Colin Larkin

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Colin Larkin
Colin Larkin.jpg
Colin Larkin.
Born1949 (age 7172)
Dagenham, Essex, England
OccupationWriter, encyclopedist, designer/typographer, musician, publisher, entrepreneur

Colin Larkin (born 1949) is a British writer and entrepreneur. He founded, and was the editor in chief of, the Encyclopedia of Popular Music , [1] described by The Times as "the standard against which all others must be judged". [2]


Along with the ten-volume encyclopedia, Larkin also wrote the book All Time Top 1000 Albums , [3] and edited the Guinness Who's Who Of Jazz , [4] the Guinness Who's Who Of Blues , [5] and the Virgin Encyclopedia Of Heavy Rock . [6] The compiler of the most extensive database of popular music in Europe and the US, a writer and book designer by trade, Larkin has over 650,000 copies in print to date. [7] As an authority on popular music, Larkin has often been interviewed on radio, and had a regular slot on BBC GLR for two years in the 1990s.

Background and education

Larkin was born in Dagenham, Essex, an area that was largely populated by workers in the car industry. Although the post-war years proved lucrative for the Ford motor company, [8] Larkin was raised in relative poverty in the largest area of council housing in the United Kingdom, in the suburbs that surrounded the Ford plant. The Becontree estate in Dagenham began as a conglomeration of 27,000 "homes for heroes", and had no recognisable town centre.

Larkin spent much of his early childhood attending the travelling fair where his father, who worked by day as a plumber for the council, moonlighted on the waltzers to make ends meet. It was in the fairground, against a background of Little Richard on the wind-up 78 rpm turntables, that Larkin acquired his passion for the world of popular music, [9] and a taste for exotic pattern and vivid colour, which would re-surface in later years in books on Islamic art and architecture, and oriental rugs.

In the 1960s Larkin attended the South East Essex County Technical High School following which, under his own initiative he obtained an apprenticeship as a commercial artist, enabling him to take a sandwich course at the London College of Printing (now the London College of Communication). There he studied typography and book design, [10] and was influenced by the typeface designer Eric Gill, who is associated with the arts and crafts movement.

Art and publishing

Larkin began his working life in commercial art, advertising studios and design groups and for the book publisher Pearson Longmans. In 1967 he began writing for music journals and magazines. At Longmans he became senior book designer, but he soon tired of working for the publishing house and by 1976 had co-founded his own book publishing company, Scorpion Publishing.

From the outset Larkin was intent upon reaching areas of the book reading public that other publishers felt it unnecessary or unprofitable to reach. Scorpion Publishing published art books on Oriental carpets and Islamic Art. They also designed and published John Gorman's trilogy of Labour history, Banner Bright, [11] To Build Jerusalem and Images of Labour. [12] Notable music books at this time included Johnny Rogan's Timeless Flight: The Definitive Story of The Byrds' ' [13] and Bob Dylan's Unreleased Recordings. [14]

In the 1980s Larkin, who read music magazines avidly and was acquiring a considerable personal library of singles and albums, began to consider the idea of "an encyclopedia of popular music". His passion for an encyclopedia that would do for Bob Dylan and the Beatles what the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians had done for more classical subjects, and moreover do it better, finally took over when in 1989 he sold his half of Scorpion Books to fund the project and founded Square One Books.

In 1989 Larkin formed Square One Books to create a multi-volume Encyclopedia of Popular Music , and to publish music related books. He published additional music biographies including those on Graham Bond, R.E.M., Eric Clapton, The Byrds and Frank Zappa, [15] and a further book on Bob Dylan, Oh No, Not Another Bob Dylan Book.

In a pre-internet age, the work required to create an encyclopedia of popular music was considerable. Aided by a team of contributors, a fast-growing library of music magazines, books and the music itself, an eventual 3000 vinyl singles, 3500 vinyl albums, 4500 music biographies and 38,000 CDs, [16] Larkin began compiling the Encyclopedia.

In 1992 the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music went into print. [17] It was quickly recognised as monumental: Rolling Stone described the work as "musical history in the making", in The Times they called it "a work of almost frightening completeness". Musician Jools Holland called it "without question the most useful reference work on popular music".

In May 2011 Omnibus Press released the Amazon Kindle edition of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, using the text of the 2007 edition.

Later activities

Square One developed their own in-house software using 4th Dimension. [18]

Over 50 separate titles followed the creation of the Encyclopedia's database, and in 1997 Larkin sold Square One Books to American data company Muze. [18] Larkin became full-time editor-in-chief and ran the encyclopedia as a cottage industry, with a team of fewer than ten contributors, who in terms of wordcount were "producing an Agatha Christie novel a month". [16]

From September 2008, Larkin ceased all involvement with Muze Inc. or any of its related companies following the closure of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music as a stand-alone product and his subsequent redundancy. [19] On 15 April 2009, it was announced that most of the assets of Muze Inc. were purchased by Macrovision. [20]

In 2008, Larkin launched a new website whose original inspiration had come from the All Time Top 1000 Albums , initially called This would later change its name to become the multi-media rating site and iPhone app, (Best Things On Earth). [19] Larkin closed down this website in August 2018 and re-directed the content to He is CEO and editor-in-chief of Musopedia Ltd.

From 2013 to 2017 he was the main contributor of music biographies and album reviews for Quantone Music [Quantone], an in depth music data company. In 2018 he was commissioned by BMG to write the detailed essay and sleeve notes for the Rolling Stones' curated project Confessin' the Blues. [21]

In November 2020, Larkin released his latest tome, Cover Me – The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965. His first non-music book, it was a celebration of the classic Pan Books paperbacks, incorporating full-colour reproductions of over 300 of the original cover's artwork. [22]


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  1. Larkin, Colin (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th Edition 10 vols) Oxford University Press (UK/US) 2006
  2. This information was obtained from Archived 15 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  3. Larkin, Colin, All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2000.
  4. Larkin, Colin (ed.), the Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (2nd Edition), Guinness Publishing (UK), 1995
  5. Larkin, Colin (ed.), the Guinness Who's Who of Blues (2nd Edition), Guinness Publishing (UK), 1995
  6. Larkin, Colin (ed.), Virgin Encyclopedia of Heavy Rock, The, Virgin Books (UK), 1999.
  7. "OUP Online". Archived from the original on 9 July 2007.
  8. The number of workers on the Dagenham site increased from 12,000 to 35,000 as Ford met the demand of 360,000 military vehicles, vans and army trucks. History of Ford in Britain Archived 17 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  9. "Who'd Put The Everly Brothers Above Elvis", Evening Standard 20 December 2006.
  10. All about the guru of groove, Colin Larkin, editor of The Encyclopedia of Popular Music Oxford University Press online
  11. Gorman, J. (5 November 1986). Banner Bright. Scorpion Cavendish Ltd. ISBN   978-0905906485.
  12. Images of Labour : selected memorabilia from the National Museum of Labour History Gorman, J. (1985) , London. London: Scorpion.
  13. Timeless Flight: The Definitive Story of The Byrds by renowned author Johnny Rogan, Rogan, J., Scorpion Publications / Dark Star, London, 1981 Abe Books
  14. All about the guru of groove, Colin Larkin, editor of The Encyclopedia of Popular Music
  15. Slaven, Neil (1996). Electric Don Quixote: The Definitive Story of Frank Zappa. Omnibus Press.
  16. 1 2 The Collector No. 20: Colin Larkin, Record Collector , Issue 314, Sept 2005.
  17. With a head full of hits, The Knowledge, The Times, 22 December – 4 January 2008.
  18. 1 2 Rodger, Jennifer (28 August 2000). "Colin Larkin: How I stay on top of pop". The Independent on Sunday .
  19. 1 2 "Home". Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  20. "Macrovision Agrees to Acquire Assets of Muze, Inc". Reuters . Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  21. "UK: The Rolling Stones curate Confessin' The Blues in collaboration with BMG and Universal, with donations going to Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation". 31 July 2018. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  22. Larkin, Colin (November 2020). "Cover Me – The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965". Telos Publishing. ISBN   978-1-84583-988-8.