A day in the life of James

Vintage DJ volunteer, Coleton Fishacre

James Wray - Vintage DJ volunteer, Coleton Fishacre

My name is James Wray and I’m a vintage DJ. I play anything between 1920s and 1940s music on a gramophone made in the 1940s; it's all music that the D'Oyly Carte family may have been listening to here. I talk to people about anything from the history of recorded sound, to where they can get brand new needles.

Coleton Fishacre vintage DJ volunteer James playing a record on a gramaphone
I think I'm the first vintage DJ volunteer in the National Trust. I came to Coleton Fishacre one day as a visitor and I said to my mum ‘I want to volunteer here!’ At first I was going to be a room guide, but I was talking about my gramophone and they said ‘why don’t you have a go doing some music?’.


Vintage DJ volunteering

I bring in my own gramophone and records; I have a lot of well-known pieces like Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, as well as some quite unknown stuff and strange records. I have 1930s celluloid flexi-discs and a recording of the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall speaking to the people of Cornwall in 1939 as a war broadcast, which is quite rare, one of only three in the world. One of them is with the current Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall’s sister (it’s their grandfather on the record). The other is in the British sound library.
Visitors get a bit nostalgic when they're talking to me, and say things like ‘my grandma had one of those.’ You get lots of people who are fascinated by it, and some interesting visitors too – like an ex-BBC sound engineer who said ‘if I’d known you a couple of days ago I could have sold you a gramophone.’

How I got into it

I was clearing out my dad’s loft and there were mostly empty boxes so I was flinging them down the loft hatch, and then I came across one which was very heavy. I opened it up and there were about 60 78s from the 1930s. I said: ‘I’m keeping these, these are going to be mine!’ I had nothing to play them on and so I asked my mum if she knew if anyone had an electric machine like a dansette from the 60s, and she said, ‘your aunt’s got one.’
I went over to see her and it turned out to be a 1946 HMV wind-up machine. She said, ‘do you want it?’ and I asked, ‘are you sure?’ (I had seen how much they were worth). She said, ‘yes it’s just sitting in my loft I have no use for it’ and so it became mine. That was about four years ago. I collected a stupid amount of records – about 600 shellac records - and then I downsized to about 200, because there were just too many.


My time with the National Trust

I started off in 2012 doing work experience at Saltram House, following the guides or ‘rovers’ they call them there. You get a lot of experience from it and I have a lot of happy memories. I remember there was a book restorer working there for the day who had out a signed copy of Sense and Sensibility and asked if I'd like to hold it.
To be able to work around all of this beautiful heritage is amazing. To know that I’m standing in the place where the D’Oyly Cartes were. It’s wonderful. If you're thinking about volunteering, go for it. Everyone is seriously friendly – I’ve never met a nasty person who’s worked for the National Trust. It’s wonderful to be able to work in these sorts of houses; if it wasn’t for the National Trust and a couple of other organisations, all of these special places would be privatised and you wouldn’t be able to go to them. 

The life of a vintage DJ

Volunteer James brings his gramophone and records to Coleton Fishacre.