Tricia Cottle: Islington Music shop owner

28 May

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story.  How do you introduce children to music? Many people in Islington head to Islington Music, just off Cross Street  run by Tricia Cottle. It’s well-known as the first-stop shop for all mums hoping their children’s budding interest in music will remain, but also well-visited by professionals replacing a string, buying rosin or flicking through the many music scores on sale. You may even meet a tourist here looking for gifts.  Interview by Nicola Baird

Tricia Cottle

Tricia Cottle at the counter of her shop Islington Music, 6 Shillingford Street – the only music shop in Islington for the past  25 years.

“I’m not very interesting,” insists Tricia cradling her mug of coffee interrupted from her morning tasks at the counter of Islington Music. She’s wrong of course: she sings, plays the viola “very badly” (according to her) and can tune all sorts of stringed instruments including guitars and violins. She’s also run the only music shop in Islington for around 25 years – it’s where local families go to buy or rent instruments, replace broken guitar string and join the craze for ukulele bands.  There is also a huge range of the must-have ABRSM music exam books for an orchestra of instruments.

Let’s run a shop
“When my youngest son, Jon, was two or three, I realised I had to work, but I couldn’t do a job from 9-5 because of the boys, so I thought ‘Shall I start a shop?’ I thought it would be fun, but I had no idea how much time and work would be involved.” She laughs gently at her younger self…

Tricia Cottle's first Islington home was near the hole in the wall in Almeida Street.

Tricia Cottle’s first Islington home was near the hole in the wall in Almeida Street.

Tricia shared a flat with a friend in Islington, just off Almeida Street, when she was first moved to London in her early 20s, and then ended up in a flat on Seven Sisters Road when she got married a few years later. Her husband Malcolm is a musician – working as a pianist, organist and conductor – so the pair had a head start when it came to deciding on what sort of shop, and were also able to take good advice from friends including the owner of the Southgate Music shop (now no more) and the thriving Harpenden Musicale in Hertfordshire. For the first three years they were in 41 Cross Street – in the premises later taken on by the famous Old Woodworking Tools shop – before moving across the road to 6 Shillingford Street. Tricia’s boys are grown up now, the youngest is 35, but all were encouraged to play music well as children.

So what are her tips for helping youngsters get good?
“I was pretty determined that the boys couldn’t give up playing until they were 16. I feel it is really important for anyone to give learning an instrument some time before saying ‘I can’t do that’,” says Tricia, although only Nick gave up as a teenager. The result is that Ben took violin and the viola with sports studies at university and Jon is still a cellist, playing in Barcelona where he’s now based.

For those who can’t make up their minds or those who like the flexibility of not buying yet, Tricia rents (for a very reasonable quarterly fee) cellos, violins, violas, flutes, trumpets, alto saxes and clarinets. Many are available in child-sized versions suitable for the very young.  Ukuleles are also very popular but Tricia suggests caution as children love fiddling with the pegs.

Islington Music

Although Tricia Cottle is mostly based at her shop Islington Music, just off Cross Street, she likes going out in Islington and Hackney.

Things Tricia enjoys in Islington (& just over the Hackney border)

  •  I like going to see the opera at the King’s Head pub. They have amazing things.
  • The Rosemary Branch is brilliant. I’ve seen panto and other shows there and enjoyed a wonderful birthday party.
  •  I like the market at the Angel and the stalls and shops on Camden Passage. We have loads of art galleries, the Canal running through Islington and Hackney and we are also so close to the West End – should you run out of things to do in Islington.
  • We have the 38 and 73 – what else do you need? They are two fantastic buses.
  • We live in Northchurch Road, N1 and it’s almost too nice now on Southgate Road! There’s a pizza place and a deli and the Scolt Head pub, though I find it a bit noisy. Sometimes I meet a friend for coffee at St Peter’s church (which also does lunch).

Tin whistle or ukulele?

Tin whistles can be a good way to introduce a class of primary school children to music.

Tin whistles can be a good way to introduce a class of primary school children to music.

“I’ve just delivered 12 tin whistles to John the Evangelist Primary School at Angel. One of the teachers says tin whistles are very popular there – and at least they stay in tune. Ukuleles are very popular in schools, but it must be very difficult to keep them in tune.” Here Tricia almost winces – it’s as if she can hear those early efforts. “I used to play music in the shop, but then it became just another of the many things that you have to pay for. I thought it was an absolute cheek,” says Tricia who is well-loved for having conversations with many of her customers.

Music celebrities
“We get a lot of famous people in the shop, but I never recognise them, and I’m sure on the whole they are pretty pleased about that,” she says. “We have had  that one who bared his bum at Michael Jackson (Jarvis Cocker at the 1996 Brit Awards), and one of the original King’s Singers (a cappella band) and Simon Rattle, the conductor – everyone knows what he looks like.” I nod enthusiastically, knowing I don’t, but Tricia isn’t trying to test me.  Indeed it turns out that Islington Music attracts Eastend actors, MPs and “lots of famous lawyers. They are all very charming,” says Tricia diplomatically.

What do you want to learn to play or get better at playing?

What do you want to learn to play or get better at playing?

Islington Music’s mix of old-fashioned promise that you too could soon play an instrument wonderfully, is irresistible whatever age you are or how skilled you are. Both Tricia, and her colleague Bronwyn, know so much about music and raising kids to play all sorts of instruments that they can offer very practical advice. Indeed Tricia is adamant that, “I will not tell people that I know about something, when I don’t know about it.” It is that honesty however that makes Islington Music such a special place for us shoppers. Do let Tricia be the wise voice she is when you next go to Islington Music.

  • Here’s a youtube on how to tune a ukulele here

Over to you

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z index of posts, or the A-Z of jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. 

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow (see menu top right), @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

Thanks for stopping by. Nicola


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