The 1st UK DJ To Mix Live On TV
Greg Wilson on The Tube – Channel 4, 25th February 1983
In February 1983 I became the first British DJ to mix live on national television, appearing on Channel 4’s ‘The Tube’. At this point in time mixing had yet to make a major impact on the UK club scene, with only a small minority of British DJ’s embracing what was still very much regarded as an American approach. Black Echoes writer Lindsay Wesker listed the main homegrown exponents in his column a couple of months later; “Record Mirror columnist James Hamilton and his Gullivers compatriot Graham Gold, the electronic Greg Wilson, heavyweight show-stopper Froggy, high-speed Ian Levine, simultaneous Steve Aldridge of the Embassy, mega-mixing Alan Coulthard, Paul Armstrong from Monkberry’s, and the deft Peter Römer at Xenon”. It was very much an exclusive club back then and it wasn’t until the emergence of the House scene, later in the decade, that the majority of DJ’s in this country finally made the switch from a microphone based style of presentation to mixing records. Strange as it may sound, for many viewers my appearance on ‘The Tube’ was the first time they’d come across mixing – it was a totally new concept to them.
‘The Tube’ is now fondly remembered as one of the classic British music shows. At the time, like Channel 4 itself, it was new, edgy and often controversial. Its main presenters, Jools Holland and Paula Yates, were destined to become household names and the programme was responsible for breaking a number of acts in the UK, most notably Frankie Goes To Hollywood the following year, with their early support for the single ‘Relax’.
David Joseph, lead singer of one of the top Brit Funk bands, Hi-Tension, having just released his solo debut, ‘You Can’t Hide (Your Love From Me)’, had headed North for personal appearances at my main venues, Wigan Pier and Legend. He’d been booked for a forthcoming ‘Tube’ dance music special and some of the researchers from the programme had come to Manchester to catch his performance at Legend. Blown away by the scene they encountered and suitably impressed by my mixing, I was approached about the possibility of giving a live demonstration on the show nine days later, when the dance edition would be aired. The prospect both thrilled and petrified me – if all went well it would bring me much prestige, but if I messed it up I’d look like an idiot! It wasn’t as though they were recording it for a later transmission, it was a one-shot chance and as soon as the cameras started to roll there’d be no turning back. Being a dance special, I knew that practically every DJ in the country would be tuned in. Nothing like being thrown in at the deep end!
I’d be giving my demonstration in ‘The Tube’s’ Newcastle-Upon-Tyne studio, with my equipment set-up on one of the stages in front of a live audience. They were also doing an outside broadcast from one of London’s top clubs, Camden Palace, where David Joseph would appear. I’d travel up with Piccadilly Radio DJ Mike Shaft, who would be interviewed about his ‘N.O.W’ black music magazine (North Of Watford – which would unfortunately fold after just a few issues). It was on Mike’s show, ‘T.C.O.B’, that my radio mixes were featured. We were to represent the North, whilst the Southern flag would be flown by Chris Hill, who they’d filmed at his famous Canvey Island ‘Goldmine’ stronghold, and a new cassette based magazine that had recently been launched called ‘S.O.S’ (Soul On Sound).
They wanted me to do a live ‘turntable mix’ of the David Joseph track, which I’d been doubling-up at Legend on the night of the PA. I also brought my Revox B77 reel-to-reel along so I could add some Dub type echo effects. The idea was that as soon as I’d done my bit they’d switch direct to the Camden Palace where David Joseph would be up on stage with his band, ready to perform. He must have thought he’d hit the jackpot, getting so much exposure on one show. It certainly helped the record take off in a big way, hitting the top 20 in within a matter of weeks.
Friday tea-time February 25th and my head was wrecked as I stood waiting on the stage with Jools Holland and Shafty. When I heard the words “on air in 10 seconds” and the voice began a steady monotone countdown, I was drenched with fear! What particularly fazed me was that my records were both cued up on the decks and everything was set to go, but a cameraman (with a hand held) kept moving perilously close to my equipment. I was sure that at any second he was going to bump the decks, jumping the needles, and I was beginning to anticipate my worst nightmare. Before I knew it the interviews had begun, first Mike then me. I could barely concentrate on the questions I was asked, my eyes were continually darting down towards my decks and that dreaded cameraman. Then Jools gave me the go-ahead to start mixing, and my moment had finally arrived.
Thankfully, the disaster didn’t happen and it all went to plan. Once I was on the decks I felt fine, the panic lifted and I was back in control of the situation. The cameraman did manage to bang into the decks; Jools and Shafty, who were commentating on what I was doing, saw this happen and mentioned the fact. It was quite a bump too, but the records didn’t jump. God bless the SL-1200Mk2, no wonder it’s the Daddy of all turntables. Sturdy as fuck!
That night, on returning from Newcastle for my Friday session at The Exit in Manchester, I was greeted like a conquering hero, and throughout the coming weeks I lost count of the amount of people who shook my hand and congratulated me. My performance on ‘The Tube’ also brought me credibility outside of the black music scene. Anyone worth their salt in the DJ world, specialist or secular, who hadn’t heard of me up until that point, most certainly had now, and all of a sudden mine was a name on everyone’s lips.
In Manchester, white kids from the Factory side of town (and regular ‘Tube’ viewers) would begin to tune into my radio mixes – my appearance on TV undoubtedly exposed a previously unconnected scene in their city that many people had been, until that point, completely unaware of. Their idols, Manc Indie-gods, New Order, were about enter the dance arena, unleashing the most successful 12” single of all-time, the mighty ‘Blue Monday’, which, as frontman Bernard Sumner pointed out, based its arrangement on one of the biggest Legend tunes of ‘82, Klein & MBO’s ‘Dirty Talk’. An Electronic-Indie-Disco fusion, ‘Blue Monday’ was a truly world-class record and, from this moment on, the Manchester music scene would never look back as the first seeds of a black / white fusion began to take root. Within 6 months I’d be invited to launch my own weekly dance night on Fridays at Factory’s now legendary venue, The Haçienda, then a haunt for students and Indie kids, but with aspirations of also attracting the type of audience that came to Legend in its attempt to emulate the vibe of New York venues like Danceteria and the Paradise Garage. It was a slow process, and would take a number of years before these ambitions were realised, but eventually, as we now know, The Haçienda would take its place as one of the most famous dance clubs in the world.
Looking back on my bubbled-permed self of a quarter of a century ago I’m transported to another time and place, when the dance music scene was still very much a specialist domain, existing away from the mainstream glare, and with the black kids, so much marginalised in British society back then, right at the cutting-edge. ‘The Tube’ was a big deal because it highlighted our scene in a way that rarely happened outside the black music media, giving it acknowledgement and respect, even if it didn’t fully understand the nuances of what it was about. The fact that Jools Holland asked me to point out what a turntable was, because some of their viewers might not know (the commonly used name back then being a record player), illustrates the chasm between the early and late 80’s, with regards to how DJ culture in this country was generally understood.
Later that year I articulated my views on how I thought things might develop in a one-off article I wrote for the then fledgling publication, Mixmag (first issue – Feb ’83), under the title of ‘The DJ Of A New Breed’. I could see the writing on the wall, believing that a shift towards a more New York based approach to deejaying, with mixing coming increasingly to the fore, was now inevitable.
By the end of the decade, the black music scene had spawned the all-conquering trinity of Hip Hop, House and Techno, and a DJ that didn’t mix was soon dismissed as a relic from the past, someone who’d failed to move with the changing times and, as such, had no relevance to a new generation of dance music enthusiasts, no longer regarded as an underground minority, to whom mixing was absolutely essential.
By this point I’d left my DJ career far behind me, having hung up my headphones 10 months after my ‘Tube’ appearance. Down the years I’d be frequently reminded of the impact my mixing demonstration had had on some of those who had tuned in that February Friday, both people who would go on to become mix DJ’s themselves later down the line, along with those who were already working behind the decks, but had never seriously considered amending their own approach to make mixing more of a feature – some, eventually, discarding the microphone completely and, as a consequence, able to ride the coming wind of change rather than falling by the wayside, as so many of the old DJ fraternity would.
Although I wasn’t there to personally benefit from the new found status afforded to British DJ’s post-Rave, it was good to know that I’d played my part in helping pave the way. I must admit that it was greatly frustrating that so many people believed that what was going on during the late 80’s was something totally new when, in reality, it was a direct continuation of what had been happening on an underground level earlier in the decade (which, in turn, links back to the years before that – it’s all part of a long heritage). Ecstasy was the catalyst for dance music and its accompanying DJ culture to reach the British masses, but without the foundations already being in place, it could never have exploded in the way that it did when it did.
The fact that such an influential programme as ‘The Tube’ was focusing on the emerging dance music scene in Britain five years before the big bang of Acid House, provides a perfect illustration of just how much this crucial period in the evolution of UK dance culture has been, at best, obscured, whilst regrettably for anyone wishing to unearth its true roots, at worst, totally ignored.
The Tube Receipt Feb 83 (Click image to enlarge)
© Greg Wilson, February 2008