Crash landing the gig

Leeds vinyl guru Ian De-Whytell on why it’s time to hand over Crash Records to his partners – and his secret to getting Sir Tom Jones to play in a small venue in the city

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It’s not unusual for Sir Tom Jones to sell out huge arenas. The legendary 81-year-old singer could choose any several thousand-seater venue he wanted.

But on 31 August in Leeds, those lucky enough to have tickets will see Sir Tom perform in a 400-seat club, the Brudenell, in the Hyde Park area of the city.

“The idea that you can stream music or have it on a hard drive doesn’t cut it with a lot of people.”

How do you persuade a knight of the realm and one of the country’s top talents to perform in a small club? One man knows: Ian De-Whytell, owner of Crash Records in Leeds since 1998. Sir Tom is not the only big name he’s persuaded to play at the Brudenell. The Kaiser Chiefs, Elbow, Suede, Lewis Capaldi and many more have all stepped on to the stage there.

“Basically, we’ve been approached by the record companies to arrange album launch events. We sell album plus ticket bundles and the record companies seem to think the smaller venue works and the artists love it because they can see the whites of the eyes of the audience,” says Leeds-born De-Whytell nonchalantly, underplaying his lifetime career in the music business.

Crash Records is fabled in Leeds, opening first near the university in 1985 before moving to the two-storey yellow and black-fronted shop on the Headrow in the city centre. It stocks thousands of vinyl recordings, many rare collectors’ items – a utopia for any music fan.

“I worked as a rep for Sony Music and used to call on the shop,” recalls De-Whytell. “One day the owner, an old friend of mine, Steven Mulhaire, said he was wanting to sell and asked if I was interested. I was reaching a sort of crossroads in my career and thought ‘why not?’”

Within a couple of months of De-Whytell taking over in 1998, two record shops in Leeds closed and Crash picked up that business together with a lucrative ticket sales agency.

It was just at the start of the resurgence of LP sales. He has a theory as to why so many people still want to buy vinyl.

“It goes against all logic in many ways. There is something deeply ingrained in our DNA to collect things. The idea that you can just stream or have it on a hard drive doesn’t cut it with a lot of people. They want something they can hold, look at, put on a shelf with other things they like. Lots of younger people buy vinyl and LPs though. We think of them as the shuffle generation and the idea that this ritual we go through of taking a record out of a sleeve and putting it onto a record player, putting a needle on and turning it over to put on side two is completely counterintuitive to the ‘want it now’ society – but it’s not.”

It’s often been the staff who have influenced what the shop stocks. “For example, Scott Gamble, one of my partners, loves soundtracks and over the years we’ve built up a huge soundtrack collection.”

At Crash, he used the tried and tested technique of record signings to move stock – something he used when he was an assistant manager at HMV in Leeds.

“I remember we had a large stock of Elvis Costello records. I approached the record company and asked if he would sign some. Once we advertised signed copies the stock flew off the shelf.”

This led to in-store signings by stars at Crash, which progressed onto the album launches.

“There is only really us and a shop in London that do them very regularly. We’re really quite privileged and very proud. They are very professional and special and unique events. It’s not something that happens across the country. Because of the logistics of this we couldn’t do it without the venues like Brudenell and the Wardrobe, which are brilliant.

“The first one we did was with Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbot and we sold 2,000 copies of their album. We love it on a personal level but everything about it is great. One of the highlights is standing in the doorway afterwards and seeing smiling faces. It’s really heart-warming. Paul and Jacqui can hold a crowd in an arena, but to be in that venue where you can almost reach out and touch them is amazing. Jacqui walked up and down the queue outside before, talking and having selfies.”

Like so many others Crash had to close during the lockdowns recently but their comprehensive online sales kept the business going, along with the government furlough scheme.

“We do a lot of online business anyway.People email from across the country to see if we stock a certain album. If we don’t, we’ll try our best to source it through our record company contracts.”

De-Whytell’s career in music was destined early on as the son of an electrician and dinner lady growing up in the East End Park area of Leeds.

“All my pocket money went in a local record shop, Scene & Heard. It was owned by Len Lyons and the Yorkshire Evening Post used to run a weekly competition, Len’s Ten. If you predicted next week’s top ten, you won a record voucher. I won it several times. The first LP I owned, which I bought with my winning record token, was Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.”

So began a lifelong adoration of David Bowie. “The first concert I went to was David Bowie at the Rollerarena in Leeds on 29 June 1973. I was 15 and I went to the matinee. So many people wanted to see him in Leeds he had to do two shows. The tickets were £1.25. Without wanting to sound cliched, it was a life-changing moment.”

He went on to see Bowie in concert about 40 times. In 2002, his former bosses at Sony invited him down to see his hero at the Royal Festival Hall.

“They knew I was a massive fan. After the gig there were only about 20 of us in the room and I had my Ian meets David moment. I had a little chat with him about the show and a photo with him. I was just completely buzzing because this was the guy whose music has been such an important part of my life. I felt like the 15 year old in the room.”

His career at Sony also gave his younger sister Rachel a memorable moment in her life.

“I took her to the Michael Jackson concert at Roundhay Park in 1992. The tour manager wanted a few local children to go up on stage and dance with Michael at the finale. He asked me if she would do it so Rachel went up.”

Aside from Bowie, De-Whytell’s other teenage passion was and still is, Leeds United. “We lived in simpler times in the 1970s. Listening to music and going down to Elland Road and seeing the mighty Leeds United as they were then in Don Revie’s time was my life. I feel a little bit spoilt growing up in those times having perfect glam rock and the height of the great Leeds United.”

The almost bluff Yorkshireman sounds humbly melancholic. He and his childhood pals, Kevin Smith and Ray Fensome, now Rick Astley’s guitarist, even made a record celebrating the club’s 1996 Wembley clash with Aston Villa.

Sir Tom’s appearance is going to be De-Whytell’s swansong. He’s handing over Crash Records to his two partners, Gamble and Paul Hodgson.

“I just felt it was time. My girlfriend and I live in a lovely house near a nature reserve. I’ve got into gardening and growing vegetables and long walks.

“It’s time to relax. It never crossed my mind to sell the business to someone else when there are people there with passion. I know they are going to take it forward with care and enthusiasm, which I know they already have. It will thrive. They will keep doing the album launches. We’ve more big names planned.”

As for Sir Tom: “We were hoping we would get two performances out of him but he’s 81 now and puts a huge amount into his performances and keeping his vocals in tip-top condition. It’s going to be pretty spectacular.”

Spectacular if you are one of the fortunate 400 ticket holders, that is. He laughs. “I know. I can’t even get a ticket for my accountant or sister-in-law.”

Photo: Lee Brown

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