THE HISTORY OF THE RECORD SHOP
Sonny and his wife Monica both worked hard and saved hard. Eventually they had saved enough money and in 1970 Orbitone Records in Willesden Junction opened it’s doors – his dream had become a reality. Aptly named Orbitone Records, synonymous to his dream, to sell different genres of music from all over the world.
The shop was hugely significant at that time because it was the only black owned record shop in the U.K that catered not only for Caribbean music but African music too. Sonny also catered for the Irish community due to the London Borough of Brent having a large number of Irish residents. Oribitone Records became extremely popular, creating interest throughout the U.K, Europe, America, Caribbean and Africa. Orbitone Records was the place to network in the music industry which inspired Sonny to create the slogan – “The Home of Black Music”. One of the great things about the shop was its location. Orbitone Records was situated in a large industrial area and minutes from Willesden Junction Station. The record shop was right in the hub of the factories – Mc Vities, Wall’s, Heinz, Guinness and British Rail all of which had predominantly West Indian, African and Irish immigrants working in them. The word spread quickly amongst these factory workers that there was a record shop local to them where they could buy music of their origin; so they descended on Sonny’s shop in droves! At times there were queues of people – especially during the run up to Christmas. Parties were being held so where best to get your vinyl’s? Orbitone Records!
In the 70’s and 80’s many black people had “house parties”. You could find one of these parties virtually on every street! Working hard during the week “house parties” were an ideal opportunity to dress up and meet up with your friends and let your hair down! They were friendly parties, usually serving large pots of Jamaican Curry Goat and Rice also Roti.
Sonny’s daughter Cleon worked in the shop from when she was very young and well into her adult years. She recalls seeing lots of the factory workers (men and women) coming into the shop and spending large amounts of money. “They would purchase so many records that they had to be packed in boxes that held 25 albums or 12″inch records in a box. It was quite a thrill seeing a customer leaving the shop with 2 boxes – sometimes more!”
Orbitone Records began getting plenty of interest from the BBC, Radio 1, popular DJ’s such as the late John Peel and Gary Crowley. They would visit the shop and purchase records for their radio shows. Sonny and John Peel formed a great relationship, sometimes they talked about music for hours. The record shop and Sonny started to attract many people from around the U.K and Worldwide. His passion for music was so great that he started to produce and write music, producing many different types such as Calypso, Afro Funk (Nigerian music), Reggae and Soca. Sonny always loved Calypso music and Soca music. He was the first person in Britain to import this type of music from Trinidad and other parts of the Caribbean, in doing so Sonny made Soca music hugely popular. Impressed, soca artists and managers came to Sonny to license their records! Hits such as: Hot Hot Hot – Arrow, Gipsy Love – Belinda Parker, Sugar Bum Bum – Lord Kitchener, Gimme De Ting – Lord Kitchener, Lorraine – Explainer to name but a few… He even launched the career in the late 70’s of one of Britain’s early Calypso singers the Roy Alton who recorded the popular album Carnival In Ladbroke Grove. Sonny became involved in sponsoring floats for the Notting Hill Carnival and even sponsored the DJ Martin Jay by giving him his first break as a DJ which later enabled him to inspire and mentor many DJ’s, artist, singer and producers. It is well known in the music industry that Sonny introduced Soca music to Jamaica! Neville Lee and Jason Lee of Sonic Sounds in Jamaica, are testament to this statement and cynics in the music industry said this would never happen, which always makes Sonny laugh out loud – even today!
Music legends and people in the music industry visited the shop, some on a regular basis, such as: American soul singer Denise Williams, Candi Staton, Shirley Caesar, Afrika Bambaataa, Flavour Flav of Public Enemy, The late great John Peel , Chris Blackwell, Jools Holland, DJ Gary Crowley, DJ Greg Edwards, Jazzie B, DJ Steve Jackson of Kiss FM, DJ Steve Walsh, the pop group Five Star, Musical Youth (Pass the Dutchie), Roger Aimes formerly VP at Polygram Records, Mike Wells, Leee John formerly of the band Imagination, Russell Fraiser – top Radio 1 plugger,Turbo B (Rapper in the band Snap), Omar, Gabrielle, DJ General Levy, Robert Livingstone, Rico Rodriquez, Cecil Wilson of RJR Jamaica, Gregory Isaacs, Sly and Robbie, Sir Coxone, Dennis Harris (creator of Lover’s Rock music), Homer Harris, Peter Harris (Kickin Music) Neville and Jason Lee (Sonic Sounds), Dennis Bovell, Lee Gopthal, Dennis Brown, Jackie Edwards, Dimple Hinds, Gladdy Wax, Owen Gray, Ken Boothe, The Mighty Diamonds, Winston Riley, Bunny Lee, Neville Willoughby, Dennis Lewis (Funkadelic Sound System), John Dub Vendor, DJ Steve Bernard, DJ Tony Williams, DJ Daddy Ernie, Eastwood and Saint, DJ Martin Jay, Lord Kitchener, Sparrow, Arrow, Explainer, Calypso Rose, Machel Montana, Beckett, Miss Pat of VP Records, DJ Alex Pascal, DJ Syd Burke, DJ Smokey Joe, Eddy Grant, Rudy Grant, Carlene Davis to name but a few…
By the mid 1980’s, Sonny inspired many others to open record shops, there were now about 7 record shops within the area of Harlesden, if not more! The area of Harlesden was now buzzing with musicians, singers, producers and DJ’s, it was a phenomenal time for Black music and artists. The British Music Industry started to take notice. Harlesden was one of the places to spot musical talent and quite a few artists received chart success, some artists even achieving British top 5 hits.
Sonny kept on going; he felt the urge to expand his business and in the 1990’s, he moved to larger premises in the same area – 78, Craven Park Road, London. The shop was called Spindle Records, it started off successfully but later the recession hit many businesses including Orbitone. Despite this, Sonny felt contented because he had achieved his goals, including a hit in the British Charts in 1987. He and his wife Monica returned home to Jamaica in 1997 where they are living happily in semi-retirement.