Every so often, I’d like to feature a guest blog by someone whose outlook I admire, and who better to start with than my own brother-in-law whose devotion to the world of record collecting leaves me in awe. Here’s an article he wrote for his house magazine at work but which deserves another airing…
My passion for vinyl has lasted a long time and I still have those first records I was buying in 1979 somewhere in my house. There’s something about the physicality of it. Although I have over 22,000 tunes on my iPod, I still don’t think of these tunes as records I own and therefore I still have a never ending ‘wants-list’ of vinyl. I have to hear music every day and if I go on holiday and forget to take something to play music on, then I feel something wither inside me. I really do. Especially if I’m forced to listen to “normal” chart music.
My main passion is soul music, but this bleeds into funk, blues, rocksteady, latin and jazz (as well as a bit of punk and 1960s rock). The main era of soul, from about 1962–1975, coincided with the 45 record being king and therefore this is my main medium. The earlier stuff heads nearer the R&B and jazz side of things, with the later stuff heading into funk.
The 45 record was invented in 1949 by RCA as direct competition for Columbia’s 331/3 long playing 12” format. The 45 was a simple equation of taking 33rpm away from the old 78rpm. This new format was also designed to be picked up by one hand – US singles have a large hole in the centre, and this makes them very tactile to pick up with one hand. The format war was an early form of the Betamax/VHS struggle of the 1980s. When someone eventually made a player for both of them you could buy both, but in the US the 45 single was used as a vehicle to push catchy songs that lasted around 3 and a half minutes and were soon forgotten, when the next “big thing” came out. Perfect surroundings to create many obscure and low selling record companies, who’d unknowingly be producing rarities of the future.
The US has had a post-war throwaway culture, so all of these unsold records sat in dockyards and were used as ballast for ships coming over to Britain. In places like Liverpool, Bristol and Manchester, these 45 records sat around melting and being broken up in skips (I have to stop there as I’m getting emotional over the loss). Luckily we British are hoarders, and so what they didn’t want was cherished on our shores.
Coincidently, during the late 1960s, what was left of the old Mod scene didn’t want to listen to the new psychedelic or rock music. So the demand to listen to the more upbeat songs that had flooded the charts a couple of years earlier started. And thus began the origins of what is now known as the northern soul scene. Personally I hate the term. A friend of mine used to call it “This thing of ours” – which sums up the sentiment much better. Anyway northern soul is much of what I’ve collected and even though I left the scene years ago, the passion for the music lingers on. It’s essentially low fidelity, simple, four beats to the bar music that has a certain atmosphere about it. The songs were generally recorded in one take, and the artists saw this as their only chance to escape poverty, factory work or boxing.
I’ve been on a few record-buying trips to the US, but the advent of eBay has changed everything now. There are so many price guide books these days, so long gone are the days of rummaging to find a bargain. I once went to a “no-go white zone” in a place called Inglewood in downtown LA. I spent 5 hours in their stockroom, before I saw the shop had been surrounded by a local gang. I learnt afterwards they were “the Bloods” (as in Crips and Bloods) and I was lucky to talk my way out of that. I also remember unscrewing the stockroom shelving units in the basement of a San Francisco record shop to see what was in those cardboard boxes being used at the bottom to support the weight. Oh the joy of seeing stuff no one else has looked at in years. I got some corkers in there.
I’ve not really had any need to look at the charts since I bought my first soul 45 in 1981. Tyrone Davis, Can I Change My Mind, on Dakar records out of Chicago. Reddington’s Records, Moor Street, Birmingham. I think I paid 50p for it, which was quite expensive then. And my last purchase was an autographed copy of an Aaron Neville album a couple of weeks ago.