Interview by Henry Greenwood
If you want a lesson on how to achieve ‘legendary’ status with minimum contrivance, you would do well to follow Greg Wilson’s model. Hailing from New Brighton (a few miles from my hometown of Heswall), he was already an accomplished and respected DJ when he retired from spinning in 1984, still in his early twenties. He then took twenty years out to pursue other projects, some of which are described below. In 2003 he made a triumphant return to the circuit, and started forging a new legacy with a landmark compilation/retrospective, Credit To The Edit, and an instantly classic Essential Mix.
I spoke to Greg just before the relaunch of his pet project, electrofunkroots, and given his reputation for being an affable and generous interviewee, I was prepared for a rewarding half-hour at the most. Two and a half hours later, I’d had a valuable history lesson, received some vital advice, and had a fantastic insight into the mind of a much-loved and revered DJ, and his views on club culture, past, present and future. Make some tea, it’s a nice long chat.
HG: 2011 was another busy year for you: hectic gig schedule, music releases, big one-offs like the Vintage festival, as well as keeping on top of communicating with the people who follow you. Not that you have anything to prove at this stage in your career, but is there anything still on the “to do” list for 2012?
GW: To be honest, I think I have got something to prove. When I stopped DJing for all those years, the reason I stopped in the first place was to move towards production. Although I did do some stuff that I’m really pleased to have been involved with, there’s certainly unfinished business in there. It got to a point around the middle of the 90s where everything ground to a halt and I could no longer really be creative, because to be creative needed finance, which was the way it was: if you wanted to go and record you had to get into a studio. It wasn’t like now where you can just do stuff on your computer. So, that was a difficult time and it seemed that I’d lost all the momentum that I’d built up since I was originally a DJ in the early 80s, and working on some of the first British electronic dance tracks, and then finding my way to Ruthless Rap Assassins, and having a great time there doing two albums which I hold very dear because they also document a moment in time from the black perspective in Manchester during that crucial period.
Ruthless Rap Assassins ‘Killer Album’ / ‘Think, It Ain’t Legal Yet’
Through those albums, the fact they exist, even though it was a difficult time because a lot of other things had got in the way of the actual music and getting that music out to people. Following on from that, it was a downward spiral, things came to an abrupt end, in a sense, and a lot of work that I’d done never came to fruition. That was one of the hard things, and one of the reasons why I’m all for this principle of sharing, because I’ve been on the other side of that coin. I did a lot of music for a project called Mind, Body & Soul, stuff that I was co-writing, and it never saw the light of day. We spent so much time working on this, getting demos recorded, and nobody got to hear it apart from the people around us. It never got out there and that’s really demoralising, that what you are putting your heart and soul into, it just got stifled at its source, in a sense. So yeah, there’s definitely an aspect of unfinished business there.
And away from the idea of making music, as well, just the things that I’m doing in terms of the documentation. I’m just about to update the website electrofunkroots, which needed updating as it underpins everything that I’ve been about. That brought me back into play, hooked me up with the internet and hooked me up with people initially, got people asking me to DJ again. With the whirlwind that’s happened since to me, it’s always been maintained but not to the level it should. Anyway, this month we’re gonna relaunch that site with loads of new content, a complete redesign. It’s great, to finally be able to get that back up to date and I think that will spur a fresh impetus. One of the things that I’ve realised in these past few months, is that I can fall into the trap of still thinking that I’m new back to this. At this point in time I’ve been deejaying for as long as I did originally, if you see what I mean?
HG: Yes, I was going to come to this actually, I thought it must be sometime around now that you’d hit that benchmark.
GW: Yeah, literally almost to the week. I look at the first period, even though I did a little bit here and there afterwards over time, viewing myself as a professional DJ, somebody who does this for my living…originally that period was December ’75 to December of ’83, and this time around it was December 2003 up to December 2011 you’ve got the same cycle again. So yeah, at this point I’m almost in a third phase, in essence. I’m no longer new back to this, I’ve established what I’m about, I know what I’m doing here and I know my place in things, and I think I know now what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at. You just get a better balance of yourself, maybe some of this comes with age as well. There’s just so much to do – I spend my time wishing I had more time to do the stuff that I want to do, and part of that now is the necessity for some level of delegation, bringing other people in and trusting them to do things that will save you the time and allow you to do what you need to be doing. From the club side, cutting back slightly on the amount of gigs that I’m doing, not massively but just giving myself the breaks that I need to approach other stuff, be it doing remixes or writing or whatever. I’m trying to get everything to a more manageable level that I can fit everything in that I feel is important for what I want to do.
HG: Will delegating the day-to-day stuff mean you’re free to branch out into some new areas, maybe other media like with the Reels of Steel project?
GW: Reels of Steel is really just coming to fruition now, it’s going to be this year that it jumps up a level. That allows me to bring a visual aspect into it which is a thing in itself, you could take it out to a festival. It’s something I’ve been developing, I’ve tried it out, I know what works and how we need to approach it, so all this is at the finishing stages. I’m looking to plan events throughout the year which I’ll let people know about in due course. I’m really excited about that because at this point I’m trying to see how everything links together, the blog, the DJ work, Reels of Steel, plus hopefully a record label. Actually, I think “record label” is the wrong description, it’s more like a production company because I think that the business has changed so radically now, the way people consume music in this day and age is just a world apart from what it was. A “record label” isn’t really what that is now, it’s just making music and getting it to people and hopefully, people reacting to that. I’m not even looking on it as some big business idea, as I’m content financially from what I make (as a DJ). It’s great, I mean again, having seen it from the other side, I’ve been so skint in my life and so struggling – I’m not one of these people who just wants more and more and more. I think that’s the kind of thing in the world that’s just gone wrong, in terms of what’s bringing the world down; the greed, people just want so much, and they can’t even spend that money. It just becomes a drug in itself. The financial aspect is not my motivation, and never has been. So, if at this time I can afford to put a bit of money towards getting something else going, I’ll do that.
HG: You’ve mentioned the importance of sharing, and you take a lot of care to communicate with the people who follow what you’re doing. It seems important to you that there’s that two-way communication and you also seem keen to give credit where it’s due to the producers and the re-editors who make the edits you play (I’m one of many people whose career has been given a boost by a Greg Wilson endorsement). What’s your thinking behind that supportive role?
GW: Well, it is a community, and that’s what it’s all about. We should respect each other in that way, even though some people don’t agree. When I go back to the time when I was working in the black music scene in the early 80s, and the community of people there, and the politics that go on in that community…I came in for a lot of stick for playing the Electro music in what was previously a Jazz-Funk scene. A lot of the old-school opinion was that the music I was playing was going to corrupt this scene and ruin it. It was difficult for me because I wanted the respect of my peers and a pat on the back, but there were political situations with certain people, which have been documented. We fundamentally disagreed on certain things, but I never disrespected their opinion because I knew that they, just as I did, loved black music. They were thinking that they were doing the right thing, they were only trying to do their best for the overall scene, and that’s what I mean by “community”. Those same people eventually realised that it wasn’t this thing that was going to wreck everything. In fact, what it did was revitalise things and help get it out of the apathy that it was perhaps starting to sink into.
HG: Given how you faced resistance from the Jazz-Funk crowd when you started playing Electro, did you ever find yourself resisting House or any of the later forms that came along?
GW: I was out of the game by the time House came along, I stopped at the end of ’83, and the first proto-House stuff didn’t come along until around ’84, ’85, ’86, just before it really picked up momentum. House music on the black music scene was played almost as another form of Electro, before the term “House”, not just in Manchester but in Nottingham and Birmingham, the big towns and cities across the north and midlands. It was played alongside the Electro and the Street Soul and whatever else was being played at that time. In Manchester, it was the black kids who were the first out of the blocks when it came to House, and it wasn’t like they just discovered this new thing, it was a natural part of the ongoing discovery of black music that had been pioneered back in the 60s with people importing black music from America into this country. When I was at Legend at Wigan Pier in the early 80s, maybe 90% of the records I was playing were American imports that weren’t available in the UK. That’s how upfront the scene was. To get to that level of upfront-ness, you can’t do it on your own, you’re part of a history and a tradition, and this is where the respect comes from.
A lot of the driving force in terms of the way I document things is me wanting to look back at the people that opened it up for DJs like myself to be able to do this. They worked and cultivated the roots of this, so my constant battle is to try to draw people’s attention to what actually happened in this country with regard to specialist dance/black music and where it came from and how little that had to do – actually, it didn’t have anything to do – with what happened in Ibiza in ’87, ’88. Ibiza was an important thing for another reason, because it brought a spirit and a drug. Musically, House music, which is so often mistaken as something that comes out of that Ibiza thing, was very much already within the the music scene, albeit in the black music clubs in the north. In the south, less so because there was a different dynamic at the time because the Rare Groove scene had really picked up. Where the early House tracks were being played in the south was probably more on the gay side, but this predates the whole Ibiza thing, and that’s what I’m always trying to say, to know the future, you’ve go to know the past. If the past you know is an incorrect past, you can never know the future. Whereas if you can understand the lineage…if we really want to take this lineage right back you can go back to the fifties, probably even into the forties, with individuals who had a belief and genuine love for black music. Black music was dance music. So yeah, reconnecting with that to find the proper lineage and people can then understand that things are very interconnected.
HG: I think the realisation comes with a certain age, as a dance music fan, that it was actually a more organic progression than perhaps you’ve been led to believe. It was a logical musical progression rather than this big revelatory moment.
GW: The black crowd were already a dance crowd, and for a lot of people, Acid House culture was about coming onto the dancefloor, embracing the dance. They hadn’t done that before, so this “year zero” thing came from from a lot of places. Guys were generally only going on a dancefloor if they wanted to move in on a girl, apart from in specialist scenes. Generally speaking, in your normal clubs up and down the country, this was the way it was. This is a great example that I find myself repeating so often it’s almost a cliché: A Guy Called Gerald’s Voodoo Ray is an absolutely iconic track of that era, and I think that most people assume that this guy called Gerald walks into this club called the Hacienda and hears this amazing House music, goes home, and writes a House track. Whereas the influence is actually the opposite. The influence is Gerald and his contemporaries bringing this music into that club in the first place. If you listen to Voodoo Ray, what you can hear in that is not a conventional House track. You can also hear the Electro influence, the Jazz-Funk influence, certainly, so it’s a fusion track. It’s a track by a guy, previous to ever having gone to The Haçienda, had been into jazz fusion, had been dancing to Electro, had been a DJ for MC Tunes with the Scratch Beatmasters. He was a well-established face on the scene before there ever was a Voodoo Ray. Once you understand this, you can then see how the history unfolds, right back to the fifties and even the forties, starting with when the American GIs started coming over here.
A Guy Called Gerald ‘Voodoo Ray’ 12″ sleeve
So, the people that reported on the Acid House scene, those same kids who previously weren’t into dance music then became experts in a few weeks, they were starting to write about dance music and their opinions were starting to come to the fore. I started to see how, within that story, the black scene wasn’t mentioned. That wasn’t their scene, they hadn’t been involved. They’d been going to live music venues and watching four-piece indie bands sounding like Joy Division. They had no concept of this history, so they just wrote their own story. The whole Ibiza thing seemed to be the easy starting point for everyone. These DJs went to Ibiza, and they came back, and “Hallelujah! Look what we’ve got now…”.
HG: Speaking of Ibiza, you had a big gig there at Space last summer. How was it playing in that environment?
GW: It was great, this year was a really interesting one. It’s funny with me and Ibiza, I’ve had some good gigs over there, but I’ve also had a few where you’re stuck in a side room and it’s just not the right environment. It’s a hard one because Ibiza is Ibiza – it’s this British holiday destination that’s part of a tradition. I feel it’s like when my parents went to Blackpool when they were younger, and Ibiza is like the modern day Blackpool, where the mainstream crowd goes. There are the places, if you go off the beaten track, where you can still get that Balearic spirit. I was amazed the way that it all went one way with Ibiza. I remember once walking past Cafe Del Mar at about 7 o’clock in the evening. This place is connecting with the whole Balearic thing and the sunset and everything…there was a few people there having coffees outside, and there’s a young DJ just banging it out, boom boom boom, just completely out of context.
HG: That’s a familiar scenario!
GW: It’s lost some of its true essence, but going there this year was really interesting. I was aware I’d be there on the terrace at Space, with a big crowd who weren’t really used to the kind of tempo I play, put it that way. I knew I was going to drop it down, that’s what I do, I can’t be something I’m not. The people who put me on at that time put me on for a reason, so I do my thing. I think when I first came on, maybe there was a slight sense of “ooooh…are we alright with going a bit slower now?”, but people went with it and it was a really great vibe. In fact, Mark who does We Love.. had it down as one of his gigs of the whole season, he was absolutely raving about it. It shows us that we’re at a slightly different point in time, and I think things in general now are changing. The music is slowing down a little bit and people are realising it doesn’t have to be 100 miles an hour all the time. I remember talking to a DJ in the early nineties, there was a really great downtempo track around, I’m not sure what it was, maybe something like Loaded by Primal Scream. I asked him if he was playing it, and he said he couldn’t because it was too slow. I’m thinking, “That’s crazy because that is a great great groove track”, and by that token, if you want to say that, you can wipe out most of James Brown’s catalogue of dance music classics, which a lot of contemporary music is built on. I think people started latching onto the beats rather than the grooves, and the faster it was, the safer they felt within that. Slow it down a bit and it gets a bit wobbly, and I think “Am I alright here?”, and I think that’s changing. It’s a necessary change, sometimes tempos and vibes need to change, not just in music but in life in general.
GW with Jaymo & Andy at Space Ibiza 2011
HG: You cover a lot of tempos in your sets, starting somewhere around 100 bpm and reaching up to 126 or higher – I would imagine some younger DJs are learning a thing or two from you about building a crowd, especially if you can do that from such a downtempo starting point. People will get taken away with it eventually, won’t they?
GW: That’s it. Sometimes you get people coming up (and asking for faster music), but it’s like, “stay with it, it’ll go there”. That is what it’s about, and people get it: I go all over the world and don’t change my style, and you get the same vibe. I go downbeat and bring it up, and people get it. It’s great, and that’s what it was always about. Going back, you used to do that a number of times during a night. You didn’t start downtempo and keep building all night to a peak, you actually finished the night off on a more groove-based vibe. It wasn’t like with Rave where you bang it till you gonna explode and then it’s over. It even goes back to when I was playing in “normal” clubs in my hometown, you always finished with slowies, because the guys got together with the girls. You did that twice in the night, say if the club was open till two, you did one around one o’clock to give people a chance to meet each other and maybe buy a drink. This was the way it was in clubs, and then at the end you did it a second time to finish off the night. I always think of David Mancuso and his whole philosophy and his re-entry thing at the end. The re-entry thing was all about calming them down – let’s get people all mad and crazy, but let’s put them back on the street in a state which is more calm and more fulfilled, rather than throw them out when they’re at their peak and their bouncing down the street!
For us it was a natural thing, people went to clubs as a social thing, and back then that whole boy-girl thing was more pronounced. That’s another “old” thing that people notice with the way I work, it’s an old-school way – playing for the girls, because the girls would go on the dancefloor first and the guys followed. If you didn’t have girls in a club, there’d be no guys. So if you could get the girls, that would bring the whole thing together. Maybe there’s still a part of me doing that, and, things like vocal tracks, which girls seem to enjoy. That’s a generalisation, but even with the House thing, there was a lot of instrumental stuff and you could see the split where there was a more male-dominated side of it, and the girls liked the more vocal aspects of it. Plus, I like those aspects too! What I’m doing is really just bringing the old way up to date.
HG: Occasionally you slip in some relatively recent tracks. How far into the last twenty years are you willing to delve?
GW: I’ll play anything, I don’t care when it’s from, as long as it fits into the vibe of what I’m doing. I’d love to play more contemporary tracks but it’s got to be right. Somebody sent me something the other day, it’s a really good track and I know loads of other DJs will play it, but I just know that it doesn’t quite fit in with what I’m doing. It’s hard to explain what that criteria is, it’s a feel thing. Sometimes I’ll play things that people are quite surprised that I picked up on. It doesn’t matter if it was released two years ago or thirty years ago, if it works for me and it’s right for me, I’ll do it. It’s like that Paula Cole track, Feelin’ Love, the Psychemagik version. They just did a great job and I think the original’s a really nice track but they’ve just taken it somewhere else, and it’s fantastic.
HG: I’ve been trying to pin down the criteria for the music you play, and I’m tentatively suggesting that a good song/strong vocal is important. Even if the voice might not appear in the version that you play, the legacy of strong songs seems to inform a lot of what you play.
GW: Well, yeah, but I play a lot of instrumental stuff too, I don’t think of it in those terms, but I think if it’s a great song it can take things to another level. There’s nothing like the human voice as an instrument. It’s so wide in what it can do. I grew up with a love of songs, and I’ve been thinking about this more now, that idea that when you’re younger, before you pick out the lyrics, you’re just hearing the overall sound of where the voice is and where it’s bedded in. The other day I was listening to the Stone Roses album again, and the tonal quality of his voice, and how it just sits in to that overall soundscape. Even if you don’t even listen to the lyrics, the sound is so right. That’s a wonderful thing, songs can do special spiritual things, they can change how you feel. The human voice is like a direct contact.
HG: You’ve got the famous trademark of the Revox reel-to-reel machine that you use in your sets, which is a great way of embellishing the music and a great visual prop. What I love about it is the fact it gives a genuinely vintage sound that you couldn’t get from a digital sampler. Your productions have a vintage warmth to them, so do you ever turn to it in the studio?
GW: Yeah, now and again. I originally used it in the studio. The way I use it now isn’t linked to when I was previously a DJ, it’s linked to when I wasn’t a DJ. I’d bought the Revox to edit mixes for the radio, and that’s when I learnt to edit. I’d record the mix and then cut it up. When I stopped deejaying and was working on recording projects, I loved the whole random thing of taking tapes of sounds and running them over a track and seeing what happened. Now and then I’d hear a one-shot sound that might sound really nice in there, and I’d never even thought of putting it there. Because I’d happened to press play at that particular time it had fallen at that point. I always was after, and I still am, that random aspect to what I do. All I do is listen to what’s playing, and when it sounds right, I put it in there. I like that you might hear familiar samples, but you’re hearing them in different places. If I end up wanting them in a specific place, I’ll do a version of the track that’ll have them there. Again, it’s all about having that connection back to the past, because I’m always looking for that balance between now and then. Technology from the past with technology from the present, new versions of classic tracks alongside newer tracks.
It excites me hearing how younger people interpret the tracks too, people like yourself. I like hearing how you reinterpret this music. A lot of these tracks I played first time round and I’m very intimate with these tracks. But, I’m not precious about music, I”m not someone who thinks “you can’t touch it, it’s sacrosanct”. Everything’s open season for me! We can always go back to the source, and often these things can bring people back to the source. Somebody might hear your Diana Ross/Sharon Brown mashup and think “what do the originals sound like?” and go back and discover them. We’re reconnecting people to this wealth of the past which is their cultural birthright to draw from and experiment with. For me, an exciting thing is how the younger generation interpret the past. Someone like Todd Terje, I had a conversation with him once, and I realised the distance between our ages because he didn’t’ really know anything about The Beatles. I kind of assumed he would because of his musicality, but a lot of the time he’s just going off instinct, and he’s brave enough to do that. He doesn’t think about “is it cool or not to play this track?”. I’ve seen some guys have almost panic attacks trying to work out if they can play something or not…if you want to play it, play it. He just does his thing, and as a result he’s come out with some of the defining edits, for me, of this whole movement. Music shouldn’t be stuck in the past, it’s an ever-evolving thing. We know that ourselves because we hear different tunes throughout our lives that mean something in the context of the moment when we hear them. It might not be something contemporary, it might be something from years and years ago that suddenly has a resonance, and that’s the magic of music. Things need packaging in a different way for a different generation of people. What I’m always trying to do with the blog, and the edits, is give people enough information to make the past real and interesting, and from there they can find their own way into it.
I was writing a piece for electrofunkroots, trying to define the term “Electro”, and I realised that with the passage of time, people thought it meant different things. To one person in meant Heaven 17 and The Human League, to another person it meant more the contemporary dance sound. To another it meant what I know it as, which is the New York Electro of the early eighties. You have to clear that confusion up and say “this is what we’re talking about”. I was concerned about which viewpoint to take when I was writing it, should I write it as a passive observer, or, bearing in mind I was directly involved, do I write about my own experiences? I was wary of writing about myself, and at the same time, I was going to be saying that the history of dance music that’s been recorded is lacking. We’re missing out what I consider to be the most important and fundamental aspect of it which is the black scene. We’ve been touching on it, but we’re not stopping and saying that something like Jazz-Funk was a really serious era for dance music. So much went on, and so much music was played, yet it’s brushed over completely almost as an irrelevance. With that in mind, to write from an objective viewpoint would be completely impossible for me, and it would be disingenuous of me to do that. My writing’s always been from personal experience, but the factual information is in there, and I’m very keen to make sure it’s as correct as it can be. Like you say, with crediting people etc, I’m keen to get to the source, I want you to find your way to it.
So, as well as that, my personal experience is in there, and I’ve found that that gives it the meat which people enjoy. It’s not just facts and figures and dates. Maybe by feeding in a few of these personal anecdotes people can get a feeling for what it was like at that time. You’re always fighting the battle that you cannot compare it to now: the different social conditions, the way that people looked at club culture – so you’re always trying to give people that taste of what it was like.
HG: Can you be tempted to share your weapons of choice in the studio?
GW: (snorts with laughter) Really, people would be shocked if they saw they way I work. They’d go, “you’re just so basic”. I’m am so basic, but I’ve found my own way of doing it and it works for me. Maybe if I had more time, I’d bring in other aspects, but I don’t, so I’m stuck in my ways at the minute. I use a program called Acid. I’ve got this friend who’s my “technical advisor” (DJ and old schoolmate Derek Kaye) and I’ve finally decided to get a Mac so he’s just helping me sort that out. He basically shows me how to do something, and once I know the basics I can find my way around. He’s one of these people who reads manuals, I’ve never read a manual in my life. He was the one who introduced Acid to me, and he didn’t say “I’ve found a programme that you’ll like”, he said “I’ve got this programme that is you”. And he was correct, because I’m completely loops-based. I’m an editor, I’m not a musician. I work with loops and I see things in those ways, and Acid gave me that. It provided me with a loops-based editing system that I can work with. So I either work in Acid, or I work in Cool Edit Pro. It’s the same with the equipment I use for deejaying, there’s probably a better way of doing it but it works for me. The deejaying set-up I use now is probably antiquated in that it’s more than five years old, but it suits me and I can work off it. Maybe if I get a little bit of time I’ll look into something else. But, it’s all a time thing with me at the moment. I haven’t got the time to learn something new because there are other things I need to do. There are only three programs I use to make music on; I cut up my stuff in SoundForge, then if it’s a straight edit I’ll use Cool Edit Pro, then if I use Acid I can add in all my own sounds. It depends which approach I’m going to use. That’s pretty much me, technically. I just make it up as I go along (laughs).
I always remember hearing about Norman Cook when he made his big Fatboy Slim album. He did it on an old Atari system, and everybody thought he must be mad. Obviously he’d got to know that system so well that it suited him to the ground, which is fair enough. It’s like any instrument, it’s about getting the best out of it. Why use something new if you’re not going to get the same result. When I started off producing, and I saw things like SSL come into play in studios, automated desks and stuff, and the possibilities suddenly became more and more, I saw how it could stifle creativity. If you go back to The Beatles again, and the fact that Sergeant Pepper’s… was recorded on four tracks, it’s off its head; the creativity they used to make it sound like that. But that’s why they were creative, because of the limitations that they had. But, because of that creativity, people invent machines to do those things, and then the digital age comes where you’ve got unlimited possibilities for what you can do, it stifles you. You’ve got too many possibilities, you got to find a way to limit those things. In life in general too, the internet provides us with so much information, you’ve got to find a way of regulating what’s important to you and what you’re prepared to spend your time on. If you’re not careful, all your time is gonna be spent on a million and one things.
George Martin at the controls
I love those mixes from the early eighties, stuff from people like Tee Scott, Larry Levan, Francois Kervorkian, Shep Pettibone and Jellybean Benitez. I had the realisation from working in studios myself, that most of those remixes were done on downtime sessions, which means maybe a band works in the studio during the day and you get the studio at night. They maybe had from midnight till eight in the morning, and that’s all the time they had to do the mix. So they’d get in there and just go for it, just do it, and whatever comes out is the mix. Those are the ones I really love. So for me it’s about creating something with a spontaneity to it, something that has a life, a soul, a feel. When I approach a mix I want to get two thirds of it done in one session. I want to just go “bang” and then it’s nearly ready. I don’t like taking days and days when you keep amending it, then you start questioning it, and going back and trying it another way – it just ends up very sterile and having no heart in it.
When I’ve transferred some of these great mixes across digitally, you can sometimes hear moments when they’ve done tape edits and there’s a bit of a stretch, and at times I’ve corrected little touches. You can hear drop-outs because they were doing things like desk runs and dropping things in and out live, and you can hear little tiny clips. For me though, these little imperfections, I can live with them. They’re what make the track what it is and if you take them all out it would lose some of the feel. The reason that they’re there is that they had to get the job done, and that’s one of the things I think is important. Try and find a way to get a little bit of spontaneity into what you’re doing. Otherwise, it just sounds a little bit too sterile, and I hear a lot of tracks like that. That’s not what the great dance music of the past was like, when you had bands, and human aspects to it. I’m not talking about major mistakes, I’m just talking about tiny little touches here and there. That what makes it a lot of the time, that’s what gives it its heart.
HG: I think that’s as close as we’ve got to defining your sound, it has to have that heart and soul in it…
GW: Do you think I have a sound?
HG: I think you do, aside from the obvious genre connotations. it’s like every track has a certain character, or a certain strength to it. There’s a thread of quality running through the set, there’s no filler.
GW: It’s funny, here’s something I’ve noticed. I saw a DJ play who was a very big respected character. Hearing what they were playing, I was just really disappointed because it was someone I’d had a lot of respect for from what they’d done previously. I thought, “it’s OK, this music, but it’s nothing special”. But then, something would come in that was really special, maybe a old classic, and the crowd would go mad, and then it would all go ordinary again. I actually wondered at the time, “is that a strategy? Is that what some of them are doing?” For me, there’s so much good music, why should there be any filler? Especially with where I’m coming from, I’m taking from such a wide palette in the past. It seemed like the filler, in this context, was part of the overall experience: they had to keep them at a certain level so that they could explode them. Sometimes you see people playing a 4/4 kind of vibe, and they’ve still got an hour to go, but they’ve just gone mental with it. Where do you go from mental?! They’ve hit their peak too early. But there’s another kind of vibe, a special, groove thing, a deeper thing. It’s not about hanging onto a hard beat, it’s about being inside the track and getting taken in a different way. That leaves something with you, you walk out of that venue with a different feeling. Having said that, I do play my big tracks, but quality tracks, like you say. Quality is a very important thing to me, and it’s a very subjective thing, so it’s nice that you say that. It’s just what connects with me, what I like, and fundamentally what this is all about is just me saying “listen to this” or “read this” because I’ve heard it and I’m excited, and I think you might like it. That’s what being a DJ is, you know? And it’s almost like your personality through your music, that’s what you’re projecting. When people say what is great music and what isn’t, I take exception to that, because I can only say what I’m into, but I would never tell someone into something different that they didn’t know what they were talking about. We’re always discovering and we’re always learning, it’s ongoing, so the moment you stop doing that, you just kind of drift along, a leaf in the breeze.
HG: Finally, you and I are both natives of the Wirral, was it always part of the plan to move back there, and what does that part of the world mean to you?
GW: It’s funny, because I came from New Brighton, being this old, run down seaside town, it felt like a different place to the rest of the Wirral. The rest always felt a bit more…leafy…(laughs)
HG: Hah, fair enough.
GW: I used to play rugby and football for school, and we’d go to other places, and we used to think they were ever-so polite…I thought once you went down the Meols stretch and got into Hoylake and West Kirby, you were in a different world. Where we were, you had Birkenhead on one side which is obviously like Liverpool to many degrees. It’s a dock town, and it’s gritty. That transferred a bit through Seacombe, Egremont, then you get to New Brighton, which has got this completely different vibe because of its past. It’s like a seaside ghost town, almost. But you’re not Scousers, you’re Plazzy Scousers, ’cause you’re still from the other side!
Growing up in New Brighton, we still used to have loads of people coming over on ferries (from Liverpool) for day trips, and the place would be rammed. You’d be dodging mad Scousers, because there’d be gangs of, like, Fagin’s lads, who’d have your money as soon as look at you. I had a friend from Blackpool, he spoke about how it worked there, which was even more intense because they had all these week long holidaymakers from Glasgow chasing you all over town. You had to be on your toes and you had to see what was going on, but it was fascinating. The subcultures I saw coming in. It’s hard for people now to even consider what went on here.
New Brighton Tower 1910
There used to be a tower here, and underneath where the tower was there was a huge amazing gothic building, which is where the Tower Ballroom was, where The Beatles played many times. It was a huge place, Little Richard played there, the Stones played there. This was going on when I was a little kid. Then, getting older, walking through New Brighton and seeing a sea of skinheads, all dressed the same – walking past you, the sinister side of it…going into the Palace, there was an undercover fairground and there’d be a waltzer and seeing them all packed around the waltzer. The Palace lads would be spinning the girls as hard as they could, there’d be all these skinheads watching…and the music playing, you might hear Liquidator, or a Tamla Motown track…
New Brighton 1963
New Brighton’s obviously a special place because it’s where I’m from, but I caught something there, the end of something that was quite special, that isn’t there now. It’s a sleepy place. It’s not quite a Southport, where people go to retire and chill out, but I think a lot of people wanted it to be like that. Now, they’ve reinvested, and they’ve put some new buildings in there, we’ll see how it works out. It had to do something, it was a place that was lost in time. But the memories are great, and working in the clubs here, what we achieved over a period of time musically, by working at bringing a solid black music scene into a little backwater town, is a nice thing to remember. It’s your own little piece of the rock really, isn’t it? I didn’t make a conscious plan to move back here, it just happened that way. It’s the right move though, and it’s a nice place to live.