In 2018 I was offered a chance to live and work in the south of France. At the time, I lived in South Yorkshire with my wife and two children. We had a lovely house in a quiet village. We were close to work and family. So why would we want to move? Well, as my wife Helen will confirm, our life is never dull. This was too good an opportunity to pass, so we agreed to sell our house and make a new life on the Cote D’Azur.
A few weeks before the move, I found myself on the mezzanine at the Music Factory Entertainment Group surrounded by thousands of CDs and vinyl records. We had to put most our belongings into storage before we left, which meant deciding what to do with my music collection!
I remember Helen saying, “I guess you’ll be keeping your records but getting rid of your CDs?” It struck me as an odd thing to say. Why on earth would I want to get rid of all these CDs? It had taken me many years to build my collection and I wasn’t going to relinquish it this easily. But as I leaned forward with a retort, I thought about the words she used. She’d assumed I’d get rid of my CDs. No mention of my vinyl.
“Why my CD collection and not my vinyl records?” I asked, changing my reply. “Because you play your vinyl, but your CDs just sit on a dusty shelf or packed away in boxes,” came Helen’s swift response. “You never play them, you always use digital music.”
At that moment I realised that my CDs looked great on the shelf, but that was it. They just sat there gathering dust. If I wanted a piece of music all I had to do was select it from my digital database, which meant my CD collection was nothing more than eye-candy.
Vinyl, on the other hand, was different.
A few years earlier I’d made the difficult decision to sell my DJ vinyl collection. I remember loading up a Volvo estate car and watching it set off down the street, only to return moments later because the driver couldn’t get the car over the speed bumps at the end of the road. That vinyl represented 20 years of my DJ career. It was scratched, the covers had writing all over them, and most were in average condition, but as the saying goes, “one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure.”
The guy who bought my vinyl had made me an offer and I’d snatched his hand off. I needed the space, I didn’t play the records anymore, so it made sense to offload them. By then I’d replaced my vinyl with CDs, so they no longer had any use. Fast forward a few years and the same CDs that had served me so well in my DJing and music production career were now making way for digital files. They were suffering the same fate as my DJ vinyl collection.
I bought my first vinyl record in 1981. It was from the Pop-Ex range that my local newsagents stocked. These were ex-jukebox records that were scratched and warped and they came in paper sleeves so thin they had the textile strength of a cobweb – but they were cheap! The record was ‘Prince Charming’ by Adam & the Ants and it cost me 10 pence.
That piece of vinyl proved to be the catalyst for my record obsession. And whilst there have been a few bumps along the way, that obsession still stands strong to this day.
A year later I bought my first full-priced vinyl: the 7” single ‘Come On Eileen’. Although, I hadn’t intended to buy that single exactly. I’d given my mum a crisp £1 note (earnt washing cars during a school break) and asked her to pop into the local record store to pick up a copy of ‘The Return Of The Los Palmas 7’ by Madness, my favourite group at the time. Several hours later my mum returned from the weekly shop with the Dexys Midnight Runners record in her hand.
To say I wasn’t pleased is an understatement. Reluctantly I accepted the record and stuck it on the hi-fi. And from the opening violin I was hooked. I played it repeatedly. I played it so much that the vinyl turned grey. It became, and remains, one of my all-time favourite songs.
I was surrounded by records from a young age. My parents’ collection was modest and included a few Cliff Richard, Carole King and Bee Gees albums, as well as those Top Of The Pops cover albums – you know, the ones with the semi-naked women on the front? My aunt was always buying records and she’d often play me her latest purchases, including albums by Rod Stewart, Eagles, Tina Turner and David Bowie. At my aunt’s was also the first time I listened to the ‘Thriller’ album by Michael Jackson. I watched as the arm lifted and moved across to the first track. The dull thud as the needle hit the vinyl was a sound I knew I’d never tire of hearing. I listened to that album over and over again.
At school we had a disco every Friday lunchtime and my maths teacher would spin records for about 30 minutes. I would stand next to him and help select the songs to play. In the 1980s we were spoiled for choice; I loved opening the case to select from my teacher’s collection. But there was something else about opening that case of vinyl, something that all vinyl DJs and record collectors will relate to – the smell. There’s nothing like it!
On the walk to and from school I would pass the local record shop. I’d often press my nose up against the window to view the latest releases and dream of owning them all. When I visited my grandma, she’d take me to Sheffield’s indoor markets where we visited one of my favourite record shops. There was vinyl on the back wall, hanging from the roof, and on the front panels of the shop. It was a cacophony of colour and sound. It was vibrant and I loved visiting.
Over the next couple of years, I would save up my pocket money and buy the odd vinyl, adding records by my favourite group, Madness, to my collection as well as picking a few cheap pieces up from the Pop-Ex carrousel.
Between 1982 and 1984 the UK charts were buzzing with great songs, and the artists often released their records in various formats including 7”, 12” and picture disc. Every record shop I visited was a treasure trove!
By 1985 I’d formed my first mobile disco with a friend of mine. He was a couple of years older than me and had a job, which meant he’d amassed an impressive collection of 12” singles. As much as I loved these 12” versions, they weren’t always DJ friendly, so 1985 was the year I started buying 7” records for both personal and business use.
As our mobile disco gained popularity, our spending budget grew and so did our vinyl collection. A couple of years later we decided that we both needed to do our own things, so we agreed to end our mobile disco partnership. I was still young and naïve in business, so when we parted ways the only things I was left with were a handful of business cards and a couple of records. The main vinyl collection was taken by my friend. Suddenly, I had to start all over again – a harsh lesson in business!
I dusted myself down, borrowed some money from my parents and set about replenishing my DJ record collection. Every week I would visit several record shops to buy more vinyl, including 7” and 12” tracks in the top 20 as well as advanced promo copies of new tracks. My diary filled up and my spending budget returned. The events became more varied, so I had to add a wider range of records to my collection. I started visiting record fairs and buying lots of older vinyl to ensure I had a healthy selection of music from the 1950s to the present day. It was costing me a fortune and taking up lots of space.
Not to mention, the cases weighed a ton. Many DJs will relate to just how heavy they were. I had four Adda cases that held 500 singles, plus several album cases each with 100 pieces of 12” vinyl in them. I can still hear the suspension on my vehicle groaning under the weight. And that was before any other equipment was loaded.
I noted earlier that during my vinyl journey there have been a few bumps along the way. In 1994, there was a huge bump. In fact, at the time, it felt like an earthquake. Unfortunately, it’s a story that many of my DJ friends can also tell. I had my entire record collection stolen. I had parked my loaded car at the back of a venue. I was gone for 30 minutes. When I returned, I found the car windows smashed, the boot open and the entire contents gone. I’d spent several years building up my huge collection, spending vast amounts of money. And in a matter of minutes it was gone. I was a broken man.
Of course, by then CDs were a thing. It was easy, if expensive, to build up a music library, allowing me to fulfil my event bookings. But I still owned a flight case housing two Technics 1210s and a Cloud DM1200 mixer, and I desperately wanted to play vinyl at some of my events, especially the 60s and 70s nights where the sound of vinyl enhanced the guests’ experience.
Due to the time and expense required, I’d resigned myself to sticking with CDs. After all, CD players were replacing turntables and many DJs were ditching their record collections entirely. CDs were easier to store and transport and each disc held loads of songs.
But soon I started receiving calls from friends offering me their record collections and turning up to my house with large boxes full of records. I had no idea what was going on, but I was certainly grateful for their generosity.
I quickly built up a large collection of 50s, 60s and 70s records and only found out a few weeks later that the guests at one of my retro nights had rallied round to help me replace some of my stolen records. An unbelievably kind gesture and one that probably saved my DJ career.
One Sunday evening I was playing at my regular venue, a small pub on the outskirts of Sheffield where I would play 50s, 60s and 70s vinyl. A regular guest came over and handed me a large box of vinyl; he and his wife wanted me to have their collection. When I got home and took a closer look, I found that every record was signed by the artist.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 114, Pages 34-38.