Goin’ to a Happening
Got the Mojo Talkin’ –
Tony Beesley with Jayne Thomas On Records – Part 2
Kenny’s Records (Sheffield) & RPM (Formerly Backtrack Records, Rotherham)
Jayne: “Tony, please continue with your records and record shop stories where we left off in part 1?
Tony: As the early 80s progressed, an explosion of expanding musical tastes inspired me to start searching for and buying yet more new music. When I say ‘new’, it was a case of being new to my ears music and stretching my musical tastes further back into the vast offerings of the past. In order to move forwards, sometimes we need to look back and as far as music was concerned, for me at this point, that was the way ahead. I was no longer a blinkered post-punk kid with an attitude; I was a musical obsessive with a burning desire to hear as much quality exciting music of a huge array of genres as I could; ok the attitude still remained.
By 1982-83, a new surge of second-hand record shops seemed to appear in and around Sheffield, with more to follow. I was a weekly visitor to Sheffield, dating right back to my earlier punk record pilgrimages of 1978-79, so this was a revelation. Amazing Records, Hitsville Records and others now joined Rare and Racy (selling mostly LPs) and Kenny’s Records on the Whicker and the other stalwart record shops. Later on, Spin City, in the Castle Market opened, though that was almost as perilous as Revolution Records over on the Gallery had been some years earlier for the grief meted out by local skinheads who hung out there. Despite this, a good record shop was always worth the risk and these, along with the existing record shops, provided a very healthy goldmine of record delights. My arms were very rarely empty on return from visits to Sheffield: on occasion, during the late 70s and into 1980, myself and my mates would go over to Doncaster to visit Track Records. Some days, a whole day spent taking in Doncaster, Sheffield and then back to Rotherham on the bus and a final mop-up around the town’s formidable record outlets, returning with bags of cheaply acquired records: fabulous days indeed.
As these new record shops opened up during the 80s I would often be there on opening day. Such was my enthusiasm that on rushing to a new record shop, Laser Records in town, I ran straight into the full-sized invisible window and knocked myself on the floor. Record collecting does sometimes have a habit of making a prized grade A pillock out of you, if around doing it long enough, though, thankfully, the ups always far outweigh the downs.
New and small independent-run record shops appeared yet again with the likes of Backtrack, run by respected soul connoisseur and DJ, Snowy: A superb outlet for all genres, in particular old soul and r&b label releases. A few years later, a mate of mine went over on a record searching tour in the USA and returned with around 80,000 singles, of which I was lucky to be given the chance to browse through a considerable amount of. I returned home on a number of occasions with a few hundred singles on a ‘listen ‘n’ pay’ basis, all a steal at 50p each and a huge boost to my collection. I acquired singles from The Standells, The Leaves and the Mysterans, Bill Robinson and the Quails, Sonny Stitt, The Miracles, the two Jimmies – Smith and McGriff – and scores of previously unheard rare American r&b and Doo wop 45s some on equally rare labels.
Unfortunately, as new outlets opened, so older much treasured record shops such as the greatly loved local record shop Sound of Music closed as did the nearby Circles records – both in Rotherham. Likewise Sheffield’s Revolution Records, Canns Dept. store and its extensive LP Dept., K&D records, Bradleys Records [a shop I had to be eternally thankful for its mid-1979 sale of punk and new wave singles, providing a huge boost to my collection]. Furthermore, Curtis Records, Violet Mays, Pulse and Virgin Records (at the bottom of the Moor) all bade us record addicts farewell: the latter most likely thankful in being rid of us due to endless loafing around the store’s reggae section and on occasion swiping promotional standees and posters and running off up the moor.
As shops closed, improvisation to source records was essential. Jumble sales and bric-a-brac markets were often a target: I picked up a red label Decca original of Small Faces In the Beginning for the whole of 50p in 1982 off a stall full of old pans, ragged books, battered toys and questionably fashioned clothes. In late 1982, or maybe early 1983, I went to my very first record fair which, to my knowledge, was the very first in Rotherham. This was held at the Assembly Rooms, a regular haunt for revival mods from 1979 onwards, some of whom I knew quite well. Another venue to pick up records from was the nearby Clifton Hall, famous nationwide for its northern soul all-nighters. These initial record fare forays were significant high points. I quickly realised that there was an even vaster amount of second-hand records to be picked up than I had previously imagined, often at unbelievably low prices and all out there demanding a purchase. That record fair was the first of many. I could now finally get my hands on well-loved copies of records on the Wand, Chess, Cadet and Checker labels and more. My girlfriend, at the time, even shelled out a whopping £8 for an original Atlantic issue of Otis Redding’s Pain in My Heart LP from a Clifton Hall event: Nirvana!
Tony pictured with The Way (2nd from left). Tony’s Pain in My Heart LP
Jayne: What music inspired your band mates & yourself to form your band, The Way?
Tony: Myself and my best mate John (who had been a 1977 period punk) still retained our love of early punk, principally and ideologically The Clash and The Jam, when we began to form a series of bands in 1982. John had been an early Jam fan too and an enthusiastic fan of the 79 mod revival. Our musical influences at this point were a diverse selection of The Clash, soul, r&b, ska and reggae … plus the My Generation album by The Who and various 60s beat acts etc. I was also influenced by bands such as Orange Juice, early period The Smiths and most profoundly, The Style Council, amongst other modern day artists. In early 1984 we met Ian Deakin who became our drummer and he was a big fan of all the contemporary mod bands such as The Gents, Makin’ Time and the recent revival bands, The Chords etc. He was buying all of those records. Later still, in very early 1985, we were joined by his mate, Tel Sutton on guitar and lead vocals, who was a mod obsessive. He had met
Weller, had a very respectable 60s soul record collection inherited from his parents and was a huge fan of the Atlantic/Stax sound. Merging together we created what could be termed as punk influenced r&b/soul. In hindsight, I suppose, we were aggressive, confrontational and naively idealistic but very importantly we were all huge music enthusiasts. What could go wrong?
Jayne: Were there any particular artists that inspired your lyrics for songs and music recorded and performed by The Way?
Tony: I reckon the poetic lyricism of Strummer still had an influence on me during the early days. Also, Weller and Ray Davies. I was a fan of Bob Dylan too and the punk/folk of Billy Bragg made an impact on my vocal delivery … if vocals could be used as a term ha ha! I always felt that there were essentially no rules at all, as long as it worked and sounded good. If someone had come along with an idea from a Leonard Cohen song and it felt good, I wouldn’t have given a sod! Having said that our relatively open-minded approach was severely tested on a number of occasions when some joker would appear and purely take the piss, often without realising it, with their shocking ideas of what sounded good vocally and lyrically. Rest assured, myself and John’s reactions were not quite what they expected.
Laser records shop with its upstairs ‘Goth Cave’ circa 1985.
Jayne: Throughout the decades from your teenage years, for each of those decades, do you have a particular genre of music that was your favourite? If so, what were these genres that you had a preference for?
Tony: That’s a difficult one. How do we easily define favourites? Music we listen to the most, I suppose? Or maybe music we always seem to go back to and obsessively embrace? The admiration and respect for an artist and genre and so on. I go through brief periods when a huge wave of nostalgia for the punk and post-punk period overwhelms me, as it was my ‘coming-of-age’ musical era, so to speak. Equally, my love of a huge canvas of sixties recorded music does likewise. I
suppose, across all musical mediums, the close affinity to what would be termed black American music, be it r&b, soul, gospel, ska, funk, jazz and so on, would have to be my most honest answer to that as being my most consistently sourced and enjoyed music. It’s the roots of almost everything I like within music, perhaps Film soundtracks aside?
Inside RPM records – circa 1990s. Tony’s Stax appreciation.
Jayne: What other music do you like?
Tony: How long yer got, ha ha. For me, music is a lifelong journey of discovery. In fact I often say to friends, if I was donated a handful of more lifetimes to live; I would still probably struggle to source, hear and indulge in all that I would like to. There isn’t a week goes by that some sort of new music to my ears doesn’t enter my life… often brand new musical epiphanies of some greater or lesser degree. Personally, I don’t adhere to anyone’s expectations or book of rules and this applies none more so prevalent than within my cosmopolitan approach to listening to music. There really are only two types of music and that’s good and bad, obviously depending on the person listening’s perceptions. We all differ in those very notions after all. My tastes range from blues, soul, r&b, gospel, beat, ska, bluegrass, Latin, calypso, folk, rock, rock ‘n roll, blue-eyed soul, early psyche (and some of what has belatedly been termed garage and freakbeat), pop, modern jazz, funk, reggae, glam, disco, early punk, new wave, power pop, Thames beat, post-punk, electro, dub, indie, dance, acid house, ambient, acid jazz, the so-called Britpop genre – also the various musical styles of film soundtracks – of whom I admire and like the work of Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Ennio Morricone and the unmistakable style of the late John Barry amongst others. Another soundtrack fave is the Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman one for ‘Ravenous’ (1999). Also, of course, a great deal of the music that may or may not fit under the umbrella of mod? I always try to strike a balance between the old music I like, play and am always discovering and also, new and interesting music. I have recently started to pick up on some really interesting and enjoyable volumes of Ethiopian jazz, though most seem to be only available on CD. The recent Lets Do the Boogaloo 2 x LP set was superb too as is the Camila George Quartet album Isang – again only on CD, so far. The quest and yearning for more new music is always gathering pace.
Jayne: Your music preferences are quite diverse; do you have any particular favourite artist / band?
Tony: My fave artists would always include The Clash, Etta James, David Bowie, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Elvis, Marc Bolan, Stevie Wonder, Bobby Bland, Paul Weller, Sam Cooke, Little Richard: But so much more and far too many to list all here.
Jayne: Who are some of your favourite r&b & soul artists and what are some of your favourite tracks by them?
Tony: I would say a selection of my favourite ever releases [by some of my favourite artists of those genres] would have to include the following:
Sam Cooke – A Change is Gonna Come
Etta James – All I Could do is Cry
Stevie Wonder – I Don’t Know Why I Love You
Otis Redding – Try a Little Tenderness
Arthur Alexander – Soldier of Love
Jayne: Do any aspects of your music inspire your writing?
Tony: Absolutely. It’s never far away. Be it a soundtrack CD playing on the PC that helps concentration or a soul, blues, jazz or ska album on the nearby record deck that helps lift the spirit. Or perhaps an adrenaline-inducing play of the first Clash album? It all has its place in my life and writing is, in a way, the culmination of my 40 odd years of music and records obsession.
Jayne: Are there any contemporary artists from today that you like relating to the genre of early mod, soul and early R&B music?
Tony: Again there are lots. I am a big fan of the Daptone label and try to buy most of what they release on album. I started quite some years ago with singles from the likes of the late Charles Bradley. I also buy releases from Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators, Sugarman 3, The Bongolian, Shirley Davis and the Silverbacks and in recent years the late Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. I have enjoyed both the Hannah Williams albums and am a big fan of Nick Waterhouse: all of his 3 albums are essential. Also, I love Hollie Cook’s 3 albums released so far.
Roys’ Music Emporium, Skegness: a regular record buying outlet for Tony: sadly now long since closed down.
Jayne: Where do you source your records from now?
Relics Records (Leeds) and Back to Mono records (Lincoln)
Tony: The proverbial eBay, and of more recent years discogs, are a great source and seem, more so nowadays, to be the only available outlet to purchase a lot of what I am after due to their obscurity. However, the buzz of getting out there and physically tracking them down cannot be beaten. The huge rush of excitement on browsing through records and finding that unexpected gem on a market stall, in a record shop, or – on a rare occasion nowadays – in a charity shop, is something to cherish and constantly chase. I go to local markets, charity shops, occasional record fairs and every secondhand record shop I can get to. Also at club events there are sometimes records for sale. We recently have been blessed with a new record shop Vinyl Soundbar within Rotherham Market and a nearby Vinyl Tap store, also Copycatz, essentially a Computing outlet now sells more and more records too and has its own adjacent record room. When I visit Lincoln, I always go to see Jim at Back to Mono records and buy a selection of records. I also visit Chesterfield quite regularly, the market is great and I do pick up something on most visits, there’s two record shops there now, Tailbird records and Vanishing Point. Sheffield has Record Collector in Broomhill, an occasional visit for me, also Bear tree records and a few more springing up from time to time. Until quite recently, I would always call in at Vinyl Demand (which was run by Andy who used to have Spin City in the Castle Market), but he has now closed. I try and visit record outlets everywhere I go, be it to the coast, a weekend away or on holiday, there are no exceptions. They are almost always my first port of call. After all, I have to cater for my addiction and get my regular fix.
Jayne: What are some of your latest and preferred additions to your ever expanding music collection?
Tony outside the venue previously The Black Swan, where The Clash played their very first gig as support for Sex Pistols, 4th July 1976 and [inset] with Joe Strummer, 1988 gearing up for one of Joe’s after-show parties.
Tony: I really like the last French Boutique album, which was very refreshing: recorded aptly with French language vocals, it proves, for me, that the feel of the music and singing is first and foremost. The recent Duncan Reid and the Big Heads album is fantastic as is the latest Stone Foundation one, who I saw for the first time this year and was very impressed with. I have also, a while back, bought the two Pasapegas Hammond Quartet singles, which are very inspiring. The Deep Six latest singles are great too. Others include the Gene Drayton Back on the Scene EP, Paul Weller’s latest album and associated singles (loved the Mother Ethiopia 12”), The Time Sellers single and a band called Gold Needles who are quite promising. Their debut 45 was a strictly limited run of 50 copies and is on lovely clear vinyl. Speaking of LTD editions, on the recommendation of a fellow record addict, Stevie Mochrie, I bought the 300 only edition of The Day the Earth Stood Still soundtrack on 10” – a superb and very memorable soundtrack that evokes memories of watching the classic 50s sci-fi film on the telly as a kid in the early 70s.
Vintage-wise, this year I have bought too many to list. They include various late 50s r&b/Doo Wop and early soul, 60s stuff and a number of long players throughout the year. I purchased a fantastic 1970 released Jimmy McGriff album on the UK United Artists label and a superb condition copy of Milestones by Miles Davis. Also, a lovely Al Green Greatest Hits for a giveaway £1, which I just couldn’t leave behind in a record shop bargain box even though I already have every track on it. One particular purchase from earlier in the year that I am sure will raise a smile and glint of excitement to yourself is a purchase, at a fair price, of Sam Cooke’s very last studio recorded album, his 13th [unlucky it could be said, considering Sam’s fate], Ain’t That Good News . That sits well with my other albums of his. All-in, I have bought quite a lot of records this year and these include some tantalising bargains. My record collection is always growing and diversifying almost by the day; an open-mind towards music and all things in life is my manifesto, something I apply most prominently into my tastes in music and across the associated writing and research.
For me, personally, the endless desire for acquiring more new music from all decades, preferably on record, will never subside. It’s a part of my heart and soul; it knows no conclusive shut down point. While ever I enjoy the thrill, the excitement and euphoria of records and music, I will be there in record shops, markets and also online tracking down whatever I am after at that point. From those first few records back in the 70s through to my obsessions with The Clash, black American music, film soundtracks and so many other genres … the buzz has never left me and I can’t ever contemplate it ever doing so.
The official website to purchase signed copies of all of Tony’s in-print books is www.tonybeesleymodworld.co.uk
He also has Facebook groups based around the books ‘Sawdust Caesars: Original Mod Voices’ , Tonybeesley@daysliketomorrowbooks and there is also a page ‘Mojo Talkin’ – Under the Influence of Mod on Facebook.
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