header

From Garrard To Technics – How British DJs Began To Mix

From Garrard to Technics

In 2009 I wrote an article on the history of mixing in this country called ‘How The Talking Stopped’. It was the most in depth piece I’d ever written, the research alone had taken many months, including a couple of trips to the British Library in London to comb through the copies of Record Mirror they have archived there, for it was within this magazine that the person who I’d certainly argue did more to promote UK DJ culture than any other human being, connected (via his essential weekly dance column) with fellow DJs in every corner of the country. This was the literally larger than life James Hamilton (1942-1996), and if you’re a British DJ, whether you’ve heard of him or not, you can’t have escaped his influence, for he’s part of the very fabric of our DJ / club heritage.

The piece is reproduced here in its entirety. I appreciate it’s a bit of an epic, but I really hope you take the time to read it, for this is a tale that hadn’t been previously told, and one which is absolutely vital if you want to understand the history from the British lineage.

Shure SM57 Unidyne III Microphone

HOW THE TALKING STOPPED – THE UK’S MICROPHONE TO MIX METAMORPHOSIS

US and UK club culture evolved in very different ways. Many people nowadays mistakenly assume that UK DJ’s followed whatever their American counterparts were doing, but the fact of the matter was that, until the second half of the ’70s, DJ’s in this country didn’t have a clue what was happening in the clubs and discotheques on the other side of the Atlantic. Instead, the British created their own unique culture, embracing black music with a fervour that was rarely seen in white Americans until the dawn of the Disco epoch in the early ’70s. Although names like Francis Grasso, David Mancuso and Nicky Siano are now revered by a new generation of UK enthusiasts as the pioneers they were, at the time they meant absolutely nothing to British DJs, who were busy forging their own path, generally digging much deeper in their passion for dance music, both retrospectively (the Northern Soul scene) and via the various import specialists up and down the country, from whom they bought the very latest US Soul, Funk and later Disco and Jazz-Funk recordings. Unlike the US, in Blues & Soul Magazine the British had a national publication that dealt specifically with black music, the first issue dating as far back as 1966, with two further specialist black music periodicals, Black Music and Black Echoes, appearing in the ’70s.

Disco was originally used as a catch-all term for the music played in clubs and discotheques, which was predominantly Soul and Funk – it wasn’t viewed as a stand-alone genre until New York Disco, as it was referred to at the time, began to make its presence felt on these shores, integrating the gay led momentum that had shaped the course of dance culture Stateside with the existing scenes inhabited by black music obsessed Brits. It’s this fusing of separate, but parallel approaches that would eventually provide the alchemy necessary for the Acid House explosion in the UK during the late ’80s.

The major cultural adaptation, as far as British DJs were concerned, had nothing to do with the music they played, but was all about the way in which they played it. As contemporary DJs regard headphones as an essential tool of the trade, back then the microphone was what defined the British DJ, who introduced and back announced records in a similar manner to how a radio presenter would, connecting with the audience via their personality, which, with a good DJ, served to enhance their programming of the music and help build the atmosphere. This was very much the British way.

To understand how the microphone was replaced by mixing, we need to see how the seeds of change were gradually planted. This was no overnight thing, but would take a generational switch from the old guard of DJs to the new before the transmutation was complete.

George McCrae 'Rock Your Baby'

In many respects, the beginning of the Disco era in the UK can be dated to July 27th 1974 when George McCrae’s ‘Rock Your Baby’ topped the British chart, having been a huge club favourite. To put this in context, the last time a black artist had scored a UK number 1 (with the exception of Chuck Berry’s novelty hit, ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ in November ’72) was The Tams with ‘Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me’ back in 1971. Remarkably, following on from ‘Rock Your Baby’, two of the next 3 UK number 1′s were by black artists whose tracks had gained significant early support in the clubs and discotheques, ‘When Will I See You Again’ by the Three Degrees and ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, a British recording by Carl Douglas, which would subsequently go on to top the US chart. The record companies over here would obviously sit up and take notice, and this resurgence of black music as a commercial force would be further cemented during the coming months when ‘Sad Sweet Dreamer’ by Manchester’s Sweet Sensation, Barry White’s ‘You’re The First, The Last, My Everything’ and ‘Ms Grace’ by The Tymes, along with Ken Boothe, a Reggae artist, with his cover of Bread’s ‘Everything I Own’, all climbed to the summit of the UK chart.

Record Mirror, the most supportive mainstream pop / rock magazine when it came to black music, reflected this in a new column, ‘Disco Date’, which appeared on 21st September ’74, stating that it would be “featuring news about what’s going on in the discos around the country”. It included a Disco Top 10, with Carl Douglas at number 1, K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s ‘Queen Of Clubs’ at 2 and ‘Rock The Boat’ by The Hues Corporation at number 3.

CARL DOUGLAS, K.C. & THE SUNSHINE BAND, THE HUES CORPORATION

The name of the column would change to ‘Disco Sounds’, before they settled on plain and simple ‘Discos ‘in Oct ’74, announcing that “Suddenly discotheques are big business on the pop scene. Single-handedly they’ve pushed black music back into the charts”. ‘Discos’ would be compiled by a variety of people (Dave Johns, Dave Longman, Randy Nicholls, John Rainford and Eamon Percival). In November ’74, an advertisement headed ‘Disco Hits’, with info about the releases of Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes ‘Get Dancin”, ‘Tell Me What You Want’ by Jimmy Ruffin and ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ by Gloria Gaynor appeared in the magazine, along with a full page ad for Pye’s Northern Soul geared Disco Demand series, and on Dec 7th ’74 they published the ’1st National Disco Top 20′, a new monthly chart.

Then, on June 28th 1975, James Hamilton, who’d previously reviewed US singles for the magazine, took over ‘Discos’ with the title of the column changing to ‘James Hamilton’s Disco Page’ (although it would revert back to ‘Discos’ later down the line, bar a short period when it was called ‘Disco Kid’). He laid out his credentials in an introductory statement, talking about his DJ background, which stretched back for over 13 years. He mentioned how he’d started out as a DJ in London and New York, and that during the mid-’60s his main interest was Soul music. Recalling when he was doing weekend All-Nighters, as James ‘Doctor Soul’ Hamilton, alongside Guy Stevens at The Scene in Soho, the famous Mod club, he said “I played nothing but Northern Soul…on its first time around”. In 1968 he went mobile and began to play a wide range of music.

This set the scene for what was to transpire a few years down the line, when New York Disco culture began to make a direct impression on what was happening in British clubs. Hamilton was its channel, gradually informing his readers of developments across the Atlantic. The introduction of the 12″ single in 1976 was, of course, a landmark, but the fact that this format had come about because NYC DJ’s were playing continuous music, going from one record into the next without using a microphone, barely registered with DJs here.

So, for the next few years mixing was pretty much completely dismissed as an irrelevance in this country. The personality DJ was highly valued, none more so than Chris Hill, head honcho of the South’s increasingly powerful Soul Mafia, and best remembered for his club nights at Canvey Island’s Gold Mine and the Lacy Lady in Ilford. Hill was arguably the UK’s first superstar club DJ and, although he was widely respected for playing the latest black music in his venues, it was his often outrageous patter that set him apart from all others. Chris Hill very much set the benchmark back then.

Mixing finally began to create a bit of a stir in 1978 when, in October, CBS’s club promotions department, now under its new US styled title, the CBS Disco Pool, issued a limited edition album (available only to DJs on their mailing list) called ‘Instant Replays’. Greg Lynn, formerly the club promotions man from RCA but now the CBS Disco Pool manager, had brought in two “exponents of the disco mix” to help him put together what he described as;

nine choice tracks of current singles, 12″ disco discs and album cuts…segued together to provide two sides of non-stop dancing music – an ideal aid to the DJ who needs a break during his gig or as a starter to the evening’s proceedings”.

The ‘exponents’ were James Hamilton and Graham ‘Fatman’ Canter, the DJ from the one of London’s leading black music clubs of the time, ‘Gullivers’ in Mayfair.

WEA Continuous Club Sampler 1977

The previous year Fred Dove from WEA (Warner/Elektra/Atlantic) had come up with the blueprint, issuing 2 continuous promo only LP’s that featured a selection of artists he was currently plugging (including The Trammps, Cerrone, Slave, Boney M, Lamont Dozier, Mass Production, Dennis Coffey, George Benson and CJ & Co). WEA was notoriously the most difficult mailing list to get onto, but those DJ’s who were fortunate enough to be included got a service second to none, receiving not only the latest UK releases, but also US imports (including future hits by artists like Chic, Sister Sledge, Gino Soccio etc). However, whilst the WEA albums were loosely edited together, and could hardly be called a mix in the full sense of the term, Greg Lynn (who had taken a leaf out of Fred’s book by mailing out selected imports himself) now took things a stage further with a more measured approach to what he termed ‘non-stop segued music’ on the cover. In his sleevenotes he enthused;

You will have to listen very closely to catch some of the mixes. The first mix, ‘Instant Replay’ into ‘In The Bush’ was done by Malcolm Eade of our International Department and is so perfect you have to think twice before you realise that the tracks have in fact changed! The majority of mixes are known as chop mixes, which are often near impossible to obtain in a club working off two decks. However, with the facility of tape editing, we were able to stop or start tracks dead on a specific beat or note”.

The tracklisting was as follows:

CBS Disco Pool 'Instant Replays'

Side One:
1. ‘Instant Replay’ – Dan Hartman
2. ‘In The Bush’ – Musique
3. ‘Plato’s Retreat’ – Joe Thomas
4. ‘Only You’ – Teddy Pendergrass

Side Two:
1. ‘You Should Do It’ – Peter Brown
2. ‘Freak In, Freak Out’ – Timmy Thomas
3. ‘Do You Feel Alright’ – K.C. & The Sunshine Band
4. ‘Starcruisin’ – Gregg Diamond’s Starcruiser
5. ‘Black Is The Colour’ – Wilbert Longmire

Listen here:

The album, which had taken eight hours to put together, was a revelation at the time, although it all sounds rather basic by today’s standards, and often pretty clumsy (not least the Dan Hartman > Musique transition, which Lynn had waxed so lyrical about). It’s legacy was that it opened up the idea of mixing to DJs the length and breadth of the UK, inspiring further mix albums, most notably, before the end of ’78, Polydor’s ‘Steppin’ Out’, the first to be officially released in the UK (put together by the company’s club promotions man Theo Loyla), and two LP’s that actually made it into the chart the following spring – K-Tel’s ‘Disco Inferno’ (Disco Mix and Sequencing by Rob Bayly), which peaked at number 11, and Polygram’s ‘Boogie Bus’ (Segues and Programming by Graham Canter) which reached number 23 whilst enjoying a healthy 11 week chart run.

Steppin' Out, Disco Inferno and Boogie Bus mix albums

British DJs now knew the theory part, but on a practical level it wasn’t as straightforward as it sounded. Only a tiny percentage of clubs had vari-speed turntables in the late ’70s (and on into the early ’80s), so a running mix was totally out of the question unless you had two tracks that were exactly the same tempo. With the amount of records using drum machines still very much in a small minority, the ‘BPM rating’ (beats-per-minute) of a record couldn’t be relied upon. Live drummers, however good they might have been, are not computers and, even though some played to a click track, this still didn’t provide the level of precision necessary for keeping two records in perfect sync for any length of time. Chop mixing was the easier option, although still difficult to execute, especially on the old-style belt driven Garrard and Citronic decks that most DJs were then using. Manoeuvring a record with your finger to try to get it in time could easily result in the needle skidding right off the vinyl and, as such, wasn’t a viable option. Furthermore, regardless of the technicalities, club managers wouldn’t have tolerated a DJ ‘just playing records’ as this would have been deemed to be slacking on the job!

By this point James Hamilton was suggesting mini-mixes of 4 or 5 records to DJs who might be lucky enough to have vari-speed at their disposal, but, in his November 25th column, he conceded that few DJs in this country are into “US-style mixing”. But then, in his first column of 1979, he wrote a now seminal piece called ‘To BPM Or Not To BPM’, outlining his intention to list the Beats-Per-Minute of all the records he reviewed from that point onwards. He also listed the BPMs of every record in the magazines UK Disco chart and outlined how DJs could work out BPMs for themselves;

all you need is a stopwatch, and – making sure that your deck is at the spot-on correct speed – tap your foot in time with the records main bass beat. When you’ve got the feel of the rhythm, hit the stopwatch start button on a beat / tap and start counting nought, one, two, three – etc…”.

The BPM bug had obviously bitten him hard because, throughout the next two weeks, he listed, “in order of Beats-Per-Minute all disco product currently in use by chart contributing DJs”, which amounted to literally hundreds of titles. Then, on January 27th 1979, he proudly announced that, following his lead, some record companies were now starting to list the BPM’s on their releases (which, in most cases, he was timing for them himself), whilst there were radio DJs who were using his BPM’s in order to achieve what he called “locked running mixes on air”. Finally he drew attention to the “disco jocks” (club DJs) who he said were “now thinking more than ever before about mixing their records”. Things had apparently changed pretty drastically in just two short months – Hamilton was now on something of a crusade for mixing, but, despite his optimism, there was still a long road ahead before most DJs in this country would share his enthusiasm.

Graham Canter & James Hamilton - photo by Greg Wilson 1979

I met James Hamilton on a number of occasions, both in London and when he travelled North. I’d generally check out Gullivers, where he deejayed with Graham Canter (also a young Graham Gold), whenever I was in the capital during the late ’70s – this is where I took the snapshot of the two of them behind the DJ booth. However, my abiding memory of James is stood at the counter of Groove Records in Soho, stopwatch in hand, busy BPMing the new imports which had arrived that day.

In February 1979 a highly ambitious weekly magazine was launched, simply called Disco. It was a much more in-depth forerunner to Disco Mix Mag (later to become Mixmag), which wouldn’t appear for another four years. This groundbreaking publication would unfortunately only last for a matter of months. The editorial team, led by Peter Harvey, included Garrell Redfearn (reviews) and Orin Cozier (features), two of the most respected club promo people of the time, plus Northern Soul aficionado, Neil Rushton, as news editor (a decade later Rushton would be a major player on the Techno scene via his Network label). The list of contributors were equally impressive, including Greg Lynn and the guy who’s now generally regarded as the first proper mixing DJ in this country, Greg James.

Greg James @ The Embassy London '78

Greg James was actually an Argentinian born American DJ from Pennsylvania, whose friend and mentor was Richie Kaczor, resident at the fabled Studio 54. James had come to the UK to open The Embassy, London’s first New York-style club, in April 1978, where, prior to his role as DJ (he was there for just six months), he helped design the sound and lighting. This all resulted from a meeting with future Embassy director, Jeremy Norman, whilst James was visiting London a few years earlier. Norman would subsequently hook-up with James in New York, where he saw him behind the decks for the first time.

Spreading the gospel as far as mixing was concerned, Greg James would consider Soul Mafia DJ Froggy amongst his converts – although Froggy cited his 1979 trip to New York as his Damascene conversion (more later). Having spent a month in Hong Kong James returned to the UK heading up to Leeds to oversee the installation of the sound system at a new club, The Warehouse, owned by fellow American Mike Wiand, where he’d introduce the Yorkshire public to the delights of US style mixing, spending a year deejaying there. One of the clubs resident DJs, Ian Dewhirst (formerly DJ Frank on the Northern Soul circuit), remembers James attempting to teach him and the other Warehouse DJs the basics of mixing, before he headed back down to London and opened his club retail outlet, ‘Spin-Offs’, specialising in disco equipment. So, just as quickly as he’d appeared, he vanished from the club scene to concentrate on his shop and installation business.

Ian Levine 1979

Ian Levine, the legendary Northern Soul DJ who had built his reputation breaking track after track at the hugely influential Blackpool Mecca, saw the possibilities of mixing at an early stage, taking in the New York gay scene during one of his regular trips to the States, where he dug deep to unearth rare Soul 45s. Levine (along with Mecca DJ partner, Colin Curtis) had caused major controversy within Northern Soul circles by introducing an ever increasing amount of contemporary tracks on a scene that was built on its passion for ’60s obscurities. The schism that ensued split the Northern Soul movement right down the middle, and things would never be the same again. It wasn’t only the music that drew Levine towards the gay clubs of New York, but his sexuality, and as the decade drew to a close he would move away from Northern Soul and increasingly towards a fresh destiny, at the forefront of the ’80s Hi-NRG boom. This can be traced back to his Northern influenced productions of the mid-’70s, like Barbara Pennington’s ‘Twenty Four Hours A Day’ (a big hit in the New York clubs) and ‘Baby I’m Still The Same Man’ by James Wells.

Levine would get to know Greg James via trips to The Embassy, and James would inspire him towards taking up mixing himself, initially on his nights at Angels in Burnley. When, in 1979, a major new gay venue opened in London, Levine, with James’ recommendation, was offered the role of resident DJ. The club, Heaven, would revolutionize the gay scene in the UK.

Disco reported that British DJs were worried that there was “a conspiracy afoot to swamp the country with non-stop NY disco fodder”. There were impassioned views on the subject of mixing and I even contributed to the debate myself, sending in a letter. My opinion at the time was pretty much in line with that of the magazine’s – that although mixing was a great addition to the DJs armory, it should be utilised alongside, rather than instead of, the traditional use of the microphone. However, the majority of British DJs dismissed mixing completely. Tilly Rudderford, head of A&R at Magnet Records, summed up this viewpoint when he stated that “the DJ is more of a compere than an operator. A personality is the main ingredient needed to be successful, because if you can chat, timing of records is of little importance”.

At the same time, John Benson, and his successor, Paul Armstrong (resident DJs at the Embassy, following on from Greg James), regularly listed their ‘recommended mixes’ in the magazine. For example: ‘Got To Be Real’ Cheryl Lynn (CBS 12″) 116 – chop mix to – ‘Straight To The Bank’ Bill Summers (RCA 12″) 116 (Cheryl Lynn finishes on ’3′ – i.e. third beat of bar – Bill Summers starts on ’3′, or, ‘Disco Nights’ G.Q (Arista 12″) 123 – crossfade to – ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer’ Sister Sledge (Atlantic 12″) 116 (varispeeds only – slow G.Q during the record, speed up Sister Sledge).

The cat had been well and truly set amongst the pigeons in the second issue of Disco, with the provocative front page headline ‘Does The Talking Have To Stop?’ illustrated by a photo of a DJ (who happened to be Graham Canter) talking into a microphone. What followed was an article, written by Neil Rushton, that drew the battle lines, with some of the main players on the club scene expressing their views on this hot potato of a topic. Two of the most influential Soul show presenters on British radio, Greg Edwards (from Capital) and Robbie Vincent (from Radio London) kicked things off. Edwards warned young up and comers that the door to radio would be closed to them if they embraced the ‘mixing trend’,

Jocks are just sitting down spinning records and that’s destroying the whole disc jockey profession. Nobody’s going to get a job on radio just by linking records. A DJ will never learn his craft by listening to records and finding out which ones have exactly the same beat. An engineer is there for that job”. Vincent echoed this sentiment; “American bad habits are not going to catch on here. People in the UK don’t want to hear three solid hours of identical music”.

Disco Magazine Front Cover 10.02.79

On the other side of the argument, Ian Levine returned fire, with a not so veiled dig at the Chris Hill type approach;

DJs in Britain get their reputation by spouting bullshit to wind the crowds up. In America the jocks don’t do that, they get their following by mixing records in a skilful way. The American way is better because it utilises the music and interprets the music. In England the music is just part of what was going on. People talk about the All-Dayers being so popular that American Disco music is irrelevant, but it’s Disco music which crosses over and has chart hits. A lot of All-Dayers feature boring Jazz-Funk instead of American Disco music, which is especially made to build excitement”.

It fell on Greg Lynn, the man whose promo album of a few months earlier had certainly stoked the fire, to provide the voice of reason; “I don’t think it will ever get to the situation where we will hear mixing in British clubs all the time”. Regardless of what individual DJs opinions were, Lynn felt that the British audiences wouldn’t accept the American approach to clubbing;

I think that if, by some miracle, all the clubs in the UK were overnight converted to their American counterparts with the best lights, sound and effects and so on – a lot of people would just not be able to take it in”.

The talking was destined to continue for a long time yet, and it wouldn’t be for another decade before mixing began to seriously challenge the microphones supremacy, eventually sweeping it aside as the Rave revolution finally rung out the old in ruthless fashion. But for now, the overwhelming amount of DJs rejected change, siding with the Edwards / Vincent viewpoint – if it’s not broke don’t fix, or in this case, don’t mix it.

Chris Hill speaks out at New Music Seminar NYC 1979

When the 5th New York Disco Forum was held in March 1979, Chris Hill was one of a group of people from the UK club scene who travelled over to gain a first-hand insight as to what the fuss was all about. Hill was “appalled” by the standard of the music being played in the clubs he visited, arguing that “clever use of the equipment” didn’t equate to “clever use of music”. Never one to pull any punches, he used a discussion about Disco Radio as his platform;

We’re into black music” he said, “The big upfront discos in England are black music clubs and we come here and we hear bland Euro disco garbage”.

Challenging the perception that Disco Pools were a US development he continued,

We had Disco Pools eight years ago. Nigel Grainge at Phonogram invented the idea of a DJ mailing list for just disco DJs and excluding radio DJs. We have a history of dealing with disco. Now at this forum I actually expected to hear new ideas but what I’m hearing is tired, tired ideas and it frightens me because I really think you people are boxing yourself into a corner”.

Hill’s words were somewhat prophetic, for just three months later, on July 12th, Rock DJ Steve Dahl was orchestrating the infamous ‘Disco Sucks’ campaign in Chicago’s Comiskey Park. The backlash was in full swing.

Although the fallout was mild when compared to what happened in the States, ‘Saturday Night Fever’ had pretty much destroyed Disco’s cool in the UK and the cutting-edge dance scene now revolved around Jazz-Funk (although the more Funk based Disco cuts continued to be played on the black scene – the type of stuff that would retrospectively be referred to as Boogie).

Froggy's Roadshow

However, one Soul Mafia DJ who very much embraced mixing on his return from that fateful trip to New York was Froggy (Steve Howlett), whose epiphany was brought about by a visit to the Paradise Garage, where Larry Levan was in full flow. Buying up all the right equipment for his Roadshow, which he’d built up to work extensively with Radio 1 presenter Dave Lee Travis earlier in the decade, Froggy, then DJ at one of the big London venues of the time, the Southgate Royalty, soon took his place amongst the UK’s main mixing exponents.

Still not content with the DJ mixers on offer, Froggy helped design the Matamp Super Nova for the Huddersfield based company run by Mat Mathias. It was remembered as

a mixers mixer right from the blueprints. With a cross-fader, remote control of Technics SL1200 turntables, sophisticated cueing and individual trimming and tone controls on each input, the Stereo Super Nova delivered the wish list of all club DJs at the time in one (albeit expensive) package”.

A few years later down the line I’d mix live on TV using one of these wonderful mixers.

Matamp Super Nova Mixer on the cover of Disco & Club News magazine June 1981

Another overseas DJ, this time a German, turned up in the unlikely location of Leysdown in July ’79 to work at a club called Stage 3. Peter Römer had been schooled in mixing at the legendary Hamburg club, Trinity, by Sharon Lee, an American DJ who’d played at Studio 54. He’d return to Germany, where he’d be held in high regard as their first mixing specialist, but head back to the UK in 1982, to take up the residency at Xenon in London’s Piccadilly. He’d later become one of DMC’s main ‘megamixers’, following their launch in 1983.

Having brought Greg James to The Warehouse for a time, Mike Wiand would invite another US DJ to play at the club in March 1980, bringing over Danny Pucciarelli (the then resident at Brooklyn’s Night Gallery) for three weekends, having met him in Los Angeles at a Billboard Magazine convention (Pucciarelli was also a Billboard reporter at the time). Things went so well that he was invited back for a second stint the following August, staying for a month this time. In an interview, on the Disco-Disco.com website, he recalls that

England had a massive response. My first trip to The Warehouse was amazing. You have to understand that the standard of the DJ was a ‘Talk Jock’. All the DJs would introduce a record, make announcements, etc… I was introduced as a ‘Mixing Jock’ from NYC”.

Pucciarelli’s next trip to England was in 1982, when he noted a change;

This time I found DJs that were mixing! I again played at The Warehouse, and I played in Wales, Blackpool, Harrogate and Manchester, where I did my first taped radio show on Piccadilly Radio in Manchester”.

He would return to England in 1983, and again in 1984, when he stayed for 7 months (June ’84 – Jan ’85), working for the Bunters Corporation, who owned clubs in Liverpool and Blackpool.

My path crossed with Danny Pucciarelli’s when he did his Piccadilly Radio mixes in the summer of ’82, as these were broadcast on Mike Shaft’s weekly Soul Show, for whom I’d been doing regular mixes myself since the previous May. We’d also appear on the same bill at the Tiffany’s All-Dayer in Manchester, in April ’83.

Tiffany's All-Dayer Manchester 17.04.83

I had remained open to mixing, but it wasn’t until 1980, when I was deejaying in Germany for 2 months, that I first used Technics SL1200s (in terms of technology German clubs were generally way ahead of the UK). I also heard a German DJ in a nearby city mixing both dance and alternative records, and that left a big impression on me (although I’ve never been able to 100% confirm it, I now believe that this was Peter Römer – the club was Librium in Essen, somewhere I know he played during this period). Although I’d seen Greg James at The Embassy two years before this, what the DJ was doing that night in Essen really crystallized the full potential of mixing for me, given the right environment.

Coming back to the UK to take up the residency at Wigan Pier, I finally had the right equipment to work with (in this case 1500s rather than 1200s). The Pier, like the Leeds Warehouse and Angels in Burnley, was a US style disco, with the emphasis firmly on the sound and lighting at a time when most British clubs were in the dark ages when it came to these things. It was opened by Lennon’s Leisure in 1979, and the following year the company would expand operations, taking things a stage further with an even more impressive venue located in Manchester – this time a smaller, more compact club called Legend.

In August 1981 I took over the Wednesday nights Legend, working with a predominantly black audience. It was at this point, inspired by what I’d heard in Germany, that I made a conscious decision to place the emphasis of what I did on mixing (Legend was the first UK club I worked in that had that had SL1200s). This new direction would set me apart from the other DJs in the North, and lead to Mike Shaft inviting me to put together regular mixes for his radio show, the first being broadcast in May ’82.

With the new Electro-Funk sound emerging from New York, and labels like West End, Prelude, Streetwise, Emergency, Profile and Tommy Boy coming to the fore, I was fortunate enough to find myself playing the right music in the right clubs at the right time, whilst taking what was then regarded as a novel approach to its presentation, for these were records that were much more suited to mixing, with the drum machine now superseding the live drummer.

In February 1983 I was invited to appear on the Channel 4 music show, ‘The Tube’, on which I’d demonstrate live mixing for the first time on British TV, whilst Jools Holland and Mike Shaft discussed what I was doing. It was regarded as such a new thing for a television audience that Jools Holland actually asked me to point out what a turntable was, for the benefit of “the people who don’t know what a turntable is” (a record player being the more commonly used description back then). The programme, which reached a sizeable youth audience, provided an introduction to mixing for many of its viewers, some of whom, judging by the apparent indifference of those in the studio, would have been completely bemused by the whole thing.

The same month saw the launch of Disco Mix Mag, the forerunner to Mixmag. It was nothing like the full colour glossy it would eventually become, but more a stark black and white glossy fanzine, available to DJs by subscription only. The early issues came complete with two cassettes, one of which showcased the forthcoming UK releases. But it was the other cassette that provided Disco Mix Club, as the parent company was called, with its main selling point, for this included mixes, originally by Alan Coulthard, but, as the coming years unfolded, by other DJs including Les Adams, Peter Römer, Sweden’s Sanny X, Chad Jackson, Dave Seaman and Paul Dakeyne. Each month an artist would be chosen for Coulthard’s ‘Mega Mix’ treatment – these were a medley of tracks by the same artist, always a big chart act. The first Mega Mix was Shalamar and others would include Kool & The Gang and Human League. It was an incredible piece of foresight by Tony and Christine Prince, the founders of DMC (as the organization would become known), and would take off immediately with the mainstream DJ community it was aimed at, bringing mixing into a much more commercial setting. DMC was undoubtedly responsible for popularizing mixing here in the UK.

Disco Mix Mag Issue 1 Front Cover - Feb 1983

Tony Prince was the most unlikely champion of mixing. A Northern lad from Oldham, he’d started out as a DJ back in the early ’60s, working for the Top Rank group who owned numerous large nightclubs throughout the country. He’d find fame in the ’70s as Radio Luxembourg’s ‘Royal Ruler’, but, with the stations popularity waning and just as he was in danger of becoming a name of the past, he discovered Alan Coulthard and began to feature what would turn out to be the prototypes of the Mega Mixes on his radio show in 1982. Coulthard had been putting together mixes at home, as a hobby, but all of a sudden he was elevated to position of influence within the club industry.

Hip Hop culture was beginning to make its mark outside of New York at this point and the UK was quick out of the blocks, thanks to Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Buffalo Gals’ video, which accompanied the release of the single in late ’82. Along with other Bronx delights, the video brought scratching to our TV screens for the first time, setting in motion the wheels that would lead to the emergence a whole new generation of would-be turntablists.

Black Echoes Mix DJ's - Apr 1983

In April 1983, Black Echoes writer Lindsay Wesker (later to be one of the founders of London’s Kiss FM) listed the foremost mixing DJs in this country, whilst introducing a crew of newcomers who were soon to make their mark in a big way;

Britain’s finest mixers are well-documented in this column. We all know the exploits of Record Mirror columnist James Hamilton and his Gullivers compatriot Graham Gold, the electronic Greg Wilson, heavyweight show-stopper Froggy, high-speed Ian Levine, simultaneous Steve Aldridge of The Embassy, megamixing Alan Coulthard, Paul Armstrong from Maunkberry’s and the deft Peter Römer at Xenon, but there’s one mixing force that’s yet to be featured, and we’re not talking about one guy. I refer to the entire Mastermind Roadshow, a soul sound devoted to mixing”.

With a wealth of experience in club promotion, Morgan Khan launched his Streetwave label in the early 80′s. Struggling to get the hits he’d hoped for he began releasing compilation albums, featuring tracks that had been big on import in the specialist clubs. His ‘Street Sounds’ series proved to be a great success, resulting in no less than six Top 50 albums in 1983. This led to a further series, ‘Street Sounds Electro’ (first volume released in Oct ’83), but this time, rather than it being the normal grouping of separate tracks, Khan decided the album’s would be mixed. He approached Mastermind, led by Herbie Laidley, but also including Max LX and Dave VJ (later Max & Dave of Kiss FM), to mix the first release, which proved to be a masterstroke when it went all the way into the Top 20. These LP’s (not forgetting the cassettes, regarded as breakdance essentials for crews up and down the country) would become something of an institution, with a run of eighteen consecutive chart entries (the majority of which were mixed by Herbie Laidley) right up until August ’87, when ‘Electro’ was finally phased out of the title and the series continued as ‘Street Sounds Hip Hop’ (having been re-branded as ‘Street Sounds Hip Hop Electro’ since March ’86). It’s a major flaw on the part of UK dance historians that the impact and influence of these albums has been largely underplayed and, more often than not, completely omitted.

Street Sounds Electro - first 6 in series

Mixing had now gained an unstoppable momentum and, in 1987, a veteran of Wigan Pier and Legend in Manchester, who’d come out of the audience of these clubs and into the DJ booths, making a name for himself as a top-notch turntable manipulator, was crowned ‘DMC World Mixing Champion’ at no less a venue than London’s Royal Albert Hall. Chad Jackson’s coronation, which I was there to witness myself, confirmed that mixing in this country had finally come of age. Jackson wasn’t a one-off either, fellow Brits Cutmaster Swift and CJ Mackintosh were hot on his heels, and there were plenty more readying themselves to step up to the plate.

Acid House was about to kick in and dance culture was soon to explode on a mainstream level, aided and abetted by the catalytic qualities of MDMA. The ensuing Rave scene revolved around uptempo four on the floor rhythms, conducive to beat matching, and now the DJs were ready, with those not prepared to make the switch soon to become relics of a bygone age, dinosaur DJs in danger of extinction. The survivors, suffice to say, kept their heads down and their mouths firmly shut.

This piece is dedicated to three of arguably the four main British mixing pioneers, Graham Canter, Froggy and James Hamilton (Ian Levine completes the quartet), all of whom are sadly no longer with us.

Shure SM58 Microphone

Written in 2009 and first published in Faith Strobelight Honey.

The early UK mix albums mentioned in the piece will each be uploaded to Mixcloud during the month ahead – the first 3 already online, with 4 more to follow on a weekly basis. Listen here:
http://www.mixcloud.com/gregwilson/playlists/greg-wilson-presents-the-original-british-mixes-1977-79/

Discussion at DJ History:
https://www.djhistory.com/forum/great-article-from-greg-wilson-on-the-history-of-mixing-in-the-uk

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

27 Responses to From Garrard To Technics – How British DJs Began To Mix

  1. Mark Kennedy August 9, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    Another outstanding informative script, great work

  2. Theo Loyla August 9, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    A very thorough article. Well done

  3. Chris Bowen August 9, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    Thank you for this very informative article.A great read,and bought back a lot of memories of some great DJ’s

  4. Les Spaine August 9, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    I must say Greg that was a great read, well done

  5. Paul Murphy August 9, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

    Nice article as ever Mr. Wilson. I must say though that there was a fair old bit of Euro Disco garbage being played in certain home counties clubs in the mid ’70’s. One that particularly stands out in my memory being “Do You Speak French” by Niteflyte. There were others too, thankfully age filters out the bad bits of ones early life.

  6. Jon White August 9, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    A really good read, brought back some great memories, especially the Swifty v Cheese battle at the Hippodrome, Leicester Square! I remember these times fondly as I really learned my craft as a DJ when I moved north to Yorkshire from London in the Mid-Eighties. Until that point, I was just another sucker DJ> A lot of us were on the cusp and had to be both mixer/scratcher & MC,, rather than choose “sides” at that time. The UK DJ of The Year crown in 1988 went to Paul Johnson (from Halifax) who utilised his 10 minutes with mixing/scratching AND talking. I remember seeing Les Adams at the Sussex Tavern (a small pub in Streatham) and being blown away, (And he was selling mixes on cassette tapes!) I had one of the original White DMC jackets with my name on (remember those?) and talked to anyone who would listen in Yorkshire about DMC as the uptake was a bit slower up there. Just been transported back 25 years!

  7. Stu August 9, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    Wow… A fascinating history lesson, thoroughly informative and gripping. Many thanks Greg.

  8. Levi Foster August 9, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    Great read Greg – thanks to you – Thanks for sharing

  9. snoopy August 10, 2013 at 4:56 am #

    Nice work, and very informative too.Love the bit if it ain’t broke don’t mix it i’m gonna use that.
    yes sure did miss the mic in the hand days for a long while, i use it as much as can now, mixing was an art but its just frigging boring now, a whole set that may as well have been the same blooming track.and to add mono tone as well since the invention of master tempo on some media play out. ill shut up now cause everyone is right apart from the person who’s writing,you know what i mean. thank you so much for a great read, best regards from me now living in Spain . warren pereira …….SNOOPY.

  10. Paul Stuart August 10, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    i was going to see the ‘southern’ djs like Chris Hill, Froggy and the ‘Soul Mafia’ DJs from 1980 onwards, so saw the transition from DJ’s hyping the crowd with the mic to using the records create an atmosphere…Froggy was my personal fav, and used both the mic and mixing to get the crowd going, he was my biggest influence when starting buying music.. Check AndyBella on mixcloud as he was one of Froggys roadies and has loads of recordings from those halcyon days on his mixcloud page.. http://www.mixcloud.com/andybella/

  11. suki funk August 10, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    This article was obviously written with passion by somebody who loves music. Bravo! Some of the terminology is odd like: “understanding history from the British lineage” which when isolated becomes a bit abstract and obtuse. The so-called “British lineage” was birthed by the legends of the underground in the United States. The ground breaking Disco (and later House) music productions, the art of mixing and the whole concept of the remix was very much invented, evolved and being executed exquisitely in the States by the mid 70’s and continued to grow and mutate through the 80’s and even 90’s. The “British lineage” is a direct off-shoot/descendant of that purely U.S. genesis and more than most European offshoots (Italy, German, and France being big ones), the British were excellent early mirrors and eventually participants in helping that U.S. underground culture go global. Possibly because of the immediate shared language and also just the plain fact that the New York (and later Chicago) sounds were so monumentally exquisite. Again, I like this thesis, and from an American viewpoint, I absolutely LOVE the solid British contribution, it’s just a bit obscure without a more obvious tie-in to the main event on the West side of the Atlantic and the original inner-city street kids (black, white and latino, gay and straight, men and women who made it all possible for these sub-strata specialized niches such as the “British lineage.”

  12. Chris Bowen August 10, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    We could all tell a story of how we picked up a certain piece of vinyl. In my town,there is an electrical shop.Selling everything from fuses to tv’s. It is a family run business that has been trading since 1928.
    At the end of this month,it will close its doors for the final time.
    The shop has always had some music tapes,and a hundred or so albums there,gathering dust in the racks.It never stocked cds.
    I happened to go through the vinyl a few years back.Nothing was in order or music genre.There were albums from Mantovani to James Last, Roger Whittaker,Daniel O Donnell to the old Top Of The Pops collections.In no particular order.
    However, what i did come across,was two of the albums mentioned above.Steppin Out and Disco Inferno,Brand new,never been played.Got the both for £1.50.A real bargain.
    Think i may pay the shop a visit before it closes.Just in case Boogie Bus is hidden in there somewhere..

  13. greg wilson August 10, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    Hi suki funk – by ‘British lineage’ I’m talking about the lineage of the DJ rather than the music. Back in the early 60’s when DJ’s like Guy Stevens and James Hamilton in London, and Roger Eagle in Manchester were championing black music, they found their own way to this music, rather than accessing it via what American DJ’s were playing – there was nowhere that this information was available back then. There was no US equivalent to the Mod scene in the UK, where Rhythm & Blues and Soul music was obsessed over to nth degree.

    The piece I wrote about the Roger Eagle book published last year, ‘Sit Down! Listen To This!’ should give you a better understanding of the way things worked in the UK at the time with regards to black music in the clubs, and how this was uniquely British in its approach. It wasn’t until New York Disco culture started to make an impact here that the British and US lineages began to merge:
    http://blog.gregwilson.co.uk/2012/08/sit-down-listen-to-this/

    Also, the recent piece about ‘The Tears Of A Clown’ should help illuminate the British love of dancing to black American music well before the Disco era:
    http://blog.gregwilson.co.uk/2013/08/the-tears-of-a-clown-a-classic-that-nearly-never-was/

    Finally, to really get to the roots of things, check out ‘Original Soulboy – Dave Godin’:
    http://blog.gregwilson.co.uk/2011/03/original-soulboy/

  14. Chris Renzulli August 10, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    I understand that every country has a history regarding how things evolved. Like in the Documentary Maestro where they credited a guy for “Inventing mixing” I’m not trying to discredit anybody’s contributions, however, In the US on the West Coast, as crazy as it may sound a San Diego radio station had started a gimmick involving a dog that could Disc Jockey and in the set-up of the elaborate hoax they filmed the dog among two giant phonographs and went on the air just as one song was ending. It was playing a big band record and the dog, Rufus, just happened to spook and he bumped both phonographs simultaneously stopping the ending song and starting the cue’d up new song somehow. Rufus had everyone laughing so hard with how that could have happened, but the fact remains, Rufus the dog mixed two separate big band songs seamlessly before man ever did it. And for the record Mr. Paul Murphy, one song was SIng, Sing, Sing played by the Benny Goodman Orchestra with a seamless mix into In the Mood by Glenn Miller.

  15. Steve G August 17, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    GREAT article that puts the UK club scene in perspective, especially the fact that it developed quite separately from the USA, although nearly all the records came from the US. James Hamilton was most definitely THE man. His influence can never be overstated.

    Personally, I was (chop mixing) segueing exclusively from ’74 ’til ’77 in Spain and then adopted a segueing and mini mix approach when I landed a residency in Southampton on return from there. I still talked as well (in the UK, in a provincial town, I just had to), but would quite often go five or more tracks without a word, something that didn’t gain me too many admirers, but the manager wanted a commercial yet ‘hip’ club, so he didn’t ever say a word.

    Later I’d adopt a proper mixing technique, but still talk too (best of both worlds?). I retired, just before the Acid House phenomenon (Grrrr, bad timing or what) and only wished I’d been able to keep doing it.

  16. L'ange bleu August 24, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    Thanks, Greg. As informative as ever. As a punter based in Manchester from 1979 and going across to the Warehouse in Leeds from 1980 onwards, whilst reading James Hamilton’s Record Mirror articles and Black Echoes, this helps in seeing how pieces of the jigsaw fitted in the bigger picture.

  17. James Hyman August 30, 2013 at 12:50 am #

    Solid research, solid piece, solid blog

  18. Michigan Wedding DJ August 31, 2013 at 6:52 am #

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of information. Being a leading Michigan Wedding DJ my knowledge about the use of microphones has gotten a new shape.

  19. Joe Coates October 30, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    Hello Greg,

    Really really enjoyed this article, in fact it has somewhat inspired me to research it as my dissertation topic. I’m going back to the British Library tomorrow to read more of James Hamilton’s magazine articles haha…

    I was just wondering what you think of the idea of creating a kind of profile for a number of the influencial clubs/club owners/promoters would be??

    There is no intention to plagarise your work or remove any of the praise towards the DJs but I just though it would be interesting to see what role the clubs which possessed the more modern equipment had. Places like Angels, The Warehouse, Embassy, Wigan Pier etc…

    Not sure how else to contact you.

    Thanks!

  20. greg wilson October 30, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    Hi Joe,
    That’s exactly what I hope happens with this information, that people like yourself continue to excavate this history.

    I think the profile idea is great – anything that helps highlight this legacy has got to be a positive thing.

    I’ll email you so we can talk further from there.

    greg

  21. Paul Nice May 9, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    Hi Greg, I am halfway through your article and it’s been great fun reading it, especially since I knew some of the dj’s and record promoters in the early to mid 70’s.

    I was in regular touch with the likes of Fred Dove, Garrell Redfearn, Nigel Grainge, and they were always ready to listen to the imput from the DJ.

    I also had a brief stint at the Lacy Lady and filled in for Chris Hill on at least one occasion, and also worked downstairs where they had cabaret acts, but back then I was mainly an R&B/Soul DJ, I used the mike, but never whaffled.

    I actually first started mixing records when I came back from L.A. This was in the summer of 1976, which might surprise you!

    As good fortune would have it I met with an English Girl called Jane Brinton who was training DJ’s at Magic Mountain which was an amusement park not far from Hollywood and I was so fascinated by what they were doing, I implemented the style upon my return to the U.K.

    Having worked at Crackers In Wardour Street previously, at the time I was the resident DJ at the Picketts Lock Leisure Centre In Edmonton North London, and I worked at the roller skating ring.

    You may remember the episode at the time of “some Mothers Do ‘Ave Em” where Michael Crawford was on roller skates at a roller skating ring and flew through the exit door and grabbed hold onto a moving double decker bus….that was the venue I worked at.

    James Hamilton paid a visit shortly after I came back from The States, he put a little piece on his page on what I was mixing and I think he was quite surprised at what I was doing as I was just using standard decks ( I wonder if anyone has it in an old archive?)

    I stayed in touch with Jane and the following year I visited her in New York where she was working with the likes of Loleatta Holloway of Salsoul records and First Choice whom she introduced me to in their dressing room where they were performing.

    She also took me in to meet the DJ at Studio 54, since she was fairly close by on E.55th street.

    One of the guys she had also trained, was a guy called Bo Crane out of Miami.

    He had contracts for the DJ talent with the cruise ships sailing out of the port of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

    I sent him a demo and ending up mixing records sailing around the Caribbean.

    Upon my return in March of 1997, I was offered the residency at a small local nightclub called the Regency Suite on Chadwell Heath High Road in Essex and to my surprise they had just installed brand new variable speed turntables, now I could really get at it with my imports.

    The Sun & the Mirror newspapers were wanting to come down to do some kind of article, but two days before Bo offered me another job on the T.S.S. Fairwindwind out of Ft. Lauderdale and left immediately….perhaps thats why you never heard of me, as I met my wife on the ship and moved to the States!

    Greg, I look forward to reading the second half of your story and yes, James Hamilton certainly was larger than life, wasn’t he!

    Best regards

    Paul Nice
    paulnice@lineone.net

  22. Rudy Gee November 13, 2015 at 7:47 am #

    Yes Graham Canter and James Hamilton great guys knew them well as I was the other dj at Gullivers at the same let’s start to segue period, remember Gullivers had two floors!! James refers to me as Rudy Megamix in record mirror as I was mixing on normal decks, downstairs was the younger crowd. All the guys from EMI, Polydor, Island etc, Les Spaine, Theo, Sally, Paul, Morgan Khan you couldn’t get him to stop dancing! George Hargreaves producer Yaz & Sinita, remember being brought test pressings hot off the lathe to play Friday night to get feeback to remix. I also teamed up with Fatman at Beetroot club as well. Also Jason dj Studio 54 and Barracuda Club London used to watch me mix on standard decks pitch perfect, Barracuda club used multi thousand pound Technics broadcast vari speed decks heck the tone arm alone was nearly a grand! I was also in the studio with Graham mixing Boogie Bus, was resident dj at Wedges Kings Road, Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s, Click Kings Road, Tokyo Joes Mayfair, great times with Sir Lenny, yep late 70’s early 80’s great time excellent vibes. Even now still can’t stop me dancing but even then one thing different was that the best mixing dj’s didn’t just mix by bpm it had to be musically correct as well !

  23. scherben November 19, 2015 at 9:56 pm #

    Top class read; loved it.

    DJs should be seen and not heard (that’s what the music’s for).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Links of the day | 在网上找到 | renaissance chambara | Ged Carroll - August 14, 2013

    […] From Garrard To Technics – How British DJ’s Began To Mix | Greg Wilson […]

  2. From Garrard To Technics – How British DJ’s Began To Mix - - JoJo Electro - Fashion for the dance music minded people of the world - January 9, 2014

    […] SOURCE:http://blog.gregwilson.co.uk/2013/08/from-garrard-to-technics-how-british-djs-began-to-mix/ […]

  3. The Friday Roundup: August 16 2013 - Digital DJ Tips - February 13, 2014

    […] From Garrard to Technics: How British DJs Began To Mix – The ever-reliable Greg Wilson with a fascinating insight into how beatmixing originally “crossed the pond” from the US to the UK. This is a great read if you have a bit of time. Read more […]

  4. ARTICLE – How British Dj’s Began To Mix | privateresortmusic - August 20, 2015

    […] http://blog.gregwilson.co.uk/2013/08/from-garrard-to-technics-how-british-djs-began-to-mix/ […]

Leave a Reply