Anyone who gives their vinyl collection to a charity shop or sells it for a song with some chipped tea cups at a car-boot sale will be puzzled by my passion for black plastic. For those with no interest in records, getting shot of a mint condition 45 of We’ve been in love too long by El Antony is inevitable. For me such a sacrifice would involve El Anthony being forcibly prized from my fingers – and even then I would still give chase.
As a vinyl enthusiast with the emphasis on northern soul, records have shaped my life and collecting them has always been much more than just a hobby. Records in fact tell my story.
Being raised in a house filled with music was the first step towards coveting records which were scattered about our front room to be appreciated like works of art. As a result I have always regarded the creation of album sleeves as something to be prized and valued. My Nan was into what they called “Exotica“ in the 1960’s, and would be humming Jungle River Boot complete with tropical percussion while doing the ironing. But it was my mother who was always a record collector and keen on The Beatles and The Beach Boys who got me started when she took me to see the glam rock band, Sweet, in 1971 when I was ten.
It turned my head and from then on I was off to concerts on my own and after each one I’d go and buy the record. Slade, David Bowie as Alladin Sane. I saw them and then bought the album. The Ames Record Bar in the Arndale Centre in Blackburn became a favourite hang-out by the time I was 13. The lads that worked there were all very knowledgeable and I was keen to hear as much as I could.
I was also hanging out with boys who were considerably older than me (16) and got to go clubbing with them on account of the fact that I was able to grow a moustache of sorts. The cat could have licked it off, but it was enough facial hair to get me in and with the pocket money I earned collecting glasses at the pub my parents ran I could afford a lifestyle that gave me access to the music that now makes up my collection of 7,500 soul records.
Dressed in Oxford bags pulled up to the waist and stacked heel shoes I would arrive at Wigan Casino, then a home for northern soul with my dancing shoes in a bag. Around the dance floor were record sellers who made trips to Chicago and Philadelphia to discover rare vinyl, which they would then sell on to us for as little as three pounds. It wasn’t the sort of music they would play on the radio because it was too underground, therefore you couldn’t tape it. And with the MP3 player yet to be invented, I had no choice but to spend all my money on buying records and getting home.
Living between the Casino and Blackpool Mecca which played more progressive soul proved a geographical blessing and I spent my youth going to both and buying records. It was the biggest thing in my life, particularly as I was only just getting by at school.
Being a northern soul enthusiast has been the catalyst for some of my most enduring friendships over the years. There is Richard Searling who was the DJ at Angels in Burnley on the night I met my wife Gerardine and danced to the sounds of Bobby Hutton’s Lend a Hand. Richard was one of the very first importers of American vinyl and was backwards and forwards to Philadelphia throughout 1973. He is still dj-ing, notably in The Soul Casino at our Vintage Festival in July with fellow DJ Kev Roberts who was once the owner of the most expensive northern soul record ever sold. ‘That was Do I Love You’ by Frank Wilson, a solo record made by Wilson who was a Motown producer. But Berry Gordy had no plans for him and only six copies were ever produced. It was so sought after that Kev was able to sell his for £5,000. It was then sold for £15,000.
It is the stories around these records that has kept me hooked as much as the music itself. And the stories keep coming as more records are discovered as the music was never commercial or promoted. Very often a song was written and performed by a cleaner or a bus conductor who funded the production himself.
Only the other day I was looking at a site run by John Manship otherwise known as the Rare Soul Man and 70 percent of the 45s on his northern soul list are records I have never heard of. If you were to spend every second of your life listening to it, you would never get to the bottom of it. Of course there are still records I would love to own and I have a ‘wanted’ list on eBay and Discogs that includes Edward Hamilton and the Arabians ‘Don’t You Weep’ and Broomfield Corporate Jam’s ‘Doin It Our Way’ which recently sold for £700.
Too much for me, as the most I’ve ever paid for a record is £90 which is peanuts compared to what others spend, particularly the Japanese who are such keen collectors in a market place that has gone global. I don’t ever want to ever sell my collection which I pooled with my wife thirty years ago and we are still dancing.
Occasionally I DJ, but I’m busy working and with 7,500 of them it’s doubtful that each record gets an airing more than once a year. But there is something so lovely about records. Vinyl is tactile, visual and not compressed like CDs and MP3s. It is raw and lends an authenticity to the sound. Young people are starting to appreciate that and vinyl collectors are now regarded as cool people who have ditched the pipe and slippers and still go clubbing regardless of their age.
Records are so much part of the heritage that is my life as they lead me from Northern Soul to underground disco and then to punk. I remember going out and buying The Buzzcocks first record, Spiral Scratch which had a hand-folded Xerox sleeve and was hand pressed. You look at it now and think that was proper DIY produced in rebellious times when people felt empowered enough to do things for themselves. I think that indie spirit is still in me and my missus. Our vinyl collection represents shared memories of our musical youth and El Anthony’s ‘We’ve Been In Love Too Long’ is not for sale.