Spinning discs at private parties was Albert Dean’s passion during his teenage years, but some fatherly advice encouraged him to run a trendy clothing shop that would become the place to be in the heart of Crewe. However, it wasn’t too long before he was once again holding a microphone at quizzes and on local radio…
“My early school life was spent on West Street – at the infant and then junior schools. I had some happy years at both, with a teacher called Mr Appleton a major influence as he encouraged my interest in mathematics. It certainly gave me a head for business in later life. Before that, while I was still at senior school, I teamed up with some friends at the St. Barnabas youth club hall and started a mobile disco. We had some brilliant years playing at weddings and private functions and I thought it might become my career. Unfortunately, the DJ work got in the way of ‘A’ studies and my dad wasn’t impressed. He said that music would spoil my life, just as football had ruined his!”
Unlike many rebellious teenagers Albert took parental advice and realised that discos were unlikely to make his fortune. So, soon after leaving school, he sold his decks and speakers to a friend and formed a family partnership. “My dad and I opened a clothes shop in 1976. It was known as Posters Boutique on lower Market Street, and was later simplified to just Posters. I invested some of the cash I’d recouped from the sale of disco kit so that we could increase the range of stock. We sold all kinds of menswear, from suits to flashy tracksuits that were fashionable in the late 1970s. The business boomed so we soon looked for bigger premises. We found a great unit by Tony’s Chippy, across the road from The Grand Junction pub. The only downside was that we were near to a number of the town centre pubs. The windows were often smashed over the weekend, and it was worst during the World Cup of 1978. Otherwise, it was a decent shop. Moody’s the jewellers owned it and the rent and rates were reasonable. However, in 1979 there were massive changes to the area. The West Street extension meant that after much controversy The Chetwode Arms disappeared, and part of the Market Street shopping area was bulldozed – including our first shop. We were settled by then, but we discovered that there were also plans to redevelop the area around our business. So, when they announced that the Market Centre as we know it today would be built, we were forced to move shops again.”
Luckily, the unit next to Greenwoods on Victoria Street was vacant and was the perfect spot for the increasingly popular shop. “That move put us right in the centre of town, increased our footfall and took the takings to the highest levels since we started the business. That was fortunate, because the costs were phenomenal. It was a fantastic time for fashion and we started selling the best lines for young men. We sold stretch jeans before anyone else and pushed into the leisurewear, with big names like Ellesse on the racks. Then Woolworth’s closed down and that was the beginning of the end for me. They broke up the once huge shop that connected Market Street with Queenway, creating a number of smaller units. Because of our success and reputation in the area, a Top Man opened and was closely followed by Concept Man. That was later known as River Island. So the competition was fierce and we did well to hold our own for a couple of years.”
The successful business was also a great hang out and renowned for its music. “It was more a meeting place in the end, although our customers all spent plenty of money there. The shop was my real education; a proper eye opener to what life in Crewe was really like. I suppose I missed the DJ work so there was always a music system blasting out the latest tunes. We had a superb deal with the nearby Virgin music store that gave us the latest chart releases to play, providing that we recommended them to our customers. I even put a jukebox in the window one Christmas, and towards the late 1980s there were music videos playing as customers browsed. We always liked to be first! If I hadn’t been a clothes shop owner I’d have been a record dealer, but you can’t look back. The shop was a great experience and some bizarre characters came through the door. One day, around 1989, I gave some flared trousers to a trendy, young band that were trying to make it in the music industry. It was old stock and I was just doing them a favour, as they seemed a decent bunch of lads from Northwich. I didn’t know then, but they went on to great success. They called themselves The Charlatans! Nothing lasts forever, and in 1990 the business was sold when I decided to return to education and started a degree in Business and Accounting. I soon realised that this was the route I wanted to take, as I’d always loved working with numbers. I eventually became a college lecturer in Newcastle-under-Lyme. As it happened, the shop didn’t last much longer either. A combination of the rival clothes shops and the early 90s recession hit them hard. So I was fortunate, more through luck than judgement.”
Music, however, was always a part of his social life, so when a former employee from Posters mentioned a new venture he was quick to sign up. “In the summer of 1994, when I’d finished my college course, a mate called Mike McHugh told me about a guy called Harry Nelson who was starting a Crewe radio station. He was looking for people to get involved. During the 80s we ran a quiz team under the shop’s banner, called The Posters Pop Squad. That was with Mike, Andy Scoffin and Paul Morris. Then, between 1985 and 1987, I went on to present The Posters Pop Challenge with Andy, a regular quiz event at The Hunters Lodge. It was packed out every Sunday night. So we had all been involved in presenting before and had the experience and knowledge a local station needed. That first attempt was called YFM and I cringe when I listen to my first broadcast. I was nervous and, typically, I tried to put too much into the show.”
The first broadcasts came from a small studio at South Cheshire College, off Dank Bank Avenue, with two temporary licences giving wannabe DJs a chance to hit the airwaves. “YFM was a decent project but didn’t progress. Witch FM was the next incarnation and broadcast from Imperial Chambers on Prince Albert Street in 1999. Both attempts at local radio deserved more support, but there were pieces of the jigsaw missing each time. Then, in 2008, The Cat FM finally happened. A number of like-minded people pulled together and the M Club on High Street offered us free space for a studio. Everything was more structured and organised, with a dedicated fundraiser bringing in the cash required to drive the initiative forward. Three successful broadcasts later and there are high hopes that The Cat will secure a permanent licence. The Crewe & Nantwich Community Radio Society has been formed and I think that we have a much greater chance of success. There’s even an online presence when we’re not on the air, so that’s fantastic progress. The area needs its own radio station, and fingers crossed that it will finally happen in 2010. I love being involved behind the microphone, just as I was in my teenage years. Long may it continue…”
Albert’s story first appeared in printed format back in 2009. The CAT did get its licence, and there will be a follow-up to the Crewe And Its People book later this year. Sign up HERE for monthly newsletters about forthcoming Crewe and Cheshire book projects, especially Crewe And Its People (volume II) scheduled for late 2016.