It must have been in April 2001. Chris had asked me to stop in to the big HMV on Oxford Street and buy the new Snow Patrol album (Snow Patrol were still kind of cool back then). Perhaps as I came in, I noticed that the store was a bit busier than usual, but it didn't bother me. I'd only be in there for a moment.
Except that by the time I'd found the CD, the number of people in the shop had at least tripled. Most of the crowd looked to be under 16. The air was filled with shrill cries and the sound of stomping feet. I had no chance of getting near the tills, and the exit wasn't looking too likely either. So I bolted down the stairs and through the swinging glass doors of the classical section.
The well-dressed men behind the sales counter were looking at the ceiling as if doubtful that it would hold.
"What's going on?" I said.
"It's the group from that reality show," one of them replied. "They're giving their first performance today."
I browsed through the classical recordings until the noises from above suggested that the mob was dispersing. It was time to pay, but I felt embarrassed about using the classical counter just to buy a Snow Patrol record. A budget-priced CD caught my eye: The Sofia Recital. That sounded pretty interesting, and it could make my purchase respectable without too much harm to our bank account.
"Excellent choice," said the shop assistant. "A real masterpiece." And he was right.
That's how I accidentally attended Hear'Say's first in-store (a boast now guaranteed to impress precisely no one) and first heard Sviatoslav Richter (an experience that should impress more people than it does).
I won't really miss HMV, the chain. In recent years most of its branches devoted less and less space to music, filling up with DVDs and games instead. And less and less of the music they did stock was outside the mainstream. It's like they tried to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and then discovered that the lowest common denominator preferred to buy its CDs at Tesco.
But if the Oxford Street shop goes, I will miss their classical section and the helpful and knowledgeable staff who worked there. And I wonder where they will find a job that uses their knowledge now.