Out of the fire

GRANT SMITHIES
Last updated 11:16 22/06/2014

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about record collector and DJ, Danny Lemon, whose internationally renowned record collection went up in smoke when fire swept through dozens of Wellington storage units in April.

As soon as that issue hit the news stands, emails began rolling in from concerned citizens touched by Danny's story. Many came from people who'd been present at house, soul and reggae gigs where Danny had been DJ, who testified to their musical horizons being broadened by the special records Danny had played. A few drifted in from Danny's mates, pointing out that I'd called him Danny Setford when his real surname was Scotford; in my defence, my memory is deteriorating with age, and I'd always known him primarily by his DJ name - Lemon.

A swag of people wrote in seeking more info regarding the fire itself. Was it true that the suspected arsonist had been captured on security camera, they asked? Was this man still in custody? Had he pleaded guilty or not guilty? What about the burnt belongings of everyone else who'd had their prized possessions in the Kiwi Self Storage units? Were all these people covered by any sort of collective insurance?

There are far too many questions to reply to individually, so I would direct these people to that fount of all modern knowledge and speculation, Google, for further information. The facts of the case are complex and still before the courts. But irrespective of such detail, what comes through strongly is a profound sense of collective loss, with a great deal of priceless music destroyed by the flames, and this was felt most intensely by a community of people who, like Danny, were long-term record collectors themselves.

Most of these correspondents had never met Danny, yet felt compelled to write to me to express their dismay. People wanted to know what they could do to help. I will tell you. You can cough up $30 and buy a copy of this remarkable poster, pictured.

Photographed by artist Philippa O'Brien, designed by Unit Seven's Sam Brown and entitled "Recording Fire: Danny Lemon's Authentic Selection 1974-2014", the poster displays 35 of the 8500 records DJ Danny "Lemon" Scotford lost in the fire. The featured records were chosen by Danny himself, and proceeds from the poster sales will aid him in rebuilding his 40-year collection.

To record geeks like myself, this is a richly resonant image, despite its inherent melancholy. Here, after all, are the charred remains of some of the greatest vinyl records ever made.

Studio One, Wackies, Strictly Rhythm, Joe Gibbs, Trax, DEB, Love + Inity, Greensleeves, Nu Groove, Blakamix, Undaground Therapy, Cajual, CTI - the names of the pictured record labels roll off the tongue like a sacred liturgy to record collectors due to the emotional power of the music released down the decades.

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Smoke and mirrors. Burnt offerings. Melting moments. Thirty-five exceptional records, rendered unplayable, but still possessed of some strange power. I love that something so positive as an art project has arisen from the ashes of a tragedy, and my copy of the poster is at the framer's.

O'Brien has also taken a selection of other images, both of the munted records themselves, and of the clean-up operation, and limited edition art prints of these are also offered for sale as a fundraiser. An exhibition of the prints has just gone up in Poquito, a cafe and bar in Wellington's Tory Street, and a show featuring some of O'Brien's other photographic work opens at Photospace Gallery in Courtenay Place from Friday, June 27. A book is also planned, with the stories behind key records sitting alongside evocative images of their scorched remains. Interested parties are invited to contact the photographer directly at lemonaid@unitseven.co.nz .

"A few people told me they couldn't possibly buy this fundraising poster because it's too heartbreaking," says O'Brien from her Wellington home. "But to me, it's a deeply symbolic image, and ultimately what it symbolises is something very positive. When I talked to Danny, there's just so many stories behind all these records - the people who made them, the labels they're on, the politics and ideology and emotion behind the music. And there's something beautiful about them as objects, too, even when they've been destroyed by intense heat. You look at that poster, and it's as if those stories have somehow lived on, even through the fire."

- Sunday Star Times

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