Vinyl days continue at Far East Plaza

Mr Bobby Yeo with his sister Belinda at his Far East Plaza store.

SINGAPORE - For 35 years, he has kept going as the music industry changed around him.

As the owner of record store The Attic, Mr Bobby Yeo has seen the popularity of vinyl records give way to cassette tapes, CDs and finally - much to his chagrin - MP3s. But his store has weathered all these changes.

Mr Yeo tells The New Paper on Sunday: "We remain one of the last few independent record stores still standing strong."

He sounds quietly confident, even as he adds: "I've seen big record stores like Gramophone and HMV slowly close one store after another over the years."

But now a question mark hangs over the future of the store.

Mr Yeo was recently diagnosed with arthritis and his doctor told him that the air-conditioning in the store will aggravate the condition.

He is now looking for a new owner so that the well-known local institution can stay open.

There are only a few options open to Mr Yeo, one of which is to close the store for good -

The Attic is one of a handful record stores left in Singapore still selling vinyl records.

To survive in an increasingly digital industry, The Attic has had to change with the times.

The store, which moved to Far East Plaza last year, occupies a cosy 323 sq ft unit on the second storey.

It now sells mostly CDs, of almost all genres.

Vinyl records - which have recently seen an upswing in interest - take up one corner while pop-culture posters adorn the walls.

Dare to say the words "download" or "iTunes", and he groans.

"The quality is not good at all," says Mr Yeo. "It's so much better to own a physical copy."

He started The Attic back in 1978.

Mr Yeo was already a music lover, having been a member of local band The Survivor.

Knowing that he wouldn't want to be involved in anything other than music, his mother gave him $60,000 to set up his own record store.

Its first home was in Lucky Plaza.

His sister, Ms Belinda Yeo, who made a name for herself as a DJ in the 80s under the name Belinda Sunshine, regularly helped out at the store.

She tells TNPS: "Right from the get go, it was 'Boomtown Charlie'. People would walk into the store and be impressed with the types of records we sold."

Mr Yeo says: "You name one record. And we would probably have it.

"We sold almost everything - reggae, blues, jazz, rock and the indie-records," he says.

After two years at Lucky Plaza, The Centrepoint (or Centrepoint Shopping Centre as it was known back then) which was just being built, approached Mr Yeo to be one of its first tenants.

"They appreciated The Attic as a homegrown store," says Mr Yeo.

It was here that the store stayed for 24 years, developing a name as the must-go-to record store.

It was also this location where the siblings' fondest memories come from.

The pair, both in their 50s, exchange stories with each other - with one often correcting the other playfully.

Ms Yeo says that Rick Allen, the one-armed drummer of rock band Def Leppard, visited the store. But Mr Yeo interjects: "No lah, cannot be. Must have been someone else."

Ms Yeo says: "My memory is better."

The store at Centrepoint was where they met most of their regulars - which included entertainer Dick Lee and DJ Chris Ho (also known as X'Ho). Indeed, Lee relied on Mr Yeo and his collection of records to provide the soundtrack to his fashion runway shows.

Lee tells TNPS: "He was the only one in Singapore that I could depend on for vinyl. He has lots of records no one has ever heard of and through him, I discovered many new artists."

The store also brought the brother-sister pair a "VIP" status of sorts.

Mr Yeo's curly hair and signature black aviator shades, saw regulars dub him "Singapore's Bob Dylan".

They often supplied records to discos back then. And this paid off. The two of them, with their friends, partied every weekend and were treated like royalty.

Ms Yeo says: "We were like the mafia. Bobby would be dressed in black from head to toe - he would even wear a blazer.

"And clubs like Xanadu and Barbarella would just wave us in," she says.

Mr Yeo's "cool" status was such that one of his subsequent regulars waited years before finally daring to go into the store.

Melanie Oliveiro, a presenter on 938Live and Channel News Asia, says with a laugh: "I started collecting vinyl records as a teenager and I would often pass by the store at Centrepoint. But I didn't think I was cool enough."

The 38-year-old says: "What a mistake that was, because he's so approachable and his knowledge of music is extensive. He often recommended rare titles.

"I think this is why The Attic has survived for so long."

Mr Gary See, a freelance consultant in his 50s, says he loved hanging out there because the music sold there suited his taste.

"Whatever title he brought in, it would be a great listen," says the fan of bands like R.E.M and Velvet Underground. "It was like a one-stop place for all my music needs, including jazz and rock."

But now survival is a question that looms large.

Bigger franchises like Tower Records, Borders and Sembawang have come and gone.

Knowing that his time at the head of the store is drawing to a close, Mr Yeo is hoping to find someone who will keep The Attic going.

The best case scenario, they say, is to find yet another location and reopen again when Mr Yeo feels better.

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