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Eugene Manzi, record shop owner at the heart of Camden’s music scene

His shop famously had an outside vending machine where one could buy 45 rpm singles at any time during the night – or day – if they fancied it

30 May, 2020 — By Mike Baess

Eugene Manzi

CAMDEN and music business legend Eugene Manzi, who ran one of the borough’s greatest ever record shops, has died aged 76.

In the late 60s through till the early 80s Manzi Records in Finchley Road, Swiss Cottage, was one of the hippest record shops in London, stocking hard-to-find American imports and specialising in soul and the then popular rock and underground music.

His knowledge of music was unrivalled and it led him not only to running the London office of American music label Beserkley but in the early 1980s being offered the prime job of head of press at London Records.

Eugene grew up in Primrose Hill above his father’s grocery store, G Manzi, in Regent’s Park Road, and fondly remembered the area as a mixed “Bohemian and working-class neighbourhood of artists and students, immigrants and small factories that were a world away from the swish ‘village’ ‘it has become today”.

His grandfather Gaetano Manzi, who was born in Ravello, on the Amalfi coast in Italy, arrived in London at the turn of the 20th century and is said to have walked all the way, taking many months to do so.

He set up in Primrose Hill as a fruiterer, a street musician and vendor of Italian-style ice cream. His family are distantly related to Manzi family who owned Marine Ices in Chalk Farm, and one of his uncles owned a fish restaurant and hotel off Leicester Square.

Eugene’s great passion was music and he worked as a DJ in London during the mod years of the mid-1960s before scraping enough money to set up his record shop in Swiss Cottage around 1968.

The shop famously had an outside vending machine where one could buy 45 rpm singles at any time during the night – or day – if they fancied it.

Even though the shop started at the dawning of the rock era, it moved with the times and when punk erupted Manzi was one of the first shops in north London to stock some of the hard-to-find independent label singles.

That era also led to Eugene being asked to run the London office of Beserkley Records and he had great success with the label’s Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers, not only with the seminal punk single Roadrunner but also with Egyptian Reggae, which made it into the UK top 5.

That established Eugene within the music business and he was offered the head of press job at London Records. Among the acts he represented were Bananarama, All Saints, Los Lobos, Bronski Beat, but perhaps more important from a cultural view point the FFRR label which was at the forefront of the dance movement in the late 80s and 90s. Eugene had been suffering from breathing difficulties for a few years. Unfortunately his breathing deteriorated in the past few weeks and he died in hospital on Saturday morning.

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