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It Was Back In ’82

One of the defining moments of my DJ career took place exactly 30 years ago, on Monday May 10th 1982, when my first radio mix was broadcast on Mike Shaft’s show, ‘T.C.O.B’ (Taking Care Of Business), on Manchester’s hugely influential Piccadilly Radio, which played a major part in bringing black / dance music to wider attention during the 70’s and ‘80’s - from Soul, Funk and Disco, through Jazz-Funk and Electro, and on into Hip Hop, House and Techno. I go into its rich legacy in greater depth here:
http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk/articles/dont_touch_that_dial.html

The mix had been recorded a few days earlier, as live, one afternoon at Legend in Manchester (the club closed at the time). Mike Shaft had brought along a Revox B77 reel-to-reel to record onto, the machine being the portable unit of choice throughout the radio industry in this country back then. This was the first time the Revox, which has since played a constant role in my work, entered my life. At the time I had no means to record at home, but by the end of the year, following the runaway success of the mixes, which would subsequently become a regular feature on Piccadilly, I’d purchase a couple of Technics SL1200’s and a Matamp Super Nova mixer (this was at a time when, with the exception of London DJ, Froggy, who used them for his Roadshow, no UK DJ’s had such equipment at home). To top things off I bought my first B77, so I could put together my mixes at home, which would serve to lead me ever-deeper into my obsession with editing. So glory be to Mike Shaft and to Piccadilly Radio for facilitating this life-defining arc of continued discovery.

The reel of ¼ tape onto which that first mix was recorded onto was, as with most of my radio mixes (the final one, ‘The Best Of ‘83’, being aired in December 1983), lost – probably copied over at some point or other, having been stored at the station. I managed to salvage a few of these mastertapes, most importantly ‘The Best Of ’82, but the original mix wasn’t amongst these, and I only had it on an extremely lo-fi cassette recorded from the radio at the time.

As the author / DJ Dave Haslam once said, the mixes “were probably some of the most taped programmes in Manchester radio history”. These tapes would also spread further afield than the Greater Manchester region that Piccadilly broadcasted to, with copies, and copies of copies, finding their way into cassette players and ghetto blasters in all corners of the country, often without people having a clue about their source – this was the ‘mixtape’ in its earliest form from a British perspective. One such recipient of my mixes was Stafford based Pezz, then a 14 year old lad discovering his musical influences, and later of the fabled Nottingham-based soundsystem and DJ collective, DiY, who were amongst the pioneers of the UK free party scene, having formed in 1989.

I’d meet Pezz at the Liverpool offices of 3Beat, the record shop / label he worked for – this was in 2002, 20 years on from when my radio mixes first aired. My DJ comeback was still in the future, and I was very much an obscure name from the past at best, most people of Pezz’s age brought up on a later generation of DJ’s. So his excitement at meeting me was unexpected – he was talking about this tape from back in my Piccadilly days that had made a big impact on him and his friends at the time, as they set off on their own personal dance music odysseys, and asked me if I could identify a couple of the tracks featured (these id’s having eluded them for 2 decades). It turned out that one of his big mates back then was Dean Meredith, later of Bizarre Inc, who enjoyed chart success in the early 90’s, and more recently Chicken Lips (whose ‘He Not In’ I edited on my first ‘Credit To The Edit’ compilation in 2005), and that this tape had been a major influence on the sound of his latter project, which, along with Bizarre Inc, was produced in collaboration with partner Andy Meecham.

Pezz takes up the story in the sleevenotes of a limited run CD (300 copies only) from 2007, to mark the 25th anniversary, which he called ‘It Was Back In ‘82’:

As soon as I’d met Greg, an excited call was made to Dean. ‘…. Hey kid, guess what! I just met Greg Wilson – No way – I need you to send me a copy of the tape up as soon as possible….’ Then came the months of waiting more phone call’s hassling to get a copy before eventually with the bribe of digitally remastering it onto CD it finally arrived!

In the meantime I’d had many conversations with Greg and e-mail’s were exchanged, one of which contained a list of essential Electro-Funk releases. This list was full of records I, and anyone I showed it to, had never heard of, apart from some obvious classic’s such as the Peech Boy’s ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’, and Afrika Bambaataa’s ‘Planet Rock’. When I finally sent him a copy of the tape I’d got from Dean he identified mysterious artists and titles like The Gunchback Boogie Band’s ‘Funn’ and Jimmy Spicer’s ‘The Bubble Bunch’. I began hunting down these tracks on the internet, the first to arrive was Larry Graham’s ‘Sooner Or Later’, and the excitement of finally getting my hands on these tunes was unreal, mindblowing! I hadn’t had such a buzz from buying records in years. A goal was then set to collect every track on the tape. Gradually over the coming weeks all but a handful were found. In the meantime, Greg found the old tracklistings for his first ever mixes for Mike Shaft, which just happened to be the two mixes contained on the legendary tape. I was then able to find all but two tracks, or rather two small drum sections he used in the first of the mixes. Not even Greg can recall where these came from!

Before long it seemed obvious that listening to this 20-year-old tape was not enough. After collecting these, and a host of other early 80’s Electro-Funk releases, I decided that the only thing left to do was to re-create the mixes myself! Rather than just re-do them as Greg did back in ‘82 on the decks at Legends. I decided to use the computer to ensure the tightest of mixes and present them in today’s highly polished manner (I also lifted and cleaned the missing drum parts direct from the tape). The whole concept of taking someone else’s work and re-creating it is quite strange, and actually completing it and then re-presenting it to Greg felt even more bizarre. Thankfully he was really into what I’d done, especially as the original ¼” masters have been lost and, like myself, the only copy of these mixes that Greg had was recorded onto cassette from the radio.

Pezz’s full sleevenotes can be read at:
http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk/it-was-back-in-82/

So, to mark its 30th anniversary, this reconstructed version of my first ever radio mix, which was painstakingly pieced together by Pezz, has now been uploaded onto my SoundCloud.

 http://soundcloud.com/gregwilson/it-was-back-in-82-by-greg

The mix would be the first of its type on British radio, and following the fantastic response to mix 1, Mike Shaft decided to make it a regular feature, with new mixes every 3-4 weeks. It would have an instant impact in the clubs, with Legend’s attendance, which was already on the up, going through the roof in a matter of weeks. It was a momentous month, which also saw the release of the seminal Electro track, ‘Planet Rock’ (see: http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk/articles/when_the_planet_rocked.html) and the opening of a new Manchester club, which I’d DJ at later down the line, called The Haçienda.

My career was about to go into overdrive, and ‘The Greg Wilson Mix’, as Mike, in his distinctive mid-Atlantic drawl, would introduce it, was a major part of this process.

1982 Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1982

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Electrofunkroots Revitalized

You don’t know how happy I am to be able to tell you that, after months and months of chipping away, the new redesigned revitalized Electrofunkroots website is now live and kicking, having undergone a complete overhaul, with loads of new content added. Full menu here:
http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk/index.php/sitemap/

Originally launched back in August 2003, Electrofunkroots is absolutely central to my work, providing the foundation from which my DJ career was rejuvenated, and the catalyst for all my subsequent documentation of UK dance culture, and popular culture in general (without Electrofunkroots it’s doubtful that I’d have set up this blog, 7 years later down the line).

The idea came from Stevie Adams, a web designer who I’d hooked-up with via his association with the dancer / choreographer, Benji Reid, who had originally started out with Manchester breakdance crew, Broken Glass back in 1984 (I had previously been their manager). On reading my 2002 article, ‘Electro-Funk – What Did It all Mean?’, Stevie had suggested a website dedicated to the era, and kindly offered to construct it for me.

It was a logical progression. I’d began to explore the internet just a year or so beforehand, and having been almost completely detached from the club scene throughout the 90’s and on into the new millennium, I became acutely aware that time had most certainly moved on, with UK dance culture now being discussed in a very much historical context. The story was being gradually set in stone, both online and in print, yet it was clear to me that the most vital part was almost totally absent – the fundamental role of what we used to call ‘the black scene’, of which Electro-Funk and Jazz-Funk before it (and Disco & Funk before that), packed the most discerning dancefloors, and without which the oncoming Hip Hop, House and Techno movements could never have taken root in this country in the way that they did.

In this truncated account, it was as if nothing of note had happened in the years between the height of Northern Soul in the mid-late 70’s and the emergence of Acid House in the late 80’s, when this was, in fact, its most fertile period – a hybrid age of dance alchemy and groove experimentation. DJ’s on the black scene were responsible for breaking so many now classic records in this country, both on a commercial and cult level – yet they were largely omitted in this flawed narrative, despite their huge contribution to our rich musical heritage, having been the first to play Funk, Disco, Jazz-Funk, Jazz Fusion, Electro, Street Soul, Hip-Hop, Boogie, Rare Groove, House and Techno. These were true UK originators, yet their story hadn’t been deemed relevant - their contribution, at best, regarded as little more than a bit part. Crazy!

Seeing the situation, I made a vow, which has underpinned all that’s followed in my reignited career – this was to do everything in my power to draw attention back to the black scene and its influence. When I made this decision, I was aware that the best I could do was stick my finger into this vast dike of misinformation – I was only one person, a name from the past that meant nothing to clubbers now, precisely because this history was so hidden. Nevertheless, I felt a strong sense of obligation to what had gone before, so it was a case of bearing witness in whatever way I could – making available the archive material I’ve kept from those days, along with my personal memories from direct experience, so it was at least out there, albeit in a small way, for those who want to dig that bit deeper.

Although I’d started in the clubs as far back as 1975, the period I’d archived most thoroughly was the early 80’s, when I was heavily involved at the cutting-edge of the black scene, eventually hosting 2 of its most influential nights, at Legend in Manchester and at Wigan Pier, the clubs most associated with the emerging Electro-Funk movement. I was there right at its conception and, having already built my reputation as a Jazz-Funk specialist during the previous years, in 82/83 I found myself at the forefront of this controversial move towards the electronic. Cast in the role of heretic, I was right there in the eye of the hurricane, on the one hand acclaimed as an innovator, on the other criticised for instigating change.

The process began with me digging through the boxes in my loft, piecing it all back together bit by bit. I could get pretty close-in thanks to the record lists / info sheets I kept, plus the old black music magazines I’d collected. I could precisely date, within a week or so, all of the records I’d bought during this period, the majority of which had been exported from the US (mainly on New York labels). The framework of times, places and what was played was reconstructed, but, given that there was so little information available elsewhere as to what Electro-Funk actually constituted, and how it evolved, I figured I’d need to write some sort of introductory piece by way of explanation.

Once I started writing (or rather typing furiously in my pitiful one fingered way) I couldn’t stop. For months I was like a man possessed, continually cross-referencing all my archive material and unloading my memories. After this process reached its conclusion, with the release of the ‘UK Electro’ album, which I co-wrote and produced after I’d retired as a professional DJ in 1984, it was clear that I’d written the first draft of a book that documents the era – my Electro-Funk memoirs. Apart from the actual factual history, it is also an in-depth account of what it was like to be a DJ at a crucial juncture in UK dance history – as well as documenting the black scene (and the wider black culture of the time), I also got into other aspects that had never been previously explored, like the emergence of mixing in this country, and how The Haçienda (where I had a weekly night in ’83) owes a huge debt to Manchester clubs like Legend, The Gallery, The Playpen and Berlin, which sowed the seeds of what was to happen there later in the decade - the dance underground of the black scene going overground, following the explosion of the incoming rave scene.

Most younger people have been led to believe that there wasn’t much happening here before Nicky Holloway, Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling and Johnny Walker went on holiday to Ibiza together in the summer of 1987, and took ecstasy. The Balearic romance of this tale has obscured so much of what went before, creating its own mythology in the process, with the clubbing industry that has grown around the white isle continuing to endorse this year on year. Although the Ibiza story is obviously an important part of the overall history, those who regard this as some sort of year zero will never understand the true lineage of Britain’s rich and distinct club culture, which developed in a totally different way to what was happening in the US - the specialist DJ’s here, in many respects, more upfront in the music they played than their transatlantic counterparts.

The old adage I often quote, ‘to know the future first you must know the past’, gains special resonance in this respect. If your understanding is a misinformed one, you can never hope to see what lies ahead, as this can never be anything more than an illusionary future.

The second draft of my ‘book’ has never been approached. Once I figured that I had a book on my hands, I realised what a mammoth task it is to actually complete one. A first draft is all good and well, but then you have to methodically comb through, adding newly acquired information and making amendments. God knows how people used to write books before computers existed!  As a result, almost 10 years on, what I managed to get out of my system and onto paper (or rather into a Word docu) back then remains largely unaltered – something I plan to remedy in the not too distant. However, this has been an invaluable personal resource, and has provided fertile ground for a number of articles I’ve written since.

Having reamed off so much on the subject, I remembered my original intention; to write something more concise that would provide an introduction to the era I was highlighting – this would be ‘Electro-Funk – What Did It All Mean?’, which initially presented me with a dilemma. My first thought was to write objectively, but it seemed disingenuous for me to do a third person piece about something I was personally involved with. On the other hand, I felt that writing subjectively might provoke accusations of bigging things up purely because of this personal involvement. It was something I’d have preferred someone else to write, but the more I thought about it the more clear it became that it had to be me. I decided that the need to get to the core of the matter, and pay full props to all those who built what so many others have since benefitted from, far outweighed any personal discomfort I might feel from writing an objective piece from a subjective standpoint. I felt I had the facts on my side, which I could back up if push came to shove, so I braced myself for the criticism I anticipated from certain quarters (the people I was basically saying had their story wrong), but, somewhat surprisingly, this never materialised – at least not openly.

The article, written in November ’02, was really well received, and a whole heap of websites carried it, including Electro Empire, Disco Music, Old School Hip Hop, Davy D’s Hip Hop Corner, Global Darkness and Jahsonic. Rather than being a negative, the personal aspect to my writing seemed to be what people particularly enjoyed, and has proved to be one of the most positive moves I’ve made, informing all my subsequent writing on this and other related subjects, an ethos that continues here in this blog.

Electrofunkroots was born of this and, as a result of the site going online, my DJ career re-born. Given that I’d raised my head above the parapet, following a 2 decade hiatus, and now had an internet presence, I was approached with regards to potential bookings, resulting in my comeback, on December 20th 2003 with the Music Is Better night at The Attic in Manchester.

I’ve now been a professional DJ for longer than I was the first time around, passing that particular milestone earlier this month. With this in mind it’s fitting that Electrofunkroots, the catalyst for my return, finally gets its long overdue renovation. There’s so much new content to explore, and more to be added in the coming months. This includes the Electrospective section, focusing on the hugely successful 11 hour event in August 2008. Presented by the Manchester District Music Archive at Islington Mill in Salford, I interviewed 4 of the city’s key DJ’s of the 82-88 pre-Rave period, Mike Shaft, Colin Curtis, Hewan Clarke and Chad Jackson, whilst Tim Forde, presented his documentary film ‘The Birth Of The British B Boy’, with some of his old Broken Glass brethren being joined by Manchester’s other classic crew, Street Machine (complete with original member, Take That’s Jason Orange), for a proper old school battle. It was a memorable occasion on so many levels.

The Mike Shaft interview will be followed by Colin’s, Hewan’s and Chad’s in the coming weeks. There will also be a number of mixes embedded (via SoundCloud), kicking off with ‘The Best Of ‘82’ and ‘The Best Of ‘83’, my end of year mixes, broadcast on Mike Shaft’s essential weekly specialist show on Piccadilly Radio. I’ll also be revisiting the music I played 30 years ago, with a monthly ‘Top 10 Floorfillers’, starting off with the January 1982 edition:

GREG WILSON'S EARLY 80'S FLOORFILLERS - JANUARY 1982 by gregwilson

This podcast is also available on iPhone, iPod touch and iPad via the Radio ditto app, which is downloadable for free from iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/app/id464200632?mt=8

New content will continue to be added on a regular basis from this point onwards, and my intention to evolve an in-depth archive of the Electro-Funk era, and what led up to it, has entered a whole new phase. The site is running so smoothly it purrs; it’s a joy to navigate. Huge thanks to Stu Robinson and Dan Smith without whom this couldn’t have been achieved.

In embarking on this new venture, I’d like to conclude by paying my respects to the following people, all DJ contemporaries of mine during the 75-84 period, whose passion for black music, and pioneering spirit, played a major part in shaping the course of UK club culture:

Alex Lowes, Andy Peebles, Barry Neale, Baz Fe Jazz, Baz Maleady, Bill Smith, Bill Swift, Billy Davidson, Bob Boardman, Bob Jeffries, Bob Jones, Boo, Chad Jackson, Chris Brown, Chris Dinnis, Chris Harper, Chris Hill, Cleveland Anderson, Colin Curtis, Colin Hudd, Colin Parnell, Darren Fogel, Dave Christian, Dixie Dean, Eddie James, Eric Hearn, Frenchie, Froggy, George Power, Gordon Mac, Graham Canter, Graham Carn, Graham Gold, Greg Edwards, Hewan Clarke, Ian Anderson, Ian Dewhirst, Ian Redding, James Hamilton, Jeff Young, John DeSade, John Grant, John Green, John Osborne, Jonathan, Jon Taylor, Kelly, Kenny McCleod, Kev Edwards, Kev Hill, Kevin Keatings, Les Spaine, Lyndon T, Mark Roman, Martin Collins, Mastermind Roadshow, Mike Allen, Mike Davidson, Mike Shaft, Neil Neal, Nicky Flavell, Nicky Holloway, Nicky Jackson, Nicky Peck, Norman Jay, Owen Washington, Paul Anderson, Paul Clark, Paul Cooke, Paul Dixon, Paul Rae, Paul Schofield, Paul Murphy, Persian, Pete Girtley, Pete Haigh, Pete Tong, Ralph Randell, Ralph Tee, Richard Searling, Robbie Vincent, Robin Nash, Sean French, Shaun Williams, Simon Walsh, Sterling Vann, Steve Allen, Steve Dennis, Steve Devonne, Steve Walsh, Terry Lennaine, Thomas Felton, Tim Westwood, Tom Holland, Tony Clark, Tony ‘Shades’ Valence, Trevor M, and the Wild Bunch (apologies to anyone I might have forgotten).

Electrofunkroots website:
http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk

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