Why do we collect records?

Why ask me?

I don’t know. Why do women look into a full wardrobes, sigh, and say ‘I’ve nothing to wear’.

Why do people take cars only couple of years old and in perfect working order and change them for a newer model? Why do people spend millions on a canvas with paint splattered on it?

It’s their money, they do what they want with it. Me? I’m happy buying records. I buy them because I like them. 1962 to 2010 couldn’t care less, as long as the vocal’s there, no problem. Get it in the collection. Photos too, especially the 60s ones, black & white photographs – magic. And the songsheets. And dentures, yeah, false teeth as worn by Sy Hightower.

No, whoah, stop right there. Photos and songsheets. You have to draw the line somewhere

Why do we collect?
It’s totally obsessive isn’t it? Think about it. You buy one record and you play it to death
and it looks pretty dumb doesn’t it, one record. So you buy another and another. Within a short while you may have accumulated 50. That’s quite impressive isn’t it 50 records. All of a sudden, you’re a collector. You’re buying because you like the song, the lyrics, the production, the overall sound and feel of the record. But you’re also buying because it’s compulsive and you’re impressing yourself. We all know people who buy to impress other, but think about it, just for one minute, haven’t you ever bought to impress you? I’ll be honest, I have. I‘ve bought turkeys and I’ve bought gems. The killers always out-weight the losers- the only thing you remember about junk records are never to buy them again.

Pretty soon you’re deciding how to organise your collection. If you’ve reached this stage, usually by now you’re really enjoying the whole collecting aspect but your bank statements aren’t the rosy fiscal flower bed they once were. But you’re got your collection and you’re impressed with it. Your friends may be too, but your wife, girlfriend, boyfriend or husband won’t be. And if all this so far relates to you, take it from me, you’re a collector. Financial insecurity is not something collectors worry about. Will you ever get the missing number from the label you collect (you are way past the novice level now) is really more worrying than ‘how do we pay the rates’
(The collection belong to you, the money you on spend on the collection is yours; household bills are for ‘us’ to find the money for. Yes? You are a collector).

Few forms of music are as obsessively collectable as soul. Doo-Wop, Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Girl Groups, there’s plenty of kindred spirits out there, but I doubt if are many collections in term of volume as there are soul collections in the UK. The dream and aspirations of black American ghetto transferred onto vinyl, then painstakingly filed in meticulous order in a bedroom in Hull 30 years on. It is indeed a strange phenomenum. I don’t know how you quantify what is the average size of your collection? 50,500 or 5000 records. Dose it matter?

I’ve always adopted the attitude, no it doesn’t. Far better to have 50 great records than 500 so-so pieces.

But quantity brings with it the luxury of flicking through for a favourite; the gloating few collectors admit to. (‘Yes my little beauties’ he cackled…. ‘You’re all mine’)
Accumulating volume is part and parcel of collecting and it is a transmissible disease you could catch from another collector. You see their collection and even if subconsciously, you want to compete. There is a great deal of competitiveness in collecting. On the Northern Soul scene, the top collectors know who owns what; they know who owns the ‘one-offs’, the top rarities. When you get a records list through the mail, you are competing, to a degree, with other collectors. Is there anything really as exciting as getting a records list? Especially if there’s one of your big ‘wants’ on it. That really gives the ol’ ticker a kick, doesn’t it? The trembling finger punching in the digits on the phone, the engaged tone, the ceremonial throwing of the receiver at the wall. The getting through to the dealer, the ecstasy or the despair. The punching of the air or the uncontrollable blasphemy after the call. The exciting ritual of filling in the order form, the writing of the cheque during your dinner hour at work so the wife doesn’t find out. And if you’re switched on, you’ve got a mailing address where your fix is sent to from where you smuggle the records into the house. Yep, you’re a collector alright.

You tend to take forks in the road as a collector, but always you will come to a crossroads. There’s a fair chance you get into ‘this thing of ours’ by the popular end of the music. The hits; the thing you hear in normal (sic) clubs. What can trigger off the ascendancy from Norman to Benny Broke can be a number of incidents, but at some point, someone will give you a tape/cd and on it will be a whole new world. Your first crossroad. Years hence you’ll find the tape/cd again and smile at naivety, but you’ll have passed other tapes/cd’s on, opening up herewith unexplored paths for other collectors. It is a common myth that tapes/cd’s are killing music, the underground Soul taping/cd’s scene has exposed more people to great, unsung talents than any given number of DJs ever will. One of the fundamental faults on the club scene is that many DJs don’t realise how sophisticated the punters are. Obsessive collectors will always overtake DJs by the very nature of their subject matter. Collectors buy records they want, immaterial of genre or style. DJs buy records ‘to use’.

And there’s the whole underground trip isn’t there? The grapevine; the network.
You get sucked in. All of a sudden names like George Freeman, The Steelers, or
Oscar Toney Jr are put into perspective by fellow collectors; ‘He’s pretty solid, but watch his so-and-so 45, it’s an ashtray’. You’ll find role models- collectors who are unbelievably advanced, aware of microscopic rarities- and always cracking those real elusives: ‘Theola Kilgore on Mercury? Yeah, got one the other week…’ Records you never seem to see, they pull out of flat caps. But you enjoy their company; the phone calls; their flamboyance; their optimism at finding the most ludicrously obscure releases. Real collectors don’t bottle out, they skip lunch to save money in case ‘it’ turns up next week. Collectors look at designer clothes and only see records. At venues they never find time to dance, there are too many look through, too many brothers-in-arms to embrace, too much to self indulge in. Collectors don’t have nightmares, collectors have morbid hallucinations about the house catching fire and a fireman holding them back amidst the smell of smouldering plastic. Holidays are two weeks sitting in the sun wondering what record lists they’ve missed or what’s gone big while they’ve been in enforced purgatory. Collectors are misunderstood, selfish,aloof, egotistical, loyal and abrasive to outsiders.

But whenever the curtain goes down on the British Soul scene for the last time; when the lights go on and the ushers look to move out what’s left of the crowd, the collectors will be there. Blinking in the sudden enforced light, dogmatic, stubborn and unbowed, they’ll slowly shuffle out, out into the cold night air, heading home…..to the collection.

Rod Dearlove