At Home With Pat Nevin
The Scottish international footballer Chelsea fans knew and loved as Wee Pat is also a fanatical vinyl collector. Gary Walker visits his Berwick home to hear about a life dedicated to records…
He played 28 times for Scotland and made more than 600 appearances during an illustrious professional career that saw him line up for Everton and Chelsea and play in an FA Cup Final before hanging up his boots to become a TV pundit celebrated for his cerebral analysis of the sport. Yet despite devoting four decades of his life to football, Pat Nevin has never loved the beautiful game as much as he loves vinyl.
Influenced by his older siblings, Nevin developed a deep-rooted passion for records in his childhood that would see him go on to collect thousands of albums and seven-inches, befriend legendary DJ John Peel, become a DJ himself, and even leave a professional football match he was playing in at half-time to go to a gig at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
Nevin was a rarity in the football world – an intellectual stimulated by art, literature and most of all, music. His vinyl-collecting journey began in his home city of Glasgow in the 1970s, with the sounds of prog giving way to punk and post-punk, before a move to the bright lights of London saw him sharing a flat with NME writer Adrian Thrills and becoming best mates with Cocteau Twin and Bella Union founder Simon Raymonde. However, despite that enviable musical CV, Nevin admits to being embarrassed about the first record he bought.
“I inherited a lot of good stuff from my older brothers and sisters, but I have to be honest, the first album I bought was a double concept album by Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. In those days, I liked a lot of Pink Floyd and Genesis. I wasn’t a total prog fanatic, but I did like Yes, too.
“Quite soon after that, when I was 14 or 15, punk began to happen and I started to listen to John Peel’s show. I remember the days when Peel’s Festive 50 was part Stairway To Heaven and part Anarchy In The UK. A lot of people my age were like that. It was maybe more late punk and post-punk when I got involved, going to see a lot of bands and buying lots of vinyl.
“John Peel was kind of my hero. I didn’t have football heroes, oddly enough. I liked football, and I supported Celtic and admired the players’ skills, but it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to have a picture of a footballer on my wall. I was into literature and music and there were pictures of bands on my wall.”
“Chelsea asked me if I’d write a column for the Chelsea FC newspaper. I said, ‘as long as it’s a music column, ’cause I know bugger all about football.”
As the 80s dawned, Nevin discovered Factory Records, eagerly collecting Joy Division and later New Order records, and he was already juggling his burgeoning footballing career with immersing himself in the flourishing Glasgow music scene.
“The first real punky band I liked was Siouxsie And The Banshees, and I just missed seeing Joy Division live,” he says ruefully. “One of the big moments I remember was buying the original 12″ of Ceremony by New Order, which was a massive piece of vinyl for me – I bought it just after Atmosphere by Joy Division, and to this day, they’re two of my most treasured pieces of vinyl – I still love them to death… early Cocteaus, any of the stuff by the Associates sounds beautiful on vinyl; Belle And Sebastian and Camera Obscura is all brilliant on vinyl, my Postcard Records stuff… I love the artwork, too. I love the artwork from Factory Records, and every piece of Durutti Column vinyl – I would die for that on a desert island, it’s so perfect on vinyl, all the 4AD stuff, too…
“I was a complete fanatic of Bowie as well. The Berlin years – Heroes and Low. I could see a crossover where you could absolutely adore Bowie and love Joy Division and The Cure and bands that were coming through in Glasgow, too, like Johnny And The Self Abusers, who became Simple Minds… Every time a Simple Minds single or album came out, they were bought the day they came out. Empires And Dance and the first couple of Simple Minds albums were great, and then the Postcard Records stuff started happening. Early Aztec Camera… I loved Altered Images, partly because of the music, partly because of another reason – which is odd, because I ended up going out with Clare [Grogan, the band’s singer]. I became a huge record collector. I was playing football, I was also a student, it was a brilliant period of my life.”
John Peel’s wingman
After moving to the capital in 1983 to join Chelsea for £95,000, Nevin, by now sharing a flat with NME writer Adrian Thrills, struck up a friendship with John Peel that saw him acting as a secret, unofficial, unpaid production assistant on the the legendary DJ’s BBC show.
“I moved down to London, which was great for me, because all the bands played in London,” says Nevin, quick to return the conversation to music. “I’d started writing when I was a student, so Chelsea asked me if I’d write a column for the Chelsea FC newspaper. I said, ‘Okay, as long as it’s a music column because I know bugger all about football.’
“I didn’t have a great interest in it. I didn’t go and watch it a lot – my love of it was artistic, so I was a Chelsea player but I’d go and watch Spurs and stand on The Shelf [the infamous old terrace frequented by the Spurs hardcore, Ed] every Wednesday night to watch Ossie Ardiles, Micky Hazard and Glenn Hoddle. I’ve never been very tribal about football, but I am about music.
“I was writing the column and I thought, ‘Why don’t I interview John Peel?’. I wrote him a nice letter saying I worked for a little newspaper in West London and asked for an interview. I got a lovely reply a week or two later saying he was very busy and maybe another time. So, the one time in my life I’ve done a subtle namedrop, I wrote back and said the reason I’d like to do the interview soon was that I played for Chelsea and we were playing against John’s team, Liverpool, in three weeks.
“Two days later, the phone goes. It’s John and he says, ‘Why didn’t you say?!’. We met up, the interview went great and from then on, we used to meet up at gigs all the time. I’d quite often go on the show, and we had a gentlemen’s agreement he never mentioned I was on. He’d say, ‘We’ve got a famous footballer in tonight,’ and I’d go in and help out, take the bands’ details to pay their royalties, and that sort of thing – we just became really great friends. I didn’t do it all the time, because I didn’t want to be a pest, but we were a great group of friends, and I thought it was important to have a completely different life away from football, as it can take over your life.”
“I’d bring in vinyl for one or two…I made mixtapes for Graeme Le Saux, and Paul Canoville was into some heavy dub reggae”
The friendship with Peel endured through the years and Nevin, having retired and taken up a job as an expert pundit for Channel 5 and the BBC, was always invited to the DJ’s legendary landmark birthday parties, never making it due to work commitments – until Peel’s 55th.
“Sheila [Peel’s wife] phoned and said, ‘Are you coming this time?’. My favourite band at the time, Camera Obscura, were playing. I came off the phone and spoke to my wife and realised I’d organised to do a charity golf competition in Scotland on the Friday morning and the Saturday morning – and John’s party was the Friday night. How the hell could I do it? My wife said, ‘You can’t, you’ll have to phone Sheila back.’ I said, ‘I’ve got to be there. I don’t know what it is, but I have to be there.’ I’m not a wealthy ex-footballer, but I said, ‘I’ve got to be there, even if I have to charter a private plane, I’m going to be there.’ She said, ‘You’re nuts, you’re off your head.’ I worked out I could finish the golf, fly to Stansted by three, get to the party, stay ’til midnight and be back on the golf course by nine the next morning. It was the most brilliant night, Camera Obscura were great, John was the best I’ve known him… John was painfully shy, but that night the shyness wasn’t there, he was like John on the radio, in his element.
“Delia Smith was there, she was great friends with John, and we all had a great laugh. I flew home, and John was dead two weeks later. I’d lost a friend and a hero. My wife said to me, ‘You’ve never said anything like that, about needing to be somewhere,’ and I’m not spiritual or anything like that, but my whole body was telling me to be there that night. One of the last sessions he did was The Fall. I’m a Fall fanatic. I remember going to buy the new album, Fall Heads Roll with Blindness on it, and thinking, ‘This will be the last time I ever go and buy a piece of vinyl recommended to me on Peel’s show.’ He was such a massive part of my life. I was really upset, and the guy behind the counter was looking at me as if I was nuts.”
With Nevin, who has an art degree from Glasgow Caledonian University, more interested in collecting art and vinyl than gambling and drinking, and being more of a fan of Belle And Sebastian than Phil Collins, record shopping was never a passion he shared with his teammates. “I’d sometimes bring in vinyl for one or two of them,” he says. “I made a few mixtapes for Graeme Le Saux, and Paul Canoville was into some heavy dub reggae, but there weren’t many who knew much about music.
“I remember as a kid at Celtic Boys Club, at 14 or something, bringing in a new album by a band I liked, and them saying, ‘That’s shit, get it off!’, and that album was U2’s first record, which of course went on to become classic footballers’ music!
“My best friend in London was Simon Raymonde. Head Over Heels is still one of my favourite pieces of vinyl, and I’ve got a note written on it from Liz and Robin – they never even wrote lyrics on the albums they did! They played at the LSE and Simon was in the crowd. A few months later, he joined the Cocteau Twins and we bumped into each other before the gig, and for two or three years, we met every day.”
Blue (Monday) is the colour
During Nevin’s time at Chelsea, in the midst of negotiations with manager John Neal and the club’s infamous chairman Ken Bates over his new contract, he took the incredible step of asking to be left out of the squad for a match against Brentford in order to go to a gig.
“My memory is a bit messy about this,” Nevin recalls.
“I can’t remember if it was the Cocteau Twins or New Order, at the Royal Festival Hall. It was a friendly just before the start of the season, I’d done pre-season and I was phenomenally fit, as I was a distance runner as well – fitness was never a problem. I was signing my new contract at the time. Just before signing, I said to the manager, ‘I’ll sign it except for one thing – I don’t want to play in Monday night’s game. There’s a band on I want to see!’. He said, ‘You must be joking!’. Anyway, we worked it out and came to an agreement that I could leave at half-time. The chairman at the time, Ken Bates, thought I was a lunatic. They didn’t know how to deal with me, as I didn’t have an agent and wasn’t desperate to be a professional footballer – I could just go back and finish my degree if I wanted to…”
With his commentary work carrying him all over the UK and beyond, Nevin’s vinyl obsession continues, and he’s a regular guest DJ at cool London club night Scared To Dance.
“Sadly, I can never DJ with vinyl,” he says. “I have to travel so far to get to Dalston where I DJ, and to take that amount of vinyl on a flight would be impossible. It’s a brilliant night – it starts out at Belle And Sebastian and stuff like that and it gets quite wide, I play all sorts. Sometimes, there are people there a lot younger than me who don’t know what it is I’m playing!
“There’s a lot of stuff on Fortuna POP! right now that I love, and a lot of the vinyl I buy now is Fortuna POP!. The sad thing is the label is no more, as of this month. The vast majority of stuff on Fortuna POP! is great. I don’t buy anything for value, I collect vinyl in the same way as I collect paintings – because I like the work and the artist. My decision making is usually if they’re bands I like and they need the money, I’ll buy the vinyl.”
Despite his lifetime’s love affair seeing Pat amass a vast collection of vinyl, disaster struck a few years ago when mother nature conspired to destroy most of his collection. However, he’s keen to put an event that would have driven many collectors to depression into perspective. “Seven or eight years ago, I had a flood at my house in the basement, where all the LPs were,” he remembers. “I was away at the time, and about 70 per cent of it was flooded. It flooded, then dried and then heated, so a lot of it was destroyed beyond use. It had no effect on me, though, because the day before that I’d lost someone very close and dear to me – they died, and it put losing the record collection in ultimate perspective. Had it happened the week before, I’d have been in despair, but I put it in perspective. Life’s too short…”