This month is the start of something quite special. I got the chance to chat to a chap that has been in the Northern Soul scene all his life and to delve into his record box. It became clear that this was no ordinary ‘Vinyl Stories’ though. The chap in question started off DJing and collecting the wonderful black vinyl. In future parts to come in Pennyblackmusic of this edition of ‘Vinyl Stories’ which will expand to several instalments, it will take us to sides of the industry that we get little chance to explore. From collecting we will be looking at vinyl from a dealer’s perspective and also from a record maker’s perspective too. It is a change of direction for ‘Vinyl Stories’. But for now we take a trip into a world of youth clubs, late 1960's working men’s clubs and rare soul gems. This month we chat to Northern Soul aficionado Kev Roberts about the start of his obsession with the deadly disc.


“I am absolutely passionate about all forms of music. I am most noted for the Northern Soul, but I am into all sorts be it rock, pop, folk, I love 60's psychedelia. I have got all sorts of genres in my collection and always have had. The problem is that due to my connections with Northern Soul and having made a career out of it I never get asked any other questions other than about Northern Soul. I have a real passion, however, about the entire 60's music scene.”

“I had a chat with my mum not too long ago, and it was one of those poignant moments in mother/son conversations in which it became apparent my whole career has sailed right by her, bless her, without her really knowing what I do. My brother and sister are both younger than me and when you're working they don’t take much notice of you really, but then they like to reflect and say something like “Sit down, son, and tell me all about it!' So that's what we all ended up doing.”

“My interest in music started when I was about six years old. My dad was a dog breeder breeding Beagles. His passion spilled over to me, and at the time my brother and sister weren't born yet so I used to go and walk the dogs with him. We used to groom them and make them stand right, you know, really boring stuff for a six year old when all I wanted to do was play with my toys. But one ritual we always had was that after the walking and grooming etc we used to listen to ‘Two-Way Family Favourites’ on a Sunday in the early 1960s with Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore. They’d be playing a bit of Mantovani, Kaystar, and all this dreary stuff. It was on the Light Programme which eventually became Radio 2. Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s a lot of people went to Australia to start new lives, so they had a programme to reflect that period in time. Occasionally you would here things there like Bobby Vee or Frank Ifield's 'I Remember You’, so that got me listening to the programme on a regular basis.”

“Now my dad really wasn't interested as he was a big band man. He didn't like rock and roll at all, but my mum would have it on anyway. That spurred me on to listen to other radio programmes and one of them was ‘Pick of the Pops’ with Alan Freeman, which was far more swinging and far more in tune with that time. Obviously there would be a few horrors in there as there were in the charts at that time, but I got so used to it that I got on my chalk board and started to write the Top Ten on it! As he counted them down, I had already erased last week’s Top Twenty and quickly chalked in that week’s Top Twenty, so I could sit and stare at it. That's how I got interested in popular music and that takes me back to 1965.”

“At this time the Beatles were the hottest things on the planet, and all of a sudden I got interested in those little round black things. We had a few of them in the family by this time which were not very good, you know, James Last and such like, and I was on holiday in Lowestoft once and my mum said to me 'I am going to buy you a record. What would you like?' I had religiously rehearsed the Top Twenty, so I knew what the top tunes were. I had even taken my chalk board with me to Lowestoft. That's how anal I was! So, I then said 'Right! Number four ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ by the Byrds. That’s the record I want'. So, my mum wrote it down and off she went to the record shop."

"When she came back she had the record and put it on the table in its shiny new bag. They had wonderful bags back then, which were covered in logos like HMV and Tamla Motown and stuff. So there on the table is my nice new bag with my record in it. The first record of my own. I didn’t have to share it with anyone, not my mum or my dad. It was mine! I opened the bag and my heart sank. I was looking at a bland Mercury label, and I am looking at 'A Walk in the Black Forest by Horst Jankowski, the most miserable record on Earth. It had been a hit in Germany, and it was the most boring piano instrumental you've ever heard. I looked around at mum in horror, and - bearing in mind I was only nine at the time - I said, 'What's this?' I had started to assert myself because my dad wasn’t around, and she said 'Well, the thing is that the one you asked for had sold out, so I thought I’d go one better and get you the next highest in the chart.’ So I replied 'Mum, it is terrible. It’s the worst record known to man!' So that was the first record that I actually owned.”

"So onward! 1966 for me was the year. That was the year that I tuned into Tamla Motown and Spencer Davis and Sandie Shaw and Petula Clark and Donovan. It was all on the Light Programme, and they had just started to play some decent music. Everybody was tuning in to Radio Caroline but I was ten at this time, and wasn't aware of that Radio station. I was a bit of dial twiddler, but I didn't find that one back then. The music scene in Britain was just amazing, You had the Who, the Beatles, and then 1967 came and we had ‘Sergeant Pepper’s’, and in 1968 it was another massive leap forward for me.”

“I was born in Wirksworth, Derbyshire and my dad was in the mines, so I grew up in Sutton in Ashfield and then went to school in Mansfield. At that time Mansfield was a fantastic juke box town. There was a big population that always spent their money locally, and the pubs and clubs were absolutely rocking. The record shops were thriving, and I remember buying ‘Mony Mony’ by Tommy James and the Shondells which was by then the biggest sound in the country. I started to go to youth clubs and buy my records from junk shops because I couldn't afford to buy new. I was then picking up copies of things like Bert’s Apple Crumble’s ‘The Quik’, Rhinoceros’ ‘Apricot Brandy’, Tommy Neal’s ‘Going to a Happening’, and that’s how 1968 got started for me. I have a lovely collection of British label demos, which include things like The Love Affair’s ‘Everlasting Love’ and Tom Jones’‘It’s Not Unusual.’"

“By now I was listening to Radio Luxembourg which had an enormous amount of soul being played, and I was buying stuff like the Intrigues’ ‘In a Moment’ from Sid Booth’s record shop in Mansfield. In 1970 I had my first excursion into Nottingham and bought some records from the Fish Market. The Fish Market was a huge venue that wasn’t selling enough fish, and was converted into a sort of car boot sale. It had an enormous amount of black women selling things there because we had a big influx of black people from the Caribbean back then. These girls would bring these obscure records with them to sell, and if only I had discovered Ska back then I would have made a fortune! Also by this time I'd got myself a paper round, so I had got a couple of quid behind me and I was buying things like Robert Parker’s ‘Barefootin’ and just starting to read papers like ‘Blues and Soul’."

"Then I discovered the wonderful record shop called Selectadisc. It was a wonderful store for a lot of reasons. The people that ran it were totally into it. It was brilliant for Brian Selby, who was the owner, and the area itself. Selectadisc if you ask anybody is most famous for its connections with Northern Soul. I was still having to watch my pennies at the time so couldn't afford to buy much on a regular basis, but I was getting stuff like ‘People’ by the Tymes and Soul Brothers Six.”

“By 1972 I had left school, and I was buying ‘Blues and Soul’ every month and reading about all the latest records and all the new venues springing up that I wasn’t old enough to go to. The year before that the Twisted Wheel had closed, and the new venues were The Golden Torch and Blackpool Mecca , which way run by Tony Jebb and Les Cockell who was a DJ at the Twisted Wheel. They were playing stuff like Johnny Wyatt’s ‘This Thing Called Love’, Joy Lovejoy’s ‘In Orbit’ and the Fi-Dels ‘Try a Little Harder’, which I was buying too . This is what I called the second wave of Northern Soul rarities, that and stuff like Tami Lynn’s ‘I’m Gonna Run Away From You’ and the Tams’‘Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me ‘ which after decimalisation kicked in in 1971 were going for around fifty pence. If you wanted an import it was more like a pound.”

“Suddenly in 1972 there were loads of records I wanted to hear and buy. 1972 was a pivotal year for Northern Soul. Firstly it got girls singing. There were a lot of local discos at that time, but the girls didn’t sing until then and these discos played songs that they could sing to. The Grey Topper out at Jacksdale was one of the discos. It was typical of the area and played a lot of the Northern Soul hits of the time. There was a lot of interest in the songs, and Selectadisc in Nottingham was the one record shop that picked up on it. Nottingham became a hive of supply for Northern Soul Records.”

"I'd just left school and didn't have a job. I remember I was going round to see my gran, and my mum worked in a local factory and she said to me, 'You can't go round to your gran’s if you haven't got a job', so she went to the local paper and got me a job at The Chad in Mansfield. I lasted two weeks. I think I was a bit of a nerdy kid back then, and I hung around Selectadisc a lot in the Soul Cellar as it was back then. One of the guys that worked there was a guys named Alan Day who was a DJ at the Torch and he asked me one day if I wanted to come, so we piled in the back of the van that weekend and off we went. I was looking at DJs like Keith Minshull and Tony Jebb and such like, and it was brilliant. I'd now got a collection of records, but not a collection that could get me anywhere DJing. Now though I was starting to buy some good stuff and I became quite obsessive.”

"By 1973 I was completely focused on Northern Soul and buying records became no exception. I was starting to buy off record lists now, and I was spending all my money on the genre - Al Kent‘s ‘The Way You've Been Acting Lately’ and JJ Barnes’ ‘Real Humdinger’ were just two."

"I was frequenting the Brit in Nottingham and one night a DJ hadn’t turned up. I always carried my record box with me and I got my chance. I was petrified! But I put some music on and filled the floor, so I got a regular slot every Friday for a tenner and I felt like a millionaire. I laid in all day and went out at night. This got me buying even better records. Once I got a bit better, I remember John Brattan the Selecta a Disc manager who walked in with this French-Morrocan dude. They walked up to the DJ decks and looked in my record box and walked off with them! This French-Morrocan guy came back a while later with a pack of records. He had gone off with my £1 records and brought me back records worth £20/£30. That guy was the legendary Simon Soussan, who did a deal with Selectadisc and spawned the Black Magic label.”













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