Broadcaster, DJ, event curator and, more covertly, a producer and musician, Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy is one of the UK’s key voices in vinyl culture, spoken journalism and disco-indebted dance music.
Even during her early years in a small, suburban New England town, she was a self-confessed radio addict and immersed herself with her relatives’ far-reaching record collections. Bigger cities, and their record shops, soon came calling. As did the struggles as a female collector in a male-dominated world. Not that she let that discourage her voracity to learn and listen as much as possible, coming to work at no less than four record shops, including Joe Claussell’s Dance Track Records with previous Stamp Mix guest Jenifa Mayanja.
Now a long-time resident in London, she is co-founder of the Lucky Cloud Loft Party with David Mancuso, which she continues to run as it approaches its 15th birthday this June. Classic Album Sundays is also her baby, now educating people across four continents about eminent albums of all genres. Holding down two monthlies on Worldwide FM and regular DJ gigs, the most impressive part of all this is that she found time to take part in this series at all. Alongside an all-vinyl 90 minute mix themed around percussive and dubby records, she’s spoken to us about a life spent collecting records.
Colleen plays Kala Festival 2018 (20th-27th June), hosting her own Cosmodelica stage on Wednesday.
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 early musical education was ignited by the radio and my uncles’ and aunts’ record collections. I was a radio addict from an early age and this was my first proper introduction into music. I remember getting a little transistor radio for Christmas and when I turned it on Silver Convention’s ‘Fly Robin Fly’ was playing. I was hooked. In my adolescence, my father gave me an old GE Trimline portable turntable for my bedroom and that is when I started raiding my Uncle Dennis’ record collection and got turned onto full albums by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Crosby Stills & Nash and what was to become my favourite album at the age of 12: The Moody Blues’ concept album Days of Future Passed. My Aunt Pauline had more avant-garde tastes and turned me onto Kate Bush’s debut album (which was not very popular in The States). My Aunt Theresa gave me my first record which was Elton John’s ‘Greatest Hits’ and I used to make my way through my Uncle Brian’s record collection when I babysat my cousin Kevin. So yes, it was something of a family effort.
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?
In my early teens, I started listening to college radio and WBCN’s specialty Sunday night show, Nocturnal Emissions, which is where I first heard Brian Eno. My musical tastes were expanding beyond the confines of my small suburban New England town and so I started going into Boston where I shopped at places like Nuggets and Planet Records in Kenmore Square. I was a bit of an anomaly as the record shop clerks couldn’t understand why this 15-year-old girl wanted to buy the copy of Roland Rahsaan Kirk that they were playing in the shop! I just loved and still love discovering great music and have very open ears. Sometimes I would buy records just for their cover or for their name – like the Peanut Butter Conspiracy!
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I’m lucky to have a record room and the records are divided into many sections. I need to be able to find things easily so that I can access a lot of different kinds of music for my various endeavors such as Classic Album Sundays, my Worldwide FM radio shows or DJing and musical hosting. Most of the albums are alphabetized by artist, but I do have a few special sections for Latin, Brazilian and African albums. My 12-inch singles collection is pretty vast so it’s divided into categories: disco is alphabetized; contemporary dance music is organised by either label, artist or country; cross-over indie-dance is arranged by decades; and broken beat/nu-jazz, hip hop, dancehall/reggae, Afro-funk and Latin all have their own sections. It’s a system that makes sense for me so that I can find things as quickly as possible although I sometimes still have trouble!
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
I’m not telling! I’m joking, of course. My favourite spots are in the suburbs where I visit the low-profile record shops that don’t necessarily specialise in dance music as the records aren’t as picked over. I still buy a lot of rock and jazz as I always have done and most of the second-hand shops I frequent outside of major cities have more palatable prices. I still love shopping in Japan as I usually have a free day during which I can indulge myself. I like the way the shops organise the records and have listening stations so that I can discover new music.
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 round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
I worked in four different record shops and worked with a lot of colourful characters. In fact, I could be one, myself. I enjoyed working with like-minded music obsessives who specialised in a certain genre of music. When I was 16 I worked at Strawberry Records & Tapes and the manager was a Bruce Springsteen fanatic who turned me onto his great albums. The assistant manager turned me onto jazz (including Charles Mingus’ The Saint and the Sinner Lady, which is still one of my favourite albums). Another assistant manager was into 60’s psychedelia and paisley pop and turned me onto The Sonics and The Three O’Clock and then another guy was into electro and early hip-hop and funk. Another was into punk and new wave and it just snowballed from there.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be elusive over the years?
A Near Mint copy of Charles Earland Drifting 12-inch or Brainstorm We’re On Our Way Home for under £100. I know I could just go for it and spend the money, but I still prefer the hunt.
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?
Overall I like being by myself so that I can concentrate and move as slowly or quickly as I like.
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?
I have a want list so that helps and if the shop has a listening station then I can discover music that I don’t know. That is my favourite. But the search isn’t the only reason a record shop can be a daunting experience. For many years it was daunting for a lot of females and there were certain shops where I felt uncomfortable as I couldn’t get any help or was condescended to. I myself have worked in many shops and I now see more women working behind the counter, which is much more welcoming for sister record collectors.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
If something has an interesting cover, I’m more likely to give it a listen.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
This is definitely a percussive and dubby mix for dancing. I put together both old and contemporary music sprung from Africa and the African diaspora so there is Afrobeat, digital dub, Latin disco, Anglo-African Afro-funk, modern re-edits and it finishes with my favourite Jamaican singer of all time. Some of it is mixed and some isn’t which is how I usually like to play records. I recorded it at home on my Bozak.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
The opening of the mix is like a little prayer. Its taken from a recording by Les Troubadours du Roi Baudoin of the Missa Lubba, a setting of the Latin Mass sung in a traditional style found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s a beautiful and magical recording.
Between Classic Album Sundays, Lucky Cloud, Worldwide FM and DJing, you’ve got more than enough to keep you occupied in a musical capacity. Do you still like to find time to go record shopping or is it more about rediscovering parts of your pre-existing collection?
I still find time to go shopping into stores for new records – places like Phonica and online shops like Juno. I also buy used records on Discogs but I still love digging in the second-hand stores, especially ones with listening stations as I always like to be turned onto records I don’t know. And I still rediscover records in my existing collection and that is very rewarding because it brings me back to a certain time in my life and it’s free!
And finally, is there anything coming up on your horizon with CAS and Lucky Cloud that’s getting you excited?
This June marks the 15th anniversary of Lucky Cloud and I’m really proud of our collective achievements – the fact that we are still going strong and that our musical family continues to expand is something that I do not take for granted. We have an amazing team behind Lucky Cloud and I’m wishing them all a Happy Anniversary. We have recently re-launched the Classic Album Sundays website so that people can access content like our video interviews, podcasts, playlists and blogs much more easily. As we now have Classic Album Sundays satellites in four continents, one can now find events and can sign up for a monthly newsletter that features only the events in their country so its much better for our community. And we have an amazing series coming up with the Royal Albert Hall for their Festival of Space. I will be joined by The Orb, Tom Middleton and Prog God Rick Wakeman. I look forward to properly spacing out.
Colleen plays Kala Festival 2018 (20th-27th June), hosting her own Cosmodelica stage on Wednesday.