Why I had to protect Muswell Hill's musical lore


As a South Londoner, my heart is not going to sing at the idea of a trek across town in the rush hour on a Monday morning. Yet all that changes when I reach a very special shop in Muswell Hill called Les Aldrich.

The shop is an exciting Aladdin's cave of music and one of those treasure-troves of an establishment that one may think no longer exists, yet is still going strong after 100 years. It can even boast to be the shop that supplied local resident and Kinks legend Ray Davies with his first guitar.

Les himself is, of course, long gone but his spirit lives on in the form of Ian Rosenblatt - City lawyer, philanthropist and senior partner of corporate law firm Rosenblatt Solicitors, the company he founded 25 years ago.

"Every weekend, I would bring my kids to the shop, drive them mad with my musical choices. Even when they grew up and I moved to living up in town, I would shlep all the way back to Muswell Hill because I needed my fix of the shop so badly," Ian confesses.

So close was the bond that he formed as a paying customer, that when he heard it was to close down, he knew that the only way to protect its heritage was to buy the shop himself.

"When I arrived home, I said to my wife Emma: 'I bought a couple of books… oh, and by the way, I also bought a record shop." Thankfully, Emma - who runs PR firm Redleaf Polhill and is chairman of the Barbican Centre Trust - was thrilled.

The shop contains the most amazing collection of specialist instruments, vinyl albums, CDs, pocket synthesizers and harmonicas - not to mention must-have music-themed accessories such as socks with a piano key pattern, tie pins, rulers, wrapping paper and endless chachkes. For any misty-eyed music fan, it's like going back in time.

Ian, 55, tells me that he has loved music since he was a young child. Born in Liverpool, his father was the youngest of 12 from an immigrant Jewish family, eight of whom were brothers and several were synagogue cantors, so there was always plenty of music to be heard in the house.

"Singing was almost a contact sport in my home," he laughs. "It was all about who could sing higher and louder. Dad used to leave early to go to work and would play opera on the record player at five in the morning while he was getting ready. I've always had a very broad taste in all kinds of music - classical, jazz, pop, you name it and I still have much the same tastes today, particularly in operatic music.

"As a teenager back in the '70s, I loved T-Rex, was very fond of dressing up as Mark Bolan and was an enormous fan of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Jimi Hendrix.

"It's quite interesting that everything comes round full circle, no matter what tastes you have. My son Ollie, who is a concert promoter, has recently been doing business with Carl Palmer."

Ian's maternal grandparents took him and his siblings to the Royal Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool every other Saturday night for concerts. "So I had that side of my musical education and my grandparents made it more palatable for me by buying fish and chips on the way home."

Ian came to London in 1977, took his degree in Law at LSE and qualified. But, he admits, he was always more fascinated with music.

"I admit that I'm something of a nerd when it comes to 'the voice' and in 1999 I made the decision to establish a world-class series of opera recitals, the Rosenblatt Recitals", he says.

This personal passion became London's only world-class series of opera recitals when, after the sudden withdrawal of the original sponsor, Rosenblatt Solicitors took over the sponsorship of a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, given by the Argentinian tenor José Cura and the Philharmonic Orchestra.

"It seemed to me that British audiences deserved more frequent opportunities to experience truly great voices, generally only heard at the Royal Opera House or the occasional one-off concert," explains Ian. "The programmes that we organise are each performer's personal selection which showcases their vocal talent to the full." Just to add to Ian's opera-loving pleasure, he also instigated Devon's Branscombe Festival which took place in 2013. So, obviously, the shop is a marvellous hymn to music.

But does he not worry about the shop being a victim of the unstoppable rise of the download? "I always tell customers that if they want to buy music from the Internet then go on Amazon as it gives plenty of choices, different price points and customer ratings which is fine.

''But at our shop we have a great team of specialists who can recommend instruments, classical, jazz, pop, vinyl, sheet music, boxed sets - anything at all - and you can have a proper conversation with a real person rather than simply clicking on a list of iTunes".

But can independent shops such as Les Aldrich really survive with such competition when downloading is so easy and, of course, cheap.

"Yes, its convenient," Ian agrees. ''However I do believe that establishments like ours will survive and more specialist shops will open because many of us want human contact, knowledge and not simply a commodity.

"A vinyl record or a CD, for example, is something that you can keep, hold in your hand and treasure for a long period of time. It's real and deeply evocative, not something that is 'virtual'.

Ian's promoter son Ollie - his eldest -works on another side of the music business. He says that his earliest memory is one of music - almost always opera - blasting out in his father's car.

"Music has always been part of my DNA, I think that my blood type is a treble clef," Ollie laughs.

He is mainly involved in the A&R (artists and repertoire) aspect of the business but, he explains, his core business is to promote tours with top artists.

"Right now, I have around 95 shows to promote. For example, George Gershwin's Of Thee I Sing and artists such as Burt Bacharach, Tim Rice and Tony Bennett. Burt Bacharach is coming over for a UK tour in June and will be playing at the Royal Festival Hall.

"But, as a promoter, it's such an amazing feeling to be able to put on a good quality show and enrich someone's life by them seeing and enjoying it.

"That, of course, is something that my father would always agree on."

As, no doubt, would the legendary Les Aldrich.

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