London’s best record shops, from Honest Jon’s to Lion Vibes

·9-min read
Sounds of the Universe  (Sounds of the Universe, 7 Broadwick St, Soho)
Sounds of the Universe (Sounds of the Universe, 7 Broadwick St, Soho)

The internet might have changed the world gets its music, moving us away from the physical realm and towards the digital one, but it’s only made the giddy thrill of visiting a bricks-and-mortar record shop even stronger.

There’s something uniquely special about sifting through the hundreds of records, helding up by creaking shelves and packed into boxes, and finding that long sought-after gem; something that a quick search for music on a streaming platform could never create.

And although things aren’t easy for record shops - the pressures of the modern music marketplace, coupled with ever-rising rents in the capital, has meant that many beloved sellers have had to call it quits in recent years - many have powered onwards, providing a haven for the capital’s crate-diggers.

These are the places in London showcasing the best new music and harbouring the long-forgotten gems.

Alan’s Records

If a crate-digger dies and goes to heaven, you would imagine their celestial resting place to look something like Alan’s Records. It’s a proper record shop — bargain bins, dusty corners and more vinyl than you can shake a stick at — that regularly draws customers from around the city up to its home in East Finchley. You can happily walk in without so much as a plan and still leave a happy customer, such is the depth and quality of the collection. Take the time to look through its crates and Alan’s Records shall reward you.

218 High Road, N2 9AY,

Sounds of the Universe

 (Sounds of the Universe, 7 Broadwick St, Soho)
(Sounds of the Universe, 7 Broadwick St, Soho)

The selection of records in this shop might not be quite as far-reaching as its name suggests, but if we’re talking about music from the earthly realm, the range is pretty great. From dubstep to Italo disco to tropicalia — it’s all here. A Soho stalwart, this shop is also home to Soul Jazz Records, an equally eclectic label that has put out hundreds of excellent releases since the early Nineties.

7 Broadwick Street, W1F 0DA,

Phonica Records

Another Soho institution, this is the place to go for the latest and greatest records in dance music. The focus is on cuts from techno, house and disco, both classic and contemporary, although the collection spreads well into the other corners of dance music and beyond. There’s a decent selection of DJ equipment on sale, too.

51 Poland Street, W1F 7LZ,

Flashback Records

This Islington shop is now 25 years into providing crate-diggers with the stuff they crave: rare gems and second-hand surprises. There is a good selection of the latest vinyl, but it’s the used records you need to dive into. Take some time perusing its wares and you’re bound to find something good — either that elusive record you’ve been seeking for years, or something intriguing that might just be your new favourite album. The shop on Essex Road is the headline attraction, but it’s well worth paying a visit to its newer branches in Shoreditch and Crouch End if you’re nearby.

50 Essex Road, N1 8LR,

Rough Trade East

Rough Trade is a seminal independent record label — The Strokes, The Smiths and Arcade Fire are just a few of the world-renowned bands to have released music through it — but it actually started life as a west London record shop. It doesn’t exist anymore, but multiple Rough Trade outlets have taken its place. There’s a great one in nearby Ladbroke Grove, as well others in Bristol, Nottingham and New York City, but our pick is the London flagship, Rough Trade East. It’s a great place to have a dig around, but it stands out for the quality of its regular in-store performances.

Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, E1 6QL,

Rye Wax

Currently closed

Down in the basement of the Bussey Building in Peckham is Rye Wax, a record shop that moonlights as a bar and events space. It’s not got the biggest collection of records on our list, but there’s more than enough gold on its shelves to keep you coming back for more, time and again — second-hand seven-inches and hot new cuts sit side by side. Keep an eye out for its regular DJ nights and in-store label takeovers.

133 Rye Lane, SE15 4ST,

All Ages Records

Camden is known for its dedication to the heavier end of the music spectrum — The Underworld is one of London’s leading venues for bands who like to turn it up to 11 (and them some) — so it’s only natural that the city’s best punk and hardcore record shop resides in NW1. Aside from all the excellent LPs and CDs, the shop also sells T-shirts, indy zines, patches and more. Rock on.

27a Pratt Street, NW1 0BG,

Sounds of the Suburbs

This Ruislip shop is a way out of central London, but trust us — it’s worth making the pilgrimage for. It’s one for the dedicated collectors, boasting rarities that few other shops within the M25 can match (just make sure your wallet is full, because, as you might expect, they don’t come cheap). Punk, ska and indie records make up the majority of the collection, although a lot of other genres get a good showing here.

110 Victoria Road, HA4 0AL,

Banquet Records

Kingston is home to this independent shop with a focus on indie, dance and punk. All the most-hyped new releases are there, and you can count on it for having early stocks of the biggest new vinyl. Much like Rough Trade though, it’s the in-store performances that really help this place stand-out on the music lovers’ map. It hosts the up-and-comers as well as the stadium-fillers before they head out on tour — Ed Sheeran stopped by for a performance in 2011.

52 Eden Street, KT1 1EE,

Casbah Records

This shop has its roots in Greenwich Market, where it sold records up until 2009. It’s now got a permanent shop, still in the same area. It’s a small place, but it’s absolutely packed with eye-catching LPs. There’s no particular speciality here — perhaps only that it’s more focused on modern music rather than the classics — but you’re just as likely to find a sought-after hip-hop record as you are an under-the-radar jazz release.

320-322 Creek Road, SE10 9SW,

Reckless Records

Reckless Record holds a perhaps unexpected place in Britpop history. If you look closely, you can see its shop front on the cover of Oasis’ second album, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory — it’s the red door just behind the second lamppost on the left side of the street. It’s another Soho institution with more than four decades’ experience in buying and selling the best second-hand records across the broad music spectrum. If you pay a visit and don’t leave with an absolute gem of a record, you’re doing something wrong.

30 Berwick Street, W1F 8RH,

Vinyl Pimp

Another second-hand supremo comes in the form of Vinyl Pimp. It’s got a big presence within the online selling game, especially on Discogs, covering all bases from progressive house to gabber, but it also has an online presence. Starting life in Hackney Wick, it was forced to up sticks and relocate due to soaring rents in the area, but has since resettled just around the corner on Prince Edward Road. DM the shop’s head honcho, Luk Man Hon, via the Instagram page for a private appointment.

East Wing, Oslo House, 15 Prince Edward Road, E9 5EU, @vinylpimp

Kristina Records

Record shopping can often feel like a type of therapy, and that is especially so when you step into Kristina Records, decorated as it is with soothing blue tones, pleasant wood panelling and carefully arranged record crates. The Dalston spot, which opened back in 2011, doesn’t have a specific speciality, but does lean towards the dancier side of things; the joy is visiting and seeing what you find within its selection, covering both new and second-hand vinyl. It also has a sideline in wine, craft beer and speciality coffee, if you want a liquid accompaniment when taking your new wax for a spin.

44 Stoke Newington Road, N16 7XJ,

Soul Brother

Soul, jazz and funk devotees flock to this shop in East Putney, which is stocked to the rafters with fresh releases and yesteryear classics. It started as a mail-order business, and then grew into a second-hand only shop — now, it’s both of those things and more. It’s got an eponymous record label, too, which focuses mainly on reissuing soul, funk and jazz.

1 Kewswick Road, SW15 2HL,

Out on the Floor

This Camden record shop made headlines a couple of years ago when a repentant thief, who had nicked vinyl from the shop 10 years earlier, returned the stolen goods after finding God. To be honest, when you see the quality of the records sold by Out on the Floor, you can almost understand why they felt compelled to nab them in the first place. Two floors of secondhand surprises are to be found within the shop, from reggae to new wave, and all of them are very much worth paying the money for.

10 Inverness Street, NW1 7HJ,

Lion Vibes

Reggae, reggae and more reggae — that’s usually the order of the day over at LionVibes in Brixton. It was one of the innovators of online vinyl selling, starting its e-shop all the way back in 1997, but now has a physical home in south London. Its website offering is great, but it’s definitely worth going to the shop itself, as there are plenty of records there that won’t be listed online.

Granville Arcade, Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8PS,

Sister Ray

Sister Ray is one of Soho’s finest record shops and a fixture of the area since the Nineties. It strikes an exciting balance between stocking the rarities while making sure its finger remains on the pulse of the next big thing. It’s all exceptionally well organised too — something which can’t be said of every record shop in London, but a godsend when you’re after a particular record or artist.

75 Berwick Street, W1F 8TG,

Honest Jon’s

Three quarters of the way up Portobello Road sits Honest Jon’s, a Ladbroke Grove essential since the mid-Seventies. It started life as a champion of reggae and funk and has gone on to also become a go-to for the latest, most exciting jazz records, and beyond. It’s laid out exactly as a record shop should be, with LPs and seven-inches perched on every available ledge, shelf, nook and cranny. Be sure to check out its eclectic in-house record label as well, as well its new sister site over in Coal Drops Yard.

278 Portobello Road, W10 5TE,