For this Thursday’s Pica~Sounds we’ve invited along a man named Russ Marland. Russ has worked in record shops since the ‘80s, used to run the insanely popular Out in the Sticks night in the slightly unlikely location of Todmorden and owns more records than you’ve had cooked breakfasts.
He’s also got many a story to tell, so last week me and Oi Polloi graphics-guru Stuart wandered over to Vinyl Exchange where Russ works, fired up the trusty Dictaphone and pecked his head for half an hour.
Read on to hear about his humble beginnings in the demolition industry, playing house music in a West Yorkshire market town and what he thinks about the internet…
Sam: You’ve been working in record shops for a while now. You worked at somewhere called the Spin Inn back in the ‘80s. Where was that?
Russ: It started off on in a basement on Cross Street. I started working there in ’86. I used to be into Japan. I got into new romantic music first, and new wave stuff like Numan, and then I sort of fell into Japan after that. And then one day I had the radio on and there was a Mike Shaft radio show on. He played this mix and it was all electro — Planet Patrol and Cheap Thrills, Afrika Bambaataa and Pack Jam by the Jonzun Crew. It was like an epiphany, it blew my mind.
You know when you hear something and go, “Oh my god, what is this music?” I was like, “Right, Japan are shit.” So I sold my early records and started listening to this radio show. I found this shop in town where they sold that sort of stuff and I used to go in every Saturday.
I was working in town at the time, working for a demolition company smashing up the Midland Hotel. I was on a four week thing — after the four weeks if you were any good you got to keep your job. I’d go in there covered in mud and dirt and the manager, who was big on the Manchester gay scene, must have fancied me or something, because he offered me a job.
The demolition job was good money so I stayed there. But anyway, after the four weeks they just fucked me off, so I went back in to the record shop and said, “Is that job still available?” And that was it.
Sam: What was it like working there back then?
Russ: It was ace — outside of London it was the only place that sold black music like soul, funk and electro. And then with the house thing we started to get all these weird records coming in. We were like, “What the fuck is this stuff?”
The guy who owned Spin Inn used to pay you shit money, so eventually we all connived together so we’d get stuff in ourselves, sell it and stash the money. When LL Cool J and hip hop came out, everybody wanted Kangol hats. So we got onto Kangol and ordered in boxes of these hats to sell to all the young lads who thought they were hip hop.
Guys would come in with white labels too, so we’d buy them with the money we had, sell them and keep the profit. We ended up with about eight grand, so we opened our own shop — Manchester Underground down in the Corn Exchange.
An amazing old video about Manchester Underground from 1995. A true Youtube gem made even better by the fact that it happened to be made by one of our Deck~Out men. Small world eh?
Sam: What year was this?
Russ: It’s a bit fuzzy that time. It would have been early ‘90s. Maybe ’92 up until the bomb went off. That shut the shop for about eight months. We opened back up in The Coliseum, which is now a hotel. It was opposite that shop with all the weapons in the window and bikes and things like that… Home Stylin’ or whatever it’s called?
Sam: Lowrider? (Editor’s note; the shop no one can remember the name of is actually called Ridelow)
Russ: Yeah that’s the one. The Coliseum used to be like a shit Affleck’s Palace. We were in the basement there for a bit, but we were carrying too much debt from before, so I chucked the towel in. I was DJing a lot at the time so I didn’t really need the money.
Sam: Where were the main places for house music in Manchester back then?
Russ: The Hacienda was still open then. I played there for three years. I left the Hacienda in ’94 and started a night up in Todmorden called Out in the Sticks. That went on for nine years.
Sam: What was the link with Todmorden?
Russ: I knew two guys who owned a club in Todmorden. They used to come in the shop and kept saying, “We need someone to DJ.” I kept saying I’d go, and I just didn’t go. Then one night, I went, “Fuck it — I’ll go.”
Sam: It’s a bit of a mooch up there like.
Russ: Well yeah, I lived in Oldham, so it wasn’t that far, but because I’d never been I went the long way around and it felt like it was taking ages to get there. I was driving up the road and I said, “Where is this place? It’s out in the sticks.” And that was it; I had the name before I’d even seen the place.
I walked in and there was this shit techno night on with about ten people, but the club was ace. It was in a basement, it was all white and it was dead clean. It looked like a club you’d go in on holiday. “I thought, do you know what, I’ll give it a go.” We had Mike Pickering on the opening night, which was busy, and then it was shit for about six months. I’d said to the guys, “Don’t stick your nose in, let me do it,” and after about six months it started taking off. And then it went mad.
We had people coming up from Brighton… Carlisle… travelling every Saturday. It was just one of those things — the right thing at the right time. It was when Cream and Gatecrasher were all playing trance, and the Hacienda shut in ’97 so it just went off. It held about 350 people, they had two doormen up stairs and they didn’t come down all night. There was never any trouble. It was like a massive party in someone’s front room.
That shut in 2003 because they sold it. I’d kind of said that once that place stopped then I’d give it up. I’d got spoilt — I could do what I wanted, I could play what I wanted. I’d play some mental records and get away with it.
Sam: What sort of stuff were you playing back then?
Russ: Back then it was house, vocal house. Quite girly music really but I’d rather look at a loads of girls dancing than a load of lads. It was very disco-influenced. Now, working here my music taste has gone all over the place — folk, alternative rock, whatever.
Sam: How long have you worked here?
Russ: About 12 years I think.
Sam: You started working in 1986 in that Spin Inn place, and you work here in 2015 — how has selling records changed since you started?
Russ: It’s changed, and it hasn’t. For dance music, generally it’s a digital format now. If you’re a working DJ you can just rock up with a USB stick in your pocket instead of carting loads of records around. It makes sense, I get it. But personally… it’s not for me.
Stuart: It’s almost better having a limited choice.
Russ: You take it to the extreme where you’ve got mobile DJs who do weddings and things like that. They’ve got laptops hooked up to WiFi and iTunes and people can just come up and say, “Have you got this?” It’ll get you out the shit if you’re in trouble but you shouldn’t be going to gigs and not playing the music the people want anyway.
But yeah, buying wise, rock and indie is the majority of what the vinyl people want. I mean we sell loads of dance stuff too, but not on the level of before.
Sam: I imagine records are the sort of thing that can attract some characters, do you get many interesting people coming in?
Russ: We get all sorts in here. One guy smells of piss all the time and is stuck in his childhood. He buys anything that reminds him of being a kid. Elvis… nursery rhyme E.P.s… just stuff we’d throw out for nothing.
Then there’s a guy who laughs like someone from a horror film. He comes in with his old girlfriend who’s horrific to look at and there always touching each other and being really pervy… it’s horrible. And then you get people who just stink.
But don’t get me wrong, we don’t take the piss out of them, we’re friends with them.
Stuart: We had loads back in Jumbo (Editors note: Jumbo is the record shop in Leeds that Stuart used to work in). It’s sort of like Care in the Community. I think it’s because you’ve got time for them.
Russ: You just treat them like any other customer. A lot of people are a bit frightened of people like that and don’t know how to handle them
Sam: It's more interesting than people chewing your ear off.
Russ: You get the odd person who comes in who thinks they know it all. They’ve been on eBay and they’ve seen this record’s worth £300, but the version they’ve got is worth 20 pence, and you’ve got to try and tell them that. They think you’re trying to mug them off, but you’re not — you’re trying to be honest.
Stuart: Or if they bring in a really expensive record and it’s in a carrier bag with no cover and they’ve been using it as a coaster for the past 20 years.
Russ: You’ve got to be careful with them as they’re obviously snappers. All shops get ‘em. But yeah, I’m here because I’ve done it for 30 years and I’d be shit at anything else. I’m kind of trapped.
Sam: Do you see yourself doing this forever?
Russ: Well, I do a bit online myself. I pick through my records and try and get rid of things.
Sam: Have you got a pretty mad collection? How many rooms does it take up?
Russ: The front room is full and the back room has a lot in too. There’s probably about 15,000 records. It’s like the history of house music.
Sam: I suppose if you’re buying a few a week since the 80s you’re going to have a few.
Russ: I used to DJ so I’d buy 20 a week. Some of which I’d never play.
Sam: Have you got some from back then that you haven’t even listened to yet?
Russ: If I like something that I hear, I want to have it on record. I’ll probably never ever play it, but I’ve got to have it.
Sam: Is it more just to have them then to listen to them?
Russ: I still buy records like I’m going to DJ every weekend… and I’m not. I’m trying to reprogram myself not to do that. But I must hear five or six records a week and think, “They’re good.” So I’ll get them and not play them. But I might DJ one week… so I need them.
Sam: Where do you think that mentality comes from, that collector mentality?
Russ: I’ve collected stuff all my life. From grasshoppers in a tub to god knows what. I like to see things through as well. If it’s a magazine series, I’d have to get them all.
Sam: Like one of those Build the Cutty Sark magazines?
Russ: I’ve got one called Wings because I was mad into planes when I was a kid. It was out every two weeks and there was ten volumes. I’ve still got them all in the loft. An encyclopaedia of planes — I should just throw them away to be honest.
I’m not a hoarder, but I like to keep hold of things. But if you actually do let it go, it doesn’t bother you afterwards. Unless you’re mental.
The first mixer I ever bought was a GLI PMX 9000, the one that back in the ‘80s all the scratch DJs used to use. I went to London to buy it and it was 450 quid in 1985. But it was just in a box in the loft. There’s this kid who comes in here who has the best hip hop and electro collection ever, so I just gave it to him.
And that radio show I was on about before, that Mike Shaft one, I recorded that every Sunday for 18 months. I’d sit in, record it, pause it when the adverts came on and write all the tracks on the back. I gave them all to him too.
Sam: Do you think stuff has got too easy now? You had to sit with your finger on the tape recorder and now someone can just find every song on the internet.
Russ: It’s easier to get stuff, but it’s really hard to find what you want. There’s too much of it. When people used to come to record shops, we’d have a gang of lads waiting to hear the new stack of records. We’d go through everything that was new, filter out anything that we thought was shit and would never reorder it. So all you had in the shop were the records that we thought were good.
That’s gone now. Everyone can go online and buy whatever they want.
Sam: It’s aimless searching. You don’t know what you’re looking for.
It makes it worthless. Before you were investing your time, your effort and your money but now people have got iPods full of shit they’re never going to listen to. Although that can apply to having 15,000 records too…
There’ll be a point when I’ll say, “Right, these have got to go.” I don’t want to pop my clogs and leave someone else to have to deal with it. They won’t know what they are. But at the moment I’m not ready to get rid of it. If someone says to me, “You’ve worked in record shops for 30 years, what have you got to show for it.” I’d say that record collection defines me. It’s like when a builder says, “I built my house.”
Stuart: It’s points in time too.
Russ: It’s not 100% precise, but it’s in chronological order. If you played through it you’d see how trends come and go throughout house music.
Stuart: It’s like that 12” I bought off you yesterday. That was essentially buying back a memory. A lad I used to live with five years ago had it in his house and we’d sit in his front room and listen to it.
Russ: It’s a photograph. You put a record on and it’ll trigger a memory in your head that unless you’d heard that record, you’d never be able to pull out. It’s funny how little things can open up memories you’ve not thought about in 20 or 30 years.
Sam: Yeah it’s a mad thing. I think we’ve chatted on a fair bit now. Shall we wrap this up? What do you reckon you’ll play on Thursday?
Russ: I don’t know. I’ve got to narrow it down to one bag as I’ve got to get the train home. So I’ve got to be pretty brutal. I’ll probably end up bringing more than I should.
Come along to Soup Kitchen this Thursday from 6pm to hear what Russ digs out.