On Renshaw Street, there’s a little music shop with a big history.
Curly Music originally opened in Liverpool in 1977, on Smithdown Road, before moving to Stanley Street where it became a vital part of the well known musicians’ quarter.
In the eighties and nineties, Curly Music thrived as it was visited by bands and aspiring musicians alike.
As Liverpool is known across the world as a UNESCO City of Music as well as being declared the City of Pop by the Guinness World Records in 2001, it’s no surprise that its music stores have such a rich history.
We spoke to Curly Music owner Stuart Ellis to find out more about the beloved shop.
The shop was originally started by Dave Roberts and John Plunkett in the seventies and moved to Stanley Street in the early eighties.
Current owner Stuart Ellis told the ECHO: “The shop back then was called Sound Hog, I believe, and they did DJ equipment and some instruments.
“They were engineers, not musicians, but they were repairing a lot of gear so then they opened the shop.
“They realised quite quickly that there was a huge music scene in the city and demand for music equipment – there’s a huge music community here, there always has been, and it just grew so then they moved it to the city centre.”
Stuart started working at the shop when it had relocated to Stanley Street.
He said: “When I was 18, I got a job in the music shop – at the time, I was playing guitar in a band.
“I didn’t want to go to college and just do some daft course, so I got a job there in 1983 when they had an opening and it was only meant to be for a short time, but I just really enjoyed meeting all the musicians and being around that scene.
“It was based on Stanley Street, on the corner of Mathew Street and it just opened my eyes – Mathew Street wasn’t the same back then as it is now, it was a bit like New York really, especially with Eric’s being in that area, which was known as the place where famous bands would come along to play as well as up and comers.
“It was brilliant, we were right in the middle of the music scene – musicians used to hang around that area and you’d see the likes of Holly Johnson from Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Pete Burns’ band – it was, if you like, the epicentre of it all.
“We were always known for supplying cool kinds of stuff and our staff were music lovers, too.
“There were three shops in the area – Curly Music, Rushworth’s and Hessey’s. Between the three shops, that area catered for everyone – it was everything.
“We had punks, rockers, everyone in that area – it was the hub that catered for musicians and music lovers.
“Over the years, I worked with Tony Bolland, he was the manager and was a well known drummer in Liverpool and I met a lot of people through him.
“Ronnie Westhead was probably the most well known guitarist in the north west in the eighties and nineties and I worked with him, too.
“He was always out gigging but he influenced a lot of rock guitarists in Liverpool at the time.
“They were good friends and I met a lot of people through them – they worked in Curly’s and they’d never work in any other store, either.
“I’d worked there for around seven years and then I bought it when I was 26 with a business partner and took over the running of things.
“It was the early nineties when I bought it and we were there at Stanley Street for eight years, then we moved to a bigger store on Ranelagh Street to cater for all the stock we were doing – we could offer more with that space.
“We were there for 18 years and we came to Renshaw Street three years ago – as time went on, you find you don’t need as much space with things being online, the Ranelagh Street store was becoming too big and we were looking at opening a music school, too.
“Ranelagh Street wasn’t the right space for that, but Renshaw Street catered for everything.
“Now, we have our music school with tutors on the second floor and then our instrument sales are all on the ground floor.”
Stuart said: “There’s been loads of famous customers – I met Joe Walsh from the Eagles, he just popped in and bought a mixer off us one day.
“I met Gary Moore, the world famous guitarist, as well as Peter Green, the original guitarist from Fleetwood Mac.
“Generally what happens is you meet roadies or road managers, you don’t usually get many famous people just coming in off the street.
“David Lee Roth from Van Halen, his band were in one day – we ended up going out for a drink with them.
“We had the road manager and one of the roadies for Sting come in, too.
“We even met the original members of ABBA, they were in and one of the guys bought a saxophone and one of the other guys bought a mouthpiece.
“On my second day working there, Paul Humphreys from OMD walked past me in the store and went upstairs – I asked the manager at the time who they were and it turns out they had a studio on the third floor and recorded some of their songs there.”
OMD’s first number one single is said to have been recorded in the shop.
‘Wow, that’s real talent’
Stuart said: “Every day in the shop is different, pretty much.
“It’s quite rare, and it’s probably meant to be that way, but sometimes someone will walk in and play something and it’ll turn your head and you think, wow that’s real talent – it could be a young kid or a guy who’s just trying a guitar out, but it’ll turn your head.
“The amount of people you see come and go, you meet so many people with an interest and enthusiasm for music and nothing much has changed with that, it comes in circles.
“It’s like fashion where it all comes back around – each new generation thinks they’ve invented it which always makes me smile, everything comes back, just with a new tweak.
The music scene back then was very electronic and keyboard based, Stuart continued.
“You had Pete Burns, Duran Duran, artists like that and we’ve always had the rock scene, but then when it got to the late eighties and early nineties, you got the Indie scene back.
“When Oasis got big, the amount of guitars we sold was insane – everyone wanted to buy a guitar.
“Keyboards weren’t the flavour of the month anymore, music always comes full circle.
“X Factor and shows like that didn’t really help bands because it was more focused on the vocals, but then Ed Sheeran getting big with his guitar has inspired people to pick an acoustic guitar up again – you can pick it up and sing and be anywhere.
“The people we get in are great – musicians are artists, sensitive souls, but on the whole, they’re generally very laid back and it’s a great community.”
‘They’ve got their dream in their hands’
Customer service is very important to the shop’s owners.
Stuart said: “People can come along and kids can come in and try an instrument out – you need somewhere to go where people can come and try stuff out because the Internet can only show you so much.
“We don’t vet anyone who comes in, we just let people and young kids try stuff out which not every store does.
“I’ve always found that if you let them try it, it sounds cheesy but then they’ve got their dream in their hands and they can see it and feel it – they might not have the money just yet to get it but then they can aspire to it.
“We get people coming in who’ve said they had their eye on a guitar or other piece of equipment for years and then they come in and get it – that, to me, shows people have thought about it and longed for it and they come back for it because it’s a passion.
“We give advice too and we do set-ups and help people get on their way – you bring your instrument in to us and we can fix things up and get things working right.
“When you give an instrument back and it’s working properly, you see their face, they light up.
“We repair stuff, we fix guitars, we’re more focused on service now because of the Internet showing so much, we’ve got to have something to give – if you can offer that service then it keeps the music community together and going.
“I still think that if you can maintain that attitude in the music community and provide good service and advice, then it can thrive – we get things done for musicians too – they’ll come in when they’ve got a gig in an hour and they need new strings and we just sort it out and get them on their way.”
Curly Music can be found at 38 Renshaw Street, L1 4EF.
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