When the crew behind Manchester’s Electric Chair brought their monthly club night to an end at the beginning of 2008, they’d decided their next move would be from club to pub, opening a bar a few miles outside of the city centre in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy, which they called Electrik.
Many people presumed that DJ’s would have a central role in this new venture, as is the case with lots of bars these days, but just as they had with regards to the eclectic music policy they implemented at Electric Chair, which proved to be a major influence on so many subsequent club nights, they bucked the trend, installing a free jukebox and keeping DJ sets for special occasions. On Sundays they host ‘one deck sessions’, which are exactly what they say on the tin – the DJ playing vinyl via a lone turntable, taking one record off and putting the next one on, complete with gaps, crackle and pop. The selector sits in a comfy armchair, and the only house rule is that no headphones are allowed – it’s just a case of dropping the needle at the start of the record and up with the volume.
I was invited to play there on Sunday April 1st, a suitable date for such an endeavour I thought – if anyone turned up expecting a normal type DJ slot from me at least I had a valid April Fools get out clause. Ahead of the night Electrik announced ‘Greg Wilson...no reel to reel...1 record deck...no mixing...mind the gap’.
In such an environment, where I’d been encouraged to play whatever I wanted, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dig through my early to mid-70’s 7” singles – the type of stuff I’d been carrying with me in the pre-12” days when I was starting out as a DJ, most of which I’d bought between the ages of 12 and 15, leading up to when my club career began, and were played to death in an original one deck stylee, via the record player in my bedroom, where so much beloved music entered my schoolboy ears and etched its way onto my being.
I decided to pick out 40 odd tracks, just enough to fill an old 7” carrying case, and then go with the flow on the night, making it up as I went along, playing as many singles as would fit into my 2 hour spot (31 as it turned out). Going through my records is a process always tinged with a degree of sadness – this dates back to a fateful day in 1985 when my treasured collection was decimated by some kids who’d got into my house in Wigan.
It was my own stupid fault. Life wasn’t going very well for me at the time, I’d stopped deejaying a few years earlier, but my new career as a record producer had stalled and, as I waited for my luck to change, I found myself falling ever deeper into debt. The whole thing eventually exploded in my face – my car, which I’d bought on the never never, was re-possessed, and then the mortgage company informed me they were foreclosing, so I was about to lose my home.
I was in the process of making a move to Liverpool, and had been staying there with friends whilst I’d been working for a small record company, albeit with huge, but ultimately unrealised, ambitions and pretentions. All sounds encouraging on the surface, but it was the money from a stone syndrome – all promises of a payday, until the whole thing went belly up leaving me more stranded than ever.
The plan was to get myself a flat as soon as possible then vacate my house in Wigan, having been served notice to leave. In preparation for this I’d packed all my records into boxes and brought them downstairs (they’d previously been in my home DJ studio, all neatly placed in alphabetical order - I prided myself on being able to lay my hands on any record I owned within a matter of seconds).
My old mate Django, now long gone and greatly missed, then an extremely hyperactive 2 year old Dobermann Pincer, lived in the house with me, so whilst I was away in Liverpool for a few days I paid a local lad I knew to do a spot of dogsitting, taking Django out for walks and feeding him. What I hadn’t bargained for was the house being gatecrashed by some other local lads, who threatened their way in and proceeded to get pissed up, creating carnage that served to defile what had taken me 15 years to amass.
Brian Cannon, who I recently mentioned in my Stone Roses post (http://www.gregwilson.co.uk/2011/12/living-to-music-the-stone-roses-the-stone-roses), informed me of the bad news. He phoned me in Liverpool to let me know that he’d heard on the local lad grapevine that something had happened at my house the previous night, and that some of my records may have been stolen. I was obviously alarmed, and drove back straight away to find out what had happened, but I hadn’t bargained for what I’d encounter.
The front garden was strewn with frisbeed plastic, some much loved records snapped and broken (this was also the case, only far worse, in the back garden). Inside the house there were singles that had been melted with lighters and shaped into vinyl ash trays. It was a heartbreaking sight to behold. When I looked in the hallway, where the boxes were, it was clear that a load had been taken, maybe as much as a third of my collection vanished that night, I’ll never know the exact amount.
I’d planned to sort it out myself – it’d be easy enough to find out who was involved. However, when I saw the wanton destruction I decided to call the police - but this would backfire in a big way, and I was about to get my second major shock. On their arrival, I started telling the officers what I thought had happened, but they weren’t the slightest bit interested about some stolen records and, instead, produced a warrant for my arrest! I’d failed to pay a rates bill and I was informed that unless I could stump up £500, money I just didn’t have at the time, I was going to find myself in a cell at Wigan nick for the weekend, until I could be put in front of the magistrates on the Monday morning (it was Friday). I couldn’t believe what was happening to me.
As it worked out, I only had to endure one night’s incarceration, my Mother bailing me out the following afternoon having, fortunately for me, just arrived back from her holiday, but the whole experience really shook me up, bringing the full scope of my vulnerability into focus. I had a lot of dark thoughts during that long night, playing out in my mind possible scenarios of the street justice I might unleash, but I was thankfully able to talk some sense into myself, reasoning that it was just kids who’d done it and that it was ultimately my own responsibility, my own idiocy for entrusting the keys of my home to a teenager. Knowing there’d be no chance of retrieving what had gone without some serious confrontation taking place, I resolved to move on and lick my wounds, letting karma take care of this one.
Anyhow, I’ve dwelt too long on this whole bleak saga, it wasn’t supposed to be a tale of woe, but a celebration of my teenage vinyl love affair. The reason I mentioned this was because I stopped collecting vinyl after this – too much had been lost that could never be replaced. For years I’d torture myself by spending hours on end searching for stuff I no longer possessed. It was that heart sinking feeling over and over, as I was constantly reminded of what was lost.
So, selecting the records for the One Deck Session was a largely random process – it was all about finding stuff that fitted into the timescale I’d fixed on, which would provide a cross-section snapshot of those days – including a bit of everything as far as dance music was concerned back in what might now be now be termed the proto-Disco era. This includes the Funk of James Brown, Ohio Players, Jimmy Castor Bunch and Rufus Thomas, Soulful grooves from the Detroit Emeralds, Joe Simon, Jimmy Ruffin and the Trammps, big Pop hits from Carl Douglas, the Four Seasons, Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes and the Elton John Band, plus European releases from Champs Boys (France), Soulful Dynamics (Germany), Adriano Celentano (Italy) and Carl Douglas / Elton John once more (UK). As they used to say, all this and much much more.
I used to put all my singles into white card sleeves (see lead image), onto which I’d write the titles (both A and B sides), the artist name, and the type of music – those selected for the ‘one deck session’ provide anan illustration of how, back in the early–mid 70’s, the term Disco wasn’t being used as a genre description here in the UK (these singles are mainly categorized as Soul or Funk, even the ones that would clearly come under the Disco classification in retrospect). I’d also add my name and phone number, as well as stickering the label with my name, so, if lost, whoever found wouldn’t be in any doubt with regards to who it belonged to - in this way the odd record from my Wigan nightmare has re-surfaced, most recently singles by Marvin Gaye and the Four Tops that a kind soul called Matthew Grainger tried to return to me having spotted them on eBay (I thanked him for his gesture, but told him I’d prefer that he kept them himself, explaining; ‘I’ll never be able to get back what was taken, so it would be satisfying to know that at least some of them found a good home. There’s something more cathartic in that’). Finally, top centre, I’d write the first letter of the artist’s name, for further quick reference. When deejaying I’d carry my 7” singles in wooden soft drinks crates, which were so perfectly sized you’d have thought they’d been specifically designed for this function (plastic ones would also do the job, but there was something special about those wooden crates).
The selected singles were all records I never thought I’d play in public again. I’ve managed to replace of majority of these tracks on CD over the years, but it’s nice to re-connect with the scratchy vinyl once again, although I must admit that that ‘warm crackly’ sound isn’t something I’m overly nostalgic for, preferring to hear a track as clean and crackle free as possible.
I chose to close with an old favourite, ‘Groovin’ With Mr Bloe’ by Mr Bloe, a UK recording from 1970 that I edited to play on my debut at the Electric Chair back in 2005, and which would appear as the concluding track on the first Credit To The Edit compilation later that year. It very much acts as a theme tune here, which brings the curtain down on the session, whilst inter-connecting with that night at the Chair and an earlier Manchester appearance. I’d actually played this 7”, back in 2004, at Manchester’s long-running vinyltastic gathering, Aficionado (then at its old Hulme base in The Arch), hosted by legendary Manchester duo, Moonboots and Jason Boardman. The Electric Chair’s own fabled twosome, The Unabombers, are, of course, partners in Electrik, which has been the venue for Aficionado during more recent times. So, there was a sense of bringing things full circle as far as Mr Bloe is concerned – for more detail check out what I wrote about the track in the Credit To The Edit sleevenotes:
There’s a crossover with a couple of mixes I’ve done documenting the same era, most notably Music Played In Discotheques, which I put together for the silent disco installed in the Tate Gallery, Liverpool, by Wayne & Jack Hemingway back in November 2009. The title relates to the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, Disco wasn’t regarded as a specific genre when I started out, but a catch all term for the music played in clubs and discotheques which was predominantly Soul and Funk. You can check it out here, complete with accompanying text:
Further to this, playing in the Soul Casino at last year’s Vintage Festival, held in London’s Southbank, provided me with the opportunity to re-visit this period, albeit with a few extended edits included, plus an early 12” release to round things up:
Then there’s the monthly Time Capsule series I put together for Samurai FM, covering Jan ’76 – Sept ’77 (there’s also the introductory ‘First Impressions’, where I play a selection of tracks that were in my record boxes when I did my first club date, as a fresh faced 15 year old, in Dec ’75). This serves to document the gradual emergence of the 12” as the DJ’s format of choice, although the 7” is undoubtedly cast in the starring role:
Finally I should mention Random Influences, its wider scope taking in the Pop music I grew up with as well as my black music roots – in 12x2 hour parts it’s a celebratory selection of 7” singles from my formative years, all released during the 60’s and on through to the mid-70’s, up until the point when I became a club DJ: