Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

November/December 2014

A rainy Friday afternoon in a photographic studio in north-east London, and out through the door and all the way down the wet staircase carries the sound of sunshine: Althea & Donna’s reggae song “Uptown Top Ranking”, Britain’s number one for a week in 1978.

“This”, says Dean Belcher, standing beside the turntable, “was the first single I ever bought.”

The room falls into a respectful silence. “Love is all I bring,” Althea & Donna announce, “inna me khaki suit and ting.”

Over two decades, Belcher’s photography has often intersected with the world of music—with portraits of musicians as well as intimate depictions of the UK Mod scene, of which he has long been part. Recently, between longer-term projects, he came up with the idea of photographing people with the first vinyl record they ever bought. He put out an appeal on social media, placed adverts in a couple of local record stores, and was delighted when 40 members of the public agreed to be photographed. When seven of them dropped out, he was even happier: it left him with a fortuitous number for those familiar with their revolutions per minute.

The 33 display a diverse range of musical tastes, from the raw punk throttle of a Black Flag record preserved in its plastic sleeve to a worn-looking copy of “It’s the Same Old Song” by the Weathermen—a violin-heavy cover of the Four Tops’ hit, recorded in 1971 by Jonathan King. There are children’s albums, compilations, soundtracks, records sponsored by Ribena, 45s with price stickers still attached or fastidious biro in the top left-hand corner. One woman remembered her 78 as the music she and her husband once courted to, another cried when Belcher played her copy of Art Garfunkel’s “Bright Eyes”.  There are even three generations of one family—a mother, a daughter, and a granddaughter—each with their own distinct choice, stamped with the times, but still displaying a shared passion.

This afternoon Belcher is shooting Paul Vache, a personal trainer and dedicated steampunk from nearby Leytonstone. Vache has brought his copy of Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall”, and Belcher plays it right through while he cavorts for the camera. “I bought it from a little stall in Walthamstow market,” Vache says. “I didn’t get pocket money but I somehow saved up enough.” He kept his savings in “a Benson & Hedges box”.

The title track begins to play. “When the world is on your shoulder,” Jackson sings, “gotta straighten up your act and boogie down.”

“Listen to it and think about what was going on at the time,” Belcher instructs Vache, and the effect of the music is tangible.

“It was a certain time of my life,” Vache says. “It’s sad as well. Bless my mum, she didn’t really understand anything. She was 16 when she had me, things were hard for her—I understand more now I’m older. And there’s a lot of stuff I don’t bring up, I just get on with it, but then, this record was sort of my medicine.”

Belcher’s own love of vinyl began at an early age, in the days when “you would buy what was on ‘Top of the Pops’, or what you read about in Record Mirror. You’d go to Our Price Records, spend three hours in there and come out with three singles and an album.”

He bought “Uptown Top Ranking” when he was 12 years old and flush from helping out on his father’s milk round. The next year he bought his first album, Plastic Bertrand’s “AN 1”. “I went with my dad to Boots in town,” he remembers, recalling a distant age when even a high-street chemist sold records. “And he said ‘Why d’you want this? It’s all in French!’ And the record was rubbish. But it was because the cover folded out, and I could put it on my wall.”

Belcher’s reverence for these records extends not just to the songs but to the peculiar power, the electric, near-conductive force music can exert in someone’s life. There was a particularly transformative moment in his own early teens: “I used to knock about with this guy Paul, who wanted to be a Radio 1 DJ. He was the only person I knew who had subscriptions to Sounds and NME, and he had twin decks in his bedroom and he used to make radio programmes. I was with him, reading a feature in NME about Mods, and we said ‘Shall we be Mods?’ And that day I went home and I put on my best clothes—which was my school uniform—and suddenly my Chopper was no longer Easy Rider, it was my scooter.”

Belcher lost touch with Paul a few years later. “I heard he went on to do local radio and hospital radio,” he says, “however it was never his main career—as far as I know he carried on in engineering after his apprenticeship.”

Alongside each portrait, Belcher has photographed every record by itself. “Despite being an inanimate object,” he says, “they all seem to have a life of their own.”  As I make my way through the pictures, I can’t help but agree. Just like its owner, each piece of vinyl seems to carry its own expression, its own weather and wear. And this is the joy—that there in the creases and smudges, the torn sleeves and scratches, lies a story, and a magic. ~ LAURA BARTON

MARK “MONKEY” RAISON, 44, CIVIL SERVANT
KEITH MICHELL: CAPTAIN BEAKY AND HIS BAND

“It brings back memories of my family. I was ten, my dad was driving us to see our grandparents and it was on the car radio. I still remember that journey. I remember his red Vauxhall Cavalier and going to the petrol station and how it always seemed to be hot in the car, and you’d feel sick. The smell of heat and plastic and my dad’s cigarettes”

COCO KHAN, 26, JOURNALIST
BLACK FLAG: NERVOUS BREAKDOWN 

“It feels really alien to me now, this music. It feels really far away. Then I was 15 and thought ‘Yeah man, punk for ever.’ I bought it because it was their first EP and I thought it was cool. But it’s before Henry Rollins joined the band, so it was the first Black Flag song that I didn’t like. I didn’t listen to it that many times”

NELLIE DEWHURST, 95, COURT DRESSMAKER (RETIRED)
VERA LYNN: IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE

“I bought it on a Friday, payday, after work, from Woolworth’s in Brixton. It cost six old pence. She has a lovely tone to her voice, and it brings back good memories from when I was young and courting with my husband. We were childhood sweethearts – we first met when we were three years old, and we got married in the middle of the war. We were married 54 years”

MARTIN BLACK, 45, MAGAZINE PRODUCTION MANAGER
B.A. ROBERTSON: BANG BANG 

“I’ve got every record I’ve ever bought. I keep them all in my room, my man room, jumbled up in order of genre. I bought this when I was about ten. I was a fairly average ten-year-old, not particularly boisterous, not particularly wallflowery. I don’t remember any of my friends being into music, but I suppose I must have heard it on the charts and liked it. I bought it in W.H. Smith in Ealing. They had a big spiral staircase; I remember going down there and seeing all the records behind the counter. I hadn’t played it for years. It’s not the greatest of songs, but it’s nice to hear it again. I remember my next two records, too: the second was The Police, ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’, and my third was The Clash, ‘London Calling’” 

DAISY BOWEN, 13, STUDENT
PULP: DIFFERENT CLASS 

“I got a record player for my 13th birthday in April, a small orange portable one. I had this on my iPod beforehand — my dad liked Pulp and put it on for me. I love Pulp because their songs are so story-like and their lyrics are quite poetic. Plus Jarvis Cocker is just awesome. Since then I’ve bought a lot of the Smiths and Morrissey. It’s always nice to go looking for records — mainly I go with my mum to the record shops in Islington. And I have one friend who’s into records too. I like how on a record it sounds more like the music is coming from the musician, not transferred from somewhere else”

PAUL VACHE, 47, PERSONAL TRAINER
MICHAEL JACKSON: OFF THE WALL

“It was a nice day. It was the first day me and my brother were allowed to go and buy something. I bought this and ‘Rapper’s Delight’ [by the Sugarhill Gang]. I’d heard Michael Jackson on the radio, but I’d never heard ‘Rapper’s Delight’ till I went to the stall that day and they were playing it. I’d already got ‘Off the Wall’ but I said ‘I’ll have that as well!’”

DANIEL RACHEL, 45, AUTHOR
ADAM AND THE ANTS: KINGS OF THE WILD FRONTIER

“I bought it when I was 12. I think it was the year after it was released — I had to save up my paper-round money. I had desperately wanted it — I was obsessed with Adam and the Ants. I bought it in Birmingham town centre and then I got the 37 bus back to Solihull. It’s a 40-minute journey and I’d studied every lyric by the time I got home. I had to go into the lounge to use the record player, and I wasn’t allowed to put the stylus on the record — I had to ask my dad to do it for me. Every time it got to the end of a side, I would call him to ask him to turn it over. Sometimes he would come and sometimes he wouldn’t” 

SUSAN DEWHURST, 67, MILLINER
LEAD BELLY

“Ah, now, music and me. I used to go to Eel Pie Island, and the kids there played records I’d never heard. And my cousin was married to Gene Vincent, who would play lots of records I’d never heard before. I went to art school in Croydon, and I probably first heard Lead Belly in the common room. I got it for 12 and six [62p] in Woolworth’s when I was 16, on my lunch break from my Saturday job in a boutique. I bought it because it was the roots of what we listened to. It went backwards. And I liked the rawness. It’s enlightening and melancholic and it has a life of its own. It’s like opening up another door. Lots of records open up doors, and that record opens up doors to right the way back, to so many things that aren’t there any more – things, people, attitudes”

JUSTINA DEWHURST-RICHENS, 44, ARTIST
DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS: GENO

“We used to go to the fruit-and-veg market by Clapham Junction every Saturday, and there was an independent record shop nearby. I asked my mum if we could go. I’d saved up my money and I stood and counted it all out: 1p, 2p, half-pennies. I was ten, and I could just about see over the counter. I was brought up in a house with good music — lots of psychedelia and blues and R’n’B. But no soul. And so I think it was the horns that captured me. My parents had always told me that if you bought a single you should listen to the B-side as well. And the B-side to Geno was ‘Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache’. That blew my head off. It’s a cover of a northern-soul track by Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon, but I didn’t know that. It just got me. I’d never heard anything like it. I used to jump up and down on the armchair to it. When Dean was taking the pictures, he put the B-side on and I had this involuntary foot-tapping. A few years later when I was 13 or 14, I found northern soul and I stayed with it. So I blame Kevin Rowland for the whole of my life” 

PATRICK LEE, 50, HOUSING MANAGER
BOOMTOWN RATS: RAT TRAP

“I had a friend called Robbie. We used to go to a youth-club disco in a church hall in Dundalk, and gradually they introduced some punk and new wave. I was brought up in a small Catholic community, so this was quite rebellious. One day Robbie said ‘Have you heard the new Boomtown Rats single?’ I listened to it in the shop. This was the first time I’d gone into a record shop by myself. I was just blown away. It was quite different to most punk songs — it was quite melodic, and there was saxophone, and a keyboard player who always dressed in pyjamas. I listened to it non-stop, 25 times a day”

TRISH B, 34, PSYCHOLOGIST
MICHAEL JACKSON: BAD

“I completely loved everything he did. I still do. Though he tailed off a little towards the end. I would have been seven when I bought this. I’d watched the videos on ‘Top of the Pops’ on a Thursday night and my favourite was ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, where he’s pursuing a girl along the street. I did a lot of dancing round the living room with my little brothers to this record. I probably would have been trying to moonwalk on the carpet”

STEVE PIPER, 44, SOCIAL WORKER
MADNESS: ONE STEP BEYOND

“I was 11 and I was absolutely madly in love with ‘Baggy Trousers’. We lived above the shops in Hainault and I remember I went down expecting to buy their second album, ‘Absolutely’. But when I got there they’d all sold out, so I bought this instead. I fell in love with it. In a way it shapes my life really. It opened my mind to music, to reggae and ska, soul, rock steady, Ian Dury...I still listen to all that now. I’m a big reggae collector, pre-73-74. I’m mad on vinyl. I still love Madness, but I felt a bit self-conscious listening to it in front of everyone. It’s almost an immature music. It had a real fairground ska type of thing, a real bouncy type of music, it’s all quite happy-go-lucky. On the sleeve is written ‘Steve Palmer’. That was my old name. I changed it a year or two later when my mum remarried. It makes me feel very strange when I look at that name now – like it was another life” 

CLAIRE RUSSELL, 40, DESIGN MANAGER FOR DOC MARTENS
ART GARFUNKEL: BRIGHT EYES

“I bought it with the help of my mum and dad when I was four and a half. I vaguely remember going into the record shop in Dumfries and hiding behind my mum’s leg. I’d seen the film [‘Watership Down’], and cried. I still get very moved when I hear the song. He’d been through so much adversity, he helped all his friends get safe and he shouldn’t have died because he was brilliant. What a brave, brave rabbit”

Readers' comments

Sign in or Create your account to join the discussion.