Remembering Alan Jensen (‘Big Al’ And The ‘DJ’).
In the early 1970’s a local businessman-Johnny Hodgson, owned a record shop in the Old Town of Hastings entitled ‘The Disc Jockey’. The shop was doing very well but Hodgson had other business interests (like the promotion of bands on Hastings Pier) and these were beginning to take up more and more of his time. Johnny decided to put an advert in the local paper for someone to help him run the shop. Alan Jensen (at this point working for Courts) applied for and got the job. Hodgson and his wife (who ran a hairdressers shop in the Old Town) were well known locally and Johnny had political ambitions. In 1972 those political ambitions became a reality when Johnny was duly elected as a Hastings Councillor. Seeing his chance, Alan Jensen offered to buy Johnny out of the shop. His offer was accepted and the pair went their separate ways.
A larger than life character and a born showman, Alan soon managed to make a success of ‘The DJ’ (as it became more commonly known) and swiftly set about moving premises to a more central position in Hastings at the bottom of Queens Rd. For a short time, the shop was renamed ‘The Disc Jockey +1’ but Jensen had another way in mind about how to stamp his personality upon the shop… the invention of ‘Big Al’ – a caricature ‘mascot’ of Jensen himself (the medallion around the ‘creatures’ neck featured the words ‘I Like Big Al’).
‘Big Al’ was a massive success and gave the shop a unique (and very memorable) image. ‘Big Al’ appeared in all the shops newspaper advertisements and on all of the shops printed bags. With his beautiful and glamorous wife Sue at his side, Alan swiftly established ‘The DJ’ as the most popular and trendy place to buy your records in Hastings. A chart of the DJ’s best selling singles and albums appeared weekly in The Hastings Observer and regular ‘competitions and give-aways’ ensured that another smiling picture of Alan (along with the latest winner/s) was frequently in print. In short, Alan Jensen was not just a flamboyant and confident character he was a fine businessman.
Then of course there was the shop’s staff. As conclusively proven by his wife Sue, Alan was definitely a man with an eye for the ladies and invariably the shop would have a bevy of beauties behind the counter. While in today’s day and age such a practice might be frowned upon, (like the similar period practice of offering ladies free entry to nightclubs) it certainly ensured that the DJ was frequented by most of the young male record buyers in the town… including me!
It is worth mentioning here also that in the 70’s and 80’s competition to The DJ was fierce and there was at least 8-10 places (not including second hand outlets) in Hastings town centre alone where you could buy records, tapes (and latterly cd’s)..
I have to confess at this point that I did not know Alan or Sue particularly well, but as a regular to their shop (along with a friend of mine Simon Griffiths – a man known to ALL record shop owners from the period) am writing this piece with genuine fondness for The DJ was the focal point for most music lovers in Hastings at the time and the DJ sale truly a monumental event!
It is no exaggeration to say that some would even queue OVERNIGHT outside the DJ to be first through the doors on the first day of the sale. Alan would offer crazy promotions like for instance the new Duran Duran album for 10p to the first 10 people to ask for it. There would be literally hundreds of incredibly cheap items and you could fill as many carrier bags as you could carry for a nominal fee if (like me) you were prepared to ‘take a chance’ on cheapies that you hadn’t heard. How many of you recall the DJ’s ‘Mystery Bags’? A bag full of 12’’ singles for a £1, to me they were simply heaven and I would spend hours and hours going through the records I got playing them and swapping with friends that had also ‘gone mad’ on them.
Other memorable moments associated with Alan Jensen and The DJ include when Alan insisted on displaying John Lennon’s ‘Two Virgins’ record sleeve (features John and Yoko Ono naked) on the walls of the shop despite a number of complaints. The shop also drew up a petition regarding the controversial film ‘A Clockwork Orange’ campaigning for it to be shown in local cinemas. Alan Jensen was quite obviously a man that liked to get his own way then? Maybe so, but as a man so ahead of his time in his thinking, should we perhaps be surprised that he was also ‘ahead of the game’ as a businessman? Quite simply, ‘The Disc Jockey’ remained the most successful record shop in Hastings for some 23 years.
Tragically, the Alan Jensen, ‘Big Al’ and the DJ story was not to have a happy ending however.
With the boom in the national consumption of records and music in the 80’s, so more ‘multiple’ shops like Virgin, HMV and Our Price began to appear all over the country. In 1984 (while working at Stylus Records – one of the town’s other record shops) I heard it rumoured that the Our Price chain was looking to open a shop in Hastings. This was quite simply BAD news for all of Hastings independent shops as with large chain stores inevitably come large discounts and ‘under cutting’. As with all large businesses, the ability to buy in bulk gives them the power to push manufacturers for big discounts, this in turn allowing them to undercut rivals prices. However well established and loved the DJ’ was, Alan Jensen knew that the arrival of an Our Price in the town could put him out of business. When then the Our Price group expressed an interest in buying the DJ (VERY reluctantly) Alan decided to sell.
The decision to sell however was heavily influenced by Alan’s failing health. In December 1984 Jensen had gone into hospital for an eye operation. Sadly, the operation had not been a success and in July 1985 Alan Jensen lost the sight in his right eye. Worse news soon followed and he was told that he could soon lose the sight in his other eye to.
On August 7th 1985 (just after the closure of the DJ) Alan attempted to commit suicide using car exhaust fumes. Though he was found and rescued on that occasion, after a period of treatment in Hellingly hospital a few days later at 8am Alan told staff that he was ‘going for a walk’. A woman out walking her dog found his body hanging by a belt from the branch of an apple tree, several crates having been stacked underneath. A note saying ‘Can’t function without DJ’ was found nearby and the Alan Jensen success story was over aged just 51.
Through the pages of this magazine and the words I have written in this article, I should like to say a big THANK YOU to Alan, Sue and all of the former employee’s of The Disc Jockey. I (like so many people reading this I am sure) have so many happy memories of them and the shop to cherish from my youth and music and the pop charts REALLY meant something to us all in those days…happy memories for an obsessive music lover like me.
Antony May 4/1/09 Amended 17 and 18/01/09
Peter James Shaw….Very well put together and so true…a really enterprising and interesting man, and I still have vinyl with the Disc Jockey price tag on the sleeve!! RIP AJ….
Tony Ham….Still got Disc Jockey price stickers on a lot of my old albums.
Andre Palfrey-martin….Interesting write up, but its a decade out – 1960s was the start period of the Disc Jockey Empire – I have attached the Christmas Advert from the Hastings Observer 1962. I know that John started the group dances in the Market Hall in George Street in the late 1950s, and continued throughout the early 60s with promotions.
Michael Mepham….I remember Simon “Carl” Griffiths too . When I found out that he’d passed away I also found out that someone charged his mother £300 to clear his record collection. That really was the pits! He had the first (and only) Quadrophonic sound system that I’ve ever heard. I think There were only about 3 albums in that format: Tubular Bells, Dark Side Of The Moon and maybe one other. Jeez, they sounded great!
Antony Martin John May….I am STILL looking for a pic of ‘Carl’ Griffiths Mick/everyone. I believe he was pictured with the group MEDICINE HEAD in one of the local papers circa 1976-7 so if anyone has that cutting I would love to see it. Simon’s (as I knew him) record collection was worth at least 20,000 and his mum got stung for £300 to take them away.I am not joking in the slightest when I say Simon would have killed the people who trashed a lot of his stuff into the skips shortly after he died either!
Chris Meachen….Spent many an hour listening to that superb quadraphonic outfit at Carl/Simon’s.. He was a unique character, as anyone who knew him can testify! I also remember Big Al with great fondness, particularly when he would happily play the latest Tull, Zep or whatever album right through, while groups of us filled the listening booth with aromatic vapours.. Grand days, & much missed folks..
Graham How….Cliff Brooker designed the Big Al bird, I worked in the Disc Jockey on many Saturdays. Loved it!
Gerry Fortsch… I new Alan very well, he was a nice guy and always helpful, he acquired a large amount of musical gear for me in the 60’s.
Andrew Clifton… The last record I bought in Disc Jockey was Street’s of London by the anti nowhere league.
Peter Gladwish… As well as many records, I bought my first 12 string guitar from Big Al’s shop in the late 60’s. He did a great deal for me and even let me pay for it a bit at a time. I still have the guitar in my collection. Also started buying my drum heads from Big Al. Great bloke, who took a real interest in his customers. Sadly missed but always remembered with fondness. Here’s a receipt from 1972 with Al’s signature!
Terry Hardwick… I remember it well standing by the counter listening to the new releases.
Jane Dorsett… Use to go in a lot,as I worked in Chelsea girl opposite.
Steve Maxted… Although the majority of records that I played were given to me by the record companies (to promote), every Thursday when I travelled down to my shows in St. Leonards then Hastings, I would arrive early in the afternoon and call in at ‘The Disc Jockey’ I remember Alan & various staff well and used to look forward to calling in. A great shop
Alan McCann… I knew Alan Jensen before he had the Disc Jockey; his dad had a shop in Battle Road, Hollington.
I also used the Disc Jockey, but also Jack London’s Record shop – equally a nice and knowledgeable guy.
I was the chief projectionist at the Classic, and we used to get one LP a month for the cinema from Alan. Really exciting stuff – like Geoff Love, Mantovani, Ray Conniff, you get the drift!. When I started there in ’76 there was an 8 track mono tape player being used for interval music, yet the cinema was equipped for Stereo.
Through Alan we bought a new magnetic cartridge for the turntable, and got the quality back.
When I was demoted to Manager we did a number of record tie-ups with the Disc Jockey. It was a sad time to hear of him first giving up the shop, and then dying so tragically, but good to read of so many memories from people who knew him.
John Warner… Yes I received 100’s of free records via David Wigg who was a reporter on the Kent Messenger. We had so many we just did not have time to listen to them all. Biggest mistake was ignoring a copy of My Bonny recorded in Hamburg by the Beatles, now worth good money!