For 25 years Rock On was one of London’s leading collector’s record shops. Renowned worldwide for its in-depth stock of rock’n’roll and other collectable records. In 1975 Ace Records evolved out of Rock On. This CD is a nostalgic overview of some of the music and memories from the Rock On years.
Rock’n’roll, has always been one of the essentials in my life. This fascination didn’t just start with Rock On. First there was a lot of other stuff, like listening to AFN and Luxembourg as a teenager, swapping news and views with friends on the coolest new records.
From the mid-1950’s onwards, I found myself buying 78’s like ‘Great Balls of Fire’, ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Be-Bop-a- Lula’ even though we didn’t even have a record player at home. I needed to own these records, while they were still available, before they disappeared forever. [How was I to know back then that these records would survive forever, icons of the rock’n’roll era?]
Of course those particular 78s didn’t last long. They got broken or ‘borrowed’ at parties, but were replaced just as quickly by others ‘Tequila’ / ‘Midnighter’ by The Champs, ‘Valley Of Tears’ by Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers ‘Wake Up Little Susie’, ‘Johnny B Good’ by Chuck Berry, ‘16 Candles’ by the Crests. These were great records that I wanted to share with others, that I needed to be sure my friends did not miss out on.
Time passed, I got a guitar, joined a few no-hope skiffle / rock’n’roll bands, until I eventually hooked up with some guys who could really play and who were able to help me to improve (slightly) as a musician. Our band was called the Caravelles, later to become the Greenbeats and our mission was to play the finest rock’n’roll music for any that cared to listen. Tunes like ‘Lover’s Question’ by Clyde McPhatter, ‘Ubangi Stomp’ by Jerry Lee, ‘ Let It Rock’ by Chuck Berry, ‘I’m Movin’ On’ by Ray Charles, ‘Santa Claus Is Back In Town’ by Elvis (during the festive season naturally), ‘True Fine Mama’ by Little Richard, and so on.
This was all part of spreading the word and before I realised it, I found that I’d become a rock’n’roll evangelist. Over the next seven years, I booked and managed rock’n’roll, blues and soul bands, promoted R&B concerts, ran rock’n’roll clubs, until, in 1968, I discovered ‘USED RECORDS’.
One day passing a junk shop, I spotted a table outside with a box of 45s on it. I soon discovered several other shops with similar stocks of ‘previously owned’ records and these I quickly learned, tended to get replenished every few days as kids discovered that they could get cash for Dad’s old (and hopefully) unwanted records.
These records cost just pence, it didn’t matter whether it was ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Race With The Devil’ or ‘I Remember You’ - they were all 5p each! I set out to replace all the records that had I had ever owned or wanted to own in the 50s. I soon amassed a collection of several hundred 45s, becoming so heavily addicted in the process that very soon, if I came across a copy of a great record that I already owned, say ‘Breathless’ by Jerry Lee Lewis or ‘Dance To The Bop’ by Gene Vincent, I was simply UNABLE to leave it behind. I HAD to have it, I was Hooked!
And so I become a record dealer.
In 1969, I advertised my first Records For Sale list in the mimeographed pages of ‘Record Mart’ a monthly magazine published specially for record collectors. The duplicates that I was selling ranged from ‘Sweet Nothin’s’ by Brenda Lee, through ‘Shakin’ All Over’ by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates to ‘Ram-Bunk-Shush’ by the Ventures. Oh! the excitement, the feeling of fulfilment and acknowledgement as those envelopes with postal orders for 10 and 15 shillings (50p & 75p) began dropping through my letterbox.
Two years later Rock On started life in a tiny 8’x 8’ stall in a funky flea market at the wrong end of Portobello Road Market. A bunch of primo factory fresh London label 45s quickly helped establish Rock On as a crucial source for rockin’ wax. After three years wheeling and dealing, I had enough stock and experience to open a second retail outlet (another market stall naturally), this time in Soho, right in the centre of the West End of London.
This was where my friend, Roger Armstrong, got involved. I needed someone to take care of business at Soho and knowing that Roger had very catholic tastes in music (after all he’d been an early Rock On customer), I asked him if he would care to help out.
The post was temporary as Roger had other long term plans; however I guess he liked the evangelical life as he never left. A year later in 1975 with the help of another customer, Barry Appleby, I opened a third branch of Rock On, right in the centre of Camden Town, this time a real shop with a long term lease and a big ROCK ON sign over the door!
Trevor Churchill, whose London label collection of 45s I’d recently been helping to prune, happened to be between jobs at that time and he came to work in the shop at Camden, helping out on Saturdays for a while. By this stage, I’d involved Roger with my plans for a reissue record label and it seemed logical to ask Trevor to also get involved as he already had a wealth of experience working for real record companies. More important, he had an infinite ability to take care of the day to day detail, essential to the successful running of any business, something both Roger and I tended to have a rather cavalier approach to.
And so almost 40 years later, I find myself still involved in spreading the rock’n’roll gospel, now even more effectively through Ace Records, and still in partnership with Roger and Trevor. We’re now involved in disinterring recordings that never even got released the first time around, or that have got lost in the mists of time. Alongside of course, those golden goodies from all the various eras of rock’n’roll.
This CD is a compilation of some of the music and memories from our years at Rock On. Many old customers and staff are still involved with Ace Records in one way or another and most of them have had an input in this release.
* By rock’n’roll, I mean most forms of cerebral rhythm music ranging from Son House to Sun Ra by way of Jelly Roll Morton, Django Reinhardt, Lonnie Donegan and including generous servings of Blues, Country, Soul, Jazz, Latin, Reggae etc always liberally laced with potent shots of Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Link Wray, Carl.Perkins and Huey “Piano” Smith (to name just a few).
This CD is dedicated to all Rock On customers through the years and especially Ray Topping.