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Former HMV boss looks forward to its Oxford Street return: ‘it is still part of Britain’s cultural make-up’

As HMV readies itself for an Oxford Street return, former boss Brian McLaughlin says it's never lost its place in the hearts of consumers.

By Nick Reilly

HMV Oxford Street
HMV Oxford Street (Picture: Alex Liivet / Wikimedia Creative Commons)

As HMV prepares to return to its iconic former flagship home on London’s Oxford Street later this year, one of the iconic store’s CEOs has discussed its place in 2023 – and his brushes with music royalty while in charge.

The legendary store closed its flagship branch at 363 Oxford Street in 2019, before it housed one of the many American Candy Stores that emerged in Central London during the pandemic.

The store, HMV’s very first, was opened by legendary composer Sir Edward Elgar in 2021 and has played host to iconic music stars – including a 1995 rooftop gig from Blur and a Christmas lights switch-on by the Spice Girls just a year later.

Now, Canadian business mogul Doug Putman will reopen the store towards the end of 2023 – with a revamped layout, a new focus on merchandise, vinyl, films and technology, along with live music and in-store signings.

Speaking to Rolling Stone UK, former HMV head Brian McLaughlin, who oversaw some of the store’s most successful periods, explained that it still holds a special place in the heart of consumers.

“I was amazed to find out recently they’ve still got 130 stores in the UK,” said McLaughlin.

“Given that it’s gone to administration twice but there’s still that many stores shows just how much of a special place it is for consumers.”

He added: “When it comes to regular Saturday shoppers, you often hear people talking about how they’ll go into HMV and lose themselves for an hour and a half. I haven’t just heard that from one person, I’ve heard it from lots of people. I think it’s, it is, very, it is very much part of Britain’s cultural makeup in a way.”

Brian’s journey with the iconic company started when he began working at a HMV store in Portsmouth at the age of 19, before a promotion to store manager several years later catapulted his rise to the top. He is now recalling his experiences in His Master’s Voice, a new memoir which charts his journey with the firm.

“It was really when I became operations director that I had the power to be able to change things in the business and I think I say in the book that at that stage HMV never had any real goals or ambitions, it was a chain of record stores that was owned by EMI music who weren’t really interested in them. As long as they didn’t lose money, EMI weren’t really interested.”

Under his leadership, the store’s UK presence grew, and even saw the introduction of iconic acts turning up at the Oxford Street store to perform and do signings.

“The one that stands out was when Prince turned up at the Oxford Street store and even I, the managing director at the time, couldn’t get in the store. Someone sent me a photo the other day and it showed the crowd outside in Oxford Street. There I was, outside, because I could not get into the shop!,” he recalls.

But now, under the ownership of Canadian magnate Doug Putnam, Brian is confident that HMV can flourish once again.

“When you read what Doug is saying, he wants music and live bands to be an integral part of all his stores. I don’t follow everything he does, but that has to be the right way forward,” he said.

“The fact they’re now opening stores rather than closing them has to give you a flavour of how things are going, and I hear his stores in Canada are doing pretty well. I think part of it too is the kind of tangible magic. It’s all well and good, you know, going on Spotify and streaming a song or an album, but going into the store and browsing something and looking in and discovering that , I think that kind of connection that will never go away. I think that must be part of HMV’s future too.”