Interview and Photos by Eilon Paz
tephen is a whisky expert who travels the world talking about drinking and uses that time to collect records.
Who are you and where are you from?
My name is Stephen Marshall, I live in Scotland and divide my time between Edinburgh and the East Neuk. I work with whisky and I pretend to DJ at a club called Moon Hop.
What or who sparked your love for music and vinyl?
I very quickly learned that I couldn’t play any instruments, mainly down to lack of talent – I once made my music teacher cry with anger – but also down to a lack of patience and growing up in a small flat where noise carried. Now I wish that I’d done the cool thing of learning the guitar or the saxophone, but I chose the tenor horn. I loved music though, so I started collecting records. When I was wee, my mum played me Barry Manilow, Elvis and Abba, and danced around the living room a lot – nothing that I ended up buying really, although my penchant for disco is strong. I always had a bit of a collector mentality, collecting stones and fossils when I was pretty wee, then moving onto vinyl at a more obsessive level from about the age of 13. I dabble a bit in interesting books, random tat, and now also whisky, amongst other things.
Lata Ramasar – The Greatest name. And her brother, produced by their dad. She looks pretty proud of making the most insane record ever.
Do you remember the first album in your collection? How and where you got it?
My first single was Modern Romance’s “Best Years of Our Lives”. I thought that was how hair was meant to be worn; not the bald guy, the ones with hair. That obviously didn’t work out. I reckon the first time I went out and bought an LP was in John Menzies in the Thistle Centre in Stirling, upstairs in the music department. I got Wham! Make It Big for £4.79. When I was 13 in 1989 things started to change, I got into hip hop and techno, and started buying 12”s in the local Our Price – The Ruthless Rap Assassins were one of my favourites from that period. Then Europa Records opened and I started buying second hand stuff – mainly 60s British – The Kinks, Small Faces type stuff. Sleeves in Falkirk was another one; I used to love getting R+S imports and Italian techno like Digital Boy – ravey lightstick stuff. On Saturdays, when I could afford it, I’d get the train to Glasgow and go to 23rd Precinct on Bath Street. I remember the first time I paid 6 pounds for a record being really terrified of breaking it on the train back. I used to really pour over records, taking in the serial numbers and producers, any kind of detail. I don’t get the time to do that anymore. That kind of thing was an amazing way of finding new music – John Cale producing the Happy Mondays led me to find The Stooges, Patti Smith and The Modern Lovers, which was pretty eye opening stuff. There obviously wasn’t any internet, but you’d lie on your bedroom floor taping stuff off John Peel – that introduced me to TCQ, Napalm Death and the whole world in between. Home taping didn’t kill music!
Modern Romance – Best Years of Our Lives – first record I ever bought in a wee brown bag.
“Never pass on something, cause you may never see it again.”
Your job takes you around the world. Tell us about some of your favorite countries to look for records.
Yes, I’ve been pretty fortunate that my work has allowed me to travel a lot, and I always make time to dig. I try and spend an extra afternoon on getting to know a city. It’s not as effective as having a network of dealers, but it means strange treks. I’ve spent time in some very dusty places in Mexico City – three days search with only one killer record found, but it’s always worth it. In Johannesburg – where I ended up in the CBD in a kilt with whisky writer and record collector Dave Broom – we spent a day in a warehouse, picked up Art Supernatural Fairy Tales, the PP Arnold album, some early Lee Konitz with Miles Davis on it, and some interesting British folk. Bangkok is amazing for Molam and Luk Thung that I can’t pronounce.
Unknown Thai, just a beautiful groove.
St. Petersburg has some interesting Russian TV soundtracks there. New Orleans is good; I like Euclid, although it’s a long walk in the sun, all over really. I love India, and Kolkata has always been pretty good for records, and the bonus being the amazing food. It took me a few days of asking around to find anything there, but when I did there was a lot of stuff – obviously the old Bollywood soundtracks, but also some really nice traditional stuff, and some drumming albums, always love drumming albums. Aberdeen in Scotland was where I studied though, and I bought the bulk of my jazz from a store called One-Up. We used to be able to go in there and pick up OG Impulses, UK Derams and Blue Notes for 3 pounds. I’m not joking – Africa/Brass for 3 pounds was a pretty nice day. I would go in and sell those Fopp bootlegs and pick up nice copies for the same price. The pickings were so good that anything over that seemed overpriced. I remember not buying Happy Sad for 6 pounds because I was sure it would come down. I don’t do that anymore, it took me 15 years to get a nice copy of that. Maybe there are still great finds under three pounds now, but the last thing I bought like that was a mint OG of the hologram Satanic Majesties for 50p in the late ‘90s. I don’t think that happens often now, but I’ve had to prioritise my time around getting to a store that I know has good stuff and using my free hour to only get stuff that I know is going to be in good nick – which means spending less time in dollar bins. You know, I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the US, but it’s also the one place that I want to spend a lot more time getting to know. I find the stores there so invigorating, and always full of new things. Every single time I’m in the U.S. I leave with something I’ve never heard before, and that’s amazing. It’s obvious, but I love Good Records in New York. I have to go there for work and Good is an absolute pleasure to visit – knowledgable folk who love music, and a nice layout. You don’t get a lot of gospel in Scotland so it makes the difference.
Unknown Russian soundtrack stuff, I swapped a bottle of whisky for this from a collector called Guy Robson, who spends way too much money on synths and records.
Do you focus on a specific musical genre?
No, but there are certain things that I find appealing whatever genre – mostly heavy drums and people saying weird things or screaming. Safet Isovic I never tire of, he made a lot of folk music, but the one released around the time of the moon landings has the most amazing drums and little squiggly Joe Meekesque squiggles. John Malick – “Mon Histoire” is like a microcosm of the kind of stuff I like listening to at home and playing out, he laughs a lot in that song. The 45 is fairly difficult to find in good condition and it has an amazing sleeve.
John Malick – Mon Histoire – John likes to say his name and scream.
Speaking of sleeves, one of my total favourites is the one by Los Monstruos with their killer cover of Gloria, or the 45 picture sleeve of Jorge Ben – “Take it Easy”, that’s incredible. I get excited by sleeves, I associate images really closely with sounds, so they’re always in my head when I hear the song; I love The Jones – “Hey Mina” and Francis Guillon – “By My Side” because of that. I really like things that folk dance to even when they’re not expecting it. I’ve got some Thai stuff and Russian stuff that I’ve picked up on my travels that I don’t know the names of but have been researching – Monrat Kwanphothai has amazing groove and vocals and I know nothing else about it.
Jorge Ben – “Take it Easy My Brother Charlie” What a beautiful wee sleeve on the Jorge Ben 45, eh?
I’ve been playing Enzo Delre Il Banditore a lot recently and I’m always surprised at how much folk like it, and that Lata Ramasar record goes down a treat cause it’s just insane, both sides too. John Kongos – “I’m Dreaming” is probably my favourite song right now and it’s an Italian-only 45 of a South African singing a bit of spacey post-disco. Other stuff I really like just now is John Greek – “Hot For Your Body”, an amazing mid-tempo, synthy shouter; The Sharades – “Dumb Head”, a bit of Joe Meek produced, girl group insanity; The Cousins – “All Right Mama” – I think my pressing is French, might be Belgian, but lovely drums; and Steve Monite, one of my favourite albums of all time, but mainly for “Only You (Disco Jam)” and for the cover (he looks delighted), it also has Nkono Teles on synths, he was a total genius. Claudette et Ti Pierre – “Zanmi Camarade” is my favourite morning song at the moment, I find it pretty uplifting. The Famous Ward Singers – “I’m Getting Richer” is another I like to listen to when I get up – I’ve been delving into gospel a lot recently and it’s becoming a bit of an issue for me. Fadaul – “Sid Redad”, I imagine that one will be reissued by someone – it’s a nuts Moroccan cover of James Brown and everyone I’ve ever played it to has loved it. A few things arrived today, a 45 by Neil Ardley, a lovely bit of early electro and Dip In The Pool – “Retinae”, the promo 12” which is simply beautiful for the summer, and the Armenian Pop Music LP which has a remarkable bit of folk disco…
Steve Monite – Only You. The Moon Hop classic, I always play it near the end of the night. The perfect piece of cosmic disco.
Fadaul – “Sid Redad”. Amazing Moroccan Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag cover and a nice brutal garage flip.
Do you have a record collecting philosophy? Any special routines when you enter a store?
Never pass on something, ’cause you may never see it again. Orbital – “Satan” was a big influence on me – “it’s better to regret something you have done, than something you haven’t”. It still annoys me that I didn’t buy that OG of Happy Sad in 1994 for 6 pounds. I also always ask for recommendations, some folk have so much knowledge it’s incredible. I spread my brain to whisky knowledge so there just isn’t space to know everything about music. Actually, most of my favourite records have been recommendations from folk in stores. I got Quazar In It For The Money from the legendary Cool Chris (Groove Merchant) recently and I would never have known to look for that. Local knowledge in particular is something you can only really skim if you travel a lot.
Safet Isovic – Mujo Kuje – Moon landing electronic squeaks.
What do you look for in a record?
Producers are usually my first check, then label, then the type of percussion, then I usually head to the listening deck. Five at a time… Any more is terribly bad behaviour.
Can you tell us about the vinyl scene where you grew up?
Scotland’s got some great vinyl for collectors – Alex Harvey – “Midnight Moses” on 45, the archetypal beat dancer; the Scots of St James – “Tic Toc”, my 45 is a Spanish picture sleeve, but i don’t think it actually came out over here; or Hopscotch – “Look At The Lights Go Up”, another dancer but not big actually in Scotland. Joe Meek produced some Scottish stuff too, like the 45 by The Buzz called “Holding Me Down” – that has to be one of my favourites to listen to loud. Oh, and The Poets – “Fun Buggy” is a total classic from the radio ad for Strike Cola. I do try and buy any of those great Scottish pieces.
Alex Harvey – “Midnight Moses” – I always pick up Scottish things, this is a far better version than the LP.
I would say that the last 10 years in Scotland have been a remarkably fertile period for records in Scotland, some of my favourite albums, really, albums as good as anywhere in the world. I buy a lot of local 45s, but if I was to suggest the places for folk to start, I’d probably start with the albums, because most of the stuff is released on tiny pressings and even though it’s new, it is quite difficult to get hold of. One of my favourite records is by Lomond Campbell, called Only a City Apart. He only pressed 250 copies, and I think he sold most of them from the boot of his car after gigs, but it’s a really beautiful bit of dystopian electro kraut folk with great lyrics. Who could fail to be charmed by a line like, ‘50 noses that I’d like to break, but I probably couldn’t’? His band FOUND released a remarkable album called Factorycraft a few years ago with a tune called “Blendbetter”, that five years on I still listen to all the time. You know they also released a record pressed on chocolate that actually played. I ate my copy, I get hungry. Lomond’s collaborator in FOUND is River of Slime, and his LP, Adventures In Slime and Space is also a great piece of brutal electro. I don’t know how many folk bought that, but I’ve seen him live a few times and he’s amazing. Maybe we should get him over to New York, folk would love his live set. There are a few folk that would probably get described as ‘folk’ for want of a better word, but I think of as more classic singer songwriters, like James Yorkston, whose Sweet Jesus EP is a great 12”, or Malcolm Middleton, who was in Arab Strap, and whose Waxing Gibbous LP is a real must. Then there’s the odder end of the spectrum, with folk like Meursault. I’d recommend his LP All Creatures Will Make Merry for a few tunes, including “Crank Resolutions”. Bill Wells, who’s really a jazz pianist, but has done some amazing stuff with Aidan Moffat and an LP with the Japanese group Maher Shalal Hash Baz that I love called Osaka Bridge. Or Owl John, his eponymous LP is great. It’s from 2003, but another one that I’d class as essential is an LP by UNPOC called Fifth Column. What a record that is. Like the Beach Boys only ever existed in someone’s fuzzy head on a driech Scottish day.
Rena – Rama – Some jazz from the Aberdeen student days.
The most recent classic album is probably by Withered Hand, called New Gods. That’s a stunningly good album that makes an old raj like me cry from time to time. Then hopefully this year we’ll see more amazing records from folk like Gummi Bako, Jo Foster and Hamish Hawk, who haven’t released anywhere as much as they should have. And I think the spoken word collective Neu Reekie are releasing a record soon, which should be amazing. These records aren’t the easiest to find, there aren’t that many great stores here; but folk usually have merch stalls at gigs so it’s a really good place to see a band and buy their music direct from them. I saw the Sexual Objects play recently and bought a few things from them, they’re amazing. They put out an album called Marshmallow that was only released as one copy on vinyl, with the buyer getting the rights to the release. I know who bought it, but couldn’t possibly say.
FOUND – You’re Really Quite The Catch – Scotland’s best band FOUND, you should get anything they’ve done – The album’s Factorycraft and FOUND Can Move are incredible.
Is there an artist or a label you’re trying to complete?
King Creosote, he’s our greatest living singer/songwriter and I’m always surprised if folk don’t know his stuff. This is where I don’t always buy vinyl, a lot of his early stuff came out on CDR, and those CDRs are really collectable. It’s funny, cause that really annoys him, and he burns the same albums and sells them at a reasonable price at his gigs while folk pay loads for them on eBay. He puts a lot into those albums though, so you can see why – he does all the artwork himself by hand and posts them out himself, or signs them for folk at gigs. He was in a few bands, the Skuobie Dubh Orchestra and Khartoum Heroes in the ‘90s, before he formed his own label, Fence Records, and started releasing pieces as King Creosote, and stuff by his brothers Pip Dylan and Lone Pigeon. Theirs is a remarkable catalogue of music, and there are some really hardcore collectors. I suppose I must be one, now that I’m looking around at some of the stuff I’ve got – some nice test pressings of a couple of albums there. There have been a few artists on Fence that have come and gone, and some real highlights, but my favourites have been That Might Be It Darling (LP only) – the song “Ankle Shackles” over a wineglass symphony is remarkable; the Analogue Catalogue EP (10”only) with “Impossible to Resist”, one of my all time favourite songs; They Flock Like Vulcans (CD only), 3 On This Island (LP only) – stunningly emotional stuff right there; Smavulgar (CD only) and My Wife and I (CD only). Some of the pressings are so low that I don’t know if they even count as official releases. I think he’s released Loose Tea On His Wynd as an LP that you can only buy if if you go out on a boat with him and the photographer Sean Dooley. I like that there’s that crossover with vinyl and art in everything he does.
King Creosote – That Might Be It Darling and Rocket DIY. KC runs the Fence label and has an astonishing amount of releases.
King Creosote – Loose Tea On His Wynd – This is a Test Pressing of Loose Tea On His Wynd. Originally an album that King Creosote only made one copy of, it was won by the photographer Sean Dooley in a competition. They’re now releasing it 10 years later. Each copy is handmade, I think I’ve bought a couple already.
What is your comfort record, the one you can always go back to? What makes it so special?
Sarah Vaughan After Hours At The London House. I bought it in a junk shop in Aberdeen the day that Tony Benn was coming to speak at Labour Students. The back label of the LP was off and folded on the inside. I glued it back together before playing it. That final song, “Thanks For The Memory”, where she fluffs her lines a couple of times, is one of my favourite things – I love the dichotomy of her not knowing the song at all but singing it like it meant everything. I would say Miles Davis In A Silent Way too, but I’ve never found a clean enough copy to buy. I used to listen to that every night as a teenager when I was lying in bed.
Sarah Vaughn – After Hours at the London House
Tell us about a dollar bin record you would never part with.
Nina Simone At Town Hall – The Other Woman is a heart melting song. Tim Hardin 2 – although I like everything he did really, I think he’s one of the greatest lyricists ever. Judee Sill Heart Food – her story is amazing and puts an extra frizzon of excitement into her music. Some of my favourite records have been pretty cheap.
Nina Simon – At Town Hall
What’s the unlikeliest place/occasion you’ve ever found a record?
It’s different now with Discogs and eBay and the internet. I buy half my records online and half my records in stores but I don’t enjoy buying them online, I only do that because you have to do other things with your life. But Ghana in the mid ‘90s seemed like a bizarre place to buy records. I was there working on a refugee camp as a student, so I probably should have been doing more important things than buying cosmic disco…
I bought that Tom Ze Estudando record from Joel in Tropicalia in Furs when I was on my way past in a wedding car off to give a best man’s speech. He’d played it to me the day before and I had to go back and pick it up. I was hoping the wedding party wouldn’t notice, but they did. He sold it to me on the song “Toc” and I still play it regularly
Tom Ze – Estudando De Samba. Toc is in my top 5 favourite songs.
Who would you like to see profiled next on Dust & Grooves?
Divine. He’s been playing amazing records in Scotland for about 20 years from my reckoning.
Experimental Batch no26 – Various. We made this album over a week during the TED Global conference in Edinburgh, a group of songwriters together with a brief of collaborating to make a totally new album.
Listen to more mixes by Stephen here.
This feature was edited by John Wood.
Stephen Marshall and many other vinyl collectors are featured on the Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting book.
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