The early days
The event that first sparked my curiosity about music was in the early 1980's when, as a young 2 Tone fan, I discovered a stack of my father's original Blue Beat 7"s, including several Prince Buster songs that had been covered by my then favourite band, Madness. I suddenly realised that the new music I had been listening to had roots that reached far back, and this knowledge inspired me to explore the wider musical world which had just been revealed to me.
My first encounter with mixing was as a 12 year old in late 1984, when a friend of mine played me some of his uncle's electro records, notably the Streetsounds LP "Crucial Electro Volume 2". At first, I assumed that the reason for there being no gaps between the songs was to fit more on the vinyl-it did not occur to me that the mixing was a creative part of the presentation, and had been carefully thought out utilising the experience and skills of a DJ. Fortunately, further listens revealed the sophistication of the DJ in question, Herbie Laidley from London's Mastermind crew. Soon after I was constructing my own crude pause-button mixtapes, inspired by the Electro compilations and various radio shows on stations such as Piccadilly, Radio Lancashire & Southside (see note 1 at the end for more info).
Throughout the 1980's, local specialist shows exposed me to a wide range of dance music. At the time that was a blanket term to cover anything from electro and hip hop to soul, reggae and early house music. Back then there were far fewer records being released each week, so DJs had to be versatile and play across the board.
As an enthusiastic young music fiend in Stockport, these stations were a lifeline to quality new releases, and exposed me to a lot of older music that I had missed. Little by little I was building a collection fuelled by this knowledge, all the while improving my DJ skills. By 1987 I was proficient at turntable mixing and editing, although I was still using primitive home hi-fi gear. In the summer of 1988 I had my first mix played on Waxmaster's show on the Manchester pirate station WBLS.
In 1988 I took a part time job at Kwik Save and ploughed all my earnings into vinyl. By this time I had a good knowledge of electro, hip hop, house, & 80's soul, and was busy expanding my knowledge of blues, disco, funk, soul, reggae, jazz, african and latin music. More pause-button mix tapes followed, as did demo tapes of my own early productions. My first break came in 1994, when I met Barney Doodlebug, a DJ/Doodler who was originally from Bristol, and who now runs the international Doodlebug events. He gave me my first Manchester gig, in Dry bar on a Sunday night, and he also passed a demo tape of mine to local label Rob's Records, which resulted in them releasing my first 12" single.
From 1994 onwards, I got regular bar gigs, as well as a short stint at Manumission alongside fellow Stockport lad Treva Whateva. Following on from this, I became a frequent guest at Headfunk, alongside residents Chubby Grooves & Tom Simba (who went on to form Groove Armada with Andy Cato). This night mutated into Eardrum, a DJ/jam night that I was resident at alongside Chubby, Mark One and Andy Votel. Other Manchester residencies included One Tree Island with Stefano, Guy Morley, Jah Conguero and Funk Boutique; and Dubism, with Guy Morley and Dom from Blood and Fire.
Between 1995 and 1997, I released further singles for Rob's Records subsidiary Pleasure, as well as sides for Echo Drop, Grand Central & Cup of Tea. My work for Grand Central with Mark Rae inspired some 4 deck club performances, including friendly 'battles' with DJ Food, which introduced me to the Ninja Tune fold. My first remix was a DJ Food megamix for their 'Refried Food' box set in 1996.
The release of more of my productions resulted in increased offers for DJ gigs. As well as playing regularly at the Electric Chair & Fat City nights in Manchester, and with Tru Thoughts in Brighton, I accepted a four year residency at Off-Centre in London, as well as guest spots around the country.
Some of my first DJ gigs abroad were with Grand Central in 1997, and, following my signing to Ninja Tune in 1998, I did several European tours with the likes of Roots Manuva, The Herbaliser, Dynamic Syncopation & Mixmaster Morris. The release of my Ninja album 'Keep it Unreal' also kick-started my Manchester club night of the same name, borne of a desire to play exactly what I wanted, rather than having to fit in with the music policies of other club nights. After a short stint at Planet K, the night moved to the Music Box, where it remains to this day. The success of this night inspired me to take the idea on tour, so that instead of turning up with my records and playing the standard 2 hour guest DJ slot, I would recreate 'Keep it Unreal' in different venues, and play for the whole night.
I am now in a position where I can play a lot of esoteric and unusual music, as playing for the duration of the night enables me to create a very relaxed atmosphere, before increasing the energy levels at my own pace, taking in many kinds of music along the way. Over the course of a night the music can include blues, jazz, soul, funk, 60's R&B, disco, boogie, deep house, reggae, ska, rocksteady, dancehall, electronica, electro, hip hop, african, latin, drum & bass, breakbeat, and any combination of the above. The only real criteria is that the music has to have soul!
Although I am a fairly technical DJ, it is vital to remember that the most important skill for a DJ is to play great records in the right order. Each record must complement the one before, and introduce the one that follows. Beatmatching is an obvious way of linking records, but there are other common factors, such as lyrical themes & complimentary keys that a DJ can use to aid the transition. Each piece of music has a mood and an energy level, and orchestrated carefully, you can create an atmosphere where every record that comes in is precisely right for that moment.