Colin Larkin (writer)

Colin Larkin

Colin Larkin.
Born 1949
Dagenham, Essex
United Kingdom
Nationality British
Occupation Writer
Encyclopedist
Designer/Typographer
Musician
Publisher
Entrepreneur
Website
Colin Larkin's website
Best Things On Earth

Colin Larkin was the editor and founder of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music,[1] described by Jools Holland as 'without question the most useful reference work on popular music' and by The Times as 'the standard against which all others must be judged’.[2]

Along with the ten-volume Encyclopedia, Larkin also created and wrote the All Time Top 1000 Albums,[3] and edited the Guinness Who’s Who Of Jazz,[4] the Guinness Who’s Who Of Blues,[5] and the Virgin Encyclopaedia Of Heavy Rock[6] The compiler of the most extensive database of popular music in Europe and the US, a writer and book designer by trade, Larkin has over 650,000 copies in print to date.[7] As an expert in the field of popular music, Larkin has made many appearances on live radio to discuss various artists and bands (see for example his interview on Michael Jackson's legacy for BBC Essex) and also had a regular slot on BBC GLR for two years.

Contents

Background and education

Colin Larkin was born in Dagenham in 1949 in an area of Essex that was largely populated by workers in the car industry. The post-war years proved lucrative for the Ford motor company[8] but Larkin was raised in relative poverty, in the largest area of council housing in the United Kingdom; in the suburban, industrial wasteland that surrounded the Ford plant. The Becontree estate in Dagenham began as a conglomeration of 27,000 "homes for heroes", and had no recognisable town centre.

A waltzer in motion. The operator walks the boards to spin the cars

Larkin spent much of his early childhood in the twilight world of the travelling fair, where his father, who worked by day as a plumber for the council, moonlighted on the waltzers to make ends meet. The contrast between daily life in the gas lit council houses on the Becontree estate and life amid the electricity guzzling, gaudy extravagance of the fairground, could not have been more marked. It was in the fairground, against a background of Little Richard on the wind-up 78 rpm turntables, Larkin acquired his passion for the world of popular music,[9] and coincidentally, a taste for exotic pattern and vivid colour, which would re-surface in later years in books on Islamic Art and Architecture, and Oriental rugs.

In the 1950s he attended the South East Essex County Technical High School following which, under his own initiative he obtained an apprenticeship as a commercial artist, enabling him to take a sandwich course at the London College of Printing (now the London College of Communication). There he studied typography and book design.[10] and was influenced by the typeface designer Eric Gill, who is associated with the Arts and Crafts movement.

Back To Square One

Larkin began his working life in commercial art, advertising design groups and for the book publisher Pearson Longmans. In 1967 he began writing for music journals and magazines.

At Longmans he became senior book designer, but he soon wearied of working for the publishing house and by 1976 had co-founded his own book publishing company, Scorpion Publishing.

From the outset Larkin was intent upon reaching areas of the book reading public that other publishers felt it unnecessary or unprofitable to reach. Scorpion Publishing published art books on Oriental carpets and Islamic Art. They also designed and published John Gorman's trilogy of Labour history, Banner Bright,[11] To Build Jerusalem and Images of Labour.[12] Notable music titles at this time included Timeless Flight: The Definitive Story of The Byrds[13] and Bob Dylan’s Unreleased Recordings.[14]

In the 1980s the idea of "an encyclopedia of popular music" was beginning to take hold of Larkin, who read music magazines avidly and was acquiring a considerable personal library of singles and Albums. His passion for an encyclopaedia that would do for Bob Dylan and the Beatles what the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians had done for 'supposedly' more worthy subjects, and moreover do it better, finally took over when in 1989 he sold his half of Scorpion Books to fund the project and founded Square One Books.

The Encyclopedia of Popular Music

In 1989 Larkin formed Square One Books to create a multi-volume Encyclopedia of Popular Music, and to publish music related books. He published additional music biographies including those on Graham Bond, R.E.M., Eric Clapton, The Byrds, Frank Zappa[15] and a further book on Bob Dylan, Oh No, Not Another Bob Dylan Book.

Vynil record.jpg

In a pre-internet age, the work required to create an encyclopaedia of popular music was not unlike that required of Dr Johnson's Dictionary. Aided by a team of contributors, a fast-growing library of music magazines, books and of course the music itself, an eventual 2000 vinyl singles, 3000 vinyl albums, 4000 music biographies and 30,000 CDs,[16] the physical representation of an unrivalled passion for his subject, Larkin began compiling the 'data' that would form the basis of the Encyclopedia.

For the next three years two things were to consume Larkin's life: his young son, who was fighting a long slow battle with leukemia; and music, which had become his strongest ally. In 1992 his son died and the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music went into print.[17] The four volume testament to passion in the face of adversity, that had driven Larkin almost to brink of bankruptcy, was quickly recognised as monumental: Rolling Stone described the work as "musical history in the making", in The Times they called it "a work of almost frightening completeness".

Towards the end of 1990 Larkin began to realise that his method of 'data storage' was unwieldy and limiting:

"I started with a primitive database towards the end of January 1990. All data was entered manually, a process not only painful, but also crude. Pretty swiftly I realised that to do other books we needed a way of retrieving text and downloading beautifully. I'm also a typographer and book designer and therefore the look and accuracy of text was my main concern. Initially, we asked an outside consultancy to build something - and for a few hundred quid they created PopBase. Since then we have developed our own software using 4D as the main engine database. We've had about 40 upgrades, and are now on version 6.0." [18]

Over 50 separate titles followed the creation of the Encyclopedia's database.[19] and in 1997 Larkin sold Square One Books to Muze Inc. (an American data company), in the belief that Muze would be able to realise the potential of the Encyclopaedia on the internet:

"Muze has a massive discography database that's licensed to companies on the internet, and my music encyclopedia goes hand-in-hand with its data. So when you look in Yahoo for a Jimi Hendrix album it returns both Muze discography data and the Hendrix encyclopedia text." [20]

Larkin became full time editor-in-chief and ran the encyclopedia as a cottage industry.

"There are now fewer than 10 contributors on the team... "People don't believe it's done on such a small scale, but in terms of words we are producing an Agatha Christie novel a month"..."[21]

Phoenix From The Ashes

From September 2008 Larkin ceased all involvement with Muze Inc. or any of its related companies following the closure of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music as a stand alone product and his subsequent redundancy.[22] By this time he was already at work on a new project whose original inspiration had come from the All Time Top 1000 Albums, called 1000Greatest.com. This evolved into 'Best Things On Earth'. On the 15th April 2009, it was announced that most of the assets of Muze Inc. were purchased by Macrovision.[23] According to Larkin's website, following his redundancy and the subsequent selling of Muze's assets, "there are no plans to resurrect the Encyclopedia of Popular Music". Larkin is finalising Btoe otherwise known as Best Things On Earth.[24]

References

  1. ^ Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Encyclopedia Of Popular Music (4th Edition 10 vols) Oxford University Press (UK/US) 2006
  2. ^ This information was obtained from Hi-Arts.co.uk
  3. ^ Larkin, Colin, All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2000.
  4. ^ Larkin, Colin (ed.), the Guinness Who's Who Of Jazz (2nd Edition), Guinness Publishing (UK), 1995
  5. ^ Larkin, Colin (ed.), the Guinness Who’s Who Of Blues (2nd Edition), Guinness Publishing (UK), 1995
  6. ^ Larkin, Colin (ed.), Virgin Encyclopedia Of Heavy Rock, The, Virgin Books (UK), 1999.
  7. ^ OUP Online
  8. ^ The number of workers on the Dagenham site increased from 12,000 to 35,000 as Ford met the demand of 360,000 military vehicles, vans and army trucks. History of Ford in Britain
  9. ^ "Who'd Put The Everly Brothers Above Elvis", Evening Standard 20th December 2006.
  10. ^ All about the guru of groove, Colin Larkin, editor of The Encyclopedia of Popular Music Oxford University Press online
  11. ^ Banner Bright, Gorman J., Scorpion Cavendish Ltd; Rev Edition(5 Nov 1986)
  12. ^ Images of Labour : selected memorabilia from the National Museum of Labour History Gorman, J. (1985) , London. London: Scorpion.
  13. ^ Timeless Flight: The Definitive Story of The Byrds, Rogan, J., Scorpion Publications / Dark Star, London, 1981 Abe Books
  14. ^ All about the guru of groove, Colin Larkin, editor of The Encyclopedia of Popular Music OUP.com
  15. ^ Electric Don Quixote: The Definitive Story of Frank Zappa by Neil Slaven.
  16. ^ The Collector No. 20: Colin Larkin, Record Collector, Issue 314, Sept 2005.
  17. ^ With a head full of hits, The Knowledge, The Times, Dec 22 - Jan 4th, 2008.
  18. ^ Colin Larkin: How I stay on top of pop, The Independent on Sunday
  19. ^ See Booklist below.
  20. ^ ibid.
  21. ^ The Collector, No. 20 COLIN LARKIN, Record Collector, Issue 314, Sept 2005.
  22. ^ Colin Larkin's website
  23. ^ Reutters press release
  24. ^ colinlarkin.com

Books

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Jazz, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1992.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Sixties Music, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1992.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Indie And New Wave Music, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1992.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Heavy Metal, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1992.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Encyclopedia Of Popular Music (1st Edition, 4 Vols), Guinness Publishing 1992.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Encyclopedia Of Popular Music Concise Edition, Guinness Publishing 1993.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Seventies Music, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1993.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Folk Music, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1993.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Soul Music, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1993.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Blues, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1993.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Fifties Music, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1993.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Country Music, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1993.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Stage Musicals, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1994.

Larkin, Colin, All Time Top 1000 Albums, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1994.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Rap, Dance & Techno, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1994.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Film Musicals & Musical Films, Guinness Publishing 1994

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Reggae, Guinness Publishing (UK), 1994.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who's Who Of Jazz (2nd Edition), Guinness Publishing (UK), 1995.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Encyclopedia Of Popular Music (2nd Edition, 6 Vols), Guinness 1995 (UK),

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Indie And New Wave (2nd Edition), Guinness Publishing 1995.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Blues (2nd Edition), Guinness Publishing (UK), 1995.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Guinness Who’s Who Of Heavy Metal (2nd Edition), Guinness Publishing (UK), 1995.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Popular Music, Concise Edition, Virgin Books (UK), 1997.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Seventies Music, Virgin Books (UK), 1997.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Sixties Music, Virgin Books (UK), 1997.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Eighties Music, Virgin Books (UK), 1997.

Larkin, Colin, (ed) The Virgin Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Rock, Virgin Books (UK), 1998. (also published in the US as The Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock. US 1998)

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Fifties Music, Virgin Books (UK), 1998.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Indie & New Wave, Virgin Books (UK), 1998.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of R&B And Soul, Virgin Books (UK), 1998.

Larkin, Colin, The Virgin All-Time Top 1000 Albums (2nd Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 1998.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Country Music, Virgin Books (UK), 1998.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Reggae, Virgin Books (UK), 1998.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Stage & Film Musicals, Virgin Books (UK), 1999.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Heavy Rock, Virgin Books (UK), 1999.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Jazz (3rd Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 1999.

Larkin, Colin, The Virgin All-Time Top 1000 Albums (Pocket Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 1999.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Dance Music, Virgin Books (UK), 1999.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Stage & Film Musicals, Virgin Books (UK), 1999.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Popular Music, Concise (3rd Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 1999.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Encyclopedia Of Popular Music (3rd Edition, 8 vols). Macmillan (UK/US) 1999

Larkin, Colin, All-Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2000.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Nineties Music, Virgin Books (UK), 2000.

Larkin, Colin, (ed) The Virgin Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Pop & Rock, Virgin Books (UK), 2002,(also published in the US as The Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pop & Rock (US 2002).

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of 60s Music,(3rd Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2002.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of 50s Music, (3rd Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2002.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of 70s Music, (3rd Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2002.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Popular Music, Concise (4th Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2002.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of 80s Music, (3rd Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2003.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), Virgin Encyclopedia Of Jazz (4th Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2004.

Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Encyclopedia Of Popular Music (4th Edition 10 vols) Oxford University Press (UK/US) 2006.

Larkin, Colin (ed.) The Encyclopedia Of Popular Music: Concise 5th Edition, Omnibus Press 2007.

External links


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