It would be fair to describe Athens Of The North founder Euan Fryer as a completist. If it’s not funk it’s soul, if it’s not soul it’s boogie, and if it’s not boogie it’s whisky. Whatever rabbit hole he explores, he explores as deeply, passionately and exhaustively as possible.
“It’s collecting isn’t it? You know how it is,” grins the Scottish label owner. “I get into things, I get obsessed about knowing the details.”
Fryer’s serious collection began when he was added to the infamous Soul Bowl list in the mid-90s. A weekly fax sent to collectors around the world – including famous diggers such as Bob Jones, Keb Darge and Snowboy – Soul Bowl kickstarted (or maintained) digging addictions around the world for many years.
“I was working as an IT manager at the time,” explains Fryer, “and I thought, ‘Right, I’m going to spunk all my money on records!’ That’s what I did for years.”
Then a chance meeting with a guy called Gerald [Short] turned Fryer’s collection into an occupation, when in 2001 he accepted an invitation to move to London and work for Short’s Jazzman Records label. Fryer remained with Jazzman for over 12 years, learning all the soul historian tricks of the trade, adding to Jazzman’s portfolio of labels such as Soul 7, Soul Spectrum and his own eponymous imprint Fryers.
2014 saw Euan go solo and establish Athens Of The North. Applying the strong sense of documentation and the ethical digging process he’d learnt, in a short space of time ATON has secured serious status in soul, jazz, disco and boogie circles and has rescued some incredible records from the voids of obscurity. Not just 45s, either, but entire albums that have never seen the light of day in the 40-50 years since they were recorded.
Keen to also document the stories behind each release, Athens Of The North doesn’t just feed Fryer’s sense of completion, it feeds the entire scene for a new generation. For Fryer, democratising the music is just as important as excavating and celebrating it. Something which hasn’t always gone down too well with the ‘old guard’ of soul collectors.