,” begins one, with admirable forthrightness. “Bassist available!” trumpets another. In our post-MySpace world, the thought that the next big Glasgow band – the Partick Monkeys? – might come together through exchanging notes on a pinboard is somehow heartwarming, an analogue flicker in an increasingly digital musical world.
With well-heeled Glasgow Academy in the vicinity, and a new primary school on nearby Gibson Street, there’s some dedicated space at CC Music for entry-level guitars configured for kids, including Gypsy Rose, a popular brand marketed at girls. In 2008, the global success of video games like Rock Band – in which players mimic songs by pressing buttons the colour and size of Opal Fruits on instrument-shaped controllers – was apparently going to wipe the next potential Kurt Cobain from our timestream. Four years on, the music video games are flailing, but their brief, intense influence lives on in unexpected ways. Robert Robinson, one of the affable CC Music team, deals with a lot of younger customers. “They come in and say, I want to learn a Ramones song, I want to play Foghat, and they’ve got that through these games.” It can even help when teaching. “A lot of guitar books start with nursery rhymes,” says Robinson, “but if you ask a kid what his favourite song is and can teach them to play it, you see the penny drop. They realise they can play anything.”
In the Jimmy Egypt cubbyhole where poorly instruments are booked in for treatment, Caban and Cannell take a minute to discuss the importance of attracting young customers, which someone turns into a discussion about the death of guitar solos. “I do wonder if we’ve got a generation who are never going to be soloists,” says Caban, half-joking. “Where are the new Ritchie Blackmores?” While a memorable scene in the movie Wayne’s World means Stairway To Heaven can never be played unironically in a guitar shop again, The Beatles still get a regular airing from customers, as well as material from Nirvana and relative striplings like Snow Patrol.
There’s also been a noticeable rise in sales of banjos, mandolins and ukeleles. “We’re probably selling more acoustic instruments than ever,” says Cannell. “It’s really taken off in the past couple of years.” And while other bricks-and-mortar businesses have struggled to compete with internet sales, music shops have a potential advantage due to the unique nature of their product. “You’ve obviously got to be on the ball when it comes to online,” says Caban. “But there are people who don’t want to buy an acoustic guitar online. They want to hold it. They want to hear it.”
Jon and Mia Ayres-Donnelly, a stylish couple in their mid-20s, appear to back up this claim. A lapsed electric bass player, Jon is in the market for a ukelele. “We went to a few shops today and some had closed down, others had really cheap-looking ones, but these guys have a proper range,” he says. “I was planning on spending around £50 but ended up paying £120 just because of the way this one sounded.” He now has a new Kala soprano uke under his arm. “It was the Goldilocks effect, it was just right.”
Mia doesn’t play, although it’s a possible New Year’s resolution. “It’s something we’ve discussed. I’m going to get Jon to teach me,” she says. “We both grew up listening to metal, and I remember hanging around guitar shops in my early teens. I think there’s a slightly different atmosphere these days. Not so… metal.”