In the past this blog has made some pretty disparaging remarks about the CD scene in Singapore, while lavishing copious amounts of praise on the CD scene in Hong Kong.
There’s a hint that it’s getting better in Singapore; my last half dozen visits to HMV in 313 @ Orchard showed definite signs of an improvement; larger stock, better shelf organisation and a faint whiff of interest in the product from the staff. This is probably in no small measure due to the parlous state of HMV in UK; as with Tower records, it seems that the Asian franchise performs better (at least, it serves its customers better) when it can concentrate on its market rather than some dubious corporate policy.
But in Hong Kong it has leapt even further ahead with the opening of Prelude, a CD-emporium-in-a-million. It’s a poshified Shun Cheong – same stock, same intelligent and helpful staff, but in a glitzy and attractive showroom setting with a real feeling of opulence; the sort of shop in which you really want to linger. Shun Cheong is still there, crammed into its 8th floor office at Bank Building by Mongkok MTR, and the sense of walking into a treasure trove with seams of unmined gold is as strong as ever. But what Prelude does is lay it all out ever so attractively and in a brand new shopping mall, at a more respectable part of Nathan Road and with some pretty impressive neighbours; next to it is about the biggest bookshop I have ever seen, but my excitement was short lived when I realised the vast bulk of its stock was Chinese literature – excellent, I’m sure, but a closed book (pardon the pun), so far as I am concerned.
The funny thing is, this glitzy shopping mall used to house my tailor (who I think actually owned it) and, after dark, was a renowned vice den, with mainland prostitutes vying for custom and not caring too much how they attracted it. Drugs, gambling and sex may figure largely in some musicians’ lives, but I prefer them distanced from my CD buying expeditions, so with the Miramar Centre gutted and rebuilt as an up-market mall, things are certainly looking up.
The thing about Prelude, apart, that is, from its vast range of stock from small independent labels (especially orchestra’s own labels) – so don’t expect to find any BMG, Decca, DG, EMI, Philips or even Bis here – it stocks a wonderful range of newly-pressed vinyl. Now I’m a vinyl addict; I don’t think it sounds better, but it sounds more like a recording and, as a result, it’s easier to appreciate it for what it is rather than for what it is not (I still find loonies out there who think that a CD is equal to or even better than a live concert). It also has Gramophone magazine in pride of place as you go in the door and the staff can, with a flick of a key, look up recordings of specific works which exist (as opposed to the HMV policy of using limited guides or broader-based catalogues which expired many years ago). And, of course, when they don’t stock something they will tell you how to get it if they can’t themselves. True, to get to that rabbit-warren Mecca (Lady Street) where every other shop seems to house a vast range of forgotten CDs, you still have to go up to Mongkok, but with Prelude I think Hong Kong has added a fantastic new dimension to classical CD buying.
I’m pretty sure that neither Japan nor UK can compete now with what Hong Kong has on offer. How nice if this phenomenon could spread across Asia. As it is, search in vain for classical CDs in Malaysia, Thailand or Indonesia and don’t expect too much from Singapore.