Paul Rae

Interviewed by Josh Ray 10/08/18

Paul Rae


The Futurist/New Romantic scene that emerged in the late 1970s and early ’80s opened up a whole new world for DJs. As well as ushering in the electronic era of music, it allowed the DJs to venture beyond specialist upfront black music or chart hits, depending on their inclination, and instead allowed for a new kind of eclecticism, drawing from a lot more music made closer to home, around the UK and Europe. Following in the same vein as the Roxy/Bowie nights, the Futurist scene attracted an androgynous audience with decadent flamboyancy.

Former policeman turned DJ Paul Rae became one of the North West’s leading Futurist selectors on the back of two hugely popular residencies at Wigan Pier and Legend. Making the most of the state-of-the-art systems, lighting and (at Legend) sci-fi decor, Rae embraced the revolutionary and sometimes idiosyncratic sounds that were breaking the mould of dance music creating a thriving community of misfits with his Dancematic nights, alongside co-host Ralph Randell.

The selections a their nights were unrestrained and drew from countless sources, yet together it always made a coherent whole. Without having to compromise on his music, Paul has also picked up work further afield, DJing everywhere from the USA to Australia.

To get a perspective on the ins and outs of the Futurist scene, Josh Ray caught up with Paul Rae:

 

JR: How did you get into DJing after being a policeman? 

PR: I started DJing when I was 10 doing mobiles and never really stopped. I received permission to DJ from the Chief Constable.

JR: Wow! That’s really young! What kinds of gigs were you picking up initially?

PR: Social clubs, youth clubs & private parties – I did my first nightclub gig at 15.

JR: Which UK clubs had you worked in before going abroad?

PR: I did several clubs in Preston including the Piccadilly Funk Club in 1971-74 with Patrick Allen & Arnie; Scamps; also Angels in Burnley (where I was a policeman).

JR: It must have been interesting both DJing and working the beat in Burnley. Did the two worlds ever collide?

PR: Nah, but it did help a bit with the ladies, LOL.

JR: Which countries did you work in? How did the experience compare to UK clubs?

PR: I worked as a mobile DJ in Perth, Australia (actually I am in Perth right now) and was resident DJ in a hotel in Australia in 1977. The music was really behind the UK and I struggled with the mediocrity of their musical knowledge. It was either rock AC/DC or pop. I worked Denmark, Norway, France, Italy, USA, Thailand and Germany.

JR: Which of those countries do you think was the most developed musically?

PR: Well, it did often depend on the country’s musical background and heritage. Obviously the UK had the best musical heritage and it showed in the clubs, but there were differences throughout the country like the NOW (North of Watford) line. Norway had basically no soul except in areas that had colleges / universities. Denmark was bad except where British DJs had been playing regularly, like Brian “Primus” Thurston & Nicky Flavell in Smogen in Holbaek which had a wicked P-Funk & Jazzy vibe in the late ‘70s. Switzerland was a mess, but the Italian/German/French mix was easy to work with and if they liked the DJ, they loved the music. Germany was moving very slowly in the late ‘70s, but the youth were open to new sounds, so they could be ‘educated’ into the latest sounds.

JR: Why did you encourage Blues & Soul Mag’s Frank Elson to go to New Brighton’s Golden Guinea in 1979?

PR: I’d met Greg and knew he was an up and coming DJ, also Derek Kaye was around, so I figured he’d get value for money from his visit. Frank was a very straight-ahead Soul guy and he had strict rules as to what was and was not to be categorised as Soul. I had a good idea he would either love or hate Greg’s choice of music. He didn’t like electronic music! So, Greg received a hard ride from Frank, who was sadly stuck in the ‘60s.

JR: Why do you think large groups of soul fans denigrated electronic music when it was first emerging?

PR: That’s an easy one, the sheer aesthetics of Soul music against the hard digitally perfect beats was so clear that it really hit a nerve of many a true Soul believer. I get it, I really do, because I love the old analog sound and how warm it actually feels. This was dance music though, a new beast that was here to kick your ass onto the dancefloor, it wasn’t romantic or loving it was hardcore dance (it did via a few bands become warmer) and a is the norm for disco music something new has to come along for the new generation of dancers. People tend to attach themselves to a certain era, some choose to love ’50s Rock’n’Roll, even now and others stayed with Motown, Blues, Northern Soul, Jazz-Funk etc. As a DJ I followed everything. I am 61 years old and I listen to Dirty House and other new genres all the time. I rarely listen to old music in any shape or form.

JR: At the time Greg Wilson arrived in the small city Skien, there were 5 English DJs, with 3 working the clubs. Why do you think there were so many in Norway? And do you think it had any bearing on the Norwegian disco producers who’ve risen to prominence more recently?

PR: Well, to be honest I was out of work, as was Brian ‘Primus’ Thurston (who still lives in Skien). Greg and Nicky Flavell worked in the clubs. There were barrel loads of DJs in Norway for many reasons. To be honest the women were beautiful, hey I met my wife there after 14 days and we are still together and married after more than 40 years. Norway is a beautiful country too. Oslo had it all back in the day, so there were dozens of DJs there. Norway didn’t have their own record international companies before 1977, so everything was imported. There were a few people that had good musical knowledge, but not many.

I guess that the parents of some kids influenced them to like ‘better’ music in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I met Mikael Eriksen of Stargate in Trondheim when he was 16 and knew he was special, his Mother was a regular at a club I played at. It’s all degrees of coincidence (just like myself and Greg when I took him to meet Nicky & Primus in Skien). Mikael is one of the world’s greatest songwriter/producers now.

JR: Is it fair to say the light and sound system at the Pier far surpassed anything you’d seen in the UK before?

PR: Yes. Bacchus had done a superb job at the Pier (nowhere near as good as the Bacchus/Julianas installation at Legend in Manchester), it was a wicked sound system and the lighting was awesome in the massive 1500 capacity 2-floored room.

JR: When Nicky Flavell left Legend did you and Ralph Randell take over soon after? Sharing the DJing and lighting between you?

PR: Yes, we started the same day that Nicky left. Nicky was a good friend, Ralph didn’t know him, he came up from Derby’s Bluenote Club. We had both been offered the job as DJ. As it turned out it was a great move, we complemented each other and played one hour on the decks and one hour on the lights – amazing synergy and some magical nights at Legend. The bond was so strong that we had a solid 4 nights a week (Greg had Wednesdays), the club was packed, everyone who liked music was there.

When the Haçienda opened they struggled seriously, as the club was huge, like the Pier, so 200 people disappeared inside. Luckily for Haçienda they had money from New Order/Factory and on top of that the owners of Legend wanted to change the music policy (wally music as we called it or “get yer tits out for tha lads” stuff), which Ralph would not accept and left. I knew I was leaving too, so in March 1983 I left and Legend fell from grace. All the music fans had nowhere to go and turned to the Haçienda club, the rest is history.

JR: Was the Thursday at Legend the first time you had a New Romantic night?

PR: Yes, Ralph and I had played a lot of the music before, but we wanted to challenge the Roxy/Bowie nights in the North. By not playing Roxy/Bowie (quite difficult as I was a huge Roxy fan and had worked with the band on many occasions). We followed the trends week by week and encouraged the guests to be wild and expressive. It worked big time we had a packed club every Thursday from 9pm! These guests also returned (some of them) on Fridays & Saturdays, we played really upfront music at the weekends (no chart music, only new US imports and hot UK white labels).

JR: What are your memories of the opening night with Siouxie & The Banshees?

PR: Siouxie was not on the opening night, in fact I think they came after a year or so. We did have Duran Duran a few times and Thompson Twins, The The, Depeche Mode, Tears For Fears etc. Legend was the club to be seen in in the early ‘80s.

 

JR: You also brought the New Romantic night to Wigan Pier on a Wednesday. Where did it take off most successfully?

PR: Definitely Manchester Legend was by far the best club because of its compact size and with the fantastic sound system & lights it had a special atmosphere. 4-500 people grinding around in French underwear and leather was an awesome sight.

JR: Would you agree that fall of Legend helped fuel the rise of the Haçienda?

PR: Absolutely, we had around 5000 regular guests at Legend, some came 2-3 nights a week. There were 600+ through the door every night we were open. Most nights you struggled to get in after 11pm, some nights after 10pm. When the music changed the regulars stooped going and found a new venue. Most went to Haçienda. Hell, Greg was doing Fridays at Haçienda, so that boosted Friday straight away. It was just what it was, Ralph went to the Powerhouse in Birmingham and rocked the shit out of the back room & the main room. I had to leave for family reasons. Haçienda were one bunch of lucky muthas, because if the Lennon Group had left Legend alone, Ralph wouldn’t have left, and Haçienda would have gone bankrupt period! Read Peter Hook’s book, they were haemorrhaging money (New Order money) in early 1983.

JR: Am I correct in thinking you had a stint at The Playpen? If so, what was that experience like?

PR: Yes, it the end of 1983 when it reopened. It was a smooth club for young rich people. So, I worked in Armani suits and played the soul DJ to the hilt. The club had been George Best’s Slack Alices, later the Zoo, and had high class guests. Sadly, the club had a young and inexperienced manager who frankly had no idea and also wanted wally music for the ultra pop people. They wanted super pop mainstream, which I knew wouldn’t work. I left and the club went under shortly afterwards.

JR: That’s interesting because Colin Curtis seemed to have success there around a similar time with imports and specialist tracks. Didn’t they give you any lee-way with the music you wanted to play?

PR: Not really sure what you mean here. I didn’t know Colin had ever played The Playpen or The Zoo. The Playpen went full-on wally music and had lot of fights and incidents.

JR: Colin Curtis and Hewan Clarke were playing early house music at The Playpen in the early-mid ’80s. I guess the venue must have seen the error of its way with the music policy. Colin talks about it here: http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk/colin-curtis/

PR: Well, I was at The Playpen when it reopened in October / November 1983. I did go back and visit the club after, not sure when, but it was definitely a wally club. The thing is Hewan & Colin and others used to always have weekday nights or even Sundays, like the Bowling Club in Charnock Richard that Greg and I did in the early ‘80s, which was a Sunday. In fact the lady that ran the Bowling Club, Margo, had a club called The Lodestar in Ribchester that when I returned from Australia I was at every Sunday night with my mate Andy Williams who was the DJ at The Warehouse (where Joy Division recorded a live album just before Ian Curtis died) that Russell owned in Preston (another really cool club). We went to the Lodestar because it was generally our night off. The club had put on The Sex Pistols in August 1976, if I remember right. They also had Bowie/Roxy nights etc. Sundays is when they played stuff like Manu Dibango ‘Soul Makossa’ / Le Pamplemousse ‘Le Spank’ / El Coco ‘Cocomotion’ (One of the first Disco Giant 45s on 12″ / Michael Zager Band ‘Let’s All Chant’ etc.

The music that Ralph & I played at Legends on Fridays & Saturdays was a rare phenomenon. We played upfront Funk / Jazz and Disco direct from the States, we’d buy new records from Harry or Kev at Spinn Inn and play them that night.

When the owners booked Piccadilly Radio DJs to guest spot on Fridays we knew there’d be problems. No one would dance to the Piccadilly DJ’s 7″ pop records. Only Gary Davies had the sense to let us spin the tunes and he’d DJ’d in-between.

JR: You were good friends with Stevie “Knox” Devonne who DJ’d on London-based pirate radio station Invicta. Did that allow you to see how the scenes differed between North and South?

PR: Yes, Stevie was an awesome guy, a great DJ and a good friend, I remember he took me down to the Frontline in Brixton, which was well hairy, me being white, but I was in a Cortina with Knoxey, so all good. His broadcasting on Radio Invicta was crazy, they ran from building to building sometimes move antennas. The South was more jazzy and sophisticated. That didn’t work ‘up North’. We needed that extra bang in the form of harder music. Electro-Funk was king in our clubs and Greg was the man for that. We did play a lot of Jap-Jazz, but only in small segments. Smooth Soul was also played, but due to people breakin’ and poppin’ they wanted Electro-Funk.

JR: What have you been up to since back in those days?

PR: I still do the odd gig if the money is right, hahaha I did a gig last summer as a warm up DJ for John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival for 10,000 people, I played late ‘60s early ‘70s rock! From 1987 I had a lot of work in the music industry, manager, publisher, Radio DJ etc. I did play Space in Ibiza in 2001, which is when my hearing went to hell. I now have tinutus for my services to mixing from 1977 to 2001, playing 6-7 nights a week for 5-12 hours a night! I still listen to all the new dance music and hope to produce music again when I get the time. I have all the equipment, I guess I’m just a bit lazy, but give me 5 years and I’ll be beltin’ ’em out!


© Greg Wilson, 2018

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