Jim Bowes is a name people of Accrington might not be familiar with. Talk about Custard Cube, though, and everyone knows his shop.
Custard Cube Music stands in Blackburn Road – its fifth location since it came to the town in 1994.
To call it a shop though, does it a massive disservice. Custard Cube is a museum of music, lovingly nurtured by Jim through years of collection of all genres and all types from vinyl to compact disc.
When Jim was asked to estimate how much he had spent on stock over the years, he said he stopped counting. The shop is also a curiosity of artefacts ranging from spaceships to Indian Chiefs.
Custard Cube started its life in Accrington Market Hall and alterations have meant it has relocated three times within those walls, costing Jim a small fortune redesigning and reinventing the layout.
Then he moved out of the market hall from one side of the road next to the Bus Station to the side of Blackburn Road Custard Cube occupies now.
Jim is not your typical Lancastrian either. The first time you hear him speak you realise he isn’t even a northerner, more EastEnders than Coronation Street. The Cockney twang actually belies his place of birth though as he was born in Devon. Having failed an Army medical on leaving school, Jim had to find another career path and embarked on a series of jobs including ladies’ hairdresser, Lowestoft trawlerman and a Butlin’s Redcoat and admits he had a touch of wanderlust at the time.
In the early 1980s Jim met a girl in London who came from Burnley. As irony had it, Jim’s sister had moved to Accrington many years before and this girl knew her. They started seeing each other and when she became homesick, he decided to come north with her.
Jim went back to college when he was in his late 30s and within three years had attained a Higher National Diploma and a BA Hons degree in business studies. During this time in order to supplement his grant Jim did car boot sales. This would mark the beginning of Jim’s music journey, which up until now has lasted 21 years.
After a while doing this, Jim had amassed quite a worthless stock of pots, pans, ornaments and some electrical gear. One night it broke down on the motorway. Knowing that he had to feed his girls, who were in the car, he abandoned it until the following day, only to find all his stock had gone.
Jim recalls he only had a fiver in his wallet and took it to an auction where he bought what he thought was another box of tat.
The next day he took a stall on Accrington Market. Nothing was selling and he was just about to give up when at the bottom of the box he found 30 LP records. At the time Jim thought the albums were worthless as people were now entering the digital era.
Suddenly someone started sorting through the box and handed him five albums. He asked Jim how much and he replied £2. Jim meant £2 for the lot but this guy gave him £2 each. Eventually all the LPs sold and so did some of the other items of tat, and Jim had turned his £5 into £60.
Jim had made enough to pay his rent and a decent meal and a few pints, but then his eyes alighted on a yellow box. He looked into it and saw that it contained around 100 vinyl records. He was so drawn to this box that he handed over all the money he had just earned to possess it.
Jim says: “To this day 21 years later, 100,000 records, and five premises later I do not know what made me buy that yellow box but that box is now The Custard Cube.”
Custard Cube could be successful anywhere, so why Accrington?
“The reason I won’t leave Accrington is that Accrington made me. If I hadn’t come here I would still be teaching.”
I asked Jim what he did to relax. He said: “Nowadays I find myself glued to the TV watching crime mysteries. Often, when I’m in my shop and business is quiet I like to write; in fact I have what is called an addictive personality as can be seen with the amount of stock and toys I have.
“I started writing about three years ago and since then, believe it or not, I have written seven books, five being poetry, and two novels. Although I have self-published them, it’s not about being famous or successful in this field, it’s about leaving a footprint for my children and their children. I want them to realise that Dad was not all about vinyl and CDs.
“I have sent my novels to a publisher in London but I am a realist, and I realise they will probably be rejected, but I have always lived by the philosophy ‘If you don’t try you cannot expect to win’. I just feel compelled to write and it seems a lot of my customers appreciate my books as I have sold quite a few.”
Does Jim ever miss London and would he be tempted to go back?
“I very much doubt if I could be tempted to relocate anywhere realistically,” he says. “Accrington is now part of me, in fact a very large part. I am known by my shop quite far and wide.
“Virtually every day people will say hello to me either calling me by Jim or Custard. I am proud to have left my footprint. I feel that I have been very fortunate to stand alongside some greats in my field that have graced the Accrington retail community such as Mary’s Music, Disc and Tape, and Marshalls.
“Obviously times have changed and it is a different kettle of fish when competing against downloads and the internet but I have always welcomed a challenge and therefore I will probably be at the wicket as long as my innings lasts. I see myself as the Geoffrey Boycott of the vinyl game. I will undoubtedly score a century but it’ll take me a very long time to achieve it…but who cares, I’m in no rush.”