THEY are known as the Fifty Quid Men.
Almost all of them are of an age when more hair is growing out of their ears and noses than on their heads. They emerge at lunchtime or towards the end of the afternoon, looking slightly furtive and conspiratorial and determined. Their natural habitat is a shop called Fopp, three branches of which are to be found in Scotland, including a couple in Glasgow, where the company was founded 30 years ago.
For Fifty Quid Man, Fopp is a music mecca where, for 50 quid, he can buy a fat handful of CDs that may help him to stave off more serious mid-life cravings. Fopp, which took its name from a song by the Ohio Players (as if you didn't know that!), expanded rapidly and contracted just as quickly. Today only eight stores remain and how long they can keep going is a prime concern of Fifty Quid Man.
Fopp, you see, is presently part of the HMV Group which earlier this week revealed six month losses of £36.4 million. Having previously sold Waterstone's, it is now eager to offload other assets. That, though, say financial analysts may be too little too late. There is, it seems, a distinct possibility that HMV may go the way of Woolworth's, Habitat and its former music retail competitor, Zavvi.
Where exactly that leaves Fopp is hard to tell. Suffice it to say that Fifty Quid Man is worried, very worried indeed, for where, if Fopp was to fold, would he go in search of the music of his youth, such as King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King or Wishbone Ash's eponymous debut album?
Like a care home for prog rockers, Fopp satisfies a need that other emporia can't begin to understand. Quite simply, it affords Fifty Quid Men the opportunity to forage in search of temps perdu.
These music-loving men of catholic taste and relatively deep pockets look at how busy Fopp invariably is and wonder why it cannot thrive and survive even in these parlous economic times. What they fail to recognise, however, is that the music industry in general is on its uppers.
The reasons for this are many. There is iTunes, which allows customers to download music at the press of a button, for which the composer and performer are paid poorly. Then there is Amazon which even undercuts the likes of Fopp. In one of its branches recently, a customer was seen scanning the barcode of a CD into his smartphone which instantly told him that he could buy the same CD from Amazon at a reduced price. Which, needless to say, he gleefully did.
At this point it is perhaps worth mentioning Simon Cowell. Every story needs a baddie and for many who love music Mr Cowell, creator of The X Factor, is the ogre of the moment. To those weaned on Bob Dylan and the Beatles, he is as reviled as Saddam Hussein, so much so that they will consider buying the Military Wives Choir singing a cheesy song composed by an Aberdeen University professor in order to prevent this year's X Factor winners, Little Mix, achieving the coveted Christmas No 1 slot.
I sympathise with them but what ails the music industry goes far beyond that which can be laid at Mr Cowell's door. There is, for example, the vexed question of copyright law which in Britain (unlike, say, the US) means that it is illegal to buy a CD and download it to your iPod. It's known in the jargon as "format-shifting" and were the law to be enforced more people would have criminal records than not. As it is, it's routinely flouted.
But such an issue is not of immediate concern to the staff and customers of Fopp. As the days to Christmas evaporate in an orgy of spending, you can barely stand up in any of its shops let alone buy anything. Paul Simon or PJ Harvey or the Pogues are piping out of the speakers and Fifty Quid Man is tapping his feet and wondering whether to invest in a Neil Young box set. He'd better hurry because he may not have long to make up his mind.
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