We welcome John Gómez into the Diggin’ Deep fold this week as he shares three tunes and the digging stories behind them that you are just going to want to read!
John first came to our attention when a tidily awesome jazz mix crossed our path sometime last year and it was clear from the off that this gentleman liked to pick a record or two. When we finally caught up with him it became apparent that his love of music went far deeper than jazz and in fact, his collection was rife with interesting finds.
John, born of both English and Spanish heritage, spent the early part of his life in the Spanish capital of Madrid (where he would also develop a deep seated fascination with Atlético de Madrid!) and it’s here where the story starts. Developing an almost immediate obsession with music as a child, the young Gómez initially embarked on learning to play an instrument, which saw him take up jazz trombone at school, and the interest later consolidated itself by way of Cuba, when he found himself living in country and studying Afro Cuban percussion. Finally exhausting his Cuban musical education, he travelled to Brazil and Indonesia to continue the study of percussion and soon the journey culminated with his current stay here in the UK, where a few years ago he completed a music-related PhD, “a kind of literary history of recorded sound”. By his own admission, the thesis, called ‘Consuming Sounds: Recorded Music, Literature, and Modernity’ was pretty nerdy, but it allowed him to look at how writers like Ralph Ellison and William Faulkner employed the changing culture of recorded music to interpret the experience of modernity.
As for records themselves, like many of his contemporaries of the same age, it was hip-hop that enticed him into the circle, although instead of the quest for samples, it was more a a question of the aesthetic itself – vinyl traditionally being an important and respected presence within the hip-hop community. From those early weekend forays to Madrid record shops as a teenager, including the now sadly defunct Discos Del Sur, which was located in a dark alley in Madrid full of prostitutes and junkies, through to his present-day digging in the streets of London, his search for killer LPs and twelves continues. His obsession went so deep that at the start he would buy records before he even had a turntable, taking his finds with him to babysitting jobs just so he could listen to them on the family’s turntable. In line with his fascination with hip-hop culture, the first record he ever bought was the now universally revered ‘Illmatic’ by New York God/MC NaS and he recounts the initial joy of taking the LP home, even though he couldn’t play it!
In terms of DJing, he’s active in the London scene, currently running a night devoted to sleazy disco called ‘C’est Moi’ alongside his colleague Horton Jupiter, and if you happen to be in Peckham this weekend, he’ll be behind the decks at the superb Montpellier Pub on Saturday, no doubt entertaining the post Record Store Day hordes. In his spare time, he still finds time to get literal about music (and food!), having held down a regular contributor’s role at the now dearly departed Shook Magazine and he’s currently penning various articles that will appear in the the music press later this year.
Take a listen to that aforementioned jazz mix here, and read on for a glimpse into the world of John’s digging exploits. Saving a copy of ‘Dusk Fire’ from the bin? Oh, OK then…
#1: Dave Pike and his Orchestra “La Playa”
If we accept the notion that the collective sound of American music has a special place in every crate-digger’s heart, the first trip to the USA looking for records denotes a particular coming of age. I had been to the States a few times already, but never for such an extended period and with such a high proportion of that time being spent in record shops. I was in San Francisco preparing to go home after several weeks travelling around California. On my last day I visited all the must-go-to spots in the city, but it was the lethargic Jazz Quarter that carried the most enigmatic allure.
The Jazz Quarter felt like it was hidden from any commercial life so as to ensure that its imposing owner Tom Madden came into contact with as few customers – and, more importantly, their views on jazz – as possible. Tom was hostile and unpredictable: one moment he expressed resentment at having to deal with me, the next he gave the impression of looking to me for a listener to tell his dispirited stories of the Bay Area scene. Indeed, nostalgia is what he and the Jazz Quarter were all about. Tom sat buried in the detritus of his own life, covered by piles of records and yellowed newspaper cuttings of his heroes and friends: Horace Silver, Roland Kirk, Duke Ellington.
Tom had a languid manner, but when it came to talking about records he disliked, he was sharp and scathing. On the way to San Francisco I had picked up a few records that I hoped to sell or trade when I got back to Europe. However, by the time I arrived in San Francisco my budget was pretty slim so I showed them to Tom in case he was interested in any of the items. He gave me a blunt, “Why would I be interested in that crap?” His point was taken so I turned to the cluttered stacks.
It took me a couple of hours to get through all the records in the shop and as I was settling up, I noticed a discarded box in a corner, covered by a grubby sheet. I asked Tom what was inside, to which he replied: “Crap.” I uncovered the box to disclose a small but splendid collection of a dozen rare Latin records, including The Latin Jazz Quintet, Dave Pike’s ‘Manhattan Latin’, and Antonio Díaz Mena’s ‘Eso Es Latin Jazz’… Man! It was a neat little stash in lovely condition and I asked Tom how much he wanted for the lot. His reply baffled me: “I’ve told you I don’t want those records.” I quickly made sense of his error and said to him several times that these were his records, not the records I’d offered to him earlier, stating repeatedly that I wanted to buy them. Inexplicably, he grew agitated with my insistence, until he finally threatened: “If you don’t take those records with you, you ain’t takin’ any.” It was at this point that I relented, leaving the Jazz Quarter with a bag of free records and a feeling of confusion, as if the impetuous Tom had just put me on the spot. I couldn’t help thinking that it was he that was laughing and not me, for my ears were taking with them the crap that had no place in his own home.
#2: Don Rendell Ian Carr 5tet – “Dusk Fire”
Seated obscurely toward the back of a cabinet and on a side, some records seem conscious that they have rarely been noticed. In many ways, record spines are nothing much to look at. Tall and thin, they retain the anonymity that books so proudly give up, offering a visual representation of the owner’s musical life only to those who inspect closely. They can sit untouched for decades, invisible simply because people refuse to see them.
I was visiting family in Dereham, a sleepy town in Norfolk where my step-father’s mother lives. I have been to this town many times since I was a teenager, spending interminable summer holidays trying to overcome its quiet dullness. Yet several times Dereham has surprised me beyond what I was able to see in it. Around a decade ago I was editing an anthology of sound poetry, only to find that the pioneering sonic explorer Henri Chopin was living in this town with his daughter and family. I took the time to visit this impassioned poet in his home, and was astonished to find a clamorous retreat of French avant-garde experimentation tucked away amid Dereham’s somnolent streets.
This time, I was looking for amusement in the town’s charity shops, which I visited with my mother. On the walk back we talked about my interest in looking for records at every opportunity – not a new habit, by any means, but one that had never concerned her in more vibrant surroundings. She mentioned that there were a few records at home, which my step-father’s mother was looking to throw out as they had not been played in years. This perked my interest, of course, but I was resigned to the idea that I’d find nothing more than a bunch of Tommy Dorsey and Gilbert & Sullivan LPs.
When we got back I immediately looked for this unloved collection, which was housed in a boxy wooden cabinet whose prime purpose for years had been to support a large plant into the Norfolk sunlight. Inside its case were fifty or so records, but my eyes instantly caught a glimpse of the words ‘Dusk Fire’ printed on a gleaming spine. I did a double take, tilting my head downwards to my right shoulder to look again, completing my first reading with Don Rendell/Ian Carr. I pulled out the record and it was perfect, its beautiful electric blue label happy to see someone again after so much time in the dark. I showed my family the record and described its value – after all, simply taking it would have constituted some form of incestuous theft – but my beating heart was reassured when I was told that it was mine to keep, as I had all but intercepted its journey to the skip.
Like many others, I was seduced by this LP’s magic when its brooding title track appeared on Gilles Peterson’s Impressed series. Over the years I have dug up many of the records on those compilations, but I never expected to find a copy of this one. It is the kind of record that makes me dig and keeps me digging, and yet the way in which it came to me, more than anything else, made me question my own assumptions about rare records, the people who listened to them originally, and the people that look for them now. For years I never paid attention to that cabinet and even when it was laid open for me, I still held a certain reservation about what it could possibly hold. Context matters for rescuing music from anonymity, but how much? Finding this record felt like an experiment into perception and priorities, as well as a direct assessment of my own prejudices: how many times have my preconceptions of banal settings prevented beautiful music from rediscovering itself?
#3: Evans Pyramid “Never Gonna Leave You”
When people recall digging adventures, I am surprised by how little emphasis is frequently laid on the experience of digging itself. Yes, the search for records is fuelled by the idea of a prize, but digging tales can offer an eccentric guide to why music matters to us. They record a life lived outdoors, drawing a meandering map of possibilities and pitfalls in an era of online efficiency.
I was in New York just as the spring was coming into full bloom, tailing off a long stay in Washington, DC. It was a preternaturally bright day in the East Village, perfect for ruminating the neighbourhood’s vanishing record stores. I was in the short-lived Big City Records when a man came in with a box of records to offer to the store. The manager skimmed through them before telling him that they were low on space and didn’t need any. As the man left, I followed him outside and asked if I could take a look through the box. He said, “sure,” and continued, “I’ve got a bunch more in the back of my car if you want to see them too.”
The evening was warm, anticipating the heat of months ahead. As we walked to his car the man explained that he was down from Boston, and that he had a load of hip hop, modern soul, and disco records that he needed to get rid of. I gazed in delight as he opened his boot to reveal several boxes brimming with vinyl. I quickly picked out a few LPs that I had wanted for some time – Mad Skillz, Collins and Collins, Leo’s Sunshipp – but it was the labels of unknown indie twelves that conveyed the special lure of discovery. One, in particular stood out: a record with a golden wrinkly label by someone called Evans Pyramid. I was filled with wonder as I listened to ‘Never Gonna Leave You’ on my Vestax. It completely subverted the expectations that had been set up by the “FUNK” printed in large black letters on the label. It was unlike anything I had ever heard: more folk than funk, gentle and vulnerable, with a lambent beauty and trailing melancholy that seemed to reach out in the general direction of the ineffable.
‘Never Gonna Leave You’ must be one of my favourite records. The experience of listening to it for the first time as the sun was beginning to fade in the East Village gave me a momentary feeling of presentness. It is this feeling that allows me to hang on to all the elements around the record itself – the sounds of the city, the promise of summer in the air – in every subsequent listening. It is as evocative for me as a scrapbook crackling with faded photographs, transmitting a feeling that excludes everything around me and is independent of memory, time, and space.