“Keep it friendly”: Why Chesterfield’s Real Time Music is in tune with all
This is Real Time Music’s Laura Wainwright, offering advice to anyone wanting to start playing a musical instrument. In many ways it encapsulates the vibe of this iconic Chesterfield music shop. Known for it’s open-handed easy-going ethos, this no pressure environment was cultivated by the ever-smiling shop boss, Tony Rodgers.
“There’s nothing worse as musicians, feeling uncomfortable in a music shop when you’re trying something” says Tony.
“We don’t want to overwhelm people” adds Laura. “You know when you walk into a big shop, there’s stuff everywhere, there’s people everywhere, and you just don’t know what to do. We try and keep it friendly. We don’t want to bombard people with stuff. But we want to be helpful to people as well.”
Tony sees the walk into playing music an open door. “It’s so accessible nowadays. You don’t have to pay a lot of money for a decent instrument. Also music tuition is a lot more accessible. It used to be classical or nothing. Whereas now we’ve got three teachers here and they cover everything you want. If you want to do rock, they’ll do rock.”
“Even grades aren’t really a thing anymore” adds Laura. “If you want to learn to play guitar you can just learn to play guitar, rather than do it in a structured way. It’s quite relaxed and personal. You do what you like.”
“And our teachers will give confidence” says Tony. “They’re all dead friendly.”
When asked which shop instruments Tony and Laura would grab in a sudden zombie apocalypse, they both look at each other and laugh. Tony opts for a “semi acoustic jazz guitar. A 1970s Ibanez… It’s got some class about it.”
Laura pauses, frowns, then goes for the practical. “What would kill the zombies quicker… I don’t know… the heaviest guitar we’ve got… a Les Paul!”
The balance of verse/chorus between these two is notable, and brings much to the shop. In taste, Tony curates old school, with Laura bringing the new.
When asked about favourites, Tony goes for Pink Floyd, Simon and Garfunkel, and Yes. Laura cites a passion for the latest Japanese bands, like Mr Fantastic, Soraru, and “Drinking Boys And Girls Choir… they’re a Korean band”.
This odd mix-tape even fits with the history of the kooky building they’re in. Tony explains.
“It used to be the old Conservative Club in the seventies. It then turned to Marsden’s nightclub, then it was Club Erotica. That shut down and it was derelict for many years, until Stevo bought the property. Spent a lot on money getting it into the state it is now. Shop at the front. Teaching in the back rooms. And upstairs, the music venue.”
When asked how Real Time began, Tony smiles.
“It began with me and Mark Stephenson… Stevo. We were working as full-time musicians for P&O. And the last tour we did we performed 121 nights out of 122, and during that time we thought ‘There must be more to life than this’. So we thought we’d finish with the full-time performing and open a music shop and teach music. This was in 1994.”
Starting a shop in Matlock, and one on Newbold Road, they moved to Marsden Street in 2012. As the conversation turns to the future of Real Time, Laura goes off to chat to a customer about ukuleles.
“I’m working on my retirement exit strategy at the moment” says Tony, again with a smile.“And Laura will be taking over. This’ll be happening in about eighteen months time.”
“Laura’s been doing this since she was fifteen. She came on work experience, and she’s never gone. She’s great. She runs the website and everything, all the socials. So she’s taking it really, into the 21st century. So yeah, she’s going to be the new face of it as I go out.”
We chat about the customers, the spread between kids to older folk. How post-Covid has seen a rise in older generations learning to play. How music is both making and mending.
“It’s helped me through some difficult times” nods Tony. “I live on my own now my kids are grown up. They are still with me but I spend a lot of time on my own, and I do find a lot of help from being able to sit and play music. Or performing with other people. But, I sit at the piano at night, and I find it very soothing.”
Laura returns from her customer. When asked what she sees as the answer to life she laughs, shakes her head. Tony offers a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “42” then pauses.
“Calm” he says. “Peace. Yeah. Not chasing the money. Family. Contentment. That’ll do for me. And camper vans.”
Laura smiles. “As long as I’m happy I’m alright. Just simple. As long as I can keep on doing what I’m doing now I’ll be alright. I’m not chasing anything huge. I’m looking to settle down now, we’re looking to buy a house. I think that’s where my mind’s eye is at the moment. So, near future, just settling down.”
“You’re getting married next year, aren’t you” says Tony. “Yeah” says Laura with a grin.
Down the hallway comes the sound of a guitar. A guy in his seventies being taught how to play Shadows songs. Earlier, there was a young teen in a Metallica tee-shirt looking at double kick drum pedals with his mum. Real Time Music: in tune with all.