The British obsession with music

During a frantic 35-hour music mission to the U.K. last weekend, I stole some time to do some record shopping

During a frantic 35-hour music mission to the U.K. last weekend, I stole some time to do some record shopping: Oxford Street (the flagship HMV), Berwick Street (Sister Ray and a few others) and in the East End (Rough Trade on Brick Lane). Everywhere I went, I thought the same thing: God, the British love music. I’ll even go so far as to say that Britons may love rock and pop more than any other nation on the planet.

All the record stores I visited were filled with so many CDs, vinyl records, DVDs, books, magazines and t-shirts that I became disoriented. The aisles were crammed with people actually buying things. The line at the HMV check-out snaked around itself three times. Meanwhile, back in the stacks, strangers debated and argued with each other while simultaneously offering recommendations and suggestions.

How can a nation of 60 million people support so many excellent music magazines? Q, Mojo, Record Collector, Kerrang, Uncut, Word, Classic Rock, the NME — the list goes on. Canada, even with our fierce musical nationalism, can’t support even one printed music mag.

There are the endless summer festivals (Glastonbury, Leeds, Reading, T in the Park, V-Fest, Bestival, Latitude, Download and more). The BBC remains a powerful and popular musical force. And while they support music made by their own, the British often embrace foreign bands before they find any love at home (Pixies, Nirvana, The Killers, Kings of Leon, Gossip.)

Why are the people of this rainy island in the North Atlantic so passionate about music? Could it be the tradition of the arts that extends back beyond Chaucer? Maybe it’s because so many people are packed onto such a small island. It might be the class system where music has long offered the promise of escape from dreary council estates. There’s the British art school system where creative types can park themselves for a few years after high school. Or maybe as the nation that gave the world The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, the British just get it more than we do.

At Heathrow, I carried six kilograms of Sunday papers onto my return flight, each one featuring its own spin on the British music scene. By the time we cleared the Irish coast, I had already made plans to return.

– The Ongoing History Of New Music can be heard on stations across Canada. Read more at and

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