Remembering St Albans comics and music aficionado Derek Watson - gentleman, geek and entrepreneur
- Credit: Simon Jacobs
Tributes have been paid to much-loved St Albans retailer Derek Watson, who died last weekend after a long illness.
Derek, a St Albans resident since 1984, was the owner of Chaos City Comics and Empire Records, both in Heritage Close.
He bought Chaos City from its original owner in 2003, having been with the store since it became one of the first wave of original comic shops to open its doors back in 1992.
Initially based in what is now TK-Maxx in The Maltings, as part of an indoor market set-up called The In-Shops, it later moved to a new location near the Abbey.
Derek relished the social aspects of the shop, which saw regular games evenings, fancy dress events and similar get-togethers.
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Speaking to the Herts Advertiser some time ago, he explained: “It’s a community here, but not in a nerdy way. People come in to meet other fans and talk about what they’re reading.”
In 2013 he opened independent music store Empire Records to capitalise on the renaissance of vinyl and provide a similar meeting place for music fans of all genres to discuss their interests.
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Chaos City manager Luke Ridge said: “‘I can’t put into words what I owe him. He gave me an incredible job, new friends, confidence, self belief and a creative platform that other artists would kill for.
“Derek was a gentle soul that had time for everyone. Generous beyond words and fun. I will miss him greatly, but his legacy will live on. All of us at Chaos and Empire will make sure of it.”
Comics artist Dave Gibbons, co-creator of Watchmen, was a regular visitor to Chaos City, and said: “I knew Derek for more than 20 years and very much valued his friendship and insight. I’ve been to comic book shops all over the world and Chaos City was one of the very best.
“He engendered a warm, friendly community amongst his customers and radiated huge enthusiasm for the medium of comics. A kind and generous man, he will be greatly missed.”
Close friend Elton Townend Jones, from St Albans-based theatre company Dyad Productions, said: “I met Derek through his comic shop and he became my dearest friend. We regularly went to gigs, had dinner, and partied hard - usually in fancy dress!
“Derek also designed the publicity material for mine and Rebecca Vaughan’s theatre company, always refusing payment; he was our loudest supporter. When he learned he was ill, we ran to his and his wife Marina’s home at one in the morning to share the shock.
“We regularly watched Doctor Who together – intending to watch it all from 1963 to the present day. On our last Who Night at Christmas, Derek was unwell, so I put on my pyjamas and joined him in empathy. He was a generous, funny, intelligent and beautiful friend who will always be missed.”
Chris Baker, marketing manager from the Alban Arena, who met his wife Lindsay at Chaos City, said: “Over the years Derek had loads of ideas on how we could combine the Arena and his shop. We had a sci-fi expo planned for this year, it was going to be huge, running across three days, covering books, fashion, music, cosplay and all of this he was organising while undergoing therapy.
“I’d get e-mails about dimensions, table numbers and photos, he was unstoppable. It was all scheduled to happen after his last course of treatment so that he was fit for all the hard work that would be needed in the run up to it.
“When he got his terminal diagnosis he phoned me, he wanted to apologise and say that he wouldn’t be able to carry on with it. He didn’t want someone to be left picking up the pieces when he went! Despite everything he was going through he was still concerned about others, a truly remarkable man who will be sorely missed by all who knew him. He was a legend, a lovely, passionate guy.”
Empire Records manager Dave Burgess said: “Music has always played a large part in my friendship with Derek. It was through him that I discovered so many of my favourite bands, it was with him that I attended my first gig (the first of many!), and it was together that we opened Empire Records.
“Derek loved music, it was one of his greatest passions and loomed large over many parts of his life. He was always discovering new bands, always lining up the next raft of gigs and was a great champion of local artists, providing an opportunity for them to play in the shop. And it was through his love of music that Derek made many of his best friends, that initial connection, leading to lives full of amazing memories.
“I hope that Derek was proud of what he achieved with Empire, a combination of his love for music, especially on vinyl, and his entrepreneurial spirit, with his personality stamped all over it.
“I hope that he was proud of me, of how his role in my life, of how all his advice and wisdom and love over the years made me a much better person. It’s not going to be easy without him, but we will carry on and continue to build his legacy, he would have been proud of that.
“So to my boss, my mentor, my confidant, my role model, and most importantly, my friend, I say goodbye. I will miss you so much, I already do.”