FOR WAX POETICS / NEW YORK
The first 12” I ever owned was “Jaws” by Lalo Schifrin. I received it in the post from a club promotions company called MIF in August 1976. I wasn’t quite sure what it was – the sleeve said ‘Disco Mix – CTI 12” Single’, but, although it was the same size as an LP, it ran at 45rpm. I suppose that I regarded it as a novelty at the time, but during the following months I’d get more used to the format, receiving further 12” releases by artists like James Wells, The Originals, Ultrafunk, Mass Production, Deodato and Undisputed Truth. They weren’t all extended versions in those early days, quite often the length of the track was no different to the 7”, with some of the UK record companies pressing stuff onto 12” purely as a marketing gimmick (the earliest example of this that I can recall, being a ’76 re-issue of “Substitute”, the 60’s hit by The Who).
At this point in time I was deejaying at the Chelsea Reach and the Penny Farthing, the venues where I started out in New Brighton, across the River Mersey from Liverpool. Thanks to DJs like Les Spaine and Terry Lennaine, Liverpool was a hotbed of Funk and Soul at the time (although not Northern Soul, which was never really a factor in the city). Artists like Parliament, Ohio Players, Earth Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang, Brass Construction and, of course, James Brown, were all held in the highest regard.
It would take a while before the 12” would replace the 7” in the affections of British DJs, but, eventually, it became an essential format, initially with the black music specialists, already used to playing longer album versions, to whom it was clear that a track such as T-Connection’s “Do What You Wanna Do” just had to be heard in its unabbreviated 12” glory in order to get the full effect.
The culture of mixing that had evolved in New York weren’t really begin to make an impression in the UK until ’78, and it wasn’t until as late as the mid-80s that most British DJs finally began to put the microphone down and start to mix.
“It Looks Like Love”
Atlantic Records 1978
It was during the Disco boom of late 70s that club promotion in the UK really came into its own. Most record companies had their own club promo people with a mailing list of DJs nationwide. Thanks to my copy of Emperor Rosko’s DJ Book, which had a section at the back with all the record company addresses, I managed to get myself on pretty much all of the various mailing lists by the end of 1976 (I wrote down every record I received up until May 1978 – 1,733 to that point!).
WEA (Warner /Elecktra/Atlantic) was by far and away the hardest list to get on. Their club promotions department was run by a guy called Fred Dove, a true innovator in this area. Fred kept a much smaller list than all the other companies (hence the difficulty in getting on it), but, for the lucky ones who did, they not only received the latest UK twelves in advance of their release, but also selected US imports! I remember my delight in receiving packages containing Lamont Dozier’s “Going Back To My Roots”, Chic’s ”Le Freak”, “He’s The Greatest Dancer” / “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, albums by groups like Slave, Mass Production and Gino Soccio, plus various other vinyl treasures, way ahead of UK pressings. Only CBS (Columbia in the US), with Greg Lynn at the helm, could compete (they’d also begin to mail out imports, including many of the early Prelude releases).
“It Looks Like Love” was a 12” I received from Fred – a wonderful Chic influenced Disco groove, courtesy of the great Vincent Montana Jr, which is extremely difficult to find an original copy of nowadays. As far as I’m aware, it never made much of an impression in the US, the most popular Goody Goody track being “#1 Dee Jay”. However, in the UK, “It Looks Like Love” became a cult-classic with the Jazz-Funk audience, in a similar way to “Spread Love” by Al Hudson & The Soul Partners, another wonderful track that was pretty much unknown outside of the specialist clubs around the same time.
I chose “It Looks Like Love” as the final record at my DJ comeback in Manchester, in December ’03, and immediately had a group of people crowded around me asking what it was (some who weren’t even born when I’d first played it, 25 years earlier) – a testament to the enduring quality of this sublime groove.
Salsoul Records 1979
“Drums Of Passion” by Nigerian percussionist, Babatunde Olatunji, was a best selling album in the US following its 1960 release. It included the track “Gin-Go-Lo-Ba”, which would be re-worked some years later by Santana as “Jingo”. Candido’s version of this track would probably top my all-time Disco list, for it’s a record which, although it took off in some of the more mainstream clubs in the UK, could still be played on underground nights as an essential oldie right up until the time I stopped deejaying in 1984. I first played this as an album track at the Golden Guinea, my beloved hometown club in New Brighton, where I was resident DJ between 1977 and 1980. The Guinea was just a regular nightspot, where I gradually managed to build up a great local scene, the club eventually gaining a reputation for being one of the best places on Merseyside to hear the latest Soul, Funk and Disco.
Despite becoming a Disco favorite, “Jingo” had no problem in crossing over to the emerging Jazz-Funk scene, where it also acquired classic status (other Disco tunes that made a particularly big impression on the Jazz-Funk audience included Francine McGee’s “Delirium” and “Dreaming A Dream” by the Crown Heights Affair).
Shep Pettibone’s 1983 Candido remix, “Jingo Breakdown”, was also huge for me later down the line at Legend and Wigan Pier, but the original remains the quintessential version. Having never lost its magic, it sounds just as vital today as ever.
THE HUMAN LEAGUE
“Hard Times / Love Action”
Virgin Records 1981
This will always remind me of weekend nights at Wigan Pier in 1981 (I was the four nights a week resident at the Pier between 1980-82). I played a real cross-section of stuff at the weekend, including the biggest tracks from the Tuesday Jazz-Funk night, the more mainstream dance singles (things like Shalamar, Imagination, Kool & The Gang etc), and best of the British Futurist releases, by artists who were enjoying enormous popularity at the time, including Soft Cell, Gary Numan, Heaven 17, Visage, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Depeche Mode and, of course, The Human League.
“Love Action” was one of a quartet of hits from their hugely successful album “Dare”, but the 12” included the additional bonus of “Hard Times”, which segued straight into “Love Action” to dramatic effect, sounding amazing over the Pier’s system. Furthermore there were both full vocal and instro options on the 12” (the instrumental later appearing on the groundbreaking 1982 League Unlimited Orchestra album, “Love And Dancing” – which included tracks from “Dare” brilliantly remixed in a dubbed-out style by producer Martin Rushent).
This is the first 12” I can remember doubling-up with at the Pier, playing one copy a few beats behind the other, repeating sections, and switching between the two sides. I’d also utilize the clubs third deck by running the hey you,
don’t watch that watch this… spoken intro, from “One Step Beyond” by Madness, over the section on the instrumental side that linked “Hard Times” to “Love Action”. It fitted absolutely hand in glove, with the powerful “Love Action” beats kicking in as the voice said
you’d better start to move your feet, whilst the Pier’s light jock, Paul Vallence, got in on the act with some suitably dynamic visual accompaniment.
Wigan Pier and Legend were way ahead of the game when it came to sound and lighting. The Pier had a fabulous light show, including the first laser system in a UK club, and Paul and I worked inside a 15ft high fibre glass frog, which housed the decks and light controls. Paul looked out of the open mouth of the frog, down onto the dancefloor, whilst I worked to the side (another big difference being that, instead of headphones, I used internal monitors for cueing and mixing). A frog sat beneath an American flag was the clubs logo (the Pier advertising itself as ‘Top American Disco’ or ‘Europe’s Largest American Style Disco’).
“Thanks To You”
Becket Records 1982
The early 80s was such a creative period for dance music. There were so many innovative underground records released, many of which sound just as fresh today as the did back then, which is remarkable when you consider that we’re now talking almost a quarter of a century ago.
New York’s recording studios were overflowing with invention and technological experimentation. The rule book was literally being rewritten. It was a wonderful time to be a DJ, especially one that was able to play the most cutting-edge dance music to the most clued-up audience. I was blessed to find myself working at the Pier and Legend throughout this hybrid age, for not only did I have the tunes, but also the state of the art environment to perfectly compliment them.
When D Train released “You’re The One For Me” towards the end of ’81, we knew things were moving in an exciting new direction. This was confirmed by subsequent releases like Northend’s “Tee’s Happy”, “Time” by Stone, Electrik Funk’s “On A Journey”, the mighty “Don’t Make Me Wait”, a milestone release by the Peech Boys, Electra’s “Feels Good” and the track that would take this emerging new sound into the top 5 of the UK chart “Walking On Sunshine” by Rockers Revenge. Another of these pioneering tracks was Sinnamon’s “Thanks To You”, which was one of the biggest records of the year for me bar none
Producers / Songwriters, Darryl Payne and Eric Matthew, plus mixmaster, Shep Pettibone, are three people who I don’t think have yet received full credit for their significant contribution to the course of dance culture, “Thanks To You”, which brought this trio together to devastating effect, resulted in, for my money, one of the best underground cuts of the entire era.
Most DJs on the specialist scene played the excellent vocal mix, but, as was often the norm with me, I flipped it over, playing the Instrumental mix, which went straight into the “Fierce Reprise”, bridged by a powerful breakdown section, revolving around Peech Boys inspired claps. All in all, a 14 minute marathon of indispensable dancefloor energy, which builds to a climatic dub vocal section.
I only recently realised that the UK pressing doesn’t include this truly epic version, so most DJ’s in this country are completely unaware that such a mix exists, playing either the vocal or the straight instrumental. Needless to say, if you’re going to buy a copy make sure it’s the US 12”.
SOUL SONIC FORCE
Tommy Boy Records 1982
As far as the black music scene in the UK was concerned, the most controversial release of the period was undoubtedly “Planet Rock”, a record that caused me a whole heap of trouble, but also helped set me apart from all the other black music specialists.
“Planet Rock” is, in my opinion, the single most important dance release of the decade, for this is the track that, in effect, split the atom – everything changed after “Planet Rock”. Much has been written about this titan of a tune and its far-reaching influence, but when I first started to play it, following its arrival on import in May ’82, the purists were up in arms, pretty much accusing me of polluting the scene. This record, as far as they were concerned was
not black music!
With Wigan Pier and Legend now established as the top black music nights in the North, things became very political and, rather than being congratulated for the success of my clubs, I was made to feel extremely uncomfortable, for those most critical of me included a number of people I held in high regard, who were respected figures on the scene.
Eventually, this new Electro sound would win the day, but not without a battle. When it boiled down to it, the people who decided what was and what wasn’t black music were, of course, the black kids themselves (the anti-Electro brigade being led by a handful of older white guys).
By 1984, Electro had become the dominant underground force, not only in the North and Midlands, but also in the South, and it was from these foundations that UK dance culture began to build momentum as the decade progressed, with a wave of homegrown artists, brought up on Electro, including Coldcut and Bomb The Bass in the South and A Guy Called Gerald and 808 State in the North, opening the floodgates for countless other British dance releases.
“Big Apple Production Vol 1”
Spin Inn in Manchester was the premier record shop in the North of England when it came to dance music. If you had any aspirations of being taken seriously as a black music specialist, you had no option but to shop there. There was nowhere outside of London that could compare when it came to stocking the latest imports. Although Spin Inn was best-known for black music, all the main DJs from the gay scene also bought their records there, with a guy called Harry Taylor (sadly no longer with us) looking after that side of the shops business.
When I was the resident DJ at Wigan Pier, covering a variety of musical bases at the weekend, this would include some of the more European type Disco releases that I wouldn’t have played on the Tuesday, tracks which would be described as ‘Gay Disco’ back then. So, whilst most of the records I bought from Spin Inn during this time where for the Jazz-Funk night, I’d also generally pick up a few tunes from Harry, with the other nights in mind. It was as a result of this that I came across bootleg mix twelves, like “Bits & Pieces III”, later copied by Dutch producer Jaap Eggermont for his worldwide hit “Stars On 45”, and the record I’ve included here, “Big Apple Production Vol 1”, which would be a definite inspiration with regards to the subsequent direction I’d take with my radio mixes.
The first half of “Big Apple” included a lot of the type of stuff I was playing at the Pier on Tuesdays (also Legend, in Manchester, on Wednesday, which I’d started in Aug ’81) – things like Rockers Revenge, Jonzun Crew, Soul Sonic Force, Pressure Drop, Howard Johnson and Aretha Franklin etc – but about half way through it begins to move in a more commercial direction (Yazoo, Michael Jackson, Steve Miller Band etc), before arriving at an out and out Gay Disco vibe (Bobby O, Divine, Patrick Cowley etc, even a snatch of “YMCA” by the Village People!). The mix is credited to Ser & Duff, although I still don’t know who was behind it (∗ I’ve since learned that it was Brooklyn DJ, Mikey D’Merola, from WKYU Radio in New York). Two years later a second “Big Apple” came out, but, although the names Ser & Duff appeared once more, this mix was done by the now legendary NYC duo, the Latin Rascals.
Harry had also introduced me to the extremely expensive, but sometimes essential, Disconet DJ only releases from New York, which would later provide me with some great Electro alternatives, not available on the official releases – exclusive versions of “Hip Hop Be Bop (Don’t Stop)” by Man Parrish, “In The Bottle” by C.O.D and, most notable of all, The Jonzun Crew with “We Are The Jonzun Crew”.
KLIEN & MBO
Zanza Records 1982
Once I’d given up the Pier residency to specialize purely in black music, gaining a reputation (not to mention, some notoriety) in the process for my full-on support of the new Electro-Funk sound, Harry Taylor would sometimes pull out a European track for me that would fit in perfectly with the mainly New York produced stuff I was playing. The best example of this was Klien & MBO’s “Dirty Talk” on the Italian Zanza label, which, in ’82, went absolutely massive at Legend and the Pier. This, of course, wasn’t the vocal, but the instrumental “USA Connection” mix.
DJ Hewan Clarke, at that time the resident at a new Manchester club called The Haçienda, picked up on the track, being aware of its floorfiller status across town at Legend, which was now the biggest night on the scene and, like Wigan Pier, pulling in people from all over the North and Midlands. One night Hewan was playing it when a couple of the guys from the seminal Indie band, New Order, who were co-owners of The Haçienda, came into the DJ booth to ask if they could borrow it to use as a reference for a track they were working on. This would turn out to be “Blue Monday”!
Had it not been for Harry, I’d never have heard this record when I did. It’s certainly not the type of track Spin Inn would have been pushing from the black side of things – although they sold Electro, the shops manager, Kev Edwards, made no bones about the fact that he disapproved of it, prompting much debate between the two of us with regards to its validity.
“You Can’t Hide (Your Love From Me)”
Island Records 1983
When it came to keeping in touch with the latest developments on the UK music scene, “The Tube”, a weekly TV programme broadcast from Newcastle, led the way during the ’80s. In February 1983 I was invited to make an appearance, as a direct result of this record, becoming the first British DJ to demonstrate mixing live on British television.
David Joseph was the lead singer with Hi-Tension, one of the most successful Brit-Funk bands of the late 70s / early 80s, and “You Can’t Hide (Your Love From Me)” was his debut solo release. As part of the promotion for the single he visited Legend on the Wednesday night to make a personal appearance. The PA, as it was called, was a regular feature at Legend and Wigan Pier, with many of the top British black music acts, as well as a number of US artists, including Gwen Guthrie and Oliver Cheatham, coming to my nights. We never paid a penny for personal appearances, the record companies more than happy to foot the cost of bringing their artists to the main club nights, where they took to the dancefloor to perform their latest releases, before sticking around to say hello to the audience and sign autographs.
One of the people in attendance that night was a researcher from “The Tube”, where Joseph was to appear the following week (the shows first dance special), and, after hearing me double-up with two copies of “You Can’t Hide (Your Love From Me)”, he approached me with the idea of me doing this on live TV.
It was a very scary proposition, but obviously a major opportunity for me to gain a degree of national recognition. Back then, only a handful of British DJs were recognized for their mixing abilities, the overwhelming majority still using the microphone, so this was something new to the majority of viewers. It all went well and helped cement my status as an innovator of mixing in this country. It also worked out great for David Joseph, providing the perfect launch pad for the record, which would go on to become a huge dance hit in the UK, reaching the Top 20 of the national chart, whilst subsequently finding favor with US DJs, thanks to Larry Levan’s remix.
GRANDMASTER & MELLE MEL
Sugarhill Records 1983
I remember being with my mate Kermit when I bought “White Lines”, and how we both looked at each other, awestruck, as if to say
what the fuck is this!?. Kermit was one of the faces on the scene, originally a highly rated fusion dancer in the Jazz-Funk days, but eventually a founder member of Manchester breakdancers, Broken Glass, who’d become the best-known crew in the country. A bit further down the line Kermit would emerge as one of the Ruthless Rap Assassins, who I managed and produced. They’d release 2 albums for EMI, receiving much critical acclaim, but, unfortunately, not the record sales to match. Kermit would finally achieve commercial success after hooking-up with ex-Happy Monday, Shaun Ryder, to form Black Grape, scoring a run of hit singles and a chart topping album in the mid-90s.
This was such an unusual record when we first heard it, way different, and leftfield even by Electro standards. The overall sound provided a totally new aural experience, it was Rap, it was Electro, it had funky brass sounds, but it was also laced with a flavour of late 50’s Doo Wop. Undoubtedly one of the most distinctive releases of the 1980s, it was almost disturbingly playful with regards to its subject matter – the track punctuated with double-meanings via words like ‘freeze’, ‘rock’ and, instead of bass, ‘freebase’!
It wasn’t until a few months later that I became aware the backing track was a re-recording of Liquid Liquid’s “Cavern”. Problem being that its original writers weren’t credited, prompting a legal battle that would result in the demise of both Sugarhill and the influential No Wave label, 99, for whom Liquid Liquid recorded.
Although an instant hit with the Legend / Pier audience (and also at The Haçienda, where, by this point, I’d launched their first weekly dance night), “White Lines” would be a slow grower with the general club populace, many DJs finding it initially hard to get their heads around this unique record. This is highlighted by its extraordinary UK chart history. Released here in November ’83, it spent just 3 weeks in the lower regions, peaking at no 60 (purely as the result of specialist support), before eventually returning two months later, climbing up to no 7, and amassing an incredible 38 consecutive weeks on the chart! Its chart life would span late 83 and the bulk of 84, before making its final appearance in January 85!
WAS (NOT WAS)
“(Return To The Valley Of) Out Come The Freaks”
Geffen / Ze Records 1984
Not something I ever played in the clubs, but a big personal favorite, which I associate with being chilled-out at home during the period following my retirement from DJ work. A silky smooth downtempo groove, in contrast to the bands original “Out Come The Freaks” from 1981, which, like some of their other earlier releases, was more club geared.
Featuring a truly memorable vocal from Harry Bowens, the lyric made a big impression on me, providing an almost surreal snapshot of American life, each verse based around a different character – the slower pace of this version really bringing the words alive. I also loved the way it, for no apparent reason, name checked a quartet of seemingly random classic songs during its outro – “Strangers In The Night”, “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”, “The Shadow Of Your Smile” and “Last Train To Clarksville” – an inspired touch, which added to the overall trippyness of this weirdly wonderful tune. I also got into their “Born To Laugh At Tornados” album, although, disappointingly, this only included a condensed version of “(Return To The Valley Of) Out Come The Freaks”.
Was (Not Was), along with Eno and Byrne’s ingenious “My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts” album (also Time Zone’s 1983 Celluloid 12”, “The Wildstyle”, with its usage of old film soundbites), provided the main inspiration for my subsequent approach to sampling, once I began to make my own records in 1984. I was hugely into “Wheel Me Out”, with its spoken strangeness, and “Tell Me That I’m Dreaming”, a floorfiller at Legend and Wigan Pier in 1982, which cut up a section of Ronald Reagan’s 1981 State Of The Union address to great effect.
Streetwave Records 1984
This is one of three 12” singles taken from the Street Sounds “UK Electro” album, which were released simultaneously in the summer of ’84, the other two being “Style Of The Street” by Broken Glass and “U People” / “B.E.D 34” by Forevereaction. Despite the different artist names, all these tracks (plus another on the album – “Real Time” by Zer-o) were recorded by the same people, Martin Jackson (formerly the drummer with Magazine), Andy Connell (of A Certain Ratio) and myself (with Kermit, along with fellow Broken Glass dancer, Fiddz, making his rap debut on “Style Of The Street”).
Apart from a promo only edit of a track called “Heaven Sent” by Paul Haig, which had been mailed out to DJs the previous year, these were the first 12” singles I’d worked on. Craig Bevan, the engineer from Vintertainment Records in New York, home of The B Boys (whose tracks, “Two, Three, Break”, “Cuttin’ Herbie” and “Rock The House” had all been big in ’83 at Legend and the Pier), came over to assist me on the remixes, which appeared alongside the album versions on the twelves. Craig went on to work with Steinski on “The Motorcade Sped On” – a true cut ‘n’ paste masterpiece, which, as far as I’m aware, was only ever pressed as a 7” freebie, given away with the NME in 1987.
The “UK Electro” album, which was basically a make it up as we went along type recording, did pretty well, reaching number 60 on the charts, whilst generating lots of interest from music press. “Music” was especially well received, and was named as one of the singles of the year in Record Mirror. However, due mainly to a clash of egos between Martin and myself, the project was short lived. Moving away from the Electro experiment, Martin and Andy went on to form Swing Out Sister, whose easy-listening approach brought them chart success a few years on, whereas I’d experience a period of personal struggle and upheaval, before hooking-up up with Kermit once more, a few years down the line, to work with the Rap Assassins.
1989 was a great year for Manchester. The Haçienda was at its peak, A Guy Called Gerald and 808 States released classic dance singles, gaining hit status in the process, and the Happy Mondays and Stone Roses were at the forefront of a new mutant genre, which would be known as Indie-Dance.
Following the introduction of the drug ecstasy to the city (the legend has it that Mondays dancer, Bez, was the catalyst), an ever increasing number of white kids turned on to the dance grooves previously associated with the black scene. The underground was about to go mainstream, and Manchester (or ‘Madchester’ as it would be temporarily re-named) was right at the cusp of things.
The Happy Mondays had anticipated this with the release of their 1988 single “Wrote For Luck”, an addictive downtempo groover and the key track in their memorable live sets of the period, which echoed back to the Punk-Funk ethos of an earlier time. They chose my old club, Legend, to record the video which had a theme of a children’s party, with a multi-racial audience, which seemed to sum up the cultural melting pot that had been stirring in the city for a number of years.
“WFL” was “Wrote For Luck” remixed…and how! Not one, but two brilliant remixes back to back courtesy of Vince Clarke (then Erasure, formerly Depeche Mode and Yazoo) and Paul Oakenfold (assisted by Terry Farley) working alongside programmer / engineer Steve Osborne. The Oakenfold / Osbourne combination would go on to produce the bands most commercially successful releases.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the video to “WFL” (which used the Vince Clarke mix). Once again it was shot in Legend, but this time the children had been replaced by a club full of what were now termed ‘ravers’. A brilliant visual representation of those early ‘E’ days, perfectly capturing the time and the vibe, this video obviously made a deep impression on me. Seeing the same dancefloor that had been packed with black kids on my nights earlier in the decade, now full of white kids, was hugely symbolic of the way youth culture in this country was changing.
This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Wax Poetics Magazine.
Originally published in the Fall 2005 issue (WP#14).
Content © 2006 Wax Poetics Magazine
© Greg Wilson, 2006