Playing wax for an average of five hours per set for 20 years makes this man the definition of a vinyl master. His collection is well into the tens of thousands, spanning funk, soul, hip hop, house, reggae, ska and more. We caught up with the man himself ahead of his set at his record shop of choice, Piccadilly Records, located in the Northern quarter of his home town, Manchester. Check out our very special insight into Piccadilly Records here.
You’ve selected Piccadilly Records as your record shop of choice. Tell us a bit about your relationship with the store…
I’ve been going there since the late 80s and something that’s always been the same is the staff’s knowledge across all genres. You always come out with one or two surprises, even if you went in for something specific. Going to Piccadilly Records a couple of times a week for years has accounted for a vast amount of my music knowledge and I think the personal service gives you a closer attachment to the music. I always give a lot of respect to the old-skool shops that have been going for 30 years or more and are still doing just as good a job as they were back then. All the 16, 17-year-olds I see in there now, that’s just me back in 1988.
How would you describe your record collection?
I’m into everything from hip hop, reggae, ska, house and blues, Cuban stuff and Brazilian music. I’ve got a lot of weird electronic stuff and downbeat – certain genres I’ve got thousands of each one. So in one word: varied.
So a lot of the records are just for home listening?
I don’t really see a distinction between home music and club music. I used to have stuff I just played at home, but from playing gigs over the years you start to realise that if it’s loud and it’s in a club then it’s club music – even if it’s just a guitar and vocal. And actually, these more mellow, home listening records make the night more dynamic because if you play something with no drums, anything with drums in straight after it is going to tear the roof off. People like that tease and anticipation.
What record is guaranteed to be in your record bag every time?
There’s one by Pigbag called ‘The Big Bean’ which I’ve played an awful lot because you can mix it up with old Cuban stuff, Brazilian records, reggae, some old Underground Resistance, 90s techno, straight-up disco tunes – loads of things! Then I suppose some of my own tunes as well. There will always be a few Theo Parrish tunes in my box, some Leroy Burgess and some Sun Ra. It’s always people who have a very unique, quite rich, unexplainable vibe to their music – like Worcester sauce, you just drop in a bit of flavour that makes it richer but you’re not quite sure how it does it.
I love dropping some Fela Kuti too – but with someone like Fela, that’s the type of music you go, “I’m not mixing out of this!” I’d play the whole 15 minutes because it’ll take the crowd through a lot of moods and emotions in a far better way than I could do in three or four different records. Who am I to try and interfere! So I suppose I have go-to artists rather then go-to tunes.
Can you remember the first record you fell in love with?
Probably the ‘Complete Madness’ album. It’s the first album my mum bought me, as a surprise, when I was about ten. I was so overjoyed – it was a gatefold sleeve, double album with all the photos of the band just having loads of fun on tour – I suppose a little peek behind the scenes. That was a massive deal for me.
If you could swap collections with someone for two weeks who would it be?
I think Africa Bambaataa, although he’s donated his collection to Cornel University. Two weeks with all of his stuff you’d find so many gems!
What’s your most prized record in your collection?
They all have a special place, really. I try to prioritise records but it’s like highlighting the best word of a sentence. When you’re a DJ you gather a cluster of records together and arrange them in a way that makes everything sound really good, so cherry-picking one is kind of the opposite of what I’m about…which is why I play for about eight bloody hours! Everything has its place even if it’s playing a supporting role, which makes everything else sound better. And so it’s impossible to pick one.
How do you order your record collection?
By genre and alphabetically: UK soul 12”s, import soul 12”s and soul albums, same with hip hop, same with house, same with reggae or whatever – but when I take it out it’s all in tempo order.
What do you remember of your parents’ record collection and the influence it had on your own?
My dad was into proper country blues and a bit of ska here and there. My mum was into 60s soul and bits and bobs. I was into Madness, and then I heard my dad’s Prince Buster original and it gave me a different outlook. He was into what I was into, but a better version – which was also 13 years older! And discovering my dad’s old blues-beat 7″ collection blew my mind because it rearranged how I viewed music.
Have you got any tips for keeping your wax in top condition?
Just the usual stuff like don’t fondle the grooves, use a decent stylus, make sure it’s calibrated and set in the correct way and set your anti-skate. Just basic stuff really like setting up your turntable properly and get the best system you can afford so you can appreciate everything fully. Look after your records properly, clean them, even with just water a cloth and some solution. But sometimes the whole technical hi-fi enjoyment of it kills the music enjoyment of it, so you have to find the balance.
How does your other half feel about your record collection?
She DJs so she understands the mentality. I try and keep the collection in control but she doesn’t know the difference between a 50p record and an expensive one, so I have to keep an eye on her… [laughs]. But it’s all good – if the room’s a mess I just close a door.
What makes vinyl so special? Why vinyl over mp3 or CD?
A few things really. A lot of the records I own are 50 or 60 years old and I know for a fact that a CD would not last that long. I like the size of vinyl, the imagery and I also love the whole ritual of going record shopping and the fact that when you’re DJing you can’t bring too many tunes because it’s so heavy. I like the fact that with vinyl, if you want to change the arrangement, you have to get busy with two copies – so you have to really want to do it. With CDs or if you’re playing digitally there’s much more temptation to interfere with the record. So I like the fact that the structure is more fixed with vinyl… Almost like the records play you, and not the other way around.
I’m not anti-digital. I like the way that different methods of playing music are now co-existing – whether people use a mixture of hardware or computers to make music, it doesn’t really matter. There’s a bigger choice of ways to enjoy music and the whole digital aspect makes it easier to accumulate a lot of knowledge on stuff you’re interested in.
What other record shops around the world stand and have stood out for you over the years?
There’s Record Palace in Amsterdam, other shops in Manchester like Eastern Bloc and King Bee. There’s a great one in Plymouth called Really Good Records – in the bus station of all places! It’s great for 70s roots reggae. I’ve been very lucky to travel around the world and, for instance, in Tokyo there are tons of record shops in Shibuya. Every record you ever want is in there. It’s just so ridiculously expensive. At great shops you meet interesting characters. They add a whole knew aspect to your knowledge, as well as having tales to tell!
Mr. Scruff’s new album ‘Friendly Bacteria’ is out now on Ninja Tune. Get it here
Interview courtesy of Mixmag.