I met Kelvin Jacobs, award-winning chef and proprietor of a Victorian guest house in romantic, quiet Lynton, North Devon and was astounded to find out that he once ran the Soho Jazz and Blues Record Shop in London’s seedy, lively buzzing Soho. You may remember the experience of going into the shop, browsing through the stock, listening to whatever was playing and chatting to Kelvin or other enthusiasts. The shop is no longer there - gone the same way as Dobell’s, Mole Jazz, and even Ray’s, now located somewhere near heaven at the top of Foyle’s bookshop in Charing Cross Road. I wondered how a jazz lover makes the journey from strident Soho to peaceful Lynton.

Jacobs was born in 1952 in Windsor, that town on the bank of the Thames which was home of the Riki Tik club. His uncle played double bass for many local small dance bands, but Kelvin’s interest in jazz began through listening to the likes of Georgie Fame at the Riki Tik, jazz/rock music of the late ‘60s early ‘70s, the sounds of Steely Dan and Soft Machine.

By the time he left school, Kelvin had moved further into NW London to Willesden Green. A friend mentioned that there was a job going at Trojan Records (Island Record’s reggae label) - a warehouse and driving job, but “It would really suit you!” It did, and for the next three years, he built up an insight into the record business and contacts with London record shops going to gigs most weekends to places like the Marquee, the Flamingo Clubs in Soho and the Roundhouse in Camden Town on a Sunday.

By 1973 however, he was not sure where the job was taking him, and so he ‘dropped out’ for a year and headed for Cornwall. A year later, however, he was back in London and back into the record business, this time working for President Records, run at that time by Eddie Kasner, a Jewish businessman from Eastern Europe who came from the wartime concentration camps by way of New York and Tin Pan Alley to open a great publishing house.

Whilst at President, Kelvin met Joop Visser, managing director at Charly Records. It was the mid-’70s, and it was Joop who encouraged Kelvin to listen to Be-Bop. The two of them would go regularly to Ronnie Scott’s Club in Soho’s Frith Street where they heard many of the greatRonnie Scott's Club jazz players including Art Blakey, Chet Baker, the Buddy Rich Big Band, Maynard Ferguson, Nina Simone, and many more, and hung out with others on the scene at that time. By now, Kelvin was working for Charly Records as a ‘jack-of-all-trades’, driving and ‘gophering’ for Joop Visser. He became involved in re-mastering music at Pye Studios and then took on Sales and Marketing at Charly. The job was a dream: it involved going on the road with a number of bands, being a Road Manager and promoting bands through television, including broadcasting sessions by Annie Nightingale.


In 1987, Kelvin Jacobs opened his own record shop in Walthamstow – ‘Note For Note’. It was a shop with a general music stock but specialised in Jazz and Blues. “I think music should be for everybody”, he says. “People should be able to buy the whole range in one place. I remember that there were a couple of albums I used to play in the shop – Ben Webster Encounters Coleman Hawkins and also Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section – and whenever I put these on they would sell. Customers would come up to me and say ‘Have you got anything else like that?’”

In 1992, Kelvin’s friend Joop rang to say that he had heard about a big record collection coming up for sale in Holland – was Kelvin interested? Apparently the head of Billboard for the Benelux countries was selling his collection of over 3000 albums. They headed for Holland and looked at the collection, all stacked and racked on the top floor of a tall, narrow house. It was a great collection, so they ‘did the deal’.

A Record Shop In Soho

The problem, however, was how best to sell them on. Kelvin was getting fed up with Walthamstow: the rent and rates had gone sky-high. Keith Stone of Daddy Cool Records in Soho said that the Blue Bird record shop in Berwick Street was becoming vacant and agreed to help fund Kelvin moving in. They called it ‘Rocking Sarah’, as a dedication to Keith’s sister in law.

But by 1995, times were becoming tough for the record shops of Soho with Dobell’s and Mole Jazz closing down. In the end, Keith amalgamated his own shop with another business and Kelvin struck out on his own, moving to other premises in Green’s Court, just off Berwick Street. He called the new shop Soho Jazz and Soul, and there he sold some memorabilia and records – new and second-hand vinyl and CDs, and the stock included a huge collection of 45 rpm records to the tune of somewhere around 20,000. They were interesting times and customers came into the shop because they were interested in the music, and because of where it was located customers such as Terence Stamp, Jonathon Ross, Steve Davis and Danny Baker were familiar faces.

Kelvin began to take his records to the large European Record Fairs – Milan, Paris, Barcelona and Amsterdam. With a transit van packed with stock he would head abroad, leaving behind a skeleton stock in Soho. It was also the time that American EBay started up – 1999/2000 – and Kelvin began to market his records and memorabilia online.

Being there at the start was a good move. A photograph of the Beatles sold for something like £5,500 and there seemed to be a call for pre-war blues and acoustic recordings, poor in quality as they might be. EBay sales increased and the shop sales fell.

While the online business was terrifically successful, working with a computer instead of face to face with customers was becoming unsatisfying. “The passion for music must be shared from the turntable to the ear!!” Kelvin says. “When I started I was getting people excited about music and it gave me a buzz to find new ears for the classic tunes like Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Art Pepper, John Coltrane and all the jazz greats. They still live on!”

North Walk House

Kelvin had started to take holidays in Devon some years before and he fell in love with the stunning landscape of North Devon – the South West Coastal Path and the expanse of Exmoor. He discovered a large, run-down family house overlooking the sea at Lynton and taking a bold step, sold off the record business and set out to restore the property as a guesthouse. Kelvin’s vision was much as it had always been through his life – to create a convivial environment for good food, good company and, of course, good music.

North Walk HouseIt says a lot for North Walk House that you found it recommended in the Alastair Sawday Guide, both for its accommodation and its food. Alastair Sawday tends to recommend accommodation that is of high quality but a little out of the ordinary. The dining was at a long table that will take up to the ten guests, and as you would expect, there was good jazz and blues playing – as important as the candle light and sea view as people chat around the table. Kelvin always believed that good food should go with good music, remembering what Ronnie Scott said about the food at his Club ‘It must be good – 5000 flies can’t be wrong!!’.

Kelvin ran the award-winning North Walk House with his partner, artist Liz Hallum. Liz grew up in New Orleans, with a sister who gigged with Lucinda Williams in back street dives, where the best music is to be found in Louisiana and became a jazz and blues enthusiast at a young age. In 2010, Kevin and Liz decided to move on from Devon and have now emigrated.

© Ian Maund and Kelvin Jacobs 2009-2014

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