Even when the pirate ships came along like Radio London and Radio 390, the trouble with radio was that you had to wait, sometimes for hours, for your favourite song to be played. That’s why juke boxes were so important – although you often had to wait with them too. Sometimes you never even heard your record that you’d paid 3d or 6d for, because so many were in the queue to be played, that before you knew it, it was time to leave to catch the bus home for tea. And we didn’t get a record player in our house till late 1966.
The upshot was that I never had any records, the records that formed the background music to everything I did in the early and mid-sixties. Later I had an obscure Motown compilation, and sometimes there was a track here or there on a Golden Guinea LP of the blues that I had liked. But I had no record collection, nothing to say, this is where I come from, this is what was going through my brain.
So roll forward twenty years. It is a grey Tuesday afternoon, I have just finished a case in Waltham Forest Magistrates Court, a soulless modern concrete building ironically set next to the handsome forties-built Waltham Forest Town Hall. After waiting for an hour it was clear that my client, charged with stealing money from the open till of a shop, is not going to appear. He has done this before. A warrant has been issued for his arrest. I leave court and wander down the road, thinking about my client, wondering how long it will take the police to find him. About forty five minutes, probably, as he is bound to be at home. He’ll be back in court tomorrow. Mindlessly I walk past the bus stop, I turn left, down Hoe Street. I look in the shop windows, consider some fruit, wonder if I need a step ladder or a new broom, and I pass a second hand record store. I go in. I flick through the old 45s, not looking for anything in particular. Then I see a Motown label. The name rings a bell, I try to think of the words, the tune. The Elgins – not a group that says much to me. But I buy it.
I take it home to Stoke Newington and on my huge, unwieldy ghetto blaster with built-in turntable I play it. Heaven Must Have Sent You. I know all the words, I know where she changes key, I know the pauses. And as I dance round my flat, yes, of course, I’m back in the Corn Exchange with Sandra, doing our mod jive to the records, waiting for tonight’s group to come on.