Daniel Kevin Daly (he never used his first name) was born in north-west London on 15th April 1942, the first child of Daniel and Eva; he had a strict religious upbringing, his father being a devout (some might say obsessive) Catholic, who had settled in England after making the crossing from Dublin to Liverpool in the 1920s. It was not, by his own account, a happy childhood, with little affection; but what he lacked in tenderness was made up for by plenty of strict religious observance. His sister, Patricia was born in 1944, and they both attended the nearby St. Dominic’s Catholic primary school. Two events in his childhood would change his life. The first was discovering George Formby at Saturday morning pictures; the second was the start of his life as a collector. In Kevin’s own words:
“My own interest in recording goes back to when I was twelve years old and bought a wind-up HMV Table Grand from a school mate, Tony Cox, for thirty shillings, together with a collection of records which he had presumably rescued from an attic where they must have been placed around about 1925! Among other gems I remember Jack Hylton’s ‘Under The Ukulele Tree’, Milton Hayes with his ‘Meanderings Of Monte’, and ‘I Belong To Glasgow’ sung by Will Fyffe. Discovering that new records cost nearly five shillings, which was way out of my financial reach, I found that it was possible to buy second-hand discs for a fraction of this in junk shops and on market stalls. It was at Queens Crescent market in 1955 that I met Alf Brightman who took me under his wing and instilled in me an awareness that there can be interest and beauty even in the oldest and most modest record. He taught me how to discriminate between junk and worthwhile records. Our own musical tastes were quite different. I was interested in jazz and pop music while Alf was a walking encyclopedia of Bel-Canto who had an enviable collection of operatic rareties; but despite this divergence of taste and age we became great friends.”
Alf had a market stall in Seaton Market, near Warren Street, and one in Queens Crescent market, in Kentish Town, across the road from where Kevin was living, in Montague Tibbles House. Through him, Kevin discovered 78rpm discs, and his life as a record collector began. Alf was also undoubtedly a much needed kindly father-figure, giving the young boy a new confidence, and an opening into an exciting, vibrant world. It should be noted that Kevin’s taste in music – 1930s dance bands, George Formby, Music Hall – was highly unusual for a teenage boy growing up in the 1950s. It never changed, and his emotional attachment to his first musical loves only deepened throughout his life. As a record producer not that many years later, he would seek out and work personally with many of those artists who transformed his early life: Bing Crosby, Arthur Askey, Stanley Holloway, Jessie Matthews, Ted Ray. It was almost a ritual itself: the need for real-life professional interaction with internalised heroes.
At last, he had an all-encompassing pursuit, which happily also helped to distract him from his home life. It was around this time that he decisively rejected his father’s religion; not that Kevin was ever the rebel, he would dutifully carry out Catholic observances and ritual, knowing it made for an easy life, removing the possiblility of being “thrown around the room.” He remained an uninterested agnostic all his life; not for him the stridency of New Atheism; as he said of religion, “It never even crosses my mind.”
Apart from records, the other interest that runs through Kevin’s life is art – his early school books and notepads are covered in doodles, and in later life he developed his own ‘pop art’ style. Kevin worked hard at school, and was an extremely bright and able pupil. His work was of a high standard, and the future looked promising. But he had little time for the priest-teachers, and he was, moreover, also spending much of his time (far too much in fact) in the Kentish Town and Camden Town markets, utilising his, by now, formidable knowledge of records by dealing himself, as well as assisting Alf. After several warnings due to his absenteeism, Kevin was expelled from Finchley Grammar. However much of a blow it was then, in time it came to be a huge matter of regret for Kevin. A lack of university education for someone as intelligent and able as Kevin was inevitably going to be hard, and in unguarded moments he admitted to an acute lack of inner confidence because of it.
Kevin continued to work in the markets, and one day came across a small trunk, full of memorabilia about the great Music Hall star George Formby Senior (father of the ukulele-playing star of the same name). Kevin, being an enterprising boy, (he was still only fifteen) tracked down Formby, where he was performing, and managed to get backstage, and presented him with the trunk. A touched Formby asked him to stay for tea, where Kevin remembers, he spent much of their time together complaining about the lack of parking near the theatre. Anyway, addresses were exchanged, and a correspondence began between Formby and the fifteen year old Kevin ensued (Formby’s letters written by his wife, Beryl), with Formby lending Kevin his private tapes and discs, and Kevin in return sending them recordings he’d made himself. They were still in contact two years later. In a letter dated 26 September 1959, Beryl writes,
“George just doesn’t know how to thank you for your great kindness in sending along all of your tape recordings; my my what a collection, we have never seen anything like it, we certainly haven’t got anything like it, but thanks to you we now have… None of the numbers you mention were ever recorded; sorry we have no records we could send you as you have got the lot.”
It’s worth bearing in mind that Kevin was only seventeen at the time. It was the first time he’d met one of his heroes, and it’s significant that, even at that young age, far from being a starry-eyed, breathless fan, he turned it into a semi-professional relationship. Kevin, already bitten by the record bug, now had a sense of what it was like ‘on the inside’ through his friendship with the Formbys. There was now only ever going to be one career path he wished to pursue.