Hailing from Northampton, a town of cobbled squares and well made shoes, Paul Hillery has been exercising his tastes in folk funk and AOR grooves for decades. Inimitable is his knowledge and passion for collecting these oddities, he began to share them with the world via his Youtube channel and mix series, Folk Funk and Trippy Troubadours. Having spent a number of years touring with American choral rock group Polyphonic Spree as their DJ, he’s also had been behind the decks at audiophile space Spiritland.
Here he talks candidly about his relationship with records and how music helped him through his battle with mental health. This sits alongside a beautiful mix of folk funk treasures and AOR gems.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
My musical education was definitely not from my parents. They had little interest in music. I think they had one Brenda Lee LP, an Elvis best of, and Alan Freeman’s History Of Pop compilation, and that was it. I’ve never known my Dad to play a record or even talk about music to be honest.
I guess I sort of stumbled my way musically. I really liked more experimental sets when I started playing out but ended up having to tame things down to get gigs in my home town… I did get asked not to come back a few times! Through playing support sets at the Roadmenders I met the Polyphonic Spree and toured as their DJ for a few years.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
Love and addiction. One reason I love vinyl is I have a terrible memory but I’m very good at recognising artwork. I’m a graphic designer by trade so a lovely big album cover is especially easy for me to remember. But digging is like any other drug really, it’s a desire that I can’t really explain. It still gets me excited. I think it’s a hang over from our hunter gatherer days, we just have to collect something.
I’ve passed the music bug on to my kids too. They have really open minds. My vinyl was everywhere but luckily growing up neither of them ever scratched a record. They always seemed to know how special those slabs of wax were.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
Unfortunately my vinyl collection has taken a massive hit over the last couple of years and I’ve had to let a lot go. Saying that, there is still vinyl in every room. I have them filed in a pretty boring way for a collector: most of the albums are by genre and alphabetical. 45’s are in lot’s of lovely boxes and all over the place. I don’t file them, I like searching through them and finding things I’d forgotten about.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
I don’t tend to find the things I’m after in the local record shop very often. I do try to dig and find cheaper things more than the big well known expensive stuff. I used to go to San Francisco every year and hunt around for a week buying up stuff. The Amoeba $ bins were great back then. I get both elated and overwhelmed in record shops; my brain just goes to mush and I forget everything. Back before the internet I would always carry a notepad with me that had a list of wants.
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores around the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
For me it’s totally about the records. I’m not what you’d call a people person. That’s why I ended up hiding behind the decks. Although I have met some amazing fellow obsessives through online forums and groups. Very Good Plus introduced me to so many friendly people. I love it when people share, and hate secret squirrels. I always put up a track list with my mixes. I just curate them, it is the long lost artists that should be applauded.
I would have to shout out Peter Beaver, Sie Norfolk, Rhys Jones, Chris Maude, Danny McLewin, Mark GV Taylor and Les Fisher. Dixy & Roger. Marky T who used to shower me in Pinnacle promos and would always drive me around to gigs. Not forgetting Matthew Hamilton from AOR Disco, who helped get my AOR Disco mixes heard by lot’s more people on Soundcloud (before the cull!).
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search for strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
These days I dig on my own, but back in the day I would dig with my mate Dixy. We would have some wonderful sessions playing each other a mad mix of stuff for hours and hours. He’s living in New York now, so I went over a few years ago to go digging in Williamsburg. One chap in Co-op Records knew of my AOR Disco mixes so he dug a box of Private Press LP’s from behind the counter for me to rummage through.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
You can sort of get a feeling about some records, a sixth sense, but a lot of times I got it completely wrong. Before the internet I would buy up lots of stuff from charity shops, back when they were 10p an album, and spend afternoons trying to find something on one of the many punts. I have a lot of ‘one tracker’ albums. I look at the instruments and session musicians, studio used etc. Anything with a flute and I’ll give it a whirl.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
We all buy records because of the covers occasionally. Some can have the most amazing art. As I mentioned earlier, covers help me remember the record after I’ve bought it. My memory is awful; sometimes I would have to take a list for longer sets and I tick off tracks to make sure I don’t play things twice.
You run a mix series called Folk Funk & Trippy Troubadours, could you tell us a bit about it?
Like a phoenix from the Vinyl Vultures flames the Very Good Plus forum emerged. It introduced me to some lovely records and some even lovelier people. Every December they would do a swap. You would record your mix, burn lots of copies and post them to whoever had volunteered to do the sorting and shipping (usually the lovely Ian Townsend). Then a week before Christmas a parcel would arrive with anything from 25 to 45 CD’s full of joy that other vinyl obsessives had put together.
There was a guy called Ian who would do these truly wonderful mixes with folky funk on. I had a lot of this type of music for my own pleasure but had never thought about recording a whole mix with them. That was my inspiration, I started and haven’t stopped. The series is a way for me to process my collection again.
There is also a Facebook group which was a big surprise to me. Les Fisher started a group using my title ‘Folk Funk & Trippy Troubadours’ and a whole new audience appeared. It’s all about sharing and inspiring.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
It’s a mix of Folk Funk and AOR but I will let the records do the talking:
Crossection – Annika
Roberta Flack – I Can See The Sun In Late December
Billy Miller – DayoNiyo
Michael McGinnis – October Country
Mathieu – And Life Goes On
Follies Bazaar – Blue Sea
Alex – I Gotta Feel Something
Valerie Lagrange – Un Signe De Toi
Nicole Rieu – Les Hommes Heureux
Pino Daniele – Yes I Know My Way
Druick & Lorange – Joshua
Michael de Albuquerque – Sweet Mirth
Tranquility – Silver
John Tropea – In This Time
Steinwolke – Pepe Im Urwald
Henri, Paule, Agnes Et Leon – Aspirer, Souffler
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
Picking one is like picking a favourite child! But Joshua always hit’s the spot.
Finally, what have you got coming up for the rest of the year that you’re looking forward to?
Well it’s December so not much of this year left. It’s been a bit of hard one for me. I’ve been suffering with social anxiety and depression pretty bad for the last 18 months or so. I believe it’s important not to create a stigma around mental health. Too many people are battling with it alone. At this time of year it somehow gets even harder. You have a feeling you are supposed to feel happier because the lights are twinkling and the black dog isn’t there any more. So I would like to say, just try to be there for someone if you can.
Music has helped me cope. Somehow I don’t feel alone when I put on my vinyl. My online mixes can mirror my mood. But they can help bring me out of a fog. It’s amazing the effect music has on me. It’s always been like that. When the black candy starts its rotation, and the needle hits the groove, I can breath again.
Subscribe to Paul’s YouTube channel where he shares his favourite digs.