In the summer of 1978, when I was 18, I went out to Denmark and then onto Norway, plying my trade as an ‘International DJ’, having secured bookings via I.D.E.A. a Copenhagen-based agency specialising in bringing British DJs out to Europe on monthly contracts – of which there were many, Norway seemingly invaded in the process, the English language deemed authentic with the microphone still a DJ essential. Having stopped off in Denmark (via Holland and West Germany) I’d taken the car ferry across to Norway. I wasn’t supposed to head to Skien, the small Norwegian city I ended up in, but after arriving there the police had searched my car on the docks, undoing bits from under the bonnet but not putting them back, which caused problems for someone of my limited ability when it came to the workings of an engine. As a consequence, 50 miles on my car broke down on route to the North of the country, resulting in my agency hastily re-arranged things so I could play somewhere closer to hand while my car was repaired. So, by fate or accident, Skien by default became my destination, initially playing a few times at a venue called Galaxi, whilst I waited to start a one-month residency at a club called Lines (pronounced Lena’s).
It wasn’t like nowadays, with DJs flown overseas and staying in comfortable hotels – I just had a basic room above the venue to call home for a month, and only had a couple of nights off during that period, generally working from 9pm until 4am. Lines was memorable for all the wrong reasons, the experience hastening a somewhat homesick retreat to the UK following my unhappy stint there. However, my month in Skien had a major silver lining, which wouldn’t fully reveal until 2 years on, when I returned to Europe, a little less wet behind the ears, for contracts in Denmark and West Germany.
It all began when Preston-born DJ Paul Rae rocked up one night in Lines and proceeded to weigh me up, listening carefully to what I was playing. I spotted him straight away, you couldn’t miss this former policeman with his don’t mess with me physicality, enhanced with an impressive mop of tightly curled hair that added further height – a white afro if ever I saw one. It was like he was auditioning me first before deciding if I warranted speaking to.
Eventually he came over, revealing he was English and said something like ‘the boys are in town’, scribbling an address down for me and inviting me over when I’d finished, although it felt more like a summons than an invitation. I headed there later, intrigued by who these ‘boys’ were – for if they were anything like Paul this must be quite a crew. And they were – later that night I’d meet Nicky Flavell, who was destined to play a crucial role in my career, and Nicky’s friend, Primus, was also in town before heading off to a gig of his own. These were hardened ‘international DJs’, who’d been touring around Europe for a number of years, on a mission to spread the Funk far and wide (each what might be termed ‘a serious music head’).
This sussing out of Paul’s was successfully navigated not because of any words we may have exchanged, but due to the music he heard me play – we spoke the same language, my selections showing him I was a kindred spirit, clearly into the black music he also favoured. He’d been to a further club in the city where there was another English DJ resident, but this guy’s commercial leanings, playing what was then termed ‘wally music’ (chart/pop stuff), meant that he’d never have an address scribbled down for him by this curly-haired funkster from Lancashire.
Paul’s loud and colourful character was in contrast to that of the smooth and sophisticated southerner, Nicky Flavell, a black music specialist of taste and finesse. Nicky was in Skien to work at ‘Hawk’ club, the best spot in town, whilst Paul, who didn’t have a gig that month, was along for the ride – as things would turn out, he’d follow-on from me at ‘Lines’ when my month ended.
When I got back home I resumed my former residency at the Golden Guinea in New Brighton. On a trip back to the UK the following year, Paul would head over to Merseyside to see me, convincing Blues & Soul’s Northern club correspondent, Frank Elson, to come along, resulting in a glowing review in the magazine, a huge source of pride at the time.
The Skien connection would subsequently play a massive role in the fortunes of Wigan Pier and Legend in Manchester – following Nicky’s lead, both Paul and I would become resident DJs at these clubs in the early-’80s (Paul originally working at the Pier as light controller).
Nicky, soon after our initial meeting, would be taken on by Bacchus, a prestigious agency who fitted clubs worldwide, providing the DJs as part of their service. Wigan Pier was a Bacchus installation, opened by a DJ called Kelly in 1979, who was resident for 6 months before Nicky took over for his own 6 month stint, including the much-acclaimed Tuesday night Jazz-Funk session. It was during this time that I, heading back to the UK between my contracts in Denmark (Club Prinsen in Vordingborg) and West Germany (Club Eastside in Mulheim), went to Wigan to see Nicky at his new venue.
Wigan Pier blew my mind! It was everything a DJ would want, so far ahead of the curve with regards to what the UK club landscape offered at the time, with its next level sound and lighting installation. It was as close to a New York style discotheque as you were likely to find in this country back then, building on the pioneering efforts of clubs like Angels in Burnley and The Warehouse in Leeds. The Pier’s logo even boasted the proclamation ‘Top American Disco’.
Nicky told me he was moving to a new club, Legend, run by the same company, Lennon’s Leisure, to be opened in Manchester later that year, and I met the club’s owner, Terry Lennon, who suggested I audition for the soon to be vacant role at The Pier. Problem was that I was just about to start my contract in Germany, so I wouldn’t be able to attend auditions – I actually even considered not going to give myself the opportunity of landing the Pier job, such was its enticement, but I couldn’t take such a risk on the off-chance of a successful audition for a residency that would have been relished by every DJ in the region and beyond. Instead, I asked if I could send a demonstration cassette when I got to Germany, which I’d record in the club there, although I didn’t hold out much hope for this then unorthodox approach.
The tape was made, and sent, and Nicky was hugely instrumental in fighting my corner from within. The upshot was that I, to both my surprise and delight, was offered the job, whilst Nicky moved on to Legend, which turned out to be even more impressive than The Pier in its state-of-the-art magnificence.
The Pier (and Legend) also employed light controllers to look after the vast array of possibilities offered in this direction, and Paul, having himself returned from Europe, took on this role at The Pier whilst he was looking for a suitable DJ residency.
Sadly, Nicky’s time at Legend proved to be brief, irreconcilable differences with the club’s management regarding the music policy resulted in his sudden departure (48 hours later he was back in Europe beginning a new residency in Gran Canaria), with Paul and Ralph Randell, who’d been working at Derby’s Bluenote, brought into Legend to plug the gap – the 2 agreeing to share DJ and light controller duties, forming a formidable partnership in the process.
Paul and Ralph’s most important contribution was in hosting the Thursday Dancematic sessions at Legend, which were hugely popular with the more alternative Futurist/New Romantic crowd (Paul, and Ralph, diversifying from their black music roots to take their places as 2 of the most important DJs on this newly-emerged UK scene, which had grown out of the Roxy/Bowie nights of the late-’70s). Many of the original Haçienda crowd were Dancematic regulars – The Haçienda opening in May 1982.
I’d eventually take over the Wednesday Jazz-Funk night at Legend in 1981, whilst still resident at Wigan Pier, with Paul and Ralph heading in the opposite direction to launch Dancematic on Wednesdays in Wigan. From the black music power-base of Wigan Pier on Tuesday and Legend on Wednesday, I’d subsequently introduce the new Electro-Funk sound that emerged in 1982, these 2 nights at the vanguard of the scene, voted 1st and 2nd in the North’s Top Clubs section of the Blues & Soul poll.
Both DJs have also compiled accompanying Spotify playlists featuring music they played at the time, Nicky illustrating the Jazz-Funk era, Paul drawing from the Dancematic playlist:
Paul and Nicky were recently interviewed for Electrofunkroots by Josh Ray – you can read here:
Paul Rae Interview:
Nicky Flavell Interview: