Probe Records


Probe Records, Button Street, 1980. Photo by Ian Clegg.

...to me it’s more about about the people, the community and the experience that makes a place rather than the concrete or the architectural grandeur.

Long before we started consuming by a click of a button we bought our ’stuff’ by going to shops, real places with real people, using good old fashioned ‘cash’. One such place I frequented in the late 70’s and early 80’s with long time friend Dave was Probe Records in Liverpool. After buying second hand gear in ‘69A’, (vintage clothing shop) usually worn winkle pickers or musty German army jackets, we’d eventually find our way to Probe Records.

Behind the counter in Probe. 1980s.

Although Probe has relocated a few times, the one I refer to was in Button Street, a back street just around the corner from Erics nightclub another famous Liverpool music venue. In terms of architecture I’m not sure it has any real design significance, but what I do remember is the imposing corner plot with steps leading up to a large door with two columns which were bill posted with posters advertising gigs and record releases. Record shops can be quite intimidating places at the best of times and Probe took the top spot.

Pete Burns lead singer to the Liverpool band Dead or Alive was behind the counter. It was him we’d go in to see just as much as buying the records. In fact Probe was a cultural melting pot for the Liverpool music scene and many other musicians and producers passed through its doors including Pete Wylie (The Mighty WAH) Julian Cope (Teardrop Explodes) and Paul Rutherford (Frankie Goes to Hollywood). For any teenager into music and fashion in the late 70s and early 80s climbing the steps into Probe records was a rights of passage. You hadn’t lived until you’d queued in line with your copy of ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ being looked at as if to say “why are you buying that !” You’d scamper away with a record under arm and a red face pretty quick.

Probe records is significant because it was a part of my youth, a moment in time – you felt like you were part of something. Although I’m a big fan of modernist and brutalist architecture and might have picked a mid 20th century building, to me it’s more about about the people, the community and the experience that makes a place rather than the concrete or the architectural grandeur. That’s what made places like Probe Records in the late 70s meaningful to me and the enduring memories of visiting and viewing the hundreds of record covers has shaped and influenced my career as a graphic artist.

Probe Records Top Ten

1. Dead or Alive – You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)
2. Talking Heads – Houses in Motion
3. Teardrop Explodes – Reward
4. Echo and the Bunnymen – The Cutter
5. David Bowie – Queen Bitch
6. The Beatles – Penny Lane
7. Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead
8. Joy Divison – She’s Lost Control
9. Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Two Tribes
10. The La’s – There She Goes

It’s difficult to describe the feeling that you had when you went into Probe as a teenager. The trepidation and even an element of fear of asking for the wrong record, the possibility of being thrown it out because it wasn't hip enough. Character building and part of growing up I suppose.

Ian Clegg

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