Opening the book on the legendary Violet May

VIOLET May Barkworth became a Sheffield music legend from behind the counter of a string of record shops.

She sold rare and specialist discs that could not be found in the high street – and wrapped them up in her colourful personality.

Already a Sheffield band have called themselves The Violet May in tribute to her celebrated status among local music fans – and now her life is to be recorded in print.

Written by drummer and writer John Firminger and former DJ Gaspin Gus, the book is called Shades Of Violet, Remembering Violet May's Record Shop.

John and Gus were regular customers in Violet's various shops between 1956 and 1978 and Gus carried out electrical repairs for her.

Another regular was Dave Hawley, whose son Richard has written a foreword for the book, and there are also contributions from Joe Cocker, Chris Spedding, Dave Berry and writer and historian JP Bean.

"A lot of people remember Violet," says John. "We have even had a contribution from an ex-pat in Japan.

"She had a lot of records that shops such as Canns and Wilson Peck didn't stock – specialist tastes. She could get rare classical, jazz, folk and country records.

"People like Chris Barber and Stefan Grossman would go in because of her reputation for rare stuff."

Violet opened her first shop selling second-hand clothes in South Road, Walkley, in 1945. But it was the record business in which she became a celebrity, running a number of premises in the Park district before a final move to Matilda Street off The Moor in 1969.

She stopped in 1978 at the age of 68. A proposed comeback at 78 failed to materialise because of ill-health – she was a renowned chain smoker – and she died in 1995.

Customers could never be quite sure what sort of service they would be getting. She could be really nice, says John, drummer with Dave Berry's band. Then she would throw out a couple for kissing.

"She could ask you what you want and if you said you weren't sure, she could say 'get out'."

Her knowledge of the music was sometimes questionable, such as when she was speaking to Joe Cocker about Howlin' Wolf. Seeing a girl on the cover of the record, Violet told him: "She's a good singer'.

Yet John says: "She was razor-sharp when it came buying and selling. She would make any excuse to offer the cheapest price she could.

"One example was when she ordered some extremely hard to get classical records for a customer.

"Unfortunately they turned out to be not to the customer's liking so he took them to sell back to Violet, only for her to tell him, 'I don't want these, they're ten-a-penny'!"

The book is published by youbooks.co.uk with a predicted publication date around the middle of next month.

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