I became a regular customer of Violet May, at her shop on South Road, in the early ’60s, whilst attending day school, at Pond Street Technical College, for my job as an apprentice bricklayer.
I would go and browse through the records almost every week, during the lunchbreak at the college, eating my sandwiches on the way to the shop.
The biggest difficulty I had was keeping my purchases down to an affordable level, often picking out up to a dozen desired songs, then having to whittle the number down to the two or three I could manage to buy.
I never had a problem with Violet May myself, finding her helpful, and knowledgeable about the music, despite her being from an older generation, but I did witness some people getting the sharp edge of her tongue, if they rubbed her up the wrong way.
One way she helped me, was in acquiring my first Patsy Cline LP. Early in 1963, I bought the single from Violet May, of Heartaches, by Patsy Cline, that had briefly been in the lower reaches of the pop charts in November 1962.
When I got home I played the song, then turned the record over to listen to the B side. It was one of those goosebump moments as I listened to this wonderful clear voice, singing with great emotion, a brilliant song, Why Can’t He Be You, written by the talented country writer, Hank Cochran.
He had at one time been part of a duo, The Cochran Brothers, with Eddie Cochran, who was no relation, but had then turned his hand to songwriting, and made a great job of it.
Listening to this Patsy Cline record, made me want more of her music, so I looked around the record shops in town for an LP of hers, without success.
I told Violet May of this on my next visit, and she asked why I hadn’t asked her, to which I told her I didn’t know she sold new records.
She went on to say that she could get me almost anything, then pulled a huge catalogue from under the counter, and asked which I wanted. I told her one that included the songs, Crazy and San Antonio Rose, if possible, then a few minutes later, she was on the phone, ordering me the LP, Patsy Cline Showcase.
Violet May started a lifelong love of Patsy Cline’s music for me, during which time I have collected most of her songs, and even now, I occasionally turn the lights down low, then listen to Why Can’t He Be You, which I first bought , second hand from Violet May.
I would highly recommend a book written about her, by local musician and writer John Firminger, along with his friend, the late DJ, Maurice ‘Gaspin Gus’ Chapman, titled Shades of Violet.