Old Spitalfields Market: The Record Fair

The area of Shoreditch has had a bit of a hard time in the news lately. Journalists have been taking every opportunity to moan about hipsters with the pretext of reporting on its gentrification. So I'd like to give the E1 area a bit of a break and write about one of its finest qualities: Old Spitalfields market.

The market hosts its Record Fair three times a month, and this week I was asked to go down to experience it for myself and write about what I found. What I found, aside from more records than I knew could possibly exist in the world, was a crowd consisting entirely of my favourite kind of people: middle-aged men with a good taste in music.

The first person I spoke to was Chris Farlowe, who had a number one hit in 1966 with Out of Time. I'd never heard of him before, but he didn't seem to take that too personally. He didn't have time to, anyway, as he was in a rush to leave and get to a gig he was playing that evening.

Eric, the market's Manager, told me that Jimmy Page is a regular at the record fair, but that he wasn't around this week. And if you want the inside scoop, he usually says hi to the first few people to approach him but then he starts to ignore them after that. So get there early!

The first seller I spoke to was Rob, who's been trading for around ten years (and he's an actor on the side, currently trying with all his might to grow a beard for a role in Macbeth).

He specialises in northern soul and rhythm & blues, and says he gets on well with the dealers and often trades records with them.

When I asked him what his favourite record is, he began describing it to me with more ardour than a bride-to-be talking about her wedding. He told me he often feels compelled to take records home he's meant to be selling, to add to his personal collection.

Rob jumped in front of the stall and took off about three layers of clothing to pose for this photo, visibly enjoying the mild amusement of customers around him (all of whom he seemed to know).

After a thoughtful compliment from Rob about my nail polish, I went over to David. He told me he used to have a record shop, but the recession, coupled with a change in the way people were buying music, meant he had to close. But he kept the records in his dad's basement until their climb back up into the hearts of music-lovers.

David says his customers are very loyal, and that some of his fellow sellers even come round to his house to scope out his collection.

"We're like one big family," he said.

David also happened to be one of the nicest of all the traders at the market. Possibly in the world.

I also spoke with an unnamed man who must have been around 70. He saw me buying a Stevie Ray Vaughan CD and we bonded over blues music.

He stretched his arms out to demonstrate the size of his blues collection, then slowly pulled out a Stevie Ray record out of his bag, looking at me with wide eyes and a giddy smile. But he didn't want to me to take a photo of him in case it ended up on 'FaceyBookey'.

Every seller I spoke to said exactly the same thing when I asked about the atmosphere of the record fair. Loyal customers, passionate about music and a close-knit relationship between the sellers.

Every seller, that is, apart from poor Kevin. He pointed out that I was the youngest person at the market and that things just weren't the same anymore. When I asked him about the market's atmosphere, he simply shrugged and looked around with despondency.

And then there was Trevor, whose records are brought back from America. His favourite record is 'Mystery Train' by Elvis.

One of the few discrepancies between the traders was that half of them told me in a split second about their favourite record of all time.

The other half looked pained as they mentally flicked through dozens of beloved records, unable to pick just one. Then I asked Chris about the atmosphere at the record fair.

"Everyone's nuts about music," he said, which perfectly sums it up. I left feeling exhausted, realising that I'd never spoken with so many strangers in the entire 18 months I've lived in London.


  1. This sounds like paradise. In fact, in a small way, this sounds like a very huge version of the Indie bookstore here. They also sell records, and we often go in just to talk to the shop owner about his records. On the surface, people would probably call him a hipster just trying to cash in on the re-surging popularity of vinyl for the hipster market. But if you talk to this guy about records, you can really learn something. He's been doing this since before records even went out of style, and it's just cool to see that he can still sell them and talk about them to people who are willing to hear him out.

  2. Ah Chris Farlowe is very well known from the 60s and I had the pleasure of meeting him at one of our Pop Up Vintage Fairs in London! Check out "Out of Time" it's a great tune!!

  3. LOVE this! I love records, and I love this type of fair x