R.I.P. The One and Only Bill Allerton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Allerton is dead.  That was the impossibly sad news from our longtime mutual friend Colin Baker.  I was in upstate New York, two days after my daughter’s wedding, and two weeks after both of my parents had died (they were old, long divorced, and I was estranged from my father, but still…)  And now Bill. FUCK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Record collectors around the world knew Bill (above right) as the owner of London’s late lamented STAND OUT!! records, which, along with Bill Forsyth’s Minus Zero, certainly qualified as the strangest record store set-up ever (more about the legendary 2-in-1 shop and ‘The Bills’ here.)

In this post, I’m going to focus on Bill Allerton the man, who I was fortunate to count as a good friend for 48 years.

Bill’s TRM ad

I first ‘met’ Bill in 1974, via his classified ad in Alan Betrock’s pioneering record collector zine The Rock Marketplace; I bid on and won his Arnold Corns single (a Bowie rarity.) In the summer of 1975, when I traveled to London for the first time, I met him in person, along with his close friend and fellow collector Colin Baker. Sharing many musical and collecting interests, we all bonded immediately.  I’ve traveled to London maybe 35 times since then, and hung out with Bill every single time.  Almost always with Colin, as well.

When we met, Bill worked for Virgin Records. He’d studied hotel and restaurant management at university, and leveraged his accounting skills into a music business job.  But his true passion was for record collecting, particularly anything and everything by the Velvet Underground and Arthur Lee & Love.  He was almost certainly the first serious collector of either of these bands.

 

On Saturdays, Bill (often joined by Colin) sold records from a table at the Portobello Road market, sharing his expertise with his regular customers. He knew more than anybody about 60’s records, and I felt very lucky to have been adopted by the two of them.

Bill lived in a single room on the second floor of 7 Caldervale Road in Clapham–an address forever etched into my brain. It had a mattress on the floor, a sink and a hotplate, and was CRAMMED with stuff.  In a corner were floor to ceiling piles of 60’s music newspapers.  Multiple pinball machines, with the legs removed, were stacked on top of each other.  There were two or three ‘fruit machines’ (aka slot machines.) And of course thousands of records. The flat was too small for all of Bill’s things; on a staircase landing outside the door there was a bookshelf full of 45s, across from the shared toilet.  If you were careful, you could just about navigate around Bill’s stuff without hitting anything, via the narrow path he’d left.  Oh, do I wish I had a photo of that room.

I was in college then, working at Rhino Records in Los Angeles, and like Bill and Col, hustling rare records.  I’d come to London once or twice a year, lugging a suitcase filled with American rarities.  I’d trade them for UK records, which I’d sell on mailing lists and at the legendary Capitol Records record swap meet.

I’d travel for two or three weeks at a time, staying with Colin or at a B&B near Bill’s, and spend every waking hour looking for records.  When Bill wasn’t working, he was driving me around in his rickety Triumph Herald, traveling to record fairs, visiting collectors and dealers, and exploring every shop in London, continually on the hunt.

Bill was exceedingly generous with his time, knowledge and connections.  He introduced me to everyone he thought I needed to know, and told me which shops were worth ‘hitting’ while he was at work.  In those days it seemed Bill ate mostly fish and chips, and he was borderline obsessed with which chip shops were ‘must visits’ and which to avoid at all costs. We may not have considered the long term implications of this record collector zero-exercise lifestyle, but boy did we have fun– buying and selling records and discussing them endlessly with the similarly afflicted.

In the 2010s Bill (middle,) Colin (right) and I dined yet again at my all-time favorite fish & chips spot, George’s Fish Bar in Islington. Note Bill’s gloves, which he sometimes wore because of his eczema

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill was eccentric and idiosyncratic as can be.  But if you ‘got him’–and if he liked you–you’d have a friend for life. In the past week a number of his friends have told me virtually the same story–they’d come to England for the first time, perhaps with their partner or wife. Bill had driven them around, shown them the sights in London, taken them out to eat, and visited museums with them.  With some record shopping too, but that wasn’t the focus of it.

I spent thousands of hours with Bill.  We had so many crazy adventures.  Visiting Royce Radio in Brighton, owned by a grumpy-old-man who wouldn’t let anyone into his store.  There were rare records in the windows, but no one was allowed inside. You’d knock on the door, he’d open it, and you were allowed to ask if he had something. If he did, he’d disappear for a few minutes to get it.

One time Bill discovered that Roy Wood, mastermind of The Move and Wizzard, was playing a private show at a country club an hour or two from London.  Without telling me, he’d called the club and explained that a very important record executive from the States (me!) was was in town and really wanted to see the show.  I’m fairly certain Bill, Colin and I were the only non-club members allowed in.

Bill’s collecting was truly unpredictable.  In the mid 70s I’d managed to buy some of the original artwork from Velvet Underground albums.  Arguably Bill’s all time favorite group, right?  I showed up in London with the original album cover photo used on their third, self-titled album. THE original photo.  I’d brought this for him, thinking he’d be blown away. He could have cared less.  I almost had to force him to trade me something for it (and decades later, he sold it back to me.)  Though years later, he was truly excited when I found him an obscure Christian music album by Barry (‘Eve of Destruction’) McGuire, Anyone But Jesus, that featured Bryan MacLean of Love on a few tracks.  Go figure.

Bill had the most droll sense of humor.  At some point I’d asked if he could find a copy of an out of print book by Yardbirds/John’s Children manager Simon Napier-Bell.  A few months after Bill visited Los Angeles for the first time, I found the book in my bookcase.  He’d snuck it onto my shelf, saying nothing, knowing I’d find it eventually and my mind would be blown.  Which is exactly what happened.

In the early days, Bill refused to be photographed.  He never really explained it, he just objected strenuously when I tried to take his photograph. Once we were in a shop that had a computer display with a camera pointing outwards.  I subtly pointed my camera at the monitor and snapped the photo below. (Bill later mellowed on this prohibition, allowing my wife and I to take the odd picture of him, most of which are in this post.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While he never had a long term partner nor children, Bill loved kids.  When my daughters were maybe 8 and 12, Bill insisted on taking them out for the day and to dinner, ostensibly so my wife and I could have some alone time.  Everyone had a blast, and in a nod to their very specific requests, Bill dubbed them ‘The Terrorists.’

When the Velvet Underground reunited in 1994, I was working for Warner Bros. Records, their new label.  I went to the first show in Edinburgh, amazed to have the opportunity to see them live, and invited Bill to see the next show, in London.  I had us all fixed up–tickets, passes to the after-show party, very possibly the opportunity to introduce Bill to the band.  I thought he’d be thrilled, and again, he sort of shrugged.  Though he owned every record anyone in the group had ever breathed on, and had never seen them live, he was ambivalent.  I think it might have been fear of being disappointed, though he didn’t exactly say it.  He did come with me though, and seemed to enjoy it.

Bill’s success selling records had enabled him to buy a proper flat in Notting Hill.

For me, this photo taken in Bill’s flat has it all. The albums, the side of a fruit machine glimpsed through the door, rolled up posters. And Bill wearing his famous blue smock, glasses perched on his nose, bic pen in hand, pricing records he’s about to sell me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Bill closed the shop, he stepped up his interest in high-end audio gear, and developed a passion for fine dining and travel. He had great enthusiasm for the English chef Marco Pierre White, and was always consulting his restaurant guidebooks to find new and interesting places to try.  And he traveled to far flung places including Russia, Israel, Thailand, and even North Korea, where he’d enthusiastically attended a stadium event (from Wikipedia) ‘famed for the huge mosaic pictures created by more than 30,000  well-trained and disciplined school children, each holding up coloured cards, accompanied by complex and highly choreographed group routines performed by tens of thousands of gymnasts and dancers.’  He seemed to have really loved that.

Bill visited L.A. again in 2012; here, a record nerd dinner in his honor, L-R, me, Zach Cowie, Bill in the famous smock, Mark Arevalo, Gary Johnson, Geoffrey Weiss, Bob Say

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometime in the 2010s he’d been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, at which point he began paying more attention to his health. In 2017 he emailed ‘Retirement suits me well!  Spending too much on my hifi and listening to music all day long + getting down to the gym 4 times a week. Diabetes has to be treated seriously.’

The last time we got together was in February 2019, before Covid changed everyone’s lives.  Colin, Bill and I spent a great day together, seeing an exhibition of Andy Warhol’s polaroids, visiting Jimi Hendrix’s Brook Street Flat, shopping for records, snacking and generally catching up, before a fancier dinner with my wife Jody, who had been friends with Bill and Colin for close to 40 years.  Bill was open about his efforts to lead a healthier life, and seemed ‘same as he ever was.’

Bill, Colin and me in London, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since then, we’d been in sporadic touch via email, and he’d never mentioned any changes with his health, though other mutual friends mentioned he’d had bouts of dizziness recently.  At this point, no one knows exactly what happened to Bill.  Apparently he’d failed to show up for a scheduled get together with his friend Vernon Joynson, who went to Bill’s flat to check on him, but failed to get a response. Vernon alerted the police, who discovered Bill had died in sleep, peacefully.

Though Bill never had kids or a partner, from my perspective, he lived the life he wanted.  He’d budgeted carefully for many years, so he’d be able to retire with sufficient resources to travel, dine out and indulge in his hobbies.  He had many, many friends around the world, wide-ranging interests, attended thousands of concerts and arts and cultural events, traveled extensively, ate very well, and pretty much did exactly what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it.  He was truly one-of-a-kind, and while I’ll never get the chance to hang with Bill again, I’m very happy to have so many great memories of the time we spent together.

Farewell Bill.  I love you and will never forget you.

[For more on Bill, here’s my 2009 post about the closing of Stand Out/Minus Zero, about which Bill wrote me ‘This must be the only accurate synopsis I’ve ever read on S Out/M Zero!’  High praise indeed.]

 

Comments

Jeff, thank you for this beautiful tribute. I loved to read it and to see those pictures. I miss Bill. Lately, we only used email to “speak” to each other but he was a good friend and he introduced me to many great records. He was planning a visit to Lisbon in September and we were discussing details. Of course, he told me that I should make sure there would be a record fair so he could book his flights accordingly. He seemed to be enjoying his time with his music, his movies, the good food and his travels.

Your words make justice to a very special man. I will never forget his humour, his way of listening to music and dealing with records, with care, love and great respect. I went to see Arthur Lee once with him. Everybody greeted him. He was loved and respected. His store, along with Bill Forsyth ‘s Minus Zero, was an institution. And an education. Like the music of some of his favourite musicians did to him, he too touched some hearts, with his passion, his knowledge, his generosity and his friendship.

Thank you Jeff. Beautiful tribute, beautiful thoughts…I’ve read twice and I’ll do it again. Thank you for that.

A great tribute to Bill. Though I didn’t know Bill really well, when I made a trip to London around 2003 with my wife Lori and daughter Samantha, he was an amazingly gracious host to us. He drove us to all the best restaurants he knew of and went out of his way to make sure we each had a great time while we were there. A perfect gentlemen. He will be missed.

Yes, his passing is a dreadful shock. Bill was a massive influence on ourselves and many others. He leaves an enormous legacy.

Col, you too were such an important part of my experiences in London, and so exceedingly generous in putting me up so many times, and driving me around. Thanks so very much.

Many thanks for this Jeff. A beautiful tribute. Bill had emailed me on June 20th (we were constantly in touch) and when my replies went unanswered I figured something was wrong. An internet search returned my worst fears. I first met Bill in 1983 at the old PLASTIC PASSION shop. We were two peas form the same pod. We were born two days apart in 1948 and shared many of the same interests, music and otherwise.
He visited me here in Chicago, Detroit and Memphis (numerous times). Each of us would host the other in our homes. We went to Liverpool, Switzerland, Bavaria, Lake Garda, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast on his watch, and Dallas, Austin, New Orleans, Nashville, Chattanooga, St. Louis, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon on mine. He even drove me all over Oxfordshire, Derby and Surrey looking for the graves and homes of my English ancestors.
Your comment was so funny about Bill and photos. Even though I knew him for 40 years, I think I only have one or two photos of him.
Whenever I watch an NFL, Premiership or T20 Cricket match I’ll think of him. If there is an afterlife, I hope we can get together again. RIP Buddy.

Bruce, I remember you as someone Bill talked about often, and the passion you and we shared for Spirit, and your massive collection. Take care!

What a lovely tribute to our great friend, Jeff. We met once during one of your visits to London, back in the 1990s, introduced by Bill. I guess I’ve known Bill about as long as you have – I too answered an ad of his in the mid-1970s & was invited over to the one-room aladdin’s cave at Clapham Common. I remember being taken aback that there were even stacks on vinyl on the cooker hot plates. As well as children, Bill liked cats; he would spend hours teasing my pair with a wire dangler he specifically bought for the purpose. We had quite a lot of business together when I was running ‘Bucketfull of Brains’ and Bill was very generous with contacts when I later moved into graphic design. We never lost contact over the years – and always regularly spoke or emailed.We’d often eat together while I still lived in London (regularly at the Indian cafe on Portobello Road just around the corner from the shop) and he visited me in the south of France when I moved there in the 2000s. Sometime earlier, I accompanied Bill to Thailand because he didn’t want to fly alone but was very keen to visit another old friend there. Somewhat recovered from his prior fear of flying he spent much time after the shop closed travelling the world, as you illustrate. I’m glad to have managed to re-introduce him to the joys of international travel. We have been good friends for the best part of 50 years and I will miss him – and his wicked sense of humour – very much.

Thanks for writing Jon, I remember meeting you well; Bill picked me up, then you and we went off to a record fair. Take care and I know we’ll all treasure our adventures with Bill.

Jeff, this is a beautiful tribute, many thanks. I first met Bill around the same time you did, maybe a bit later. I remember that market stall very well, as I do the cramped room in Clapham. I remember that Velvet’s album cover photo and being very impressed, although as you mention Bill seemed quite ambivalent. I also recall that Velvet’s London gig where you asked Bill if he’d like to go back stage, Bill shaking his head and later saying words to the effect of him not being that bothered. A man that seemed a bit daunting on first meeting but one who soon became a close friend, one who visited me on many occasions and one who I’m proud to say slipped inside this house as he passed by (a tribute I’m sure he would have appreciated). I miss him, not just as a friend but more of a family member, who often joined us for meals at Christmas and also took a keen interest in my own “terrorists.” I miss him greatly and am still struggling to accept that he’s left us. RIP my great friend.

Thanks for this Dave. I know how much you meant to Bill, he would mention you often. I’m still in shock!

Fantastic tribute to Bill. You really summed up and captured this legend of the London rock’n’roll collector scene perfectly. God bless Bill – he turned so many people on to brilliant music.

Great tribute to one of my best friends
I miss him so much
Great times we had over the last 40 years

Wow Jeff I too can only echo others here and say what a very fine tribute to Bill. I didn’t know him that well but first met him while visiting Plastic Passion when my group at the time the Green Telescope were in London. Being from Scotland and big into such 60s Scottish groups as the Poets he always made the effort to talk whenever I was down visiting. The last time I met him was when my group the Thanes joined forces with two of the Poets and came down to play as the Poets in London over Easter 2012. I had a great time chatting away with Bill all afternoon before the gig. Around that time I set up a Poets web site and Facebook group and Bill was always telling me what a great job I was doing keeping the name of the Poets alive with all the different endeavours … and even helped me out with various things. We’d been emailing back and forth in recent years … I’ll never forget his enthusiasm, encouragement and kindness. Cheers and thanks for the excellent tribute RIP Bill Allerton

Yes, many thanks, Jeff, for your wonderful recollections of Bill. I first met him in the eighties when I was scouring the London record shops and markets for Velvet Underground rarities. I discovered him underneath the Westway flyover at the top of Ladbroke Grove, standing on a crate in front of boxes full of fascinating vinyl. To begin with, I found him rather forbidding – hugely knowledgeable and a bit distant – and it took me a while to get to know him. After a few weeks of visiting his stall, I was walking down Abbeville Road in Clapham one morning and bumped into him – it turned out that he lived a hundred yards from me. It wasn’t long before he moved to the flat in Notting Hill where he would spend the rest of his life. Like the one in Clapham, it was crammed full of records, with piles of CDs on chairs, books on the floor – and a wardrobe full of music papers. Bill opened Plastic Passion in Blenheim Crescent with Bill Forsyth and I would spend an hour or two there every Saturday, chatting to him amid a steady stream of customers. He visited me and my family when we moved to Chertsey in Surrey, and my young children, too, were ‘terrorists’. Bill made it clear in his phone calls that their welfare was much more important to him than mine.
As well as music, he and I found another shared interest in cricket. When I moved from Surrey to Kent, he visited me there, too, and we went together to games at Canterbury. My dad, Tony, was a huge cricket fan, having supported Kent since he was a boy, but work had taken him to Solihull, near Birmingham, from where he would drive down every summer to spend a week in his home county and watch a four-day match. When Bill came along to one of these, too, he and Tony forged a somewhat unlikely friendship (my dad was into classical music and literature). I came, though, to realise that Bill made friends wherever he went, with all sorts of people. When my dad, later in life, was no longer able to drive long distances, Bill travelled more than a hundred miles from London up to the West Midlands, collected him, and drove him all the way back down to Canterbury, where the three of us watched a game together. Bill was without doubt one of the most generous people I have met. He would do anything for a friend who needed help or was ill. When my wife was suffering from cancer, Bill spent a long day in hospital with her while she underwent a chemotherapy session.
Last summer, Bill and I had a wonderful, sunny week in Kent, watching cricket, visiting record shops, and walking around Faversham and Whitstable. We had hoped to do the same this August. He, too, had now been forced to give up his car, and I was to repay the great favour he had done for my dad by driving us to our various destinations. Sadly, that was not to be, but he’ll be with me in spirit when I travel to Canterbury next month. Bill was wise, funny, generous and always full of good advice. I could not have hoped for a better friend.

I haven’t seen Bill for many, many years. In early 1980s he helped me sell a lot of my psychedelic bands albums on his stall in Portobello to raise money to buy a new motorbike! I helped him get rid of some of his pinball and slot machines in the months before he moved out of his room in Clapham just around the corner from my place. I saw him occasionally up til the early 1990s including going together to boxing matches at the Royal Albert Hall. Then I kinda lost touch. Weirdly I was thinking about him tonight for no apparent reason, so I googled him and found this page. Beautiful and insightful tribute Jeff. Thank you.

I hadn’t been in touch with Bill for 20 years, and am very sad to hear that he’s gone. What a good man.

I remember that room in Clapham – actually stayed there a few times, going to the public baths to get a wash. It was like entering another world where everyday life and concerns diminished next to the real meaning of it all, which was somehow contained in all that vinyl. Racks and racks and piles and piles of vinyl.

RIP old friend

I was but a loyal Plastic Passion / Stand Out! customer. Bill in a good mood would sometimes share a few words of wisdom with me though, I remember talking about how it was worth listening to 1984 bootlegs of that touring version of the Byrds, because “Gene Clark took leads he didn’t on the records, and he had such a beautiful voice”. Also, on the huge impact that Bryan MacLean had with just four songs! On how very sad he was that Randy California had died. And how I shouldn’t really buy Reflections by the Pretty Things (on CD) as the string arrangements didn’t really work. The kind of interactions you never forget. Always nice when he said, “Enjoy the album”.

Positive universal vibrations to all of you that knew and loved him.

That’s sad news. I hadn’t seen Bill in years and went to see the Bevis Frond on Friday in the hope he’d be there. A friend thought he’d heard something so I did a search and found out the bad news.
A big influence, he turned me on to so much great music – Big Star for instance. He asked what I liked, I said the Byrds and he asked if I’d heard this and played No1 record! Such a great shop, Epic Soundtracks helping out on a Saturday. Every trip was a discovery. I like the earlier comment about loyalty to a Bill ….. mine was Bill A (the garage bands swung it). I always expected to bump into Bill again, sad to know I never will.

A great tribute to Bill
I was a customer of the two Bills in their Blenheim crescent shop over many years
Bill Allerton often put records aside for me knowing I was a collector of the Immediate label and I picked up a number of rare test pressings and acetates.
He sold me my first copy of the extremely rare Australian Playboys demo which was not in brilliant condition but enabled me to complete my run of all Immediate UK singles.
Bill was always great to talk to on my visits and extremely knowledgeable about 60’s music putting me on to records and artists he thought would be to my liking.
A great man and sad loss to the music world. R.I.P.

Bill was a great friend of mine for four decades since he advertised some rare Procol Harum records for auction in the NME and I joined in on the bidding. When my wife and I started talking about moving from Denmark to England in 1991, Bill was the one who suggested Devon, which at that time was still not overrun and a cheap place to live. He sorted out a lot of the practicalities for us and even rented a car on our behalf so we could go down there and find a house to rent. He was Cornish himself, though when he came to visit us the first Christmas we spent in Devon, it turned out that his mother was in fact Norwegian, something he had never told me. I had a brief chat with her on the phone in our respective native languages. It was all quite dramatic, though, because my wife was pregnant with twins (she gave birth on January 11), and when Bill got down to his mother’s place, he found that she had passed away in the meantime. Bill once told me he had started as an accountant working for Virgin Records in its early stages (no nice words for Mr Branson), which I think was how he got into record colleting big time. One of the last times I saw him, he announched that he had finally realised just how great a group Procol Harum was,. Anyway, I could go on and on, so I better just end here.

Hi Jeff,
Thanks for this great tribute
Unaware of his death i was just a minute ago referring to him with another collector from England as being such a great person to have met. I used to cross the Channel several times a year on my record hunt in London and would always end up in his (and the other Bill’s) shop. We’d have lunch or dinner together and a couple of times he invited me to his place to check out his Velvets Collection. ‘Collecting is sharing’ was his motto.
Though of course not ‘big longtime friends’ this news saddens me – he was a very very nice person to share the passion for music and collecting with.
May he rest in peace

Hi Chris, good to hear from you and thanks for writing. I think of Bill often, and still can’t wrap my head around not seeing him again. I’ve been to London something like 35 times, and hung around with Bill every single time.

I was Bill’s first cousin but only met him in 2018 at my daughters house in London. I have just heard of his passing (Feb 6, 2024) and am so filled with grief for not knowing him better. I am living in Victoria British Columbia where my parents brought us after the war, so did not meet Bill as a child. My father Howard was his mother’s brother. I am so happy at all the replies. I did not know him at all but what a wonderful man
Thank you everyone who replied for helping me know the man who was my cousin

I used to visit Plastic Passion in the ’80s, and then Stand Out/Minus Zero after his semi-amicable split with the other Bill (I used to call them Bill and Ben the Record Shop Men). After the split I only bought records from Bill A. because it seemed weird to try and treat them as equals and he was the more outgoing and pleasant of the two. I suppose I could have tried to be ‘fair’ but it seemed crazy to turn around and buy the same records from a different person in the same room. So Bill A. it was, until one year (I live in the US and come to the UK annually) the familiar arched doorway was locked and both shops were gone. I can not claim to have known him well but he always remembered me and made good recommendations (and would occasionally give me a discount).

I pulled out a disc to play today and there was the price tag with his familiar writing, which got me thinking – I wonder what he’s up to now?

And now I know.

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