Interviewed by Greg Wilson 30.08.08
Image by www.anti-limited.com
Full transcript of interview:
GW: Anyway, as I say, we’re onto the second part of the interviews, and this guy who’s gonna come on now, he’s seen them all come and go, he’s been in Manchester since the 70s, he continues to DJ in Manchester, he is the quintessential Manchester DJ, and his name is Hewan Clarke.
Make yourself comfortable.
HC: I am yes.
GW: Right, firstly, let’s talk about… I think you’re the best person to talk to us about a really influential venue in Manchester that you ended up working at yourself, but it has a history that goes back well before that, particularly with a DJ called Persian, a place called the New Reno, in Moss Side. When did you first go there?
HC: I got into the Reno round about ’85 when I was doing the Gallery. The Gallery would finish about 2 o’clock in the morning, and then the whole club would just get up and move across Manchester to the Reno and carry on til about 6, 7 in the morning.
GW: That’s when you were DJing there?
GW: But did you go there before that?
HC: No, in the days when Persian was DJing there in the 70s therenoclub.com/dj, I was going through my Reggae phase, so I used to go upstairs in the Nile.
GW: The Nile was the more Reggae side?
HC: Yeah, the Nile was sort of more Reggae-ish and downstairs was all the Soul and everything else that Persian was playing, and I wasn’t into Soul at that time. I remember one time going downstairs into the Reno and it was packed and I had no idea what he was playing and I just walked out and went back upstairs and listened to the Reggae. And then it was only after Persian had left and the club had gone through a sort of really quiet period for about 5 years, that I came in about 85 and kicked it off again and took it back up.
GW: Yeah, cos that underpins that whole era from a black perspective, that was there before maybe the black kids were coming into the city centre of Manchester, and it still was until the time it was all knocked down. When did it get knocked down?
HC: I have no idea.
GW: Back end of the 80s?
HC: I have no idea, and like Mike (Shaft) says to you, everything just gel into one for me, if you ask me for dates, I can’t pull dates out, I have no idea!
Hewan Clarke photographed for Black Echoes Magazine May 1983
GW: OK, well from a DJing perspective, can you tell us how and where you started out yourself?
HC: I started out listening to Reggae.
HC: I used to go up to Birmingham with friends and there was a shop in Lozells where we used to buy Reggae 7 inches like Louisa Marks ‘Caught You In A Lie’, and all that sort of stuff. I wasn’t actually DJing then, I was just a collector of music, I just bought what I liked really.
GW: This would be the 70s, obviously
HC: Yes this was the 70s. And then I heard an album from Wilton Felder, a friend played me an album and I was just totally captivated by it. And that was the end of my Reggae phase and the beginning of my Jazz phase, and I’ve been into Jazz ever since then… I mean there’s so much really.
GW: You did Pips as well didn’t you?
HC: Yes, I got into Pips, I went out to all the clubs in Manchester, I was the dancer, I was the club dancer, always on the floor, in the middle of the floor, dancing away there, sweating away. I started off going to the Hard Rock in Stretford listening to Andy Peebles play things like ‘Golden Years’, David Bowie.
GW: So he was actually DJing in that club?
HC: Yeah he was DJing in that club but at the time I didn’t know, my mate told me years later that it was actually Andy Peebles. And from there I moved into town for the first time and started going places like Placemate and Smarties and I also went to Pips. Now when I was in Pips Mike (Shaft) had left, and the guy that was doing the Soul room was a guy called Ian Connor and his DJing name was Johnny Washington, and I became really friendly with him. Basically what happened is whenever he wanted a break, he’d give me a pile of records and say “play these for me”, and that was really how it went on. And then I got to know the manager of the club and he said “OK, you can be our sort of stand-in DJ”, because I think Pips had about 7 different rooms, and they played about 7 different types of music really, and so whenever a DJ phoned in late or couldn’t come in, I would actually do their set. The way Pips operated is that they had a room at the back with little boxes, with all the different music for the rooms.
GW: So they bought their own music in then?
HC: Yeah, so it was just a case of going in that room, picking up the box and playing what was in the box. And I did a lot of work in the Bowie room. There was a DJ there called Ian Bracewell, who I know really well, Steve Bracewell, sorry, and he had a problem, he was epileptic, so every now and then when he was DJing he would have a seizure, so someone would come running going ‘quick, Hewan, get downstairs and start playing’. So I’d be playing Bowie, Roxy, Birthday Party, Kraftwerk, that’s how I got into all that stuff!
GW: So I mean, it’s interesting for a black guy at that point in time, because then it was seen that people should be into this type of music or that type of music and if you were black you were either into Reggae or you were into Soul and Funk.
HC: It wasn’t that I was actually into it, it was just music, and I just played it, and for me the reaction between the audience and the music was more interesting, because at the time there was this kind of robotic dance and all these people that were painted all over the place and hair up here and I’d been used to seeing just black people dance in clubs and then to go to this place and see a whole club full of white people, it was really fantastic, it really was. And so there I was playing to them.
GW: These nights were called Roxy Bowie nights, and within the nights anything alternative, like Kraftwerk, would have been played at Roxy Bowie nights, it was the alternative music, like a lot of the alternative stuff that was being played in the late 70s. It was a huge, massive scene that was going on, separate of course to the Funk side. So how did you move into becoming a Jazz DJ as such?
HC: I’m the reluctant DJ. If anybody would have told me I’d become a DJ, I’d have said, nah. That was the last thing I would have walked into. I wear 2 hearing aids, I’ve got very bad hearing, ever since I was a child I’ve had bad hearing. I’ve got 2 hearing aids and the reason I don’t wear them is because they’re pink. The thing with me and music is that because of my hearing I lose the high end of my hearing, so it means that I can’t hear maybe 90% of the lyrics that I’m playing on the record. So I don’t actually buy music for lyrics, I’m a beat DJ. I buy for the beat, and the bassline, and whatever it is that comes out, irrespective of that is being shouted over the top of it basically. I love Jazz because there was no vocals on most of them, it was mainly instrumentals and stuff like that. I like the fast stuff, the Latin, the Samba, you know the Brazilian type of stuff, that sort of thing. How did I get into being a Jazz DJ? I think that was Colin’s fault really, because meeting up with Colin (Curtis) was a major turning point in my life actually. I remember the first time I was in Placemate and these people came over and they were dancing in the middle of the floor, and we were like, ‘what the hell, what kind of dancing is that?’ It was absolutely brilliant, we’d never seen dancing like that. People were actually down on the floor, we danced upright.
GW: This was where by the way?
HC: This was in Placemate. And then I went over to them and said “where are you guys from, where did you learn to dance like that?” And they said at a club downtown at a place called Rafters. And the following week I walked into Rafters and it was like walking into heaven, it was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. And I remember Colin and John (Grant) was on there, and the music they were playing was right down my street – up-tempo Jazz, mid-tempo Soul, all stuff that was really nice. Out of that, Colin and myself became really good friends actually, and we found out that we had very similar taste in the type of Jazz that we were buying. So I would nick stuff out of his collection and he would nick stuff out of mine, and I want them back! [laughter]. So that’s how it happened really.
GW: When was your first move into DJing with the Jazz?
HC: There was a club that Mike and Colin used to do called Rufus. This was at the other end of the block from where Pips was, downstairs in the basement. Rufus had its heyday, it was brilliant when it was running, and then it kinda like died off. I knew the manager really well, and the Jazz Defektors had formed, we wanted somewhere where we could go and practice dancing, and I think I was in there a Monday or Tuesday nights, they opened the club just for us and anybody else who wanted to come in. What I’d do is I’d play tracks, and then run on the dance floor, dance to it, and then start the next one. That was just what we did. That was basically how I started DJing Jazz really.
GW: And that led on to the whole course of what happened afterwards for you?
HC: Yes, Colin and Mike took me onto the all-dayer scene, and I used to warm up for them. I’d be the first DJ on as people were coming in. It was nerve-wracking, I hate being up there and people looking at you and being the centre of attention and that sort of thing. I think I really hated all of that but I got through it.
Sean Brett & Hewan Clarke at The Ritz All-Dayer September 1982
GW: So wasn’t it the Jazz you were playing when the guys from A Certain Ratio came down?
HC: Yeah, the crowd that usually come in there was mainly a black crowd with maybe 3 or 4 white guys who came in who were into the Jazz dancing. But in the corner of the club there was this group of people. They’d come in every week and just sit there, and every now and again one of them would come over and say ‘excuse me what’s this you’re playing?’ and write it down. Later on at the end of the night after a couple of months coming they came over and introduced themselves to me. This was Martin Moscrop and the rest of them from ACR and said “we’re with a band called A Certain Ratio and we’d really like you to support us on our gig”. They were going to do their British gigs, which was campuses and all that sort of stuff, and I was like, OK, that’d be cool, I’ll have some of that. And so I went off with them on their tour. The person who was driving them around between venues at the time was Anthony Wilson and that was how I got to know him basically.
GW: And you had a shared passion for an American DJ, which one?
HC: Well, we were talking at one point and we got down to the question of who our favourite DJs where, and I said my favourite DJ was Frankie Crocker. Frankie Crocker was the DJ that used to DJ in WBLS in New York in the 70s and 80s. I used to have a cousin that used to send tapes over to me. I thought this guy was the best DJ ever. Tony Wilson listened to him as well, and Tony liked him. He quite simply said to me “Look, in two years time I ‘m gonna open a night club in Manchester and I want you to be the DJ”. And that was how The Haçienda came about, it was that simple, really simple.
GW: So May 82, that was the opening of The Haçienda. Obviously, when it opened, people remember it now because of the rave scene, but at that particular point in time the club wasn’t very well designed for the DJ?
HC: No, it was weird, it was really strange, we, I was stuck in this room by the side of the stage with the lighting guy, I can’t remember his name…
GW: Claude? No he was the video guy.
HC: Yeah Claude was the video guy. Claude was a French guy, he was a really decadent person, he used to fart in the DJ box all the time! [Laughter] You’d be trying to DJ and he’d be like [Paaarrrrrp!] “Eat that one will ya!” in that French accent. Oh, the madness that went on in that room. Claude was a character, I mean I loved him to death, you know, he was a very special person really, you know in his own special way. The things that he did, and the images that he threw out on the screen. He was the first person that introduced me to Divine, and the film Pink Flamingo, and I remember him putting the scene out onto the screen where Devine picked that dog do up off the floor and ate it, and I remember people in the club going “Eeeuuuk! What’s this thing on the screen?” An amazing guy! y’know, but in terms of for the DJ it was horrible.
The Haçienda DJ Booth 1983 (Photo by Hewan Clarke)
GW: Yeah it was, it was detached from the audience.
HC: Very much so! What I used to do when I was playing the records… I always had to go out, run onto the stage, stand in the middle of the stage and listen to how it sounded in the club, went back in and readjust it on the mixer and I was constantly doing that because there was no feedback from what was going on outside, you just had to look through that gap.
GW: That was the other main problem with the club as well…. Was the acoustics, the sound.
HC: The acoustics was terrible! I remember two minutes to opening time they were still painting The Haçienda. They opened the door and let the first punter in and I remember the painter pulled the ladder down and ran into the back with the ladder. They tested the sound system for the first time and they used a classical music track and it sounded tremendous because that sound just sort of like filled the whole of the The Haçienda, it was absolutely brilliant! A really brilliant sound. And I was playing stuff that was current at the time, erm ‘You’re The One For Me’ D Train, cos Tony, Anthony Wilson said to me “I want you to play black music, I want you to play the music that you are playing now in the clubs and the all-dayer scene”. So I came over with the Jonzun Crew and Sharon Redd ‘Can You Handle It’, all that sort of stuff, that was what he wanted. He said “Stick to it”. I’m like “Why do you want me to play that?” and he said “because black music is going to become an essential part in white musical culture in the future” He actually said that to me, he knew that. And I was like I can’t see this happening, but it did, you know. Of course the thing with The Haçienda is that once you start playing music that had that… it just bounced all over the place and it really did my head in!
GW: You ended up becoming like, it was all things to all people, there was so many different kind of types of people within that crowd.
HC: Well yeah because the club that they had before that was The Factory, which was the PSV, which was like an alternative club again because they played Punk there and that sort of stuff, and when they moved from The Factory and came over to The Haçienda, obviously that crowd came across with them thinking they were gonna get the same type of music. And there was I playing music that… I remember somebody wrote a letter saying why did the DJ keep playing music that they play in hair dressers. I was there playing that type of music. I think that was why they hid me in the DJ box, because you could see people walking around… “Where’s the fuckin DJ? Get him to take this music off!” We were hidden behind this screen you know what I mean, and nobody knew where we were so…
GW: So you ended up playing a wide selection of stuff. What kind of stuff would you play on a normal night?
HC: I had this sort of like blending the Sharon Redd, the D Train and that sort of thing with like current Pop, Funk Pop like Thompson Twins, ‘Fascist Groove Thing’.
GW: Heaven 17, Blancmange?
HC: ABC, Blancmange, all that sort of stuff. I’m very much a crowd pleasing DJ. There’s no way I could DJ and have an empty floor. I would try to the end of my life to get people on that dancefloor. Definitely, I can’t DJ to an empty floor. And if I have to go out and buy a Punk record to get them on the floor and then hit them with something else, I actually did that. Howard who was the manager, I was saying “Look Howard, I need to be able to blend some more, some different types of music in here” and Tony was like “No, don’t do that, just keep playing black music, keep playing” you know, but it did my head in!
Haçienda Newsletters 1982 (Click image to enlarge)
GW: It was like a kind of naive thing that they were… I mean a very brave thing I think they were trying to do. They’d been to New York, they’d seen Danceteria, Paradise Garage, and they thought that they could transplant that in Manchester.
The Tube – New York clubbing 1983
GW: But obviously the black crowd didn’t want to go into a venue unless it was the latest black music so…
HC: No, the black crowd were in there, there was a large quantity of them that came in, because I was doing The Gallery and The Reno…
GW: But that was later, that was ’85, rather than the ’82 period?
HC: Yeah, a lot of them were in there, the problem with The Haçienda was the delivery of the music, it wasn’t clear enough for them. These sort of people liked their music big, so that they can hear the bass, the treble, the mid, everything. You couldn’t do that in The Haçienda unless you stood directly in the middle of the dancefloor in The Haçienda you couldn’t really decipher what was going on.
GW: Also it was very much a live venue as well. There was a lot of big acts…
HC: Yeah, we had a lot of live gigs there, I remember seeing people like The Birthday Party, Robert Palmer, Boy George – I chatted to him for ages. Met Madonna, met ‘em all, met William Burroughs…
GW: William Burroughs? Didn’t know that!
HC: Yeah, William Burroughs came. Brought a table in the middle of the stage, and he sat down there and read from a book and the club was packed. People just sat around on the floor with their legs crossed just listening to William Burroughs. www.dangerousminds.net/william_burroughsat_the_hacienda_1982
I had no idea who this man was, you know what I mean, but it was a really good night. They used to have plays in The Haçienda. I remember at one stage they turned the dance floor into a ship, were they brought in props and masts and stuff like that and what they did was they took the audience through the ship and told a story. Oh a lot of wonderful things happened there that wasn’t documented. It wasn’t just a music venue, a lot of things went on in there.
Hacienda All-Dayer July 83
GW: It’s probably well documented now but The Haçienda probably wouldn’t have lasted the first 12 months but for the success of New Order , because they were losing money hand over fist trying to fill that venue.
HC: I didn’t know any of that, I wasn’t told any of that at the time.
GW: Yeah, it was the success of Blue Monday that kind of kept things afloat. They were struggling to keep the venue open.
Hewan Clarke photographed in The Haçienda DJ booth for Mancunian in 1985
GW: In the end you left The Haçienda in ’83 but came back again I think it was in ‘84 for a second period.
HC: Did I?
GW: You did yes.
HC: Alright yeah, yeah I left… I mean the Saturday night in The Haçienda, no problem with the Saturday night. They were packed, I was playing everything; Soul, Funk, Jazz, Indie, Pop, everything, anything I could get my hands on. The Saturday night was OK. It was just sort of like the rest of the nights. Cos I was there Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, I was there 7 nights in the week at the beginning. Tony had me in the beginning, playing all that stuff. I left when the Saturday night went down, and then they asked me to come back. I’ve got a leaflet called ‘Big H returns to the Big H’ and I remember keeping one for my archives.
Big H Returns To The Big H
GW: Mike Pickering at that point, he wasn’t a DJ he was the promotions manager.
HC: He was the booker, he was the one that booked the bands and everything.
GW: How was your relationship with Mike at that point?
HC: My relationship with Mike was fine. I’ve got photographs in my album of Mike in the DJ box with his arms round my girlfriend at the time [Laughter], erm he took a picture of me with my arms around her in the DJ box with the Akwil mixer and everything else. I’ve got loads of pictures from inside The Haçienda.
GW: He (Mike Pickering) made the decision that he wanted to split the nights up a little bit and change things.
HC: Yeah, I was asking for that, I was saying “Look I need help here!” because you know I’m being told one thing by Tony Wilson just play black music, just play the music you are playing out in the clubs and stuff like that. Mike Pickering obviously wasn’t happy with that because it wasn’t working as well as Tony thought it was going to work really. And that was simply because the sound system wasn’t there, you know, when you see what happened when The Haçienda, at the beginning of the rave period, they went out and bought a 6K sound system. If I’d had that it would have been a totally different story altogether.
GW: Well, I worked there myself, so I can completely appreciate everything you are saying, because it was a nightmare. Especially after working a club like Legend where it was designed for the DJ. To go into that environment. It’s like people now will say to me “You used to work at The Haçienda!” because everyone knows about The Haçienda, “What was it like?” It was almost like me saying “Legend was my club. That was the place” I mean The Haçienda at that point in time was still finding its feet. It was very badly designed in terms of DJing. So for me to go across from a Wednesday at Legend, which was just everything set perfect, into that.
There was something funny with the mixer as well, it was high up and everything.
HC: Yeah, it was an Akwil Digitheque mixer, I need to show you the picture… You’ve got the decks here, on two blocks of bricks, then you have this slip window that you looked out of.
GW: And you saw people’s feet.
HC: And the mixer was up here, like this [Laughter], it was weird. They bought the mixer because there was one other club in Paris that had it, and they had it as well. But the thing about the mixer was that it had a crossfade where, if you get the beats lined up just marginally, then you press a button and it shot across.
Akwil Digitheque – original Hacienda mixer 1982-84
GW: Cos I remember then, I was kind of known for mixing, and I was saying to them “Can you bring in another mixer?” and they were like “what? there’s only two of these in the world!” it was just totally impractical for that purpose.
Mancunian 1985 (Click image to enlarge)
GW: So from the Haçienda, obviously you went back there in ’84 and you continued there for a period of time. But then you became known for another club that, again, is a place that has a huge part in the history of Manchester, that we should read more about, that we should know more about, which is The Gallery. Tell me about it there.
HC: How did The Gallery come about? I don’t know how I ended up in The Gallery but I did, it happened at the right time because there was a new sound coming out; the British sort of Street Soul sound.
GW: Like Loose Ends, Cool Notes and stuff?
HC: All that sort of stuff that had just started coming out of London. It was a really big sound and I was playing that in The Gallery and it just really worked. It just caught that generation then, absolutely perfectly. It was a brilliant club, a very, very good club. I mean I had total leeway in that club in terms of what I could play.
GW: Just to clarify, this was very much a black audience, totally different from The Hacienda?
HC: Oh yes, it was very much a black audience. The club was very, very dark. I mean it wasn’t 100% black, it was very mixed.
GW: It was seen, regarded as…
HC: Oh yes it was seen as a black club.
HC: The police used to come in quite often…
GW: That was why it was seen as a black club.
HC: Like ten of them at a time, they’d just walk in and walk right through the middle of the club, walk right across the dance floor, have a look and then just disappear out again, you know. It only ever happens in black clubs, wierd!
I had total control of The Gallery. What I was able to do with The Gallery was sort of like take the audience on a journey you know. Because we developed a happy medium, myself and the audience, over the years of playing to them I knew exactly what they liked and they knew what I was gonna play. One of the things we used to do was a black out; there was always a big tune that was the big tune of the moment, and what I would do was I would build up to that tune, and they were waiting for it, you know just on edge waiting for that tune. And as soon as that tune would hit, everybody would be like “Yeeaahhh!!” a big cheer would go up. And I’d send a little signal over to Omar the manager behind the bar and he would switch all the lights off in the club. The club would go pitch black for about a minute, and we called it the blackout. I used to give a shout out to the Jamaica posse and the whole club would just go wild! Absolutely wicked! Then we’d switch the light back on again, bring it down and then take it back up again. Magical time! It was really good!
GW: The Gallery used to have all-nighters?
HC: Oh yeah, we had all-nighters. We had loads…
GW: What other DJs would play on those nights?
HC: People like Tomlin (McKinley) therenoclub.com/dj , Dr D (aka) Dennis Ward.
Mike, did you ever play at The Gallery? You didn’t you. Did Colin ever play at The Gallery, no. OK.
Erm, Soul Control…
GW: Stu Allan played there as well didn’t he?
GW: The one person missing from that period is Stu Allan, who did Key103, and he followed Mike (Shaft), well Lee Brown came between, and he (Stu Allan) took over in 1986 on Piccadilly Radio. He would have been here tonight but he’s on holiday.
HC: It’s interesting really because the thing about Berlin, remember when I was talking about Pip’s and talking about Steve Bracewell, well when he left Pip’s he ended up in Berlin because Berlin was an alternative club originally, and when I started working at The Haçienda I was still good friends with him, there was a tune I used to play in the Haçienda called ‘Holland Tunnel Dive’.
Implog ‘Holland Tunnel Dive’
GW: Yes, it was on the Haçienda compilation recently.
HC: What I used to do with that was that was always the first tune I used to play. I used to really jack… What I tried to do was I tried to blow the system in The Haçienda, cos I wanted them to buy a new system, I really did. [Laughter] If you’ve ever heard it it’s got the sound of an aeroplane taking off, and I used to jack that up! Really, really loud and it was amazing. Really, the sound that came out of that! And he (Steve Bracewell) liked that and he borrowed it off me one time to play it down at the club (Berlin), and then he said to me “Look, we’ve got a couple of free nights over at Berlin, would you be interested in coming over and doing a night there?” and I was like “Yes!” because me and Colin (Curtis) had discussed beforehand that we wanted somewhere in Manchester to do this thing, and I said to Colin “Look, I’ve got this club Berlin, I want you to come and DJ, I just want to dance” That was how Berlin came through from that. So I’d warm up for him, and there would be people from Anif (Cousins, of Chaper And The Verse), and Kamau (club regular), and the Jazz Defectors and a few others who would get there for dead on 9 o’clock and we’d have an hour of Jazz dancing to ourselves before Colin came down and the main crowd came in.
GW: A real communal kind of thing going on?
HC: Very much so.
GW: Cos I remember that people, specific crowds would come early, because it was a different kind of vibe early on.
GW: So with Berlin, you were there for, it lasted a good few years. Do you remember what Colin (Curtis) was saying about people like Mick Hucknall and those…
HC: Oh yeah I remember them all, I remember Mick Hucknall, he used to live not far from me in Chorlton. Always used to see him walking with his flat cap and his walking stick, and riding his bike.
GW: A lot of people assumed that ‘Money’s Too Tight To Mention’ was an original track and didn’t realise that it was (originally) by The Valentine Brothers. http://youtu.be/LfkJ04tfYs4
HC: No, I mean ‘Money’s Too Tight To Mention’ was something that I think I heard Mike (Shaft) play the first time, we certainly used to play it down at Berlins, and he (Mick Hucknall) used to come to Berlin as well, as well as Gilles Peterson and a lot of others. Gilles Peterson was an interesting character because every time we’d play something he liked he’d run over to the DJ box “who’s this?” and then he’d write it down and then disappear. The Street Soul albums that he actually compiled and released were based on all the tracks that Colin had been playing in Berlin. It wasn’t the London sound; it was very much the Manchester sound actually.
GW: So, you’ve got The Gallery, you’ve got Berlin, you are doing the Reno as well, so that mid 80s period… where you still doing The Haçienda? When did that finish?
HC: I have no idea! [Laughter] Honest to god! I have no idea.
GW: It’s all a blur.
HC: Well the Haçienda was such a special place for me that I never actually left it really.
GW: Did you continue to go there after you’d stopped DJing there?
HC: Yeah I continued to go there, I was always downstairs in the Kim Philby bar. I never went upstairs because the sound just didn’t agree with me basically so I’d stay downstairs in the Kim Philby bar which was more like this size. The sound was more compact, it was a lot clearer.
GW: When did you see at The Haçienda, you know like, that things were starting to become more to the vision of people like Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton of course, and Mike Pickering; of wanting this to be a dance venue. When did you see them start to realise this?
HC: There was a time when they brought a DJ over, a guy called Mark Kamins…
GW: Yep, he was the Danceteria DJ in New York.
Haçienda advert 1984
HC: I never knew that, I have no idea who he was.
GW: He was also Madonna’s boyfriend around that period as well.
HC: Was he?
HC: I had no idea.
GW: Before she moved on to Jellybean (Benitez).
HC: Mike Pickering just said to me “I’m getting a DJ over from New York to do a spot” and I was concerned because the Saturday night was pretty well stitched up. People that were coming in knew what I was gonna play, and I had an idea of what they wanted. And he came on and he played, I don’t know how to describe the music, I think somebody described it as ‘iconic sounding music’ Oh god, it was horrible! It was awful, it was just like so bland, there was no feeling in it whatsoever. I don’t know how to describe the music.
GW: Black music? Dance music?
HC: It was very similar to Peech Boys ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’, that type of hard, industrial type sound, just no feeling to it. It was as if the person that made it had earplugs in, they made it, did it with his eyes closed “That’s my new record, go and play it” you know? There was just nothing on it. And the dance floor stayed empty for the whole of his set, nobody danced, because there was nobody in Manchester playing that type of music. I don’t think any of the DJs that were around in Manchester at that time would have touched that type of music. It just wasn’t spiritual, there was no feeling in it whatsoever. There was nothing in it that you could say oh that was interesting. Just bland beat sound. Good luck to the Americans basically. But it didn’t work and I was pretty annoyed that, the thing was, everybody thought it was me that was playing it because we were upstairs, and they had moved the DJ box onto the balcony at the time. We had darkened smoked glass that we could close at the time, and while he was on the glass would close all the time, and people actually thought it was me. That was playing that type of music. It was horrible.
GW: So they started experimenting then with bringing other DJs in?
HC: Yeah, they brought in a guy who was working over in Leeds called John Tracey. John was a brilliant guy, he was playing Thompson Twins, Simple Minds, that sort of stuff. He was a Soul man, in his heart, every chance he’d get he’d slip a little Soul record in and stuff like that. Me and John actually became good friends, and he actually took part in many of the Soul gigs that I did after The Haçienda. He was a bona fide soul DJ. They (Haçienda management) brought him in, that kind of worked. We started off the Friday night ‘Nude’ night and then I think that was when I got booted out by Mike. And then Mike took over the Nude night and brought Dean (Johnson) in and people like that and started playing like Latin music all night long which didn’t work. And then they started playing House music. It’s interesting because everybody says that the Haçienda started playing House music before everybody else. I was going through my collection last night trying to bring stuff for down here later on, and I actually found a record that I used to play in The Haçienda, it’s called ‘It’s OK’ by The Force and I definitely remember playing it, and I remember it packing the floor and everybody loving this tune. And I put my glasses on and looked at the date and it was 1986! You know, this is like 2 full years before The Haçienda started doing their thing, we were playing House music in The Gallery that early. It’s interesting.
GW: Yeah… Mike was picking up on a lot of the House stuff. Stu Allen was playing it on the radio. Yourself an Colin obviously were playing stuff at The Playpen, & within Berlin.
HC: What we did was we integrated the House with all the other different styles of music. It wasn’t just House music all night long. You know, you’d play four House records, they you’d play your Soul, then your Funk and your Disco, and whatever.
GW: I suppose that’s what The Haçienda did, they kind of brought it to a point where…
HC: That was the point that really killed it for the black audience in Manchester because the black audience definitely took House music off me in The Gallery. Definitely, they were into it, they were moving with it. Because of the tempo of the music, and the energy of the dance that goes with house music, it couldn’t last all night long, and so you’d play like a couple of House records and then you’d break it down. The thing that The Hacienda did was that they played house ALL night long, from 9 o’clock ‘til 2 in the morning. That was when, for me, I felt that the black audience in Manchester just kind of like “well, we’ve had enough of House now, we don’t want to listen to House anymore” and I think that was that period that sort of like killed House music for the black audience in Manchester, so we just went back onto the Jazz and the Funk and the soul and everything, and left The Haçienda to do whatever they wanted to do with the House music.
Foot Patrol at the 8411 Centre, Moss Side Precinct, Manchester 1986
GW: Interestingly, Mike Pickering himself has said that that period before the explosion, when before it had become totally House… I mean, on the Nude night he was playing very much like a black night he was playing different areas.
HC: Very much so.
GW: …and I think it was part of that lineage.
HC: There was a lot of black kids in The Haçienda.
GW: And he says that was his favourite time, and he says that “I think we made a mistake by just going completely House” even though…
HC: Oh, I didn’t know that.
GW: It could have even been in the sleeve notes, but certainly in a recent thing that I’ve read. I’ve heard him say that anyway, you know that in his heart that was the period from just before the gold rush, when the black kids were in there, when the real top dancers were there and everything, and you know that was a special time that was kind of lost when it all, you know it was a different special time afterwards, obviously it’s a historical time, and what happened was it was exported all around the world, and the Haçienda became world renowned. But, like you said, I think that that’s what changed. It changed dance culture in general, everywhere became one style of music, whereas before it had always been a whole remit of music played within the context of one night, and that’s what made it special. And like you said there, an interesting thing about the dancers, because there was so much being put in from a dancing side that you couldn’t maintain that all night. I mean you can maintain it, if you stand there and you know, keep close in, but if its foot moves and you are going down (drops) and all sorts of things going on, it’s impossible, so the music does need to vary round, so yeah, that’s an interesting observation there from the dancing side.
HC: Well I’m a dancer myself, I come from the dance floor, so I instinctively knew what to play to sort of like, when I DJ in a club, I know who the dancers are in a club and I will play for them. And they were the ones who would get on the floor and they would encourage everyone else to start dancing as well.
I mean Colin (Curtis) knows, in Rafters there was a guy called Danny (Henry). Did you used to pay him Colin? I heard you used to pay him.
Colin Curtis: Yeah I used to pay him.
HC: They used to pay Danny to go on the dance floor cos…
Colin Curtis: He’s just making this shit up now! [laughter] He used to get there before I did and start dancing before the music even started.
HC: He was always the first person on the dance floor. There’s a kind of stigma, people would sort of like “OK we’re ready to dance”, they’d all walk towards the dance floor and then stop at that boundary, like “I’m not going to be the first person to step on the dance floor… no you go… no, no you go”. But once they saw somebody on the dance floor already they’d always jump on and just boogie away. And I knew who the dancers were, and I knew what they were dancing to, and I would sort of like programme my music to them. They would get on the floor, pull everybody else on and just take it along there basically.
GW: What did you feel, you know afterwards, the way that dancing went, that it seemed to move increasingly out of the scene or certainly in a visible sense maybe it existed in the kind of parties that you were doing later down the line, or did it? Do you still see people that are involved in dancing to the same kind of level of intensity that was happening back then?
HC: Yes a lot of the music that I played, I played for the women, I tried to get women onto the floor. Basically all I play for, I play for the females.
GW: And that brings the guys anyway.
HC: Yeah that brings the guys in. When I go out and play now, my audience is sort of like 80% black girls, and I’m happy with that. [Laughter] No, because, you have a club full of girls, you have a club full of men.
HC: Men will come in, it just works like that.
GW: But do people put the same type of intensity into the dancing as you were putting in when you…
HC: No because the music has changed over the years, it’s gotten more mellow, it’s more like a kind of head nod, and the audience have gotten older now as well. They can’t do those heavy funky moves that they used to do in their younger days, so they just kind of like one step to the left, one step to the right and that sort of thing. That was Manchester, I mean places like Birmingham, and Rock City in Nottingham, all these other places, I don’t know what was going on there, I suppose they were still dancing pretty hard on the floor there. But Manchester kind of quietened down, mellowed out.
Spinn Inn Records – Kenny passing a record to Hewan Clarke
GW: So you’ve always been involved in the clubs… what you doing now? What’s a general kind of month for you? How often are you out DJing?
HC: I do quite a lot of DJing, I do a lot of parties. People hire clubs and hire me to come and DJ, and erm, kind of boring because I found that people who grew up listening to music in the 80s, because that was the time they were young, and that was the time they had fun, they won’t let go of the 80s. So I get called to DJ and play a lot of the old 80s stuff all the time, you know the Loose Ends and everything else, and I do that with my eyes closed now, I just take a record out, put it on and play it, and they are all dancing next to each other, it’s so easy!
I buy a lot of R&B, but not the kind of R&B that the younger generation listen to, sort of like retro R&B that has a similar sound to the kind of R&B that we used to listen to in the 80s.
GW: So is it an older crowd that you work for generally?
HC: Oh yeah, very much so! My crowd now that comes out is over 25, over 30, I don’t get anybody younger than that. That’s why I can still DJ, because I don’t get any troubles in my club, I don’t get any kids coming in because they do not like the music that I play.
We’ve been doing a lot of Reno revivals as well.
GW: Where are they taking place?
HC: They’ve been taking place in a place called Relish, which is a club actually behind where The Gallery used to be. They are amazing because the people that come out to them went out to night clubs in the 70s. They are in their 50s and 60s. I remember the first Reno Revival that we did I remember walking into the club and there was this grey haired old lady on the middle of the floor and she was doing some moves on the dance floor and everybody was just stood there looking at this old grey haired woman like “where did this woman learn to dance like that?!”. It was unbelievable! These were people who, in their younger teens where going to the Reno from the 50s and 60s and grew up listening to the music that Persian played. It was amazing! That first night was just unbelievable!
GW: And Persian is still doing it?
GW: I’ve seen the website therenoclub.com and it links you into the music of the time, again it’s a great document for people who want to learn a little bit more about what was happening in Manchester , basically going back to a time before many black people came into the city centre.
HC: Well that’s true. I mean we are getting calls now to take the Reno thing… we’re getting calls from Germany, Switzerland, Holland, people that used to go to The Reno in the 60s that are living in foreign countries now, and they want us to come over there and DJ for them. You know, playing to an old set of geriatrics and it’s brilliant! I’m looking forward to it.
GW: And you are on the radio tonight?
HC: Yeah, I’m on at 9 o’clock, 9 ‘til midnight, so…
GW: What station are you doing?
HC: I do a lot of community radio, in Moss Side , we get about maybe 3 or 4 community radios a year , RSLs and they last for about 28 days, and there’s one running at the moment called Peace FM 106.6, www.peacefm.co.uk I think it finishes next week. And they always give me a show on it always complimentary, and I always get the 9 ‘til midnight slot on a Saturday and it’s just brilliant, it’s like my perfect nightclub, I can just play whatever I want.
GW: Brilliant! So are you coming back afterwards between 2 and 3?
HC: Yeah I’m coming back afterwards.
GW: Well, Hewan, always a pleasure! Great to have you with us! Thank you very much!
HC: Thank you.
Hewan Clarke at Band on the Wall 2011 (Photo by Mancky)
MDMA – Moss Side Stories – The hidden history of Moss Side and Hulme club culture 1950 – 1990:
Electrospective Facebook group:
© Greg Wilson, 2012