Yet the staff on these stands look strangely satisfied, even after two transaction-free days; days, it should be added, in which they have had to stand patiently by while middle-aged types enthusiastically recapture the spirit of Rick Wakeman on top-of- the-range keyboards and while Wayne and Garth look-alikes murder rock's favourite anthems on mind-bogglingly pricey Fenders. And then not to be able to take any money off them . . . It seems a remarkable tactic in the depths of a retailing slump, but deep down, some subtle, long-term recession-busting is going on. At least according to David Jones, marketing manager for Yamaha-Kemble.
'In a music shop, there's always that pressure to make a sale. Here people can play to their heart's content. The idea is that if we can demonstrate why our product is superior, when the customer does come to buy, it'll be one of ours he chooses.'
Browsers agree it's a blessing to be able to try out equipment with no obligation to spend. Meanwhile Robin Figg of Marshall Amplification is rubbing his hands: 'We're famous for valve amplifiers and there's a swing back that way at the moment. We've had kids coming up to us this weekend and saying, 'I've got to have a valve amplifier', when they don't even know what one is. Here, we can find out what they're going to use it for and point them towards the right equipment.'
According to the organiser, Clive Morton, it was under pressure from instrument manufacturers that the annual British Music Fair gave birth to this first London Music Show (during the past weeks, it has also manifested itself in Manchester as The Northern Music Show and in Glasgow as The Scottish Music Show).
'The British Music Fair was really a trade event that admitted the public, and it found it was impossible to cater to both. The public wants a hands-on experience, while the trade would rather sit down comfortably and discuss terms. Plus the classical instrument manufacturers were fed up with teenage metal fans climbing all over their pounds 50,000 pianos.'
Instrument manufacturers were particularly keen to present a pop / rock orientated public show - that's where the high volume sales are. Accordingly, a series of acts - including 808 State and Michael Jackson's guitarist, Jennifer Batten - gave showcase performances. Teacher training colleges were canvassed too, as the inclusion of music in the National Curriculum has created an entirely new market for instruments. Morton talks of catering for school parties next year.
Akai Digital Samplers had a stand here; so did The London Accordion Company. Meanwhile, the silver- haired gentleman at the Marshall Amplification stall was none other than Jim Marshall himself, signing posters with the autograph that appears in white plastic on every worthwhile rock band's PA.
About two-thirds of the instruments shown were guitars, roughly the same proportion of the clientele looked like they wanted to play 'Stairway to Heaven' on them, and Morton spent most of his time asking stands to turn their sound systems down. Understandably, the larger keyboard companies seemed unhappy that the tone was so predominantly rock'n'roll. After setting up very civilised headphone bars, one firm was miffed that the type of custom looking for a family instrument was not in attendance, and claimed it had probably been deterred by 'the great unwashed'.
But Peter Goably, artist liaison officer of Patrick Eagle Guitars, points out, 'The guitar is the fashionable instrument at the moment. If this was 10 years ago, it would be all synthesisers and we'd be complaining.'
The drum stands were notably underpopulated - at least until just before closing time, when a small crowd gathered round the Pearl exhibit. Here a muscular youth had sat himself behind an awesomely well-appointed drum kit. Was he famous? The lad standing next to me in the denim jacket with the Iron Maiden patch said, 'I dunno. We're just watching because he's the only bloke all afternoon who's had the balls to get up there have a go.'
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