VINTAGE-THEMED weddings and parties are becoming ever more popular which is good news indeed for DJs Annabel Holland and Matt Nickson who have an astonishing collection of 20,000 original shellac 78 rpm discs.
The couple, who travel the country at weekends to perform at festivals, parties and other special occasions, play music from the 1920s up to the 1950s ... and even earlier if requested.
They have played several gigs at chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall’s River Cottage, at the launch of singer Lily Allen’s clothing range in Harvey Nichols and for the opening of a 1950s-inspired art exhibition by Magda Archer (wife of comedian Harry Hill). One of their favourite bookings was for a tea dance at the country’s oldest cricket club, Hambledon, in Hampshire.
“People are really into vintage now,” says Annabel, who has been Head of Research & Graduate Education at the University of Huddersfield for three years. “They want something different for their weddings or parties.”
Both Matt, 45, and Annabel, 44, live the vintage lifestyle and have collections of 1940s and 50s clothes which they wear to gigs.
They also collect props such as vintage tablecloths and ornaments to give their stage set an authentic look.
One of their prized possessions is a model of the HMV dog Nipper, the inspiration for the company’s slogan ‘His Master’s Voice.’
The unusual music venture began two years ago when Matt, a jazz musician, was playing a New Year’s Eve gig in Manchester.
Annabel said: “I was fed up staying at home so I went along and took over the DJ-ing in the corner. We got our first booking as a result.”
The couple, who met six years ago, share their collection of original shellac 78rpm records which includes all the great names in popular music from the first half of the 20th century – Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Fred Astaire, Nat King Cole and many more.
They have also collected period record players – wind-up picnic gramophones from the 1930s – and use them at gigs, connected up to a modern PA system. Their business, It’s A Wind Up, is named after them.
Annabel said: “Depending on what needle you use, the gramophones can make a big sound and you don’t always need to amplify it.
“They were the iPods of their day – portable music systems. Before them, record players would have had a horn.”
In fact, Matt proposed to Annabel while on a picnic as they listened to one of their portable gramophones.
“We were in the middle of a field at the time,” she explained. They are planning a 1950s style wedding next year.
Guests at events are frequently fascinated by both the records and the players.
Matt, who plays saxophone and flute, said: “If you think about it, the old 78s were the longest lived system of storing music. They were available from 1890 until 1959.”
Annabel added: “Children are really interested in the fact that you have to wind the gramophones up and that the needles can only be used once.’’
Matt added: “You would have had to be very wealthy in order to own one. Gramophones cost £16 in the 1930s which would have been a month’s wages. Today they can be picked up from between £100 and £400.”
Because the shellac records are made from a natural substance – a resin secreted by insects – they have to be carefully stored and are brittle.
But their advantage over the vinyl that superseded them is that shellac is more difficult to scratch and so the music survives relatively unscathed.
Vintage music goes down well with all ages, according to the DJs. “But everyone has their favourites,” says Annabel, who is a skiffle and rock and roll fan.
“The most requested from the 1940s is Glen Miller’s Moonlight Serenade and from the 30s Fred Astaire’s 1935 hit Top Hat, White Tie and Tails. But Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday are all popular.”
To help get each party off to a swinging start, Matt and Annabel, who commutes from North Manchester, will take to the dance floor.
“We will do a Charleston or Lindy hopping,’’ said Annabel. “We’re not brilliant dancers but it gets things going.”
So, what is key to a good party?
”Ease everyone in gently by playing music that they recognise,” suggested Annabel. “Then encourage people to get up and dance.”
And why do they think vintage has struck a chord with partygoers?
Annabel added: “Fashion always looks back and the music lends itself to partner dancing in a way that doesn’t matter if you’re not a great dancer.”
Matt also believes that vintage music is part of our national identity and has a nostalgic appeal.
Whatever the reason, it would seem that they have discovered a successful niche in the music world.