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The Big Beat In The Heart Of The Vinyl Jungle

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That’s good – it makes my job easy. So now let’s talk about the Phantom label and the store and how you got into that. Which one came first?

The store. What happened – I’ll make this relatively brief. In 1974, the time that the Rats was all happening, I worked in a warehouse. So I just loved this shop called Anthem, and I used to go there all the time. And the NME magazine was like the bible. They used to sell that here in the shops, and it would come by ship but it was like three months late. It didn’t really matter because it wasn’t about what was happening here anyway. But Anthem used to get it airmail because they needed the info in order to buy their stock from England. And they’d get one copy that way and they’d read it, and then they’d put it out for people to read.

And I used to ask if I could borrow it, and I used to read every friggin’ word in it so I could keep up to date with what was going on. And at that time my absolute dream in life was to work in an import record shop. I thought it was just the most fucking amazing thing that you could ever do. I just dreamt of it, but I never thought it would happen because there was only one import shop in town, and that was Anthem. And one day I went in and I just couldn’t fucking believe it – there was a sign that said “position vacant”. And I went fuck! I’ve gotta have that job. I’ve gotta have that job. What do I have to do? What do I have to do? I’ve gotta have that job.

I couldn’t believe that I walked in on that day and saw it. And the guy at the shop rang up the two bosses and they said ah, yeah, Jules, we know him, he wants to apply for the job? Tell him to come up this afternoon. So they go OK fine. And I went up there – it was a Thursday – and I remember just walking in and these two guys Dave and Alan owned Anthem, and I said “Look, I don’t care if you don’t pay me, I just want this job. I really don’t care if you pay me, somehow I’ll get by. But I just want this job so much.” That was the first thing I said.

(laughs) Good bargaining! Great negotiating!

Well, I was 20 by then. I didn’t give a fuck. All I wanted was to do this, and there was no where else in Sydney. There was no other import shop. This was it. It was the one shop. And they said look, what we’re doing is opening up a second shop downtown, near the business district. And they said look, Chris Pepperill’s gonna manage it (the guy who eventually started Red Eye). We’ve got him, and we’re gonna send him down there. And we need an assistant for him. And I went “Look, I promise I can do it. All you know about me is that I’m some guy and I work in a bloody warehouse. But if you know ONE thing about me, you’ve seen that I read the NME and I know everything. There’s nothing I don’t know.

And they said, well there’s all these people we’re going to interview on Friday, we’re going to think about it over the weekend, and we’re gonna call people on Monday. Oh, god, I went home, and I couldn’t sleep that night. The next morning they rang me, first thing in the morning before I went to work, and they said you’ve got the job. And I just couldn’t fucking believe it. They said “When can you start?” And I said I have to give them a week’s notice, and they said, “fine, Monday week”.

Awesome! So I was in this record shop, and we had two suppliers, one in England and one in America, and that was it. And what happened was that about four or five months later the two owners ended up arguing. And they didn’t get on too well any more after that. So they split up the two businesses, so one got one shop and one got the other. So this guy Dave got Ripple Records, the one I was working in, and part of the deal they worked out was that Chris, who was a good manager and better than the one they had in the other shop, would go to the old shop, and they got rid of the other manager. So the other owner Dave decided to come in and work with me, and after a few months he was kinda sick of it and he didn’t want to work behind the counter in record shops anymore. And he said “Do you think you can manage it?” And I said, absolutely!

Jules in 1978:

So I just managed this record shop for three and a half years until 1978. And as long as it worked, it didn’t matter what you sold, so I just sold things that – I mean, it was crucial to buy things that were what people were going to buy, bread and butter music – you know, like the new Eagles or Genesis LP, or the new Yes, Tull, Zeppelin LPs – so we’d get them in and they weren’t going to be released here for another two or three months – this was the way it was back then – there was absolutely NO such thing as a simultaneous release here – so we had that leeway – that period of time to sell these major new releases. But also, I could order all the LPs I loved. So I used to order things like all the original Stooges albums. They were all still available then, all three of them, from America. And I bought them and sold bundles of them. Then I found out it was cheaper in Canada to buy them, so I bought a bunch of Canadian pressings. And MC5 ones as well. We just searched all over the world for the best places to buy things. It was all done by mail. So it just became a great shop … that people gravitated to.

It’s funny enough, when the disco thing happened, we used to sell soul music as well, and obviously it came out of soul music and I used to get in all the disco records because some of them when they first started were like Sly And The Family Stone – funky, but good. But not straight disco. So when this whole disco thing started to happen in 1974 and 1975, we were the only import shop that sold that stuff. So all of a sudden here I was being associated with Radio Birdman, and I had this shop that was the premier disco shop in town … kinda something you’d want to keep quiet!

Apart from the fact that I sold shitloads of Stooges records and the like, it was like two amazing markets. Disco to the max and tons of Blue Oyster Cult and Kiss and all those influential American records. And I liked English progressive music as well, so all the English stuff that was still available. Lots of that came out in 1971/72/73 so it was only a year or two old. So we had a huge mish-mash of stock, but it was all cutting edge stuff. It was even cutting edge disco if there is such a thing. It was at the time, because it was all new and kind of cool. I mean, you look back at it now and you think the mid 70s was shitty, but there was some pretty intense stuff.

I used to love all the DJs. All the DJs in town from all over the suburbs used to come to the shop to buy their stuff. And they relied on me to know what was good. So I got to work out what a good disco record was. So I’d get one copy of everything that came out. And the DJs would come in, and I loved them and they loved me, so it was fantastic. I had a great relationship with all those guys. But it was completely against what I liked. Apart from stuff like Parliament Funkadelic. When that came out it was amazing, because there were all these fuzztone guitar solos. It was incredible. Bootsy’s Rubber Band and stuff like that.

So I ran that shop for three and a half years, and I only left it at that stage when Birdman was in Europe touring England. So I went over there with my girlfriend, and that’s another story.

(continues overleaf)

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One Response to The Big Beat In The Heart Of The Vinyl Jungle

  1. julian_k July 18, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Jules Normington. Legend. Gentleman. Living icon of Australian independent music. This deserved to be redistributed!

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