you are 46 years old… how did you came into music ? how have you discovered soul / funk music ? were you into other styles of music at this period – pop / rock for exemple ?
In the sixties my big sister was a mod, she used to play me lots of Atlantic, Motown, Stax tunes. I was only 11 or 12 years old, but I liked the songs. At the end of the sixties she got into phsycadelic hippie shit and tried to influence me with it. I really did not like it, and wanted to hear more Soul. My sister gave me her Soul records, and after I got my first job (making barrels in a whisky distillery) I started to look for Soul in my local record shops. Sadly this was about 1973 and there were no imports, just UK labels. I found it very difficult to find anything good, and I virtually gave up.
Just before finishing school I had been in a violent fight which had sent me to hospital for a couple of weeks. I was a bit of a thug,so when I came out of hospital I decided to regain my hard image,so I picked a fight with the only English boy in the town. He kicked the shit out of me in a very strange way. I had to ask him what it was he had done to me because I had never seen anybody fight like that before. He told me he had been studying Tae Kwon Do at the local Airforce base. I thought I must learn too,then I could be really hard. So I went to the airforce base and joined the club. I did not think about Soul again until the 1973 airforce Tae Kwon Do club Christmass party. I was sitting at the party ignoring the music and just looking at girls. At the time the music would have been Gary Glitter/Bay city rollers/Abba type muck. Then I noticed 3 boys go up to the DJ with a handfull of 45’s. Suddenly the music changed into these marvellous tunes I had never heard before,and they were stunning to me because I had heard virtually no Soul for a year. The boys then started dancing on their own,which was very strange at the time,but they were great,spinning,breaking and their feet going so fast in time with the music. I asked them what the fuck was this music and how did they manage to dance like that. Northern Soul they replied,and would I like to go to Wigan with them the next week. I told my mum I was going to aberdeen for the weekend,and set off to my adventure in that foreign country south of Scotland.
When I walked into Wigan Casino I was blown away by the atmosphere and the music. Well over a thousand people all dancing beautifuly and non stop wonderfull tunes by people I had never heard of. This was heaven. They also had a record bar where you could buy some of the tunes,so I did. I kept going back to Wigan after this,and kept buying the records. I used to do some shitty jobs to get money for records,gutting fish,labouror on building sites,carrying dead animals in a butchers factory,and yes–picking potatoes. I also made money by breaking into chemists and stealing the speed. I then used to sell this outside the Casino to get more record money. By 1976 I realised that the record dealers were going to America and finding tunes that nobody knew. By this time I had started to DJ in Soul clubs in Scotland so I decided I too would go to the US to find new discoveries. When I got the hang of searching for records in America,I started to find hundreds of great tunes,I liked them but some were not suitable for the Northern scene,they were too funky, so I just kept them without playing them out. Northern Soul was much more Soul based and needed a good melodic song, therefore the Funk stuff would not go down well,with very few exceptions.
I gradually got better at finding records,I realised that to find the really good stuff you had to track down the old musicians and producers,old black radio stations,etc. As a result of this I eventually found myself having dinner with Curtis Mayfield,going to parties with George Clinton,becoming pals with the likes of JJ Barnes, Harold Melvin, Martha Reeves,etc. BUT more important for me were the people who were just as talented but had never become famous. I wanted to make these people known. I also enjoyed the fact that I was the only one in the world playing certain records which I had got of these people as un-released dub plate demos. It was great for my ego. Of course there were other DJ’s doing the same thing,but with different records.
Getting a copy of the Del Larks was my happiest souvenier moment. Sadly I had to sell it when I got divorced 2 years ago. I have been divorced twice because of records and both times I have had to sell giant chunks of my collection. I was also never a rich man,so I always had to sell records in order to get money for new ones. If only I could have kept them all.
Have you a most-loved period ?
I don’t have a most loved period in Soul and Funk. I like all the good tunes from all the eras. I did find however that I went to bed on December the 31st 1979 and when I woke up the next morning music had virtaully finished. I hated the 80’s the 90’s were a wee bit better and today it is better still. BUT what the fuck happened ? technology ? image and the media ? It all
You are travelling a lot to get in touch with forgotten american soul singers… you must have met incredible peoples…
I met Isacc Hayes when we played together at the Forum in London. Early on there were just me, him,his manager,and some sound engineers in the place. He was testing the sound,and I thought I’ll get an autograph on my copy of the Astors song “Twilight zone”. It does not credit Isacc on the label but I had found out it was him singing on it. I asked him to sign it and handed the record to him. By the first look on his face I knew he thought it was going to be Shaft,then his eyes popped out of his head ” How the fuck did you know this was me ? this was my first record. Howie ! Howie ! ( the manager ) Howie ! come and look at this. I was sixteen ” then he sat down and started crying. Then ” sir could you play this for me please—play it now please,thank you,Oh ! thank you — how did you know ? ” I played the tune and they both sat on the stage in tears remembaring the good old days. One funny memory. I eventually moved to Wigan in 1976,to work in the Grand hotel as a barman. A lot of the artists who performed live at the Casino would stay at this hotel. One night in the bar a watched a group of local yobs pick a fight with Archie Bell and his band. I jumped over the bar and diffused the situation by taking out the biggest one with a hooking kick. After that not only were the yobs my pals but Archie after realising my interest in the music spent the night drinking with me and telling me stories about the old days. He then took me on the tour bus with him to the Manchester Ritz. Oooh ! I loved it. I was 19 years old,and stepping off the tour bus with Archie infront of all my old Scottish pals. GREAT. I told the story of Sammy Cambell on my Soul Spectrum 2 sleave notes.
Is is true that record companies like Motown or Stax were so ‘rough’ in their battle for supremacy ? According to you, it was a little bit like gang war right ? could you tell that story to us ?
Yes record labels like Motown,Stax etc tried very hard to bully the small competition out of buisness,and succeeded in most cases. Ordering radio stations not to play small label tunes,destroying stock in record shops,etc. Some of the people my friends and I have met have been very bitter towards the big labels,because their carrears were destroyed and with it their lives. Also a lot of them told me that if they joined the big label they had to do what they were told. Atlantic and Stax wanted a strong country influence in their Soul. Motown wanted a strong pop influence. I have since found that most of the best Motown was the unreleased stuff. Hundreds of tapes of the stuff was stolen from the Motown vaults and sold to us in the early 80’s. It was too soulfull to release but Oooh! great stuff. I stuck an unreleased Marvin Gaye track on a Strange Games and things comp. Listen and judge.
I’ve read in an interview that you weren’t much into hip hop… Why ?
I do not like Hip Hop at all. The music is sometimes OK and it is quite clever what the producers do. BUT rapping EEEUUURGH ! it makes me sick. It all sounds so childish.” Neh Neh Neh I”ve got a big gun ” or they try and sound clever ” intrinsicalleee societeee blah blah blah ” Sorry but I fucking hate rapping, it along with the Michael Jackson influence took all the Soul out of black music.
What do you think of today soul music, the so called nu-soul ? Are you into r’n’b stuff – Neptunes for exemple – ?
As for todays new Soul singers. Angie Stone and Jill Scott can sing,but are too often given crap to sing. Kenny Dope played me a tape of Jill before she got signed. A tape of her own stuff,it was great,very inspiring,but when the records came out I thought ‘ what the fuck has happened. Most of the rest of them can’t sing or are very average,just pretending to be Soulfull. Put them up against the 60’s and 70’s Soul singers and they are nothing,so why should they be accepted today. Probably because people don’t know any better.
Were you in england at the acid jazz period ? this music sounds a little bit ‘clean’ to me, like a kind of black music for white people… What do you think of that ? do you play stuff from Talkin’ Loud for exemple ?
Acid Jazz ? Mmmmm ? it was OK but too soft for me. I was in London from 1979 but I kept going north at weekends,that was where the good music was being played,London was always too pretentious into one thing one week the next that was old fashioned and they were into the next pile of shite. It is still very much like that but we are changing the attitude gradually. I do buy some new Garage style stuff,and I like some of the Jazzanova style stuff. I think music today is much better than it was in the 80’s or 90’s. Most of it is still crap for me but there are more good tunes coming through now.
What’s playin’ on your hi-fi system at home ?
When at home I listen to 30/40’s Jazz 50’s Rockabilly,Boppin Blues,and Doo-Wop,60/70’s Soul,Funk,Jazz Funk,and some late 90’s to present day stuff. I like what I like,no image attached. Too many people listen to music that matches the image they have chosen. That sickens me, the mods used to really annoy me, they were’nt into the Soul properly,it just matched their image. My sister prooved that to me back in 1968/9, and most of the mods that appeared after the movie Quadrophenia were just the same.
This may confuse you,but the music that gives me the same feeling as hard Funk is hard 50’s Rockabilly. I get a totally different feeling from Soul or Jazz. But Funk and Rockbilly the feeling is virtually the same — Pure raw driving energy with no fancy frills in the music or the vocals. I love them both,mabey it is because they are both mainly from the deep south,rough and ready people,with hard lives,just that they are different colours which gives the different styles of doing the same thing. I love 50’s clothes, hence the shoes. They look so nice and are so well made. Other clothes seem a little bit drap in comparison and cheaply made.
Last one, could you give us five records you are really searching for ?
As for 5 records i am after ? No ! I want hundreds of tunes that I don’t know exist. It is more exciting for me to find a great record that I did not know before,be it a £2000 Funk rarity or a £5 new release. I just want to keep on hearing and playing new tunes that excite me when I hear them. And if I have to produce them myself ? fair enough, that is also very exciting.