The Malta Independent 14 April 2021, Wednesday

Anthony D’Amato - the enduring Maltese record shop

Monday, 30 May 2016, 15:01 Last update: about 6 years ago

Isaac Joseph Zammit

 

In a world dominated by the likes of iTunes, Netflix and Spotify, not to mention countless illegal torrent and streaming websites, you would think that bricks-and-mortar record shops are a thing of the past.

That might be true for the most part, especially in Malta, but if you stroll around the island's capital, Valletta, you might be surprised to find a little hidden treasure with much history behind it in St John Street, half-way down from the Savoy Arcades.

Standing proudly as the first shop of its kind in Malta, Anthony D'Amato is one of the few remaining record shops in the country that caters for music and film enthusiasts who prefer the experience of browsing for tangible physical media in a real shop to buying through the internet.

The shop, known by many as D'Amato Records or simply D'Amato, possesses a certain lived-in and homely feeling that is sure to be welcomed by customers sauntering round the shop and flipping through the shelves filled with foreign and local music, a large collection of classical music on CD, and films on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

The shop also boasts an ever-increasing and varied stock of 33⅓ and 45 rpm records, ranging from original issues of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits and Queen albums to brand new issues of classic and new artists.

"The vinyl rack is the most important one in the shop. We used to have DVDs in the first room but in the past few weeks we added a new extensive vinyl rack and we intend to add more," says William, one of the members of the D'Amato family that manages the shop. This section has proved to be quite a success among a surprising amount of young people in light of the recent vinyl revival. To complement this section, the shop also sells brand new turntables and provides customers with a variety of turntable needles.

Anthony D'Amato has played quite a significant role in the music scene for many years. Located at 98/99, St John Street, it has been part of Valletta's history for 131 years. First opening in 1885 as a furniture business, it was subsequently turned into a record shop and started selling phonographs cylinders, the first devices capable of reproducing sound.

Tourists walking past the shop are surprised to see the iconic His Master's Voice's Nipper the dog sign above the shop's facade. This is due to the fact that for many years, Anthony D'Amato was the sole local agent and trader of the British record label His Master's Voice (HMV).

In the early 1930s, they were among the first agents to send musicians abroad to cut the first Maltese records because there were no studios on the island at the time. When the 1950s came and the Rock 'n' Roll and the frenetic dancing fever swept our island off its feet, the shop became the much sought-after destination of many bar owners wanting to stock their jukeboxes with the latest hits to entertain their customers. A good number of these bars were situated in Strada Stretta, the famous street known as 'the Gut' by British servicemen. Strada Stretta, also known as Strait Street, is the next street further down from D'Amato. 

As some of the records in the vinyl section will attest, Anthony D'Amato, apart from being a record shop, doubled as a record label. Among the songs they produced were the Malta Bums hit, L-Ewwel tfajla li ħabbejt; Freddie Portelli's Ħallini and Fredu "il-Bamboċċu" Abela's Taxy Mary. The latter was a huge number in the local hit parade for Anthony D'Amato and sold a staggering 10,000 copies.

In the past decade or so, the shop went through a dry patch because of the growing popularity of online retailers and especially from illegal torrent and streaming sites. However, as is immediately obvious to anyone who had the chance to chat with any member of the D'Amato family, the shop and all of its history is extremely important to them, and they are committed to keep it alive as their ancestors did before them.


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