Hayling music fan gives up working in law to indulge passion for records

From broken bones to new beginnings

  • James spent almost 30 years behind working in contract law
  • Always dreamed of a job in the music industry
  • Aged 45 he took the plunge and opened a music and book shop in Hayling
  • Says he has never been happier
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Ever since he can remember, James McCarraher has loved music – jazz, rock, pop and classical.

He’d spend entire days in record shops, then take home some new vinyl, carefully pull it from the sleeves and excitedly stack it up on the record player.

James McCarraher runs Hayling Book And Music Venue

James McCarraher runs Hayling Book And Music Venue

His dream was to work in the music industry. But, coming from a family of lawyers, a career in the law beckoned. James’s father was a solicitor, his uncle a judge.

So his path was set from the beginning.

He became a legal executive and his days were spent poring over multi-million pound contracts.

But music was never far from his mind.

I’ve always viewed this as a pocket money shop for adults

James McCarraher

And, two years ago, aged 45, James took the plunge and opened the kind of record shop he spent hours in as a youngster.

‘It’s a huge lifestyle change,’ says James, ‘but one I’ve never regretted for a minute’.

Hayling Book and Music Venue, in Rails Lane, is a tiny treasure trove packed full of popular music from the likes of Johnny Cash and Elvis, to obscure 1970s jazz artists.

There is a steady stream of people rifling through the stacks of LPs while laughing and joking with jovial James, who is so at home in shorts and T shirt, making cups of tea and coffee for customers to take their time while searching for that lost classic 45.

It is a world away from the career in which he spent almost 30 years. And he couldn’t be happier.

He says: ‘In simple terms I reviewed legal documents for local authorities and private companies.

‘It could be dull but also very stressful and high pressure.

‘It was a path set for me. I didn’t know what else to do.

‘But I always had a passion for music.

‘It started through my parents. They both had a lot of music, both classical and contemporary.

‘I had all my mum’s old Beatles albums. I used to stack the singles up in the record player. I’d pile them up and they’d drop down one by one and play.

‘The Beach Boys have always been my favourite because I love the harmonies.’

Growing up in the New Forest, James says he was ‘dreadful for the record shops’, particularly in the 1980s.

‘I loved the whole ritual of taking them out of the sleeves, the smell.’

He has written more than a dozen music books on subjects as diverse as the 1970s pop group Sailor, the composer Kajanus and 101 Songs to Discover from the 1970s.

It seems almost inevitable then that one day he would quit the stuffy confines of the law and indulge his passion. In fact, it would be a waste not to.

He says: ‘It was something I dreamed of doing for a long time. It was a lifestyle choice.

‘I woke up one day and thought, actually I’ve got to do it now or I’ll never do it. I’m not a ditherer. If I’m going to do something, I’ll do it.

‘I sat down and spoke to my wife about it. It was a joint decision. Colette helped me set up the shop and she ran it for the first few months before I left the law’.

As we talk the shop is busy with people coming in asking for artists, sifting through piles of old fanzines and hoping to sell their dusty old collections up in their attics.

‘Get them out’, exclaims James. Music should be played and enjoyed, not hidden away!’

‘I wanted to open the sort of shop I used to enjoy going to in my childhood.

‘A shop that sold a wide variety of music and a good selection of books.

‘It had to be relaxed, informal and welcoming.’

And James, dad to 15-year-old Maire, has certainly succeeded.

Although it will not make James a millionaire, the shop is in profit and it pays its way.

It benefits from being the only record shop for miles around – and from James’ encyclopaedic knowledge of music.

‘I’ve always viewed this as a pocket money shop for adults. My takings are lots of small transactions that add up.

‘I keep the shop prices low because there isn’t a lot of money out there and music is a way to escape.’

He adds: ‘When I told people what I was about to do I think they were quite envious. I spent my life working at a desk and I wanted to do something different. I wanted to escape the stress of the law. My wife has always been very supportive and she shared my dream to open the shop.’

‘I’ve been married five years and I’m very happy. I’m actually very at peace with myself.

‘I haven’t always been like this. I’m a very lucky man. I’m doing what I want to do and I married just the most lovely lady.

‘I love it here. It’s idyllic. I’ve met some really smashing people.

‘I’m a sociable person and I’ve met some really lovely people. We have our regulars and if someone is browsing I’ll make them a cup of coffee.’

Dressed in shorts and T-shirt, James can’t bear the thought of putting on a suit.

He smiles: ‘If I have to put on my office shoes, it feels so strange’.

To see video with this feature, go to portsmouth.co.uk/video