Birmingham has produced some of the UK’s foremost reggae bands – Steel Pulse, UB40 and The Beat among them – and they (and pretty much everyone else interested in Jamaican music) shopped at Don Christie Records over the three decades-plus it was open.
Don Christie opened as a specialist Blue Beat shop in the mid-1960s. With the UK label Blue Beat being the main source of ska, people often referred to the new dance music as “blue beat”. Don Christie was a white man who embraced the new sound and never looked back, continuing to ride the changes in black music, specifically Jamaican. ‘The Reggae Specialist’ was painted across the shop’s red and white frontage. Originally on Ladypoole Road, Balsall Heath, Don Christie’s was a long, rectangular shop.
Those who encountered Christie remember him as very personable and Robin Campbell (of UB40) recalls ganja openly being smoked in the shop while music boomed through the speakers. In the early 1980s, Christie sold the shop to his staff. This led to the new owners shifting Don Christie’s to 12 Gloucester Street, so becoming part of the famous Bull Ring shopping centre in the heart of the city. There, they opened a basement department specialising in dance music. DJs would buy house, especially jungle and drum & bass, while upstairs remained reggae, dancehall, dub, soul and rap.
As with many reggae and dance music shops, sadly, downloads did for Don Christie’s earlier this century.