The Spice Girls and that one time I was wrong about music.

At the age of fifteen, my experience of proper employment was still pretty narrow. The only real job I’d had was an unpleasant stint working in the local corner shop, Weston’s, for a better-than-a-punch-on-the-nose £2.50 an hour.

I would spend every painstaking second of my seven-hour Saturday shifts standing behind the till, tense as a coiled spring, praying nobody would come into the shop so I didn’t have to think of something to say to them. Invariably they had a question I didn’t have the answer to, causing me to open and shut my mouth uselessly, like a surprised goldfish that had flipped out of its bowl, until somebody came out of the back to help me.

I lasted less than a month.

My mum was disappointed. Yet again I’d failed to persuade her that I would ever integrate with normal society.

Nevertheless, I was convinced that there was hope. Somewhere in the world, there must be a working environment in which I would thrive.

That place, I knew, had to be a record shop.

This was obvious to me for a number of reasons. People working in record shops loved records like I loved records. This meant we would not have to observe situations like, say, the weather, in order to converse. Small-talk would consist of debating our favourite Sonic Youth album, the relative merits of grindcore, or possibly a light-hearted track-by-track analysis of Rocket From The Crypt’s ‘Scream Dracula Scream’.

Working in a record shop also meant I would be surrounded by records I hadn’t yet heard. This, I hoped, would put me in a perpetual state of feverish excitement, counteracting any feelings of boredom one might normally expect to feel in a menial day job. Tasks such a labelling CDs would be a delight, a joy. “Alphabetise those cassingles, Penny!” they’d say. “I was put on this earth for such a task!” I would reply, as I clicked my heels together and set to it.

Finally, working in a record shop Was Cool. Hot boys would come in looking for obscure records, see me working there, and my knowledge of the latest Fierce Panda release, multiplied by the fact that I Was An Employee, would lend me a soft-focus aura of desirability. ‘Dream Weaver’ would play in the background. They would instantly ask me out. The boy I fancied at school would see us together and cry into his bottle of Hooch, cursing his folly in ignoring me for the past year.

So. Here we are. Summer 1996.

I was 15 years old. Year 10 work experience was nigh. Everyone was diligently hounding their parents and their parents’ friends for a cushy job somewhere that would set them up on their ultimate career path, ‘Game of Life’ style.

I knew exactly where I was heading.

Luckily, we were well served for independent record shops in Nottingham in the nineties. Despite already having too many employees and not enough customers, one of the tiniest — and my favourite — rather wearily, said yes. They would accept my free labour for five whole days.

Elated, off I went.

Virtually nothing could have taken the shine off that glorious week. The endless standing behind the counter, looking like a spare part, while the other employees fought about who would get to serve the customer. The long, slow, endless walks around the racks ‘rearranging’ the stock because there was bugger all else to do. Getting one chance to choose a record to go on the stereo (One! Glorious! Chance!) and flunking it by choosing Radiohead’s ‘Pablo Honey’, which was considered “a racket” by the boss. I glowed, I floated, I shone. While my best friend was fitting old ladies for bras in M&S, here I was. Being Liv Tyler in Empire Records (minus the speed addiction).

Almost nothing could have stolen my sunshine.

However. There was one blot on my beautiful, if pointless, record shop experience, and it came dressed in buffalo boots and a union jack dress.

On my first day, a group of effervescent teens came bowling in demanding to know when the Spice Girls single was out.

The Spice Girls? The Spice Girls! What was this mysterious collective? I hoped beyond all hope they were a Japanese garage-punk outfit I was yet to discover.

Meanwhile, my boss eye-rolled so hard he could almost certainly see the contents of his own brain (featuring every record released by Tamla Motown in chronological order) and wearily told them to come back next week.

The teens bounced back out, with not a single glance at the carefully constructed Nick Drake vinyl display or the bargain bin full of tempting OMD albums.

I did an internal gasp. These people were plastics! They did not care about Proper Music. They had only come to seek the still-unreleased single of a brand new manufactured pop band that I hadn’t yet heard of. And they wanted to buy this record so badly that they had come into a scruffy record shop that smelled like old carpet and was clearly Not For Them. I was boggled. I’d never seen such a thing in my life.

To my continuing bafflement, similar groups of teens came in, regular as clockwork, every day that week, only to be turned away by the staff. Apparently, they’d been coming in for weeks.

I was awed by the sheer marketing muscle of this totally manufactured band. This group hadn’t even had a single out yet, but already the wheels were in motion. Where were these fans (and they really did feel like full-blown fans) coming from? Where were they getting their information?

I was far too socially awkward to ask.

Without even hearing the song, I wrote the Spice Girls off as Johnny-come-latelys who would be forgotten about within a few months. I reiterated this at length to anyone who would listen, especially when I found out that each Spice Girl had their own nickname and you had to choose your favourite. What were they, ninja turtles?

Well, you know the rest.

Wannabe’ was at number one for seven weeks that summer, and their debut album ‘Spice’ is still the best-selling album by a female group. The Spice Girls have now sold 85 million records worldwide, making them the best-selling female group of all time, and one of the biggest pop bands ever — up there with the Beatles.

We can chalk it up under the small number of instances where I have been stratospherically wrong.

Funnily enough, I did develop a fondness for the Spice Girls — years later, at uni, boozed up on £1 shots.

This summer I went to see them at the Manchester Etihad on their reunion tour. I was amazed by how many songs they had — how many I knew — and how many I bellowed along with. It was a seamless performance, entertainment at its biggest and boldest. It was great.

See - it seeps into you, pop music. Even if you try to avoid it, those songs are still an inescapable part of the fabric of the time they were released.

They still weave their way into your memories and bury themselves there. Cheerful little wormholes of nostalgia with one end tied to your teenager-hood and the other end blasting out down the cereal aisle at Morrison’s as you try to stop your toddler launching itself out of the trolley. For a moment, a chorus, a key change, there you are. Back there again.

Unfortunately, despite years of fruitlessly handing out my CV, that week was my first and last experience of working in a record shop.

This makes me feel a bit sad now. At the time I chalked it up to my uselessness at interacting with the general public, but maybe with persistence and confidence I would have learned.

Still, perhaps I would have got bored of all the labelling and stock-taking in the end. Maybe one perfect week was all it was ever meant to be.

Plus, being IN a band, it turned out, ticked a lot of the same boxes, and didn’t involve operating a till.

But that’s a story for another day.

#write52 is a writing project by Ed Callow, who basically bullies us into creating original content every week. Follow the gang on Twitter here.

I’m Penny, a freelance writer and content strategist. If you’re interested reading more of my banging on about some old thing, the best place to follow me is on Instagram.

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Copywriting | Content Strategy | Comms

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Penny Brazier

Penny Brazier

Copywriting | Content Strategy | Comms

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