Bebington-born author, Graham Jones, who claims to have visited more record shops than any other person and had one of his books turned into a film, takes us on an adventure into Wirral's legendary Skeleton Records.

Any vinyl fan visiting Liverpool should make the effort to take the ferry across the river to visit the legendary music institution known affectionately as Skellys.

As a 13-year-old schoolboy, growing up in Bebington, I would get the bus each weekend into Birkenhead to visit Skeleton, a magical and mystical experience.

The shop had no window and to enter you walked along a dark corridor. The throbbing sound of progressive rock could be heard coming from the end of what seemed like a cave, while the air was filled with the heady smell of joss sticks and patchouli oil. 

Time has not dimmed the memory of my first visit. I recall entering a dimly-lit world where anyone with less-than-perfect eyesight would struggle to read the sleeve notes of the LPs on sale.

Wirral Globe: Graham Jones is the author of three record shop books - ‘Last Shop Standing’, 'Strange Requests and Comic Tales from Record Shops’ and 'The Vinyl Revival and the Shops That Made it Happen'Graham Jones is the author of three record shop books - ‘Last Shop Standing’, 'Strange Requests and Comic Tales from Record Shops’ and 'The Vinyl Revival and the Shops That Made it Happen'

At the counter sat a man with long black hair and a droopy moustache. This was my introduction to the owner John Weaver. He looked like Frank Zappa’s younger brother and referred to everybody as “Man”.

I am pleased to say he is still going strong 40 years later. The long hair is a now grey and shorter, the moustache has gone. But he still refers to you as “Man”.

I found that the shop had moved. The directions I received from a passer-by were: “Just stay on this road till you see the Recession Bar [surely the most depressingly named pub in the land]. Opposite there is a road. Turn down there and Skeleton is between Mr. Yummy’s kebab shop and the funeral parlour.”

Although the shop still has no window, a huge mural of a skeleton is painted on the exterior with a gigantic red arrow pointing to the shop’s doorway. I would be interested to hear the funeral director’s opinion of the mural, which cannot be great for their business.

You enter the doorway and climb the stairs, which are decorated with classic LP sleeves and posters promoting local gigs.

The shop itself is divided into two rooms, one for new product, the other for second-hand. The floor is covered in piles of collectable magazines such as Q, Mojo, Record Collector, Kerrang! and Blues & Rhythm.  

If you are a collector of Blues & Rhythm, get in touch with John, because the issues he has for sale go back as far as 1972. 

John lives above the shop so he can sleep late every morning. His commute consists of a mere twelve steps. John has spent his life in Birkenhead as his family owned a chain of bookmakers.

It was “odds on” that he would start work there when he left school. Instead he started work in what he called the “Toytown Savings Bank” better known as the TSB.
Although he was good at his job, John was keen to work for himself. Spotting a gap in the market thanks to Birkenhead's lack of a proper record shop, he packed in his job to fulfil his dream.

Finding cheap premises next door to a printer’s, he opened Skeleton Records in August 1971. As well as dealing in second-hand records, he also sold posters, books, underground press, incense, costume jewellery, joss sticks and patchouli oil.

He took the name from a line in the Syd Barrett song “If It's In You”, from his 1970 album The Madcap Laughs, in which Syd sings “Skeleton kissed a steel rail”.
Although they bought new stock, Skeleton was mainly a pre-owned emporium, selling reasonably-priced stock.

Wirral Globe: Graham's latest book has been turned into a filmGraham's latest book has been turned into a film

In the 1970s, I thought it was the best record shop on the Wirral, and nothing has happened to change my view. Every week I would purchase from John and if I didn’t like what I bought I would take it back and he would let me trade it in.

Many people preferred to sell their records to him for cash. I was always impressed that no matter how dark it was in the shop, John would be able to pick up any scratch on an LP that someone was looking to sell, giving him the opportunity to knock them down on price. If you took records to sell to him he would inspect them and divide them into three piles.

If he raised his eyebrows and uttered the sound “ermm!” you knew you had given him something of interest.  A second pile of records was the “OK” pile, where John made out he was doing you a favour to take them off your hands. The third pile was stuff that John didn’t want clogging up his racks, and would elicit a look which said “How come you brought me this crap?”

One Christmas I had been given a Ronco compilation album. Although it had the odd song I liked such as Blackfoot Sue’s “Standing in the Road”, most of the stuff was easy listening such as The Carpenters, Middle Of The Road and Sammy Davis Jnr, singing “The Candy Man” (a song now played constantly by Chris Evans on Radio 2, still sounding as bad as it did then).

Although somewhat disappointed with my present, I took solace in the fact that I could take it to Skeleton and swap it for something decent. To this day, I have never forgotten the embarrassment of handing over my brand-new copy of Ronco’s 20 Greatest Hits LP to John and hearing him saying, in front of a crowded shop, “Sorry man, even I can’t sell this.”

In 1976 John started promoting gigs in and around the Birkenhead and Liverpool area by acts such as Motorhead, the Jam, Fairport Convention and the Dead Kennedys.  
He must be the only man to have booked the Sex Pistols three times and, even though every gig was cancelled, managed to make a profit.

On the first two occasions, the band cancelled, but each time John was able to rearrange the gig. For the long-awaited rearranged concert, John hired out a large cabaret club in Birkenhead called The Hamilton.

Recent artists who had played there included Tom O’Connor, Tony Christie, Stan Boardman and the Grumbleweeds. It was a place that served chicken in a basket and would have a raffle after the first act had performed: hardly a venue where you would expect to find the most controversial band in the country performing.

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On the day tickets went on sale, the shop had more than 80 people queuing outside. Tickets quickly sold out for what was to become the most anticipated gig in the history of Birkenhead.

The Hamilton Club started getting pressure from both the council and the police to cancel the gig, something they had never experienced when putting on Tom O’Connor.

With stories dominating the tabloid press to the effect that the band were corrupting the youth of the nation, the owners of the club met with John and told him that with much reluctance they were going to have to cancel the gig.

John braced himself for hundreds of fans coming in to the shop to claim a refund, but the rush never materialized. Only a trickle of fans came in to ask for their money back.

John made an £800 profit on the gig because fans preferred to keep the tickets as a souvenir of a Sex Pistols gig that never happened, rather than claim a refund. And who knows what one of those tickets is worth now?

One of the earliest punk gigs John promoted was Siouxsie & the Banshees.  On the day of the gig he was surprised to receive a phone call to ask if Siouxsie could not only borrow the support band’s equipment but also go on stage first.

It turned out the band could not afford to hire a van, so they had purchased some cheap day return tickets for the train instead. The problem was that the last train back to London was at 10.30pm.

The punters who decided to give the support band a miss that night witnessed a performance by local band the Accelerators who couldn’t believe their luck, playing to a sell-out crowd.

The most pleasing gig John put on was Elvis Costello. He received a phone call from Elvis’ management, asking if he could promote a gig in the Birkenhead area. The only problem was that John was not allowed to advertise it or put up posters.

Clearly this would not work as he could only make money if people attended. He need not have worried, because he found a venue in New Brighton and through word of mouth alone, more than 400 people turned up to see Elvis play.

It was only during the encore that the reason became apparent why Elvis had wanted to play the low-key gig: he had brought his mum, who lived locally, onto the stage to sing her “Happy Birthday”. With a packed venue, it was a great atmosphere and something his mum would never forget.

John formed the Skeleton Records label in 1978, releasing records by Attempted Moustache, Afraid Of Mice, Wayne Hussey (who went on to find fame with The Mission), Windows, The Relations, Geisha Girls, Instant Agony and This Final Frame.

Both Instant Agony singles reached the top ten of the indie charts. He also passed up the chance to release the first ever single by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

He had seen the band perform at Eric’s, the famous Liverpool venue, and was so impressed by their electronic sound that he offered to release their debut single.

OMD had decided to release a song called “Always” but John persuaded them that the B-side “Electricity” was a better track. He had booked a holiday to America and when he came back he was disappointed to discover that OMD had gone for a deal with Factory Records.

“Electricity” became a cult classic helping OMD to become one of the most successful chart acts of the last 40 years.

Wirral Globe: Another of Graham's record shop booksAnother of Graham's record shop books

John’s financial position didn’t improve as none of the label’s releases were making him a profit and he lost his Christmas trade after the shop closed during that crucial trading period, due to a flood.

As is often the case, the insurance company paid him a lot less than the value of the stock and business he had lost. Debts were piling up and John was advised to go bankrupt.

He was warned that the receivers would come and confiscate all his stock, so he devised a cunning plan. John hired a van and drove down to the Record Exchange in London.
He offered to take as much stock off them as possible if it was priced at 10p or below.

The Record Exchange were delighted to clear out thousands of unsellable records and John drove back to Birkenhead with probably the worst music collection ever. 

Back in Birkenhead, John arranged with a mate who ran a pub to store all the good stock from the shop. John then replaced the empty racks with the stock he had bought from the Record Exchange.

What he didn’t count on was the receivers turning up so early, as he was still transferring the quality stock over to the pub. He allowed himself a smile when the receivers commented that it was no wonder he went bust, “selling this crap”.

Due to the stress of going bankrupt, John took a bit of time out to recover before starting again at the address he still has today under the name Skellys.

He waited a few years for the fuss about his bankruptcy to die down before reverting to the shop’s original name Skeleton Records.

I am glad to say this avid Tranmere Rovers fan and legend of record retailing is still delighting music fans of The Wirral and it is worth a visit just to see the Skeleton painting on the wall outside the shop.

The books of Graham Jones are available in record shops or online.
The latest book The Vinyl Revival and the Shops That Made it Happen' has been turned in to a film. Visit