Phoner interview from 2004
Graeme Park is a key name when it comes to the history UK club culture – his residency at The Haçienda, alongside Mike Pickering, when the club was at the peak of its powers, is the stuff of legend.
Back in 2004 I spoke to him about his formative years in Nottingham, playing Electro and Hip Hop at clubs like The Garage and Rock City (also The Leadmill in Sheffield) in the lead up to the House music explosion:
GW: Firstly Graeme, where are you from?
GP: I’m from Aberdeen
GW: Right and what’s your background with regards to music? What were you into when you were growing up?
GP: Pretty much everything really because my mum and dad had broad tastes. My Grandad had his own big band and very broad taste. When I was a young boy I suppose I really got into the Glam Rock stuff and kind of, lot of Disco stuff in the mid 70’s but in 1979 it became Punk. In ‘79 I was 14 which was quite a good age for Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Clash…
GW: Yeah, the perfect age!
GP: I always looked a bit older than I was and was able to sneak in and see… there was a place in Dunfermline called The Kinema Ballroom and I went to see some Punk bands there. Also Richard Jobson was at my school and Stuart Adamson from Big Country. So Punk was my thing.
GW: Ok, you moved to Nottingham to go to Uni, did you?
GP: No, my parents moved to the East Midlands when I was about 16 and I stayed in Scotland to finish school. I wanted to go to college in Edinburgh to be a journalist. To do a radio journalism course but I went there to visit my parents which… I’d never been in England in my life actually and I thought there was a lot going on in Nottingham and Leicester and Birmingham, the whole Midlands thing and then I realised I was only an hour and a half from London and I just spent the whole summer discovering England and collecting records from record shops and going to see bands and then I ended up going to college there. I then ended up working in a record shop because, I was always in there basically and they said , “Look we’re short staffed for now…
GW: That was Selectadisc, was it?
GP: That was Selectadisc in Nottingham and the guy bought a night-club, The Adlib club and changed it’s name to The Garage, and this is in 1984, when being a DJ didn’t have the same kinda kudos that it does now. In fact, DJs would say it was pretty naff in those days. He couldn’t get anyone that he thought was good enough for the job working at a cool trendy club. His benchmark was like The Raw club in London, he wanted, like, a cool club and so he said I employed you cos you’ve got the music, you’re gonna be my DJ. I didn’t get much choice in the matter so I said, “Go on, then”, Then a couple of years of doing the record shop and the club, I had to give up the record shop and concentrate on the DJing and that was the best decision I ever made. Before DJing I should say I was also playing in bands, cos I play sax and I used to play in a variety of bands in Nottingham and East Midlands.
GW: What year did you actually move to Nottingham?
GP: Probably about ‘82/ ’83. ’84 I started DJing so I’d been there a little while before I started DJing.
GW: Were you going out to the clubs in Nottingham at all?
GP: Er yeah, I used to go to these big all-dayers they had in Rock City. Soul and Funk all-dayer.
GP: I used to go to cos I used to love all that stuff. I got booked for the all-dayers at Rock City because of how I played what I played in the club. See most of the DJ’s in those days were on the mic inbetween records, y’know “Let’s make some noise for Lee, he’s in the house!”, y’know “Birmingham posse make some noise!” and I used to hate all that because I’d started listening to Marley Marl tapes from his radio show in New York.
GW: Was this via a guy called Master Scratch?
GP: Probably, yeah
GW: You know who I’m talking about, Master Scratch?
GP: I recognise his name
GW: Cos I heard that he was the person who got all these tapes and sold them…
GP: Yeah, yeah
GW: Black guy, yeah?
GP: Probably, yeah. I used to get tapes of Marley Marl’s show and Tony Humphries’ show. Tony Humphries used to play old Disco records mixed up and Marley Marl used to play Electro and Hip Hop stuff all mixed and I used to think that this was fantastic. Don’t forget in 1984 there was no such thing as House music. It was just, like, y’know Disco, Soul, Funk and Electro which was kind of evolving to become the early Hip Hop stuff, like Big Daddy Kane and Roxanne Shante and everything, plus a lot of the Pop stuff at the time was kinda funk influenced like Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, Lloyd Cole and The Commotions, The Blow Monkeys, all that stuff, so while I was djing, it was a real kind of mish mash of everything, a real eclectic mix which was great cos it kind of just reflected my tastes really. Then I got asked if I would do Rock City cos a lot of people who came to The Garage club used to say to Rock City,” You should get Graeme Park on. He’s pretty good” but they said “Oh no, we can’t have him because he doesn’t use the mic. But one week somebody hadn’t turned up so I got asked if I’d do the kinda 6-8pm slot when it filled up and it was fantastic, it went down really well. So then he started using me early cos I wouldn’t use the mic and then one all-dayer, it was LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Eric B and Rakim and it was full in there but all the DJ’s were like “Urrgh!” DJ’s like Jonathan Woodliffe, Colin Curtis, Edwin Calvin, The Funky Twins, Trevor M. They were all playing the SOS Band and Change and Luther Vandross like, great Funk stuff, great Soul stuff but… Cos everyone was standing round and watching some Hip Hop and I was like, “Excuse me, but I’ve got all of those tunes in my bag, in my box” and they were like “Right you’d better get on, better get on”. I just got on and fucked about with the decks a bit and the place went off, really went off big time, y’know.
GP: As a little side note, I ended up having a bit of a run in with Eric B and Rakim that night cos their big hit was ‘Paid in Full’ which of course used Dennis Edwards’, ‘ Don’t Look Any Further’. You know what Hip Hop’s like, somebody does another idea and it’s quite good and er, in the early ‘80’s loads of people ripped off the same idea, didn’t they? So I had another record in my box that had used the same Dennis Edwards’ bassline but, of course, it was a totally different record, ‘cos there is a kind of unwritten rule that if you were DJing at a gig, you don’t play any records by the artist who is playing, however, because ‘Paid in Full’ was a huge tune, and because it used a Dennis Edwards bassline, and this other record had the same bassline, I thought I’m gonna put this on and the place will go mental, and the place just kicked off! The place went off! It was a massive tune but when I finished my set and Public Enemy were on, I was summoned downstairs to the dressing room by Eric B and Rakim and, Eric B was a big bloke and he was NOT happy and had a real go at me like “You played my record, man”. I said, I didn’t play your record, I played a record the uses the same bassline that you ripped off Dennis Edwards. He said “I don’t rip no fucker off”. I said “ok, ok maybe I used the wrong words with ripped off, you sampled Dennis Edwards and this record did as well. “That was my record”. “No it wasn’t your record”. It got really a bit lairy so then Rakim decides to step in as well and then it got, y’know, people stepping in between me and Eric B. I mean he probably would have battered me but that was a bit of a run-in that showed me how you can be really precious about something that you’d sampled anyway, y’know? Anyway that was quickly sorted out and I was back upstairs. But that was when they said to me, “Right, do you wanna do the next all-dayer? I said “Yeah, but I don’t wanna do 6-8pm”. “Don’t you worry Graeme, we can figure out peak time slot for you”. So I used to go on peak time and get the same response as people on the mic without using the mic, because if you go, “Birmingham posse, make some noise!”, then you know everyone from Birmingham is gonna make some noise, yeah? “All the ladies in the house, make some noise!” Then you get them ladies making some noise, but if you get them all making some noise without using the mic, obviously then it depends on what you are playing and how you’re playing it… cutting up two copies and scratching this and scratching that, and it was just fantastic times really. From then I started doing The Powerhouse in Birmingham, The Place in Stoke-on-Trent and became part of the all-dayer scene. But then about ‘86/’87, the whole kind of Midlands Soul/Funk all-dayer thing had started to kind of really struggle… cos all of this early House music was appearing from Chicago and Detroit, like Keith Nunalley, JM Silk, obviously Steve “Silk” Hurley and early Farley Jackmaster Funk’s, and all those early tracks, and that stuff was just amazing! In fact I recently dug out a few old Acid House tunes recently. They’re just all fantastic tunes! There was more energy in them, it was Disco music with an electronic beat. So I started playing it in little back street places and the whole House thing took over.
GW: Nottingham was seen as an Electro stronghold from ’84 onwards.
GP: Yeah absolutely, I remember there was a youth club in Hyson Green called Hyson Green Boys Club or something. I can’t remember the names of the guys involved but there was a DJ, er… Hyson Green is like a black inner city area of Nottingham and word got round that I was playing all this Electro and early Hip Hop, but then of course the thing that interested the boys from Hyson Green was that they heard that I was cutting up two copies and doing scratching and everything. The Garage where I was playing was seen as a very trendy club, a lot of students went there as well. Lots of people with white socks, Doc Martins and flying jackets, very, kind of, i-D/ Face trendy, not very street or urban at all, well not in the early days anyway. So I get a message that I’m invited to Hyson Green Boys Club to have a face-off with this DJ and I thought, “Fuck it, I’m gonna do it. I think it’s all a load of bollocks this, myself, but I’m gonna have a go”. But nobody wanted to go with me. “No, I’m not gonna go, it’s gonna be a load of black kids, it’ll be horrible”. I was like “I’m sure it’ll be a laugh”. So no-one would go with me. So it literally was lots of attitude, like, what’s this white guy doing playing Hip Hop and saying he can cut up and stuff, and they had this guy who was, like…… He’d go on the decks and do something and I’d have to go on after him and try to do it better. It was one of the few times in my life I’ve done this but it was brilliant because I’d do it and everything I could do this guy could do and everything he could do, I could do. At the start of the night I’m walking through with all my records with all these black kids full of attitude, really kinda giving me grief and at the end of the night, they were all patting me on the back and giving me some ridiculous handshakes and everything. It was just hilarious.
GW: How did you get into cutting and scratching?
GP: Listening to the Marley Marl show and also part of the all-dayers scene, I could go back-stage. So when Mantronix played, for example, instead of going to the front of the satage and watching Tricky P doing his rapping, I could go to the side of the stage and watch Kurtis Mantronik mess about on the decks. Similarly when Kurtis Blow came on and he’d be doing his thing, I’ve forgotten the name of his DJ…
GW: It was Davy DMX
Kurtis Blow & Davy DMX
GP: That’s it. Well he was on the decks and I was just watching him… and then of course… and this is absolutely true, and shows how naïve I was at 21 or 22… Do you remember the Steinski and Mass Media bootlegs, Lessons 1, 2 and 3?
Double Dee & Steinski ‘Lesson 1’: http://youtu.be/eWV5t1SgVj0
Double Dee & Steinski ‘Lesson 2’: http://youtu.be/FQVXS9Hv9J4
Double Dee & Steinski ‘Lesson 3’: http://youtu.be/o7ELB8IG4NI
GP: Well obviously they were as rare as anything but because I was still working at Selectadisc I managed to get a copy, and so I was listening to them at home on one old belt driven turntable, I thought right, I have all the records on there, more or less, and then I went to The Garage Club midweek to practice on the decks, and try to recreate Lessons 1, 2 and 3 on just regular belt driven turn-tables. Unaware, naively so, that Steinski was all edited up, in a studio with half inch tape and a couple of razor blades. But when you can do a reasonably accurate recreation of them… Then I realise that The Garage Club should have direct drive Technics turntables. Don’t forget those early Technics turntables had er… You had to plus and minus the speed by pressing plus, plus, plus, plus, minus, minus…
GW: Yeah, the L.E.D readout decks?
GC: That’s right, so you got it in time. So then when I managed to get them in, much to the annoyance of the club owners, because he couldn’t believe how expensive the decks were. In those days they were even more expensive than they are now. So then I could recreate the Stienski tracks even more faithfully, but still not quite right. So I naively thought that with a bit more practice I’ll eventually be able to do it. I was able to recreate some of the Grand Master Flash stuff, Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel, even though that was edited as well. But then when I found out that all those tunes were actually edited I could not believe it! Then I realised that I must be fairly good, that’s when I decided to give up the record shop and the House music thing took on from there.
GW: So what you are saying is that you are grounded, with regards to DJing, in Electro and Hip Hop?
GC: I suppose so, yeah. When I was working in Selectadisc, because I was the singles buyer as well, I’d be getting ten copies of each, but I could also get imports as well, stuff from New York; Afrika Bambaataa, Jonzun Crew. So I’d get one of each of them, I’d go fuckin’ hell this is really good! I remember the owner of the record shop goin’ “Who’s gonna buy this?” I thought well if I play it in the club people will then want to buy it, that’s how it works, y’know.
GW: So Rock City had a big breakdancing thing going on there with Rock City Crew
GP: The Rock City Crew were the people who used to come into The Garage and then go back and say to Jonathon at Rock City you’ve got to book Graeme Park because of what he’s doing at The Garage and that’s when Jonathon said “No, no, he doesn’t use the mic”. I remember thinking he’d never book me but he kinda gave in in the end.
GW: Jonathon goes back to the Northern Soul days and everything.
CP: Oh absolutely, him and Colin Curtis. With all the Rock City all-dayer scene DJs, I never kind of aspired to do what they did, or was never influenced by them. But I did kinda look up to them, because they were very well respected and had done a lot for the scene. So to be asked to be part of that was a real thrill, but I was determined that I was going to do it differently. That’s just me, that’s my character, you know?
GW: I think we touched on this when we chatted when we met up in Liverpool is that looking at the lineage, looking back at the Electro period, what people don’t understand is that the House scene was a continuation…
GP: Oh absolutely! I’ve just started writing a column for Hard To Find Records, and part of the column is digging out part of their back catalogue stuff, and saying why it’s important to me. With a lot of it, although it might be an Electro record, it’s the start of the House thing, because early House was influenced by European bands like Kraftwerk. A lot of the later Electro stuff like Man Parrish, for example, that was very influenced by European music as well.
GP: Even people like Klein and MBO, you could say that’s early House, you could say it was Electro, you could say it was Funk. In that mid to late 80s period, everything was kinda getting very blurred. See I like that because, y’know, I hate categorising things, I know that sometimes it’s the only way to explain things, to categorise and pidgeonhole, but I really like the fact that in that mid to late 80’s period everything was a big blur. You could argue that Klein and MBO is the only one that springs to mind but there were other acts that you couldn’t define, or you could say were Hip Hop, Electro, Funk, Soul or even early House.
GW: Yeah, I mean, it was just the technological aspect of the music really… going back to ’82 with Planet Rock, that obviously links directly into Kraftwerk, being based around two Kraftwerk tracks.
GP: Exactly! One of the great things about these people was they were really influenced by Kraftwerk, ‘Tour de France’ by Kraftwerk was influenced by all these people who said they were influenced by Kraftwerk. ‘Tour de France’ was an Electro-Pop tune.
GW: Yeah definitely. I think that the glory of it was the fusion of these different elements into black music to create a new form. But like you say, it wasn’t regimental, it varied in it’s style.
GP: But then if you look at something like Marshall Jefferson, one of the early House pioneers, he was into Punk Rock and Progressive Rock.
GW: I think it’s the open-mindedness that takes you to new places…
GW: I would imagine nowadays that, with young people especially, there is a mythology that has built up around the origins of the House scene?
GP: Totally, but I find, cos I’m DJing every single weekend that, I know a lot of peers of mine are playing old tunes again, y’know… harping back to their heyday, I’m still playing current stuff. So I come across people who have no idea where the music that they listen to has come from. For them, talking about people in their late teens, early twenties, perhaps they are not interested, but they’ve got no idea about the history or the heritage that’s lead to today’s tunes. On my radio shows, what I like to do from time to time is I like to play a massive tune that loops up or samples a Disco or old Soul record, and of course there’s loads of them. I then dig out the original. For example Room 5 samples Oliver Cheetham ‘Get Down Saturday Night’ right? So I remember playing that on one of my radio shows a while ago, before the Room 5 song was a hit, I get an email “What’s this version of Room 5 you are playing? Play the original”. And that just shows you. It’s a bit of a generalisation, there are people out there who do know their stuff, I was very impressed at this lad on Wednesday night at The Magnet in Liverpool, who reeled off all these Acid House records, I was like “Ooh, steady on mate, steady on! I’ve got two or three of them, just enjoy the moment, you know”. That’s probably going to the other extreme. There’s a lot of people that don’t realise that clubbing really went through a renaissance in the late 80s, and obviously the Summer of Love 88 was when it all really all exploded and is the root of the current dance scene, but a lot of people don’t realise that before ’88, in the mid 80’s, before House music, it was all a bit of a mish mash and wasn’t as big as it is now, it was more of a kind of underground thing.
GW: This is why I set up this project, Electrofunkroots, because that period of the early to mid 80’s was just not documented and was a predominantly black scene and so…
GP: It was and that’s what I was saying about Rock City and Powerhouse and the Place. That Midland Soul/Funk all-dayer thing was predominantly black. There were a lot of white DJs like Colin Curtis and Jonathan but the audience were predominantly black. But people who’d go to the Garage wouldn’t go to Rock City, people who’d go to Rock City all-dayers wouldn’t go The Garage, but around about 86/87 when all the early House stuff came along, maybe it was because I started playing at both, you start to get that cross-over of people checking out each others scene, and then of course ecstasy came along (laughs). That was the cat amongst the pigeons.
GW: Well definitely. I think up until that point, from a Manchester perspective, I know both Mike Pickering and Laurent Garnier have mentioned that the original Manchester House crowd was predominantly black…
GP: Yeah it was, that’s the thing, when Mike asked me to come and DJ for 3 weeks while he was away on holiday, I said yeah I’d love to but I wanted to come and check it out first. Obviously I knew Mike cos we were doing a very similar thing. I went to The Haçienda, couldn’t believe what I saw because obviously it was three times as big as what I was doing in Nottingham and a real kinda mix, a lot of black faces there. Whereas The Garage in Nottingham was predominantly white, it was only starting to become more mixed. Nowadays its become more people to their place, to their type of music.
GW: Yeah its become segregated again.
GW: Which is sad…
GP: It is. On my radio show, I know radio’s different but on my Key103 show on Saturday in Manchester I do kinda mix it up a bit more. Me and Mike are doing a couple of gigs this year, so maybe we can hopefully make people realise that there’s more to life than one particular style of music. You know, because that was the thing in 88-92 and beyond, I was playing some old Electro records if they still fitted in with the House stuff…
GW: I even saw something recently on a post on the Internet with somebody saying it was great in The Haç in like, the late 80’s hearing Al-Naafiysh by Hashim being played.
GP: Exactly. Also in my early Haçienda days, in 88 and 89, I could still drop in “Rock The Casbah” by The Clash and the more poppy funky rooty dance things that worked. Things like early Human League 12”s. They’d go absolutely mad.
GP: People like Martin Rushent, all he was doing. Listening to things like obscure Disco b-sides and thought I’ll a little mess about with things like that. Same with all the early ABC 12″s ‘Poison Arrow’ – there was all those 12″ remixes about and you are thinking what the hell is this all about? Then you’d play them in a club and realise that it was made for a club. And yet now it’s just people aren’t as open-minded. Maybe they are open-minded in the privacy of their own home but when they go clubbing… y’know, if I play something that’s a bit out of the ordinary or unexpected half of the crowd will go “YEAH!” the other half will go “What you playing this for?” It’s really frustrating…
GW: I think what you’d call the early Acid House period was a really good time, it was really wide open. I remember going to a club in Liverpool called The Underground, a bit after The Haçienda period, but they were still in that first throes of it and I remember things like “Ever So Lonely” by Monsoon being dropped…
GP: Ah that was another one that I used to play at The Garage…
GW: Yeah, it just sounded great hearing it, and then all that went in the ‘90’s. It just became very narrow strands and everything. But when the rave thing exploded that was a point where loads of people were coming onto the scene who previously weren’t into dance music, or certainly weren’t into clubbing and dancing and stuff. I think a lot of those people, who now would probably be in their late 30’s, had little idea of the roots of the scene and where it was coming from and there was this mythology of a group of DJs who went to Ibiza, and this was where…
GP: Oh that’s a load of bollocks, I think that whole “went to Ibiza and are responsible for the whole rave thing”. I mean me and Mike Pickering never went to Ibiza but we had a massive scene. That was just that London thing of “we invented everything”, y’know? I really do think that. I know Paul Oakenfold and Johnny Walker did go to Ibiza, but what they did was just confined to London really.
GW: I think it was more to do with the drugs thing…
GP: Absolutely, don’t forget I was at The Garage in Nottingham with House music, everyone was drinking. There was no ecstasy really. When I went to The Haçienda for the first time and saw 1500 people off their tits on E, that was just mad! Absolutely mad!… absolutely mental! Again I didn’t realise, until I knew… a friend had had one, and then slowly and surely people in Nottingham started doing it as well. Then it spread all over the country, but I do remember getting some of the DJs up north and they just sort of, didn’t go down well at all.
GW: You worked in The Leadmill as well, didn’t you?
GP: Wednesday night at The Leadmill ‘Steamer’ it was called.
GW: What year did you start that?
GP: Oh, that would have been… I was at The Haçienda…
GW: Oh you were already at The Haçienda then?
GP: Yeah I was… no, hang on, I was at The Haçienda at the same time. I started at The Leadmill before that. It was probably about 85/86 possibly, certainly by 87 I was at The Leadmill and then… Cos for a couple of years it was on Wednesdays in Sheffield, Fridays in Manchester and Saturday in Nottingham.
GW: Right so that was the rota of your week?
GP: Yeah, but again the Sheffield Wednesdays at Steamer was a really good eclectic thing because loads of people from Sheffield came to the Garage on Saturdays. The Steamer was sort of geared towards students, but it was a good mish mash. We used to get Winston and Parrot who became The Funky Worm, they came down there as well.
GW: Yeah cos they had a good thing going in Sheffield as well…
GP: They used to do Warehouse parties. Quite often I’d finish at The Garage at 2am in Nottingham, and then by 3.30 I’d be working some sweaty warehouse in Sheffield listening to old Funk. Winston & Parrot loved their old Funk! Mixing it in with all the early House stuff. Great times!
GW: How did you feel when it all started to branch off and you were expected to play one style of music? How did that sit with you?
GP: Well, it just happened that way… at The Haçienda, up until ’96, when I left just before it shut it was still quite a mish-mash, but it was mainly House to be honest. I dunno how that came about, or how I felt about it, it just kind of felt like a natural thing to do really. I think because it started to get really big. I was travelling around the world by then. From like 89 when I first went to Australia with Mike Pickering, the first British DJs out there, from then right up until a few months ago I was spending 3 or 4 months of the year out of the country, and then when you are kind of bigged up so much, you don’t have that luxury of having a residency where you can play with the crowd week-in week-out, introduce stuff over a period of weeks, and drop obscure records, because you know the crowd are with you, if you turn up and play for 10,000 people in Australia for 2 hours you’ve got to make sure that they are happy, so you do a good job to get asked back. That probably has a lot to do with it.
GW: Interesting that you say that because the whole idea of the residency… I was doing a workshop talk to young DJs who were starting out, and hitting on that theme, you know, the idea that at one time you would work with an audience week-in week-out.
GP: Yeah, 8 years I was at The Haçienda, I only had a couple of weeks off a year! If I went abroad and I could get back for Friday or Saturday night at The Haçienda I would. Whereas now I have regular gigs that I do on a monthly, or bi monthly or 6 weekly basis. But generally speaking people don’t have that big residency any more and I think that’s probably got a lot to do with it.
GW: So yeah, I think I’ve covered everything here. Thanks Graeme.
GP: My pleasure.
© Greg Wilson, 2004