When I tell people that Premier League referee Jon Moss has a record shop in Headingley called ‘Vinyl Whistle’, the first reaction is “really!” followed by “great name”.
The Leeds postcode, LS6, is ‘Studentsville’. Not the most obvious place for one of the country’s leading football officials to pop up with a stack of LPs and singles.
But back in the late 80s and early 90s, this was Jon’s hunting ground. Like so many of us back then who wrote cheques to buy fish and chips and queued outside phone boxes to contact our girlfriends and boyfriends, Jon was a record-buying, gig-going musical nut. And his passion for music has never left him since those taste-shaping days.
So Planet Football was intrigued. The part of the Venn Diagram where football referees and Velvet Underground (that’s what he would be playing when I first entered his shop) fans intersect is a small one.
It was time to find out how this all came about.
Planet Football: Let’s kick-off (I resist asking Jon to blow his whistle) with the obvious openers. How did you get the name, and is this the realisation of a long-term dream or just something you thought of as a nice idea for retirement?
Jon Moss: We were all sitting around as a group of referees and I said I’d been thinking about doing the record shop as music is a big part of my life so I wanted to marry the two together.
I thought the name might be cheesy but, had I not been refereeing, I wouldn’t have visited so many record shops by virtue of going around the country. So it married two huge things in my life.
PF: Did you watch High Fidelity (Nick Hornby book/film set in a record shop) and think that could be me?!
JM: Haha. I did watch it again last week actually, just to give myself a bit of a pep talk. It’s one of my favourite films!
PF: A look around your shop and it’s pretty clear you’re a bit of an indie fiend?
JM: Yes, obviously I like a certain type of music and sometimes it can be hard to find that kind of music when you go into a record shop. When I came to Leeds to go to uni there was a great music scene going on at the time in terms of the Stone Roses, the Inspiral Carpets, the Manchester scene; the Smiths were still quite prevalent so it was a great time to be a student.
Once that kind of music is ingrained in you, it’s hard to get out of it. Then you’ve got the American scene, grunge. At the back end of uni, Nirvana were getting big. I don’t think there was a better time to be a student in terms of music and going to nightclubs. Indie music was just brilliant at that time.
PF: You’ve been open a couple of months now. How are things going? Is it everything you hoped it would be?
JM: It’s our sixth week now. It’s gone really well. There are days when it’s quiet, but obviously the students coming back will make a difference. Twenty thousand students coming back to a small space, you’d hope you’d reap some of the benefits.
You meet some nice people and it’s good to just talk about music, different sorts of music. You get people come in with great knowledge of certain genres.
PF: We’re in Headingley, which is obviously a massive student area. What do the kids listen to these days? Do you have to cater for them a bit or are they into the Stone Roses, Liam Gallagher etc?
JM: Fundamentally, it’s not far removed from what we were into. The Smiths have been selling really well to young and old. Oasis are always popular, Stone Roses. Then you’ve got people walking around with Nirvana t-shirts on so that grunge scene is still there and the Pixies are touring in September.
And then the dance fans. The days of the vinyl DJs are coming back, mixing and sampling stuff, and also funk and soul has been far more popular than I thought it would be. That’s probably a lack of knowledge on my behalf.
I’ve got a guy who comes in who’s really into his dance music and I said to him ‘I don’t know the first thing about dance music if I’m totally honest’ – a bit of Bicep, that would be about it – so he just gave me a list of records and we bought all those and that spiralled into other people suggesting stuff so we went from a couple of crates of dance to three or four.
Part of the process of being a good record shop is listening to your customers and trying to get stuff in that’s going to appeal to them. And then, after a while, you can join in the conversations. It’s like when I started refereeing, I didn’t know the first thing, but four weeks in and you can join in with the chat.
PF: When people come in, do you get much of ‘you’re that ref of the telly?
JM: I do get a little bit of that. Some know and others think they know you as they’ve seen you on TV and they think ‘where do I know him from?’. Leeds fans who recognise me want to talk about decisions over the weekend and because I don’t referee in Leeds it’s safe ground. It’s just nice to talk about music and football because everyone’s interested in those two things, aren’t they?
PF: If you could invite some famous musicians into your shop for tea and cake (Jon sells vegan cakes by the way), who would you pick?
JM: I’d like Black Francis (Pixies) to come in here. I’d like the Stone Roses to walk through the door and look at our record collection and think it’s quite good. And then the likes of Jimi Hendrix, that would be quite cool.
PF: There’ve been a few football songs down the years, a fair amount of them fairly terrible, but the odd nugget. Any favourites?
JM: I’m a Sunderland fan so the best one for me was ‘Niall Quinn’s Disco Pants’. I used to sing that on a regular basis when I was following Sunderland home and away. A rendition of that would certainly get you going.
I like it when football fans take a melody from an indie classic and make it their own. There’s obviously a famous one about Leeds set to Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ which wouldn’t go down too well with our local population. But I like that kind of stuff that fans do.
PF: And what about ones that have charted. Do you own a copy of ‘World In Motion’?
JM: Yes, we do have a copy of that. Goes for about six quid. 12” with the gold cover.
PF: How about your fellow referees – anyone share your taste? And do you ever try and give them a bit of a musical education?
JM: When you’re in the changing room, if I’m fourth official, the referee who’s reffing the game is in charge of the music and we have a real range of musical tastes. Some referees don’t have any music in their dressing room.
We’ve got a referee from Leicester, Kev Friend, who likes a lot of dance music. Martin Atkinson is quite old school; he likes The Jam and that kind of stuff on his playlist. Andre Marriner’s dad used to own a record store in Birmingham so Andre’s worked in a record store and he’s got a good knowledge of music. Tayls, Anthony Taylor, his taste isn’t the best I’ve got to be honest.
PF: How about the players? Going back, Pat Nevin was famously into his music. And there are some oddities like Barry Horne being into the Cocteau Twins. Jay Rodriguez was such a huge Smiths fans he named his dog Morrissey. Joey Barton was actually in a video with Morrissey and he’s also championed bands such as the Lemon Twigs. Do you ever chat to them about music?
JM: Sometimes in a break of play, like you would have a conversation at work around the photocopier, we might have a chat and music might be part of that. I know Ben Mee (Burnley defender) is a big indie fan. He’s from Manchester so he’s probably grown up with the Manchester scene.
We do, in the changing rooms, hear a lot of what the players like. You hear a lot of grime so whether there are any indie fans being drowned out in the corner I don’t know. We never go in there!
PF: Any Leeds players know of your shop? What about James Milner, who has local connections? You were his PE teacher of course.
JM: Not sure about the Leeds players. Yes, I was a Primary School teacher and James was a Year 6 pupil of mine. I don’t know what music he likes, though, to be honest.
PF: We did a feature with Andy McVeigh about his street art around Elland Road. You’re big mates and it turns out you were in an indie band with him, Powersleep. I’ll confess, I saw you a couple of times in your pomp. Tell us a bit about the band.
JM: We played the Duchess (of York, once legendary Leeds venue), the Brudenell (one of Johnny Marr’s favourite spots). I was in bands when I was at Uni. We had a covers band called the ’Sue Pollards’.
What happened was, we went to see Cud (Leeds band) at Bradford St. George’s Hall. It was one of those gigs where it got stopped because everyone was on stage, stage diving and stuff, and then we came outside and there was this girl who was obviously a massive Cud fan and knew everything about them and every single song and she rinsed us with her knowledge.
She looked exactly like Sue Pollard so we started singing that to her and then we formed the band on the back of that. And then, after uni, my friend Titus and I started gigging and then we saw ’Pants’ (Andy McVeigh) on a night out walking along the street and our mate Duncan shouted to him that we were playing a gig the next night and didn’t have a drummer.
He didn’t know any of the songs so just played a basic drum beat behind them, but he quite liked one of the songs that we did and started practising with us. Then his mate ‘Spau’ came on board and then we got Duncan to be the dancer.
(Jon also hinted at a Powersleep reunion gig in May so keep your eyes peeled).
PF: Was that a nod to Bez out of the Happy Mondays?
JM: Yes, it was. Cud used to be really good fun when you went to watch them and I always had a brilliant laugh, just with mates, being stupid, and that’s what we wanted to have. And they were just fun. When you’ve got ‘Pants’ on drums you’ve always got half a chance because he’s a good drummer and he looks good so it was just a really good time.
PF: What do you think of Andy’s artwork?
JM: I think it’s great what he’s doing. I think in Leeds it’s a bit like Sunderland in that you’ve got really great supporters and football is so important to the community. We’ve both had better times in the past and to have those memories as you’re walking around Leeds, it’s brilliant. It’s bought a lot to the community.
Blur v Oasis? Oasis, definitely. But Blur won the race to be No. 1 and ‘Country House’ was a better song than ‘Roll With It’. I’ve just been playing ‘Roll With It’ this morning as we’ve just got it on 12” and it wasn’t their best and they got rightly turned over. I bought both; it was a great marketing tool.
Smiths v Pixies? That’s a tough one (pause). Two totally different bands. I mean ‘Debaser’ for me is like a worldie song. ‘Gigantic’, I just love that song. I’m going to have to nod towards the Pixies, but sometimes you’re in the mood for the Smiths and there’s not a bad Smiths song is there? Some people say to me they’re really miserable, but I think the complete opposite to that. They’re just a fantastic band.
Stone Roses v Happy Mondays? Stone Roses by a country mile (Jon has signed copies of all the Stone Roses records on the wall in his shop although they’re not for sale!). I’ve seen Happy Mondays a couple of times and I was always left a little bit underwhelmed.
Jam v Style Council? Jam all day although ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’ was a great tune. I thought Weller went a bit too soft in the Style Council.
Noel v Liam? That’s a really good one. Liam, I watched the film, it was really good and I thought he came across really well. I think at the minute I’d probably say Liam for me. I think he’s playing the media and getting it right at the moment.
I think the last few singles have been better from Liam as well. The footage I see from Liam’s gigs looks a bit more old-school gig rather than the more polished performance of High Flying Birds (Noel’s band). What I liked about early Oasis was that it was rough and ready, more of a bar scene, football crowd, and I think Liam wins that atmosphere hands down now really.
Madonna v Taylor Swift? Madonna was great in the day. ‘Borderline’ is a great song and that first album is good, ‘Material Girl’ and stuff like that. Not so much her later stuff. But Taylor Swift is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Her early stuff when she just plays a guitar… although I’ll just give the nod to Madonna.
I also ask Jon about his ‘good day’ and ‘bad day’ records. He goes for “something with guitars in” when he’s happy. And when his day isn’t so great? “Something with guitars in again!”
I’ve become almost a semi-regular at ‘Vinyl Whistle’ and, on my latest visit, Jon has just been to see the Pixies in Leeds although he’s disappointed they didn’t play ‘Gigantic’ or ‘Debaser’.
He’s also raving about the new Liam Gallagher album. This is what always shines through. In the above interview, the quickfire ‘Oasis v Blur’ section was supposed to consist of one-word answers. In reality, I couldn’t stop him talking. Jon’s passion for music pours out of him.
The return of the students has had a big boost on foot traffic and he’s also bought a bit of vinyl I decided to part with.
And those little stories just keep on coming every time I pop in. A lady who runs a Children’s Play Centre around the corner drops by, looking for a framed Kinks poster; a student forks out for the new Frank Turner album; a bloke in his late 40s/early 50s is on a mission to repurchase his Ride records as he flogged them when strapped for cash some years back.
It’s life. It’s community. It’s today, yesterday and tomorrow.
I always dreamt of there being a record shop in the middle of Headingley when I was a student there.
But who would have thought that a Premier League ref would be the man to turn it into such an enjoyable reality?
By Dave Tindall