As part of our series, Celebrate Vinyl, Ronnie Morrow of Vinyl Deptford talks records, life in a punk band, and why small shops don’t get a look in on Record Store Day.
Vinyl Deptford is a gem of a place, tucked away on a quiet street on Tanner’s Hill. The charming vinyl store attracts a loyal fanbase with its incredibly welcoming and cosy atmosphere.
Ronnie Morrow, 59, set up the shop at a former organic café and gallery in 2013. He is no amateur to the music business; he previously managed scene-stealing record stores, Ambient Soho and Dragon Discs, in Soho’s “vinyl triangle” district.
His opposition to Record Store Day is not moral or political at heart; however, he believes that the day is a more of a “corporate advertising day”. Many of the labels that launch exclusive records on the day are of no interest to him. Ronnie’s store primarily deals with second-hand records; any new records it releases are cult records.
Yes, the vinyl record market is a massive one, but it is a market he has always been in, he says confidently. With a lifetime of experience behind him, there is a touch of nostalgia in his voice as he remembers Berwick Street in Soho; it used to be the home of the former “vinyl triangle” and his previous shop, Ambient Soho.
“There were about 30 shops at that time. It worked on the basis [of] ancient cities: you have the shoe district, you have the fabric district – Soho was the vinyl district. Record collectors would come knowing that if they didn’t get what they were after in one shop, there were a myriad of others. We never felt in danger by a new shop – in fact, we welcomed them – because they brought their own crowd.”
Today, Soho is the prime location for Record Store Day events.
Despite his reminiscence, and the fact that he believes Record Store Day is a great day out for record buyers, Ronnie believes that smaller shops don’t get much of a look in. Even if Vinyl Deptford decided to be involved in Record Store Day, he says, a “little shop in Deptford” would not be guaranteed all or any of the limited releases which it orders – Vinyl Deptford simply do not carry the titles which are specially produced for Record Store Day.
Vinyl Deptford will, however, participate in a record fair on Record Store Day, on a smaller scale, at Rye Wax in Peckham. Ronnie says: “It is not anti-Record Store Day, but it’s alternative record day. We always say every day is Record Store Day for us.”
Ronnie says that becoming involved in this way is better than expending energy on something that will not benefit his store. It seems that his stance on commercialism has always existed.
After arriving in London as a young man in the ’70s, Ronnie moved into the squatting scene with other artists. He was “more at the creative edge of it”, he says, “using the spaces” to rehearse with his band, Collapsing Deck Chairs, in which he was the drummer and manager.
His band was anti-recording and considered themselves more of an art band. Ronnie talks proudly of how Charlie Harper of pioneering punk band, U.K. Subs, said: “Collapsing Deck Chairs were the best punk band that never made a record.”
He played in bands up until the mid-80s. He DJ’ed and produced for grebo band GBOA – Gaye Bikers On Acid – touring across America and the U.K. He returned from America at the point that acid house had just kicked off. There were “literally 75 people in a room to some extreme, dancing to a flashing light” – this inspired him to become a DJ.
He started working at the Quaff record shop in 1990 where he was given the keys by his superstar DJ boss – Roy The Roach, DJ partner of DJ Judge Jules – to run it whilst he regularly travelled abroad. Three years later, he opened Ambient Soho, an electronic music shop. He continued his successful business until 2000; the dawn of digital downloads hit the vinyl record market hard.
As for the lifespan of record stores, Ronnie believes that it is generally 2 – 5 years. He considers himself lucky to have started his business when vinyl was still “kicking live”.
He proudly but coolly remembers a moment of recognition for Ambient Soho: “It was legendary. My brother-in-law called me from San Francisco, and said, ‘You’re in Vogue this month man.’”
After the closure of the shops, he started selling records at mobile record fairs at festivals such as Glastonbury, The Secret Garden Party and The Big Chill. After 12 years, Ronnie decided to relaunch his brand. Enter Vinyl Deptford – which sells vinyl and also functions as a gallery and café.
The majority of people who visit Vinyl Deptford live locally; musicians, poets, and Goldsmiths students, past and present. Many musicians – mainly from the ’60s – Ronnie says, meet for the first time at the store, despite having lived in the area for 30 years.
It is situated close to the music complex on Tanner’s Hill, and so bands who pass by decide to use the basement space to perform. The space is also used by older bands who have played together for 20 years. They get together every few months to perform in front of a bunch of friends – just like they did in the old days.
Ronnie thrives on running a record shop which draws in an array of people. “It is unpredictable,” he says. “You cannot imagine who will come in because everyone collects records at some point in their lives. The great thing about this shop is that people can be who they want to be – rather than who they are at home – and even more so in a record shop, because there is an easy atmosphere.”
Ronnie’s partner Jenny, an artist trained in Feng Shui, was responsible for creating the warm ambience of the shop.
Percy Edwards, 59, an online record seller, is a regular customer and considers himself part of the furniture. He enjoys the “variety of the oldie section”. He says: “There’s no other facility here – this shop is an asset to Deptford. The vinyl you find at Deptford Market are cherry-picked by the dealers.”
Despite threats to the high street and years of experience in a changing industry, Ronnie’s passion for vinyl is unabated. “I prefer music which is obscure because I love the chaos,” he says. “Like, how come music is so good and it has not been discovered – I love that element of it. The dynamic, [the] energy, that somehow made a DJ go, ‘Oh, that’s rubbish’ and put it to the side. Then, years later, people would listen to it and go, ‘Oh my god, where did you get that record from?’ ‘I just found it in a record shop’– I love the reasons why that happens.”
This article is part of a three-day Eastlondonlines series celebrating vinyl records in London: Celebrate Vinyl. Click here to find out more!
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