Full transcript of interview:
GW: So with any further ado, I’d like to introduce you to our first guest tonight. He’s a gentleman who’s been DJing in Manchester since the 70s. He was on the radio; Piccadilly Radio from 1978, to I think it was 1986, he’s still on radio in Manchester today, and he’s one of the greats of radio in this city… Mike Shaft.
GW: As I say Mike, you came onto this scene in the 70s, was the first main club that you were doing, was that Rafters?
Mike Shaft on the decks at Rafters
MS: Rafters it was, it took me ages to get a regular gig in Manchester. I remember going down to Rafters, and they’d advertised for a DJ, I went upstairs into Fagins, it was one club, I don’t know if you knew that, and did a demo, live, with an audience in Fagins, and then the manager said let’s go down to Rafters and talk. We spoke, he said he had three people that he wanted to DJ there regularly, so he wanted to try and work out which was the best. He said he wanted me to do the first night; the other two would do the next two Saturdays. Then half way through the evening he came up and said “I tell you what, I’ll get you to do the last Saturday”, so straight away I thought; I’m in here. I did the last Saturday of the three, he came up and said “I want you to do the gig”. He said “We need a theme tune for you”. So he goes away, comes back with a 7” single on Stax – yellow Stax. The ‘Theme From Shaft’, he says “From now on we’ll call you Mike Shaft!”.
GW: Aah, so it was a given name?
MS: Aye, I was ready!
Rafters (Later The Music Box)
GW: Just for the younger people in the audience, Rafters is the same club that is The Music Box where Electric Chair and Scruff does his nights and stuff, So it’s still a key venue within the whole Manchester scene. So from Rafters, you where involved in, there used to be a club called Pips, behind the cathedral?
MS: Pips, wow!
GW: I mean, I remember this club because there used to be TV adverts on about this club in Manchester, and it had loads of rooms.
MS: Pips came out of the blue. There were two clubs there… Time And Place, and Nice And Easy, 2 clubs. Nice And Easy was the one on Fennel Street, and Time And Place was the one just around the back facing the cathedral. And somebody bought both of them, knocked them into one and created Pips. Nobody knew what Pips was going to be like, except the advert says Number 1 in Europe.
Pips – Fennel Street
MS: Small claim! People used to come in coach parties from all over the country to come to Pips. Now when it first started I wasn’t working there, so I went down with my brother, just as punters. It was fantastic! Four different clubs effectively. Four different rooms, all playing different music. Probably the most popular room was the Roxy Room.
GW: Roxie & Bowie
Pip’s flyer 1979
MS: Aaah, Roxie & Bowie all night long! It was incredible! Upstairs they played commercial soul. Downstairs they played a more funkier sound, and then there was a pop room as well. In the end they asked for DJs in the paper or whatever, I went down, saw the guy, got the job. We didn’t even discuss money. The first time I knew what I got paid for a night was when I got my first pay packet. I’d done two nights that week and there was £12 in the pay packet. Can I tell you this… I used to work for the Post Office in those days, and I got the equivalent of £6 a week! From the Post Office. So you can imagine what it was like getting £12 for doing two nights of something that I absolutely loved doing!
Audience: Sorry, what year was this?
MS: I got no idea!
MS: I got to tell you, this…
GW: This would be about ’75 I would imagine, wouldn’t you say?
MS: I really don’t know the dates. So I’ll have to apologise for that straight away. I don’t remember the dates. There are a couple of dates that I remember quite clearly, starting at Piccadilly, which you mentioned before was in ’78 through to ’86, but outside of that, it’s kind of all blurred into one. So apologies for that!
GW: So, you obviously established yourself at that point. There was a DJ that was presenting a show on Piccadilly Radio, Piccadilly radio started I think, was it 1974?
GW: Andy Peebles, who some of you might have heard of, he went on to do Radio 1, Radio 2. Y’ know, big BBC kind of presenter, but he actually started out, I think he started on BBC Radio Manchester, the BBC station, but then went over to Piccadilly when it opened, and did a show called ‘Soul Train’, which was the first kind of main soul show which started in Manchester, in 1974. Hugely popular, and that run through until 1978 when he moved on… You can take up the story from there. Obviously you’d listened to his show and everything?
MS: I applied to Piccadilly when it first started, never even got an interview. Tuned in I think it was the first Friday night and Andy Peebles is doing the Soul Train, and I knew at that moment that I would never get a show at that station while he was there. Because the show he did was everything. You know, he didn’t play an awful lot of dance music, but he played great Soul music! Which is what I wanted to play. So I just got that in my mind, that it was never going to be Piccadilly. And I’m working at the Post Office at the West Didsbury Post Office, which is now a pizza place, right next to the tennis club. And I open up the Daily Mail one day and it says “Peebles goes to Radio 1”, and I thought right, this is my chance. I said to the boss “Can I take my lunch early?” He said “Yeah”. I went straight to the reception at Piccadilly and asked to see Colin Walters who was the manager at the time. In fact I must just mention… I just this week got an email from Colin Walters. I haven’t heard from him, or seen him for twenty plus years probably! And he sent me an email when Isaac Hayes died, and said “…sorry to hear about the guy who gave you your name passing on”. Anyway, they said Colin wasn’t in so I says “Can I see his assistant?” His secretary, his PA came out, a girl called Gail, who I had lunch with not so long ago, we were talking about this (Electrospective). And I just bent her ear for 45 minutes… “You’ve got to give me this job! I’m the only person that could replace Peebles, I’m the man! I don’t care what anyone else tells you!” In the end she just got so sick.. She said “Send a tape in” I says “Look, I’ve sent tapes in before, he doesn’t listen to them” She says “I’ll make you a deal… Send the tape to me, and I guarantee you he will listen to it! That’s all I can promise”. I said “That’s all I want”. I went away, made a tape with an old mate of mine who’s passed on, a guy called Ronnie North, in the flats in Salford, about a minute from here. We made the tape; it needed editing, I we went to see Pete Smith, who’s another pal of mine, a DJ. He edited it for me, and I sent off 3 copies. I sent one to Radio 1, one to Piccadilly, and one to Radio Merseyside. Two days later I got a letter back from Piccadilly saying “Please phone my secretary for an appointment”. The day after that I got two letters back, one from Radio Merseyside saying “Thanks we are not interested”, and one from Radio 1 saying “Please phone my secretary for an appointment”. It was just awesome! One day I’d have a meeting at Piccadilly, the next day I’d have a meeting at Radio 1, the next day at Piccadilly, the next at Radio 1. Then they started getting me to make demos. Radio 1 demo, Piccadilly demo. In the end Piccadilly stopped calling me. With Radio 1 it continued and I got a job at Radio 1. Now I don’t know how many of us here are old enough to remember the days when Radios 1 and 2, in the evening, would simulcast? That’s what we call it now; they’d have the same programming in the evening. The reason Peebles was brought into Radio 1 was because they were going to split frequencies at night, and Peebles was gonna do a show. And I was gonna do the show following Peebles. It was called ‘Discovatin’. I’m now working at the post office in Wythenshawe [laughter]; my life is a series of Post Office jobs across the city. So, it’s the Thursday before the thing starts on the Saturday, OK, on the Thursday the phone rings, “Mike, it’s for you” It’s the producer, guy called Tony Hale, great guy! He says “Are you sitting down?” I said “It’s not gonna happen is it?” He says “No” I said “Is it anything to do with me?” He said “No” I says “Well that’s OK then”. And it didn’t happen. The reason it didn’t happen was because the unions weren’t happy with the number of people that the BBC wanted to put… to split the two stations. Obviously the unions wanted two sets of staff, the BBC didn’t want that… Big argument, it stopped the whole thing. And on the Saturday night Peebles didn’t go on the air, the Saturday night they continued simulcasting. Let me tell you just a little bit more on this… So that’s the Thursday, I put the phone down and I am absolutely devastated! You can imagine this. Phone rings, “Mike, it’s for you”, Colin Walters from Piccadilly, he says “Mike, we are still interested, you know, why don’t you come and see me tomorrow?” I said “OK, what time? “ We agreed. About 5 o’clock I go to reception at Piccadilly. And Colin comes out to meet me, says “Do you want a drink?” I said “yeah, I’ll have a hot chocolate”. We are walking into his office and he says “When do you want to start? This Sunday OK?” I said “Yeah!” On that Sunday I did my first show for Piccadilly. I’m being a little bitty modest, I’ll tell you this… It was brilliant! [Laughter], it was absolutely brilliant! On the Monday he gave me the call, said he was very happy, will I do the next week? Did my second show on Piccadilly and it was crap! Because I thought I’d arrived, I was the biggest thing since sliced bread. I was terrible! I listened back to it and I was embarrassed! After that I settled down and it was cool. Colin Walters called me in one day, said “We’re really happy with the way things are going we’d like to give you a six month contract.” Absolutely delighted! Got the contract, read it, signed it. Money was crap in those days I have to tell you. A day later, Tony Hale on the phone “…Problems at Radio 1 are resolved. Do you wanna do the show?” I said “I can’t do it; I’ve just signed with Piccadilly.” …It was obvious that Colin Walters knew that the Radio 1 situation had been resolved, and had tied me up at Piccadilly. But I was happy that I was on the air, it didn’t faze me at all, not going to Radio 1.
GW: It was a long tenure and basically, musically, you brought more of a Dance aspect to it?
MS: I had been, and again this is going to sound really immodest, but it’s just the way it was, a massive DJ in Manchester before I ever got on the radio. I used to fill nightclubs all over the place, because I played a specific type of music that really wasn’t available anywhere else. So when I went on the radio I just took that onto the radio.
GW: And what was the music you where playing? Just to fill people in.
MS: The first song I played on Piccadilly, which would be quite embarrassing to admit now, was Dan Hartman ‘Instant Replay’.
GW: Big Disco.
MS: Massive club tune in those days! And loads of things like that. Again I can’t go through all of them because I really don’t remember specifics to be honest. But we changed it very much to a Dance, more Dance thing. I’ll tell you how big I was in Manchester; this is an odd little story, talking to Colin Walters when he was giving me the job. He said “Yeah, we like what you are doing”, he said “We are not happy about the name Mike Shaft though” So I said “What do you want me to do?” He says “We want to change it”. I says “Colin, I’m not changing my name, I’m massive in Manchester, it’s taken me years to get this name, to be respected as somebody who plays this music. If you don’t want to give me the job that’s fine. I’m not changing my name.” And he just laughed it off “Aaahh, don’t worry about it, carry on with Mike Shaft.”
GW: Did you know what he had in mind?
MS: No, no we never discussed any alternative, maybe ‘Mike Superfly’ I suppose. But it just illustrated that because I knew that the people in Manchester knew me as Mike Shaft, it would be totally crazy to give all that up, to start a fresh, so I said no.
Mike Shaft at Tiffanys – Manchester
GW: A question I must ask you about that particular period in time. What was it like being a black DJ on the scene in the 70s? What did you encounter in that aspect?
MS: Oh god, it was difficult at times. In some clubs; “You’re playing too much black music” you know. And one of the saddest nights, man I remember this , every time I think of it as if it was yesterday, my last night at Rafters. Rafters was rockin’! OK, chocca every Friday and Saturday night! And it was about, I would say 75% black, maybe 80% black, the rest white. Not many white guys, lots of black guys, lots of black girls and lots of white girls. I arrive one Saturday night, I drive down Oxford Road, and there’s all these black people on the opposite side, on the, what was then, I think it was, it became Rotters, I can’t remember what it was called at that point. So I drive down Oxford Road and all these black people are lined up on the opposite side of Rafters, and I’m thinking what’s going on? I get out of my car and somebody shouts “They’re not letting us in!” So I go down, talk to the manager; “We think it’s getting too black!” So I said “OK, what do you want me to do?” He says “Play less black music” I says “Well I’m not prepared to do that”. In the end I resigned on the spot and left. But that’s not the best bit of this story. The best bit of this story, I don’t know if, again you’ve got to be old to remember this stuff… It was two glass doors to get into Rafters in those days. Again, I don’t know if you know this, but with fully glass doors the handles are kind of fixed on to the glass. The bouncer is there holding onto the handle, to let people in. Somebody throws a brick from the opposite side of the road, smashes the door, and the bouncer’s left there holding just the handle! [Laughter] It was an incredible night! Very sad night for me, but I couldn’t continue working in there. You know, and left. It didn’t take me very long to get another gig, and people just came to where I was. Rafters went on, still played, you know, John Grant and Colin (Curtis) moved in there some time later, and continued playing a different type of black music. But in some night clubs, in Manchester, in those days, if you played too much black music it was brought to your attention.
Mike Shaft – Black Echoes 1983
GW: You really established yourself to a much wider audience via the radio; it went on until, as I say, 1986, so you saw some changes during that time. You moved from the Disco, Soul, Funk era, into a different era that kind of culminated into Hip Hop, House, Techno. How did you see those changes at the time? How did you view them?
MS: To be absolutely honest, I didn’t like the changes at all! I knew the music that I like, and it’s not changed in 40 years… If anything disappoints me about today, is that there is music that is around today that is as good as ever, but now it doesn’t get played. So that’s where we are. Back then I played exactly what I wanted on the radio. It was my choice. Because I was in the night clubs I would know what people were dancing to, I’d take that on the radio, we’d play it there, that would make it bigger, and it was just a sensational situation. I wasn’t allowed to mention my night clubs on the air… any night club in Manchester. I remember I was doing Angels in Burnley, and I had a massive argument with Colin Walters, about whether Burnley was part of the radio station area. It wasn’t, it was outside of our area. And in the end he says “OK then, you can mention Angels and Burnley, but you can’t mention any of your gigs in Manchester.” But it didn’t matter, because everybody came to the gigs anyway, listened to the radio programme, came to the gigs, taped the radio show and so on. The music changes came and went, but it never changed what I wanted to play. I wasn’t gonna start playing Hip Hop or Rave, or anything like that because I was not interested in it. I was quite happy to have guests on my show who played the music, who reflected the music. You (Greg) came on; you did a couple of years as a guest. Chad Jackson came on as a guest. Colin Curtis came on playing Jazz. Hewan, him playing Jazz. Now I quite liked some of the Jazz they were playing, other stuff I didn’t like. But the show was never about me, the show was about my listeners. And if my listeners where into a bit of Jazz, or ‘Planet Rock’, then that’s fine, I never had a problem with reflecting that, it was never gonna dominate my show. Once my 15 minutes of ‘Planet Rock’ and Afrika Bambaataa went through, then we where back to playing Bobby Womack and Lamont Dozier.
Mike Shaft with Kev Edwards and Greg Wilson
GW: I thought that was always a strong point that you had, that you could separate the show from yourself. Rather than that’s not my particular taste, I’m not gonna do it, that you brought in people, and that really added to, and enhanced the whole appeal of the show.
I was going to ask you about the early 80s, there was a night called the Main Event, which was at Placemate 7, which was a big deal at the time. It was promoted by Piccadilly Radio, and by Blues and Soul. What are your memories of that?
MS: That’s a funny one, I knew nothing of the discussions that had been going on between Blues and Soul and Piccadilly. Got called into, I think it might have been Tony Ingham or somebody who was in the promotions department as this is happening, “We want you to do it, it’s on a Tuesday night”, and that was it, turned up for the first one, absolutely brilliant! I loved it there! I loved the club; I loved the layout of the club. Layout is just so important sometimes. One of the things about Placemate was that it was lots of space, But kind of in small spaces.
Main Event ads ’81 & ’82
GW: It’s called ‘Legends’ now isn’t it?
MS: Is it?
GW: Weirdly enough yeah. Was it on the site of the old Twisted Wheel?
MS: Yeah that’s right, same place.
Twisted Wheel 1967 (Later Placemate 7, now Legends)
MS: So if it wasn’t a massive crowd it still looked good, because we were all in that area, in the central area, and then out on the wings it may have been empty. But first night; chocka! Absolutely brilliant! Great nights! Great PAs! PAs where big things in those days!
GW: PA being a personal appearance… the great thing was that we didn’t have to pay for them did we?
MS: No, record companies brought them up, they wanted to plug their songs. I remember we did a PA at Legends, did Loose Ends in there, not a word of a lie 300 people were locked out. Locked out! The whole of that Street – Princess Street… absolutely chocka! Roadblock!
Loose Ends – Live PA at Legend Night Club
Things I remember about Main Event… Two of the songs, right, and I’ll never forget this, Colin Curtis who is one of my heroes, I have to tell you, he’s here somewhere, he’ll be talking next, I put on ‘Never Too Much’ by Luther Vandross, and Colin Curtis came flying across the room wanting to know what this was. I’ll never forget that! Other songs that I played there first, or very early on, things like D-Train ‘You’re The One For Me’, absolutely massive! And again, it’s kind of interesting to explain this to people who live now and didn’t live then, or don’t remember then. Nowadays you can tune into MTV Base; black music 24 hours a day. You can tune into any number of stations playing this stuff. Radio 1 has their 1xtra channel, playing black music 24 hours a day. Back then those things did not exist. And you heard black music when I played it in Manchester, in a night club, or on the radio, when Les Spaine and Terry Lennaine played it in Liverpool, when the guys in London, Chris Hill in the clubs, Robbie Vincent on the radio. And dotted around the country, where these radio shows which played this, one 3 hour show a week and that was it! You then went to your night club, you heard the songs. Next week you hear some of the same songs and move it on. And that’s how we built up the scene. And it ended up where I remember, you know, people coming over from Bradford saying “We want you to come and do a gig here.” Huddersfield, Videotech in Huddersfield, one of the most incredible night clubs that has ever existed! It was an old cinema OK, and it was just a massive space. Absolutely massive! Upstairs there where bars up there, but the space downstairs was just huge! I can’t remember what night we used to do there but it was massive. I remember they asked me to do the New Year’s party because this thing we had there was so successful. We had a big screen tuned in to BBC television and at midnight it came from Trafalgar Square, or somewhere, and I remember standing on the stage and looking to a massive crowd from Trafalgar Square, OK, going back miles into the screen, and then just panning my eyes down and seeing the crowd in the venue just going on for miles. It was one of the most memorable things I’ve ever had in my life, it was just sensational! So we had some great club nights all over the place.
GW: Just saying about Piccadilly, just to fill you in, at the time it was the biggest commercial radio station outside of London, and Mike’s soul show was part of a trio of Soul shows in this country right at the top echelon of things, along with Robbie Vincent in London and Greg Edwards. So this wasn’t a small pirate radio type situation, this was hitting a wide area in Greater Manchester.
IBA map showing coverage of Piccadilly Radio
MS: I’ll go even further, and people won’t believe this when they know what’s happened to radio now, but back then Piccadilly Radio was the most successful of the radio stations, of the commercial radio stations. Capital, which one would think would be the biggest had access to a lot more audience, because you’ve got 10 million people nearly in London. They couldn’t make it work at all. They had serious financial troubles and it couldn’t get the audience because down there people listened to Radio 1 as their main station. Up here Piccadilly came along, really made a mark, and out-performed Radio 1 in this area. It was unheard of to put it mildly for a local radio station to do that.
Mike Shaft at Piccadilly Radio
GW: Yeah, it was a fantastic station! I mean, when I did my mixes on there, I just know from the exposure from that, the amount of people, all of a sudden, from outside Manchester that were tuning in. I think in many respects that it brought the people from The Haçienda; it brought my name to their attention in a big way, although The Tube had something to do with that as well. electrofunkroots.co.uk/articles/on_the_tube
MS: Oh The Tube!
(Asks audience) Have you seen The Tube thing online?
GW: With my curly hair! (Laughs).
MS: My goodness. We went up in my car to do The Tube. This was a fascinating story this! The Tube was based in Tyne-Tees Television, which is up in Newcastle. So we had Granada here, in Newcastle they had Tyne-Tees. And they said we are going to have no guests on The Tube unless they come to Newcastle. So whereas people in the past would say “Yeah, we’ll do it from London in a studio”, they wouldn’t do that.
So everybody, all the big names went up to Newcastle for this gig on a Friday night, it was fantastic! Greg was asked to come and do his mixing. I’d just launched this magazine called ‘Taking Care Of Business North Of Watford’ which lasted about three issues before it went bust.
GW: A good magazine though!
MS: Great magazine! You had a section in it.
GW: Yeah. That’s why it was good
MS: Now Greg has his mixing unit to take up, and it was about the size of that, to there (points.. it’s big!). Could we fit it in this car? Could we ‘eck as like! So, what we had to do in the end was fold the front seat down, put it in through the boot, right across to the front seat, I’m driving, Greg is sitting on the seat behind me, and we’re going to Newcastle to do The Tube, the coolest programme in the universe. Unbelievable! It was great. It really was.
GW: Yeah, it was.
Mike, Jools Holland and Greg on The Tube
MS: As it says now, that was the first mixing on British television anyway.
GW: It’s funny looking at the footage now because Jools Holland’s asking what a turntable was, I mean it was like literally, we were in the dark ages!
MS: Well, he knew about the drugs.
GW: Yeah he did, the echo and the reverb.
So after Piccadilly, just to round things off, you launched a station in Manchester which should really have been the moment for you when everything came right, you had your ambition, your dream of putting this station together. It went a bit sour in the end, but you certainly managed to get it there, and that was Sunset.
MS: After Piccadilly I went to Radio Manchester, did three I think years at Radio Manchester which was great. I remember how I got the job at Radio Manchester, this won’t take long… They interviewed me on Radio Manchester; Phil Sayer, who’s a very good friend of mine, interviewed me because the government had cancelled this experiment into community radio. And Phil says to me on the air “What are you going to do now?” I says “Well actually I’m gonna talk to your manager, see if he wants me here”, just like that, on the air! I step out of the studio at the end of the interview, the manager’s there, “Come and talk to me”. I started my show on Radio Manchester that Saturday night. Did three years there. In the end, left there to go and do Sunset radio, because we’d won a license. There were I think, about 13 stations across the country, we were the only one in Manchester. But in Stockport there was KFM, and we worked closely with KFM, as closely as you could because we played totally different music styles to be honest. But it was great!
Mike at the Sunset Radio launch party at The Haçienda with Kym Mazelle (Photo by Peter Walsh)
MS: The launching of Sunset was truly the high spot of my life, outside family things. And irrespective of what happened to it, in the end, the memories that I took away from there, and that people took away from what Sunset was, and what it did on the air, is just unbelievable! I always say, I could sit here for two days talking about it, and I still wouldn’t get over what it was like being a part of that. We’ve got Hewan here, Hewan (Clarke) and Anif (Cousins), they both did a show; ‘The Brotherhood’; midnight, Saturday night, absolutely sensational!
Hewan Clarke and Mike at the Sunset Radio launch party at The Haçienda
MS: Dawn Payne, over there, who’s now a BBC producer, she err, I remember getting a letter from Dawn, she said she had opened The Guardian, she was at University at Kingston, had saw that we’d got the station, wrote to me straight away, she came up, she blew me away! Absolutely blew me away with her ideas and her whole attitude, and I gave her a job. We gave jobs to lots of people around Manchester who where, you know, in, at the lower echelon clubs…
GW: From the rave side, the Spinmasters?
MS: Yes! Oh my gosh!
It was just fantastic to be able to bring it all together in one place. And people like, you know, the 1xtras of this world, MTV Bases of this world, they could think they invented the thing, but, Sunset was there before all of them. Sunset lasted three years in the end; of those three years I’d say we had about 18 months when it was good. Then they tried to change it; make it into a Pop music station, because that was how it was going to make money. But there was terrible racism around in those days, you know, people wouldn’t advertise because it was a black radio station, same thing as before. We fought it as long as we could, but in the end it went bust.
GW: Yeah, and they just changed the policy around?
GW: And what happened to it in the end?
MS: Well, the radio authority, as it was then, took the license back, re-advertised it, Galaxy I think was the next, or was it Kiss first? Kiss first, and then Galaxy. It’s the 102 frequency, the one we were on, but it didn’t survive.
By the way, let me just give a free plug here, if you don’t mind… If you are interested in this stuff I’ve got a brilliant website: mikeshaft.com, go there (Laughter). I don’t have much advertising it, so that’s not why I’m selling it. But a lot of these stories; I go into in real depth on there. And as I say to everybody when I tell them about this; what’s on there is my opinion, you know, different people have different memories of things, this is what I remember how it is. So if it aint the way other people remember it, then so be it.
GW: Mike it’s been it’s been fantastic having you with us. You are someone who looms large in my life, I mean you gave me a big break; by putting me on the radio with the mixes. So on a personal level I’d like to thank you very much for everything, and great to have you down here today.
MS: My pleasure!
Mike Shaft’s Electrospective photographs: http://www.mikeshaft.com/08ELECTROSPECTIVE2.html
Electrospective Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/group
© Greg Wilson, 2012