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Me, my stack, my record shop: Premier League referee Jon Moss

Jon Moss at The Vinyl Whistle
(Image credit: Jon Moss (The Vinyl Whistle) )

For someone who, by his own admission, had “a late one last night”, Premier League referee Jon Moss looks incredibly chipper. In fact, he’s the one telling us we look as if we could use a coffee after the drive from London to Headingley, Leeds, promptly whipping up a cappuccino from the espresso machine behind the beer taps at the till-point, adding, “There you go. I know how far it is; I know my mileage”. 

Why has Moss been burning the midnight oil? Thursday is open decks night here, at his record shop, The Vinyl Whistle. “People come in and have a try at DJ-ing. It’s half hour-slots – you don’t have to be any good”.

Whatever our expectations, Moss – who has officiated over 100 International football matches and more than 350 Premier League ties – adopting the role of barista himself is both surprising and endearing. Wearing a Piccadilly Records T-shirt and jeans, he happily introduces his wife, Julie, who is busy putting a sale through as we walk over. Just over three years ago, Jon Moss turned to his wife on holiday in Dubai and said, “You know, I’ve got so many records now, I could do with my own record shop”, to which she replied, “Yes, but we’d also make it a coffee shop”. 

The Vinyl Whistle in Headingley, Leeds

(Image credit: The Vinyl Whistle)

Moss smiles, “That’s literally how it came about. We started looking for properties from the sunbed. We found the place in February and signed in April – we didn’t even think about it”. 

No regrets then? “Oh, if we knew now what it would entail, we probably wouldn’t have done it!” Moss laughs, but he’s joking. “We thought it would just be a record shop and we’d have some new and second-hand records. But then it evolved to a bigger place [we’re actually across the road from the premises Moss originally took on in 2019] and the coffee really took off [it really is a great cappuccino] and now our own label. See, we wanted to support the local Leeds scene: there are a lot of Leeds bands.” 

As if on cue, a teenager enters the shop, sees Jon sat at one of the tables and greets him as if the friendship has lasted longer than he’s been alive. Jon asks how it’s all going – he’s seen bits and pieces on Twitter and it looks “good man”. The young man says they’re almost done and perhaps trying to get a little tour together. 

“Well, it’s Record Store Day on the 23rd, is that too early to do something here?” Jon gestures over to the raised stage area of the shop, on the left as you come in, where a PA system plus a set of more intimate real-wood floorstanding speakers is ready to entertain up to 90 punters when The Vinyl Whistle becomes a venue (“I couldn’t tell you what they are – great sound on them though. We sometimes use them for open decks, but we ran open decks through the PA yesterday, which was better”). 

The Vinyl Whistle can also host gigs with up to 90 people in attendance

(Image credit: The Vinyl Whistle )

“The 23rd of this month?” the chap answers, “I could always come do something on my own?”

“Do that. We’ve got English Teacher [an act that has just got to the finals for emerging talent at Glastonbury] doing a DJ set in the morning, eight o’clock. There’ll be a queue out the door.”

“Yeah I’ll come and play some songs! I’ll shoot an email round to everyone too.”

“Do it. Anyway I’ll let you mingle. There’s loads of cheap records over there – 15 quid.”

Jon turns back to us, explaining, “He’s in a band called Van Houten, from Leeds, really good. They’ve got an album coming out.” 

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Honestly, it’s fun just to watch Headingley’s music scene in action. Live gigs happen regularly here, thanks in part to the two trusty Technics 1210 turntables kept in use ten hours a day, every day. On Wednesday, a Leeds University society took over the shop; tomorrow night there’s a band on. 

To say that Moss is into vinyl is like saying Cristiano Ronaldo is into scoring goals. This is a man who owns six turntables – a Pro-Ject Debut Pro and an amp in the front room (“but the whole thing cost about two grand. Sorry, you probably want me to be a bit more technical!”) plus his favoured Technics 1210s, some of which have been ‘pimped’ with lights and such for the shop, by a specialist in Wakefield. “We just use Numark cartridges on the Technics 1210s, they sound great. We’ve had Concordes before, but we just love those Numarks, they’ve never let us down” he enthuses. “What I love about the 1210s is that they sound good, they look cool and they are just so robust. I have tried some of the newer ones and I don’t think they’re as good – mine are MK1, 2 or 3, but the newer ones are just more flimsy and they’ve lost a bit of design quality.” 

Jon Moss' record shop, The Vinyl Whistle

(Image credit: Future)

We ask if he’s ever considered a really high-end system for “his bit” at home, a downstairs hi-fi room where Jon heads the morning before a game. This is where he goes to prepare and to “stick a record on”, often running the deck through different amps (“I’ve got a Denon, a Cambridge… I sort of hoard things”) and where he estimates around half of The Vinyl Whistle’s 20,000 records are kept at any one time. He grimaces a little. “That high-end vibe,” he shrugs, “I was going to treat myself before the pandemic, actually, I went to a proper dealership in Otley, had the big horn speakers out and a massive turntable, and I was struggling to hear the difference.” He laughs somewhat shyly, “It’s probably my hearing! Also, I didn’t want the hassle of the really expensive cartridge… I wanted to hear it. I wanted to.”

£15 bargain vinyl albums at The Vinyl Whistle

(Image credit: The Vinyl Whistle)

As if to validate premium sound systems, he offers, “I think with my record collection though, it doesn’t necessarily make sense. I am not one of those people who comes into a record shop and the record has to be pristine or I won’t buy it – I am not like that. I’ll buy the record if I want that record, as long as it plays. That’s where the 1210s are so good.”

So for Moss it isn’t about a certain re-release or press? “Oh it’s always been about music, for me! I think if you’re a vinyl fan, what makes a record more satisfying and better than Spotify is that it’s not perfect – not standard. I don’t want a house that’s perfect and I don’t want a stereo that no one is allowed to touch. I don’t want people to worry if they drop the needle; for me it’s what playing records is about.”

Vinyl (which is the only format officially sold at The Vinyl Whistle, bar a few CDs on sale which are donations) is a lifelong passion for Moss that began when he agreed to rejoin his friends in the UK after a stint playing football and studying at the University of Connecticut. He had two interviews, one in London and one at Leeds University. “When the coach going back to Newcastle broke down in Leeds I thought it was a sign!” he laughs, adding, “I ended up being a student here and went to lots of record shops around Headingley. I was always into music and bands, all my friends were. I just loved going to a record shop and buying records.” 

Downstairs in the third room at The Vinyl Whistle

(Image credit: The Vinyl Whistle)

Showing us around the shop, which comprises the ground floor coffee shop with “expensive bit” and “speed section”, plus a further three rooms in the basement for dedicated crate rummaging, it’s clear he knew exactly how it should be laid out too. “We set it up like this because on weekends away Julie would often be like, ‘You go into the record shop, I’ll just hang around’ and so you’ve got to have a speed section.” 

Downstairs, Moss points out the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s sections, indie, the “more chilled third room” featuring grunge, jazz, hip-hop and world music, then film soundtracks, soul, punk, classic rock, plus the dance boxes next to a Technics 1210 with Numark over-ears and an Onkyo amp. “Our little battle axe system,” Moss states. “A lot of dance DJs come down here wanting to listen and sample stuff, so it’s really important we’ve got that.”

The 'battle axe' Technics system

(Image credit: The Vinyl Whistle)

En route, Moss draws us to new releases he’s really excited about – Wet Leg (“They are going to be massive”), MC Solaar, Kendrick Lamar, Little Simz, Lizzo – as well as records that have just been brought back out on bright blue vinyl (Wheatus’ Teenage Dirtbag and the 1998 Robbie Williams classic, I’ve Been Expecting You) plus dead-cert sellers such as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, the Beatles’ Abbey Road and, “of course Pink Floyd – we could sell those all day every day.” As we walk, Moss is half-searching for Radiohead’s OK Computer, which they should have two new copies of, but “What people do is, they lift things up, then put it back anywhere.”

We suggest that maybe shoppers are hiding certain copies so that only they know where they are, with a plan to come back and buy later? Moss smiles cheekily. “I’ve done that before in record shops. We are actually doing a returns box now, so if you’ve finished browsing and you don’t want it, you put it in the box and we can put it back for you.” The idea of a revered Premier League referee tidying up after us is more than a little disconcerting. 

Effectively absolving customers of any guilt whatsoever, Moss adds, “I think record collectors come into a record shop with an idea of what they want to look for, but if you spend time in a record shop – you’ve got to invest time in the shop – you’ll find something you like more. Also, we have albums for £2, £5. You might take a £2 album and that might start your entire collection”.

Is trade a big part of the business? “Oh yeah, we probably have about three or four collections per week. I’ve been to a couple of houses this week, or people come in with a pile. Normally it’s a bartering thing, but sometimes people just want rid of them.” 

Any music genre Moss struggles with? “My passion was always indie music, but since having a record shop I’ve tried to broaden my horizons. I like World music, ’70s. I just can’t get into jazz. I can’t stand it.” 

The Vinyl Whistle

(Image credit: The Vinyl Whistle)

How was it opening a small high street business less than a year before the pandemic hit? “It was perfect for us, in all honesty. We didn’t really have an online presence at the start, because we’d not long opened, no discogs or anything like that, but lockdown allowed us to get everything online quickly. We put our entire collection online and sold loads of records.” 

When we ask what Moss is listening to right now, he scratches his head. “It’s a good question, but really a tough one for me. See, I take 20 to 30 records home every week. Right now I’ve got some DJ boxes that I’m trying to work through in my bit downstairs.” His face lights up, “Oh, I love Yard Act’s new album though! They came in to see us on Tuesday, they’re just back from America, but they’re going back out there.” 

Downstairs at The Vinyl Whistle

(Image credit: The Vinyl Whistle)

Moss is a man for whom time is marked by album acquisitions. He found a long-desired Courteeners album in Dublin a couple of years ago and still says it’s the best holiday he and his wife ever had, because of the get. At his daughter’s graduation more recently, in Manchester, the walk from the ceremony to the restaurant yielded two record shop visits where Moss also found “two things I was really after”. 

We wonder how he mixes the various aspects of his professional life – records and red cards, VAR and vinyl, a high press or a specific vinyl press, 45 to mean a single or half of a top-tier football match? Humbly, Moss ventures, “I do still referee and stuff.” We assure him that we know – Moss is seeing us on Friday 8th April, the day before he will officiate a Premier League tie between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park.

Moss leans in conspiratorially. “When I was refereeing in different cities, obviously you had to be there 24 hours before. And when you’re doing international matches you have to be in the country for three days. When you’re in Europe, they want you to go to sleep in the afternoon because that’s the way they do things, but my body clock doesn’t really work like that, so I’d at least find a record shop, so I could go in and buy records during our downtime.” 

Moss has kindly agreed to see us today, before the game tomorrow and ahead of Record Store Day, because he’s going to Spain next week. Will he be refereeing the Barca Eintracht Frankfurt game? “No, but I have done that,” he smiles. We imagine we’d smile too at the memory of a stint at the formidable mes que un club Camp Nou. “I’m mostly finished with all that now though. I’m probably coming towards the end of my career and we’re concentrating on this – I did 100 international games, so, that’s 300 days out of the country and, you know, my children were at home.”

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The young man from Van Houten emerges from the basement and comes back to thank Moss for the heads-up about a gig. He leaves and we’re reminded of the recent release of The Vinyl Whistle’s first record as a label, with Leeds indie duo Mega Happy. “Yes! The label was all about promoting new bands on the scene. We promote them, put a show on at Brudenell Social Club, we’ve got our own beer, we’ve got a festival coming up over Easter in a hotel nearby with a massive courtyard, we’ve got sponsorship with Kirkstall brewery…” 

Moss nods to a regular customer, and two younger men come in asking if it’s OK to take a seat and study – possibly, like us, they are anticipating the arrival of a soon-to-be huge music act. Jon nods and turns back to us. “See that’s the thing about having a record shop, things happen all the time. People come in, we have a chat. We’re sort of trying to be a hub of the community – I want people to come in, do their work and maybe, yeah, get something out of this.”

The Vinyl Whistle's ground floor cafe and venue

(Image credit: The Vinyl Whistle)

It isn’t a case of trying. We look around us – the mature shopper in his Cramps T-shirt browsing the high-end section, the dozens of people nodding to Jon or Julie and making a beeline downstairs since we started talking, the young artist set to gig there in two weeks, the beer taps next to the coffee machine, the two students studying-slash-waiting for something to happen – The Vinyl Whistle emphatically is a hub; it is a music scene.

“I think record shops can’t just survive on records. They need to have some unique selling point. It’s the same in hi-fi isn’t it? You’ve got to have something that attracts people to your unique business. You’ve got to diversify.” 

The Vinyl Whistle

(Image credit: The Vinyl Whistle)

We ask if Moss has a pre-match playlist. “Of course! In the dressing room I have a portable speaker, a Bose one. I can’t take a record player in there!” he laughs, “But I think streaming is fantastic if I want to listen to something quickly.” 

What’s on the playlist? “Right now, a lot of the Courteeners, but it changes. Oh, I do have one song I play when the players come out of the dressing rooms and down the tunnel. They have their own music in dressing rooms of course, often plenty of grime, but this one song tends to make them smile and even talk to each other.”

So what’s the track – something by Neutral Milk Hotel? Or perhaps The Pains of Being Pure At Heart? No. Moss pauses, knowing he might get grief for this. “It’s Take That… The Greatest Day.

Unexpected, but upon reflection the perfect choice. Who knows? Such a song might even have prevented Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira's notorious 2005 "I'll see you out there" bust up in the narrow tunnel at Highbury. 

As we stand up to leave, we note the small In Bielsa We Trust print by the now-famous street artist, Andy McVeigh (aka the Burley Banksy) on the wall near the coffee machine. It’s one of the few references to the beautiful game here – and really, since the artist’s We All Love Leeds street art is not 200 yards away, any shop on the Otley Road would be remiss not to feature McVeigh’s work. Vinyl (final) Whistle pun aside, you'd never know the place was run by a top-tier referee at the height of his fame. There’s no picture of a suited and booted Moss, no signed photos or shirts, no matchday mementos, no aggrandising of his own career achievements. It really is all about the music. 

On seeing us out, Moss warns us to drive slowly when joining the A58: “The speed limit changes and there’s someone with one of those hand-held laser speed cameras there. We’ve been caught before.”

Record shop, cafe, venue, festival organiser, label, community hub and now local traffic assistance. If Camp Nou is mes que un club, The Vinyl Whistle is emphatically mes que una botiga de discos – more than a record shop. 

MORE: 

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Becky has been a full-time staff writer at What Hi-Fi? since March 2019. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, she freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 20-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance is of course tethered to a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo, This is Cabaret and The Stage. When not writing, she dances, spins in the air, drinks coffee, watches football or surfs in Cornwall with her other half – a football writer whose talent knows no bounds.