Digging For Victory: The Mysterious Man of Bath
Our resident record-shop owner Mark O’Shaughnessy has an enlightening encounter with a spiritual wanderer… Then buys his vinyl.
Earlier this year, I had cause to stop and take stock of my own ‘outlook’ on life and music, due to the intervention into my world of somebody who was soooo unusual in his outlook that the conversations we had still resonate deeply with me.
It was a fairly mundane, still very chilly Wednesday afternoon last February, there were a few people in the store – nothing major going down – when a tall, skinny, barefooted man (in his late 30s, at a guess, no older) walked up to the counter and introduced himself. “My name is Arzachel, pleased to meet you.” I’d already spotted that he didn’t have any shoes on, this being a cold February morning, remember? I also quickly tried to remember where I knew that name from, but it escaped me.
Now – we get a lot of ‘unusual’ people in our central Bath store, mainly because it’s in a covered area, and also because record stores just seem to attract most of the world’s nutters… He offered me what I can only describe as a tassled camelskin bag and asked me if I was interested in buying his record collection, as he’d heard we paid well for rare prog/psych (we do) and he’d brought a few to give me an idea of what else he had to offer.
At this point, people like this normally produce a bag full of utter rubbish, which we often pay next-to-nothing for and pop straight into the £1 box. However, this was different. In my hand were three of the rarest prog/psych LPs I’d ever handled: Sam Apple Pie, The Way We Live and Stack Waddy, each bona-fide rares, each regularly changing hands for £300/£400/£500, each I had never, ever handled before. Wow. He seemed keen for me to visit him at his home. He said there were plenty more records… bring it on!
My companion on this trip to deepest, darkest Wiltshire was Sarah Bishop, who now also works for me in Revival Records. We got to the door and instantly smelt the scent of herbal tea. The door was already open. Inside was Arzachel, sat cross-legged on the floor, incense burning and a huge bong bubbling away to his right. We declined a hit and sat down on the velvet sofa in the corner – I smiled inwardly, because most of my best finds have been from people like this. We chatted for 20 minutes, drank herbal teas together and refused several more tokes.
Looking round the room, we saw little piles of ‘stuff’ our gracious host had collected over the years: pretty shells, a few acorns he’d foraged, some beautiful glass artefacts that seemed totally in-sync, a little bunch of leaves that had gone brown and brittle in the warmth of his room… just baffling, enchanting and mystifying all at the same time. Sarah and I were completely impressed and even a little in awe of Arzachel and his ‘calm’ persona.
Now, I guess there are ‘special’ people out there – people who have insights and visions, who ‘see’ things others cannot see. I believe Arzachel was one of these people. He told us about his life, his beliefs and his world – his was a thoroughly engaging and totally believable life story. I was totally riveted. He’d already crammed more into his 30-odd years on planet Earth than most people manage in a whole lifetime. Eventually, we got down to it and he said: “Would you like to see my record collection?” In the adjoining room, he pulled back a velvet curtain to reveal three rows of albums – all spine out, but not in any order. Holy shit. What a collection – every Hawkwind, every Gong, every Amon Düül, every Camel, every Caravan, every Tangerine Dream, every Neu!, every Kraftwerk, and so on. It was like a prog/krautrock A to Z, people, just amazing to see these records all in the same place, all in beautiful condition. It was definitely the most extensive prog collection I’d ever laid eyes on.
It felt a bit out of place to start discussing money, but it had to be done. I spent a good two hours looking through and then made what I felt to be a very fair offer, which he accepted unquestioningly, and that was that. We then all sat down again and talked away happily for another couple of hours. I still believe this guy was one of the most interesting and idiosyncratic people I had ever met on my record-buying travels – and his collection was totally peerless. Now, where have I heard that name before…?!