Sarah Vaughan: Interview 3
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Sheelagh Pearson

Scott Nicol Interview

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Interviewer: Okay, so, if we start… the basics. If you could you just state your name and spell your name for me, please?

Nicol: Yep. My name’s Scott Nicol, and that’s S-C-O-T-T N-I-C-O-L.

Interviewer [00:13]: Thank you. And could you tell me your date of birth and where you were born, please?

Nicol: Yep, that’s 19th of the second 74, and I was born in Romford in Essex.

Interviewer [00:21]: Thank you. And just very briefly then, what is your background in music and were your parents ever involved in it at all?

Nicol: Not really. I mean, I start through school. Probably when I went to senior school. So when we joined there my parents were quite keen for me to learn an instrument. Me being me, I was a bit… shall we say a bit slow off the mark going down to the music department, and when I got down there I was left with a choice of either a trombone or a tuba. So being sort of like not the largest of 11-year olds, the tuba didn’t seem very appealing to carry to school, so I said, “I’ll take the trombone.” [laughs] And then after that, after a few months of sort of learning that and once we got into it a bit more, the school music teacher had a small jazz band and he drafted me into that, so that’s really how I started to get into it. We started off, like, sort of through the classics. It was very much like Ellington and then the classic jazz and then progressed up to a big band, and my love started going from there, really, growing. That’s really how I came into it, but my parents are not musical at all. They’re not into it, and both of them actually don’t like jazz. If I try and play them some jazz, they can’t understand it. That’s how it all started for me.

Interviewer [01:37]: And did you keep up the musical instrument side of it?

Nicol: I did, I carried on sort of like through my teens and into my 20s. I then sort of branched out and did a lot with a sort of like a big soul and disco band in the brass section there, and then probably like a lot of us, I went and got married and then work takes over, so that sort of settled down a bit. And then I haven’t played for probably about sort of six, seven years now, but it’s something shall we say on my bucket list of things to do and pick up again at a later date, because certainly for me it was great for interacting with people, to get out there. It’s a great buzz to entertain people if you can, yeah.

Interviewer [02:13]: Thank you. And what would you say over time, how has the nature of your jazz activities developed and what do you do currently as well with jazz?

Nicol: Okay, yeah, so it started really through the playing for me, and my music teacher was a very big influence on us. He was very heavily into jazz and he’d come in and say, “Have you listened to this? Have you listened to that?” And then I used to go around and you’d start buying the vinyl LPs or the CDs, and it sort of grew from there, really, it grew from there. I had a group of friends and we used to sort of exchange music as well, and then when I was about 18 we moved house, and then in the local high street there was a used record shop, and I happened to just walk past and walk in there one day, struck up a conversation with the guy that ran it, and we sort of found that we both appreciated jazz. From there, from sort of going in once, I sort of came away with a bag with a couple of LPs and it sort of became a regular occurrence of once a week going in there and coming out with more and more bags of LPs, and then my collection started growing. And then over time I think sort of the word spread around that people said, like, “Oh, this guy Scott has a great love of jazz,” and then people started offering me, say if somebody wants to sell their collection or they knew somebody else, would you lot be interested in it? So it started off really for me to fuel my own collection, and then it’s just grown from there. We found that all of a sudden, coming out of nowhere, there’s this little cottage-industry business that you could actually buy and sell vinyl records and CDs, and then it sort of grew. Probably about seven, eight years ago I had a call from the National Jazz Archive. They from time to time get people that donate recorded material to them. The archive, as you know, maintains printed materials – they don’t keep a record – and the National Sound Archive pretty much got everything they wanted, so they approached me and asked would we like to work in partnership with them. It’s just grown from there, to be honest with you.

Interviewer [04:18]: So, um, Rabbit Records, then, in that sense – is it you or in conjunction with other people as well?

Nicol: It’s… primarily, shall we say, it was started by me to fuel my collection, but after sort of two or three years of running it, my wife helps out a lot and she was getting more and more involved, doing like the internet and the tech side of things. I’m more like the love the music and I know what to buy and sell. She’s better on the technology side of things, and then she was looking… she only worked part-time anyway and she was looking and she said, “Look, why don’t I…?” If we want to make a go of this, she’ll give up her job and then she works from home and does it probably three, four days a week now, sitting on the internet, processing the orders. It’s incredible, actually. Like, the stuff goes everywhere, every country that’s available now with the power of the web, it just goes out there.

Interviewer [05:09]: Yeah, because I saw… I had a little look on your web stuff and about the different markets like Europe, North America, Asia and even Russia and China now, so would you say that’s mainly the internet or would you say that jazz is spreading as well, or is there other sorts of music that are going…?

Nicol: I think… it’s really interesting, actually, like, the power of the internet… it’s really opened up jazz and a lot of other music as well to a lot of markets. You find, especially like Russia and China – for them, shall we say, the music is quite new because they never had it when it came out, like they were quite closed countries, and now you can see especially over the last sort of five years, you can see how they’re learning and progressing. So they started off with very early, pre-war jazz. We’re now finding they’re starting to move more into sort of like the Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, the bebop era, and they’re learning and they’re growing, and you can see that they’re starting to appreciate and love the music as much as what we do in the western world, so it’s really interesting. It’s far-reaching as anywhere. It’s Europe, it’s Asia, we send stuff to South America, Brazil, Argentina, it’s every single country. If somebody’s got Wi-Fi and a computer, they can buy it and we can ship it nowadays.

Interviewer [06:21]: That’s great, thank you. And on this sort of idea, then, what’s motivated you to continue, not even just the collecting and the dealing, but jazz itself as well? What’s motivated you to continue investing in it?

Nicol: I think… as I say, I started off with like the big bands and the Ellington stuff, and then… I think you’re always learning. There’s so much music out there. People say “jazz”, and you think it’s just one genre, but there’s many different types of jazz. You can go like New Orleans, you can like bebop, mainstream. It then goes into the more experimental free jazz, which personally for me is not my cup of tea but I can understand why people enjoy that, and even through to some of the modern stuff, there’s still, like… But when you buy and sell and you collect records and CDs, it’s amazing. I’ve been doing it about 20, 25 years now, and every week, every collection you go to, you’ll see stuff you’ve never seen before. You’ll see artists, or even well-known artists, you’ll see recordings that you’ve never seen, so you’re always learning and your knowledge is expanding. Its real good fun.

Interviewer [07:27]: That’s great, thank you. And so over time, then, would you say that the organisation and how you’ve coordinated particularly the dealing side of it – has that developed or changed over time?

Nicol: I think it has, yes. Obviously, as the business has grown… I started off… jazz is my primary love, we also did a bit of blues as well… we do do other genres as well, so we do classical, we do do rock and pop. Rock and pop has always been collectible. Everybody always wants Beatles and Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix albums. That’s always been popular. Classical’s popular, very popular in Asia. Certainly through working with the archive, we seem to be focusing more in on the jazz and blues. I see it developing. It changes, new markets come in. Obviously as your names gets around as well, you build up a regular customer base, so I have a lot of correspondence on email now. People ask me, “Have you got a new collection?” I also link up now with other dealers in some of these countries as well. For example, I’ve got a guy in China now who’s got a used shop in Beijing, and he buys from me a lot of stuff in bulk that perhaps for our market I can’t use, but as I say in their market they’re learning. So actually last week a couple of boxes went, today about 100 LPs, is going off to Beijing. So we are seeing the market changing, yeah.

Interviewer [08:55]: Great, thank you. And would you say that at any point you’ve had any particular structures in place that have helped support your activities over the years?

Nicol: I mean, for us we’re a small business, so it’s primarily just me and my wife. Obviously the internet is crucial to us, so without the web we wouldn’t be out there really. We couldn’t afford a shop premises and then also I think the actual foot traffic on a high-street store… you see even some of the big chains, the HMVs, the Virgins and that, a lot of their flagship stores are gone now. So the world has moved a lot to the web, but I do see I suppose structures changing slightly. There seems to be, certainly on the vinyl side, a bit of a resurgence now. I think I read in the paper this year that vinyl sales are out-selling download on certain artists now, which is good to see. So who knows? That demographic may change. It may be more people want to start coming back on the street again. Certainly something we’re thinking about for the future is possibly investing a bit more in attending record fairs or collectors’ fairs to try and change structures.

Interviewer [10:04]: Okay, awesome, thank you. And how do you set up… because obviously you’re working in a lot of areas. How do you communicate across the globe and create these different structures in different countries?

Nicol: Email is probably key to it a lot of the time as well, and the other thing we use quite a bit today with technology is things like Skype. It’s amazing now, you can go home of an evening, sit down, click a button and suddenly you’ve got a counterpart in China that’s on live video. Technology’s quite key to a lot of it. And the other obviously thing we use is we rely a lot on the postal service for dispatch. We use Royal Mail a lot. They’ve been brilliant over the last few years, especially with small businesses. They’re really encouraging now. When we first started off seven, eight years ago, once a week we had to go to the post office on a Saturday and queue up with bagfuls of items to send. One, took us a lot of time, and two, I think caused a lot of problems with people queuing up behind us in the post. [laughs] But nowadays they’re brilliant, the post office, they’re looking for small business so they give you all the tools now to do everything at home yourselves. They come and collect two, three times a week from us at home as a small business, so there’s a lot better infrastructure there. And I think also, even the network not just with Royal Mail but with the other courier companies we use now as well… you can pretty much ship anything anywhere. I find it amazing… we do a lot with the couriers. If I send something to the States today, somebody in San Francisco will have it tomorrow, which I find is amazing – that you can get stuff that quick across the world. It’s pretty much anywhere, so logistics side of it and the technology side of it are probably the two key things.

Interviewer [11:48]: Okay, thank you. And would you say that over the years there have been any particular barriers to either your company or your jazz interests elsewhere?

Nicol: From the company side I think the only time is sometimes you find there’s a few countries where customs laws are a bit awkward for getting stuff in. Russia can be a little bit tricky at times to get stuff through. China when it first started. So sometimes you have a few barriers that way, but I think a lot of those barriers are coming down. I think we’re truly globalised with everything now. My personal jazz… I don’t think there are any barriers to be honest with you. I mean, especially linking up with the archive now and the work they do, I get the fortunate opportunity… like, we go all over the country now, either collecting the material on behalf of the archive, which is not always recorded material, so I link up with them as well and we go and collect some printed materials. You get to meet a lot of really interesting characters, especially some of the older guys who were actually there at the time. I unfortunately didn’t get to go and see some of these artists live, some of these concerts, but some of these guys did. A month or so ago I met a guy, who’s sadly passed away now, but he was I think the only person I’ve ever known who saw Miles Davis and John Coltrane together live in the States, and just talking to people like that for like 30 minutes is really interesting. So for me that’s really opened up, to talk to people and learn more about it, and to see how it’s influenced, how jazz has grown and influenced their lives. It’s really good.

Interviewer [13:25]: Thank you. And so do you have a particular area of jazz that you either think has been particularly influential or important, or that you find most interesting?

Nicol: I think for me, my personal taste is I really like the bebop era, sort of like the back-end of the 50s through to like the late 60s is what I really like. And I pretty much like the UK, the British jazz scene from that side, so a lot of people like Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes, those sort of artists. For me that was sort of the Brits really taking on the Americans at their own game. I think in some ways we did it better, but I’m a bit biased towards that. [laughs] I think for me that’s my favourite era. I can understand why other people like… for me, the early New Orleans type of jazz is not really my cup of tea, my sound, but I can understand why people do like that. And again, as we touched on before, the later stuff and especially some of the more free, experimental stuff as well – not my personal style, but I can see… I can understand what the guys are trying to do, like jazz is very much about pushing the boundaries. It’s guys trying to like move to the edge, do something different and be a bit more avant garde, and I can understand what they’re doing.

Interviewer [14:38]: Do you find that one particular area of jazz is more popular than others, and has that changed over the years as well in terms of selling?

Nicol: I think probably, as we touched on before, it’s interesting. It can be quite geographical at times. Europeans like a lot of that free jazz from the 70s, 80s, experimental free jazz. They like that. If I go to somewhere like Japan, they’re very much… they want pretty much all the original, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, the Bluenote stuff. They love that sort of style of things. China, as we touched up on there, come into it, so they buy a lot of earlier pre-war, they buy a lot of Ellington, a lot of Billie Holliday, that sort of stuff, and then they’re just starting to get into that now. And then the UK and the States is probably, that’s pretty much right across the board. If you look at the western world, they’ve had jazz a long time, so people are pretty much across the board with genres. But it is interesting to see, you can sort of see little pockets, and then you also sometimes you may find you suddenly get a run on a certain artist or a certain… you might suddenly see all your Miles Davis CDs disappear, and they’d all be going to… I don’t know, down to Sweden, and you think, there must be some sort of little jazz club in Sweden where they suddenly want that sort of stuff. So it’s interesting to watch from afar. You can see what is going on. The key to it is to predict what happens next and that’s really difficult.

Interviewer [16:05]: Yeah. And have you found actually in terms of… because you said there’s certain areas of the world that are opening up to jazz, but on the flip side, have you seen that some areas of the world, because you said you deal in different sorts of music, that other sorts of music have much more popular… things like rock and pop and things like that?

Nicol: Yeah. Certainly, classical is always Asia, so it’s always like Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, those sort of places. That’s really big. Jazz not so much in those sort of regions. Rock is pretty much everywhere, to be honest with you. Sixties rock is everywhere. Everybody wants it and nobody can find it. It’s because it’s either gone or it was very much used for parties and things, and the condition is just not there in some of that stuff. So that’s popular everywhere. Country music tends to be pretty much the States only. There’s not much in UK or Europe for that. Country and western’s pretty much the States. Rock and roll’s across the board. So yeah, so there’s certain genres that cross everywhere, other ones that tend to be more regionalised.

Interviewer [17:12]: Yeah. And from your experience as well growing up with jazz, did you find that when you were younger, your friendship group also listened to jazz, or was it other sorts of music that they were more interested in when you were younger?

Nicol: I think when I started it at school, so certainly me and the other guys in the band were into jazz quite a lot, but then also you had… it went right across the board, really. You had other guys who were into indie and rock in the late 80s, early 90s. There was a lot of British indie and rock about, sort of like the Guns ‘n’ Roses and that sort of stuff was about as well. And then just a lot of classic music as well, yeah.

Interviewer [17:50]: And did you find that in your view that jazz has been impacted by the popularity of other music coming through, or would you say it’s stayed pretty solid throughout the decades?

Nicol: I think it’s always been seen as a bit more of a specialist music, jazz. I don’t know, perhaps it’s… I always say it’s a bit more thinking man’s music. Sometimes you have to sit down and listen to it. I find certainly as I get older, I can sit down and listen to it more and understand it more. I do see, and we can see it from the demographic of the people who are purchasing now, certainly the younger generation, there are a lot of people now buying a lot of those classic artists like Miles Davis, the Dizzy Gillespies, the John Coltranes. There is a bit of a buzz about shall we say a cool factor about those artists, and people are still buying those albums, and it is it the younger people. You can see that by who’s buying them from us.

Interviewer [18:46]: And did you find, because you said at the start that your parents weren’t really into music, but again when you were starting out in jazz, did you find that the older generation had a particular attitude towards your involvement in jazz when you were beginning…?

Nicol: I did find when I first got into it, and not just with jazz but across the board, certainly a lot of the people were an older group to me. I think initially people sort of turned around and said, like, “What does this guy know about jazz? He can’t possibly know about it, he’s only 18, 19 year old.” But then I find once you’ve sort of gone through a couple more years, people then do understand you do know what you’re talking about and that you’ve got a true love of it as much as them. Then you find people start opening up a lot more. But generally, as I said before, in the jazz world there’s some fantastic characters and great people there, and you can learn a lot and they’re all really open as well.

Interviewer [19:37]: And do you also go to jazz venues and meet people that way and have that kind of connection with the jazz community?

Nicol: I tend to for the archive obviously put concerts on, so I go to those. I used to go to places like Ronnie Scott’s, and then there used be a Capital Radio jazz festival at Festival Hall. Used to be on years ago. We used to go to different places. In recent times, I haven’t gone out as much to live venues. Two reasons, really. One, I don’t get the time as much, unfortunately, as our jobs and lives overtake. Secondly, as well, I’ve also found and this is probably just me being a bit of a miser but I find ticket prices are going up and up now, and a lot of these venues are 40, 50 pound to see somebody. I think sometimes as well, when you see people live, you’re not always… shall we say you can be disappointed seeing them live. If you’re paying like 50 quid for a ticket to somebody, I want it to be really good.

Interviewer [20:33]: And do you find that there’s a lot of record shops still around to go to as well for that side of it, or do you find that there’s less of them than there used to be?

Nicol: That’s really interesting, because I think shall we say we’ve gone through a spell, a bit of a dip where loads of shops were closing, and especially a lot of the independent shops. A lot of the independent shops used to be, shall we say, on high streets it was like lower rents. But you’re finding now a lot of high streets were starting to put the rents up and people couldn’t compete, so a lot of those specialist jazz shops, especially ones like Mole Jazz is gone, like Dobells is gone. A lot of those stores have all gone. Ray’s Jazz is still in Foyle’s bookshop, so I still keep in touch with them up there. But I would say in the last couple of years, then you’re suddenly starting to see a resurgence, not just from jazz but this whole sort of vinyl resurgence. So you’re now starting to see a few more independent stores opening up. I find it amazing now when I go out – even places like Sainsbury’s and Tesco are now stocking vinyl. You’re seeing vinyl LPs, you’re seeing record players again, you’re seeing people are buying this sort of stuff again, so you would hope as long as the demand’s there and it keeps going up, it opens the door for more used stores to open up again.

Interviewer [21:51]: Yep, that’s great. I’m not sure if this applies to you or not, but at any point in your career, has there been any links between jazz and your own political views and music, or do you find music to be something where you can express your political views?

Nicol: I think for me, not really. I think for me I like to detach it from that. I think for me music is something to sit down and just unwind at the end of the day, so I don’t really link it to my political views at all.

Interviewer [22:21]: That’s fine, thank you. And then looking more then towards the long term and the future, then. So far in your career or in your jazz activities, would you say you’ve had any particular achievements or things you’re proud of that you’ve done?

Nicol: I think certainly from working with the archive, one of the things I get a lot of pleasure out of, is obviously we deal with a lot of people’s lifetime collections, and sadly now due to the aging demographic a lot of people are passing away and these collections are being left. A lot of times, either the beneficiaries or the children are not into jazz, or sometimes we find as well, like we had one the other week, lady had a room full of about 5000 LPs and people haven’t go the space or they don’t know what to do with these. For someone’s lifetime collection, the worst thing that can happen is it either ends up in a charity shop or worst case, the landfill site, so I think one thing that gives me pleasure is that we can take that, we can then use it, redistribute it, as I say it goes worldwide, and it’s someone’s lifetime collection, their legacy then lives on and it goes on and is redistributed to hundreds of people across the globe that enjoy the music and will enjoy it as much as that person did who put that collection together.

Interviewer [23:39]: And were there any particular vinyl records or CDs over the years that you found that you’re particular proud that you found that, or it may not even be rare, just something that stands out?

Nicol: There’s different aspects of rare as well. There’s rare on the aspect of price, value, which are not always sometimes things that are rare. People say, “I’ve got Beatles albums,” and some Beatles albums sell for fortunes, but they’re not necessarily rare. They’re top-ten pop albums. It’s rare to find them in good condition, because they were played to death by everybody, but they’re not things like Sergeant Pepper, one of the biggest selling albums that was ever out there. But then on the other side of things, there are albums which are very rare that don’t commercially sell for much money, but they’re just things you’ve never seen before. They’re things that sold in very small quantities, especially in the jazz world things that are quite specialist, may have been hard to get, and as I said before you’re always learning, so I often find things like… pretty much every collection I go to, like the big collection I just spoke about with 5000 LPs, there’s probably 10 or 20 LPs that are sitting at home now on the side for me to play that I’ve never seen before. I want to listen to them. They may be good, they may not be good, but they’re just things I’ve never seen.

Interviewer [24:57]: And do you usually listen to the albums before you sell them, or do you often just sell them?

Nicol: I try nowadays to keep my collection down to stuff that I enjoy, so I pull some aside that I haven’t got that I’ll listen to, but then there’s other things where I think, do I need that? No. Well, just let it go. Let it go on. Like all collections, I mean, jazz is the same as pop, really – there are certain records you see all the time. There is effectively a top 10 of jazz, as well. Through all the eras you’ll see that people bought the same albums, and then you’ll find other people bought stuff that just didn’t sell so well, or you find the most interesting stuff is where you find people that bought stuff like that was either in bargain bins or reduced things, either because the sleeves looked good or they were marked down, and then you can find really oddball and abstract stuff that’s there. But you do, like all collections, see the same records all the time. You can see it. Every big jazz collector might have a copy of Miles Davis Kind of Blue because it was a classic album. Everybody had it that was there.

Interviewer [26:06]: Yeah. Thank you. And would you say in your own opinion that jazz has had a particular impact on British culture?

Nicol: I think… certainly I think, if you see… as I say, unfortunately I’m too young to have seen it at the time, but certainly in the 50s and 60s, you see that sort of time when you speak to the people that are into it, it looks like a really good thriving scene that was in London, sort of trendy scene to be in, and you’re meeting great characters that were around at that time. Today, I think… I don’t think it has much of an impact today, but you could say that of live music as a whole. There’s not so many venues as there used to be that are out there. Obviously now people find it harder to pay bands to go on, whereas I think back in the 50s and 60s there are a lot of jam sessions and people just turning up for the love of the music. So possibly not much impact today as we would like to see, but that’s not because of the music, that’s because of the outlet and the venues and the avenue for people to be exposed to jazz. And also for the record shops as well, a lot of people got into it… people used to go record shops, I mean I used to do it when I was growing up, you’d go to a record shop and say, “What’s come out this week?” Or, “Suggest something to me.” If there’s not an outlet for people to get into it and experience it and be influenced by jazz, then it’s not going to grow. Hopefully now that there are more outlets, we might see more independent shops turning up again. I’m a great believer that I think people’s communication, interaction… like I like be sold something, recommended something. I do see there’s a big market. The internet is great if you know exactly what you want, but if you want to be recommended something there’s nothing like a face-to-face meeting on a high street.

Interviewer [28:03]: That’s great, thank you. In terms of Rabbit Records, what is the future in your mind?

Nicol: That’s a good question! Who knows? If you’d asked me five years ago, I wouldn’t have known we’d have grown this big in the jazz world. My vision is to keep it… I don’t want to be the next HMV or the next Virgin that’s out there. I want to keep it quite small, keep it specialist as well. As I’ve said, I think the main purpose as well is certainly to assist the archive and to assist people. I see it not just as a commercial venture but it’s also to make sure music is redistributed, people still keep experiencing, and can access jazz and that it’s out there. I think it’s… who knows, really? Just see where it goes, really, see what happens.

Interviewer [28:49]: And in terms of your jazz interests as well, do you have any plans to go into any new ventures, or do you have plans for how you might otherwise engage in jazz over the years?

Nicol: [laughs] Yeah, I mean, see what comes along, really. We do a lot of work with the archive, partnering with them. I do a lot with the marketing department there as well. See what comes along, really. I know we’re talking about should the NJA be the one-stop shop for anything jazz today, so if somebody goes and asks for anything, written or printed material… Is it also if somebody’s looking? So we’ll be thinking about if somebody’s looking for a recording, is there a way we can possibly facilitate that or find out what’s there? Yeah, I don’t know, really. We’re always open to new options to see.

Interviewer [29:38]: That’s great. Thank you very much, then, in that case.