May 21, 2015
Illustration: Laura Breiling
Our Crate Diggers series profiles record collectors across the globe. This time we head to East London for a cuppa with dub-wise “vampire” Wrongtom.
Size of Collection: 8,000
What are your early memories of records?
We had records when I was growing up. In the ’50s my mum was big into her jazz and a bit of rock’n’roll and my dad really liked calypso so I used to listen to a lot of their records.
And then there was music from my sister who’s 14 years older than me. When I was little, she was at art school and a first generation punk. As she went through the post-punk era, I started to become aware of art and music in a very naive way, probably aged six or seven. I used to see her mates coming round the house and I would think these people are cool as fuck: I wanna know what they’re into. I would listen to whatever she was playing in the bedroom, for instance I absolutely loved the first Tom Tom Club album without even releasing what it was.
Do you remember the first record you ever bought?
The first record I bought myself, well actually I told my mum to buy it for me, was a 7″ copy of “The Show” by Dougie Fresh. It’s a bit of a charity shop classic and all of the kids loved it because of the Inspector Gadget riff so it was a big school tune. I was probably 10 when I heard it on the radio and my brother said, ‘It’s out. You have to get it’. He’d probably exhausted his £1 pocket money for the month. So I was like ‘Yeah mum, I want Dougie Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew’. It had the parental guidance about lyrics and my mum was a bit worried about it but she bought it anyway.
Dougie Fresh put together the Get Fresh Crew with this guy Ricky D who later became Slick Rick so this is actually Slick Rick’s first record. Slick Rick’s from Wimbledon, believe it or not – he moved to the States when he was a kid but he was born in South Wimbledon. So I had no idea that my first record was a guy born up the road from me. It’s wicked. This record mapped out everything that I love about music. I couldn’t stop playing the flip side which is just Dougie Fresh and Slick Rick beat boxing. I love that simplicity and I think that’s what drew me into hip-hop. My sister had been listening to punk and post-punk and I understood the whole concept of DIY, probably without realising it. And then hip-hop came along and you had this record with a guy talking in his funny voice and a guy making sounds with his mouth and I just thought, could it really be that simple? That was my hallelujah moment. Anyone could do this. And I think from there in, I’ve never been interested in doing things the way you’re supposed. I’m the youngest in my family and I think this was the first thing I heard that felt like my music. I wasn’t listening to my brother or sister’s music anymore (even though brother was the one who told me to get it).
Where do you buy your records these days?
I’m doing a lot online at the moment. I think in terms of second hand London is absolutely rinsed. It’s very hard to find good stuff now.
Do you have any secret digging spots?
One of my favourite spots is my friend Keith’s record shop down in Kingston called Collectors Record Centre, which is part of what used to be a whole chain of second hand stores and now they just have Guilford and Kingston. I really enjoy going through their ‘ten records for a fiver’ bins. Most people look at it and think it’s crap, and admittedly you have to dig for ages. But I’ve found collections of Polish jazz that have been dropped off or some odd record of two people going head to head on saxophones or chanting or something like that.
I think not having much money and working in a sector of the music industry where I don’t make a lot of money has meant that I’ve gone down the route of buying stuff that no one’s really after. Records that you probably won’t even find on Discogs, not necessarily because they’re rare but just because no one has heard of them. That’s kind of how you create a rare record in some ways. I quite like records that aren’t for anything because you kind of make of them what you shouldn’t. And I really love the whole thing of sampling.
Do you have any special routines when you enter a shop?
Normally, I have a cuppa and a chat. And I try not spend that much if I can help it!
If your house was burning down and you could only save one record what would it have to be?
My friend Arthur Louis, a blues guitarist that dabbled in reggae, died a little while ago and it was a total shock. By how I’m feeling this week his 7″ cover of “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” from 1975 is one of my most treasured records.
It’s a fairly standard rock-reggae cover version but there’s an interesting story to it. Louis taught Eric Clapton to play the reggae version, Clapton then recorded his own version and put it out a week before Louis. From there in he was like ‘fuck Clapton’. Louis pressed it up himself on a little label called Plum, which only ever released this 7″, and put a funny piano-led instrumental on the B-side. Island later released it but with a dub version of “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” instead of the instrumental. The Plum edition isn’t super hard to get hold of or anything but I think this week, I’d save this little record in a house fire.
Apparently you've had a few house floods.
The last three places I’ve had my studio have flooded. Years ago I was really struggling with trying to make something of my career, I think I was going through a break up, and everything just seemed bad. I got down to my studio, I walked in and there was a stream going through the middle of the room. Loads of records and their covers were completely damaged and mashed up, and a drum machine that had been sitting on the floor was full of water, although amazingly it still actually works. Because of that I’ve learnt not to get too precious about anything because you just never know. I do cherish and love my records but they’re just things.
Do you have a philosophy behind collecting?
I don’t think i have one. I mean there’s probably something going on there at the back of my head. I don’t spend too much money, that’s one thing. I’ve generally never had that much money, so I’ve never gone out of my way to get many rare records.
If money were no object, what one record would you buy?
I don’t think there’s anything that I’ve had my eye on recently that’s incredibly expensive. If I’m allowed to do this, I think I’d take that money – the money that is no object – and I’d go the other way and set up a label. I had an idea recently about putting out stuff that people wouldn’t think of or probably wouldn’t even want. I’d like to have soundtrack label of electro tunes from bad ’80s films – War Games has a fantastic synth soundtrack, the incidental music in romcoms like Mannequin is fantastic – and you can hardly find these tunes. I put up the idea on Twitter the other day: ‘If there are any rich people out there that want to launder some money, I’ve got a sure-fire of never actually making any money – invest in my shit soundtrack label.’
Favourite label of all time?
Historically, it’s Atlantic records. I was going through my collection and I’ve got a load of Atlantic. In fact I was just playing Roberta Flack’s First Take, which is an exquisite album. Atlantic have crossed so many genres, and put out so much amazing music. You’ve got these beautiful jazz albums and soul albums, Aretha Franklin at the height of her powers, and you’ve got prog stuff like Iron Butterfly.
Strangest digging experience?
There could be quite a few strange ones actually. I find especially when you’re digging during the day in strange towns you do find some real weirdos in stores. I think one of my favourites is “The Thing”. It’s basically a thrift store in Green Point. Brooklyn. You go in and think it’s just a normal thrift store, with ratty crap everywhere and a few records down the back. The first time I visited the shop, it was to meet a friend of mine that lives out there. I was looking around the shop trying to find him but was struggling until someone pointed to downstairs. I walked down the steps and discovered this huge cavernous space with alleyways of tunes. There’s probably about 80,000 records down there!
The last time I went in, there were puddles all across the floor with a lead running through the water. Crazy. So I followed the lead, climbing over crates to see what the deal was. I finally got to the end of the lead to find a crappy little transistor radio playing really tinny music. Someone had run a lead through this puddle of horrible rats piss water and risked death to listen to this radio. Absolutely mental!
That place is always good for meeting odd-ball characters who probably just want to get out of the sun. Vampires. I think record collectors occupy the same environments as vampires in a way. I certainly feel like one sometimes.