Hearing from Andy Westbury (Eldica Records)
At the end of 2019 we interviewed Andy Westbury, proprietor at Eldica Records in Dalston, East London. As well as being a crucial destination for those with a passion for funk, soul, jazz and a plethora of Caribbean music, Eldica Records is also a key part of the local community, having been in business for twenty years and holding fast while the surrounding area undergone intense gentrification, for better or for worse.
In your opinion, what makes Eldica unique as a record shop in London in 2019?
I suppose we’re an old-school style record shop, but then also we buy into the local culture as well. Part of our history as part of being a shop is to buy into that and to encompass that, and to not exclude. Eldica, as you probably know, is my wife’s family. She’s my wife’s grandmother, so we’re all about family, history, culture and all of that. So we’re never going to be a fly-by-night enterprise, you know? We’re here for the long term.
You opened in 2000, right?
Yeah, next year will be our 20th year of trading, so we’re actually thinking of doing some events and stuff. Basically, we didn’t open up as a record shop. We were local arts and crafts, homemade mirrors, incense…which was totally…the area really wasn’t set up for that kind of stuff. Twenty years ago this place was completely different and we’ve just been sitting here…waiting, waiting, waiting (laughs). My partner said, “You’re into records, you sell records, why don’t you sell records in the shop? They’ll sell”. I was very doubtful for a while, then we made the plunge and we’ve grown from there.
As you said, the area has changed so much since you first opened. How have you seen your clientele and record buying habits change over time?
Right from the start, from a record point of view…when we started selling records it was a local clientele. Obviously Dalston’s got a really rich cultural heritage for record shops and DJs and soundsystems and Ridley Road is just over there. There were loads of old style record shops. There was a record shop in this street that lasted ‘til the early ‘90s or late ‘80s that we kept hearing about. It’s a very rich and diverse area for music. So we tapped into that, we had a lot of local customers, old guys, people who lived locally. Two things happened, word got out about us and at the same time, younger people wanted to move to Dalston.
Much later NTS opened but before that the area was changing, a lot of young people were clubbing in Dalston, all the nice clubs were in Dalston and Shoreditch. So there was an influx of people and our clientele changed from locals…some locals were forced out but that’s another story, rents became too high, rents became a lot higher. Our clientele changed for good and bad, we’ve got a lot of people from the States, a lot of people from Italy, France. If they come to England and they come to London and they want to go to record shops, they check us out and then they come back.
When did you own love of music and DJing start?
I’m fifty now, when I was about thirteen or fourteen, my older cousin who I absolutely idolised and was into flares, carried a boombox, was into Sugar Hill and all that, bought me a Jam Master Jay and Run DMC 12” from Groove Records in 1983, to be precise. Then the following weekend, on my birthday, he took me up there on a Saturday. From then on I was going there every week, spending my paper round money. So I could buy two or three imports a week with my paper round money. It was about fifteen or twenty pounds a week. I’d say from ’83 to ’86 I was going there and getting interested and listening to Tim Westwood. We lived in Harrow and LWR was they pirate station. They broadcast from Crystal Palace. Tim Westood was on LWR on a Wednesday night. He had a show on ‘til two in the morning, I think. I used to record it. I’ve got all the tapes. He was playing electro, he was playing rap, but then he was also playing these tapes from New York, these amazing DJs from the ‘70’s cutting up breaks and beats. He said he was playing James Brown. I was like, “James Brown?!”, “Sex Machine?!” but not “Sex Machine”, you know? “Get On The Good Foot”, and he said “This started hip-hop” and I was like, “This started hip-hop?!”. I went and saw James Brown in 1985 and it was mind blowing. From then on I started getting into samples, the funk, the soul – the stuff that the hip-hop guys were sampling and using. At the same time, hip-hop was changing to such an extent that it was gangster-ish, gangsta rap, n-words, b-words. I’m white and from Harrow, I don’t really have a relationship with this type of music anymore, but the music I like. The beats, the breaks, the funk records, the 7”s.
You’re known for your knowledge of Caribbean music, particularly calypso and music from Trinidad & Tobago. Can you tell us how you first discovered music from that part of the world?
I would pick up one or two Fela Kuti records because they’ were funky and I’d maybe accidentally pick up a record from Barbados on a 7” that had a funk title, so I knew it was there. When the shop came about my wife’s grandmother died and she was from Trinidad. So we had loads of family friends that would bring us records and we had a calypso section. There was amazing stuff in it but no one was buying it because it was just calypso, soca and stuff. Then all of sudden it just started taking off. People started playing certain tracks, and this is only in the past nine or ten years it started getting popular and stuff started disappearing or selling really fast. I had a good friend of the family who used to go out to Trinidad and bring records back. He used to send records back in barrels. He bought a record station of records in the ‘80s and 90’s. He had amazing stuff so I was getting more and more stuff from him. This stuff was going up in value and it was getting more and more popular so it just came about naturally really. It happened along with the shop. We were into that music, its good music.
My wife, she can remember family parties going back to the ‘70s where this music was just the music. Its what they would dance to. “Auntie Ruby would play this” and they’ve all got fantastic record collections with Trinidadian calypso and stuff and it was just how it was. It was bought because that’s the music they would hear and that’s what they were into. Then I started getting exposed to that through family parties and think, “oh, this records really funky, I want a copy of this” and try to persuade Aunti Ruby to lend it to me. I managed to borrow a Demon Fuzz album off her for about a year once. There’s a really Demon Fuzz LP. That was actually her sister’s husband who was the lead singer in Demon Fuzz, so she wanted it back because she realized and I had to find my own copy of that but she’s still got one or two. They’re all record collectors. They’re all into Trinidadian music. Its something I’ve encompassed as well as part of the natural thing.
Is there anything about calypso music from Trinidad & Tobago that you think makes it particularly special or is it just that same funky-ness you were looking for in James Brown record?
Well, I’m into funk myself. What I would find, particularly with the Jamaican Trini music, the musicianship on this stuff is second to none. They’ll do a soul track or they’ll do a funk track and you can kind of tell maybe with the accent. You can hear a bit of an accent but its as funky and the musicianship is as good as if they were behind James Brown or if they were behind whoever and its amazing. I don’t think its really been told, that story, to that extent for some of the musicians in Trinidad. Obviously you’ve got the musicians in Jamaica, the Skatellites, those guys, that story’s been told, but in Trinidad the musicians haven’t really been singled out. Toby Tobas the drummer, the UFO guys, these guys were amazing musicians and that story still needs to be told.
Have you ever had a chance to go out to Trinidad & Tobago?
No, we’re still waiting to go to Trinidad. We’ve been to Dominica to look for records there. My father-in-law is from Dominica so we went there but no, I’d love to go to Trinidad. I’ve got records waiting there, I really have. I’ve been to Barbados and bought records there and I’ve got records in Barbados waiting for me. Running a business and combing the two, its only me, it’s a family business, we don’t have staff. We have people who fill in for us but its really me and Annie and that’s it really.
You mentioned before a lot of the calypso records you were getting were from family members. Is that still the case?
I’ve got some guys that supply me with Trinidadian records all the time. The word is out. We’re the place for it and people bring me stuff but there’s nothing better than getting on the ground and going to Port of Spain. I know certain places have been dug out but there are always records in people’s homes and collections and things. That’s where you’ll get the stories behind the records as well. I don’t want to go to some distribution warehouse and buy six hundred copies of this and thirty of that. I’d rather go “oh, you’ve got this record”, talk about it and learn a bit more. Where the record came from, how good it is, you know? People have relationships with records and music. Part of the shop is that, getting to know people through their collections.
Is there anything you have in at the moment that you find particularly exciting?
We’ve always mainly been second hand records, collectable records and interesting records but we’re always thinking of dabbling in new releases, certain new releases. That’s an area we might lean into soon because there’s a really interesting jazz scene at the moment with these young guys making amazing jazz records. We’d like to get into that and some of the funk 45’s that are still coming out as reissues. There’s a lot of that we’d like to get into. We’d like to get more rock music in and good Rolling Stones records but the area we are in, no one really brings us that stuff. We get a lot of black music, a lot of reggae, soul, that kind of stuff. It would be nice to get a wider variety of music in but you can’t do everything at once.
You mentioned you had plans for the 20th anniversary of the shop next year, is there any specific celebrations in the works?
We’ve just been talking, about it. We’ll probably have a street party. We’ll probably invite…basically, a lot of our customers are DJs going since the ‘60s. When you hear these guys play, they’ve got records that you don’t even know exist, I’m not even exaggerating. Top reggae DJs in London and the UK come in here. The funk collectors, they come in here. Everyone goes everywhere really but they particularly come here. We’ll invite some shop friends and some shop customers to play. I’m sure we’ll do a couple of things, maybe something at Servant Jazz Quarters – a few bits and pieces.
Do you have any tips for anyone coming to Eldica for their first time? Where should they start?
Just come in. Don’t be shy, come and say hello. We’re not going to bite. In the ‘80’s a lot of the shops in Soho were scary to go into because the guys had attitudes behind the counter. When you were young it did take confidence to go into some of these record shops. We’re not like that. We’ll talk to anyone and we’re interested to know about you and what you’re into and we’ll help you where we can. It helps, a lot of the time we get fourteen year olds in who have never handled a record before and they’ll come in and buy their first record and that means we’re part of their experience. They’re going to remember us for the rest of their life. They’re going to think, “Where did I buy my first record? Oh, I bought it here, Eldica” and that’s what we want. We’re part of the community and that’s what its all about.
This interview was carried out and written by Sean Keating.