Tributes to Backs Records founder Johnny Appel, who has died aged 64

Johnny Appel. Photo:Antony Kelly Copy:David Bale For:EN News EN pics © 2005 (01603) 772435

Johnny Appel. Photo:Antony Kelly Copy:David Bale For:EN News EN pics © 2005 (01603) 772435 - Credit: Evening News � 2005

He was regarded as an instrumental figure in the East Anglian music scene, who helped launch the careers of many local bands.

Backs Records on Swan Lane

Backs Records on Swan Lane - Credit: Archant

Johnny Appel, who has died aged 64, gave groups including The Farmer's Boys and The Higsons a chance to publicise their music nationally.

Through Backs Records, which he founded in Norwich, he also became the go-to person for alternative music in the city.

Following his death this month, friends and family have paid tribute ahead of his funeral at All Saints Church in Little Melton on January 27.

Originally from Suffolk, Mr Appel initially came to Norwich to study at the city's school of art, but dropped out in the final year.


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His wife, Lesley, said he then became something of a hippy, before 'wandering' his way into the music scene in the 1970s.

Having secured a managerial position at Robin's Records, on Pottergate, he decided to start his own record shop on Swan Lane in 1979.

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He chose the name 'Backs' as he had initially hoped for the shop to be based at the Back of the Inns, in Norwich.

And despite ending up on Swan Lane, Mr Appel kept the name as he had already designed the artwork

The shop stood out thanks to the varied mix of records on sale, from punk bands, to other alternative up-and-coming local musicians as well as main stream.

Mrs Appel, who married him in 1984, said: 'Backs then got involved with the [record label and distributor] Rough Trade and the next thing we became a distribution centre, which started in our house on Greenhills Road.

'It was mad at the time, we had records being stored in our spare bedroom, and no one knew what was going to happen because independent distribution was so new.'

Around 1982, Mr Appel started his own record label and signed various local bands including the Farmer's Boys.

His connection with national distributor Rough Trade, meant that local artists were given a platform to promote their work nationally.

While the shop closed in 1991, Backs Distribution continued at St Mary Works and later joined forces with the distributor Shellshock.

Mr Appel became director of both companies in 1998, prior to them merging in 2001 under the name Shellback, which is still in operation today, with an office in London and in Duke Street, Norwich.

Mr Appel stayed with the company until his death from pancreatic cancer on January 7, at his home in Hellesdon.

His wife described him as a 'kind and generous' man. She added 'He was probably one of the best friends you could ever have. He would do anything for a friend.'

Do you have memories of Backs Records or Mr Appel? Email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk or write to Evening News letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE giving your full name, address and contact details.

Tributes

Richard Price, who wrote on various Norwich music fanzines in the 1980s, said: 'Johnny Appel was right at the centre of creating 'the Norwich sound', as John Peel and David Jensen called it.

'The local music scene was thriving in the early 80s. Under Appel, Backs gave bands confidence, promotion, funds and access to The Cartel, the national independent network. It was exciting and made a big difference.'

Pete Keeley, 54, from Wymondham, said Mr Appel gave him his very first job, when he was a 'punk-obsessed teenager'.

He said: 'He pretty much gave me free rein as a teenager to discover and push so much exciting, incredible music, and helped feed a passion that still exists today. He never treated me as an employee, but more like a mischievous son.

'He was a very important figure in my life, even though I drifted away for a long time. He gave me respect and a chance as a teenager that not many people would have done then. He allowed me to release and sign up so much great music, and never once questioned my taste or opinion on music, and always believed in me and gave me confidence.'

Do you have memories of Backs Records or Mr Appel? Email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk or write to Evening News letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE giving your full name, address and contact details.

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