Friday, 5 December 2008

Mike Hart (from Compendium) passed away on this day in 2002 - REPOST (originally from Nov 15)

I first met Mike with his two brothers (John & Andy) when he inquired at the record stall I was working at in the Barras in Glasgow whether I could get him a copy of 'Electrif Lycanthrope'.
(THE Little Feat bootleg.)

This must have been 1977.
A couple of days later all four of us trooped off to see Elvis Costello at the Watermill Hotel in Paisley.
I then went down to London to catch up for a weekend (and go to see The Clash at the RAR carnival) before eventually moving to London full time staying originally with Mike and his son and ex - wife in Wood Green.
This was 1978 and we seemed to be at gigs all the time be they punk or jazz and to be honest a list here would just make you jealous!
(Not forgetting our annual pilgrimage to the Bracknell Jazz Festival or the time that we turned up to see Kathy Acker read and we seemed to be the only ones interested in what she had to say.
Mike would later be involved romantically with her.)

Mike turned me on to so much stuff - books, records and films.
We even worked together for a while in a transport depot, moving boxes here and there and back again.
Mike also had a second - hand book stall in Camden Market (not easy for a man who didn't drive).
I remember one weekend as we went around the other stalls with our usual habit of him starting at one end and me the other and just before we met in the middle he found a first edition 'Naked Lunch' still in its WSB designed dustcover!

(Boy was I jealous.)
Then we found ourselves working in Camden, him at Compendium and me at Dingwalls.
It all sounds good but Mike put up with a hell of a lot from me.
I was a young kid still attempting to come to grips with my Mother's suicide and developing addictions left, right and centre.

Then I moved to Amsterdam (yeah I know, a really good move for my addictions!)
but I would still see Mike on my fairly frequent visits back to London and he was always suggesting that I should move back there and work at Compendium.
Through him, however, I had found myself working in the 'Melkweg' bookshop in Amsterdam.

A move to Australia in 1986 was next up for me and once every couple of months or so I would ring him up at Compendium and we would chat about this and that and it seemed as though I was just around the corner.
Books would arrive from publishers hoping that I would review them and I would think: "Thank you Mike for arranging that one."
Of course as time went on, partly due to the tyranny of distance and partly due to things that happen in life, we lost contact but his name would pop out from the dedication of this book or another from time to time.
Then one day I googled his name and found out that he died.
So this is just a few quick words about a friendship that I will treasure to my dying day and you may notice from reading below that no one ever had a bad word to say about one of the nicest and most generous people I have ever had the privilege to know.

(Finally should John, Andrew, Stephen, Angie or Laurie ever come across this then please get in touch.)

"Mike Hart, who has died of cancer aged 54, was a man who worked in a bookshop. He was also among the greatest influences on a generation of new British writers, more so perhaps than any literary critic or editor.

For 20 years, Mike, a stocky Glaswegian, presided over the fiction and poetry department of Compendium bookshop in Camden Town, north London, which from its opening in 1968 until its closure in 2001 was Britain's pre-eminent radical bookstore. Whether you wanted books on anarchism, drugs, poststructuralism, feminism or Buddhism, Compendium was the place to go. Under Mike's supervision, its modern fiction department was its greatest strength, and the tradition of bohemian bookselling was carried forward into the 1980s and 1990s.

When Mike took over the department in the early 1980s, British fiction was in a dismal, class-bound rut. Mike helped to change all that. His enthusiasms included then unheralded American thriller writers such as Elmore Leonard and George V Higgins; London writers from the forgotten Patrick Hamilton to the unknown Iain Sinclair. A new Scottish writer called James Kelman was also a favourite, as was the great African-American writer Chester Himes. If these writers have emerged from the margins to become major players in the literary landscape it is in no small part due to Mike's efforts.

To walk into Compendium, survey the novels on display and ask Mike's advice was to enter a new world of fiction. The shop became the haunt of an unlikely mixture of more or less literary luminaries, from Nick Cave to Ben Okri, Ivor Cutler to Kathy Acker.

Thanks to Mike, and others, Camden Town in the 1980s became a kind of counter-cultural nexus: a place where you could drift from record shop to caff to Compendium and thence to the pub. There you would find Mike at the heart of a group of autodidacts, musicians, writers, lowlifes and drunks whose house band was the Pogues and whose cultural heroes were Jim Thompson, Hank Williams, Tom Raworth and Little Willie John.

A GP's son, born in Clydebank, Glasgow, Mike was the eldest of four children. After local schools he went on to Glasgow Art School, before moving to London in the early 1970s. He did odd jobs and then took a history degree at North London Polytechnic, where he met his wife Angela. They split up in the late 1970s, but he maintained a close relationship with his son. He combined working on building sites with running a Camden Market stall, before Compendium in 1982.

As the 1980s moved into the 1990s, Camden became a magnet for the world's teenagers and Compendium underwent a facelift. Mike formalised its literary scene by initiating regular readings in the bookshop, something of an innovation at the time. Visiting Americans, from old beat heroes like Lawrence Ferlinghetti to new literary lions like Walter Mosley, read there; so too did the London writers Iain Sinclair, Martin Millar and Derek Raymond.

By the end of the 1990s, Camden Town was thoroughly commercialised, its last remaining outposts of bohemianism swamped by endless leather jacket stores, and it was with a sense of bowing to the inevitable that Compendium closed its doors.

Mike moved to the independent crime specialists Murder One. With his death, the literary world lost a sweet and genuinely unselfish man who freely gave of his vast knowledge and delighted in the achievements of those he influenced so profoundly.

He is survived by his son Stephen."

John Williams - The Guardian December 9 2002

Patrick Michael Hart, bookseller, born May 20 1948; died November 15 2002

"Patrick Michael Hart, best known as Mike Hart, was one of London's most popular and experienced booksellers and will be fondly remembered by not just many customers, but also a score of authors, publishers and sales reps. Born in Glasgow in 1948, the son of a general practitioner he attended Glasgow School of Art locally, and later moved down to London where he studied at North London Polytechnic. A great enthusiast of all forms of modern literature and music, he was also a keen book collector who inevitably found his way into second-hand dealing in North London, and championed poetry, beat literature, small presses and crime fiction.

He joined the staff of Camden Town's now legendary independent Compendium Bookshop in the early 1980's and remained there until it's sad closure almost twenty years later. A familiar, avuncular and friendly presence usually at the front of the shop saw him for years provide advice, friendship and much-needed support for Scottish literature, independent publishers and alternative presses, and he ran the poetry, music and literature sections of Compendium with a relaxed attitude to commerce but an acute appreciation of the timelessness of good writing. Here, he established lasting friendships with many writers from the onset of their careers, organising readings and events and was himself a regular presence at book events throughout London and not just at Compendium.

When Compendium closed, I was pleased to be able to offer him a position at Murder One, where many of his previous customers gladly followed him and he made a new set of friends amongst the crime and mystery community and colleagues. He was here two years until generalised cancer was detected in the summer of 2002 and he returned to his native Glasgow where the end came mercifully quickly and he died in his sleep on 15th November with his son, brothers and sister present.

Mike Hart was a bookseller of the old school who treasured human contact and handselling and communicated the joy of books (and his other great love, blues music) like no other.

He will be sorely missed."

Maxim Jakubowski - Murder One

"Like a lot of people, I can mark out certain important influences in my life by purchases in Compendium - in the early 1970s buying a copy of Mircea Eliade's Shamanism, for example, or the time that Nick Kimberley had a consignment of La Monte Young's 'black' album. In those days, booksellers tended to be more knowledgeable than most of their customers, and Mike Hart's expertise seemed to cover an extraordinary amount of ground. I bought my first Elmore Leonard in Compendium, and Mike directed me to Don DeLillo's Running Dog. This was long before either author was celebrated. Mike also knew which thrillers hit the spot as well-written, pleasurable escapism, and which ones were a disappointment. He would never express a negative opinion, but you could tell from his expression when to save your money. On the other hand, he was already ready with the new Beach Boys Stomp, or the latest rockabilly and deep soul fanzines; if I look through the books and magazines in my music collection, there are numerous obscure titles that remind me of our conversations, and his recommendations.

Mike was a reserved man, perhaps shy, and so he was difficult to know well. After many years I discovered that he lived in Victoria Road, Alexandra Park, almost directly opposite to a house in which I'd lived in the early 1970s. We talked often about his proposed book on the Glasgow music scene and I tried to encourage him to finish it, get it out. Perhaps he knew too much, and felt unable to make the compromises that allow a book to become a practical reality. His knowledge could always surprise me. When I was putting together an ill-fated compilation to complement my book, Exotica, I was trying to track down the license owner for J.B. Lenoir's "I Sing Um the Way I Feel". Mike took this challenge seriously, and if we bumped into each other at a book launch, he'd update me on his researches into the problem. After his death I met Paul Hammond in Barcelona. Paul was surprised I hadn't been present at the wake organised in London for Mike. I'd felt badly enough, not knowing Mike was ill, even though I'd spoken to him in Murder One during the period when he moved there after Compendium, but to have missed the wake felt terrible. What saddens me is the fact that people like Mike, who quietly and modestly informed the tastes and knowledge of such a wide range of practicing artists, musicians, authors, and poets, have now become an extinct species."

More reminiscences here.


  1. I found this blog entry while Googling for details of the old Compendium Books. Thanks for posting it, and I couldn't agree with you more - Mike was a lovely bloke. The other day, I noticed there was an old Compendium bookmark still stuck in one of my books - I pulled it out, and there was a handwritten note from Mike on the back. Made me smile, but I still miss him.

  2. 2Anon/ do I! One of the nicest people you would have ever met...would I know you?
    Mona is not who i really am and i am trying to get in touch with his brothers/son/or ex-wife...