I first met Rob Bagshaw about 20 years ago at The Record Centre, the jazz specialist shop in Loveday Street, Birmingham. He was an avid customer of the shop and I a record company representative who learned more about what I was trying to sell from Ray who owned the shop than the company I worked for was able to impart. Rob is what I would call a super fan. Not just of jazz but of music in general with a great love of art and literature. We met at Polar Bear Records in Kings Heath where my portrait of Rob was shot. Our conversation took place next door in a café which has a couple of his digital artworks hanging on the wall. They bear the artist’s name Drofrach. This is Charford, spelt backwards, the area of Bromsgrove in which he spent his early years.
By Garry Corbett
I asked him about his first encounters with art and music.
“My dad was an old fashioned Socialist,” he said, “He took the Daily Worker and I used to read it.” In the pages of this publication he first encountered the work of Picasso and discovered much else that informed him culturally and politically. “We had music in the house in those pre-rock ‘n’ roll days,” he said. “Paul Robeson, Fats Waller and so on. I discovered rock ‘n’ roll early on, Elvis, Little Richard, Fats Domino.” Many of whom he encountered playing live later on. “At 14, my mate took me to see Buddy Holly in concert,” he remembered fondly. “This would have been around 1958; it was life changing.” He also saw Eddie Cochrane, Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis. He was well and truly hooked.
“Ray Charles’ What’d I Say?, Pye International Chess releases, these things got me moving towards jazz.” It was one day in The Diskery that he asked Maurice the owner “How do I get into jazz?” Typically, Maurice’s response was, “You ask me!” He recommended Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um. “I was about 19 or 20 I suppose and began to devour all the jazz I could.” He added: “I have a saying from around that period: Miles, Monk, Mingus and Me, which just about sums up the music I was drawn to.” He didn’t go to jazz concerts at this time but continued to develop his interest and learn something of the history of the music. “I listened to a broad range of music. I recall a couple of ten-inch Hank Williams albums I had.” Beatlemania came along but he remained untouched, “I had Buddy Holly so I didn’t need the Beatles,” he said.
“I worked as a psychiatric nurse and didn’t earn much money in the early ’60s. I had to save up to buy jazz albums.” He built up a collection gradually together with a cultural awareness of the artists producing the music and the society which spawned it.
“Because of the blues, because of soul, because of jazz and the Beats I developed an interest and awareness of the Civil Rights movement and the importance of Black American music and musicians.” He read all he could about the culture. “Like Ry Cooder, I believe that the Black Gospel quartets are the source of the greatest singing in the world,” he added. Hearing Ornette Coleman was another revelation. He has his own take on the music that touches him, “Workin’, Steamin’, Cookin’ and Relaxin’ over Kind Of Blue,” he says in relation to Miles’ output. And of Monk, “The Prestige recordings above Blue Note’s Genius Of Modern Jazz by a mile.”
“Jimmy Giuffre was doing Americana in the Fifties,” adds with emphasis.
“I discovered Ray’s Record Centre in Loveday Street and spent many pleasant hours in there talking with Nic Vipond and buying lots of music. I loved the new release section and through that discovered Esbjörn Svensson Trio’s From Gagarin’s Point Of View and ECM as a label. “Those Charles Lloyd albums are sublime,” he smiles.
Record shops were important to him and continue to be so. “I loved the Record Centre and Nic just as these days I love Polar Bear and Steve,” he says. “Proper record shops. Those guys are like family.”
“I’ll never stop listening and discovering”, he says, “what I’ve been loving lately is Playing by Old And New Dreams.” David Murray, Don Pullen, Julius Hemphill, Horace Tapscott, Bill Frisell, the names keep coming. As we parted Rob handed me a postcard which bears a photograph of blues man Jimmy Reed from the 1950s. Written on the back of it is his Take Five selection for this feature.
Rob recommends the following 5-a-day:
Louis Armstrong: Blue Again (Armstrong’s strident trumpet entry!)
Ray Charles: What’d I Say (a classic piece of R’n’B!)
Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um (Goodbye Pork Pie Hat!)
Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come (Lonely Woman!)
Miles Davis: Filles de Kilimanjaro (Tony Williams’ drumming is worth the price of admission alone!)