Mark O’Shaughnessy recalls separating the rare jazz from the jazz mags during a one-off vinyl haul in Montreal.
I used to go digging in North America three or four times a year during most of the 90s/early noughties, often with mixed results. By 1998, I’d already been to Toronto several times, so I thought I’d give Montreal a whirl. It was still a relatively unknown digging outpost; compared to Toronto, with its towering skyscrapers and sprawling city centre, Montreal felt like a village. There were still lots of vinyl stores open in Montreal back then, including chains that have now gone out of business. It was from one of these stores that we ended up going on one of the craziest digs of my mining career…read on....
It was around 10am one weekday, early on in the dig, and my companion this time was a chap called Angus, with whom I have sadly now lost touch… hi, Angus! I began absent-mindedly listening in to a conversation going on at the counter between an extremely disinterested clerk and a contastingly animated punter at one of the independent record stores on Rue St. Catherine. It ran like this: “I want to sell up, I’ve had it with rekkids, I got over 100,000 of the suckers over at my mom’s place and she wants the space back, goddamn things just cluttering up the house.”
Either the clerk had heard it all before, or he just didn’t care to get involved and eventually, the guy just scuttled off. Naturally, I shot out the door after him.
He was just putting his beaten-up Dodge pickup into reverse when I rapped on the window. He was one of the most bizarre-looking geezers I’d ever seen. He had hands like shovels, was a good 6' 6" tall, with only one tooth left in his whole mouth – and his breath would have felled a cart horse. He looked like the kind of bloke who was always shaking hands with himself, if you get my drift.
We got talking and it turned out that he lived out in the boondocks, 40-plus miles away. Damn! He still insisted that he wanted to sell the whole lot, 100,000 records. He wouldn’t tell me what was in there, nor how much he actually wanted for them, but seemed keen for me to go there as soon as he realised I was from Lun’nun (which I actually wasn’t, of course…). Thinking fast, I agreed I might be up for buying him out and got his address, agreeing to go there next Monday morning – although God only knew how we were going to get there. It was time to call in some reinforcements.
I’d become friendly with a local shop owner the day before, so I ran down to his store and he agreed to take us there. He also wanted to bring along his buddy, so then we were four. We arrived at this guy’s mum’s house early. What our boy failed to tell us was that, alongside the huge vinyl collection, he had an equally mammoth pornography habit! The house was divided into two: top floor = floor to ceiling vinyl, ground floor = floor to ceiling porn. He must have had 10,000 blue videos! I was literally speechless. And the maddest thing about it all was that his mum’s bedroom was on the porn floor, and it, too, was (literally) racked out with hundreds of mucky videos.
The plot then thickened. We combed the whole house over the course of the day and, as night fell, we came together to compare our finds. The records were all pristine, a lot of them sealed, an unusual occurrence in the late 90s, but nothing was priced. Then, our host informed us that we had to make offers on the records individually, one buyer at a time. If he felt the price was right, he’d sell us the record, but if we got the prices wrong, the record went back into the racks – no exceptions. Then, he told us that we were to sit in a decommissioned dentist’s chair, one by one, to make our bids! Absolutely mind-boggling.
By this time, our Canadian colleagues were ready to run out of the door, but we Brits were made of sterner stuff, so the pricing lottery began. My companion Gus went first and fell flat on his face. He was a hip-hop head and had pulled out some absolute bangers, à la sealed Axelrod LPs, Gary Bartz on Capitol, a few Strata-Easts… he’d hit the jackpot, or so he thought.
But, in his drive to ensure he'd nailed these amazing records, he offered way too high on a few of them at the beginning. Our guy just blew a gasket and then turned down nearly all of Gus’s subsequent bids. There was no rhyme nor reason – turning down high bids and accepting lower bids? Gus walked away with only about 60 of the 200-odd items that he’d pulled, sick as a parrot. One of the Canadians went next, toned his offers down a bit and managed to get most of what he’d wanted.
I’d more or less worked out this barking mad guy’s pricing methodology. He accepted 99% of my offers and I walked away with nearly 1,000 NM/M LPs, one of my best ever North American hauls: some absolutely incredible jazz, some rarely seen funk and loads and loads of incredible soul LPs. Hard work, but so, so worth it. One of the LPs in there was then in huge demand at home – The Deirdre Wilson Tabac on RCA – and I dug out 22 sealed copies in the Porno Vinyl Palace that day, the whole trip paid for with those 22 LPs alone. And guess what? His mum didn’t bat an eyelid all day.
Mark O’Shaughnessy is the owner of Bath record shop Resolution Records and a professional record dealer since 1993.