Darren Griffiths, better known as Red Greg, cut his teeth DJing in the 80s but his real break came a lot later down the line. It was Floating Points’ You’re A Melody party, for whom he played for several times and contributed various edits for Melodies International, that kicked things off for him and opened his eyes to a new audience enthused by the sounds he’d grown up listening to.
Slowly but surely he’s gained notoriety on an international scale, building a reputation as one of the most knowledgable collectors around, dealing in the best kind of rare soul, funk and groove. His edits and releases have taken him to labels like Lumberjacks In Hell, Moton Records and Kojak Giant Sounds, as well as taking on curatorial duties for a rare soul and disco compilation on Joey Negro’s Z Records.
We chat to him about a lifetime spent collecting records alongside a vinyl-only mix of some of his favourite Gospel records.
Red Greg will play all night long with Nick The Record at Patterns on 13th July.
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?
Growing up in the 70s, records and tapes were the norm, therefore most households had some form of record collection – ours included. I remember being very young and finding a pile of records in the loft. I can still remember that one record stood out above all the rest – it was Stevie Wonder’s ‘For Once In My Life’. This was my first introduction to soul music and I truly fell in love with it, playing it over and over – much to the annoyance of my parents. Another would be ‘Cassanova’ by Coffee. I first heard this at a street party and remember how uplifting it sounded, and I had to own the record.
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?
Like I mentioned, as I grew up in the 70s’, records were the most popular format. If you wanted a song then you purchased the record and over time developed a collection. After listening to so many different genres as a kid, I found that my heart was in soul and disco and my collection grew from there. At the age of 15 I purchased my first turntables and knew I wanted to DJ, from then on I always wanted something fresh to play and that hasn’t stopped.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I find it difficult to think around clutter but equally filing is not my thing. I try my best to store them neatly around my apartment and have the overflow in my parents spare room.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
I’d say Camden was my favourite spot in the 80s and early 90s because I could find so many good records every weekend. Unfortunately, those days are gone as so many records are now sold online. However, I still like digging in Amsterdam and Paris and had some nice finds in some of the smaller cities in the US.
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?
Sean P instantly springs to mind for sharing his knowledge and has a great memory for records. As for characters, a recent encounter would be the African Record Centre in Brooklyn. That place was steeped in history and I spent hours chatting with the owners.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?
There are plenty of illusive records that I’m after and I’ll get back to you on what they are once I find them.
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
I don’t think anyone would honestly enjoy a digging friend saying “oooh shit! Look what I just found” as they hold up a rare record you’ve lusted after for many years. Ideally, if seriously digging I prefer to be alone and at my own pace.
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 used to find record shops a little daunting because I’ve encountered some moody shop owners over the years. After checking out the wall and the bins, it’s always nice to find a store with a listening booth as this allows you the opportunity to listen to records your less familiar with.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
Artwork can be very misleading, so I don’t pay much attention. Many good rare albums have pretty bland stock images so you never know what to expect. I remember buying a gospel collection 10 years ago and most of the albums with funky looking sleeves were crap but the ones with a picture of a butterfly, rainbow or clouds were the good ones.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
The brief was to do a themed mix, and I considered several options but was limited with time. I then noticed I had a pile of gospel records sitting on the floor that I’d been meaning to put away and I suddenly had a lightbulb moment and went with mostly a gospel selection. It includes soul, disco and boogie inspired gospel and a few records I’ve been playing.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
Benny Cummings – ‘Purpose’ gets me every time, it’s a great cheap find and once you skip the intro it’s a real builder.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
I’ve always admired the Chicago collectors/DJs, there’s way too many to mention but they always seem to surprise me with their discoveries. Some that come to mind outside of Chicago include, Mark Gurney (London) Jussi B (Helsinki) Josh Goldman (Las Vegas) Lighthouse Crew (Stockholm) and Lars Bulnheim. I would also add Floating Points and GE-OLOGY, two collectors I’ve played b2b with as we seem to have similar tastes and we complement each other.
And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
There’s plenty of amazing young DJs playing great music and there seems to be a lot of serious young collectors around Europe, although I’m sure there’s many all over the world.
Can you talk us through your early days of digging? Before the internet and Discogs made records so easy to acquire…
I think digging back then was more exciting, but you had to travel to find what you wanted. You could also find loads of great records locally; I’d hit Hackney and South London for the 2-Step and rare groove, then North London and Essex for Disco, Soul and Boogie records. It wasn’t all physical digging back then because you had a few mail order companies with Soul Bowl being best for by far.
In your experience, how has collecting records changed over the years?
It’s changed drastically, you have so many boutique stores selling overpriced records but generally nothing you can’t buy online for the same price or cheaper. Something I find annoying is when stores don’t price the records but will then use the highest listed online price at checkout.
Do you think it’s now a rich person’s sport?
In some ways yes with the increase in prices. However, there is still many an amazing record to be found hidden away on a cheap album or major twelve that’s worthy of any collection.
It’s evident through your Under The Influence compilation that you like to dive deep into the history of music. Personally, do you think it is important that you have an understanding of the context and story behind the records you play?
I was taken aback when initially asked to present a new compilation series for Z Records. My instant focus was on a selection that reflected me and the sound I was playing at the time. I’ve always benefited from knowing a records background, especially those involved in its production. I’m always fascinated to discovery the story behind some of the records I play as it makes you appreciate them that little bit more.
Red Greg will play all night long with Nick The Record at Patterns on 13th July.