Peter Gibbon Remembered
14 November 1944 - 21 December 2019
Even before Peter Gibbon started to work with Ace, he would turn up at various studios where I was transferring tapes anxious to jot down every date and number from the tape boxes. In particular when I was copying the Stax tapes, he was totally in his element, not only getting to hear fantastic music every day but all those dates. Among the tapes was the motherlode of unissued sides from the early “blue” period and he finally got to compile CDs of Ruby Johnson and his all-time favourite, Carla Thomas. Peter did enjoy a female soul singer.
He was also very good company with an immense knowledge of doo wop and soul music in particular. I learnt a lot from him. At the time he was flying high with IBM, but was also one of the top discographers of American music of the post-War period. When he eventually left IBM, he joined the Ace team and built our fantastic US Singles Database, still invaluable to this day, even with the advent of 45cat and Discogs.
He could be irascible and did enjoy a drink, but it was all part and parcel of a man with a passion for the music that he not only documented but collected avidly and responded to emotionally. He was very much part of a generation of mainly middle-class British men who were in awe of these remarkable records wafting their way across the Atlantic. Peter was a perfect match for Ace, mixing a desire for as much information he could glean from the records while at the same time engaging in them musically.
One nice anecdote is that when we bought the Doré catalogue and the paperwork was shipped from the US, it contained boxes of shipping orders for records as well as the contracts. Under T for Teddy Bears, however, was an empty folder. We were going to ditch the pressing orders, much to Peter’s outrage – so much information to be had there. One day he came up from the warehouse with a contract. It was the Teddy Bears paperwork hidden by Lew Beddell in the middle of the pressing orders.
We have missed him for a while now as he had been getting progressively more ill, but I am sure he is logging the Celestial Choir’s repertoire up there somewhere. – ROGER ARMSTRONG
Peter and I met at Oxford University in the early 60s. As I recall, he was attending Wadham College and I was at Magdalen College. He was studying Maths and I was studying Chemistry. We met through a mutual interest in record collecting and discography. I had been listing record labels since my mid-teens and he had compiled similar lists. We used to compare notes and help each other improve our listings. Mine still contain some updates handwritten by Peter.
When we left University, Peter regularly visited my first wife and me in our flats in Wanstead and South Woodford, where Ray Topping and Norman Jopling were also frequent visitors. Later on Peter used to stay weekends with us in our cottage in Hatfield Peverel near Chelmsford in Essex. Amongst many other weekend and party guests at that time were Tim Rice and Storm Thorgerson, who photographed the “Atom Heart Mother” cow on the way home.
When Peter married Mickey and moved to Staines we didn’t see so much of him. Later on when I had remarried he became godfather to our second son, also named Peter. When he retired from IBM he became a consultant at Ace Records. – TREVOR CHURCHILL
Peter came aboard at Ace Records as a consultant about the same time as me in the early 1990s. The label was expanding rapidly in the CD era, and Ray Topping and Ady Croasdell couldn’t handle it all.
Peter was an Oxford University graduate and former IBM executive who had a spell living in the US in New Jersey. He was a very serious record collector and discographer. I still recall being in awe the first time I saw his collection, including an enviable run of Golden World singles.
It was no surprise that he used his keen intellect, computer knowledge and discographical expertise to build an unparalleled database at Ace. He supervised many soul and doo wop releases. What a great time we had at the Ace consultants’ meetings – hard work and hard play, where we all bounced ideas off each other. Peter always came armed with a library of discographies. I also recall fondly his visits with Mickey to Shelley and me in Long Island on their annual trips to the US Open Tennis Championships in Flushing Meadows. His work in helping to elevate Ace to become one of the world’s leading reissue labels will always be treasured.
It is entirely appropriate that his life is due to be celebrated at The Bells in Staines, Middlesex, where he entertained many of us royally over the years. Please raise your glasses, everybody, in Peter’s honour. – JOHN BROVEN
I corresponded with Peter about soul label listings and discographies for Shout and Soul Bag magazines in the 1970s and we met up at various record fairs pursuing those elusive 45s. In the 1990s I was delighted to help Peter set up the Ace database and assist him on several compilations for the company. Peter and I took every opportunity to attend live music gigs, especially Ady Croasdell’s Cleethorpes Soul Weekenders. Our first visit there featured the amazing line-up of Barbara Lewis, Lou Courtney and Betty Lavette, all on top vocal form, sounding just like their records. We lost touch for a while due to his illness, but Bob Dunham and I managed to re-establish contact a couple of years ago. Bob will tell you more. – ROB HUGHES
I first met Peter Gibbon when I joined Ace Records in the late 1990s. In his consultancy role Peter was instrumental in training me up for the grand position of Tape Administrator and Archivist, a job that continues to this day, some 23 years later. I’ve also had the pleasure of working from the US Singles Database he instigated at Ace. I thank him.
Peter was bedevilled by leg problems which steadily worsened to the point he was unable to continue working, and contact was lost for some years. He was eventually confined to a wheelchair and mostly housebound, with wife Mickey becoming his main carer. On top of that, arthritis in his fingers prevented him from using a keyboard, a telephone and, heaven forbid, his trusty record player. Peter’s mental strength and sharpness got him through such challenges, and those powers continued undiminished.
These troubles all came to light when former Ace staffer Rob Hughes and myself eventually re-established contact with Peter, and in recent years we made a number of visits to Staines. Not to his house, mind you, but to The Bells, his local pub, to where Mickey would wheel him the two minutes from home. Occasionally she would stay but usually tended to disappear and return some three or four hours later to take Peter home after he’d treated us to an excellent lunch and stimulating conversation to go with the liquid refreshment. Despite the arthritis he still found a way to raise the elbow.
To add to Peter’s woes Mickey sadly passed away in late 2018. Without his main carer, Peter subsequently booked himself into a care home in Virginia Water where he would spend the last period of his life. However, our visits to The Bells were by no means over. Peter tracked down a cabbie with wheelchair access, and myself and Rob were able to meet up with him a few more times during what turned out to be his final months. A further visit was planned for early this year, but it wasn’t to be. – BOB DUNHAM
Although he never had any book or major work officially published that I am aware of, Peter Gibbon was to my mind one of the great discographers. He was the ultimate denizen of the dead wax, a man to whom you could throw the title of an arbitrary 45 release, and off the top of his head he’d immediately and knowledgeably respond with “Money 215”, “Arock 1006”, or “Stax 243”. While I’d hesitate to equate Peter’s mind with that of the fictional savant in the film Rain Man, he wasn’t far off in his grasp upon the runes and hieroglyphs of deep record collecting, particularly when it came to its black American tributaries. People consider me a nerd who purportedly might know who made the tea on the session, but while I have always loved collating discographical info – about the only maths I can stomach – I am nowhere near Peter’s league as a record scholar.
Of course, myself and the other consultants who work for Ace Records have been for many years the beneficiaries of his expertise. In the days before Discogs and 45cat, there were few readily accessible resources to assess what and what hadn’t been released on vinyl from the golden era of the 1950s-1970s. Peter’s computer skills collated all the then-available info from books and elsewhere into a series of tremendous databases that are still an effective tool for compiling. I would happily pass on my findings in the field to him at a regular basis, and we could talk labels all day long, no doubt to the exasperation of those within earshot.
Before his physical health prevented him from participating, I would often see Peter on the Ace team’s Stateside visits, beavering over his laptop as myself, Roger or whomever else was along for the trip pulled reels from a vault’s shelves and threw them on the tape machine. He seemed genuinely happy entering the relevant data while we worked. Like Roger, Peter did a lot of time at the Stax coalface when that particular catalogue was owned by Fantasy Records in Berkeley, California, just down the road from where I lived. We’d get together not just to talk Ace business, but also to make jaunt outs to record fairs and stores on the farther-flung reaches of the Bay Area. It was there that I first caught sight of Peter’s trusty, dog-eared notebook with endless and copious listings of labels in which he would furiously jot throughout the crate-digging.
I got to know Peter a little, and discovered that as well as an old salt at the record collecting game, he was somewhat of a foodie. Although my wife Cindy remembers the time we served him dinner at our apartment and he rhapsodised about the apple pie – she didn’t have the heart to tell him it came from the freezer at the local Safeway. He also knew his ale, and many of our conversations were conducted over a jar or three at a pub down the road from Ace Towers, or indeed the bar at whatever hotel was hosting the consultants meeting – a wonderful tradition that sadly no longer occurs, where everyone got together to discuss their latest repertoire leads and talk turkey on all matters Ace. It was at some of these post-dinner reveries that Peter would confide highlights from his youthful days as a fan, including the time he visited the London hotel room of a beloved American soul chanteuse and sat quietly agog while she nonchalantly changed outfits in front of him.
I hadn’t been around Peter since he had had to withdraw from Ace activities due to illness, so my memories remain of how he was. There is a wonderful photo that Roger took at one of the above-mentioned meetings that sums up Peter’s personality. He is leaning forward with a crooked finger upraised, making a point in inimitable fashion. That’s how I will always think of Peter Gibbon: a feisty, irascible, but always kind man. – ALEC PALAO