Belfast Telegraph

Ballyclare music man Bert McCormick shuts up shop after 42 years

By Victoria Leonard

A Ballyclare music shop owner who rubbed shoulders with legendary singers such as Chubby Checker during a career spanning more than half a century is to bring the final curtain down on his business.

Bert McCormick (78), who opened his eponymous store in the Co Antrim town on July 1, 1976, began working in the music industry as a teenager and rose to become the boss of a leading record firm.

In addition to his day jobs, he enjoyed a successful career as a keyboard player in a number of jazz bands, then began touring the province with showbands in the Eighties, often as a supporting act for visiting stars.

When he saw a sign advertising a vacancy for a shop on Ballyclare's Main Street in the mid-Seventies, he grasped the opportunity to fulfil his lifelong dream of owning a music shop, establishing a thriving family business.

"When I look back it has all been amazing, and I would love to do it all again," he told the Belfast Telegraph from his store, Bert McCormick CDs and DVDs.

"I have been in this business since I was 16 years old.

"My first job was in wholesale with Symphola, the company which owned Smyth's Record Shops. I worked my way up to chief executive, and I was playing as a musician as well.

"I started out in the Hiawatha Jazz Band, then I moved on with the Jimmy Compton Band for a couple of years.

"When the showband scene took over I joined the Ivan Black Showband, and from there we founded the Broadway Showband. We toured with Chubby Checker and we did shows with The Kinks and Freddie and The Dreamers.

"After Symphola closed I had been working for Solomon and Peres running their record department, but I always wanted to own my own shop.

"I saw the vacant shop in Ballyclare and said to my wife Edith that we could have a go at it.

"Edith ran the shop during the week while I kept my day jobs and took over at weekends.

"I had been working for BBC Video, but when I was about 64 I decided to come into the shop full-time. My daughter Joanne also worked in the shop, so it is a real family business."

Bert says that he began selling music from the shop on old 78 RPM records, the precursor to vinyl, and that the local public's music tastes didn't always tally with the rest of the UK.

"Rod Stewart was a big favourite, but the Reverend William McCrea outsold him here singing gospel music," he revealed.

"When we opened in 1976 the Beatles were among the biggest sellers, but you had a lot of artists who are still around today, like the Rolling Stones.

"Country music was also popular with acts like Charlie Pride and Merle Haggard, then there were the likes of The Nolans, Mud, Gerry Rafferty, Hot Chocolate and Donna Summer."

While demand for boy bands and girl bands such as the Spice Girls, Boyzone and Westlife kept the tills ringing throughout the Nineties and Noughties, Bert says he only experienced hysteria on one occasion.

"There was a mad rush when Garth Brooks brought out a double CD with a video," he recalled. "We did have signings in the shop, but they were mainly country artists like Susan McCann and Ann Breen - we had a broad range of music."

Ironically, Bert has been in the industry long enough to see trends come full circle, with many youngsters now requesting music on vinyl.

"The modern artists are bringing out their music on vinyl again, and for the youngsters it's something new as they didn't grow up with it. A lot of them got record players for Christmas," he explained.

"I also think things sound better on vinyl. There's a better quality, but a lot of young ones are downloading things now."

Bert says that his favourite group is rock band Electric Light Orchestra, but admits he is also partial to the dulcet tones of Michael Buble.

"My favourite era was the Sixties. It was a great time; everything was electric then. I remember going to see Blackboard Jungle and the opening track was Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets - the hairs on the back of my neck stood up on end!"

The lifelong music lover has not taken the decision to leave the shop he and his family have run for 42 years lightly.

"I've been threatening to retire for a while now," he laughed. "I will miss the people. The greatest satisfaction is finding something for a customer that they can't get anywhere else.

"We are busy with a sale to get rid of the remaining stock, but I don't know what I'll do when the doors close on February 24.

"I want to thank the community for their support; we have received so many messages."

Belfast Telegraph

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