Category Archives: Interviews

Roger Eagle spun the Wheel

Roger Eagle spun the Wheel

Starting there in 1963, Roger Eagle helmed Manchester’s Twisted Wheel to legend status, his upfront mix of rhythm and blues, rock’n’roll, blues, jazz, ska and soul inspiring a generation of Northern music lovers and laying the foundations for what would become Northern soul. In the Wheel’s interconnected cellars he entranced dancers with a diet of imported American records that couldn’t be heard anywhere else, earning £3 a night for seven hours of music. He left for rival club The Blue Note when the Wheel’s owners the Abadi Brothers refused to up this to a fiver. A few months later he opened his own place, the Staxx Club, in a Fountain Street venue that the notorious Jimmy Savile had recently been running as the Three Coins. In later years he was the lifeforce behind Liverpool’s post-punk epicentre Eric’s, where his future-facing jukebox connected a generation of Scouse music-makers. Tall, grumpy and singleminded, Roger was an educator, taste-maker and evangelist for the music he loved. He was very ill for the interview which is why it’s only short; he died the following year.

Interviewed by Bill in Wales, 10.9.98

When did the Twisted Wheel open?
The night I started there: November 24th 1963.

How did you get the job?
I was sitting in the place a week before it opened and I’d just imported a load of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley albums on Chess and Checker and the guy asked me if I knew anything about rhythm and blues and I said, ‘Yeah.’ So he said, ‘do you wanna DJ here at the all-nighters that are starting?’ And I DJed at every all-nighter for the first three years.

When did you start collecting
1954, rock’n’roll and jazz.

How did you get into DJing?
Basically when I started DJing I didn’t know what I was doing, but I just fell into it. I was just happy playing the music that I loved. I used to take a Grundig tape recorder out to parties and play stuff in the ’50s, but that wasn’t really DJing. I’ve always been a DJ in my bones. My influences were Alan Freed and Gus Goodwin. Gus Goodwin was on Radio Luxemburg in the ‘50s. He was a real wild guy, he used to spin around in his seat, shouting and yelling. His theme tune was ‘Basin Street Blues’ by Louis Armstrong, which features that great drum break by Gene Krupa. Then after that there was Guy Stevens at the Scene Club in London. He used to send me up records.

An ad for the Wheel in Roger’s fanzine R&B Scene, the first for blues and soul music.
Roger Eagle with Screaming Jay Hawkins and friend. Photo Brian Smith
Roger and John Lee Hooker. Photo Brian Smith

Did The Wheel start as an all-nighter straightaway?

How did that come about?
Don’t ask me. It’s probably because it was the popular thing to do. It was absolutely rammed right from the word go. Couldn’t get in.

Describe to me what it looked like?
On Brazenose Street off Albert Square. It held 500 or 600. You went downstairs and there were lots of small rooms with a big room for the stage. I was right at the back in a small room where the DJ unit which was sealed by bicycle wheels welded together. There was a coffee bar in between that and the main room.

How did it work. Did you warm up for the band?
No, just me playing and the bands were on. I played seven hours and the band did an hour somewhere in between. Little Walter, T Bone Walker, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Jimmy Powell and the Dimensions, Stevie Winwood’s band. Loads of American R&B. John Mayall, Spencer Davis Group.

What were you playing when it opened?
Rhythm & blues, which came before soul. Soul hadn’t been heard of then. The first soul album I heard was ‘The King of Rock’N’Soul’ by Solomon Burke. That was when the music started to change; it got a lot smoother, a lot more danceable.

How did the music develop, because the Motown stuff played later is more pacy than the R&B.
When I started DJing I could play what I wanted, but after three years I had to keep to same tempo, which is what Northern soul is. I started Northern soul, but I actually find the music very limiting, because in the early days I’d play a Charlie Mingus record, then I’d play a Blue Beat disc followed by a Booker T tune, then a Muddy Waters or Bo Diddley record. Gradually, there was this blanding out to one sort of sound.

Did you feel you were getting dictated to by the crowd?
Yeah, because the crowd was mostly into pills by then.

When did that start?
In the beginning everyone came because they loved the music. They came to see the blues singers and they came to hear the records, and for the social aspect. But after two or three years it became pills.

Was that why you left?

Did you carry on DJing?
I’ve always DJed, but I went into promoting and I owned clubs, like Erics. I still DJ today when I’m well enough. I also call myself Jukebox Johnson.

What stuff do you play nowadays?
My taste is the good stuff. Whether it’s blues or soul, jazz, funk, soul. You should come and see me. You’ll get a much broader view from me. I’m not doing the other DJs down; they’ve done well, they’ve made their money. But they’re very narrow, that’s what upsets me. But they don’t listen. They’re all locked into a Pavlovian warp where people react only to a certain kind rhythm and I think it’s depriving people of music.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Ian Dewhirst keeps the faith

Ian Dewhirst keeps the faith

Compiler, archivist, producer and label boss Ian Dewhirst is one of the finest DJs in the pantheon of Northern soul, thanks to a lifetime of discerning collecting. He got his break in his teens when he realised the bulk-buy American 45s he’d been sifting through from a Bradford market stall contained some of the scene’s rarest and most sought-out tunes. Ian went on to play regularly in the key clubs of the Northern circuit through the ’70s, including the legendary Wigan Casino and Blackpool Mecca, and carved out a much-loved residency at Cleethorpes, where he’d get the Victorian pier quaking to the stomp of 500 dancers while the rain fell horizontally over the North Sea. He spun his DJing into a picaresque ride through the music business, where among many, many other escapades, he put Shalamar together, inspired Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’, got on it with George Clinton, released some of the first British house records (Cultural Vibe ‘Ma Foom Bey’ and ‘On The House’ by Midnight Sunrise), and launched the hugely inspirational Mastercuts compilation series. In more recent years Ian was behind the compilation labels Harmless and Suss’d, with series including Disco Discharge, Backbeats, Pulp Fusion and Jumpin’, as well as a long-running Salsoul and Philadelphia reissue programme. This is an edited merger of two separate interviews.

Interviewed by Bill in London, 14.9.98 and 2.4.99

What are your memories of Wigan Casino?
One of the best things was the anticipation, because you always knew what to expect; you always knew you’d meet pals from all over the place, everyone was going to be pouring in to Wigan. And Wigan, in those days, was a pretty depressing place to be going to. Miles and miles of terraced housing. A lot of the fun was the people you were with, because nine times out of ten, there’d be two or three speed-heads in the car, who were vibing everything up. We’d pull up, and there’d always be a mass of coaches and cars and this build-up of atmosphere. I was the music person, so as soon as I got in I’d be looking in boxes of records and talking to DJs.

Eventually we got sophisticated and used to get down about 3.30 or four. So you’d spend three or four hours at the [Blackpool] Mecca, and then it’d be about 45 minutes to Wigan. The great thing about Wigan was, as you drew up, you’d always see all these people milling about in the car park getting up to whatever they got up to. There was this tangible excitement in the air, because you knew you were going to be walking into a cauldron of activity and energy.

The Dancefloor at Wigan Casino

Describe going in
The entrance to the Casino was really tatty. Zero money spent on maintenance. It was almost a dump. If it was a really busy night, there would be steam coming out of the entrance. I’ve seen that happen to cellar clubs a lot, but for a building that big! There was a lot of energy being expended there. As soon as you walked in, this whole thing hits you. You’re aware there’s a really fast record playing, clouds of condensation hit you in the face, you hear the handclaps. It’s almost like a drug. At its height, it was a real buzz. You know some clubs get it right. The right club at the right time with the right DJ; all the ingredients are right. And that’s how it was with Wigan.

You had to have membership to get in. It was that sense of community as well. You were part of this select, pretty exciting scene. There were all these kids, dressing really differently, and getting in a car and driving hundreds of miles. And you had the nutters of course, who were ‘chemically motivated’.

You told me about people breaking into chemist shops for amphetamines? Did that happen often?
It happened every week! Somewhere along the line, some of the bad lads must’ve reconnoitred all the different ways into Wigan and looked at the chemist shops that didn’t look like they had the greatest security. There’d be bunches from all around the country, and whichever way they came in you could almost bet your life that a chemist en-route would be broken into and done.

There’d be a contingent from where I came from, Mirfield. There was a mob from Huddersfield. I used to knock about with these people who introduced me to the Torch, from Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike. Their idea of a good weekend was, nine time of out of ten to get some gear. I used to hear about people getting busted. It used to be a contributory factor into why those places always got closed down.

This was on the periphery of my thing. I always kept one step removed from it. I never did anything then, believe it or not. I was Mr. Straight in those days. My induction into all of that came when I took a line off George Clinton [during the recording of ‘Flashlight’].

A lot of the records that took off had drug references in them. That was another peculiar side to the northern soul scene. Records like ‘Blowing My mind To Pieces’, ‘Cracking Up’, ‘Ten Miles High.’ The Invitations’ ‘Skiing in the Snow’ goes, ‘Gotta get my gear out, ready for winter’s near’. I’d be going to these places with Rod and Sid and Smithy and Scotty, and that’s all they’d talk about. They’d be as high as kites. Those were the parts of the records they’d sing: ‘Gotta get my gear out!’ It was all part of the journey there. It was the song itself that was getting me off, but they were getting off to someone else. It’s like that with acid house I suppose, when you had records like ‘I’m Rushing’ by Bump.

When did you start collecting records?
I was born in 1955 in Brighton, moved to Mirfield, between Dewsbury and Huddersfield. I started collecting records when I was 11, first record I ever bought was Felice Taylor ‘I Feel Love Coming On’, a Barry White production. I got into soul when I got my first transistor radio and I used to listen to Luxembourg: Tony Prince, Mike Raven, and then it was Dave Simons’ R&B show on Radio 1, Saturday afternoons five o’clock. I started hearing things on the radio that you wouldn’t hear under any other circumstances, and it was the Motown thing that got me.

When I was 15 I got a job at a clothes shop in Bradford and there was a market stall called Bostock’s, where they’d do 20 records for a quid, American imports with no centres in. Every Saturday for about a year I used to go to Bostock’s in my lunch hour and come back with a bag of 40 records, and my entertainment for that night was sitting down and playing the A and B-sides of these records and having my parents moan at me about saving money.

On my 15th birthday I found this DJ who wanted to get rid of his records, about 500 of them. There were things in there like ‘He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands’ by the Isley Brothers, James Carr ‘Freedom Train’, ‘Free For All’ Philip Mitchell, ‘Slippin’ Around’ by Bart Freeman on red Atlantic. I paid £25 for the collection, at the time it was a lot of money and my dad always reminds me that I never paid him back! Together with the stuff I was buying in Bradford market, I probably had about 1,000-1,500 records just before I was sixteen.

How did you hear about the Northern scene?
I went to a pub in Cleckheaton that had a Motown night and I saw these mods in blazers with this symbol – The Torch – so I said to them, ‘What’s this?’ And they were like, ‘It’s a soul club, mate. They have an all-nighter every Saturday.’ I said ‘Well, I’m into that stuff, too.’ But he says, ‘No, you won’t know this stuff. This is Northern soul. But there’s a place in Leeds on a Friday night and we go down there. It’s called the Central.’ So I went down with them, and it was like everything I’d been looking for.

All of a sudden, this sort of underground, secret world. I didn’t know 95% of the records, but they all sounded fantastic. It had this elite feeling to it; there were some nice looking, well-dressed girls, and the guys looked pretty smooth. The DJ had played a couple of records I had in my collection and, though I knew what they were, I didn’t realise the significance of them. The DJ was Tony Banks. Third week I went, he played Earl Wright ‘Thumb A Ride’, so I went up to him and said, ‘I’ve got this at home.’ And Tony says, ‘No, mate, you haven’t got this. There’s only one of these in the country and Tony Jebb’s got that.’ (He was playing one of those emi-disc copies). So the next week, I brought it with me and it caused this massive flutter because at that point there was only one known copy in the UK. All these guys were offering me money and swaps for it, but I wasn’t really into letting anything go.

I had a few others similar that I didn’t think anyone knew about, so I started bringing those down. A lot of stuff that came from Bradford market: ‘You Hit Me’ Alice Clark, The Shalamars, the Triumphs, The United Four ‘She’s Putting You On’, The Younghearts. I had lots of things that were Northern, but I didn’t realise they were. Like lots of early Wheel or early Torch sounds, but there was a lot that actually weren’t known.

Banksy starting borrowing my records and within a few weeks they started becoming popular. Every week before I left he’d say, ‘Are you going to bring your records down next week?’ One week I was going to go on holiday the following week and Banksy said, ‘Can you leave your records with me?’ I didn’t really like the sound of that, but I agreed if he’d let me do the warm-up DJing when I got back. Came back and started playing between nine and ten o’clock on a Friday when there was hardly anybody in, then he’d come on at ten o’clock and go all the way through to two. That’s the point when I really started collecting. I started going to the Torch. It was just at the point when everything was just starting to get good.

Along with Manchester’s Twisted Wheel, the Golden Torch in Tunstall, near Stoke, was one of the foundational clubs of Northern Soul

When was the first time you went?
I went with the mob from Huddersfield when I was 18. It was towards the end of the Torch, maybe about ’73.

Describe it.
Just like nothing else I’d ever seen. You’ve got to imagine a kid from Mirfield, never been further than 20 miles outside of Dewsbury and Huddersfield, to be getting in a car with all of these hardened soul boys, going down, stopping at Knutsford services. There was an air of expectation going in there. It was like a dream. Like suddenly knowing you’re home. The first DJ I saw was Martyn Ellis, who was really good on the mic, he actually used to get people going. And this wonderful ‘feeling of togetherness,’ [he means drugs]. All these other enthusiasts, misfits, nutters that had travelled from all over the place. It was just like a really little, elite, very tight scene.

It was like being part of a movement. But it was even more underground. They seemed to carry themselves with air of superiority to the average beer-swilling guys. There was very much a feeling of elitism. The women looked better than your average girl. The Northern scene at that particular time had up-to-the-minute fashions. Customised trousers nine times out of ten. The women would be dressed that little bit better and slinkier than the others. There was certain prestige to being on the scene at that time, especially during the Torch more so than the Wigan era.

Can you remember what it looked like.
Well, you’re pushing there. I only went twice. I can describe the atmosphere: electric! I can remember some of the records; I remember hearing The Tempos ‘Countdown’, ‘Crying Over You’ Duke Browner, ‘Just Ask Me’ Lennis Guess, ‘Catwalk’ by Gerry and Paul. The first time I went to the Mecca the thing that stood out for me there was ‘Nothing But Love’ by the Tartans. I ended up buying an emi-disc of it.

I was restricted to when I could go because of school and exams. It used to be a pain in the arse, explaining to my parents that I was going to this all-nighter. Then I got a motor and that started making things easier. I then became one of the few with a car. There wasn’t too much happening on the east-side of the country at that time, it was mostly Stoke, Manchester. I remember going to the Heavy Steam Machine at Hanley. I think at this point the Torch had shut and the Mecca was the place where you’d go every Saturday. There was Va Va’s in Bolton with [Richard] Searling. But that always had a weird vibe to it.

What about the use of microphones in northern clubs, because according to Rob Bellars the Twisted Wheel never used the mic. Were they talking at the Torch?
Yeah, Martyn Ellis was the king of the microphone. Most northern DJs can’t use the microphone. I can remember all sorts of funny incidents with Ian Levine on the mic. He was hopeless. Martyn Ellis, though, put some real presentation to it, I think, because he was an old mobile DJ. He was untouchable.

Did he talk between every record?
No. It had to be fairly fast and pacey, too. I don’t understand why people did it, when you wanna keep people dancing. It seems illogical now! At the time, I think it came from the showman DJ. The Stringfellow type.

When did you start playing at Wigan?
Within four weeks of it opening. We all went to the opening night. By this point we all had records. I used to fancy myself as a footballer, I wasn’t any good, but I came home from a match having scored three goals and a friend started calling me ‘Frank’ after Frank Worthington. I remember Russ had this record called ‘Cool Off’, Detroit Executives, fucking brilliant record, and Levine had been hammering it for about six weeks and it turned into the number one record at the Mecca. Russ had just got a load of records sent by his so-called ‘uncle’ in Miami [most likely record dealer Simon Soussan]. And in amongst them, there’s this ‘Cool Off’ that I particularly wanted and I always remember saying to Russ, Ah man, I could really use that’ and he said, ‘I don’t think it’s that good’ I ended up getting it for some easy swap. Up till then the only place you could hear it was at the Mecca. As soon as I got it I was smashing it at Cleethorpes, Samantha’s [Sheffield], the Central [Leeds] and it became a huge record.

I used to DJ with a guy called Twink, so it was Frank & Twink, and we were the residents at the Central, we used to hang around together and we’d go to the Mecca every Saturday, then on to Wigan. And Russ just said, ‘Well, do you guys wanna do a spot.’ So we did a spot and bang, that was it.

What was it like playing at Wigan?
The first gig that we got at Wigan, that was quite a big step. I’d done all the smaller gigs. At this point I was starting to get some great records together. The problem at Wigan was that you had two or three thousand kids there and you had to keep that energy level. There was no such thing as blowing a spot at Wigan. You couldn’t afford to. If you can imagine the collective downer if two records on a row bombed out, the atmosphere would palpably slump, and I’ve seen it slump for certain people. And all of sudden it’s a drag.

So Wigan was less adventurous in terms of breaking records. I always like DJs who had exclusives that were great records, but didn’t try and break new material to the detriment of the atmosphere. That’s quite a balancing act, especially with two thousand people. It’s one thing that I’ve been very conscious of ever since: programming is dead important. There are two decks on a stage and you. It’s not that different from playing a concert. These aren’t normal people. They’ve worked their balls off all week. And they’ve come here to have a great Saturday night. All night. It really makes you keep your programming together.

And Wigan was stomper-friendly. It was not the environment to be playing nice sweet Philly things. I had a foot in both camps. Do you remember ‘Afternoon Of The Rhino’ [by Mike Post]? That’s a real crowd-peaking record. Every one of those you played, you had to have a killer mid-tempo tune to keep them on the floor. So pacing was really all-important.

What was the feeling like when you played a record at Wigan and it took the roof off?
Incredibly fulfilling. Especially if it was something that you wanted to see break, and maybe it’s taken a bit of time. There were some really weird records. I didn’t find this, but I was instrumental in Tobi Legend’s ‘Time will Pass You By’.

I found the Gerri Grainger, ‘I Go To Pieces’. It wasn’t my type of record at all. I played it because the girls seemed to like it. ‘I’m On My Way’ Dean Parrish, was another.

Did I tell you about Kegsy, the guy who discovered that? Kegsy’s this guy from Bradford. Completely off his nut. He’d be walking around bombed all weekend. You’d arrive at Bolton or Wigan at three in the morning, and Kegsy would generally be hanging about outside. And you’d be, ‘Hiya Kegsy. Alright?’ ‘Well, yeah, I set off from Bradford last night with 12p and a Mars Bar and now I’ve got £23 in my pocket and a bunch of records!’ That was the joke with this guy, he’d always end up with money and records.

Anyway, he came to the Central one Friday night with the Tobi Legend which was on Laurie. And Laurie was a bit of a crappy label. But Kegsy could be quite powerful. And he came up, all sweaty and hardly able to speak, saying, ‘Play this, it’s fucking brilliant’ I put it on in the cans and all I can hear this horrible guitar at the start. I honestly thought he’d gone mad. ‘All you’ve gotta do is play it,’ he says. Anyway, he’s been at Va Va’s sticking it in Searling’s face, then at the Mecca he’s doing the same to Levine! Then he’s at Wigan, on the stage, and the funny thing about this guy, he had a tooth missing and looked a bit of thug, but he’s got the record in Russ Winstanley’s face. And Russ would cave in to pressure and also he’d give things a try, he had a nice democratic attitude about records. So Russ played it, and the rest is history! The poor guy’s plugging it for 36 hours before anyone plays it.

What’s your best memory of playing at an all-nighter?
Playing Wigan was great. Playing Sheffield Samantha’s was great. But for me, probably because I was headlining, it would have been Cleethorpes’ Pier. It was such a unique venue. You always got a bit more leeway with a residency. You could steer the crowd from week to week. If you got a great record, it would take you four to six weeks to break it, because you’d be the only one with it. That’s another big difference between the house scene and the northern scene, records are freely available to everyone now. With this stuff you’d find one record and that would be it.

The best thing about DJing was seeing your vision confirmed. It must’ve been the same for a musician. If a musician writes a song, and eventually gets accepted, it must be a gas playing it. It’s the same with finding an unknown record. You listen to it at home and wonder whether it will work. It’s like seeing a baby suddenly mature. Suddenly it’s a hot one. And seeing an unknown record go from zero value to being valuable. It was almost like a stock market.

I found two records in one day in Los Angeles once: Judy Street, ‘What’ on Strider, HB Barnum’s label, and I finally uncovered ‘Let’s Do The Duck’ by Richard Temple, which turned out to be called ‘The Duck’ by Willie Hutch on Dunhill.

Who was playing it as a cover-up?
Simon Soussan [label boss and notorious soul detective] found it. It was incredibly rare. One side called ‘The Duck’ and the other ‘Love Runs Out’, both really good. James Carmichael production.

What about Ian Levine? He discovered a lot of great records.
If you were a serious collector, the only place you could conceive of going was Blackpool Mecca. Levine was there, and Levine was the arbiter of taste. He always had the most breathtaking array of records. You might not know them all, but you’d know they’d all be good. And he would take chances. You’d never have heard ‘Seven Day Lover’ by James Fountain at Wigan. I have to give him respect, even though he’s pretty obnoxious to be around a lot of the time, and he always was.

He was the guy who brought back ‘There’s A Ghost In my House’ by R Dean Taylor. It was a VIP single. Levine comes back from the States and of course I’m on the phone on the Saturday afternoon. And he says, ‘I’ve got the greatest Northern Soul record ever.’ But he used to say this all the time. It’s on VIP, it’s written by Holland Dozier and Holland and it’s by a well-known singer. It’s ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’ by R Dean Taylor. So I’m like ‘Fuck off!’ It must be around, it can’t be that rare. That night he played it about six times and by the third time everybody realised that, yes, it is the greatest record ever.

Overnight it’s the most wanted record in the country. The buzz spread. He’s done it again, he’s found a killer. So the next day everybody’s onto their contacts in the States, saying come on you must be able to find this; it’s easy: R Dean Taylor. We all went for it and everybody came up with a blank. We just couldn’t believe that it was that rare. This went on for about six weeks and the thirst for this record was huge, the pressure for everybody to get this record was ridiculous.

Then the weirdest thing happened. Someone was coming back from Wigan Casino and went into a motorway service station and was bending down to get a Sunday paper and there was a rack of those old Music For Pleasure budget LP racks. And there was an R Dean Taylor compilation called ‘Indiana Wants Me’. Track three, side two, there it was: ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’. So it’s in every record shop in the country and we all fucking missed it! Of course, the game was up, within about a week I’d found about 50 copies and I was knocking them out at a fiver each!

As well as finding rarities he started playing new releases. He got a lot of stick for playing ‘modern’ records, didn’t he.
What happened was Levine would go to Miami to stay with his parents once or twice a year. They had a casino in Blackpool and a house in Miami. So Levine from a young age was in every warehouse in Florida and, of course, discovering incredible stuff and bringing it back. Now, there was a point after one trip when he came back with Gil Scott-Heron ‘In The Bottle’, a terrible record called ‘Shake And Bump’ by Snoop Dee, and ‘Cochise’ by Paul Humphrey. Now ‘Cochise’ was an immediate monster. Nobody knew it at the time, but it was a new release. But it might as well have been brand new Northern. And so this modern influence drifted in. Previously when that had happened it was records like Millie Jackson ‘My Man Is A Sweet Man’, which by accident was a stomper. It was about that time that he brought in ‘Music Maker’ King Sporty, ‘Seven Day Lover’ James Fountain, ‘I Can See Him Loving You’ The Anderson Brothers, ‘It Really Hurts Me Girl’ The Carstairs – my favourite record of all time.

And Levine, gradually, was bringing in more and more modern ones in. Then what happened was he stopped going to Miami and when he was sixteen he went to New York, still looking for Northern records, but by this time he was hanging out in a lot of the big underground gay clubs. I think the one he went to at the time was the Anvil. He started bringing back this stuff. If you look at the early disco stuff, like ‘Free Man’ by Southshore Commission (a big Mecca record), was the same pace as Northern, but just a more modern recording. ‘Super Ship’ George Benson: one of the biggest Northern records, even though it was a new release.

If I hadn’t been down to the Mecca on a week that Levine got back from the States, I’d ring round on the Sunday and ask what he brought back. ‘The fucking biggest record of the night was “Super Ship” by George Benson.’ ‘What label’s that on?’ ‘A label called CTI. It’s a new release in the States.’ Then I’d get the record, put it on, and yeah it all made sense.

The scene hadn’t yet split, but what you were getting if you went to the Mecca you’d have Levine leaning much more and more on to the newer stuff. But then you’d have Colin Curtis who was into one-offs like Eula Cooper ‘Let Our Love Grow Higher’, ‘No One Else Can Take Your Place’ The Inspirations. And Curtis used to like stompers, but also quite like some of the new stuff and Levine would bring doubles back for him and Colin.

You used to get a real balance of these new records which were essentially early disco, and that kind of dovetailed with the Northern stuff. Russ [Winstanley] banned new records. I can remember Levine getting his first spot at Wigan and he put on ‘Shake And Bump’ by Snoop Dee, which isn’t my favourite record anyway, cos it was quite funky and it didn’t really dovetail with what you’d call Northern Soul, but Russ made a thing of saying ‘I don’t want Snoopy Dee and I don’t want ‘Ladies Choice’ by Boby Franklin’. There were some records that were more funky than others and Levine could get away with them at Blackpool, but Russ wasn’t having them at Wigan. Then Cleethorpes was a melting pot for it all.

Why was Cleethorpes different?
It was almost the naiveté of the people who ran it, Mary and Colin Chapman. What they did was get that venue, which has to be one of the greatest venues ever, as far as mystique goes. I used to get to Cleethorpes Pier about four in the morning and by that point all you’d hear was this stomp-stomp-stomp from about a mile and a half away and it’d be the dancing. It was surreal; there’s this place jutting out into the sea and it’s four in the morning and all you can hear is stomp! Multiplied times a thousand.

There was no precedent for doing an all-nighter anywhere east in the country. So there was a good contingent from Yorkshire and Humberside. What was brilliant about Cleethorpes was that it offered an alternative. Credit where credit’s due, they didn’t go for that headhunting of top names, I was the nearest to a top name and Kev [Roberts] did a few. They let the local lads coming through have a chance like Rick Scott from Scunthorpe. I can’t imagine how many people in that area they turned on to it, you’re a prime example. I took it really seriously; I did seven till eight and generally I’d do a spot between three or four. The point when I did Cleethorpes was when I was riding high. I had a box full of records that were guaranteed floor-fillers. I had the Four Perfections ‘I’m Not Strong Enough’, ‘I Can’t Change’ Lorraine Chandler.

And then I was at an all-dayer at the Heavy Steam Machine at Hanley about four in the afternoon. This guy Dave from London, he worked at HMV in Berwick Street. I hadn’t seen him for about a year and I knew he always had odd records, so I said, ‘Can I have a quick look through your box?’ Flicking all the way through and the last two records are the Carstairs ‘It Really Hurts Me Girl’ and Dena Barnes ‘If You Ever Walk Out Of My Life’. The two biggest records in the country and he’s got them at the back of his box in paper sleeves. I asked him much he wanted for them and he said fifteen quid a piece. I had about 20 quid so I bought the Carstairs. So for the next two years, only me and Levine had it. Suddenly my gig rate shot up because I was the only one outside Blackpool who had that record.

The Carstairs used to be on that label Okeh. Then they turn up on a subsidiary of De-Lite, the Kool and the Gang label, and you put the needle on the record… Jesus Christ, man, if you want everything on one record, then this record’s got it. The most passionate vocal on it, scintillating beat, brilliant strings, produced by George Kerr, the fucking archdeacon of Northern Soul! Everything compressed into this one record. I spent almost a week looking at the label.

Northern soul was the first time people travelled around the country to different clubs. As a DJ you must have been covering some miles.
Friday night I was doing three gigs: Leeds Central 10-12, then I’d go over to Huddersfield do the Starlight from half 12 till half one, then I used drive over the Pennines to Sheffield, get to Samantha’s about half two and stay till eight in the morning. It was a good kick-off to the weekend.

Quite often, I’d then drive off down to Kings Lynn in Norfolk, to Soul Bowl. He was the guy who used to get records in. He’d go to the States every four weeks. His list always had interesting stuff on it, but once he got on the Northern thing, he’d go over and find stuff. The main thing was trying to pin him down the day he got back from the States, because whoever got there first, got the first pick. So once out of every four or six weeks, I’d leave Sheffield after Samantha’s, drive all the way to Kings Lynn for about ten in the morning, get all the records bought, finally crash out for a couple of hours in the car in the afternoon and quite often I’d try and dovetail that with doing a gig on the east coast, especially if I was doing a gig in Cleethorpes as well. Quite often they’d have gigs in Louth; occasionally I’d do Burton-on-Trent.

At that point I was doing both Wigan and Cleethorpes, and Russ got funny about Cleethorpes so he said it’s either one or the other. But Cleethorpes, at that point, had a different vibe about it to Wigan and so I thought Cleethorpes I’d been with literally from the word go and Wigan can be a bit wanky if they’ve got the wrong guys on, so I stuck with Cleethorpes.

I was doing Cleethorpes every week, but I was getting disillusioned with what I was having to pay for rare records. The top DJs would be Levine, Curtis, Searling, Soul Sam, me, Russ, there’d be about ten of us. And if we wanted a record, whoever sold us it knew we’d only have to play it three weeks and it would be worth ten times what we paid for it. So, by that point I was being asked to pay a lot of money for unknowns. I was getting in bidding wars with people.

Frank Booper (in dark shirt) and friends at the Twisted Wheel

Who were the best dancers you remember?
The legendary dancer from the Torch was a guy called Frankie Booper. Every scene has a king, and Frankie Booper was the number one dancer. Everyone would get out of his way, and he knew it. He was one of those guys who had a strong physique, and he would run up to the wall and do backflips off it. He’d do things of such astounding athleticism. Frankie was the king at the Torch. I did notice in the Wigan period, you’d always get the ones doing aeroplane spins. They twirl round faster than the eye can see. I saw a guy at Cleethorpes die doing an aeroplane spin. He got locked into doing one, couldn’t stop doing them. When he came to a stand-still, blood was coming from his eyes, his nose, his mouth. He blew up. It was upsetting because it was right in front of the DJ stand.

Wow! Pretty intense, then!
You didn’t want to see any diminution of atmosphere on the dancefloor. The trick was to keep the same level of intensity, even if you varied the tempos. You could fill the floor with a slow record, almost as easily as a fast record. Did you ever hear the James Fountain record? ‘Seven Day Lover’? They didn’t play this at Wigan, because they never had a copy. I think they booked Levine at Wigan because he had a copy.

So clubs would book specific DJs just to hear a particular record?
Oh yeah. You knew who had which records and what exclusives. If you wanted ‘The Laws of Love’ by the Volcanoes, another early Trammps record, or Mel Britt ‘She’ll Come Running Back’, you had to book Richard Searling because he was the only that had them. That’s why we used to go to the Mecca every week, because, between them, Curtis and Levine probably had three or four dozen records that only they had.

The quality of an all-nighter was generally dictated by the quality of DJ. One of the problems of Wigan was that you had Richard Searling, who was what you’d call a good taste DJ, and then you had Russ Winstanley, who really would play some pap. It was one of the things used to wind me up about him. Here he is, he’s got this great club. It’s packed to capacity with kids. And we’ve got all of this incredible music at our disposal, so why is he playing ‘Good Little You’ by Joey Dee & the Starliters? Some white records are just right. It’s a difficult line.

Do you remember any records that crossed over as a result of Wigan?
‘There’s a Ghost In My House’ R Dean Taylor, ‘You Sexy Sugar Plum’ Rodger Collins. That started off on a list. You couldn’t get it because it was in San Francisco. There’s a record called ‘The Flasher’ by Lloyd Michael and Mistura that became a novelty pop hit.

What about ‘The Night’ by Frankie Valli? Was that a big Wigan record?
Mammoth. It didn’t do shit when it came out. Some of those records burned out quite quickly.

Why was that? Because they were pop?
Yeah, we’d drop them a long, long, long time before they were in the charts.

So does no-one ever play ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’ now then?
No. It’s a shame, it’s a good record.

Ian Levine is all remorseful about playing it now!
What’s he talking about! It’s Holland Dozier Holland.

Tell me the Tainted Love story.
Marc Almond used to be cloakroom boy in the [Leeds] Warehouse. We booked [soul band] Q Tips to play on the Tuesday and Wednesday night. I thought, Great, I’ll pull some soul stuff out. I brought the more accessible Northern stuff out, so I could play it as people came in. I put ‘Tainted Love’ on and this guy who I’d conspicuously avoided for nine months – he was always getting in fights with women or something – he came rushing up in the middle of Gloria Jones. ‘What’s this record? I’ve got to know what this record is!’ ‘It’s Gloria Jones “Tainted Love”’ ‘I’ve got to have a tape of it!’. He’d done an EP called ‘Mutant Moments’ which was doodly electronic stuff that I couldn’t play. He’d done something on a Some Bizarre compilation and ‘Memorabilia’.

Great record!
Yeah, right! I think it’s a lot to do with Daniel Miller’s production. Anyway, the upshot of it was he ended up coming round my house. I remember it because he’s allergic to dogs. I put Gloria Jones and a load of other stuff. Probably even Judy Street, though I can’t be certain of that. I’ll show you one record I put on the same tape [goes looking for the record].

Did people overdo the drugs?
Some people did, some people didn’t. I was always acutely aware of there being drugs around at the all-nighters, mainly because on the way back from all-nighters I was always starving hungry. Coming back from Wigan we’d pull into Charnock Richard services, nearest to Wigan. That would be the first port of call on the way back over the M62, and again another place for seeing all your mates. You’d see a lot of people with green faces, and that washed out pallor, skeletal features. I used to meet girls at these things, and I’d spend all day Sunday with them. And they’d be just talking complete shit, while I’d be trying to get them in bed. After 24 hours you suddenly begin to think that these guys are on a completely different planet to me.

Actually, I’ve got a funny story for you. I had the car and I used to drive all of the lads everywhere. There must’ve been some particularly good drugs that week, because they were all on cloud nine, talking complete gibberish. I’m driving and flagging badly, and none of the conversation is making any sense to me at all. One in the front’s jabbering away talking about the birds, another guy’s talking about a record, another one’s talking to his knee. I’m on the M61 that leads to M62 and beginning to drop. So I said, ‘I’m going to have to pull over for a kip’. So I pulled over to the hard shoulder. I put my head back and fell asleep and went straight into this dream. And in the dream, I’m in the same car with the same guys, and the car goes out of control. So I woke up. I shouted, ‘Look out!’ And the guy in the front goes, ‘Look out!’ Suddenly everyone was screaming. And after about 20 seconds I said, ‘Er, we’re not moving.’

How would you sum up Northern soul’s legacy?
The period you came up was actually it’s biggest. When I stepped off to go to America I felt it was at the height, and when I came back it just wasn’t the same. It’s almost like we found the great records in that 1972 to 1976 period. If ever there was a period to celebrate Northern Soul it was that.

We’re talking about Northern soul, but that ethos has pretty much continued. That exclusivity is still going on. Those drum and bass guys have to have everything on acetate now. When the whole rave thing went ballistic, to me, it felt like Northern soul 20 years on. Lots of people getting off their heads, dancing to fast music and this love attitude. This is this generation’s version of Northern soul.

What was so revolutionary about Northern soul was there was no antecedent for it. It was something that naturally came up. You talk to people that insist that the Northern Soul thing happened because of merchant seaman going over to the States and bringing back records and the DJs would be the first guys on the docks waiting for the ships to come in.

The Northern soul thing to me was almost like an Eighth Wonder of the World. You’re looking at the depressed North of England where there wasn’t a great deal there apart from steelworks and coalmines. So you had people doing this boring repetitive work during the week; and hard work, too. And when they went out on a weekend, they really wanted to go out. Just going out to twelve o’clock in the local pub just wasn’t going to be good enough.

© Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton

Richard Burgess built British Electronic Foundations

Richard Burgess built British Electronic Foundations

Richard James Burgess has been at the vanguard of electronic music for most of his musical life. As a founding member of jazz-rock band Landscape, he was instrumental in pushing the group towards electronic instrumentation, as on 1979’s self-titled set and the 1981 LP, From The Tea-Rooms Of Mars… To The Hell-Holes Of Uranus. As a drummer, he was involved in the development of what eventually became the Simmons SDS-V (most notably used by Cameo on ‘Word Up!’) and after switching to studio production, was the first person to employ the Simmons on a track: Spandau Ballet’s ‘Chant No. 1’. He subsequently worked with everyone from Colonel Abrams to Hot Gossip. 

How did you first discover electronic music?
I spent my school years in Christchurch in New Zealand, although I was born in England. I studied electronics as a teenager, and I bought a reel to reel tape recorder. I also bought an EMS Synthi A, the briefcase model, and I was always messing around with that. It was hard to keep in tune and I did eventually get a keyboard, but I was primarily interested in making sounds with it. I was a drummer, so, I was primarily trying to make drum and percussion sounds. 

I wasn’t so aware of other electronic musicians, although I knew a bit about the German school. I was aware of Wendy Carlos but the idea of taking classical music and doing it on synthesisers never fascinated me. Having said that I admire what she did. It was Tonto’s Expanding Headband that stood me on my head with the work they did with Stevie Wonder. 

Around this time I was working with a group called Accord – Chris Heaton’s band (the keyboard player in Landscape). Accord was an improvised, avant garde group with electronics, electric percussion, treated piano, clarinets, and synthesiser. Roger Cawkwell played a Synthi A and I played electric percussion, Chris was on piano and his brother, Roger played clarinets. I was studying jazz drums with Tony Oxley, who was an amazing straight ahead jazz drummer but he was deeply into the avant garde with Derek Bailey and the like. The idea of creating sounds out of an extended sonic and time palette was what really sucked me into electronic music. Gradually Landscape started to morph into that sonic area as well. We treated our acoustic instruments electronically. I was triggering electronics live from my drum set and everything opened up before us.

I used to set up our live sound at gigs because I always had a studio at home; i had a Revox A77 very early on. It occurred to me while I was setting up the sounds for the band that everything sounded great until I pushed up the drum mics. Once I did that everything else bled into the drum mics and the overall sound would dissipate. I started wondering why drums weren’t electronic. I started researching what was out there and I wrote an article for Sound International about this and as you know, when you’re writing: you think everything through so you can express yourself clearly and the idea unfurled before me on the page. That’s what started me working on an idea for what eventually turned into electronic drums and became the SDS-V. I went to all the drum companies and couldn’t get anybody interested. I worked a lot on it myself and eventually met Dave Simmons and we worked on making it happen. I never thought about manufacturing and all that, I just wanted one for myself. 

How did you know Rusty Egan?
When I first came to England from New Zealand, I played in an Irish group called the Bernie Egan Trio. When I needed to leave the group because my studio work had built up so much they didn’t have a drummer so I taught their 14 year old son to play drums and replace me. That was Rusty. We became lifelong friends. When he started the Blitz he invited me down. I went, and Rusty had assembled this amazing smorgasbord of electronic and electronic-associated music including our first instrumental album that we cut for RCA that had the track ‘Japan’ on it. That was the last recording of that phase of Landscape where we were purely instrumental and the drums on ‘Japan’ were mostly acoustic with triggered electronics and a Moog drum . After that we used the prototype SDS-V, added vocals and went all in on electronic instruments or heavily treated ones.

What Rusty was doing at the Blitz made us feel like we weren’t out on a limb anymore. We were suddenly part of a scene that we hadn’t even realised was brewing. That was exhilarating. ‘European Man’ was the first track from The Tea-Rooms of Mars album and that got a ton of play at the Blitz. It didn’t do so well commercially because we were too early with that sound. Rusty had an encyclopedic knowledge of all the electronic records. He spent his time picking up 12-inches and 7-inches. I was much more focused on making music but I was inspired by what he was playing for sure. 

Few people realise that the original use of EDM comes from a Landscape release. It’s now obviously a ubiquitous phrase. What inspired it? 
It was apparent to me that what was happening at the Blitz was a phenomenon. Obviously, everyone looked extraordinary, but the music…. I’d never heard music like that before. I’d been to Studio 54 and other great clubs around the UK and Europe but it was clear that what Rusty was doing was different. I lived in Camberwell and at the time [fellow Landscape member] John L. Walters lived around the corner, and we got together every day to write music. I said to him, ‘This is a movement. We need a name for it.’ We were tossing ideas around and somewhere in all of that there were three names that emerged.: Futurist, New Romantic and EDM. The New Romantic it wasn’t a perfect fit for us. We had decided to dress better on stage some time before this but we were older than the Blitz crowd. We were a part of it musically although our music was further on the electronic end. As we talked about it, EDM popped up. We gave ‘European Man’ the catalogue number EDM1 and on the back cover we wrote: Electronic Dance Music… EDM, Computer Programmed to Perfection.

You were also the man who termed the phrase New Romantic. How did that come about?
I felt strongly that every musical movement needed a name. It was clear that the Blitz was a new fashion and musical phenomenon. I’d seen Spandau Ballet early on and became friends with them. Punk was four years old in the UK and this needed a name. New Romantic came about as an expression of the look of the fashion rather than the sound of the music. 

How do you feel about acts like Shock now? They seemed to get overlooked at the time, but ‘RERB’ has been a club staple for decades now. 
It took about ten mins to write and produce that track. That’s the marvel of the MC- 8 once you got past the learning curve. RCA heard ‘Angel Face’ and we needed a B-side for the single super quickly. Rusty came over to my place, we talked it through, I programmed the drum part, threw in a 16th note digga-digga-digga and made it a 12-bar blues, because that was easy. The whole track was programmed on the MC-8 and then we took it to Mayfair Studios where I played those repeat echo piano hits live, and that was that. I think Shock was badly overlooked by the record label. They were an important group. I produced the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap and there’s a hip hop track that says “we tick and we tock” and I wondered whether they got it from seeing Shock do their performances at the Ritz in NYC. Everyone who was anyone in NYC was there at some point that week. Shock had a wide influence, much greater than they’re credited for. 

Tik & Tok get overlooked, too, I think because they were seen as the funny robotic dancers.
You’re right, they were amazing. I had never seen anyone do the robot as well as they did. ‘Dynamo Beat’ was a brutal piece to program. I did a flamenco thing. I’m not a guitar player but I can play enough to figure it out. I wrote the part out on manuscript and programmed it into the MC-8. The MC-8 was the first machine that allowed you to copy, paste, and transpose whole sections – something we take for granted today but never possible before the MC-8.  The first bar was hard to program but arranging the piece was quick. I loved that track, but it got neglected by the label I don’t think they understood what we were doing. It was so fringe at the time, the gatekeepers’ and the public en masse were not ready for it. Artists who came two or three years down the line, benefitted. Shock was stupendous live, amazing, edgy progressive, musical theatre. 

Landscape, 1980, with Richard James Burgess far left. Pic: Paul Cox

When you were moving into electronic music and starting to do the Tea Rooms album, did it feel like you were on a sort of mission? 
You had to be. When Landscape started to become successful, I stopped reading our reviews because the British music press would go on tirades that were creatively destructive. I had our assistant collect our reviews and put them in a book so I could look at them later. I still haven’t read most of them although some of that material is in the Landscape A Go-Go box set. Human League and Heaven 17 were in Sheffield, so we didn’t have a lot of contact with them. We were somewhat isolated, which prevented outside influence creeping in but required a strong sense of mission to stay the course. Almost everything we were working with was unfamiliar. It was incredibly exciting. 

The Simmons drum you developed was that the same one that Cameo used? I saw them a few times and they had these hexagonal drums.
Yes, the hexagonal drum pads. I was driving to St Albans one day to work with Dave on the drums and was pondering what shape they should be? The original pad was triangular. Dave made a kit he called the Mount Rushmore. I used that on the ‘Einstein A Go Go’ video. I knew they shouldn’t be round because there was no sonic reason for that. I thought of the shape of the honeycomb and it was that shape that caught on and became the brand logo of Simmons. I used a production model on Spandau Ballet’s ‘Chant No 1’ [which Richard produced] and that was the first time it was ever played by an actual drummer on a record. The SDS-V drums on the Tea-Rooms… album were all programmed on the MC-8. It could be thought of as the first fully programmable drum machine.  

Landscape, with MC-8 Microcomposer, Richard James Burgess is at the front. Pic: Paul Cox

I remember you appearing on Tomorrow’s World, what were you demonstrating?
There were three Tomorrow’s Worlds that we did. One was featuring the electronics that we were all using at that time. On the other two – MC-8 MicroComposer and the Fairlight CMI – John and I were there, doing the programming, and talking through the script with the presenters who were on camera. The Fairlight CMI was the first commercial digital sampler, and it was so revolutionary that I flew out to Australia to meet with the designers. Of the first three machines to reach the UK, Peter Gabriel had one, I had one, and Syco Systems, the distributors, had the other. John and I used ours on Kate Bush’s Never Forever album, which, I believe, is the first instance of a digital sample being used on a record.

We put together a piece for Landscape, for the Tea-Rooms… album using the Fairlight because it arrived while we were finishing it up. That record took us a year to put together and we wound up not using the Fairlight piece, which was quite industrial and angular because it didn’t really fit the album. I am still looking for it in my archive. I certainly have it on an eight-inch floppy disk somewhere! For the other appearance on Tomorrow’s World, they asked us to programme a Bach or Mozart piece. It took us most of the day. The MC-8 was a laborious machine to use.

In what way?
The MC-8 looked like an adding machine. It had only a numeric keyboard for data entry and the display was a red LED display like digital clocks of that era – and the display just showed the numbers that you entered. Every note the machine played had to be defined by three different numbers, pitch, length, and duration. You could choose your own time base – we used 24 because it was divisible by 2, 3, 4, and 6 giving us quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenths, eighth note triplets, and sixteenth note triplets. Pretty much everything you need. But imagine going through a piece and having to type three numbers in for every single note. It was an amazing innovation – what we would later call a disruptive technology because it was the beginning of random access. It was the start of a new era of making records. We could cut and paste, move things around, and modify, which mitigated the slow data entry process to some extent but the machine was not what you would call user friendly. 

By way of comparison, around this time, the first digital multitrack machines came out. The first digital multitrack I worked on was a 3M 32 track that came out around 1978. It cost more than a £100,000 as I remember. It was great, it was quiet – no tape hiss and a very wide dynamic range compared to analog tape. I immediately preferred the sound of digital audio over analogue, but there wasn’t a big creative advantage of working on digital tape. It was quieter, the transient response was much better, you could bounce tracks with no loss of quality, and what you heard playing back off tape sounded much more like what went in, but there wasn’t much more creative flexibility than with analogue tape. Random access is really the thing that changed the way we all worked and that we take for granted today. 

Some people think analogue sounds much better than digital, but what they mean is that they like the way analogue changes the sound. Analogue tape doesn’t accurately reproduce acoustic sounds, especially those with big transients. Digital captures what you recorded more accurately. When I was working on an Adam Ant album at ABBA’s Polar studios in Stockholm in 1983, I was playing drums and producing, using two 3M digital 32-track machines. I walked in from the live room after playing my drum part and I wasn’t aware that the assistant had hit play – you don’t hear that analogue hiss when you roll digital tape. When the sound came out of the speakers it nearly knocked me off my feet. It was the first time that drums sounded the same to me coming back off tape as they had when I was playing them in the studio. When you are playing drums, they sound hard, with a sharp transient. When you play them back off analogue tape that big transient tends to get softened, like that characteristic disco drum sound? Nevertheless, the recording process with digital tape was much the same as with analogue tape. The MC-8’s copy, paste and transpose capability made it truly a composition tool. We could throw an idea in there and manipulate it as we went – a way of working we take for granted these days but completely revolutionary at that time. 

What was it like working with the Fairlight?
We worked with the Fairlight Series 1. It was revolutionary but, being first generation, it was a limited machine. The sample length was only a few seconds, with a sample rate of 24K which meant the frequency response only went up to 12Khz (if I recall correctly). It was an ornery machine [chuckles] I remember the first day we got it we had it up on the table in my home studio in Camberwell, and I remember thinking that it cost more than my house (at that time). We read in the manual (no YouTube in those days): ‘Initialize Fairlight.’ John and I were wracking out brains trying to figure out what “Initialize Fairlight” could possibly mean. I realised that the Australians were in the office by this time, so I called them, they laughed and said, ‘It means, turn it on.’ It had a key for the on/off switch, so if you left it in the studio nobody could mess with it. It was a mind-blowing machine for the time. It was command line operation, no GUI – again – not user friendly at all. If you got a letter or a space wrong or if you forgot a specific command, nothing would happen. We were diving into the manual frequently. But it was another life-changing machine because you could record anything into it and play it back in real time, change the pitch, play chords – things that had never been possible previously. However, it did not accurately reproduce an acoustic sound, but it did reproduce real world sounds with a very appealing quality. The Fairlight vocal samples were used for many years after much higher quality options were available. 

JJ Jeczalik (Art Of Noise) was one of our roadies at that time and was introduced to the Fairlight with us and then went to work for Trevor Horn after I had worked on the Buggles Age of Plastic album. JJ learned to programme it and that’s how ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart‘ and the Art Of Noise project came about. 

How did MIDI change how you made records?
It really did change things. Once we started programming things into the MC-8 and driving various synths with it we realised that a universal communications bus [a synching method that allowed different synthesisers to talk to each other] would really expand the tone palette. We discussed it with Roland, and they had a universal communications bus on the Jupiter 8, it was on a 16-pin connector. But it wasn’t universal. Various companies came up with different communications buses that weren’t compatible with the others so until MIDI we were limited to synths that used the same voltage-per-octave protocol. We couldn’t use some synthesisers for this reason. Fortunately, Oberheim, Moog, Roland, and other companies, all used one volt per octave. It was a complete shock when Dave Smith and Ikutaro Kakehashi released MIDI with no license fee. If they’d made a thousandth of a penny for every device that has subsequently used it that would have added up to a lot of money. 

Is it comparable with Betamax and VHS where one system would have eventually won out?
In the sense that you can’t play VHS on a Beta machine, yes. Two or more incompatible formats like that usually hurts the whole market. Standards are a good thing even though manufacturers tend to try to create walled gardens. Having said that, very few people were trying to connect multiple synthesisers at that time so if the Yamaha DX7 had come out without MIDI, it still would have been hugely successful because it sounded like no other synth. Likewise, the Korg M1, Roland D50, and the Juno 6. Once again, it was machines like the MC-8 that really exposed the problem. Before that if you wanted two different synths on a part you would just manually overdub them. When we started programming parts that seemed like a clunky way to do things and you couldn’t hear the result until the various parts were on tape. On the downside, MIDI enabled what I used to call MIDI hell where people would gang up multiple synths (because they could) and create some sort of non-descript string, brass, bell, Fender Rhodes type of pad sound that had zero character. 

There’s something beautiful about the earlier periods of synthesis where the sounds were distinctly synthetic. We never tried to make anything sound like an acoustic instrument. We were interested in extending the tone palette and the function of the sound in the track. But that wasn’t how some musicians looked at it and especially with sampling. Even when we did a horn section on tracks like ‘Shake the West Awake’ on The Tea-Rooms… album, we didn’t programme them out of necessity (because we had a horn section in Landscape), rather we were trying to use the MC-8 and the synths to do things we couldn’t or wouldn’t do as players. We were extending not only the tone palette but also going beyond what a human musician could play. I programmed drum fills that were so fast that they were unplayable.

The MIDI device I used on a lot of productions was the Linn 9000. It had such a classic sound and I love the feel that it generates – the timing feels really locked into the groove to me and that was true of all of Roger Linn’s devices. At one point, I moved to the Atari 1040 ST running SMPTE track because using a VDU was lot easier than squinting at that little LCD screen on the Linn. I could access all my MIDI preset changes on the computer screen, which was life-changing, but I still laid my drums from the Linn 9000 because it had a very stable clock and a better feel than drums coming off the Atari. The gradations on the shuffle function were very cool. Even a tiny amount of swing stops that rhythmic stiffness.

The 9000s had their issues, but persevering with them was worth it. I saw Roger Linn at the Grammys a few years ago and I said, ‘I still have a Linn 9000, Roger’. He looked at me with the most serious look and said, ‘I’m really sorry’ [laughs]. But that machine was another significant step forward in music tech and the basic design still underpins the Akai MPC series machines.

I always tried to make my hi-hat parts sound natural with a real feel. I spent a lot of time working on those parts on both the MC-8 and the Linn, so that the 16th notes wouldn’t be all the same volume and tonal quality. But, on many records at that time, Madonna for example, they would just hold down the repeat button, press the pad and all the eighths or sixteenths would all be the same volume and tone. It became a sound and style of its own. When more artists started using synths, we had a term in Landscape: “Page 1 Sounds and Page 1 Programming” meaning that they were using presets and doing the most basic programming. Some producers would get the synths early and use the basic presets before anyone else got them on record. You could hear immediately that they were using Sound 1, Bank 1 on machines like the Jupiter 8. For us that was unthinkable. We almost never used unedited preset sounds. But there are no rules and that’s a good thing. 

You said in another interview you’d been interested in experiments at Stanford and IRCAM and I was wondering what experiments they were? 
John Chowning was working on computer-generated sounds and music at Stanford. I used to read Computer Music Journal and I was completely fascinated by what was happening with the first digitisation and digital emulation of acoustic instruments. At the same time, I had been in touch with Andy Moorer, also of Stanford, but who was working at IRCAM in Paris during that period. These conversations and research were all about the digitisation and digital creation of musical sounds (as opposed to the analogue additive synthesis that we and everyone else was working with at the time). I went to a John Chowning concert, at St. Johns in Westminster. They set up a 360° quad system and a sound that started out as a trumpet, way off to the right and appearing to be outside the church, that moved across the church, through your head and then gradually mutated into a violin and disappeared out the other side of the church. These were computer generated sounds. That was intriguing and right on the technological cutting edge at that time. When you work with additive synthesisers you quickly realise that you need a lot of oscillators and wave-shapers to get close to the detail of some analogue sounds. Oscillators, Filters and ADSR/VCAs were expensive in that time of discrete electronics before all the circuitry moved to ICs (integrated circuits) or micro-chips as we referred to them in ‘European Man’. We were right on the cusp of that revolution, and it was very exciting. It was Chowning’s research into FM (frequency modulated) synthesis that led to the revolutionary Yamaha DX7 in 1983. The DX7 quickly became a definitive part of the sound of eighties music. 

Once we got into synthesis it became clear that we could create acoustic instrument-like sounds. There were two ways to approach this, one was recreating an acoustic sound that was imperceptible from the acoustic instrument, the other was to create sounds that functioned like acoustic instruments but had different timbres. The latter was my approach with the SDS-V drum synthesiser. I knew that relatively inexpensive digital samples were around the corner, but I also knew that the possibility of making digital samples responsive to a player’s touch was probably not within a year or two. It was not difficult to get very sensitive volume control, but acoustic instruments don’t just change in volume when you play them harder or softer or in a different place, other qualities change as well. I was more interested in the instantaneous control of the sound by the player than I was by the the sound being the same as a real drum. I also didn’t want it to sound exactly like a real drum, that seemed pointless to me. I wanted something that was like a drum on steroids out of the box without needing tons of processing. That was why I pursued the additive analogue synthesis approach with the SDSV and not a digital one. 

Some acoustic sounds are easier to synthesize than others, for instance: xylophone, marimba, steel drums. The synth sounds on ‘Popcorn,’ are easy. Sounds with complex harmonics either need many oscillators or high bandwidth digital samplers. It was only a matter of time before digital was perfected (based on Moore’s Law) and that’s why I was following CMJ, Stanford, and IRCAM. When the Fairlight came out it was like a bolt out of the blue. No-one was discussing the possibility of a portable commercial digital sampling device. The Fairlight CMI Series I, was not a desktop or laptop device it was a mini computer. It could barely fit in the trunk of my car and all the boards needed reseating every time the machine was moved. Stanford and IRCAM had much more powerful IBM mainframe computers and I’d imagined we were ten years from a device like the Fairlight, this is why I flew out to Australia to see it because it was so surprising and exciting. 

I want to ask you about ‘Trapped’ by Colonel Abrams, which you produced. Larry Levan had these different versions that he played. Do you remember anything about this? 
Colonel was signed to Arthur Baker’s label, Streetwise, before I met him. I believe that what Larry played for you might have been an early demo. I might have a cassette of it. Colonel didn’t have a deal and his manager wanted me to make a demo. I did it at Right Track Studios in NYC. I’d just moved to New York and all I had with me was a Linn drum, a Juno 106 and a DX7. It wasn’t my set up by any means, I had a home studio full of incredible equipment in London, but I used what I had in NYC. Interestingly, there’s a part I left off my mix which is that de-de-da flute thing. I recorded it but I felt that it interfered with the groove but when Timmy Regisford did his remix, he left it in. I learned from that to erase anything I don’t like. I tried every drum pattern I could come up with to make the groove not four to the bar kickdrum. I wanted it to be a funk track. In the end, I realised it came alive as a four to the bar, so I went with it. We recorded that track as a 12-inch version, and I had to cut it down to make the 7-inch/radio version. Cutting tape was always a bit fraught, you never knew whether the edit would work or not until you’d done it and then it was difficult to undo or fix an edit that didn’t work. I will say that that was a fun record to make. 

You know, that quote in your book [Last Night A DJ Saved My Life] about disco never going away is so true. Spandau Ballet’s ‘To Cut a Long Story Short’ was a four to the bar groove. That feel is a long running continuum. Gene Krupa used a heavy four to the bar on the kick drum – we don’t hear it very well on those records because they just couldn’t record kick drums so well in those days because they overloaded the equipment. Your book is so brilliant, and you nailed the fact that the DJs are the progenitors of these scenes. I developed much respect for DJs when I wrote the first Art of Record Production book. As I examined the reasons DJs become successful producers i realised they’re perfectly positioned because they are testing tracks on live audiences every night. I think a significant reason why I had success as a producer was because I played in top 40 bands as a kid, and playing all hits all the time imbues you with the sound and feeling of hit records. DJs get instant feedback from the dancefloor about a track. Eventually the qualities of a hit become intuitive – you know instantly whether something’s gonna work or not. 

I don’t think sampling is significantly different to the Stones ripping off blues licks, really though, is it?
Yeah, I agree with you, the law is out of step. Eric Clapton allegedly buried himself in John Mayall’s amazing blues collection when he lived with John and you’re right, where’s the difference between that and what happened in hip hop the way Kool Herc and Flash did it with sampling later. The reuse of recorded music is fundamental to hip-hop but made very difficult because of antiquated licensing systems. I tried to license a remix from Steinski for the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap. With all those samples and the way they have to be licensed, I could not get the licenses. That is problematic in my view and does not respect the history and methodologies of hip-hop, which is especially egregious when you consider how much money the major labels make from hip-hop these days.  

Is it true you got Gil Evans to play on a Hot Gossip record? 
It is true. 

How the hell did it happen?
John L. Walters and I were commissioned to produce Hot Gossip. I think it was 1981. I worked nearly every day that year including Christmas Day. My production career was taking off like a rocket, and I wanted to take advantage of what was happening. Shock’s managers also managed Hot Gossip, they asked me to do it. We cleared our plan with Arlene Phillips, flew out to LA (where she was working on a movie) and used Harvey Mason on drums along with an incredible array of some of the top musicians in the world. We talked about the idea of getting Gil Evans in and when we got back to the UK it turned out he was in London doing a show. We were at the Manor Studios in Oxford finishing up recording. We called him and David Sanborn who was also there. We sent them a limo. David did eight solos. The first was incredible and the other seven just as good. Gil came up with him. and kept saying I’m not a pianist. He squatted down on the shag pile carpet underneath the grand piano in the Manor, smoked a pipe of hash and then got on the piano and nailed it. 

Sadly, the album was never released. When we were done, Arlene decided she didn’t like it. They re-did it with Heaven 17. They probably wanted a purely electronic record like the Shock tracks. We gave them a much more sophisticated record. One of the bugbears of being a producer is that you get stereotyped. I try to never repeat myself. Probably not the best commercial strategy but much more satisfying creatively. Our record did leak out and picked up some rave reviews. It was a lost opportunity for Hot Gossip. 

Kool Herc gave hip hop its break

Kool Herc gave hip hop its break

Fifty years ago this August, Clive Campbell DJed at a party for his sister Cindy to raise a little money for some fly back-to-school clothes. They booked the recreation centre in their apartment block at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, drew some flyers and got to work decorating the place. Clive was big and tall, even then, so he’d earned the name Hercules on the basketball court. ‘Herc’ for short. His party instincts owed a lot to the sound systems he’d overheard as a kid in Jamaica before the family moved to New York. And his DJing style was something else. Fired up by the teenage energy in front of him, and a wild dancer himself, he started playing not whole records but just the bits he liked the best, the sections with the most energy – the drum breaks. This style evolved into a part of his set he called ‘The Merry Go Round’. In this way, as DJ Kool Herc, he gave the world the eureka breakthrough that created everything that followed. Herc invented hip hop.

In 1998, Herc gave us this interview for Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. After two weeks tramping around The Bronx, collecting pager numbers on scraps of paper, we gradually closed in and finally got a number that might be Herc’s sister. In those pre-internet days, most hip hop people we spoke to didn’t know if he was in New York, or even if he was still alive.

It came good, and finally there was Herc by a payphone with his friend Rodney C (of Funky Four Plus One More). We walked to a beat-up black Lincoln Town Car of mid-’80s vintage and Herc squeezed his giant 6’9″ frame behind the wheel, dropped Rodney in Harlem and we continued over to The Bronx. What followed was a truly cinematic interview, as we drove around the hallowed sites of hip hop’s earliest days, with Herc leading me round the clubs of his youth, mostly now car parks or shops. One, memorably, was now a mattress factory.

You may have read an edited version of this before, but for hip hop’s 50th birthday we’re publishing it in full for the first time.

interviewed by Frank in The Bronx, 30.9.98

…All hooked up. All hooked up.

What year did you come to New York?

I came here in ’67.

So you were how old when you came here?


So you remember your time in Jamaica?

Oh yeah, Very well. I remember Jamaican independence. Yep. I remember independence. I remember when the Queen Mother came. I remember when Emperor Haile Salassie came there.

How was that?

Lovely, lovely. All the Rastas came out of the hills. They never seen so much Rastas in all their fuckin’ life in Jamaica. Camped out, ran on the tarmac. Meet the plane. When Selassie came to the plane window he turned back in and started cryin’. He didn’t know people was worshipping him like that.

How did he deal with it?

He tried his best. He didn’t speak too much English either. And I remember when President Kennedy got shot.

How was that in Jamaica?

It was real fucked up. It was real fucked up, you know, a leader, like, of the United States, in my lifetime. You figured the United states is like a utopia, nothing goes wrong there. I was a kid, I didn’t know any better. But my mom’s you know, working as a nurse and stuff. And you see the movies, you know. You see television…

She worked over here before you all came over?

Yeah she worked as a nurse, yeah. And Kennedy got killed man! That to me just took the life out of the whole fucking world. Shit started to go downhill from there.

That was before you were here

Yeah, but still. I remember seeing the whole procession. I seen the whole shit on TV. I had a television so I was a king. My whole yard was full of people. Only a few people had television.

Where did you live in Jamaica?

I was young, my first neighbourhood I live in is Trenchtown. Bob Marley used to live there. He used to live on First Avenue, or First Street. I lived on Second Street around by a theatre called the Ambassador Theatre. Right there man. Right now they say grass grows in the streets there.

Do you go back there?

I haven’t been back in years. My father died and it took something out of me, by Jamaica, by going back there.

He was still in Jamaica?

No he came here but he was going back and forth. He caught a seizure in the water. People went down there see him and didn’t rescue him out of the water. And let him go back in. And the wave brought him back in, but the body stayed in.

What did he used to do?

Top notch mechanic. Jamaica. Used to work in this Newport West, fixed the high lifts, the fork lifts. When he came here he started to work at Clarks equipment company, out in Queens.

So do you remember the sound systems in Jamaica?

Yeah. There was a dancehall near where I lived, up in Franklyn town. We used to be playing at marbles and riding our skateboards, used to see the guys bringing the big boxes inside of the handcarts. And before that a guy used to put up watercolour signs on lightposts, let people know there’s going to be a dance coming. And the day before, you’d see a big handcart, a hand man come with a truck. Big boxes. A dancehall, you all could tell a dancehall, a spot where a dance keep at. Matter of fact I lived in a dancehall one time. The whole yard would be concrete, and there’d be a high fence. So you can’t see in.

Which were the sounds that played where you were?

I didn’t know the name of the sound system. I wasn’t too much into it. But this guy named Big George, King George used to bring his set there.

Do you remember any of the parties in particular?

I couldn’t get in. Couldn’t get in. I was ten, eleven years old.

They don’t let kids in?

Nah nah. It’s a liquor thing. And guys burning weed there and shit. If I was 17, 18, yeah, I would have been definitely up in it.

So what are the kids doing? hanging out outside?

Hanging out. We on our skateboards, skating round, you know, and you saw the little gangster kids, and they knew who from the gangs, or the bad bwoys. [whispers] ‘Yeah that’s such and such, man.’ ‘Awww’. And they see all the big reputation people come through. We’re little kids, but their reputation, them precedes them. So our dance would bring them out. And we sit on the side and watch, ‘Oh shit that’s such and such’. Little did I know that would be a big influence on me. As far as my pops wanted me to be a mechanic. I turned out to be a mechanic in what I do.

Did you ever think, when you heard the sounds, that you’d end up doing that?

No. But when I got here I see a lot of abandoned cars and TVs. And I take out the speakers and make my own little boxes for my room. Yeah, you know and it just started to progress from there.

So you were making your own equipment.

Yeah, my own little boxes. I start to get involved more with a working lifestyle. At the time people couldn’t understand what I was saying ’cos I had a heavy Jamaican accent. I was on the ‘Yeh man, Yeh man.’ And they was a place called Murphy Projects, like a recreation room where they used to give parties once a month. Right by the Cross Bronx Expressway. About a block off third Avenue.

They were the parties you just used to go to?

Yeah, go to see how the kids dance, See how they talked.

What were they like?

They were playing contemporary stuff. Kool and The Gang, Isley Brothers stuff.

So what sort of year is that?

That was like say, we talking about say ’69. 1969.

When did you start to get involved in it?

I started to get involved in it right after my house got burnt down. And I was going to parties back then, see. A place called the Tunnel, A place called The Puzzle. Right on 161st St, right where I’ma pass by right now, this was the first disco I used to party at, called The Puzzle. Used to have me, guys like Phase II, Stay High, Sweet Duke, Lionel 163, all the early graffiti writers used to come through here. This is where we used to meet up and party at. Then years later, down the block from it, this club right here, called Disco Fever. Disco Fever used to be right here on 167th. But before Disco Fever, right up near the train station up there, used to be this place called the Puzzle. That was the first Bronx disco.

So we’re on Cromwell and 167th, so just up there near the train station.

Just up the block used to be River Avenue. This is Jerome. Over there is River Avenue and 167th.

So back then you still weren’t playing?

I was dancin’, I was partying. I was partying. Right around ’70…

That was when B-boying was starting!

Yeah, people was dancing, but they wasn’t calling it B-boying. That was just the break, and people would go off. My term’s came in after I started to play, and I called them B-boys. Guys used to just breakdance, used to break it down. Right then, slang was in, and we shortened words down. Instead of disrespect, you know, you dissed me. That’s where that come from.

So who are the DJs that played these clubs?

There’s a guy I used to go to, ’cos now, now I’m in high school. The guy who used to play here I don’t know though. You never used to see him, they was in a room.

That was in the Puzzle, you never saw the DJ?

No, never saw them. But the guys in the Tunnel, I knew him, this guy named John Brown. He used to go to my school – Alfred E Smith. This blue gate coming now, it’s a store now, ain’t no club no more.

That was where it was? 41E. Now it’s a shoe store. And what about at Disco Fever?

Right there. June Bug and a guy named Sweet G.

What happened to those guys?

Jun Bug got killed. He was murdered. After that, a guy named Starchild, had the contract of playing up in there. I played up there once, for June Bug’s birthday.

When did you start playing. What made you start playing records?

John Brown, guy used to play at The Tunnel. They used to play music and I’m dancing with this girl trying to get my shit off, and they used to fuck up. And the whole party… they knew when they used to fuck up and be like, ‘Y’ahhh, what the fuck is that…? Why you took it off there? The shit was about to explode. I was about to bust a nut.’ You know. And the girl be like, ‘Damn, what the fuck is wrong?’ And I’m hearing this. I’m griping too. ‘Cos he’s fucking my groove up.

’Cos you know the tune so well.

Yeah, yeah, you know. So that stayed in my head. you know, I’m a dance person. I like to party. I used to come home and my whole clothes was soaking wet. At least. I had to tell my mother… ‘Where you going with my towel’ And I be ‘Ma, It gets like that up in there!’ Sweat Box. Down.

That was what the atmosphere was like, Everyone just getting down?

Partying partying. Rocking.

What sort of age?

18, No teenyboppers. 18 You gotta wait your turn to start partying and shit. The little recreation room parties, that’s where you might get a little taster for it when you’re 15, 14 and shit, there you’d sneak up in there.

So Disco Fever was the one you went to most?

No, naw. The Puzzle. The Puzzle and The Tunnel. The Disco Fever popped up ’79, ’78. that’s when Disco fever popped up.

The Puzzle and The Tunnel, what year was that?

The Puzzle and The Tunnel, that was back say, ’69 ’70. My stink started to kick up in ’71.

What were the clubs like inside?

Huge. Probably gonna hold a good four or 500 people.


Not too much. Not too much disco lights. All they had was a strobe light, and the little exit lights where you come in from the door. It’s dark! Not too dark. It’s light but it was a low-key light.

When did you start playing?

When I started playing is say 1970, late ’70, early ’71. That’s when the gangs rolled in, the gangs popped up and them. Start fucking people up, going to parties, start robbin’ them, fuckin’ with their girls and shit.

That wasn’t happening before then?


How come that started happening?

Gangs man, they need a place to belong. See what I’m sayin’. Punks get into gangs to be a part of something. you know. Some people just ain’t shit without being in a crowd. Some guys in the gang are serious about their shit. This is the place called The Executive Playhouse. Years later I played here.

Herc making a pronouncement on Jerome Avenue, 1998

This empty lot?

This empty lot. As I was saying: [a pronouncement] After I who have entered through this door and certain places such as the Executive Playhouse should be known as a car park… So it is, baby! After I who have entered through this door, DJ Kool Herc, no-one else shall enter, certain places like the Hevalo, should remain a car lot, so it is baby! That’s how it is! This is Jerome Avenue. Right here off the Cross Bronx Expressway at Mount Eden, this was the Executive Playhouse. This was the spot that gave me a lot of playing time when I first started playing a room.

This is where you first played?

No. This ain’t where I first played.

Where was that?

Over on Sedgwick Avenue.

You remember how it happened?

Yeah. Oh yeah. My sister wanted, my sister had a Youth Corps job and she was going back to school and she wanted her some clothes money, she wanted to invest some of her money on more money so she gave a party. And she asked me to play the music. And I was there into my graffiti work, and that’s where I graduated from the walls to the turntables. I used that curiosity of who I am on the flyer. There was a lot of curious people come to see who was doing it, ‘Oh this is what he does.’ I liked that. So right there, I’m the one who kinda resurrected the party movement back again.

And you’d been buying records anyway?

Yeah, I had records. I had records.

And how was the night, Do you remember.

Lovely! Lovely. Charged 25¢ for girls, 50¢ for fellas, 50¢ for sodas, 75¢ for franks, and beer, beer was a dollar.

And what did she buy with it?

She bought clothes. She went back to school fly.

So you got a taste of it.

Oh yeah.

You loved it.

Oh yeah. This is me at the helm now. I had the attitude of the dancefloor behind the turntables. Come up from the peoples’ choice.

Because you’re a dancer

Exactly. You know.

And how did it progress?

Every time I used to hang out. We made some money. When I used to hang out in different places, now they know who I am. Now they see me. ‘Yo man, Herc, wassup?, when is the next party? The other shit was the shit. Yo, I had me a good time, when is the next one?’ So I wait till I seen them build up [demand for the parties], and it built up and then drop it.

Where were you doing parties?

Recreation room. back in the recreation room. Till I got too big. Then, up the block.

Where was the recreation room?

1520 Sedgwick Avenue. It was for people in the building, downstairs, for anybody having a birthday party, wedding reception, tenant meeting and all that. You could rent it out for $25.

How long did you do those parties.

Off and on. It wasn’t an everyday thing, It wasn’t an every weekend thing, They wasn’t having it. Once a month or once every two months.

And what are you doing the rest of the time?

Going to school.

1970 you were in high-school?

Coming into high-school.

So you’re real young to be DJing

Oh yeah, oh yeah.

So how were you playing back then. You said you were pissed off with the way other DJs were playing the records?

I would give people what I know what people wanted to hear. I’d give it to ’em. And I was getting more music that was creative and sounded similar to the ones they liked. And that stream right there and introducing them to new music. At the same time giving up some slow music. A lot of guys like to get their shit on. I’m a guy that plays slow music. I don’t give a fuck how hard the party’s rockin’, I’ll slow it down. I have my shit in stages. I play music in stages. No format shit.

What were your big records back then?

My big record back then, and nobody had it then, was James Brown, ‘Give It Up Turn It Loose’. And a couple of records I used to play from the other clubs and as it went on I got [Babe Ruth’s] The Mexican, I got [Incredible Bongo Band] ‘Bongo Rock’, you name them, ‘It’s Just Begun’ [by Jimmy castor Bunch]. They used to rock that inside them at the Tunnel and The Puzzle. Everybody knew about it because they killed it. So if I start playing shit like that, I’m the one who played it first. If you’re playing for 50 people, yeah, but if you’re playing for 200 people, they gonna say you played it first. But I give props, no matter where I hear a record from, and I like it I know somebody played it I give them credit for it. I let them take it from me.

But after the recreation room, I gave a block party, and we couldn’t come back. So I found a place over here called the Twilight Zone. This was my first place of mass production. Giving parties. Away from the recreation room, was right here between, on Jerome Avenue, between Tremont and Burnside. The Twilight Zone.

And what was that like?

Lovely. I used to show fights up in there. I had a super 8 projector, and I’d show fights and little movies. And up the block was a place called Soulsville, but they changed the name to The Hevalo. And that was an established club. That club gave me my first break of playing week after week. ’Cos this place [Twilight Zone] I only could rent it once in a while. When I first gave the party here, everybody left from up there ’cos they used to chase me away from giving flyers out in front of their club. I’d tell ’em, ‘One day I’ma rock this club motherfucker. Watch!’

Just right here. Upstairs, right here. That was the Twilight Zone [address: 2000-something Jerome Ave] This church right there? This was a Latin club called the Hippocampo. that was a big Latin club, now it’s a church.

This whole street must have been rocking!

This block, this, Jerome Avenue. This is Herc Avenue really. I dominated this. ’Cos when I gave a party it was raining like hell, and when I look out from the window up top, all I saw was umbrellas. Nobody went to the club up there. They were like ‘Where everybody at?’ They’d say ‘They’re down the block.’ I go up to give out the flyers he’s chasing me from the door, Herc, that’s him. It’d be nice to take a look up in there. I don’t want to get a ticket though.

[We park and go up some rickety stairs, with metal plates holding the beat-up wood together, and it’s a factory where some Spanish-speaking guys are putting new covers on stained old mattresses. Mattresses old and ‘new’ are stacked to the ceiling.]

…the Zodiac

This place became the Zodiac?

Right, yeah.

[Herc asks permission from the owner]

Who the boss? Hi, how you doing sir. I used to play upstairs many years ago as a club, and I just want to show this reporter what it looked like upstairs. I know it don’t look the same, but he just want to see it.

[The lady talks in Spanish… Bossman shakes his head.  She translates: ‘He says it’s a store upstairs.’]

We just want to look.

[more Spanish] For what?

It’s nostalgia. He just wants to see it.

I used to be the DJ many years ago.

[She translates and it’s OK]

Thank you.

Some ghosts in here then?

Some ghosts gonna be up here right.

[Smoochy Puerto Rican music plays]

[to mattress-worker] Many years ago I used to play music in here. Habla Ingles? [he’s a little nostalgic] This was a club, man!

Where was the booth?

You can’t see it, it was in the back. This was the dancefloor.

And now every mattress in New York is here.

This was it.

What kind of things happened here then?

[Herc almost falls through the crumbling stairs.]

People came here to have fun. There was no fights, there was no shoot-outs.

[We walk across the street and up a block and a half to the site of the Hevalo]

This, this was the Hevalo. Now it’s a car park.

What year did you start playing here?

The good old year here was ’75, ’76.

When did you start?

’74, ’75. I was still doing my shit down here, and then late ’74, late ’74 and ’75 I started playing between here [Hevalo] and the Executive Playhouse. Matter of fact, this whole area used to be Irish, before it was called the Executive Playhouse this was called the Green Mill.

Shamrocks all over.

Yeah, the four-leaved thing, the clover. And there used to be crazy fights and everything here. Some brothers got it, big black guys, they called themselves the Eighth Executive, so they called it the Executive Playhouse.

That was a gang?

No, some black guys. I got off the train with my girlfriend to see a sign ‘Under New Management’ I said, shit, let’s find what’s going on. So I went in I said ‘I’m a DJ and I want to play up in here.’ They got a guy called Bert. This guy had some monster stuff. That’s when I first seen my equipment, my future equipment. I said this is what I want. He had good equipment but he had no skills. I had skills but I had no equipment. So something happened one time that he wasn’t there no more and they called me.

He would bring his equipment to the club, they didn’t have a sound system?


Is that how all the clubs worked?

They used to have bands. So when I started and when he started, that’s when, you know, the elimination of bands. Why give a band $600 if I could give a guy $150 and everybody’s pleased. You would have to pay seven guys and seven guys might want $100 a head or $75 a head.

And how much they gonna drink…

All of that. So they called me and I was just building my equipment but they didn’t know I had a reputation. I got experience for playing for kids, now I’m playing for adults. So the shit I’m playing for the kids I can’t play for the adults.

It was really different?

Oh yeah.

What would you play for the kids?

Most of the James Brown, Jimmy Castor, they would [up-rocks in the street], you’re not gonna have 35, 40 year old people doing that. Whole different rotation. So I’m playing for them and rockin’ their ass. Some bands still used to come up in there now, and I’d play intermission, in the break. But when they didn’t have a band I still used to play. It was the whole thing for adults, So I never used to be here on a regular thing, but this place burnt down and I started giving parties back over here, at The Twilight Zone. And every time I would play out somewhere and come back from one of my parties I would come back with a piece of the guy’s equipment. That I bought. Every time I took off from work on a weekend and do a party, I come back and the next week with a piece of equipment. And they knew it was top notch shit, and they were like ‘How the fuck you get money to buy that?’ and I was like there’s more to me than what you see.

And where were you working?

I used to give parties different places. Do my own shit. I come back with a piece of equipment. I’m building my shit there. I’m rolling with the big Mac. The big Mac, that cost like say $1600. A Macintosh, a 2300 Mac, the biggest there is, the top of the line. The guy had top-of-the-line stuff. he had GLI, and the new company came out, he had the disco fours, and he had not one Macintosh 2300, he had two of them. And he had two Voice of the Theaters.

So who’s this guy you’re buying it off?

He used to call himself the Amazing Bert.

So he’s just getting rid of all this?

This system sound like a band. People used to come just to hear the sound, they didn’t give a fuck what he was playing. What was coming through. It was crisp, you was hearing it. You could be on the Cross Bronx and be hearing this shit. Yunno. But see he was a student from the Bahamas, so he had grant money, he was at Fordham University. So he was getting grant money to buy all this new shit. I’m getting mine some fucking ground zero. I didn’t have no grant money. I had to earn mines. And still I haven’t completed it. I just didn’t complete it. I had two of the fours, two of the other Voice of The Theaters, and I had one Mac and I didn’t like the Thorens turntable, the Thorens was still top of the line.

The Technics wasn’t out yet?

The Technics was just coming out. My model, the 1100A just came in, to show Thorens that we on the block too. So between Technic and Thoren, they was fighting for the money market. So I went Technic. I went 1100A. That turntable is cut out. Because people couldn’t buy it. It wasn’t that it was no good; but it wasn’t moving off the shelf. Too expensive! So they pulled it off and put something more durable, and inexpensive with the 1200 shit. I don’t fuck with the 1200s. I wouldn’t. I still got mines, and I wish they would bring them back.

What’s the difference.

They got a higher pitch. The pitch from the table is not slant, it’s high. So for me spinning back is more easier for me. And weight. Right there, as I say I bought equipment and so one day I said I’m gonna work for three weeks without any pay, the equivalent to rent this spot. So I did that, this is my first time to bring my crowd there.

This is Executive Playhouse?

Yeah. So I put my suit on, ‘Ooh where you going?’ You watch. I’m at the door, my people paying. My man Coke La Rock, Timmy Tim, they were playing with me at the time, so they’re playing. So they’re like, they see me handling the door.

With a tux on?

No, just a suit. An AJ Lester suit. That was the place to go shopping. You know and they like, ‘Oh, we never seen this side of you.’ OK… Packed it! Packed it!

What was the date?

I think I have a flyer somewhere. I think it was the summer. I packed it. I was the second person to pack it like that.

Who was the first?

Some other people gave it. But mine hit the Richter scale.

So you’d been doing parties all over the place, and this was the first time you felt you had it.

Oh yes. We running this. We running this fucking Bronx. You couldn’t throw a party on my night. I had guys had to change their dates if they found out I’m giving a party on the same night.

What year is this?

I’m at the height right now, ’75, ’76. You can’t fuck with us. You just got to deal with us. Know what I’m saying. Then those guys now, remember those eight guys. They’re supposed to be a team. Those eight executives, each and every one of them propositioned me independently. Why y’all doing this? Instead of just come to me and let’s talk a deal. Everybody wanted a piece of me. You know I could get this. This is just me and my father. So they said who teach you so well? You’re a shrewd businessman.

I want to talk more about your style about how you came about with breakbeats. When did you change it so you were just playing the breaks?

I wasn’t just still playing the breaks. The breaks was always a part of my format. Always gonna be there. Different people come there and dance to different types of music. I’m catering to each and every little volume of people there. Well the break thing happened, I was seeing everybody on the sidelines waiting for particular breaks in the records

People used to do that?

Yeah. People used to wait. I’m observing them. I wasn’t just a turntablist. I’m watching the crowd. If there’s a argument escalating into a fight, and who’s up in my place. Somebody could come up in there that could tense up the whole place. I gotta know, I gotta see if things running smooth. I was smoking cigarettes back then. I said let me put a couple of these records together, that got breaks in them. I did it. boom bom bom bom. I didn’t have one of them but I try to make it sound like a record. Place went berserk. Loved it.

What were the records?

‘Funky Music is the Thing’, by, I forgot the band, part of James Brown’s ‘Clap Your Hands Stomp Your Feet’, part of the break from ‘Drummer’s Beat’. No not ‘Drummers Beat’, The Isley brothers’ ‘Get Into Something’ and ‘Bra’ by Cymande. Took off! Then they got the guys that just wanna sit back, they might be doing their little drugs and shit, they don’t want too much screaming music in their ears. Play some mellow shit for them. Do what you gotta do. Play it cool.

So how would your set be. You’d play regular records and then a section of breaks?

Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah. I’d get everything. There’s some records everybody’s gonna get with. And there’s some records people ain’t gonna get with. So I’d get the crowd going with that. Then I’d just go into cool out music. Break music, slow dance then go right back to what everybody wanted to hear. So everybody OK cool. The contemporary stuff. Shit that’s on the radio. Shit they go to work with and listen to or round the block you’re listening to.

When did people start calling it breakbeats?

They started to do that in the ’80s. That’s when they do that.

Was anybody else doing anything similar?

No. There was guys were trying to battle me but I wasn’t fucking with them. There was a guy called Smoky. He was coming up, he was on Webster Avenue, had a group called the Masterplan Bunch. Flash was in the cuts. He was making noise and shit. And I had no competition.

But what about inspiration?

From watching the crowd. Remember, that’s where I come from. I come from the dancehall, I can’t let them down. I can’t fool around and play no wack shit. I’m watching them: the more they’re having fun, the more I get busy.

Who tried to copy you?

Tried to copy me?

Well, tried to use your idea?

I never know. I never went to their parties. I’m doing my shit, I ain’t got time to go. Saturday, I’m not in your party; I’m in my shit. I ain’t got time to check other people out. I didn’t hear no name to go check out. What would I do, if they’re trying to impress by playing my shit. That’s not too impressive. You know.

Tell me about your system.

I called my system the Herculords. People thought I was calling my crew the Herculords. the Herculords is not my crew, it’s the name of my sound system. The second sound system I was building I called it ‘Not Responsible’. Every time you play that set somewhere, some shit always jump off, some dispute, some shit, so I call it ‘Not Responsible’. That’s it, yunno. We just used to crank it, let people know Yo! if you wanna come fuck with us, this is what you have to deal with.

I remember one time Flash came to our party and shit, at the Executive Playhouse, I just got the Mac then, and he came and I said ‘Yeah I want you to feel the high, I want you to listen to the high, I want you to check out the midrange, I want the bass to walk the place.’ And I think I said ‘Flash can you deal with it?’ He ran out the spot. He said that was the only time I embarrassed him and shit. He used to have a sound system called the Gladiators. And Kid Creole, I’ll never forget, he said, ‘Yeah, it’s a known fact: the Herculords might cause a disaster, but there only could be one Grandmaster.’ A-ight motherfucker! It was cool, stood alongside them. Where the fuck we all at with that? So we just left it like that, man. We never battled.

Did you rhyme over the records?

No, I just was saying a few little words. If the party rockin I’d say, ‘Yeah, Right about now I’m rocking with the rockers, I’m jammin with the jammers. Young ladies, don’t hurt nobody. So remember it ain’t no fun unless we all get some. Rock on y’all. Rock rock and don’t stop.’ And when Bongo Rock used to come, we’d say ‘And you rock, and don’t stop. And rock. And don’t stop.’ And that’s the only part I used to say. So along the way, as the years go by, little short sayings became right into a full verse.

But you just kept it that way.

yeah. we never was…

Cos that’s very like the Jamaican way of toasting.


Is that in your mind when you were doing that?

Exactly. I say:

‘Yo you never heard it like this before. And you’re back for more. And more, and more, and this year rock this y’all. Her-Herc.’

Or this:

“Yes yes y’all. I see you comin’ down to check I, Her-Herc.’

Or if I’m playing something I’d say:

‘Yes this is through the inspiration of I, Her-Herc y’all. Check this out.’ And just go into the music, yunno. Took it nice through those raps to cover my mix, so it come on nice and smooth, ’cos I didn’t have the luxury of a headphone. I mixed over the music.

Did you ever play reggae?

A few, a few. I never played too much reggae. I never had the audience for it and people wasn’t feelin’ reggae at the time.

Is that how you started?

I played a few but it wasn’t catching

At the beginning?

At the beginning. And I introduced similar music in a funky way, so I find out: ‘Oh this is what y’all like in your music.’ So this is your funky music to me. And it’s similar for what I was trying to do for reggae music. Apply it. So a lot of my music is about bass.

So you’re thinking I want to make it like a sound system in Kingston.

Yeah. But I’m in Rome, I got to do what the Romans do. I’m here. I got to get with the groove that’s here. Who knows man, later on it took off.

You grew up in Jamaica. How much of an inspiration was that to the way you played and the way you made the music?

An inspiration to me, my father knew good music. He loved music and he taught me what was good music. [in his dad’s JA accent] ‘That’s a good bounce. That’s a good bounce.’ So I know what a good bounce is.

He didn’t play an instrument?

He was a Nat King Cole Man, Johnny Ace, all the classical old R&B blues singers. Louis Armstrong all those people. That’s… Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald. That’s his type of music and I knew what good music was. he trained my ears to it.

Do you have any tapes?

No What I’m trying to do is put together some music. Of what I used to do back in the days. We working on that. Kurtis Blow trying to fuck me around with Rhino records.

One thing you said you had some flyers.

Those flyers. We don’t put them out, we got to get something for that.

If I was livin’ like that, I wouldn’t be talking to you. I’d be fucked up. A lot of people would like to see me fucked up in the game. But I’m forever standing, man. I’m still fucking standing. Like my man Sir Elton [sings] ‘I’m still standing, after all these years. feeling like a true survivor, feelin like a little kid…’ Yeah, I’m still standing man. And motherfuckers would like to see me all destitute. Say, ‘Yeah he fucked up the opportunity, look at him now.’

Now’s a good time. People are back interested in the old school.

And I have all my shit. If they set me down with a good deal they got some good shit comin’. ’Cos I could put my shit out in volumes. Yo man. A lot of money could be made out of it. It could be beats made for up-coming artists, ’cos that’s all Puffy do.


That’s all he do. He just does shit over. That’s my shit. It wouldn’t be nothing new, ‘Oh Herc is makin it’, cos that’s what the bastard’s doing out there. I got all my music. I got every single fuckin one. And they in mint condition. You ain’t gotta worry about no cshh cshh, like fry eggs or fry bacons or shit.

What about the outside parties that you used to do. How often was that?

That was not too often, because I didn’t get paid for it, and if I blew an amp or something, niggas… people wouldn’t end up givin’ me the money for it. So I never took a chance at doing that. Cos you always got to turn up the volume a little more, just to try to figure the music ain’t comin through.

You played a few though.

Oh yeah, oh yes.

How was it?

It was lovely. I played in Taft yard, and I took an aerial shot of that. It made the paper. Nelson George came up and did a story on me. His first fuckin’ assignment.

For the Village Voice?

Not for the Village Voice, for the Amsterdam News. That’s right. He forgot years later who the hell I am. I showed him, ‘Oh shit, yeah.’

Where was the party?

At Taft yard, Taft High School at 178th and Sheridan Avenue.

So when you started playing breaks, which year is this?

1975, ’76.

And that was in the Hevalo?

Yeah. It weas earlier than that too, because I had funky music before I even came up into the Hevalo. It was earlier than that. I used to play it but I never really put a lot of emphasis into it.

Can you remember the very first time you did it.

I told em ‘I’ma put some things together and I want y’all to check it out.’ And I’ma call it the Merry Go Round. See I got to hop on once I hear it. I’m not comin back. I’m gonna go forward. And so I did it, and they loved it.

Where did you take it from there?

I made it more part of the format. It was a part of the format now. People come in to hear that.

And you start looking for records just for the break?

It wasn’t just for the breaks. I have a lot of music from either Bam’s collection that I like, that I bought, but I never chased the beat like that. I’m not a beat chaser. I’m a good music chaser, and if a break so happens, comes along in it, it’s all well and good. But I’m not trying to go out there ’cos if I do a party man, I can’t play beats for people. And that’s what fucks up a lot of DJs, they can’t step out of that age frame, to play for people. they can’t, cos their shits full of fucking beats.

When you’re playing the break, you’re playing the whole break and then you’d play it again… or…?

Two of them, two of them.

But how long would you play each one?

Not too long. ’Bout four times.

And how much time would you give each one?

I’m not givin’ it too much time for the floor to be bored with it. ’Cos I got to move on. You can’t do nothin that they gonna be bored man. ‘Oh man, why don’t you let it go.’

And which breaks from which songs went down the best?

All of them, man. All of them. I don’t play wack shit. It don’t stay in the crate. All of them never get played in one night.

[we nearly run down a kid chasing a ball into the street.]

My father always tell me… [to the kid] You gonna get your ass fucked up over a ball! My father always tell me, ‘There’s always a kid chasing the bouncing ball.’

You got kids?

Yeah. Always tell me, there’s always a kid chasin’ a bouncing ball.

What was your favourite ever party?

My favourite party was my first boat ride. I played for my high school, Taft, in ’74, and the boat ride left from Battery Park, up to Rye Playland. And then, yo, at the time, ‘Rock the Boat’ [Hues Corporation] had just come out, this record, and it was, I had a favourite record I wanted to take with me and I left it at home. And that was ‘Skin Tight [Ohio Players]. And the boat got ready to dock and the water got kind of rough. And then the boat is rocking like this and I said Oh shit, I said Coke [La Rock, one of Herc’s MCs], pass me, watch this Coke. I put on ‘Rock The Boat.’ [sings] ‘If you’d like to know it, you got the notion, Rock the boat, don’t stop…’ and everybody starts running from side to side to rock this fuckin boat. The captain, the teachers said ‘Yo!, take it off. Take that goddam record off!’ And that shit made the school newspaper: ‘And as the boat was rockin, the DJ Kool Herc played “Rock The Boat”.’

Bam told a story about a battle in 1977 at the PAL…

Oh, at the PAL. They didn’t show up. Oh Oh Bam was there?

Yeah. He played first


And someone from your crew told him he’d better turn it down.

Yeah, Clark Kent threw a little spark in there. He have a young kid, no higher than this right here, and he’s on one of the powerfullest sets in the fuckin Bronx. You think he’s not gonna be cocky about it. He said, ‘Bambaataa!’ and I just had the echo chamber. ‘Bambaataa-Bambaataa-Bambaataa, turn your set down-down-down. Herc is getting’ ready to come on. If you don’t-don’t-don’t, we will drown you out-out-out.’ I say ‘Oh come on Kent, damn!’

And he kept on playing?

Naw, couldn’t, we had too much shit for him.

You just overpowered him?


Were the gangs ever a problem?

You know what, the gang never bothered us, because, my father always compliment me about the company I keep. We pick each other. You couldn’t just come around me just to say… No, he compliment me always, ‘Herc I like the way you choose your friends and how you and your friends choose each other.’

But didn’t they try to take over the clubs?

Yeah, ’cos some guys… People know us, that was in gangs, and know that we have respect. And if we… each and every one of us was approached to be a division leader, we turned it down. ’Cos we on the west side, who on the west side say ‘My man Mark, Kool Herc, Coke, Ron.’ And they know that, yo, we ain’t no punks. Niggas know that we ain’t no fuckin punks. So to get people to come on board they’d have to recruit us. And if they recruit us they know that they have everybody. We wasn’t with that. We don’t need that to get respect. People wasn’t fucking with us, why go out of our way to fuck with them.

You never got into making records. How come?

I just… I ain’t too far from it. I just, at the time, people got older, having responsibility, and then narcotics came in, I started medicating myself. My father died, that put me in a slump. I got stabbed up, ’77. Drew me back into a little shell.

How come you got stabbed?

That’s a misunderstanding shit. Kids come up in there, drunk.

You were playing at the time?

I was getting ready to play. I just changed my clothes, walked in the door, and walked into a discrepancy and I got stabbed.

You ever played downtown?

No, Never did. Downtown was bourgois to me. My shit was like elementary. You had to go through me and go on. It stayed up here. Not only that, downtown you couldn’t wear no sneakers. You can’t wear what you want to wear down there. Up here you could do your thing. Wear your sneakers, wear your jeans. Downtown you had to be dressed different, yunno. Different style.

And when you started DJing, did you carry on B-boying, going dancing?

If they’re there. If they’re there. I give it to em. If they there I’m always gonna look out for them.

No but yourself.

No, I danced behind the turntable. I got my little moves behind the turntable. ’Cos I got to be into it. I got to be feeling. I’m into it. If I’m playing, I’m into it, and if the ground is sturdy, I could really you know get busy, ‘cos as I’m throwin’ it on and I’m dancing, I know I’m making other people dance. But if I’m just there as a job unh-huh. Come on then! Feel it man!

What’s the best thing you got out of it all?

Out of playing music?


Until this day, hearing the oohs and the ahhs. Hearin the OOOhs and the Ahhs. People having fun, the mere fact that people enjoying themself, man, knowing that. Knowing the fact some motherfucker could spoil it, too.

Me and my friend used to play chess… on the turntables. Cos sometimes egotism was to take both of us at the same time. You want to play and I want to play. So how we gonna straighten this out? OK cool, no problem, we had a game. This turntable’s mine, that turntable’s yours. Match me. And the first person who play a record that the crowd say Ahh and walk off…

Who was this?

Me and Coke, my partner, Coke La Rock. That’s how we used to do it. And if you had two or three records to make a point or to bridge a gap, I would tell him. ‘I’ma go into this record and go to this record, and come outta that record.’ ‘Alright, cool.’ But the minute the crowd go huh, and then he’d take over and play. It was never a power struggle about who play for the night. If he feel like playin’ he play. Sometimes he don’t feel like playin’. Sometimes I feel like going into a James Brown attitude, I play James Brown all night long. It never bothered me. They used to say, ‘Herc, I don’t like James Brown, but when you put your shit together, about James Brown… love it.’ James brown’s my man. I’m a spin-off of James Brown. As a dancer, and as a musician. Hip hop music is a spinoff of James Brown, cos I kept James Brown alive in the neighbourhood. I kept this shit alive.

One big last question for you. What do you think is the power of the DJ?

The power? Of the DJ? It’s to motivate the crowd man. It’s to have the insight to motivate the crowd. To have the crowd at your fingertips. To control the crowd. That’s the best fuckin’ power man.

That’s it man.

Thank you.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Full audio of this interview with Kool Herc driving you through the Bronx clubs where he made his name. Thanks to Mark, Barney and Jasper at Rock’s Backpages for the transfer

Kath McDermott preaches pride and passion

Kath McDermott preaches pride and passion

Courtesy of gay parents, Kath McDermott has been surrounded by queer culture her whole life. And her brushes with alternative lifestyles started when she’d scarcely learn to walk, attending festivals when they were still full of hippies and society dropouts looking for a different way of living. Now in her 50s, Kath still venerates those who reject the mainstream. In acid house, she saw the same potential as those early festivals, but this time via dancefloor unity, joy, redemption – and house music. And today with more than 30 years as a DJ, with residencies at The Haçienda and, these days, at Mancunian behemoth Homoelectric under her belt, she’s still searching for the perfect beat (and dancefloor). Dancing is political, see?

Interviewed by Bill, 5.10.21, pics: Rachel Adams, Tom Quaye

Do you remember the first club that you went to?
Well, I was going to clubs quite a lot when I was very young. Both my parents were gay, so I was going to gay clubs quite early on, and I was going to festivals all the time when I was a kid. So, I was around music and communal spaces. But I think the first club that I went to was called The Third Side club which was an alternative indie club. I lived in Dorset for a few years when I was a teenager, and I started going there when I was about 14, and it was amazing. It was a very democratic club. It was really young. A lot of underage teenagers went – when it was my 16th, I had to say was my 19th)

What was your early musical passion as a teenager?
I was a big Smiths fan. So, I moved from Manchester to Dorset and took The Smiths with me when I was about 14. I was just obsessed with the Smiths. I was really into The Cure, Siouxsie, Cult, stuff like that. I was rejecting culture, really, and I wanted to be with the misfits on the edge of things, which is kind of where I liked to be generally rather than mainstream culture, which I find a bit uninspiring. So I gravitated more to that kind of music. I was really into stuff like The Cramps: punk, goth, really into music but a very happy girl having a good time. I also loved pop music as well. Previous to that, I was a big Wham!-head when they very first appeared – and also I was listening to a lot of reggae and stuff too.

What kind of festivals were you going to?
I was going to the Albion festivals, which were in East Anglia, and they were quite important actually, sort of counter-cultural hippie festivals from the ’70s to the early ’80s. That’s where the peace convoy started, and places like the Elephant Fayre in Cornwall as well. They were very hippie, less about the music really, and more about alternative lifestyles. Friends of the Earth started there. It was a great environment for me to be in as a kid. I was given 50p. in the morning and they’d say, ’We’ll see you here when it gets dark’. So, I’d go and get free dahl from the Hare Krishna temple, and then go and spend my money on Adam & The Ants badges and stuff like that. It was great. There was loads of street musicians and quite a lot of folk. But I was just off having adventures, really. To a certain extent, as long as there was music, I didn’t really mind what it was. 

How did you discover dance music?
I remember getting given a box of sevens off my mum’s girlfriend in the early ’80s; that was brilliant. It was like Manchester lesbian history in a box. There was loads of Motown and soul in there, stacks of it. Then I had a cousin, Tim, who lived in Hackney, and him and his now husband Ray, they just used to feed us amazing music. They used to have Kiss when it was a pirate, and tape it for us. So, I had all these amazing tapes with streetsoul and disco on it and stuff like that. I loved it. I was always ferreting around in second-hand record shops, I’d find things like Sleeping Bag compilations. I was really into buying compilations, so I’d go down all these different rabbit holes of different scenes.

So presumably, you were a bit of a record collector?
I’ve always had records. I’ve always enjoyed handling records. So even when I was very little, I had a free 7-inch that came with some cereals, and I can remember putting it on the Dansette next to the washing machine and thinking, ’Yeah, this is me.’ Then I worked in Vinyl Exchange for 15 years, and by the end of that I was sort of done with record shops a bit, to be honest. 

But when I first started DJing, I didn’t have a lot of money so I’d go in King Bee, and loads of what I was playing was out of the bargain bins there. And I think that’s an inspiring and interesting place to find stuff, really, because you’re doing the leg work. It’s not what somebody’s deemed as precious. It’s what you found that you think is an interesting track to play.

How did you start DJing? 
I was going out with my girlfriend who lived in Liverpool. I was back in Manchester now, and I was 18 or 19. She was a part of the Liverpool Uni Gay Society, and they wanted to put on a World AIDS Day benefit, and they just wanted to raise money for ACT UP and stuff, but no DJ would do it for free. Me and Lynn said, ’Oh, we’ll do it.’ Because we had loads of records. So, we DJed at this party. We didn’t have a fucking clue what we were doing, but it went right off. There was tons of young, queer ravers that had nowhere to go in Liverpool that came down and loved it. So we started a monthly night off the back of that called Loose, which was really great. It was pretty mental. I was just slabbing on loads of Italo stuff, rave music and whatever. Although we didn’t know what we were doing, we were really passionate about it, which is what counts, and it got quite successful.

When Flesh started, I lived in Hulme – like everybody at that point. It was an inner city estate that was just left derelict; a failed housing project. As a result, you could live there for free and everybody did. As a result, a whole generation of people, including me, could just do whatever they wanted. There were poets, artists, musicians, DJs, whatever. That’s where Manchester’s cultural regeneration came from, really. I mean, if you think about it now in Manchester, it’s kind of like the London of the north and rents are just crazy, and every club’s been squeezed out of the city centre. But then, property was worthless, pretty much. So you could have clubs here and there right in the middle of town, because no one lived there. And now, everything interesting in Manchester is actually in Salford, because that has happened to a lesser extent there. Hulme being so close to town also meant that everybody could live there, be incredibly creative and just walk into town. And everyone had a club night. There was just tons going on. 

I lived there, and there was a massive queer community there as well. Lucy Scher lived across the road from me and she started up Flesh with Paul Cons, and they were interested in grabbing all the punters they could, because the first night wasn’t that busy, and it’s a big venue, The Haç. So, they used to run buses from Liverpool, Leeds, Bradford and all over the place, to go to Flesh. They wanted to grab the Liverpool crowd, so they said, ‘Come and DJ as the Loose DJs, and bring your crowd with you,’ so we did. They liked what we did, and I ended up being a resident after that. Lucy was really key in all of this, because she was all about putting women right at the front of that club. So for every flyer that had a guy on, there’d be a flyer that had a woman on. Lesbian representation was incredibly important to her, and that allowed DJs like me and Paulette to come through, because she was really serious about it. 

Kath at the Haçienda

Yeah, I get that. Almost all of the women DJs that I knew about in the late ’80s and early ’90s, even if they were straight, played at gay clubs. Is there any reason for it? 
I think, in part, going back to that same point, it is because of female club promoters. So if you’re a promoter who’s putting on a women’s night, you’re going to be a woman, generally speaking, and you’re going to want to represent. And I think that’s where it comes from. I think in straight clubs, maybe there’s more male promoters, so it’s less high up on their agenda. So I think the more female promoters that you have, the better. Because just as a woman, having that experience, it’s more likely to be a safer space. There’s more likely to be women DJs. They’re thinking about stuff. They’re thinking about the toilets. They’re thinking about accessibility. Is it safe outside?

We do at night up here called Suffragette City, which is all women DJs. We do an annual fundraiser, and we were just talking about venues for next year, and we had a meeting last night and I was like, ‘Well, we can’t do it there. It’s not safe enough. It’s a dodgy area.’ I’m thinking about that in a way that maybe male club promoters aren’t. It just means that whole experience is going to be a little bit different. But I would put it down to the promoters, primarily.

Who were the DJs that inspired you when you were first starting?
Well, I absolutely loved Frankie Knuckles. Frankie Knuckles was just really, really important to me massively. I’d heard him at The Haç, and he’s just a very special individual, and I loved his productions. He was really key. When I’d been DJing for a few years, I heard – DJed alongside, in fact – Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson. I became completely obsessed with him. I just thought he was amazing. I’d never seen anyone DJ like that. He was just one of those completely natural DJs. I had to work really hard, sort of learn how to DJ, and you kind of knew that he’d always just done what he did in a very natural way. I thought it was astonishing. He’d have a spliff hanging out of his mouth, and then he’d cue the record up. Normally, you put the record on, adjust the tempo, then cue it up and start it. He wasn’t doing that. He was absolutely stoned out of his mind and he was just putting on the track, getting it the same tempo, and then just going from there and he was doing that with really elaborate garage records with strings, pianos, vocals  and really complex arrangements. He was just amazing and blew my mind.

Were there any women DJs that you knew about?
There were women DJs, but most of the ones I knew were people that had come through with me. Actually, I’ve forgotten one, the real key person for me was Tim Lennox. He was massively important to practically every gay DJ in Manchester, really. 

I used to go to The Number One, so I know about Tim. I thought that was better than The Haçienda.
Tim was amazing. He was absolutely amazing. The Number One was an incredibly special experience, wasn’t it? So egalitarian, so truly mixed, and so underground. The fact that it was right next to Bootle Street Police Station, James Anderton’s nest of hate, which was literally two doors down. We were there under the ground, absolutely having it without their knowledge. It was just absolutely beautiful. What Tim did was fantastic. He played a great mix of music as well. He’d play hip-hop and disco, and loads of piano stuff as well. But he was really the key figure that I was seeing every week, thinking, ‘God, this is unbelievable’. So I’d go to The Haçienda on a Friday and loved Mike Pickering and I loved Nude. And then I’d go to The Number One on a Saturday for Tim.

What was it like playing at Flesh and at The Haçienda? It was culturally important. There are lots of people in Manchester who say, ‘Well, it wasn’t as good as this. It wasn’t as good as that’, which is probably true as well. But it must have been amazing playing there.
It was amazing because I was a punter, so I never took it for granted. I mean, I was really, really nervous. The first time we did it, we played in the Gay Traitor, which was one kind of crazy. It was just mental down there. It was just wall-to-wall chaos when it was Flesh. It was kind of different at Flesh than on a normal night at The Haç. People would just be dancing on every surface. It’d be drenched with condensation. The banquette behind me was just rammed with people dancing, and then the seat gave way and they all crashed through it, as did all my records mid-set, with a rum and Coke in there for good measure. Clubs like that, if you fuck up, they love it. Because if the music goes off, they’re just buzzed when it comes on, you know? So yeah, I’d say it was intimidating and enthralling in equal measure.

I think the thing that people forget as well about The Haç is that the lights were very good in there. It would be more like they’d do these incredible colour washes. So if you were playing something with a massive piano, or say ‘The Pressure’ by Sounds of Blackness, or something like that, a big moment, they would just drench the whole club in orange or yellow or whatever and then it would change from there. So it was quite theatrical lighting which created a drama, which worked really well.

Kath DJing at Suffragette City. Pic: Jon Shard.

If your first ever gig was basically DJing at a party, how did you learn to DJ?  You obviously learned on the job, right?
I genuinely didn’t know what I was doing. And I used to be quite ashamed about that as well. But I think what I learned was about the music rather than any technique. So by the time I’d been playing at Flesh for a short while, I got the basics. No one’s ever recorded me in a club. I refuse to do it because I’m quite a perfectionist about it, so nothing would ever be as good as I would want it to be. But I’ve been quite lucky in that I’ve never had to promote myself. I only choose to do the parties that I want to do, and I’ve always had a day job. 

Are there differences playing for straight and gay crowds that you’ve noticed over the years?
I think there’s a sort of looseness with gay crowds. I think they’re a bit more inclined to get involved a bit earlier on, whereas I think straighter crowds will be more likely to wait till their gear kicks in or they get pissed or whatever. Whereas in gay crowds, people walk into a club and start dancing. That’s kind of normal. And in fact, for women, that’s much more normal as well. When you’re DJing, it’s always get the women dancing, isn’t it? The old adage. I think generally, women are a bit more confident about getting involved in that way. 

If it’s an all-women crowd, they drink a lot. That’s why Lucy actually got involved in promoting Flesh, because she promoted the Lesbian Summer of Love at The Haçienda. When The Haçienda saw the bar take that they’d had, it was about 10 times more than they’d had at any night there in about five years. They got the dykes and they absolutely drank the bar dry. So they were like, ‘Get the lesbians in. We’ll get some bar take up.’

Also, I think all-women crowds tend to like to hear the same things a lot. So when I had a residency at Paradise Factory for several years, it would be like: play the same song. And then if you played a new song, everyone would go off the dancefloor. You’ve got to really persevere and you’ve got to be really confident about clearing a floor. 

What’s the most memorable club night you’ve ever done?
Possibly Suffragette City, which has just become this massive thing out of a really small idea. The Refuge was doing this exhibition with the Manchester Digital Music Archive which highlighted women in music and disrupted that narrative about Manchester music scene being all about white men. They asked me to DJ, and I was like, ‘Why don’t we just get loads of women to DJ?’ The first one that we did, it was probably four years ago or something. We had no sense of how it was going to go. And it was absolutely mental, and the quality of the DJing… Nobody gets paid a penny, all the money goes to charities for women in Manchester. It’s become a badge of honour now to play it and the crowd is fantastic, because it’s very mixed, half-gay, half-straight; probably more gay and more women, but very mixed. 

The first one that we did when we had no sense of what was going to happen and just seeing absolutely amazing women DJing so well. The atmosphere just got bigger and bigger and more outrageous as the night went on, and it was just completely electric. And I think there’s a lot to be said for promoting clubs not for money, because it’s all about the passion, the joy, the integrity, and the energy was phenomenal.

Did the novelty factor of being a female DJ help you in your early years or did it not make a difference?
I don’t really think it made a difference. In Manchester, late ’80s, early ’90s, there was loads of women DJs and we’d all play different stuff. So it was like Paula and Tabs would do soul and funk, Nadine would do streetsoul, Paulette would do disco. We all did our thing, and together really in different ways, and it was very supportive. It wasn’t competitive, and it didn’t really seem that weird. Maybe that’s because a lot of us were playing in gay clubs. 

At that time, and increasingly now I would say, being a woman who isn’t fitting into the heteronormative idea of what a saleable woman might look. So if you’ve got long hair and makeup and you’re wearing a bikini, that’s a commodity in a club in the ’90s, and to a certain extent now as well. If you think about the top 50 DJs in the world, how many of them aren’t pretty, sexy women? Probably The Blessed Madonna, that’s it. What’s going on there? Women’s images are being sold by the clubs. I haven’t got a problem with women doing that, because that is just who they are and what they’re doing. But it is interesting that it’s probably a lot harder if you want to cut through into that A-list. It’s probably a lot harder to do if you don’t look the part or play the game. I always wear T-shirts and jeans to DJ, and I couldn’t give a toss. But I think that might’ve worked against me, perhaps. The shit that The Blessed Madonna gets for the way that she looks. I mean, I read by accident some comments once on this short film of something that she’d done. I couldn’t believe it, the vitriol. And it’s like, Carl Cox is a chunky guy. Nobody’s saying anything about that, are they? 

Obviously, what has changed massively is the amount of female DJs that are around now. There’s much more visibility, they’re playing lots of different styles of music. Did you notice that change and, if so, when did that happen?
I’ve always been surrounded by female DJs, so I never really noticed that. I was the first resident at Homoelectric. The second resident was another woman. I’ve never played in clubs that haven’t had other women DJing there, so it’s never felt particularly strange to me. But you can tell the clubs are making an effort to include women now. That’s changed. I mean, there are not enough. Nowhere near enough, but people are starting to say, ‘We really should have some women on this bill. Who are we going to have?’ There’s some amazing proper high-end DJs coming through, too, like Jayda G. Fuck, is she slick. She is just totally pro. Blew me away at the last Homobloc. I was just like, ‘Whoa, you know what you’re doing’.

Is dancing political?
Well, I think so. I think especially when rave first started, there was such a sense of this enormous subculture occurring under the radar that people didn’t really have a full sense of what was going on. So you’d come out of The Haçienda and just having had this shared experience with a thousand other people, walk out onto the street and everything was just as it was when you’d gone in. You’re in this place where normal rules don’t apply, and interactions and connections and moments are very free and open. So I think that in itself is quite a liberation thing, really. Lots have been said about all the football hooliganism and male violence and stuff like that, and how things changed for a generation there. But I totally believe that. 

Certainly doing stuff after the Clause 28 March in Manchester, doing a lot of stuff around HIV and AIDS in the ’90s, I’m quite a political animal. And my politics are about connection and positivity and love against division and hatred, which is what tends to prevail a lot of the time. I know this is quite idealistic, but I think that that can prevail through a dancefloor. People having an understanding about somebody else’s life, or being able to see people as positive and open is really, really important, and I feel like I’ve benefited from that. That is a political act in itself, probably especially now more than ever really, in the current climate where hate is the first thing that people go to. I go on a lot of demos and I’ve done quite a lot of pro-trans stuff. There’s quite a lot of anti-trans stuff going on in London around Pride where it all kicked off a few years ago. So I organised a crew of a few hundred of us to lead Manchester Pride as Manchester Lesbians Stand By Your Trans. A lot of people that I got to do that with me were from clubs, so it’s probably more about bringing people via clubs rather than doing dance events that are acts of protest.

What is it about DJing that makes a lot of DJs natural rebels?
I think there’s something about wanting to party and bring people together. It’s a very primal need within us, isn’t it? And as we live increasingly complex lives, I think we need to fuck off the week even more now by dancing and generating a different sort of energy between us. And I think to lead that moment, to be at the helm of that moment is very special. I think there’s probably some cockiness in there, t. I think there’s a certain level of egotism within DJs.

Sometimes I’ve got all this vinyl slipping around on my laminate floor and I’m trying to sort out some records for a big gig and I’m like, ‘You know, I’m 51. Why the fuck am I still putting myself through this?’ And it’s because it’s the best feeling. It’s just such a fantastic feeling when you have those moments where it hits. It does still feel quite naughty to me, I’ve got to say. I don’t know about the DJ as a rebel, but I certainly feel quite naughty and quite excited about it. I feel like even though so much of clubbing is mainstream, I still feel like I’m lucky enough to operate around the edges of that, around the counterculture. When we started Loose, it was for a good reason. When we started Flesh, it was because we wanted to do this queer thing. When we started Homoelectric, we wanted to do something underground. It’s like this sort of desire to always kind of be finding the edges of something, where something counts, where it matters, where there can be a difference, where the right people are. And the right people aren’t the coolest people at all. The right people are the warmest, the most open and the best combination. That’s what’s special to me. There is a place for mainstream big money clubbing. But it does feel more exciting to be in a different place to that.

Is there a certain kind of vicarious thrill of being the person that’s controlling the fun?
Oh, definitely. It’s a complete hit. When it goes wrong, it’s a bloody nightmare, isn’t it? You know, when you’ve got no monitors or something, you know what I mean? When it’s shit, it’s shit. When it’s good, it’s absolutely fucking incredible. It’s just so exciting, and it feels as good now to me as it did 30 years ago, without a doubt. I know this sounds really idealistic and hippie, but I find it really important to communicate with people when I’m DJing. So obviously, the music is a journey, all of that. And a lot of what I play is very positive lyrically. Sometimes it might be throwaway, but generally I’m trying to say something in a moment with the records that I play.

But also, just literally spotting people getting really into it that might look at me, and then I’ll have a little dance with them from the decks and having a shared smile, and just having that connection. Because really, I’m mad about dancing. I’m mad about connecting with people by dancing. That’s my thing. I can choose the music when I do that. So to be able to dance with people whilst I’m DJing is the ultimate, really. It’s a massive thrill. And quite often when I’m DJing, I’ll still go and dance. If I’m really into a tune, I’ll run onto the dancefloor and dance with people and then jump back onto the decks before it runs out, because that’s magic for me. And yeah, it’s a massive ego hit and a huge buzz. I have a very busy day job that’s incredibly full-on. And I’m like, ‘Why am I putting myself through that?’ But I know why, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop doing it. It’s a very attractive drug.

One of the questions I was going to ask you is about victories you think we’ve won through dance or DJ culture. Do you think there’ve been any lasting wins from what happened in the late ’80s and early ’90s? Do you think it did change society?
Yeah, definitely. I think for our generation, it was like there’s so much more understanding. The kind of sort of openness, like the ’70s and early ’80s were so different in terms of people being open to other people’s experiences and inclusivity. I think that has changed, but we had such a good window of positivity. In terms of the gay scene, straight people would not want to go on the gay scene. Why would you want to do that?

But I remember it being a real moment with Flesh when loads of gay people were complaining they couldn’t get into the club, and when they did, it was full of straights because so many wanted to go to it. So then we had to put on the tickets, ‘Thank you for not being homosexual’ and there would be tests on the door where they’d get people to kiss members of the same sex to prove that they were gay to get in. It was a bit of fun, really. But what it meant was you’d have two straight guys snogging each other to get into a club. Three or four years before then, that would have been absolutely unimaginable that straight men would be so desperate to go to a gay club. And I think gay being cool made an enormous difference to what was going on the streets, because you had a lot of people that might not have been that positive towards gay culture or gay people, having experienced it firsthand and realising that obviously it’s just the same as everybody else. We just want to have a good time.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Tallulah paved the way

Tallulah paved the way

Born Martyn Allum in 1948, Tallulah was an icon of the London gay scene, watching it evolve from the ’60s to the ’00s, and enjoying a DJ career spanning 1972 till his death in 2008. This wonderful interview takes you from Wapping speakeasies run by characters straight out of Dickens, with names like Selina The Horse, via raucous seaside salons where pirate radio DJs caroused with Carry On actors and pantomime dames, and into an era of coded and covert pubs and clubs, when he knew characters like Joe Orton, Victor Spinetti and Kenneth Williams (‘an absolute nightmare’). As well as detailing the evolution of DJing in the capital, Tallulah brilliantly conjures this lost world, when London was the colour of cigarette tar, information and connections spread via a network of ‘cottages’, and where you could get a handy daytime wank in a fleapit cinema while tourists watched Daffy Duck cartoons. His first gig entailed playing Motown tracks from inside the coat-check while also taking in coats, keeping the toilets clean and collecting glasses. ‘I think every DJ should start by cleaning the toilets,’ he told QX magazine. Tallulah found fame at the game-changing purpose-built nightspots that sprang up in the ’70s – playing at Bang, The Embassy and Heaven. As Princess Julia recalls it, Bang on a Monday night with its light-up dancefloor and Tallulah behind the decks was ‘Total Disco.’ During a brief sojourn in New York he worked the lights at Studio 54, and even snuck one night as DJ, covering for a no-show (most likely Nicky Siano). He went on to become a mainstay through the ’80s and ’90s at venues including Crash, Barcode and Substation, inspiring several generations of DJs and partygoers.

Interviewed by Bill in London , 29.7.04

Gay life in the ’60s must have been very coded and secretive. What were the lines of communication? How did people find out about things?

My parents never told me anything about sex. And even though I knew… I even tried with a couple of girls, but it never got anywhere near full sex, I just knew it wasn’t right. I was very effeminate. I’d always get beaten up. Buying blue suede shoes from Ravel and wearing them in Maidstone – where they hadn’t got anything like that at all – didn’t help. Every town had that division between mods and rockers, and if I was on the mod side, then I was a very camp mod. Almost a girly mod. In those days, you could never get hair products and I had curly ginger hair.

The first time I met somebody… My parents sent me to ballroom dancing classes – not the best thing to do with a son who’s slightly fey – at the old Palace in Maidstone. And opposite the Palace was the old coach station where these toilets were, and I was absolutely mesmerised by them. There was a huge hole in the wall, basically the size of someone’s head, and people were obviously cruising. Not that I ever did anything, but that was my learning process. I learnt more about sex from reading toilet walls. I’d never even seen a minge, but I found out about it all on those walls. Jokes etc. I’d live in there. People exposing themselves… When people talk about paedophiles and the like – I used to go round those toilets at 14 begging to be picked up and no one ever did!

Once I’d found out about the toilet in Maidstone, I just thought: if there are toilets like this in Maidstone, then the one in Victoria Station must be absolutely amazing. Which it was. It was cavernous, it was downstairs and it probably had 300 urinals. That’s where I heard about the cinemas. There were these cartoon cinemas and people used to say, ‘Oh you should go to the Jacey cinema in Piccadilly, and Trafalgar Square’… I was still not sexually active. People passed numbers to me, but it… well it was against the law.

Where were you born?

I was born in Hamburg in 1948. My parents were over in Hamburg with the Reclamation after the war. My father was in hotels, so he was helping getting them back on track. I came back to live with my grandmother in Bexley, just outside London when I was three. I was brought up in the Woolwich, Erith, Bexley area until primary school. Those towns were very mod-influenced. You know what it’s like being brought up in the suburbs, you make a statement in the way you dress, you put yourself up for criticism, especially during the ’60s. I had two younger brothers. We weren’t a musical family.

I was living in the suburbs till I was ten, and then I moved to Maidstone. These were my searching years. I already knew by ten that London was the main attraction. From ten to 15 were my formative years listening to music. We had no pop radio stations, so I’d listen to Luxembourg 208.

Who were the DJs?

Jimmy Savile, Keith Fordyce, Pete Murray. I used to go to the Star Ballroom in Maidstone. And they used to have a DJ on there called David Wigg, who worked at the Kent Messenger and he was the entertainment correspondent there [later the showbiz reporter on the Daily Express]. In a provincial town it was either mods or rockers and it was a very Teddy boy area. They used to have lots of live bands on a Saturday like Shane Fenton [later Alvin Stardust] & the Fentones, Peter Jay & The Jaywalkers, Wee Willie Harris, Screamin’ Lord Sutch… The best thing was the Odeon, which was big, and practically every month they’d have live bands. You’d get Rolling Stones, Supremes, Mary Wells, Lulu, Billy J Kramer, Dionne Warwick, Gene Pitney. At Olympia they’d do a radio exhibition and I collected autographs then… Even when I was 14, I’d hang outside the Palladium… There were no record shops in Maidstone, so I’d have to come up to London to buy records.

When did you start buying music

I used to have three paper rounds. I was greedy, I suppose. I had quite a bit of money. So I’d go from Maidstone to London, and my parents never hassled me, gave me complete freedom, probably because I was the eldest – I’ve got a younger brother.

Where would you go buy records?

The first record I ever bought was in Maidstone; there was something about those little booths that you used to go hear records in. It was 6s 8d. First record I bought was the Crystals ‘And Then He Kissed Me’. Then I started looking around and came up to London, and the first album I bought was Nina Simone, ‘I Put A Spell On You’.

Where did you buy it?

HMV in Oxford Street near Bond St. To wear the trendy clothes I used to buy Simplicity sewing patterns and buy the material down the market and I’d make them, but tighter. I used to have silk shirts. I was very effeminate and very skinny. It tied in – the music and the clothes. Of course, when you’re 16 you start carousing around and that’s really when my gay bit came out, through the toilets and cinemas. Carousing around Soho. You’d fall into record shops. You’ve got your Saturday night shirt from Lord John in Carnaby Street, so you go to get some records. With my brother I used to do little radio shows with my brother on his Grundig. We used to do little jingles. We’d play anything we could get our hands on.

One of the first cinemas I went to was called the Biograph, opposite Victoria Station. They used to play things like Jason & The Argonauts, Edgar Lustgarten films… There was this old girl called Jane who sat in the kiosk and she looked like Marie Antoinette. Very, very well dressed. Full of make-up. In actual fact, she looked like Lily Savage! People used to take her orchids in glass boxes and chocolates, quite glamorous. Once you paid to go in you could stay there all day, nobody used to throw you out. The seats up the left had side were gay, the other side tramps drinking cider. There used to be a little fat queen called Myrtle, with dirty old Lyons Maid white coat with a tray full of ices. He used to walk up and down the aisle with a torch and literally put a torch on people wanking each other off and he’d try and throw people out, which never worked. The manager there was Henry Cooper’s twin brother. It was a freak show. Plus you used to get wanked off. That’s how I found out about other cinemas. The other main one was a cartoon cinema in Piccadilly Circus where Ratner’s the Jewellers is now. You’d go in the boiler room there where everyone would be having it off, while the tourists were in there watching Donald Duck and Roadrunner. It was there that I used to found out about what clubs to go there, like Le Deuce.

The X-rated cut of Boy George’s Jesus Loves You ‘Generations of Love’ video features some wonderfully seedy shots of bygone Soho, plus Tallulah here playing a gentleman in search of some relief.
Tallulah with Steve Strange at the opening night of Circus Circus, his own night, at Studio Valbonne in Kingly Street, 1983

And you lived in Broadstairs for a while?

I went to catering college in Broadstairs when I was 15. I love Broadstairs, it’s really cute. I did two years in Broadstairs. This would be ’66. I was well into music by then.

Where were you going out?

The first gay pub I ever went in was the Ship in Chatham. I’d go there from the age of 15. I’d met these two queens in the toilet in Maidstone. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying because they were talking Polari. And they said, ‘Oh we must take you out’. We went to this pub; I think it’s still a gay pub! It was really rough. There were dykes in there who were prostitutes, ships coming in; it was a busy merchant port. But it closed at half past ten, so you’d have to get there at 7 o’clock. You can imagine walking through Chatham in blue satin flares with yellow and blue shoes and blue eye shadow.

I was in this gay pub, called the Queen’s Head in Canterbury. I’d just got a fur coat which I’d cut the bottom off and put it at the top like a massive high collar. I thought I looked the bees knees. I walked into this pub and nobody took a blind bit of notice because they were all surrounding this one guy at the end of the bar. I kept saying ‘who is that guy?’. It was Tom Edwards, who was a DJ at Radio City. This was at the start of the pirates, and Radio City had opened up on those old turrets near Whitstable [Shivering Sands Army Fort]. And Tom Edwards kept sending drinks to me at the bar and I’d ignore them and send them back.

Tom Edwards of pirate station Radio City

Probably within about three weeks I buckled and became friends with him. Needless to say we hit it off immediately. He used to do two weeks on and two weeks off. He lived in Whitstable. Once we linked up, he’d send me these camp messages on the show. I met him one Sunday in a pub in Herne Bay and he called me Tallulah, and it stuck.

When he used to come off the boat, he’d have six sacks of fan mail waiting for him and he was only 22. He sounded very good on the radio. We were very friendly and I’m still in contact with him. He had a very hard time, did Radio 1, was a Thames TV continuity announcer, and was an alcoholic and got arrested over 20 times because of it. I met him about five weeks ago at a Radio Caroline get-together.

My college went a bit down the pan, because I got interested in socialising. My principal saw me on my vacation, cruising on Piccadilly Circus, so he warned me about these pirate radio types I was hanging about with. So I knuckled down a bit, but still went to gay pubs.

Broadstairs used to have lots of retired actors and I used to get passed around – socially, not sexually – as a young 16-year-old queen. There was a guy called Ted Gatty, who was the guy who named Danny LaRue LaRue, which was originally the name of a club. He was 60 even then, he used to put on these shows; had this house Castle House, Serene Place, Broadstairs High Street. I thought that address was so chic. It was a smugglers’ cottage, and it was where he used to have these parties. And gay séances! It was very Joe Orton, very queeny, theatrical. [Ted Gatty used to put on summer season shows in Margate’s Dreamland and Winter Gardens and Dame in panto at Christmas.]

Was there a gay pub in Broadstairs back then?

No, we used to go in the Tartare Frigate where Ted Heath used to drink.

That’s where I go when I’m there.

I used to love it there in the winter.

They’ve got a pic of Ted Heath on the walls.

I bet they haven’t got one of Ted Gatty! She used to say ‘oh I bumped into Ted’s mother and her two dogs’

I always assumed he was gay…

We all used to say that, but I think he was just asexual. Also, all along that coast Birchington, Margate, Herne Bay, Broadstairs, Ramsgate, Deal, Dover, any queens living there were immediately invited [to Ted Gatty’s]. Basil Spence, the architect, also the camp one in the Carry On films.

Charles Hawtrey?

That’s it. He used to do Deal, because the marines were there and they had a marine band. He used to walk along the sea front in red leather. He was really outrageous, he’d just go for marines, and they’d go for him, because he was a film star, or he was to them.

Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey in Carry on Camping
As Julian and Sandy, Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams smuggled ’60s gay culture into the nation’s living rooms with their Polari-filled BBC radio show Round The Horne.

You knew Kenneth Williams too.

I remember being really embarrassed in front of my mum when [innuendo-laden BBC radio comedy] Round The Horne was on. I knew what Julian and Sandy were talking about when they said [in Polari] ‘Nishta lallies and vardah the carts on the bonah hommie’, but my parents had no idea what they were saying. Tasty Tim’s just recorded me a load of those shows. When I was at the hotel I got friendly with Hugh Paddick, he was Julian. Kenneth Williams used to live opposite the hotel, down the back of the church in Euston. Someone I met through a cinema pick-up introduced me to him and took me to dinner. We were all sitting around this really little glum table in his little kitchen eating spaghetti hoops on toast. Very strange.

When he found out I lived opposite, I said you must come to dinner. He was an absolute nightmare. I’d only been there a couple of years, I think, and I had a really small room. He got up to the room and a record was just finishing and I said, ‘What kind of music do you like?’ He said, ’I HATE MUSIC. If we’re going to talk, we’ll talk.’ Took him downstairs to the hotel restaurant, I didn’t realise at the time, but he wanted to be on show all the time, so his voice was loud. 126 people in the restaurant and you could hear him above all of them. When he finished the meal I said we’d have coffee upstairs, just to get him out of the restaurant. ‘No, let’s go in the lounge and have coffee. Oh, and I have had you checked out, you know.’ He’d asked Hugh about me.

When I used to go and visit him, he used to leave the door ajar. You’d go into the flats, it was a bit like a Peabody building, really dark, and I’d knock and there’d be no answer with the door half open. You’d do that for ages. Is he in there or not? Knock again a bit louder. Finally: “COME IN!” He’d make me tea and let me read scripts.

What was he like, because his diaries are very depressing, he seems quite tortured about his sexuality, which is why I think he envied Joe Orton so much.

I knew Joe as well.


Yeah. He was alright. Absolutely fine. Really ahead of his time. He was very upfront about his homosexuality. Loved cruising. You’d sit with him and he’d talk about it all the time: dirty dirty dirty. It was through his boyfriend that I met him.

Kenneth Halliwell. What was he like? I have Alfred Molina indelibly marked in my mind from that movie.

He was really good, actually. That portrayal was quite wrong, I think. I can honestly say with Kenneth Williams, High Paddick, Joe Orton and Victor Spinetti, I used to knock round with all of them, there was no glamour involved in it at all. You’d sit around the kitchen table…

What would have been the gay pubs in London then?

The Coleherne and the Boltons, directly opposite the Coleherne. That was it.

Did you go to the Sombrero?

Ooh, that was much later. The clubs that were going around that time, which would be ’67 or ’68, were the Spartan, which was the place Kenneth Williams went to in Victoria, and the Kabal.

Was there dancing?

No, no dancing in any of these. There wasn’t music. There were pubs that had some dancing. There was a pub in Bermondsey, which Larry Grayson was the compere at for years. There were pubs in Woolwich… If we did a pub crawl from Kent, you would go from The Ship in Chatham, the Old Kent in Woolwich, another one in Woolwich, but I can’t remember the name, but they weren’t really gay, they just had sailors, and drag queens were also accepted in them. Then you’d work your way up to Coleherne, then you’d head for Chelsea and there were two clubs there, The Hustler and the Gigolo. They were members’ clubs and they were basically coffee bars, they were just grope holes. No jukebox. Clubwise, the main one was Le Deuce, which was in D’Arblay St, the building next to the alleyway near Black Market. Opposite that, the lesbian club was better, it was in a basement, with a jukebox – it was a coffee shop upstairs.

What music would be played?

Mainly soul and Tamla. Miracles, Marvelettes, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Mary Wells. You’d get people down Le Deuce like Roger Daltrey, in their satins and kaftans and chiffon scarves. It was mixed so you could get away with it. And you could buy black bombers. There was another place down that alley, but I can’t remember the name. Le Deuce had a coffee shop upstairs. Also a club called the Stud in Poland Street, which later became Louise’s. How I found these places was through a Greek boy I’d met in a cartoon cinema. It was word of mouth. God forbid you should get a flyer! London was dark. Nothing had been cleaned. There was smoking on the tubes. Wood panelling on the tubes. They were yellow with smoke. It was like the war. I used to ask the old queens what it was like during the war. Was it horrible? No dear, during the blackouts you could wear as much make up as you liked and you didn’t know who you were having!

I used to stay, too. You could stay in the sauna in Jermyn Street for 15s, overnight.

Did they have rooms?

No, cubicles. It was quite gay. I used to act as lookout. Going back to Le Deuce, I think it was open till 2 o’clock. I used to aim to get back on the milk train which went at 5 o’clock, so in between that I used to go to Tiles.

Did you go to the lunchtime sessions?

Later on, but it went for a while.

Wasn’t Tiles a facsimile of a shopping mall, though?

Yes it was.

Describe the layout to me.

If it was there today, it probably wouldn’t have been any different to what Substation in Dean Street was like. Mirrors and black. Flashing lights. It was almost tunnel-like. Never many people there, but it was open all night. It wasn’t licensed. They played mainly soul.

Metallic, black, it had lights. No one had lights then.

Most places sound very dark and hidden…

There was a pub I used to go to in Woolwich, which was run by this queen called Selena The Horse. And she would be in charge of the pub and she owned the house next door. And the house next door had a kitchen and a front room and you’d pay 1s 6d to go in after the pub had closed and she’d pull an ironing board down in front of the kitchen entrance. In the lounge there’d be nothing other than a red light and a jukebox and you’d buy the drink from her, from behind the ironing board, and it would be outrageous, because it was mixed up with sailors, lesbians, drag queens. Really rough. That was ‘66. Tiles, however, at least looked like a club. I don’t know who owned it, but they decided to put some money into it.

It was the Marshall brothers, who owned the PA company.

Ah! Because the sound system was the first time I actually heard something that was different from a jukebox. And they had a DJ. There were loads of other bars around: A&Bs, Jeremy’s, Toucan, all these little rent boy bars in Soho, they had a record player and they’d just put Shirley Bassey albums on. The barman would put an album on!

Anyhow, after I finished college I got a job at the Cora Hotel in Woburn Place, up by Euston station. I was there for ten years. There was a gap around 19 or 20 when I was trying to be good at my job, but then I got bored and started exploring again.

How did you get into DJing?

In the ’70s I used to go this club called the Escort Club in Pimlico. They used to do drag cabaret; they had people like Lee Sutton and Hinge & Bracket. It was a cabaret-restaurant, they had a little tiny dancefloor, as you went in. The bar, another level with tables and chairs and a piano. Before and after the cabaret they played music. It was there that the owner asked me if I wanted to play music. There was a guy there who played, very young, cute, bisexual, I think, called Jimmy Flipside! He was called Flipside because he used to flip the records over!

I didn’t need to do it, I was managing a hotel. When I got in there [to DJ], I asked them what they wanted me to do and they said, ‘Can you do the toilets? And you’d be on the coats.’ So they walked in, paid you, you put the coats behind you and then here were the decks! That’s why they used to play albums, because you were doing coats as well. It was when Cloud 9 came out. I did that whenever Jimmy couldn’t do it.

The first proper place I got to play at was Shane’s, which was behind John Barnes in Finchley Road and there used to be a club called Le Cage D’Or, a straight club. There was a room up an extra pair of stairs and this guy decided to take it over and make it into a little gay club. Unusual for then, obviously. He opened it up on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

For gay people, there weren’t dance clubs. There might have been areas where you could dance in pubs and the like, but there really weren’t any dance clubs. There were no dance licenses. Even in the well respected clubs, like the lesbian one that’s in Killing Of Sister George, in Chelsea, there wasn’t really dancing, it was socialising.

But straight people had dance clubs. So when Shane did this club, I’m not saying there were no dance clubs at all, but there certainly weren’t any major ones. It was supposed to be a social club, but it just so happened that there was a DJ unit in there and it had got space for about 30 or 40 dancers. A bar at each end, and it was then that I started to really buy records. I didn’t have two decks and to this day I can’t work out how I used to cue, because I know I didn’t have headphones… Actually, it had two decks and I used to mix visually by looking at the needle waver as the stylus picked up the sound denoting that the record had started! I used to buy the import records in Quicksilver in Hanway Street. Or was it Contempo?

I think Contempo came later.

Whatever it was before that. It used to close at 1, so there wasn’t much time. The last ten minutes I used to try and pack as many tunes into as possible, Caterina Valente, Kathy Kirby. I’ve just spent the last four months transferring the 7-inches I used to buy from Contempo on to CD. It was really exciting on Friday nights in Contempo/Quicksilver. You used to go upstairs into this little bit. Everyone was black, apart from me, a weird geeky person among these black dudes. On Friday afternoon, the imports used to arrive from the airport. These were the records that disco was about to burst out from. Stuff on Gordy, Parliament, Chocolate City, lots of soul.

Can you remember the kind of things you played?

I’ve got them all on my computer, year by year!

How long did you play at the club for?

Started from about 1972. Things had started to get better by this time. Catacombs was open by then.

Cartacombs in Wolverhampton?

No Earl’s Court. That actually had a very good dancefloor. The guy who DJed there was Gordon Fruin and he was called Pamela Motown, because he was the A&R guy for Tamla in the UK. He had really good taste and, again, no drinks; it was coffee and orange juice.

Describe it to me.

It’s opposite the hospital on Brompton Road, Earl’s Court end. Opposite where Brompton’s is now. It was downstairs, underneath a faux Tudor cottage front on the ground floor. You go down the stairs, pay the entrance money and it had a bar… It actually was catacombs. The bar was on one side, there was a resemblance of a dancefloor at the front of the bar which circled round the back. There was a wall that went round the front and behind that wall was another wall and little caves set in, about four of them. Then there was a passageway around the caves. That’s where all the sex used to go on. But they played music, really good music, and there was dancing. It held about 150.

By this time, I knew people in the business, through Tom and the pirate radio thing, I knew Richard Swainson from RCA, I knew Dave Most, Mickie’s brother, I used to hang out with his wife. I knew Fluff [radio DJ Alan Freeman]. They used to come to the hotel. I was always on the periphery of it. There were other clubs going on around that time, too. Chaguarama’s, which was before the Roxy [on Neal St], and Sombrero.

What was Chaguarama’s like?

It was fantastic. It was trendy, if you could possibly have had trendy then. It was mixed and again music was good. When did the Roxy open?

About March 1977.

Ok, so this would’ve been in 1974. It was always very trendy. It was the first gay club that Neil Tennant went to. As much as the environs of punk were bubbling then, art college wise, it was still very glam. Lots of girls and the girls’ toilets was where you picked up pills. It had two levels, a restauranty/bar level, then you went downstairs, quite large, and there was a dancefloor. Very good.

Do you know who DJed?

No I don’t I’m afraid. It’s an alcoholic haze. That was popular, but the main one to go to was the Sombrero. Sombrero on the Sunday night. Always the Sunday. The girl I used to knock around with Barbara, who went out with Dave Most, she would book a booth, because there were three booths that surrounded the lit-up dancefloor. It had everything you needed in a club, but it was not big. The dancefloor was very small. The DJ unit was flat against the wall. It was raised, the dancefloor, and then a bar that went round, marble steps down to the banquettes and seats. You were supposed to eat, too. It was very trendy and you often couldn’t get in.

Wasn’t it on Kings Road?

No Kensington High Street. Opposite the tube station about a block up to the left. There was a guy called Amadeo, very good looking, blond, Swiss, tanned, we never had those sort of people. I used to think he was very exotic. He was the door picker. There were two things about this place, one, you couldn’t order a drink and, two, you had to eat. To get around that they used to give you a ticket for the salad. They didn’t want to give you food anyway, but it was a licensing thing. So they used to give you a plate, a serviette and a fork. You got one slice of Spam and I mean one slice of Spam, a lettuce leaf and half a tomato

And they had these waiters who were all midget Spanish queens. Vile Spanish queens. If you upset them you couldn’t get a drink. I always think there has to be someone in clubs who can say no… The way into the Sombrero was down a staircase… The old queens used to tell me that they all hung out in Lyons Corner House in Leicester Square; it was in the basement and had a huge staircase and the queens used to use the staircase to make an entrance. And that’s what happened at the Sombrero. It was a really big dress up do; Bowie was there. Coming down that staircase, great for making an entrance and you had your coats taken off you as you were standing at the bottom! The Music was really good, Timmy Thomas ‘Why Can’t We Live Together’ was a sort of Sombrero anthem there and this Ginger Baker drum solo which I’ve never found. The DJ was Latin. It was great. The club was actually called Yours And Mine, but because it had a big sombrero outside for the restaurant upstairs, it got called the Sombrero. The sad note at the end of it, Amadeo, I think dealt in coke. He was actually burnt and killed by having petrol poured over him.

Horrible! How long were you at Shane’s?

I’d say from ’72 to ’74, because that’s when Bang opened.

Tell me about Bang

It was started [in 1976] by Jack Barrie from the Marquee. There was Gerry Collins – real name: Gary London – and Jack, who I think was the accountant at the Marquee. Gerry also DJed at places like Lacey Lady, Goldmine, because there were no gay dance clubs. Norman Scott was playing at Global Village at the (black) Friday night. Gerry went to America for a holiday, to Los Angeles, to Studio 21 and it was gay and he came back absolutely fired up. I think he might already have been doing Busby’s as a straight DJ.

He was gay?

Yes, but he wasn’t out. He was a jobbing DJ, that’s what he did. He was a career DJ. Anyway, the first two weeks he comped it. Gay people didn’t have the opportunity to go to a club. So the minute it came on the scene, it was a huge success. The queues! It went right round past the 100 Club. It was the most packed it had ever been. There were something like 1,500 there on the first night. He couldn’t have picked a better venue to bring that sort of thing to Britain. Mainly because of the way the club was designed, the bars on each end, the hamburger joint, you could look down on the dancefloor. Later on he put a shop selling Bang T-Shirts and stuff.

He had three DJs on. It had lighting FX. It had fog machines. It had balloon drops. The DJ was central, up in front of the crowd. It was mixed, although you’d use the mic for announcements or birthdays stuff like that. In the booth, there was a light switch that you could hit and the lighting engineer would get a flashing light on a phone so you could talk to him. So you could arrange stuff with him, it was brilliant. It was the old Astoria Ballroom, so he’d got a huge stage and at the back a cinema screen, the whole length of the club. And he used to bring the cinema screen down and play the whole tap routine from Silk Stockings or something. There’s one Fred Astaire one, which I can’t remember the name of, where they’re all wearing top hat and tails and they all come up out of the floor, about 40 of them, then 100. The crowd used to go absolutely berserk watching this. They’d never seen stuff like this before. They’d never had production. And the sound system… you couldn’t say it was better than such-and-such because there was nothing before to compare it to. You used to get people coming early and standing in the middle of the floor just to hear the bass and the stereo… because they’d never heard it before.

He would theme it. Bang did everything in those four years… Then it became a trendy nightspot, even though it was gay it didn’t stop people in the closet or cool straight people coming, so you’d get Rudolf Nureyev coming down. I’ve still never seen production like that. At Christmas, he would make it snow, the whole time, for the whole four hours! Shorts nights. Red parties, white parties.

The DJs were him, he’d go on first, then Norman Scott and then I’d go on. Gerry always did the warm-up. He’d learnt to mix. He’d also do reel-to-reel stuff. Music-wise, these were all import records. By then, you’d know what was going on in America, even though you couldn’t get there, so we knew what the records were. The trendy ones who were in demand at Bang were the air stewards, because they’d be travelling all over the world, but particularly to New York and LA. They’d have four- or five-day stopovers, so they’d be going to the clubs, and they’d know which records to bring back, whatever the hit record was.

As Bang settled down it had certain areas to it. Left hand side at the back was the clone area. There was a magazine called Colt, which was all lumberjacks, so that little group would stick together at the club.

Gerry saw Bang all the way through the 80s. They had the Saturday Night Fever premier party there. In about ’81 or ’82 they did a big circus night one night and this person had a gun, shooting things. He ducked behind the DJ booth but he got shot and he was never very well after that. In the end, he sold the name, and got rid of his records. There were other parties going on early on – Sols Arms, which was a lesbian bar, the Green Man in Portland Street, Union Tavern in Camberwell had suede head nights on a Tuesday – but nobody had done it big like Bang.

Tallulah in pink with fellow DJ Tricky Dicky (Richard Scanes) and friends, mid-’70s

Were people getting pissed or doing drugs in Bang?

If they were doing drugs, it wasn’t noticed by anyone. No one was doing coke, there were no queues to the toilets. It was alcohol, there were deals on the beer prices, always made sure they were cheap. It was open till 3 or sometimes 2, so that’s a decent amount of time for drinking on a Monday.

Once we got established we got a name among the record companies and then we started putting on PAs, like Grace Jones. I got whipped by her once. I did an interview with her and she just shouted at me all the time. Everytime I asked a question, she just went, “YEEAH!” Off her face, obviously. I didn’t understand that then. I thought she was a monster. Which she is, of course!

The other thing we had was theme tunes. I think Norman Scott had a theme tune, but mine was the overture from Gypsy! I was really nervous, even after a year or two years, but Norman Scott… she was such an old cow, honestly. I’d go down. She’d say ‘I’ll line up your theme tune, what’s your first record?’ so we could do the handover. So I’d be at the toilet and I’d hear my theme tune and there’d be a spotlight which they’d train on you. Then she’d announce you, and put the record you told her to cue on the wrong side – so you didn’t have time to change it.

Musically, it was disco… It was very good of Gerry to take me on, and I think the only reason he took me on board was because I was so interested in music, and maybe because I used to dress up as well. I always used to be wearing sequinned tops and I think that helped. He would never go to Contempo, so he would warm up. I don’t really remember playing 7-inch records there, so maybe it was 12-inches by then.

Then they did a Thursday night and I got half of it, with Gerry Collins. He’d do half and I’d do half. This was pre-Heaven, but there were other clubs by this time. There was Adam’s in Leicester Square [where Comedy Store used to be]. It was a restaurant-club, quite trendy, quite posh. Catacombs was still going, and by then the Copacabana had just opened in Earls Court, probably opened just after Bang. It was based on Copa in Ft. Lauderdale. They had a really good DJ down there who was called Chris Lucas, who was really good mates with Ian Levine. Levine had finished his northern soul bit and had started moving into disco. He used to turn up with his bits. Around the same time Munkberry’s had opened on Jermyn Street. Full of pop stars, really trendy, Freddie Mercury etc. It was the sort of crowd who’d gone to Tramp. The music was very black: funk, funky soul.

Did Freddie Mercury come to Bang?

Oh yeah. There was also the Blitz going on later, too. [Boy] George said that he didn’t want to go a club full of queens with moustaches so they created their own club. By then the Roxy was going on. There was a crossover with all of this.

What about the Embassy?

That was much later. I left Bang in 1978. I had problems with the flat I moved into in Marble Arch and basically ended up having nowhere to live, so I decided to go over to New York. At that time, a lot of professional people were moving there. It was completely the place to be from about ’74. Over here we had three day weeks, electric cuts, strikes… all the people I knew – market researchers, doctors, dentists – all moved to New York within a year.

I’m sure Gerry’s got a different angle on what happened but for me it was getting too commercial and I was getting more into the funk side and the soully stuff and there’s only so long you can keep up with the snowstorms and stuff. And all the music was coming out of New York.

I lived there for about 18 months. Which is completely another story. I got a job at Studio 54. I don’t even know what I did there. I certainly wasn’t pretty enough to be a busboy. How I got the job, I’d only been there about a month… I was really, really pissed and probably on something else as well, so when I got to the guide rope and I thought they were beckoning me forward – they weren’t – I tripped over the rope and fell over flat on my face. Bouncers picked me up and took me inside the door. This guy asked me if I was alright and when I looked up it was Steve Rubell. He said, I’ve seen many ways of trying to get into a club but this beats them all. Did you do it on purpose?’ So I said, ‘No’, he said, ‘where do you come from?’ I said, ‘London. You haven’t got any jobs going?’ I spent most of my time in the lighting rig. It was fantastic. The atmosphere was unbelievable. I always liked it on the midweek nights the best, there were less people but they danced more.

What made you come back?

I’d just got into the stage where I was doing so much drugs. I lived on Washington Square and it was just far too easy. One day I ended up in the Anvil. I wore this all-in-one ladies black swimsuit and covered it in diamante, fishnets, stilettos and a pillbox hat. One of the rooms there was a big sex room. They used to have a bath there with piss in it. It was horrible. Anyway, I thought oh I’d go in the back room. And I thought oh this is brilliant, I can actually take all my clothes off and go in there naked. I could roll the swimsuit down and roll the fishnets down and then just wrap them round the stilettos. I must have been in there for 20 minutes and everyone was steering clear of me like death. As I came out, and I caught a reflection of myself in the window and I still had the pillbox hat on with the diamante earrings and necklace…!

In the end my mother said I should come home and I was so drug-fucked that I needed to anyway. I came back and DJed at Scandals in Wardour Street, just down from where the Wag was. Really good. Sunday nighter. A boy called Gareth was leaving and he put a word in for me. That was a six-night residency. Then there was another club called Napoleon’s which was down in Lancaster Court off New Bond Street. Scandal’s was a bit rough, a bit renty. In actual fact, the same people opened up Stallions which later became Substation. There was a black club that used to be down there on a Friday night that Steve Swindells used to do…

The Lift?

Yeah, that’s it. They used to have an enclosed DJ booth at Scandals so you could see out but they couldn’t see in. And the record allowance for both of those – this was around 1979 – was about £70 a week and £90 at Napoleon’s. It was good!

Then I went back into restaurants… Sour Grapes in south Kensington. It was the same time as the Embassy opened. I threw a party and used these porno pics and sheets as invites. We didn’t even have decks. The next night London Weekend Television did a report and said two clubs opened up last night, Sour Grapes and The Embassy: ‘We must admit we went away from the Embassy to Sour Grapes and that was the better of the two’. But the Embassy was a fantastic place. They brought a DJ over…

Greg James?


I tracked him down.

Really? Give him my love if you speak to him! Embassy was where David Inches started [later at Heaven]. StevenHayter was the manager, then they went over to Heaven.

What did Embassy look like?

The Embassy was a breath of fresh air, because it was immediately – the underground knew it had gay connections with Steven Hayter, Greg being gay. It was London’s answer to Studio 54. We knew that the boys were all going to be in shorts. At the same time was Ritz magazine, with Lichfield, so they needed somebody who was, not royalty exactly, but someone to get the Hooray Henrys with money in. They got Lady Edith Foxwell. She would’ve been about 55 then, with scraped back hair and very thin, birdy elegant person and broke – which is how she got the job.

The gay night, Sunday night, it was the nearest to a chic club that London ever got. Lots of stars – big stars – rooms off to the side, everyone knew the boiler room was the coke room. Lemmy from Motorhead would be continually, permanently, on the one-arm bandits. I used to go down there in my mother’s cocktail dresses, with big boots on. I always used to stand next to Lemmy and he used to say, ‘I hope you’re not taking hard drugs.’ ‘No, I’m just drinking vodka.’ ‘Steer clear of the hard stuff!’ It was London’s little Studio 54. Paris had Le Palace. We had the Embassy. It never quite reached 100%, it was always about 20% of being absolutely fantastic. But the music was great. Greg was a great DJ. He mixed. Don’t forget, around this time, 1978 and maybe a bit before, you’ve got some of the best records ever coming out.

Tell me about Taboo?

I never Djed there. Boy George always quotes Taboo, and in fact made a musical about it, but we always thought he only ever went on the opening night. He always makes out he was there every night, but he wasn’t. That’s where that slogan ‘would you let you in?’ comes from. It was at Maximus, it was basically Leigh Bowery doing his thing. I was with John Maybury and Baillie Walsh. Baillie did all the videos for Massive Attack. John did the crying one for Sinead O’Connor and he did all the Jesus & Mary Chain and that sort of stuff. Baillie’s just done Kylie’s new one. Baillie had a flat in Leicester Square, so we’d always be round at the flat. Then it was very drug-fuelled. There was Rifat Ozbek, Anthony Price, Bryan Ferry, it was all that sort of stuff and they were all on Rohypnol. The whole thing with Taboo was… [Princess] Julia used to do the coats… Mark [Vaultier] was on the door with the slogan and the mirror: ‘Would you let you in?’ Really, those club kids were just Leigh Bowery copyists. Totally. I don’t even know how long Taboo lasted, all I can remember is Jeffrey [Hinton] playing everything he could get his hands on, including the slipmat. And rolling around the floor having beer poured over you. Getting drunk. And Nicola Bowery, boring us shitless, trying to read poetry. Trying to get enough to get home. To tell the truth, I don’t think it was that fantastic, there were really much better things going on. Kinky Gerlinky was much better. It started at Legends, then to Shaftesburys and them the Empire in Leicester Square.

What do you think were the best gay clubs in the 80s?

The beginning of the ’80s, it has to be Heaven because of what it encapsulated. And it never got to the beauty of the Saint in New York, but I’m sure it reached the degradation. There were back rooms there. When I talk to old clones they told me there was a leather area in the Soundshaft and they gave them gold keys at one stage. You’d get these old clones standing on a wall with their gold keys; they looked like a load of old walruses. And they’d use their keys to get in and there’d all be doing poppers… Embassy Sunday nights, too. On the Kings Road there was a place called Rod’s where Fat Larry’s is. After that, Christopher Hunter had Country Cousins and he put on cabaret every night. Before that it was Rod’s, quite chi-chi, but it never really worked.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Lisa Loud turns up the volume

Lisa Loud turns up the volume

No-one messes with Lisa Loud. Under her original name, Lisa McKay, she was an early traveller to Ibiza thanks to cheap flights from a dad who worked for British Airways and an older sister, Joanne, who was friends with Nancy ‘Noise’ Turner. These Walworth Road girls were the magic connectors between Ibiza, Trevor Fung, Ian St Paul and the notorious Ibiza quartet (Oakenfold, Holloway, Walker and Rampling). Not shy at coming forward, within a few years Lisa was internationally known as a DJ and running her enormously successful dance promotions business Loud & Clear. Those early experiences have never left her and you can hear it in her ebullient stories and passion for the rave.

Interviewed by Bill in London 15.10.21

What year did you first go to Ibiza?
1985 was the first year.

How long did you go for?
I was in and out of Ibiza. My story’s a slightly blessed one. My father worked for British Airways, and my sister Jo who’s three years older than me, she was a real party girl and traveler. The fact that I was a few years younger, I kind of got a pass from mum and dad because I wasn’t on my own. So, I experienced a lot of things at a very young age. So, my first years in Ibiza, I was just a teenager. We recently found a book that we made for Joanne on her birthday with pictures of us all in Amnesia in 1987, and me dancing on the stage in Amnesia. So in ’85, I just went for a holiday and then I think it was ’86 when all the girls ended up staying out there.

Nancy told me that there were four of them including Joanne that went for the whole summer in ’86.
That was Jo, Michelle, Nancy and Max (we called her that because her real name was Claudia Bygraves). I managed to blag myself a job as some kind of financial consultant. I did really, really well at sales. I sold an account to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. Everyone on the Walworth Road had one! I’d go on a weekend, because I was earning good money, and I’d leave work on a Friday, get on a flight on one of dad’s cheap-as-chips flights for British Airways staff, get over there, go mad all weekend, and then get back by Monday morning and go on appointments with my clients, selling more savings accounts. It was pretty mental.

What was really funny though, is I had a cool boss. Her name was Sally. She was super cool, gorgeous, and had a really funky boyfriend and all that. I ended up talking about Ibiza one day, and she was like, ‘Oh, we go to Ibiza all the time’. Anyway, in 1987 I went out there and saw Sally. That was the only year that Glory’s was open, so we all used to go to Amnesia, and then Glory’s. So it would be like morning-time, and they had a big swing in there and you’d get coffee and croissants that no one was interested in. Anyway, I was swinging on this swing and I saw my boss, Sally, and I was like, ‘Sally!’ I don’t know whether that was the right thing to do or not, especially because that was the year that I stayed out there and didn’t go back. So, yeah. That was my reckless year!

What was it about Amnesia that was so attractive and amazing?
Well, aside the fact that Alfredo was the most incredible playlist maker, we all hung around together, like all of us Walworth Road girls. Nancy actually had a real music business connection, because her dad was managing Nik Kershaw. But we was all kind of born and bred on going to concerts, do you know what I mean? So 20 of us would go to see The Cure or  Bowie. Plus, we were all into dancing and being out and culture and stuff and I think that what you got with Alfredo was there was no sort of genre-specific style going on with his sets. He’d play ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ by U2, then he’d play Mr. Fingers’ ‘Can You Feel It’, then he’d play the Beastie Boys. And it was just this mental musical eclecticism that I was really drawn to.

When I first heard ‘Jibaro’ by Elkin & Nelson, I was like, ‘What is that?’ I was like that Nikki off of Big Brother, ‘What is that?’. It was so Balearic. Mind you, I didn’t even know what Balearic meant. We were teenagers. It was just good music, a selection of everything. You’d hear the Gipsy Kings as well, which was something that you’d remember hearing in Benidorm on your family holiday played by a cheesy guy with the ruffled shirt. 

But I think what you got in Amnesia that you got nowhere else was the people. This colourful selection of the most amazing people. We met all the northern boys there who were like the naughty northern boys who were on Inter-rail and you’d always think, ‘What do they actually do?’ They’d be everywhere at every party. I’m talking worldwide. We’d go and meet them in Amsterdam, then meet them again in Thailand. They were everywhere. And then we had all these Italian mates. They were all like the cool, slick cruising up the beach in San Antonio on their motorbikes and parking them right outside Cafe del Mar with all their hair slicked back, and the high-waisted denim with all the holes in it, and the leather jackets. Then there’d be the nutty French kind of proper gay guys in Lycra. Lycra everywhere, the tightest Lycra, like they were permanently going on a bike ride. But with more madness, like luminous colours and all that. And then there’s a couple of things that I would never, ever forget about Amnesia. There was the girl with the cake on her head. 

What, an actual cake?
No, it wasn’t. Like a wedding dress and the wedding cake hat on her head. I was on the raised level, so opposite the pyramids, and then Alfredo would be over there, and Papa Nino would always be on the pyramid dancing. Nino was very spiritual, he read cards and palms, and looked like an electric current was running through him. Anyway, I was dancing, I’m looking at the movement of this thing going through the crowd, and it was basically someone with a swimming hat with Barbie dolls stuck on the hat by their heads, with all their legs everywhere. You weren’t seeing that in San Antonio, do you know what I mean? Pacha was notoriously glamorous in sort of evening wear. Ku was big, not as intimate as Amnesia, and was a bit more housey. You know, Cesar and Pippi; so a bit more of that Italian vibe. But Amnesia, for me, it was just this mix. Everyone went to everywhere else, but it all seemed to feel like it started in Amnesia, that look, that collection of personalities and colour. And it just seemed to really fit the music, because it was never one way or the other. It was completely all over the place.

Was it the same every night? Because Nancy said she was going every night. 
Yeah, pretty much. I mean, you did see them all again and again and again. Obviously we never slept, but you’d always be like, ‘When does anyone sleep?’ You’d just all meet back for the Cafe Del Mar sunset, and there’d be very little downtime going on in between that and Amnesia. Nicky Holloway had bars in the early days in Ibiza Town. Then you’d go to Amnesia, and that would be some kind of mission getting in, because you’d never have any money. And in the end, you all end up handing out flyers for Alfredo just to be able to get into Amnesia. We’d bunk over walls and all sorts to get in there, you know?

How did you survive without any money? I mean, what the hell did you do?
Well, I was earning all this money in this thing, but I went and got a job in the music business. My first job was Virgin Records, so I promoted Soul II Soul, Massive Attack, Neneh Cherry, Inner City. I did all of the promo for all of the bands and these really iconic albums. That was ’87 to ’91, and then ’91, I set up Loud And Clear, which was me mailing out my own records, and that was when I did all the Leftfields and the Underworlds and all of the underground independent labels, like Guerilla, Junior Boy’s Own, Tomato, Cowboy etc. I always worked, apart from that summer where I just saw my boss and never went back to England.

Alfredo, Ibiza’s grand conductor

What about Trevor Fung? Because him and Ian St. Paul had some kind of bar in ’87, didn’t they?
Yeah, the Project in Ibiza Town.

Tell me a bit about that.
I think what you probably got out of the Project Bar that wasn’t necessarily what was going on in the clubs in Ibiza was the UK DJs. So, Trevor would play, Nicky Holloway would play, Oakey would play. Because in those really, really early days, none of those DJs were playing in the big clubs or anything. It was all the Spanish and Italian DJs. The Project was the start of your night. What you always saw in Ibiza, even right way back then, was the parades. Project was right on the strip where it would always go by. It was a meeting place for all of us a lot of the time. They had tickets and things like that. It was like part of the culture of how it all gets ticking at the beginning of the night, really. I suppose that’s the best way to describe it. They’d have tickets for Amnesia or Ku or this or that, you know? And now and again, you’d see those Spanish DJs in there having a drink. They all felt so important. They did to me, anyway. I was a bit shy around them, really. Felt like they were a really big deal, you know?

Was that the first time you kind of had a sense of the importance of a DJ?
No, not really. I mean, we’ve always gone out drinking to people playing music, so for us lot, we were always going out to see Nicky Holloway DJ in a pub in the Old Kent Road, or Steve Walsh DJing in the Lyceum, or Chris Hill DJing at Pwelhi Prestatyn on the weekends away.

Did you do ecstasy for the first time when you were in Ibiza?
Yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t be talking like this if my mum and dad were still here. I really wouldn’t. But yeah, it really did float my boat. I’m a high vibration girl anyway, do you know what I mean? Just dance and dance and dance and dance. It just really, really suited my personality. But probably Amnesia. I mean, it would’ve been at Amnesia, because that was the only place for us.

Can you actually remember doing it for the first time?
I’ve got some very vivid memories of my first relationship with ecstasy, yeah, including getting stuck in Amsterdam because we’d all go and meet in Amsterdam sort of April time as well. Yeah, I’ve got very vivid memories of how fucking brilliant it was. Just this association to the music that made everything sound incredible. Kind of kaleidoscopically, everything was brighter. Everyone was friendly. Everyone was smiling. The need to dance. Feeling really, really light and lifted, you know? Just completely and utterly lifted. I don’t have to take it to get off on music at all, but it was a great way to feel something different to playing a track at home and being in amongst that euphoria and the hedonism. But there’s obviously a dark side that comes with drugs…

What do you think it was about you that helped you succeed as a DJ when so many other women didn’t?
I think that ultimately in the very early stages, there was so few of us. I mean, you could literally count on one hand.

You could name them all, couldn’t you?
I was actually someone that was going out and buying records constantly. For me, the technical side of DJing really turned me on. I always sort of thought, ‘Oh, this mixing thing is amazing’. I wasn’t a playlist DJ. I was really into nuts and bolts of how it worked, and mixing records not just from beats, you know? Things that Oakey taught me, those things about how you actually mix music, and the different stages in a record where music becomes more prevalent, the intros and outros and things like that. That really appealed to me. And more and more, because I was in this scene that was erupting, I was watching people doing it, and you could really hear it. So there was no better learning curve, if you like, than being in Sunrise with 25,000 people in an illegal rave playing in a big top with two boxes of records that have been donated to me by Paul Oakenfold, playing alongside Carl Cox and seeing it really happen.

There was very, very few of us. I think that I was in an incredibly fortunate time, hanging out in Ibiza in the late ’80s and then meeting people like Oakey and Carl Cox and people like that who were completely accessible to you. I mean, I used to go and sit in their houses with them just playing tunes.

Lisa at Future,1988, photo Dave Swindells

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you as a woman DJ?
This is going to sound very non-controversial, but I think that I have been incredibly blessed because of my career when it started and the fact that I had this music business career running alongside me being a DJ. I was taken very seriously because I was the one that was dropping all the cool records on the decks. When I was promoting music, I was up and down the country, not only as a DJ, but as a record promoter. So I was bringing acetates of Inner City’s ‘Big Fun’ to the Haçienda for Mike Pickering and Graeme Park. 

However, there were times when it looked like there were people that would just wait for me to mess up. For example, when I went out to Rimini and I DJed for Charlie Chester on the Flying trip in the early 1990s, I was the only girl amongst 10 to 15 DJs. And when I went on the decks, put my two record boxes up there, and suddenly I looked up and there was just a wall of Italian men. It looked like the lighting guys and security, every DJ in the house, the promoters, the owners were just standing there as a wall. Now, I don’t think they were looking at my cute little ass. I think they were like, ‘Right, okay, can this girl actually spin records?’ Because I didn’t have a music profile or anything. To my astonishment, I actually pulled it off and built a career in Italy with a promoter there called Barbara. She ended up being like the main girl doing everything in Ethos Mama and Echoes and Peter Pan, and all of those really cool, big Italian clubs. And I ended up touring with her and did monthly sets in Italy for five or six years, until she went on and did something different. But there was definitely an air about that vision for me that was like, you really don’t have faith in me. You don’t think I’m going to do this. You don’t think I’m going to crack this. It was pretty intimidating.

Did you feel that you had to work doubly hard to prove yourself as a female DJ?
Do you know what? I actually feel that more now.

Why is that?
What I feel is whilst there is great new talent coming through, and you’re watching as if it’s like a seed that you planted. You’re watching that grow, which I think that’s all great. But I think that it is still a man’s world. There are still a few of us. I mean, obviously Nina Kraviz is absolutely massive. Honey Dijon, I just love watching her career. It’s so inspiring. It’s so wicked. But as much as I celebrate all of that, I’m now 30+ years in the game. I’m in my fourth decade of being a DJ, and as much as I will always deliver on the decks, I don’t feel like there’s as many of us. So I’ll always say to promoters, ‘Have you heard such and such?’ Like Clockwork Orange, who I always DJ for. They put something up on their site the other day saying, ‘What DJ would you love to see?’ And a lot of the Clockwork goers are still saying the same names. Thankfully I appeared, which means that I’ve still got some clout. But I put Honey Dijon, because you’ve never seen her at a Clockwork. It’s still a very tough industry. And I’d love to do more to change that, but I’ve now got a child and I’m 52 years old. I don’t have the same energy as I used to have. was talking to Carl Loben, actually, and he was saying, ‘I want to do a big feature in DJ Magazine about the sexism and stuff like that.’ And I said, ‘It’s really hard, because you want that to be about me when I first started, and I didn’t really experience it when I first started.’

Do you not think that’s kind of partly down to just who you are as a person? I’ve known you a long time and you were always very kind of take-no-shit.
Yeah. I definitely tried to deliver an attitude when I was younger that I was not to be fucked with, because I felt like I was in a very fortunate position, and I didn’t want anyone to take it away from me. I was in this wicked job barely out of my teens, working for the biggest British music mogul that I’ve looked up to all my life, Richard Branson, promoting records that I was playing as a DJ, going, ‘Oh my God, I’m living the dream’. But I was also a record promoter, so I had to be on people’s cases. I had to be going, ‘Get that in your chart’, and stuff like that, or else… 

Yeah, I remember it well!
I was hardcore.

I’ve really noticed over the last five years there’s just so many more women DJs now. What do you think has changed? Do you think that MeToo movement has had an effect on dance music? 
Well, I think that now, we’re actually getting to a point where across all of the media angles, so radio, press, there are powerful females involved in making things happen and trying to work very hard to assure that voices are heard. Like the Lady of the House book that I feature in, which is 150 stories of women in dance music. It’s just about to be published. More of a coffee table book, but you can see just by that and what it is, how it looks, that there’s a seriousness about it. Now, there’s Jaguar on Radio 1, Sarah Story on Radio 1. All of those kind of avenues didn’t really ever have girls presenting as well, you know? A girl would be your Zoe Ball on a daytime radio show. I mean, Lottie did some stuff with Radio 1 for a bit, didn’t she? And that was great because it was like proper, dirty house music by a flippin’ lovely, brilliant girl who’s a wicked DJ, being able to speak through her music on one of the biggest channels that was broadcasting.

What’s the difference in the thrill of playing an illegal party rather than a club one?
I just think everything about Sunrise and Biology; it was the getting there where you don’t really know where you’re going. It was all about picking up messages, communicating with people. The whole thing about phone numbers, it was a reality. It did happen. That was the real deal. That’s how you found out about those things. That alone was incredibly exciting. Then you’d get to somewhere and it wouldn’t be started yet, because nothing ever goes the way you think it does. You get there and half of the big top would be on the floor. Trucks would be rocking up with the sound system in it. And then you’d wait and watch this magic happening, and happening on a scale that was like, how did that go from watching a half of the big top on the floor to 20,000 people, lights, rigs, music, banging sound systems, car jams … It’s just all of it. It’s like, whoah!

That’s what Paul [Oakenfold] and Ian [St Paul] did with Spectrum was as near to putting that into a club environment. In a way, I think that those raves were the precursor to what a festival is today. That was what we now call a festival. You know, how do you get fairground rights up the M25 and flippin’ big wheels and big tops and 25,000 people while no one knows about it? The councils don’t know about it. The Old Bill don’t know about it. And then suddenly it’s like when the Old Bill do find out, there’s no health and safety, oh my God, death pits, really. But it’s all that. It’s all that, the magic of watching something built from the ground up, I think, and the fact that being at those things, you definitely knew that you were going to experience something that you weren’t experiencing anywhere else.

What’s your most outlaw DJ moment?
A police escort back to Moscow Airport. I was one of the first DJs to go to Russia. I DJed at a club called XIII that was in the very early ’90s. It was a club that was like oil tycoons kind of partying, and beautiful, beautiful, beautiful people, mega wealthy. The guy took all of his influence from Pacha in Ibiza. I used to DJ there about once a month, and then there was a festival called the Fort Dance Festival that was on a fort in the middle of the river, so you could only get there by boat, speedboat, yacht, whatever. And this guy bought this fort for the only period of 99 years to have a party on it. Like, that’s the sort of Russian kind of stuff that I experienced which is absolutely amazing. It was just amazing. Anyway, I was running late. So, I was police escorted to Moscow Airport to make sure that I got the flight. Little old me, eh? So that’s pretty bandit, yeah. 

Do you think DJs are natural outlaws? In the early years, it did feel like there was a lot of lawbreaking going on.
In the early days. I think these days, a male tech house DJ goes to the gym five times a week, he’s vegan, and drinks water on tour. Do you know what I mean? But yeah. I mean, we certainly paved the way for some hedonism, let’s put it that way. I think that it’s funny, because we’re all these years down the line and I don’t think any of us have changed much, do you know what I mean? Barry Ashworth is still stage diving off of festival stages to 12,000 people. I still can’t sleep. Dave Beer is still rocking anything he puts his golden touch to. And we’re certainly not sitting in the green room drinking water, you know?

Why do you think governments are scared of people coming together to dance?
Because they’re the sort of people that just don’t understand it, you know? They don’t understand the magic of it. They don’t understand that some people absolutely need this. I would put money on 99% of people that we all know getting through lockdown because of music. I don’t even know anyone that I’ve spoken to that hasn’t done something about their music within the lockdown. The Kitchen Disco came alive because we had to do something. If it’s in your bones, I don’t think you can live without it. But I just think that people in government, they’re a different breed, you know? 

Did you ever DJ on pirate radio?
No, actually, I didn’t. I was promoting a lot to pirate radio, like Kiss FM helped me break Soul II Soul, because notoriously, Radio 1, Capital Radio, they weren’t playing black music. They wouldn’t play dance music. It just wasn’t happening. So, all of my days at Virgin Records with Soul II Soul, Inner City and all that, I was banging that door down in West London like Fort Knox to get in there. There were pirate radio stations everywhere that I used to go to with the actual vinyl so that you’d get power play and stuff like that.

So you’re basically saying that pirates were actually key to breaking a lot of these acts at that time.
Absolutely. I was number one in all the dance charts with records that you were hearing everywhere, but how were you getting it out to the next lot of people that weren’t in the club? Inner City’s ‘Big Fun’ went in at number eight. Soul II Soul’s ‘Back To Life’ went straight in at number one. ‘Keep On Movin’’, number eight. We were having a lot of success. Massive Attack was different because there was a lot of visual aspects with the video and stuff like that that was much more sort of the marketing tools for Massive. Even Neneh to a degree was massive on Kiss. You know, ‘Buffalo Stance’. It was a huge aid to breaking records. Huge.

What’s the most extreme or offensive DJ diva behaviour you’ve come across?
It was on a Moby tour. I was warming up for Moby. Mind you, he wasn’t DJing. He was live, so no. He did smash the stage up, though, which was pretty extreme. He picked his keyboard up and started smashing it up, and I was like, right, okay, I’ve got to actually go on after that. It was pretty hectic. I was a bit scared, actually. I don’t know, let’s just say I don’t do princes and princesses. I just walk away. but you know what and I think it’s absolutely true, is that there’s a reason why people like us lot are still around is because despite the fact that we have had major success, we’ve had it all, we’ve lost it all, but we’ve remain humble and polite, because we were around at such a significant time. It all came from nothing. So, we’ve just managed to carve a career out of something that we really, really love.

Well yeah, at the time, very few people probably even thought you could make a living from this.
Oh, my mum constantly was like, ‘Would you please get a proper job?’ And I was like, ‘It is a proper job! It’s a job. I go to work and earn money’. 

Do you agree that a humble person makes a better DJ, more ready to connect with the dancefloor?
Yeah, 1000%. Because it’s not about you, is it? It’s about them. People have paid to come see you. People have paid their hard-earned money to go into that experience that you, if you’ve got any humility about you, are going to work your ass off to deliver for them, because that’s their release. That’s their night out. I think it’s about feeling the people that are in front of you, having a respect for those people. It’s not about you standing up there like some god. You’re only going to get that appreciation if you work really hard to deliver something that’s a great experience for those people. 

Also, when you go and see a band, they’re performing, and you’re consuming. Whereas with a dancefloor and a DJ, there’s a much more symbiotic relationship. You need each other in order for that evening to be a success.
Yeah, and you’re coming from a very like-minded plane right from the start. There are times when it’s absolutely magical. I did Manumission one day. It was like 10,000 people. They had to pull the stage even closer to shut more of the swimming pool because it was so rammed, and at one point, that whole crowd was up in the air. That’s magic. There was like a pulse where everybody was doing the same thing. Those things are magic, those feelings, those … Yeah, you have to land after some gigs, because they’re that good. You know? Which is a lovely thing to say, that I can do my work and I’m so high as a kite, not because of drugs, that it could take me as long to do the whole evening to land back down to earth, because it was so fantastic. I think that’s something that a DJ is privileged to experience.

One last question. Tell me about your relationship with Nancy, because you guys have been friends for an awful long time, and I guess you’re still friends now, aren’t you?
Oh my God, yeah, I love her. Well, I just love her. We didn’t all go to the same secondary schools, and I’m actually the same age as Nancy’s sister, Katie, and my sister and Nancy are the same age. So just that alone, we could be a four-people unit very, very easily, having great girly times and doing whatever. We were all into music. I just always loved Nancy. She was always with my sister, or my sister was with her. I was always with her sister. We did loads of it all together. I think traveling together at a very young age forms a very different bond than just going out on a night out to the pub, do you know what I mean? Traveling’s quite a big deal. See, that was what we had in our blood from dad being the British Airways connection. But it was always special, magical, those kind of things, and I think that they are standout moments of your life. Travel gives you a sense of something else that is not just within your everyday makeup. So I did lots of that with Nancy, which makes our relationship even more special. I admire her enormously as a music person. Her track selections, knowledge, everything. I love that laugh. I think she’s got one of the most beautiful faces in the show business. I just love her.

Do you think it kind of helped you two in the early days, having two girls that were not a team exactly, but you did a lot of things together?
I would like to think so, because I think it was such a nice vibe. And the whole thing of Lisa Loud and Nancy Noise. I mean, have you ever heard anything with a better ring to it? One’s blonde and one’s got dark hair, and we were different musically, so there was different attributes that we brought to the party each time which completely complemented each other, and we were mates. So, there was like a special relationship before you even got behind the decks. It was a whole night out, listening to me and Nancy. It was bloody good music. And I still think the Loud Noise thing [Lisa and Nancy playing together], I mean, my God, it’s still got legs. People out there constantly ask me, ‘When will you do it again? When will you do it again?’ I drive Nancy a little bit mad about it, because I am the one that’s like, ‘Come on, let’s do it!’ So hopefully, we will get together and we will do some really nice Loud Noise bits and pieces before our backs give out and we can’t walk anymore. That would be nice. I think we need to explore that. I think that perhaps next year, we should look at the old Loud Noise vibe, because it’s a nice one. It’s magical, and it’s got a nice following of great people.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Dave Swindells snapped it up

Dave Swindells snapped it up

His photos are famous – the defining record of the early acid house years. There’s Danny Rampling Christlike against a yellow sun at Shoom, the can’t-go-home crowd spilling out into the YMCA car park after The Trip at the Astoria, Paul Oakenfold DJing behind an impressive mullet at Future, sunrise by a lake in East Grinstead. There are baby faces, blissed-out smiles, straw hats, smileys, bubbles, and a lot more paisley than you thought possible. And those iconic images of the second Summer of Love are far from the whole story. Dave Swindells has an immense photographic archive of London clubbing from the mid-’80s right up to the present. As Nightlife Editor of London listings magazine Time Out, he had an access-all-areas pass to the whole after-dark city. You saw his work blown up to wall size in the 2019 Saatchi Gallery show Sweet Harmony: ­Rave Today, and now you can buy it for yourself in two books he’s produced, Ibiza ’89 and Acid House As It Happened. Looking back over his long career, Dave muses on the ups and downs of UK clubbing and the importance of documenting it all.

Interviewed by Frank in Hackney, 2.5.23

Frank Broughton: When it comes to clubbing in London I can’t think of a photographer who’s got a greater body of work spanning so many years and so many different scenes.
Dave Swindells: Being able to go to all those things is such a privilege. At times I’ve amazed myself, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got pictures of that.’ Suddenly, last week, I found these pictures of Jah Shaka that I really didn’t think I had.

I was super lucky to be in a position where I could go to almost anything, you know. I could rock up and either blag my way in or do it by arrangement. To be able to go to Brazilian things, or a Bhangra night, a rock and roll thing, and feel I’ve got a right to be there, because somebody has either commissioned you or given you a job, which allows you access.

I would have liked to have lived more in the clubs that I was photographing. I would go along and take pictures and get into the vibe really quickly. But I often think, why didn’t I go to the afterparties? Why didn’t I go down to Clapham Common and see people on the Sunday?

Don’t be so hard on yourself. You didn’t go to the afterparties because you had to file a story.
It was also about getting back to real life. I didn’t want to go on and on for 24 hours.

There’s so much creativity that goes into nightlife – the fashion, the decor, the music, the graphics, but it’s so ephemeral. It’s not even chip paper the next day. It’s just trashed. So it’s so important you’ve documented all of this.
Yeah, because for so long, we felt like we were the bad boys of culture. You only ever heard bad news about club culture. Oh, it’s drugs, it’s people throwing up in the street. It took so long to get any respect. I think the first time I went on anything that felt as if there was some, what you might call ‘establishment recognition’, was going on a British Council event in the late ’90s, going to Israel with VJs and DJs. Because museums and galleries, they were like, ‘It’s just people having a party, isn’t it?’

Outside the Astoria after The Trip, 1988
Shoom, 1988 at the Fitness Centre with Jaqui (or is it Louise?) Chantrell lost in the smoke
Shoom, 1988 – Simon Wilkinson, Steve Margrave, Sue, Mark ‘Spit’ Fenton and friend

So where would you bequeath your collection if you were to give it to the nation?
I know of other photographers who gave their archive to universities. I suppose that’s a possibility. I did go and meet the V&A once, at the instigation of [Notting Hill Arts Club founder] David McHugh, because he had just done an event there. They were interested. But I think they felt, ‘What would we do with this?’

The Saatchi Gallery did that show on rave, which was quite brave of them at the time, and they did some very lively, sweaty events during it. There was that Leigh Bowery exhibition in the chapel in Fitzrovia. The V&A does collect some photographer’s work, and and they do recognise the cultural value of it. They did that Club To Catwalk show. And back in 1994 they did the Streetstyle show. But it’s only now you feel there’s a kind of recognition.

I guess because people started to understand what club culture has brought to the world.
The New Romantics – even though everyone always disputes that name – that generation made a lot of music that went around the world. But for the most part, it didn’t feel like it was designed to dance to. It didn’t feel like it was part of the same equation as the music coming from New York and Chicago and Philadelphia.

But then London came of age. In the late ’80s a lot of DJs and producers started making music. And then we went on to create actual new musical forms. When jungle and drum and bass came through, UK garage, dubstep, all these things came out of London and the wider UK. That gave a different validity to what was happening in club culture.

And the fact that rave was such a mass culture thing. It was such a cultural movement. It wasn’t just a little bunch of trendies and bohemians in London, or Manchester. It really shifted things, and so many people were involved.

Tell me about Time Out. When did they realise that clubs were something to write about?
I think it was about ’81 or ’82. It was the whole one-nighter thing that got them into it. I remember looking back through the Time Out archive for the 20 years’ anniversary [in 1989], looking for what had been written about in the late ’70s. They had done the occasional nightlife story, about different discos and rock clubs where people danced, but there wasn’t much there. Even though, obviously, really good things and underground things were happening. And definitely there was a massive reggae scene in London. That was hardly ever documented.

I joined in ’86. Nightlife Editor. And at that time, they weren’t doing a brilliant job of it because [Time Out rival] City Limits was definitely better. That was Sheryl Garrett and John Godfrey. They were definitely more tuned in. Lindsey Shapiro, who I took over from, did a good article on Dougie’s and some of the other reggae clubs around Hackney in about ’87. We listed those things, but I don’t think we went out looking for them. When I went for the job the question they asked was, ‘Would you get to a new club quicker than Leigh Bowery?’

I’d been about a year and a half doing pictures for i-D – ‘straight ups’ [the magazine’s pioneering street fashion portraits]. I was so lucky, the guy who had been doing it before kind of got tired of it. He went off to Ibiza and did a whole lot of clubbing for the next 15 years. So I was really lucky to walk in at the right moment. Dylan Jones was editor then. Alix Sharkey was there. And Caryn Franklin. So that’s what got me the job at Time Out.

Time Out played an important role because it had almost an academic view of London. It didn’t want to miss things. That was definitely part of the ethos.
I feel now that it’s quite hard to find out about what’s going on because there isn’t an overview. Obviously Time Out wasn’t perfect and couldn’t be comprehensive. But it was really useful. You were trying to write for the general reader. But to a degree you can also tell people about things that were a little bit edgier, a little bit underground. And you could support things, like Dingwalls or Plastic People, you know, obviously, Fabric when it opened. There were so many good things. There really was an embarrassment of riches. We had a constant supply of potential news stories every week. There was never a shortage of things to write about.

Taking pictures in clubs was quite unusual, wasn’t it?
When I started there were a few people who were regularly taking pictures, but not very many. There was Normski, there was Derek Ridgers. I always give due credit to Derek, he’s phenomenal. I love his pictures. There was Oliver Maxwell and one or two others. It wasn’t like later. I remember going to The End one night in 2006 and there was a bloody queue of people waiting to take a picture of the DJ. And, of course, now it’s totally a different vibe because of smartphones. There are probably some secret archives out there. Because people on different scenes definitely took pictures. Even if they took them with some throwaway 35 millimetre camera.

Where did you grow up? How do you get into all of this?
I grew up near Bath and went to uni in Sheffield, but when I came to London, my brother Steve was already running clubs. He’d started in ’82. He did the Lift, and partnered with Kevin Millins who was doing the Pyramid to do Jungle and Bad and various other nights. It was great having somebody who’s already in the scene. He’d say, ‘Come down to Heaven and see what that’s like. Don’t be shy!’

The Lift was at Stallions, which was a brilliant little venue at the back of the Astoria. With a massive fish tank. I went there in ’83 and to a little warehouse thing that he did. I took a few pictures, and got lucky and they worked. It took quite a long time to get the feeling that I could do this.

I went to one of Steve’s parties at the Titanic, just off Berkeley Square. I think it closed in about ’85. One of those great lost venues. Anyhow, he did a party there in ’83, and it was great. I went into the loos, and the conversation was so fun and camp, and the people were so visual: wild outfits. I’d seen Derek Ridgers’ show The Kiss at the Photographers’ Gallery and I thought, wow, how brilliant to photograph situations like this. I love to capture people when they’re really having a good time. When it’s just the banter and they’re being themselves. But at that stage I wasn’t confident enough to approach people and start snapping.

I remember a lot of the gay clubs in New York wouldn’t allow cameras, because people might not want their image out there, they might be in the closet.
I mean, to be honest, I’m amazed looking back because I took pictures in The Lift in ’84 and most people were really relaxed with it.

Did you ever did you ever get in trouble for taking pictures?
Yeah, definitely. You always had to avoid snapping gangsters and wide-boys. If you walked into a central London house club in the late ’80s and early ’90s the first people you’d meet were usually dealers, and sometimes a whole line of them – no pun intended.

Or Twice As Nice, when it was at The End. There were so many characters there. So many Premiership footballers – though I wasn’t there the night the Beckhams went and did a bit of DJing – and no shortage of gangsters. I knew I’d have to ask people before I took their picture. I don’t want the grief. But it does dilute it somewhat if you go around saying, ‘Do you mind if I take a picture?’

Because you miss the moment.
You can always go back. Or you can do what I sometimes used to do, which was to take one more picture than people really wanted you to. You can see them starting to glare at you.

Twice As Nice at The Colosseum, 1999 with percussion passion from Travis
Twice As Nice at The End, 2000
Twice As Nice at The End, 2000

Tell me more about acid house. That was the scene you dived most deeply into.
I really felt a part of it. Even though I was about two months later than everyone else, that spring – I was a little bit late to the party. But nonetheless, I knew everyone involved. Nicky Holloway, Paul Oakenfold… Danny Rampling had done The Dos at the Zoo, The Dinosaur Do and all these things. So yeah, I did feel very much part of it. And I had felt very much a part of what was going on in ’85 and ’86, the warehouse thing. Because that was a really exciting time to discover London, and have a camera and be able to record it.

What was the first thing you went to that was part of what would become acid house
Well I had had been to the Dinosaur Doo, and Johnnie Walker and Danny Rampling were saying ‘We’ve got some ideas, we’re going to do something, you’ll have to come down.’ And that was late ’87. At the same time there was this whole ‘flare groove’ thing going on, which brought fun and silliness and dressing up to the rare groove scene, in clubs like Discotheque at Busby’s.

The really interesting thing about ’88 was it started fast and got faster, all through the year. You know, it wasn’t only acid house and Balearic beats. At the start of ’88 there was so much energy suddenly, so much positive vibes. ‘We can do this!’ ‘Let’s make this better!’ And of course ’87 had been amazing for the scale and ambition of things – like the Westworld parties. They were the only thing that compared with the scale of what was going on in Ibiza. London was mostly small clubs, you know, except for Heaven. Not many other places were remotely organised and well-run and had decent sound systems. So those Westworld parties were incredible. Four and a half thousand people, and they did four or five parties. Then they did Wet World parties in swimming pools.

Westworld, 1987, setting the scale for rave
Westworld, 1987

It’s funny looking at pictures from 1987 because a lot of people were really ambitious. There was a ghost train operating on the Astoria stage, there was Delirium with all sorts of adventures, a skate ramp, BMX bikes, a helter-skelter – they were doing all that in the Astoria.

So there were a lot of promoters who were really seizing the moment and trying to put on something that was a lot more of an event than just a little nightclub. The ambition that led to the raves was born in in warehouse parties. They just thought, ‘Let’s, scale this up. Let’s really try and do something.’

People knew how to find one-off venues, where to borrow a sound system. You could publicise it on pirate radio. It’s like you say, acid house was definitely not year zero. It was just that suddenly there’s this new thing that takes advantage of all this know-how.
And of course, it was it was the availability of ecstasy. Which some of the club promoters were very much involved in.

Were you aware that that was the thing that kicked it off?
You knew that it needed a prompt. And of course, a drug like that – that made people feel that liberated, was what kicked it off, yeah. What was gonna happen next was anybody’s guess. But of course, for someone like little old innocent me, who’d been to Taboo and seen half the dancefloor on ecstasy, because somebody had brought back a case from New York. I remember seeing it immediately: ‘OK, this is ecstasy. Right. Okay. Great.’

Leigh Bowery and friend on the floor at an ABC party, 1985

So Taboo was the first place you saw ecstasy in action?
Yeah. Half the club was on it, including the DJs. And they were all jumping into a pile with Leigh Bowery at the bottom, because he’d fallen over spinning around with [dancer and BodyMap founder] David Holah on his shoulders, and then everyone jumped on, including the DJs. And the record’s going around. We’re like, wow, this is really the trendiest club in London. Look at it!

And so, having seen that and experienced that, when I walked into The Future… Paul Oakenfold had told me, ‘Look, Dave, come down, have a look because it really is happening. Ibiza was fucking amazing and it’s about time we didn’t have just one style of music being played.’

And the Balearic thing had already been happening at warehouse parties in so many ways. You didn’t go to a warehouse party that played only funk music. Those parties were all about mixing it up. Apart from anything else, you could get 3,000 people into some of those places

The warehouse parties were generally more more than one room.
Yeah, generally two or three floors, if you were lucky, if the space allowed it. So it certainly wasn’t year zero. This whole ecosystem was already in place. And this new music, which had really been around for two or three years. And consequently there were so many brilliant tunes, you know, some of them were a couple of years old already. But that didn’t matter.

Back then I did feel very much a part of it, and that gave me licence to go into the clubs and photograph there because I was trusted. I was familiar. You’ve been invited. And then I went to Rockley Sands, I arranged my book Acid House As It Happened in the order that I went to places.

You wrote one of the very first pieces about the scene, in Time Out in March ‘88. Which was quite coded about what was happening: talking about ‘ecstatic dancing’.
Yeah, very rapidly we avoided mentioning ecstasy, but of course, as long as you took out the pictures of people gurning, most people didn’t know, they just thought wow, those people are having a really great time.

Ibiza 89 Amnesia pyramid

Tell me about Ibiza. Your Ibiza book is based on a single trip, isn’t it?
Yeah, one week. With Alix Sharkey who wrote the article for 20/20 Magazine. The editor Don Atyeo gave us an open brief. We said we think we ought to go and do something on Ibiza, because it was so important to London last year. And he said, ‘Just go there and see what you find’. Which is a dream assignment. And this was partly because he’d been in Zaire. Don Atyeo was the only reporter who stayed in Zaire for the Rumble in the Jungle after George Foreman got injured in training. He didn’t have the money to go back to the UK. And so he stayed in Zaire for six weeks and got in with Ali.

Did you know where to go?
Oh, we knew really. Our story was that that the clubs were going to have to have roofs put on them. This would be their last year open-air. It was a dream to go and take pictures of people having these crazy times with palm trees all around. We just thought, well, we’re gonna go to Amnesia with Boy George hosting the night because it was his birthday party. And we’ll see if we can go to Ku and then we’ll see what else is happening.

We’d been told  there were these really good bars paying music along Las Salinas. In the end, the story is quite long. And I was so happy Alix allowed me to include it in the book. It’s a good counterpoint to the myth that everything was perfect. Because even back then I’m moaning about all these bloody Brits puking up and jumping into hotel swimming pools from the balconies. That started right in the beginning.

And the other thing was it was multi-generational. We went to Pacha and the whole family’s there, even grandma, just like they would be if you went to a reggae dance or a bhangra night. And that was really, really good.

And you’ve updated the book for this new edition.
Yeah. It’s fun to put out the book again, there are some pictures that weren’t in the first one, and I also improved a few of the other shots.

Any other books in the pipeline?
Yes. I’ve got two books I’m working on. But both of them are secret in terms of what we can mention.

Your pictures have had a busy life because there are so few others of the whole acid house time.
At the time, the fact that I had pictures, and Oliver Maxwell had a few pictures, of Shoom meant it got all the attention. That’s a real factor, isn’t it? Of course, once things got written about, then the other clubs, like RIP, down at Clink Street, did get the props and the recognition. I mean, Shoom was a brilliant club. It had an incredible atmosphere. This crowd who were being incredibly nurturing of each other and, you know, a lot of them were only 16, 17. They were kids. They were bringing along teddy bears and all that. The whole vibe of Shoom was really amazing.

There was a newsletter, wasn’t there? with Jenni Rampling advising people on relationships and whether you should give up your job.
I remember when I was offered ecstasy at the first night of Spectrum, you know, I was like, No, I want to take some pictures. And I knew how many people had already chucked in their jobs. And I also knew it’s 25 quid. I felt a bit of a wuss, but on the other hand, I took the pictures. I just did some cheeky halves that summer and that was about it. Because there’s no way I could have taken pictures otherwise. I met people later on who were really high while still taking pictures, but by then you had autofocus.

What did you miss that you wish you could go back and photograph?
As far as the whole ’88 thing, there’s obviously ones I didn’t get to. I should have gone to Hedonism. I would definitely go back to that. Especially because so many of the black promoters in London were there. That’s where they got the revelation. The people who had heard this music on pirate radio. And thought, ‘What the fuck is that?’ Then when they heard it in a club, it suddenly made sense, on a proper sound system.

What are some of your greatest memories from that time?
Dancing along to the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in a club was amazing. Dancing to ‘Promised Land’ – hearing gospel house was incredible. And also ‘Yeke yeke’ another tune from that summer that often gets forgotten. That was all amazing. And obviously ‘Can You Feel It’.

I remember the first night of The Trip. They were really nervous: ‘Is it gonna be full?’ ‘Have we gone too big too early?’ You could lower the ceiling in The Astoria because it was such a huge venue. To start with they had it lowered. Then after only about two or three weeks they lifted up the ceiling and you can suddenly see from the bottom of the stage right up to the top of the room. It’s full of people going wild. ‘Wow, look at this energy rush!’ It really was phenomenal. And then there was too much energy in the room so it spilled out onto the street.

Those famous pictures of people partying outside. Was that happening every week?
Every week I heard about it happening. And I wrote about it in Time Out because I wanted it to definitely happen again so I could photograph it for The Observer. And I was so happy because of course it’s a different deal altogether when it’s outside. And years later to see people like Fabio and Grooverider in the pictures. I didn’t know who they were at the time.

‘Can you feel it?’ Ecstatic energy spilling into the street after the Trip, 1988
Fabio & Grooverider getting a taste for acid house at The Trip, 1988

Going down into the YMCA car park and people bashing on the top of cars. These poor people were just trying to drive home and suddenly 200 people are all jumping around, shouting ‘Can You Feel It!’ and ‘Acieeeeed,’ and all that stuff. One car drove up playing Public Enemy ‘Fight The Power’, and there was this feeling of rebellion, rebellion in the streets, people having an amazing time.

And the police were visible maybe about 100 yards away. We were outside the Dominion Theatre and there were only about two or three policemen, and I thought, what are they going to make of this? They’re gonna see a lot of people jumping around and think, Well, they’re having a good time. But they’re not actually causing any trouble.

And of course, later on, that all changed. This was the honeymoon period. For about four or five months. A few months down the line there were the first shock-horror stories. And it was basically the music press, the NME. Because they they were not holding back, they said there’s loads of drugs in there.

You must have been back to Ibiza plenty of times?
I didn’t go back for 11 years. I eventually got back there in 2000. Everyone started telling me about these DC10 parties next to the airport, how people were saying, this reminds me of the old days when we didn’t have any roofs.

I guess we should touch on your little team at Time Out over the years. Sam Pow and Reetu Rupal I know well.
Yeah, and Ben Bellman, who was with me for ten. Yeah. I was really lucky to have a lot of other people contributing, because there’s always more than one person can reasonably know about or find out about, or experience. So it was brilliant having having a bit of a crew.

Do you think there’s been a shape to club culture? A kind of historic curve or something?
It became a popular culture surge. It happened first with acid house, then with ’90s rave culture, and then that spilled out into festival culture. So many festivals got established, which started basically as dance festivals. Who were finding legal ways of doing it after you had such a repressive situation.

Obviously, if acid house hadn’t happened, there was no way they were going to shift the licensing hours. That wasn’t even a thought. The only change in the licensing hours before that was to let wine bars open in the afternoon.

And so many people went out in the rave years, and so many of those people are still going out. It might only be once a month or once every six weeks or whatever, but they’re still up for it. And they’ll definitely go to festivals and one thing and another.

But the variety and sheer volume of nightlife changed. In the ’80s and ’90s you could go to little one-nighters every night of the week. People definitely still want to go out. But there’s nothing like the range of opportunity to experience club culture, seven days a week. There’s really great bars, and they’ve got brilliant music, but people are not paying five quid to go to a club on a Tuesday night.

And so many clubs have closed. Clubs like Plastic People, The Cross, Bagleys. When venues close it breaks your heart a little bit. Because of what happened in those places. And what could still have happened if they’d stayed open… Because every social space matters. But there’s a brutal economic reality – if you have property values and rent rates like London, there’s a limit to how much you can do before it just becomes uneconomic to run a club. To be honest, I’m amazed that somebody has put a reported £70million into Koko. And they seem to be making a go of it.

Even back in the day, for many of the clubs it wasn’t economic either. It was just passion. Like Ultimate B.A.S.E. at the Velvet Rooms, It was only a small venue and they had all their running costs, but they’d subsidise it to have big guest DJs. Felix Da Housecat would come along. They were so good. But of course, the reality of running a mid-week club night was it was always going to be a struggle to break even. I think a lot of people now would say, ‘God, what a slog to try and do that’. How many weekly club nights are there now? I don’t know. Not many.

What makes a great night?
It’s a combination of so many little factors. You want brilliant music. But in the end it’s got to be the people who go. No party is happening without dancers who want to go there. And that’s why I always wanted to photograph the people who went to the party, not just the promoters and the DJs, and a couple of ace faces. It’s the people who make it happen. You can call it call-and-response, the relationship between the dancers and the DJ, or the music maker, or the live band, or whatever it is.

One of the things I really loved about doing the club section was, it was never just one type of thing. There’ve been so many different types of clubs we cover. Clubs can be a cabaret performance, they can be techno, or exclusively West African music… There’s so many different vibes and things that you can respond to and get into. So what makes a great club? In the end, the most important thing for me was always the vibe, the vibe that people created together.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton. All pics © Dave Swindells.

Nancy Noise brought Ibiza home

Nancy Noise brought Ibiza home

She was one of ‘The Walworth Road girls’, the angelic urchins mixing it with the international jet trash of Ibiza’s legendary open-air Amnesia in 1987. When a bunch of likeminded Ibiza veterans imported the sunshine and pills formula into dreary old London, Nancy Turner became Nancy Noise. Armed with a plastic bag of records, she showed herself to be a DJ of sensitivity and deep music knowledge, not least because while her mates were going doolally in Amnesia she had made time to obsessively note down the wild and weird records Alfredo and Leo Mas were playing. Haunting Rough Trade and the Virgin Megastore, she amassed the Balearic canon and employed it to great effect at The Future and Spectrum. ‘I didn’t really want to be a DJ, I just had loads of records,’ she told i-D in 1990. Today she’s one of the finest, with a forward-looking Balearic style that still owes a huge debt to those formative years.

interviewed by Bill in London 9.3.18, main pic Dave Swindells, all others from Nancy’s collection

Nancy in San Antonio in 1987

When was the first time you went to Ibiza?
I went there in 1984 but that doesn’t really count, we just went on holiday twice. I was quite young then and stayed in San Antonio. I met a gang of people from Stoke – striking miners who’d gone out to Ibiza as workers. But I saved up and went back there for the whole summer in May 1986. I rented an apartment with three mates, Tanya, Michelle and Joanne, who is Lisa Loud’s sister. Over that summer my sister Katie came out a lot and also Lisa and her boyfriend.

What did you do when you were there?
We were just hanging out. We’d saved up quite a bit of money through the winter and paid rent on this flat for four months: May, June, July, August, and then we moved into another flat for September. We were dossing around really. I did try a few jobs but I didn’t really do much.

Had you started DJing by then?
No I wasn’t a DJ. I was just a person going out there to have fun.

Did you go to any clubs?
When we first got there we were only in San Antonio so we were just going around the West End and then was Extasis, Star Club, Es Paradis. There were lots of drunk people, people snogging and handbags! It really wasn’t our scene. We found Cafe Del Mar first and then got invited out to this night with all the workers and they were bit older than us and we went round all the West end and then the last club we ended up at was Amnesia.

It was really late and turning from night to day. We walked in and we were like, ‘Oh my God!’. Couldn’t believe it. Open air, loads of lovely looking people. Colourful characters. That was it! That’s when we started going every single night. We’d hitch up there, or if anyone had a motorbike… We didn’t have money for cabs or anything. To get in free you had to go early, so we’d get there at like 1am or something and it would be empty. I’d be standing there, hovering around. Sometimes it would just be me and one other person, or there might be five people or a few crews. There were swings in there in 1986: a small one that went over the dancefloor and another one on a tree around the back. There was a room with cushions in it and different areas and we’d just hang out.

What music would be playing?
I wasn’t taking much notice. I fell in love with it because it was so eclectic and in London it was mainly jazz-funky soul, then rare groove. I worked with Pete Waterman. We had an office with a hi-NRG record label. I’d go to those nights, with Divine, so I’d been to loads of clubs, but different genres in each place. Amnesia was all different stuff in one night. A lot of pop. Loads of things we didn’t know. Liaisons Dangereuses ‘Los Ninos Del Parque’, which was European new beat-y sounding. The Clash, The Cure and because I got in there early it was quite floaty. They might throw in a bit of jazz-funk that we knew from London and some house.

Getting in there early was great, though, cos you got to see the night grow. Each night would be different and we’d discovered it not long after it had opened that year, and we watched it as the whole summer changed. After a while it got busy every single night. It was the club that workers from other clubs would come to, like the dancers from Pacha and the Loca Mio people would come in there in ’86. They were a band, I didn’t know they were a band, I just thought they were really cool, with people with big shoulders and long shoes, and they had fans, quite mad clothes. In ’86, so many people people dressed in mad things, I’ve got photos somewhere. A guy with Barbie dolls coming out of his hair. It was the same DJs throughout the whole summer: Leo Mas and Alfredo. That was it. No guests. I don’t even think there were any PAs. They played the same music all the way through the summer. It was like Balearic brainwashing! I loved it. In ’86, it was ‘Woman of the World’, by Double, Art of Noise ‘Paranomia’, ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’, The Cure.

Were there loads of records you loved but had no idea what they were?
Yeah. ‘Would I Find Love’ by Dizzi Heights was one of the biggest tunes that summer. I never spoke to them in ’86. I wasn’t someone who hung around by DJs. But I used to wander over and peek over the side to see if I could see the record sleeve. I don’t even remember writing anything down but when I got back to London I remember going to the massive Virgin on Oxford Street and buying ‘Would I Find Love’ on 12-inch in there, Jeffrey Osborne’s ‘Soweto’ which was a big record I found in there. When I got back I started working for my friend’s record label and my boss mentioned the label Teldec and I must’ve clocked the sleeve of this tune ‘Too Much’ by Hong Kong Syndikat. And I was like Teldec?! Can you get me a copy of Hong Kong Syndikat? So we rung them and got a load of copies sent over. We actually released that on E&F Records that winter well before Balearic Beat was released. That was one that got played early in the night, but I really loved it.

After the summer in 1986 literally all we spoke about was Amnesia. We were like lunatics. Every time we got together we’d just and talk about it. My mum and dad were like, ‘What is going on?’! I had Amnesia posters on my wall and I had a little underground sign and where there’d be the name of the station I had Ibiza written on it! We all started saving and we had a little crew. There were no mobile phones, so we swapped addresses and home phone numbers and these northern (Sheffield, Manchester, Corby) guys we got on so well with. We’d gone to RAW in the winter. I didn’t know my friends had bumped into some of the boys during the day in Covent Garden so I got there that night and they were there! We’d partied so much together we were all really close. So the crew was quite small the first year but it got bigger the next.

Nancy at Glory’s in 1987 with Vince and John
Lounging at Amnesia, 1987, with Simon and Jo

Then we went back in 1987. The next summer there was a real buzz around San An, and a few more people had turned up that had heard about Amnesia, quite a big Beckenham and Bromley crew. We were talking about Amnesia to them before the first night, and we got there and every single record was different! I turned up waiting to hear the same stuff and every single track was different. It was all amazing but it took a few days to get used to that. That was the year of ‘Jibaro’, Thrashing Doves, Cyndi Lauper and all that stuff. All the house stuff: ‘House Nation’ etc. I met Paul [Oakenfold] in there around August, but we’d been going there every night. And I’d been hanging out with Ian St Paul quite a bit. Him and Trevor [Fung] had The Project bar, and a lot of people used to go there before going up to Amnesia. Ian had a Jeep so I used to get a lift in that quite often and hang out in his apartment. Paul turned up and it was really weird cos I knew Nicky Holloway from London cos I used to go to all the soul things he did at the Royal Oak. So I was dancing around in there and bashed into someone and it was Nicky. What are you doing here?! What do you mean what am I doing in here, what are you doing in here?! I’ve been here for bloody ages. Oh I’m on holiday. He was there with Paul, Danny Rampling and Johnny Wallker. Didn’t really say much to Paul then but then I got invited to his birthday thing in a villa somewhere in the hills and I just remember saying, ‘No I can’t go there because I might miss Amnesia’. Thinking back now, I was a lunatic. I could’ve missed an amazing party but I didn’t care. I just wanted to be in Amnesia. Couldn’t get enough of it.

Was ecstasy evident in ’86?
Towards the end of the summer there were a couple of boys that had it, who had more money than us. A lot of LSD for our lot in ’86 which was just as much fun in Amnesia. ’86 was a lot of talk about it and, ‘Oh my god it’s amazing.’ Then I think in the winter we went to Amsterdam and it was going on there. ’87 was just full ecstasy the whole summer. In ’87 I’m thinking was it powder or pills? When it first came to England it was powder and we were dropping it in Rizlas.

And you brought the vibe home with you?

Yeah. We were having house parties in Essex in 1987 before clubs like Shoom even started.

When did you learn to DJ?
When I came back after that second summer. I met Paul and when I got back I started hanging out with him a bit. I started going to things with him, and he’d come and pick me up, and he came up to the flat and put my records around the room so you could see the sleeves and he said, ‘Who’s are these records?’ ‘Oh, they’re mine.’ This is the stuff I’ve been buying that I heard in Amnesia. That was it.

Then a few weeks went by and he did the night at Ziggys where Alfredo flew over and the police raided it. Bloody nightmare. They found Soundshaft and I think it was people’s birthdays so they had a party. After being together for four months it was a much bigger crew, and we were all desperate to get together as much as we could. So they did the first one with Paul playing and either Paul or Ian or both said, ‘Oh, do you wanna play some records before Paul?’ I said, ‘Er, I don’t know if I can!’ Then I thought, It’s only playing in front of a few friends. I’m sure it’ll be fine.’ So I turned up with a carrier bag with my records in it and did it. Within a few weeks it was packed and magazines were writing about it and I was like, ‘My god, I can’t cope with this!’ I used to send people to find Paul: go find him and tell him I’ve run out of records! He’d say: ignore her, let her sweat. Then he turned up at my flat one day with one those units that mobile DJs used to use. This is for you, you’ve got it for two weeks. There was no varispeed, but I sat on the floor playing my records, thinking oh that Prince one goes well with this. Did that for a few weeks. Couldn’t mix. I actually went back to Ibiza for a month and told Paul I couldn’t cope. Then when I was away I changed my mind and I came back.

In the Soundshaft booth at The Future, with mates Max and Sandra

Was it literally everyone you’d hung out with in Ibiza?
Yeah. The word just spread via friends. My friend Chris Abbot who’d also been to Ibiza said when he was queuing to get in someone in the queue said oh this is an E club! 

Where were the drugs coming from?
Oh god don’t ask me. I think it was something to do with the Sannyasin lot.

When did you know this was going to be massive?
Spectrum. It was empty for weeks and then suddenly one week there were queues all around the block. Lots of people I knew from London who’d found out about it. Word had spread. Future was busy from the beginning. It lasted till about 1990, around two years.

What is acid house’s legacy?
Ecstasy changed a lot of people’s attitudes. I had friends who had racist friends who really changed. It was a lot about love. The style of clubbing that happened in Amnesia, it changed the style of clubbing from what I’d been used to before. It could be a combination of the music and the drugs. More friendly, more open, more friendly. The nights that are happening now come from that.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Trevor Fung invented Ibiza

Trevor Fung invented Ibiza

The Ibiza origin story, made legend by Paul Oakenfold, sees Oakey, along with fellow London DJ/promoters Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker, discovering the sacred open-air dancefloor of Amnesia, with its uniquely cosmopolitan crowd, its genre-busting DJ Alfredo Fiorito, and its ‘ecstatic’ drug habits in the glorious summer of ’87. The quartet sampled the musical and pharmaceutical delights on offer, danced their socks off, and vowed to recreate this hedonistic sunshine vibe in London as soon as they could. And so was written the foundation chapter of acid house.

Less has been written about the hand that guided these Balearic explorers. The figure who introduced them to the music of Alfredo, the wonderfully mixed crowd of Amnesia – and the dancefloor emotions in a little white and orange capsule – was Trevor Fung, a young DJ and promoter who’d been playing and promoting on the British jazz-funk scene, and had been coming to the White Island since 1979. Trevor had even DJed at Amnesia as early as 1982. By ’87, he and his cousin Ian St Paul were running a little bar on the island called The Project Club, selling tickets and T-shirts for all the big clubs. As a DJ, Trevor Fung became a mainstay of acid house, playing at Shoom, Spectrum, Love, Rage, as well as at many of the M25 raves, including Sunrise, Energy, Biology and World Dance. In this wide-ranging and often hilarious interview he talks about the earlier DJs who influenced Alfredo, throws in a few wild tales of DJing at raves, and sets the story straight about the acid house creation myth.

Interviewed by Bill and Frank in Soho, 3.2.05

How did you get started as a DJ?
I’d met Steve Walsh who was doing his big Monday Soul Night Out with Tony Blackburn. I started playing in Slough as his warm-up disc jockey. And later the Lyceum, that was one of the main ones.

What was the thing in Slough?
It wasn’t a club; it was like a big hall. I’d been up there quite a few times. But a massive punch up broke out! We’d go up there, three coach loads from London and then one day this massive fight broke out with people throwing bottles. I ducked behind the DJ stand. Don’t know what they was fighting about, it was like this Slough – south London thing. We got on the coach, they smashed up the coach. Put all the windows through.

That’s how I met Paul Oakenfold. I was going to Slough, on the coach, and he sat next to us and started talking. He’d come to all these gigs before. I was probably 1 at the time. We used to do loads of things, Hammersmith Palais, was it LBC or one of those things that did the promotion.

What was he doing then?
He was a chef. He’d never played music in his life! He came up, quiet guy, started talking to him and it went from there. He was always asking me these questions. What’s this? Where do you get the records from? How’s this? He didn’t know fuck all about the music, but he wanted to know. I didn’t know he wanted to get in the business, all I knew was that he was a chef and he used to come to all these gigs. I started doing these spots at a place in Dartford

Yeah. I started getting some guest work up there with Colin Hudd, Jeff Young, Pete Tong stuff like that. I started getting involved in the soulboy thing. I was going up to Hilltop, going up to Dartford, Lacy Lady. Oakenfold used to drive us up these places, we used to make him! And in the worst car I’ve ever seen in my life. It was his dad’s, a brown Austin Maxi. Quick get out, don’t let anyone see us!

This was when the ‘Soul Mafia’ had things sewn up.
There was a core of people and to get in there you had to break that core. I was going to things like Caister and I wanted to get on to gigs like these, but there was no way. I couldn’t get in because of the usual suspects, Chris Hill. It got really stale. Same old music. You know, I could play those old things as well, but in the parties we did, I always put forward new music. Always.

We used to put on these gigs in Scamps in Croydon once a month on a Wednesday, and we used to book everyone: Hilly, Robbie Vincent, Jeff Young, Pete Tong. Also some other guys who used to work with us on the gigs, a guy called Tony Thorpe…

Of the Moody Boys [production and remix team]?
Yeah, and a guy called Mick McGuire. He’s a guy that used to work for Greyhound distribution, he worked at a record shop in Croydon and he now works in Japan playing techno! So by booking them, they started to return the favour. That’s how it works! Isn’t it? And I was telling Paul all of this!

Was he DJing by now?
No. But we used to go round his house and play records. One day we said shall we do something? Started doing some little bars and parties. From there we found this little gay club in Streatham. Didn’t even know it was there, lived there for a good seven years before I found this place. It’s underneath a pub, great little place, holds about 350, dark, really dingy, with a stage. It was like a gay cabaret place. Met the guy; asked him for every Friday. He said yeah. It was called Ziggy’s at the time, terrible name. But we just didn’t think of a name so we went with that.

So you called it Ziggy’s too?
Yeah! And we started putting on our nights every Friday. Packed solid. Me and Paul and we had a warm-up guy called Carl Cox. We had that place for seven years, from about 81-89. We changed the name twice, it went from Ziggy’s to the Funhouse to Project. Same place.

By that time, I’d started travelling, I’d gone out to Ibiza in 1980 and ’81. I went out there every year, consistently from 1979 to 1994. So there was lots of different kinds of music, soul, jazz booking people like Tongy, but then as Funhouse we were trying to play different types of music.

The Project Club we were slowly bringing in hip-hop. Paul, at the time – fucking hell he done this fast – he’d started working for Def Jam. He’d get acts over to the UK, bring them on to Westwood’s show and afterwards he’d come down to see us. We had loads of people down there. Marshall Jefferson, Darryl Pandy, Run DMC, Beastie Boys. We’d shut at 2 o’clock, get everybody out and down a little side alley. Then half an hour later, we used to re-open and go on till 5 or 6 in the morning. No one troubled us. Police didn’t know. Alcohol, the lot. This went on for years. Some nights we wouldn’t even work, and Carl’d play for about five hours. Carl used to love it; he couldn’t get enough of it. He used to come up from Brighton, set up the sound system, take it down and go home. I swear, we only gave him about 30 quid, then it went up to about £50. I remember doing an interview once a long time ago and they said who do you think is your up-and-coming DJ and I always said Carl Cox.

What took you to Ibiza the first time?
I was working in the travel business; I got a free holiday with… Club 18-30! So I go over there on a Club 18-30 holiday and I had the wildest time. Loved it. I loved it because it was the first time I’d been down to the Café Del Mar. First time I’d been to some of these clubs.

What was Café del Mar like in 1979?
It was just a little bar. It wasn’t done up. There was hardly anything around it then, it’s not like it is now. It was the only bar there. There were no flats. So everybody would just sit there at sunset and listen to the music, including the locals.

Before Alfredo, the big DJ on the island was this guy called Carlos Diaz. Brilliant disc jockey. He used to play all the indie stuff. At the time, I thought where the fuck did he get all this stuff? I used to look through his records going ‘where did you get this from?’ And then I looked at the labels and it was all English stuff. It was from Leeds and places like that. It was way he played it. He had a really good style. He was the first disc jockey who really changed my views.

Where did he play?
Es Paradis in San Antonio. Es Paradis, at the time, was amazing. Nothing like it is now. San Antonio was not like that at the time. Nothing. Es Paradis was one of the biggest clubs. There was Es Paradis, Pacha and Glory’s.

Describe Es Paradis.
Not as built up as it is now, it just used to have that centrepiece. You’d go in there and it was mainly Scandinavian holidaymakers, Swedish, Danish. Then Germans. The English market was small then, maybe 10-15%, maybe even less. There were more English workers than holidaymakers. It was mainly Scandis. That’s why he used to play this kind of music.

What was the capacity?
About 1500. It was all outside and inside. There was only the centrepiece fountain that was covered. In those days, they used to put these fountains on every night. You walk into this place and all you see is fucking gorgeous women, and it’s not full of Spanish guys, because they were all working.

So you’ve got Carlos playing all these different kinds of music, things like Jellybean mixes, a bit of Madonna, a real mish-mash. A lot of American pop stuff remixed by Benitez. It just seemed and sounded different, probably because of the atmosphere. It was electric. I wasn’t even doing drugs. I didn’t even know what drugs was, at that time.

Did it look like people were doing drugs there?
Well, when I think about it now… Yeah! It was wild. I loved it in there. It was a combination of the people, the music and the atmosphere. Everyone was dancing all over the place, it was like a coliseum, so everyone danced on the steps and at the end of the night they put on the fountains, which came out of the middle so everyone in the centre got absolutely soaked.

How did you meet Carlos?
I met him just going up and talking to him. I used go and pick up some sounds in the UK and take them to him.

So were you going over for two weeks at a time?
No I’d go for like five days. I’d got for weekends. Any time I could get out I’d go.

So you went more than once a year?
Oh yeah, I’d be going out there three or four times a year. I used to get flights for £15. I was earning quite a lot of money at the time cos I was working during the day and at night. Sometimes I wouldn’t go at the weekend, I’d go out Tuesday and come back Friday. Didn’t make any difference to me. Every night was a weekend out there anyway. Couldn’t tell whether it was Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Actually weekends were the worst because everyone would change over. During the week everyone settled down.

Tell us more about Carlos Diaz.
Carlos is one of the best Ibizan disc jockeys ever. Without doubt. This is where Alfredo got it from, this style of playing.

What was it about these guys that grabbed you?
Well a lot of these guys who lived on the mainland would go to Barcelona and Madrid so they’d be working in their clubs. It was a different concept. Pacha was unbelievable. Even though I’d be going to Ibiza, I hadn’t been to Pacha until my third or fourth year in. I’d never even touched that because I thought why do I need to go all that way when I’m having such fun here! [meaning Es Paradis] I was quite young as well then and it was a lot older at Pacha, so I think the music, because they’d spent the summer working in these other venues, they’d got better shops and they’d got time to prepare and know the music. Because they were working with different nationalities they had to do it in a way where they please everybody.

So in a way, the dancefloor’s cosmopolitanism shaped the music?
Exactly. But I liked that, I really did enjoy that.

And you tried to recreate that vibe in the UK?
There was a big difference between doing that abroad and doing that in England. This is what the Funhouse was about. We set it up in ’84 [in Streatham] trying to do this. It just failed miserably. A lot of the people hadn’t been to Ibiza so they didn’t get the experience of it without going to Ibiza.

It was a bit like that club that Rusty Egan and Steve Strange did… they had a club in Lyceum that failed, the one with the TVs and that. Steve tried it and that didn’t work either. I knew Steve; he used to come down, and Rusty.

Did you inject any other things like décor to try and get it to work?
I was trying to, but people were just like ‘what the fuck are you doing?!’

How early did you see the rich, jet set party side of things on Ibiza?
Later, much later.

Were you aware that it existed?
I wasn’t clueless… but I didn’t need it. I knew it was there, but I knew it was expensive.

Was Pacha were they hung out?
There was Pacha, there was Glory’s. Glory’s used to be in between Amnesia and the end of that road, before the roundabout. I think it’s a car showroom now. That used to be the after-hours club where everybody would go down from all the other places. That’s where you used to see the people mashed in there. They were the two best clubs, and Es Paradis, too.

When did you first go to Pacha?
’83. I’d decided that the music was going really well in the club. Jacked my job in and wanted to go and stay in Ibiza. Went over in April with my cousin Ian Paul, stayed there and came back in November. I met loads of people.

Ian St Paul?
Dunno why he put the St in there for! I was supposed to go with Ian but he bottled out the day before. I thought, fuck that I’m not hanging round for no one. At the time, there was loads of rare groove and I was bored of it and wanted to do something different. Met up with Carlos, and he started giving me little jobs in bars. I was working in a place called the If Bar. I’d do some nights at the Star Club. Met loads of Spanish people. Just little jobs here and there.

Did you speak Spanish?
No not really. I met a guy called Sid from Liverpool in 1979; met a good bunch of English people who had bars. I was doing loads of stuff with them. Just hung out for the summer. I used to fly back to London every month, go and see me good old pals like Johnny Walker, Mike Sefton, pick up loads of tunes and then I’d sort all the DJs out in the island. The two little guys at Pacha, can’t remember the names, but I’ve got all that stuff at home. I used to sort them all out. Ten copies of one record.

Must’ve been good for your standing among the other DJs
Of course. I never used to give it to them; I used to charge them, then whatever’s was left I took down the local record shop.

Were you hustling for gigs out there?
No not really. No! The reason why I went that year to Ibiza was because I worked for a guy at a place called Fred & Ginger’s at Old Burlington St opposite Legends. Two Belgian guys, it was. They bought a club; I went to play in Amnesia. I played in there. There was no one in there. No one. Dead.  I played there for about two weeks. It had just been bought and they’d just got it going. Didn’t happen. Lost my job. So I went back to England did temping and went back the following season.

What was Pacha like the first time you went there?
It was unbelievable. It was richer, much older people. Really glamorous, all models, mainly. You could tell that people were just flying in for the weekend and then flying out again on Monday. Drinks were really expensive. I was really young then, I didn’t have money to enjoy myself. I was just dancing, hanging round the DJ booth.

How was the music compared to Es Paradis?
Completely different. Nothing like Es Paradis. It was pure dance music. Quite forward. What I’ll always remember about Pacha before it started to change, a lot of it was quite tribally, a lot of drum music. A lot of tribal music.

Stuff like George Kranz?
Yeah, like that. In the old days, the girls that used to dance with the guys, there’d be about seven of them and they’d all be dressed up to the nines. I’d be there with my eyes hanging out!

And the DJ were these two little guys?
Yeah, two guys from Madrid. There was another one that joined them from Barcelona.

I used to go to Ku as well. That used to be amazing in the early days. Before it had the roof on it. A lot of the clubs were amazing before the roofs went on in 1990. Ku was like a mixture of the two, but much wilder. It was like a massive playground. It was completely wild. People jumping in the pool, doing anything, anywhere, anytime. There weren’t any restrictions. Completely different type of people, though, which is why I think the behaviour, was different. It wasn’t aggressive. It was all fun. It used to amaze me that in Ku there’d be 5,000 people, in Es Paradis there’d be 1,500 people and in Pacha you’d have a couple of thousand but, fuck me, you’d never see anyone during the day. Where did they all come from?! You’d turn up at Ku and the car park would be packed solid, the club would be packed solid. It was brilliant. I’ve seen Roxy Music playing there. James Brown. Visage.

After that year, I came back, that’s when I started to do the Funhouse, which we did around London. Still doing the Friday night, with more hip hoppy stuff. When I got back everything started to come together, started playing at Caister. All of a sudden you come back refreshed and it’s happening. I was doing a lot of things with Nicky Holloway.

What was your first experience of ecstasy?

So you’d been going quite a while before you realised?
Well, this is a funny story. I used to play carrom, this game where you knock pieces into the corners. I used to go and play it with this German guy Walter. Really friendly guy. Knew him really well. Knew him for years. Used to go and see him all the time. People’d come and see him, he’d say, ‘Be back in a minute’, ‘Yeah, alright’. One day in ’86 he says, ‘Hey Trev, do you want some of these?’ Looked at it and he had this little tiny tub. I said, ‘What’s this?’ He said, ‘ecstasy’. Gave me a couple and said, ‘here, try it…’ Well, that was it!

So you did them at his house?
No I was out, I went out with Ian. Cos Ian came out with me the following year, in ’84. But that same guy, he went on to buy a big club on the island.

What did you do the first night you did ecstasy?
I was working! At the end of the night we done this thing, we’d finish at 3 and go to Es Paradis. He said, ‘Only take a half, don’t do it all at once’. Eugh, disgusting this powder. Done it. From when I walked from the bar to the club I started chucking up. My body didn’t know what it was and I’d been drinking loads. Then… I started to feel alright. Ooh, this is great. Ian has a different resistance to drugs than me, and he swallowed the whole lot. He was off!

It was a powder, then?
Never forget it: it was an orange and white capsule. I saw loads of them after that! To tell you the truth, the first one was a bit hazy, but the next one was better. That was late in ’86 and I’d only been there for the weekend.

When you’d done it did you realise, retrospectively, what had been going on in these clubs?
Definitely. Of course. Everything came into the picture. I remember when I went to the Paradise Garage in New York. I was only 17 at the time. Me, Oakey and Paul. We was in there at 1 o’clock. Where is everyone? Three o’clock. Where is everyone?! Went to buy a drink: ‘No, we don’t serve alcohol’. What the fuck’s going in this place. Hung around a bit more and everyone started piling in and then everything just went BANG!. And then it clicked: they’re all on drugs, the whole bloody lot of ‘em! Fucking mad. It’s that gay scene.

And in Ibiza?
It was mainly gay. Mainly.

Gay, mainly.

Where you aware of that straight away?
Oh yeah. I’d worked with people like Steve Strange, you don’t miss much.

You said you met Alfredo through Carlos…
I met Alfredo when I was selling Carlos records. He used to look up to him. But then everybody did. He was the disc jockey. And I could see where Alfredo got that from, I could see where that influence came from.

So Carlos was the granddaddy of that style?
Oh yeah. Carlos left in ’85 he went to work at a place called Tito’s Palace in Majorca. He was there for about three years, and then he left and I lost touch with him. I’d love to find him. I’ve got some friends who live in Majorca who used to see him and they don’t see him no more. I tell you what: top disc jockey. He was the one.

Better than Alfredo?
Well, Alfredo didn’t come on to the scene until ’87, really.

Was Alfredo copying Carlos’ style?
No. He was bringing his own style to it. But that’s where he got the influence from. This is what I like about Alfredo. I used to get a lot of my stuff from Jazzy M in Croydon. In ’87 I went over to Ibiza to work again. I thought right, if I’m going to go over to Spain I need to do something or have something. So we rented a tiny bar in San An. Me and my cousin Ian. It was really hard because you have to have people from Spain involved and special permits.

What about gangsters?
I think there was that stuff, but you’re talking about bigger clubs. With Ku that was definitely some kind of… money. Es Paradis was privately owned and Pacha was. But Ku, definitely. I know that for a fact. I used to know people who used to go there and buy coke over the bar with a credit card. God’s honest truth. And the card was bent! The thing is they knew it was bent, too, but they knew the banks would pay it out. The guy would come round and say meet me in the toilet I’ll sort you out. Everyone on the way back to England would pop into Ku Club, get a couple of T-shirts and fuck off back to England. It was the norm, everyone knew it!

Anyway, your bar…
We rented this bar and called it The Project Club. We changed the name of the club in Streatham to the same, at the same time. The Project Club in San An was already a club downstairs, but we rented the upstairs bar. We set up the sound system. We were just playing music and selling drinks. We used to be packed every single night. Not just packed in the bar, it was packed in the street, too. We’d be meeting people in the clubs, we started selling their T-shirts: Ku, Pacha etc; started selling tickets. So people’d come to us.

Were you the only Brits doing this?
No there was loads. There was a community there. That was a good thing.

Was it still mainly non-Brits.
It had started to change. More and more workers from England. In ’87 about 30-40 percent Brits, but a lot of working Brits there. I was doing the music, Ian was serving the drinks. I was playing all the Chicago stuff mixed in with Prince cos that Sign O The Times album had just come out. But it wasn’t to do with the music in that bar, it was to do with the people. And in the crowd, there was Nancy Noise, a young worker, Lisa Loud. Loads of people used to come over and see us. We had a brilliant time. It was a fantastic summer. That was when Amnesia started to kick in. The music from amnesia is imprinted in my head. It’s like know Alfredo’s set from start to finish. I know it. I know what he’s going to play after this song, I know what he’s going to play after that one. I’ve got a few of his tapes from this period. I could copy them. I know it off by heart. He done the same thing, but it worked. Even though he knew what he was playing, it was brilliant.

What was it he did that was different to Carlos?
I think he was a lot more dancey. The house thing was completely different. When you hear something like Frankie Knuckles’ ‘Your Love’. Fucking hell, just the beginning bit, everyone on E. God almighty, everyone use to go mad to that record. It was a mixture of things; being out there; listening the music. And, you’ve gotta remember that a lot of the people out there was working people. I think Ibiza mainly started with the working people.

Amnesia finished quite late didn’t it?
Yeah. We used to finish at three or four o’clock by the time we’d get out it would be four and we’d go down there. It used to go on till 12. That was when the modern Ibiza started, the old Ibiza, which I knew but not a lot did. That’s when it first started hitting the British scene.

Reflecting upon it now, what’s happened subsequently, do you think we ruined it?
Not necessarily. I don’t think it’s the Brit’s fault, I think it’s the Spanish fault for being too greedy. I don’t think you blame the English, they’re gonna want that experience. I think what’s really fucked it up is it’s too damn expensive.

But didn’t they do that intentionally, though to try and cull numbers?
They knew people would take it.

So it’s a double edged sword for you, really, because ’87 kicked it off, but also killed it, too?
Yeah, it is sad in a way. 1994 was the first year I’d not been. I’ve seen it slowly change. In a way, I was part of making that happen, though!

How did the fabled quartet end up coming over then?
What happened was, it was someone’s birthday, not sure whose, I think it was Paul’s Paul had come over earlier in the season, but he didn’t like it and went back. Anyway, he rang us up again and said he wanted to come out and he wanted to bring Nicky, Johnny, Danny. We found them a place to stay. I said, ‘you’ve gotta come over and see the place, it’s going mental!’

Had you told them about Es?
Not to Danny or the others but to Paul.

Were you going back to England at all?
Yeah, backwards and forwards all the time.

So you’d had a chance to see the whole combination working in Ibiza, of house music and drugs?
Down in London there was only a few places playing it, Eddie Richards, Colin Faver and Mark Moore. And Jazzy M was selling it. But over there, yeah, it was kicking off. When they came over, I took them to the bar. And they were like fucking hell, can’t believe this, which I think was more to do with the staleness in the scene at the time. Then we went to Amnesia. Fucking hell! We was all off on there. Danny Rampling skipping round the room and jumping speakers. Chaos. Wish I had pictures, they’d be worth something now.

What was Nicky doing?
I don’t remember seeing Nicky much that night, but Johnny… Johnny was sitting in a speaker. Danny was jumping up and down. Paul was like ‘I can’t fucking believe this, it’s changed since I’ve last been here!’

And you said, ‘Do you wanna try one of these?’
Oh yeah, I’d give them all one at the bar. I didn’t want to say too much, I just said, ‘Try this, it don’t do too much to you’ [laughter]. That was it. Came back and started to do things with Paul.

When you came back didn’t you try and replicate the Ibiza vibe in Streatham?
We was doing that. But it wasn’t the same type of vibe. It was the music. It was okay, but a lot of our crowd there was still out in Ibiza.

So it was starting to work?
Yeah. But it was different still.

How or when did someone bring Es into the UK for the first time?
Straight away. Not from Ibiza, from Holland. I know someone who supplied.

How long did it take you to get something together?
Not long at all. At the time I used to go and see Colin Faver, he was playing at Delirium on a Thursday at Heaven and they were thinking of stopping. They offered us next door, Soundshaft. Spectrum started after Christmas.

How involved were you in Spectrum or was it Paul’s baby?
Nothing to do with Paul. It was Ian St Paul’s club. Ian ran Future as well. Paul was only doing the music side of it.

Where were you?
I was doing music.

Is it true you brought Alfredo over to the Project Club?

How did that go?
It went really well, but it was small, very small. We did it a few times. It wasn’t the same atmosphere as, say, Spectrum or Future. It was more local.

What was the night where there was a decent supply of Es in a club in London?
We’d tried to get in this club and it had fallen through. And we all went up to Babylon something [Thursday night, vague memory on this]. Anyway this guy had a load of Es lined up. But we didn’t have no party lined up so we had to go to someone else’s. It was quite funny seeing these kids like this… I thought, I don’t think London’s ever seen this before! All the gays in the club going, what the fuck?! Heaven was the ideal place for us to start Spectrum and Future, because it was a gay club. We’d mustered up about 250 people from the summer, said we was gonna put on a party, but then it fell through. So instead of putting it off we went to Babylon wotsit. Brilliant night. Everyone dancing funny. What does this look like: fucking hell. The club owner, Paul Churchill, came to us, and we said we wanna do something straight away and the next week we was doing Future. So Thursday became Future and Monday was Spectrum. I worked with Kevin Millins at Rage which opened at the same time.

The story Oakey tells is it wasn’t that good for the first few weeks.
No it wasn’t. It was slow, but then a month later you couldn’t get in there. We had kids coming from everywhere.

How did they find about it?
Word of mouth. You see, all the [Ibiza] workers, they’d come from everywhere: Aberdeen, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds. They’d get people together and they’d come down. At the time we had a lot of northerners. They weren’t all London kids. It grew from a core of about 200 and expanded from there.

Danny said you gave the name for Shoom.
Yeah. There was a friend of mine from Wolverhampton who always used to say it and I picked it up from him.

What was the difference between Shoom and Spectrum?
Smaller and more select. You know Heaven, just trying to get 1500 people through that door on a Monday, you can’t afford to pick and choose. I did like Shoom. I did the first ever one there. That bloody smoke machine! Then Nicky did The Trip and he really took it to the masses then. Saturday night.

Was it easy to find those Balearic tunes?
Well there was a couple of Spanish things that were hard to find, but I got hold of them. There was another James Brown sounding thing Enzo something. That was really hard to find. That’s when Pete Tong came up and asked me to do the Balearic Beats album.

Do you think Alfredo’s something of a forgotten figure in dance music, given what a massive influence he’s had on UK club culture.
I think he is, but it was the Brits that made it happen.

Yes, but Paul Oakenfold lives in a $2.5 mansion in LA and Alfredo is living in obscurity. It’s about context.
No I agree with you. Most people like him never are remembered. To tell you the truth, I thought I was the catalyst for a lot of this stuff. The to-ing and fro-ing and so on. Keeping it going, trying to make it work.

Looking back, what would you describe as the thing you brought?
Well, the reason I went out there in the first place was because I thought it was too stuffy here, the clubs, the people, the music. With Ibiza, it’s changed people’s ideas of clubbing, to certain extremes, admittedly, but it’s changed the way you go out and the way you enjoy yourself.

So what’s the bad thing?
Too many drugs. Out of control. Drugs are for enjoying yourself at the club. It was mad back then, though, I was doing Energy, Sunrise all of those. I was doing five gigs on a Friday, six on a Saturday. I remember going home to see my mum and she said, ‘Trev, you don’t do any of these drugs and play music to these crazed people do you?’ ‘No, come on mum, don’t be so stupid’. Anyway, at that same time there was a news flash and they were talking about acid house and they scanned in on the disc jockey and I’m standing there DJing!

Did she see you?
Course she did!

Did you feel a little bit proud to see all of this happening?
I didn’t really look at it like that, but I was glad to see it there. It was a shame to see Ibiza go the way it did, but then I liked Ibiza the way it was… mixed feelings. I go two or three times to Ibiza each year and I play with Paul at closing party at Pacha which I’ve been doing for the last four years. I do my deep house thing and then he does his trance thing.

What was it like doing those outdoor parties?

What were the more memorable ones?
Sunrise in Oxfordshire. Brilliant. 20,000 people. I’d done about four gigs that night and I got down there and I was coming on at 7.30 in the morning. I remember standing there, with three juggernauts, two with speakers either side of the one in the middle with mixing desks and decks. I went all the way round and I remember that feeling of putting on the first record. I stopped all the music. I put on Kariya’s ‘Let Me Love For Tonight’. You’d think people would be dying at that time in the morning, but everyone just went mental. Brilliant moment. I know how rock stars feel now. Carl Cox was on acid at that thing. I never even realised he did drugs. He was falling all over the place! ‘Carl do you do drugs?!’ Oh my God! There were some bad times, too. When all the gangsters and the serious drugs came into it, it killed it.

There must have been gangsters in it before.
Yeah, but on a different level, though.

How quickly did that creep in?
Didn’t take long. Certain ones were plainly set up with that in mind.

Is it true that some of the ICF were out in Ibiza in the first place, so they were on it in the first place?
Yeah. They were well on it.

Were they fairly benign?
Yeah. I remember I was doing Energy in West London, I think it was, and I’m walking in and there are people going ‘Es, Es, do you want Es?’. Fuck that, it ain’t nice. It’s always gonna happen. I used to get gigs, and there’d be plastic bags full of money on the floor and they’d go: ‘just go and help yourself’. Seriously! Then there’d be other times, and I’d go, ‘Look I need to get off, I’ve got another gig. Just to pick up my money.’ And there’d be a big bouncer there, and he’d pull his jacket aside to show me his gun. And I’d go, ‘Just tell him I need the money, alright?’ That was at Linford Studios. There was this other one I did in Ripon, north of Leeds, big outdoor thing, and I had to do another one in Hull afterwards. I stuck a record on and the promoter came up to me and said, ‘Listen everyone’s turned him down, but we need to put this act on now’ I said, ‘Who is it?’ ‘It’s Orville and Keith Harris’. So I played two records, went to the office collected £700 and drove over to Hull for the next gig!

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton