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Soho: The VINYL Frontier!

As the 90's dropped like a tune you can't ignore, Soho was absolutely buzzing on a Saturday afternoon. You could feel the excitement and anticipation. Tickets being bought, flyers being delivered, 12” sized shopping bags being carried by lads with curtain hair and MA1 jackets emblazoned with the brands of an emerging culture: World Dance…Flying Records…NASA… Passion (which became MASH on Oxford Street).

Off the tube at Piccadilly Circus, along Shaftesbury Avenue, left up Windmill Street, right into Brewer Street, cross the road, cut through Raymond Revuebar alleyway, under the arch and into throbbing Berwick Street market. Crunching over cabbage leaves, breathing in the smell of fresh tomatoes and ignoring the market trader’s cries of “Ten plambs for a paind, pick yer own”. “Ca’mon laydeez, grab ‘em while you cain!”

Into Quaff Records, then breathe in and hold it until you get into Vinyl Junkies to avoid the stink of the fresh fish stall outside. Quick browse, “anything new with flamenco guitar?”, another deep breath before pulling the door open, across the road and along D’Arblay Street into Black Market Records. As you approached, you could hear music as it was always really loud. You’d get a knot in the bottom of your stomach as the kick drum drew closer with every step you made. What were you going to discover this time? You felt like you were on the cusp of King Solomon’s Mines or about to enter the King’s Chamber in The Great Pyramid. For all you knew you were on the cusp of a life-changing discovery. This is where the dubplates and test pressings were first played – mysterious white labels which said nothing but gave everything.

It was magical.

Usually when I walked in, there would be eight or so blokes facing the counter. Nicky Blackmarket would put on a tune, and pretty soon hands would shoot up, like an auction. These were white labels and were limited in number, so you had to be quick. If there were five copies and if your hand was the sixth to go up, you missed out.

I recall walking into one such scene and a tribal loop and gobbledygook chant was playing for what seemed like an eternity, then lush descending piano chords rolled in majestically. Resistance was futile. Everyone’s hand shot up at exactly the same time. Luckily there were enough to go around. I couldn’t wait to get home to play it. After that, it was a case of not being able to wait to get everyone back to mine after the club to play it. The track was ‘Voice of Africa’ by Hoomba Hoomba. It was my go-to afterglow soundtrack… until Danny Rampling dropped Moodswings’ ‘Spiritual High’ on his Kiss show. Then I met Alex and Jimmy at Land of Oz and ‘Ambient House’ became a thing.

Back to Black Market. A quick look downstairs to say ‘Hi’ to Ray (Keith) in the breakbeat basement before going back out across Wardour Street and left into Dean Street. Flying Records always had the best Balearic cuts as Charlie Chester was part of that scene. Then a quick word with Craig in Trax who always seemed to get those dance covers which worked so well at my ‘Ibiza’ night every Sunday at Bar Madrid just off Oxford St. It was the only night of the week when house was allowed as it was a Latin hangout, with salsa and rhumba classes every evening.

At the end of each evening, I’d play a floor-clearer in order to avoid the crowd chanting “one more tune!”- which I was unable to play as the power was cut off at the witching hour. My ‘go-to’ floor clearer was ‘Wuthering Heights’, until one night a pissed-up bloke and his mates stayed on the floor doing wavey Kate Bush swaying, prompting others to join in - eventually leading to a stand-off-in-silence-with-the-lights-up scenario. So, I had to find something else. I found it in ‘Orinoco Flow’ by Enya. ‘Try dancing to that, fucker!’ I thought to myself.

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