Interview and Photos by Eilon Paz
lease welcome the lovely Dom Servini!
DJ, radio host, label owner, dad, Benny Hill fan and a sparkling personality!
Tell us about yourself. What kind of music did you hear as a kid? Did your parents collect records? Do you remember your first record?
I grew up initially listening to a combination of ska and pop music from the charts, and blue-eyed soul and soft rock plus jazz, swing and Motown from my parents, who had a fairly modest record collection. Typical sounds coming out of our house were Billy Joel, Madness, Chicago, Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross and Nat King Cole. My first ever 12-inch record was “Solid” by Ashford and Simpson. Only in recent years did I realise that the big tune on that record is the B-side “Street Corner”. I check the B-sides of records religiously these days – they often contain the real musical gem of the release.
Ashford & Simpson – Solid – the first 12” I ever bought! The A-side hasn’t really stood the test of time, but the flip is a solid slice of disco from the great Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson.
A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm – my favourite hip hop band of all time, and my favourite album, simply because it was the first. When I first heard it, it changed everything for me.
What started your interest in music?
It began, like I imagine it did for many people, in the back seat of my parents’ car, listening to AOR soul, easy listening, and soft rock. The influence of these sounds on my formative years of discovering music weren’t really apparent until much later.
Without realising it, I was digging the soul and ska sounds in 80s pop music, be it Spandau Ballet, Freeeze, Wham! or The Fun Boy Three. These second wave of artists (if you like) in turn led me to the Acid Jazz scene of the late 80s and early 90s, which then gave me the impetus to discover the original artists who influenced that scene.
Madness – Absolutely – one of the first LPs I ever bought. I could really relate to these seven boys from North London whose ska and reggae influences informed their own brand of 2-Tone pop music. My favourite band in the 1980s.
Listening to Galliano took me to the world of Roy Ayers, Jackie Mittoo and Crosby Stills and Nash – all of whom had recorded music that was ‘borrowed’ by what was my favourite band at that time. It was an opening of the flood gates into soul, disco, jazz, rare groove, folk, funk and countless other genres. My musical tastes became broader and more eclectic as I discovered how all these strands of music connected to make one big pot of soulful sounds.
It’s only in recent years that I’ve found myself going back to the original artists that I perhaps regarded as being too childish for me in the 90s. I can now play Spandau’s “Chant No.1” or “To Cut a Long Story Short” and see how that connects with Talking Heads and in turn with Konk or Kid Creole and the Coconuts (another childhood favourite). I feel like I now have total freedom to play these records along-side a De Lux track, a new Owiny Sigoma cut, or a Dele Sosimi record and it all makes total sense.
Electronic music, house music, disco, boogie, hip hop, Afrobeat – it’s all music with soul and it’s been the one constant in my life and has never let me down.
Michel Le Grand & Co – Le Jazz Grand – and United Future Organisation – Jazzin’ 91-92 – the former features a tune entitled “La Passionara” which was sampled on UFO’s “Loud Minority” which is featured on the latter. Another one of those records that had me looking for the source of the sample!
Nothing else compares. Other formats maybe make more practical sense in the world we live in today; other formats might be more reliable; others might be easier to get into your overhead compartment on a plane; others you can carry in your back pocket or keep within the comfort of your laptop – but for me, and for many, the aesthetic of vinyl, the joy of holding a record and enjoying its artwork and feel, as well as the tradition of actually playing it, is a rare pleasure in an increasingly minimal and sterile world. People can argue all day whether vinyl sounds better than a high quality WAV or AIFF file, but it’s the simple pleasure of collecting and playing beautiful vinyl that keeps my addiction going with no sign of letting up.
What’s up with that portable player in the living room?
Not a lot now. It’s been moved to another room since that photo was taken, in favour of a space for my son to play. He’s a bit young to be let loose on the portable deck yet, but I’m going to start him early as soon as he can respect the tone arm and the vinyl!
How has record collecting affected other areas of your life?
Record collecting has shaped most of my social and work life. If I hadn’t have been religiously visiting Mr Bongo’s in Soho in the early 90s (I was there every single day of the week) I would never have seen the Jazz Cafe advert on their door when the venue was looking for a DJ to work for them on Sunday afternoons – can you believe that? There was a time when well known venues would advertise in shop windows for DJs! That seems crazy now.
That DJ gig gave me a foothold in the London club and live music scene, and shopping for records in Mr Bongo (as well as others like Sarah’s, Release the Groove and Soul Jazz Records) enabled me to get to know DJs like Kev Beadle, Tony Vegas (from The Scratch Perverts), Huw Bowles, the inimitable Jean-Claude Thompson, and Chris Goss, who I later went on to join at Wah Wah 45s. A collaboration that went on to become the full time job that it is for me today.
Being a record shop-a-holic was the basis of my lifestyle in the 90s – it fed my addiction, fueled my social life, gave me a whole new group of friends (most of whom I’m still very close to) and forged strong relationships (romantic and otherwise!). The Jazz Cafe is one of the most significant places in my life, along with The Big Chill Bar, where I later met my wife. None of this would have happened had I not collected records.
Seatrain – Watch & Mike Longo – 900 Shares of the Blues – the former features “Flute Thing” as sampled by the Beastie Boys for “Flute Loop”; the latter is a solid gold LP from the keyboard master. The two together make for some very useful plastic surgery.
Black Eyed Peas – Behind the Front – do you remember when the Black Eyed Peas were good? No? It was around the time they put this album out. Will.i.am wasn’t a judge on The Voice UK and the only famous Fergie was the Manchester United manager. The world was a better place.
What do you look for in a record?
I look in a record the same things I found in my wife. An attractive and enticing front cover; an interesting back story; some things that hit you immediately because of their beauty, but others that you only discover years later and realise they’ve been under your nose the whole time; and good, heavyweight pressing (no relevance to my wife on that one). It needs to be a record that stands the test of time, and one that you go back to again and again for repeated listening, and every time you do, you find something new and exciting about it.
Ananda Shankar – Ananda Shankar and his Music – contains two huge cuts, namely “Dancing Drums” and “The Streets of Calcutta”. I managed to bag myself an OG copy of this thanks to Kevin Beadle at Mr Bongo in the 90s.
Let’s talk about Benny Hill. How many of his LPs do you own?
Haha. Just the one actually. I believe I bought it because I had a gig down in Devon that was always full of young, randy students (the legendary Jelly Jazz club night) and there was a song on it called “The Birds and the Bees” which amused me greatly and one that I slipped into the intro to my set.
I always like to add a little humour and something a bit different to my DJ sets where possible.
Benny Hill – This is Benny Hill – my guilty pleasure.
Bruce Forsyth – The Travelling Music Show – another guilty pleasure.
Do you have a record collecting philosophy? A price you won’t pay, maybe, or a total number of records you won’t go past. Do you buy reissues?
I’m pretty open minded when it comes to record collecting. I’m also not completely obsessed with it either, and won’t break the bank on a record that would mean I wouldn’t be able to pay my mortgage this month! I’ll pay a price for a record based on two things – how much pleasure I think the record is going to give me and the audience, and how often I think I’d be likely to play it out. I have no problem with buying re-issues. I’ve released a couple myself on my own record label! If the record sounds and looks good then that’s all that matters to me at the end of the day. It’s always nice to have the original pressing for the historical context, but if the original is £1000 and the re-issue £10 then I’m not going to have any problem in making that decision. I don’t really understand DJs who berate other DJs for playing re-issues. If it’s a good record, then it’s a good record and that DJ has taste. He can probably also rock a dance floor with it, and 99.9% of that dance floor will not care what pressing he’s playing, only that it sounds good!
Original pressings vs. re-issues. As a label owner you might have good insight on the subject. Why is it that too often re-issues sound inferior from the original pressing?
I don’t think that’s necessarily always true. Sometimes the re-issue can sound inferior, and that might be for a number of reasons – perhaps the original master tapes weren’t available and the re-issue was mastered from a less than perfect vinyl copy; perhaps the label re-issuing the record used an inferior, or cheaper, manufacturer. Maybe they released it on coloured vinyl, which is hardly ever a good idea! But other times the re-issue can sound better than available copies of the original. Perhaps it’s a super-rare record of which clean copies are very hard to come by, but the label has access to the original master tapes and can therefore produce a superior pressing. It’s all about what’s available and the personal responsibility of the label.
Henri-Pierre Noel – Piano – the original private press release of the stunning album from the Haiti born Canadian keyboard genius. Later re-issued on my own label, Wah Wah 45s.
What’s your comfort record, the one you can always go back to? What makes it so special?
I’d like to choose two if I may – “The Blues And The Soulful Truth” by Leon Thomas (Flying Dutchman) and Joni Mitchell’s “The Hissing of the Summer Lawns”. The former is soothing yet powerful, and Leon is possibly one of the most underrated musicians of the soul/jazz genre. He single handedly popularised the jazz ‘yodel’, a technique he was forced into using after an accident left him with all his teeth missing! Cuts like “China Doll” are simply spell binding, whilst my personal favourite. “Shape Your Mind To Die” is probably the most appropriate record you could ever play on a desert island!
The latter is one I can listen to again and again and I never tire of it. Joni’s voice is unparalleled and this album shows off the lady at the peak of her powers at a time when she was getting her sound exactly right for me. It evokes warm summer nights and lazy afternoons. For me, its central piece is “Edith and the Kingpin”, a sad song about a Vancouver pimp (apparently) and a strong but abused woman (named after Edith Piaf). Warm, dark, soulful, sad and beautiful. “The Hissing of the Summer Lawns” is the finest of Joni’s three best albums for me – “Court and Spark” and “Hejira” being the other two.
Leon Thomas – The Blues and the Soulful Truth – the master of the jazz yodel and one of the most gorgeous albums I own.Joni Mitchell – The Hissing of the Summer Lawns – Joni at the peak of her powers and a record that emits warmth and darkness in equal measure.
I have a soft spot for politically incorrect covers. Feed me please…
I’m going to feed you some Idi Amin. You might need a bigger plate. Not actually a record by the Ugandan dictator (although that would have been interesting) but a one recorded in 1975 by British satirist John Bird (of “Bremner, Bird and Fortune” fame for your British readers) and written by fellow satirist Alan Coren. It’s called “The Collected Broadcasts of Idi Amin” and features tracks like “Findin’ De Lady” and “De Colleckerted Works O’ Idi Amin”. John Bird adopts an incredibly non-PC accent and I’m fairly certain if they had have attempted to release such a record today, it would have been immediately banned.
I was fascinated by the cover, which combines a cut-out of Amin with a Roy Lichtenstein gun, as well as some very dubious speech bubbles, and it serves as a reminder of how far we have come in the last forty years or so.
John Bird – The Collected Broadcasts of Idi Amin – I’m not so proud of the content of this record, but I was somehow drawn to the Lichtenstein rip-off cover and the incredibly politically incorrect use of language featured on it. A good reminder of how far we’ve come.
Humor (and a sparkling personality) is part of your charm. Any record that reflects that?
I could obviously go for ‘comedy records’ like the Benny Hill one we already mentioned, Derek & Clive, or even my guilty pleasure that is Bruce Forsyth, but I hope that I’m able to reflect more sophisticated and subtle humour in my record collection.
If I had to chose one record (which I do in this case) then it would be one from my own record label – a record entitled “Modern Sleepover” by Talc. This project came to my attention after a late night listening session at a very old friend of mine’s house when he played me a “Dan inspired record” made by a friend of his, James Knight. The record told the story of a doomed relationship between “woman and machine” from the perspective of a home computer.
Lyrics like “Flesh on metal, I’ll be a real man. I wanna upgrade you and fill you up with R.A.M.” obviously raised a chuckle or two, but it was the sublime, expensive-sounding production, blue-eyed Steely Dan sound that James Knight and Nichol Thompson had achieved that made me want to sign them on the spot. We released two full-length albums together, they toured Japan but eventually the computer died. As computers do.
I guess that’s not particularly subtle humour, but it’s one of my favourite records we’ve ever released on Wah Wah 45s, and even all these years later, “Modern Sleepover Pt2: Robot’s Return” has just been picked up by Moodymann for his new mix CD, so I guess I’m not alone in appreciating this style of humour.
The Dudley Moore Trio – The Other Side of Dudley Moore & The World of Dudley Moore; Peter Cook & Dudley Moore – Derek and Clive – the connections between jazz and comedy right here. Dud was not only a genius comic but a fantastic jazz pianist, and the Derek and Clive album still sounds so wrong after all these years.
Who have been your record-collecting mentors? What have you learned from them?
Joining Wah Wah 45s as a DJ in ‘99 had a profound impact on my record collection. DJing with brothers Simon and Chris Goss pretty much every week at The Jazz Cafe gave me plenty of exposure to their incredible record collections. When I joined the label the following year and spent a lot of time at Simon’s home in particular, I discovered so many soulful gems that I previously hadn’t been aware of.
Simon was always very open and encouraging about music, and was in no way a music snob and enjoyed listening to The Jackson Five as much as he did obscure Ethiopian jazz. That really inspired me. The old adage of there only being two types of music – good and bad – really shone through from the precious time I spent with Simon. I discovered deep soul, rare jazz and crossover pop records that all rubbed me the right way.
Of course, at the same time I was listening to a lot of radio and especially the weekly shows of Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge on Kiss, and the former later on the BBC. These shows also opened me up to a huge variety of musical delights, especially in the soul and jazz vein. As time went on, I have been luckily enough to become friends with both of them and the musical inspiration hasn’t abated one bit.
Billy Paul – Going East – the title tune is one I discovered listening to Gilles Peterson’s radio show in the early 90s, and was one that was on heavy rotation at clubs like The Blue Note and Bar Rhumba. I found this wonderfully ring worn copy in Montreal, Canada I believe. The ring wear really adds something to the image!
What do you want to happen to your collection when you check out?
Now that I’m lucky enough to be a father, I hope that my son shows an interest in my collection and I can pass the musical torch to him. I’m not going to push it, but I’m quietly hoping.
What does your record collection say about you?
I like to think it says that I’m a man with a sense of humour, a refined taste in all things sonorous and soulful, and a man with something of an understanding of musical history and black music culture. Oh, and that I probably spend far too much money on records, but hey, that doesn’t exactly single me out here!
Who would you like to see profiled next on Dust & Grooves?
You need to go and visit a couple of the boys who work at London’s Love Vinyl record emporium, particularly Jake Holloway (who was my DJ partner for many years) and Zaff (whose knowledge and collection of disco in particular in somewhat unrivalled). Red Greg is another DJ whose collection runs deep, particularly on a disco tip) and Frankie Francis from Sofrito and The Carvery has a huge and insane collection of all things tropicalia. All of these people are very lovely too of course, which is very important.
Learn more about Dom:
Wah Wah 45s
Radio DJ – Amazing Radio
Music Journalist – Bandcamp
Dom and many other vinyl collectors are featured on the Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting book.
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