published: 10 /
In 'Vinyl Stories' avid Northern Soul collector Pete Smith tells Dave Goodwin of his decades-long search for a difficult to find vinyl single.
This month’s Vinyl Stories involves one of the most respected names in the Northern Soul fraternity. His name is Pete Smith and he hails from the West Midlands – Wolverhampton to be exact. Pete has always been brought up and lived in the West Midlands and went to school at the Ounsdale High School around 1976 which was also in Wolverhampton. Pete went on to marry Davina in January last year.
Pete has always had strict ideals and standards and his political thoughts are no exception. He openly detests the government, and in his own words “especially detests greens, environmentalists, climate change liars, global warming frauds and all tree hugging yoghurt knitters and lefties. But I love my family, birds, animals and all that stuff.” Musically he is a lover of Northern Soul and Tamla and also a big Ska and Reggae fan but not so of the more recent soul stuff citing, “The only good modern soul record is a broken one.”
Pete is MD and owner of Planet records which is his mail order 45's business, you might have seen him selling Ska and Northern Soul 45's from time to time. He sells records for a living and likes to share some of them with people on his mailing lists and anyone else who might be interested. He is also busy uploading compilations of Northern Soul, Rocksteady, Ska, Reggae, 60's obscurities, Punk & Post-punk and whatever else might be of interest. All his records are available to buy on his Facebook page if you search for Pete Smith Northern Soul and he also publishes a blog which is totally dedicated to rare and interesting 45's from the 60's called Lost Vinyl Gems Of The 60's (Northern Soul And Beyond). I have bought a few records from Pete in the past and he has always been one of the most knowledgeable chaps I know.
Pete has many a story to tell about is trials and tribulations over the many years he has been doing what he does. I managed to prize a couple out of him, and the result is this first one and is this months Vinyl Stories in Pete’s own words;
Okay gather round because it's story time again. And this is one long long story. It's about a young lad and a record.
"Between the ages of 12 and 15, the highlight of the year was when the travelling fairground came to our village for a week every summer. It was a pretty crap fair, with only bumper cars and waltzers, but we loved it. I especially loved it because I was the only kid in school who liked reggae (I liked soul as well but that came after reggae) and all the music that was played on the waltzers was... reggae. But reggae after a fashion. The waltzers' turntable only played on 33 for a couple of visits! So, I distinctly remember hearing Big Six for the first time at 33rpm! Okay well one of the records that they used to play on the waltzers began with the intro to the nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice and the only lyrics I could make out were "Push it up, push it up". This sounds great thought I, so on the last day of the fair I plucked up the courage to walk across the waltzer to the booth were this pikey operated the machine. I'm 13 at the time remember, it was a big deal. I asked him what the record was, he tells me it's Laurel Aitken - Rise and Fall. He holds the record up and says, "Do you want to buy it?". Shocked, I quickly uttered the immortal words "No thanks mate, I'll order it from Beatties in town". What a Knobhead.
So, the following Saturday, I went into Wolverhampton, off to Beatties department store, ordered the record and of course they told me "Sorry, it's been deleted". The fair had gone, so I couldn't get it from there, what the hell was I going to do now?
The next thing that happened was that in around 1973, a reggae-only shop opened in Cleveland Street in town. It was called Sir Christopher Musicland and it had this entrance hall where they showed album sleeves (I remember several Prince Buster sleeves being on display) but then you had to go up a flight of stairs. Who knows what lay at the top of those stairs? Well, I did, because one day this five foot nothing 13-year-old marched up the stairs into a room full of dreads and rude boys and in a high pitched voice asked the immortal question...
(Now, here I have to tell you that all the black guys in the room had stopped what they were doing just to stare at me, preparing for a good old laugh I suspect when I asked for the latest Slade record… it was like a scene from a film and I swear every word of this is true).
"Have you got ‘Rise and Fall’ by Laurel Aitken please"?
The astounded customers looked at each other in amazement.
The guy behind the counter almost passed out, then he cracked a smile and went to the shelves which groaned under the weight of thousands of singles.
"No sorry mate, it's deleted"
Fast forward, what, four years now. It's now early 1977, I'd forgotten ‘Rise and Fall’, I was massively into Northern Soul but still liked the reggae, as you do. I took the two buses to Max Millward's at Wednesfield and had a browse through his second-hand singles. What should I find, for 25p? Yes, fucking Laurel Aitken – ‘Rise And Fall’? I looked at it, picked it up, asked Max to play it and I heard it at the correct speed for the first time ever. So I said to Max, I've been looking for this record since 1972... except I couldn't buy it because the latest lot of pressings had come in and I really needed that latest emidisc, so like a twat I left it there.
Skip forward now to 1981, and it was my 21st birthday. Me and my then girlfriend Debbie decided to go to Birmingham for a day to do a bit of shopping. Now I don't know Birmingham at all, in fact apart from visiting the Locarno and the old Birmingham Odeon, I've only ever been to the shops there twice in my life. But I somehow managed to find Reddingtons Rare Records. Guess what I found in there then? Yes, it was ‘Rise and Fall’ and I thought "Right, you bastard, you've eluded me for almost ten years, I'm having you this time".
Then the bloke behind the counter told me the price.
"That's £5 please mate"
"£5??? Are you joking? It's only worth a quid"
"Well go and find one somewhere else for a quid then"
"I fucking will, it's all overpriced in here anyway"
So, I stormed out of the shop due to this appalling customer service and left the record in there.
OK, well the 80's came and went, I never did see another copy of ‘Rise and Fall’ until one day, in 1993, I was in Rye, a small town near Hastings, in Grammar School Records. "Got a few reggae bits in there Pete" says Fat Andy, sales assistant and friend. So, I had a look. Boring. Boring. Boring. Got it. Crap. Boring. ‘Rise And Fall’! Holy shit! (I think I said all this outloud. I distinctly remember shouting out "woo-hoo!" a la Homer Simpson when I found a Frankie & Johnny on Decca at a boot sale 2 years later).
So, after all this time, 21 long years, I had finally found my copy of ‘Rise And Fall’. It didn't have a centre, and it was only £5 but it was mine! The copy I have now does have a centre, but I can't for the life of me remember where I got it from - I know I don't have the no-centre copy anymore. So for half of my entire life I was looking for a record, and when I got it, I took it home and played it and... erm, well it wasn't that great after all!
Well, onto the actual record now and let's leave the past behind. It does indeed kick off with a cheesy Three Blind Mice motif played on what sounds like a Bontempi organ, before the drums crash in and a riff begins, played ostensibly by the electric organ and guitar, and with a good solid bassline... “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this one is called ‘The Rise and Fall of Laurel Aitken’ - Laurel Aitken rides again - sock it to me sock it to sock it to me sock it to me". Laurel then goes on to say "You feel it - you touch it - you love it - you push it up you push it up " and so on, until near the end where he instructs "Don't bite it, don't bite it".
The tune is the same throughout the whole song with only very minor chord changes and some more intricate organ playing at the end, and it really is a bit of a nothing record, except I can imagine what it would sound like played loud and it really does have something about it. Oh, and did I tell you it took me 21 years to find a copy?"