Mark Cotgrove, AKA Snowboy, got his start as in a DJ in 1978 at just 17 years old, spinning at London club the Goldmine, where he was then known as “Mad Marx.” There, he became immersed in the UK soul-funk scene of the 1970s and ’80s, and met DJ and promoter Chris Hill, Jeff Young, Froggy and a crew known as the Funk Mafia. He’s an avid collector who was on the scene for the rise of acid jazz, and started the Deep Funk night at Ormond’s with fellow digger Keb Darge. Cotgrove is a percussionist, recording artist and historian of the moment as well – he published From Jazz Funk & Jazz Fusion to Acid Jazz: The History of the UK Jazz Dance Scene in 2009.
How did you discover dance music?
When I was at college, Southend Technical College, all the art students and fashion students were going to this nightclub on Canvey Island called the Goldmine. That music was of no interest to me because all I was interested in was rockabilly. I went down there with them, because they were my friends, and the first time I went there it just hit me like a ton of bricks. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. I’d never heard any music like this before. So literally from the first visit there, to see Chris Hill (it was 1978 when he’d returned from the Lacy Lady), I was spending every penny I had on the music I heard in there. It was a revelation. Really classy. The people in there seemed really committed. People were as one in there.
What was the racial mix in there?
It varied. You didn’t get many local people going in there. People travelled to go there. So you’d quite often get coachloads from London, particularly a tribe called the Brixton Frontline. But generally it was two-thirds white. It did rely on people travelling. Once when I DJed there on a Saturday covering for Chris, a coach turned up from Liverpool.
How big was it?
Technically it held 350, but it was way busier than that. It was jammed and sweaty to the point of being uncomfortable on Fridays and Saturdays.
Describe it to me.
When you walked in, you could see a bar on the right hand side called the Miners Bar but you couldn’t get into it unless you went into the club itself. There was no entrance from the street. It was almost like a cavern. Somehow or other it had glitter in the walls. Very subtle. As you walked in, the dancefloor was on ground level, with an elevated walkway to the left hand side which went to the back bar, and there was a big barrier overlooking the dancefloor. A big dancefloor. People tended to start off dancing on the carpet and then the sheer weight of people would push you onto the dancefloor.
It had a very plush system: Matamp, which I think Froggy supplied. Sound was always really excellent, but when Chris came on he’d always distort the speakers to the point of it being painful. Certainly up until the whole jazz-funk thing became mainstream, up until about 1980 onwards you knew when you walked in there you were somewhere special. It just gave you a tingle. You could be the first person in there and you’d feel it. It just reeked with atmosphere, which I suppose was the anticipation because you knew what you would be getting. It also reeked of stale beer and burgers!
Do you remember the kinds of records he played during that period?
I remember a record that first turned my attention was “The World Is A Ghetto” by George Benson, which was a quite adventurous record to play to a dancefloor because it’s so broken up. That was my first taste of jazz in a club. He was one of the few British DJs who was getting stuff sent to him from America, maybe through his contacts in the recording industry which he worked in. What you loved about the Goldmine was you were hearing stuff that you’d never heard before.
It was a very high fashion crowd, the soul crowd, in those days. They came down in army fatigues, then more and more came.
What variety of music?
Anything from Philly soul to disco, jazz breaks a couple of times a night, sometimes for 15 minutes in the night or other times he might play an hour of jazz. It depended how he felt. The Philly soul sound was very popular there, a lot of stuff that we’d consider boogie now. The Leroy Burgess sound was definitely a staple sound. Prelude, West End, Salsoul. He wouldn’t really play oldies as such, so it was all really new. First time I heard “Hit and Run” at the Goldmine, he was reviving it there. To those of us who weren’t around in ’77 it was a brand new record. I remember Chris busting Sister Sledge “Thinking Of You” down there. It got totally missed when it came out because it was the B-side of Lost In Music or something. I remember everyone scrambling ’round all the junk shops trying to find that record. As soon as he started playing it, the other Funk Mafia DJs started playing and it took off from there. He broke many, many records. The live version of “The Ghetto” by Donny Hathaway, Sivuca “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Astrud Gilberto “Take Me To Aruanda”... God, there are countless amounts.
I think Chris was very – by his own admission – populist. If he got behind something he’d expect the crew to get behind it too: “Let’s all get behind this, and let’s make this an anthem.” I remember the first Purley all-dayer which was about 5,000 people there. He had Eddy Grant doing a PA of “Living On The Frontline.” Players Association’s “Turn The Music Up!” was the anthem of that all-dayer and all the Funk Mafia DJs had got behind that. It was coming out the following and Chris got on the mix and said, “Come on, we gotta get behind this record, go out and buy it and get it in the top ten! It’s important.” It was almost like a political rally. And it did get in the top ten I think. It wasn’t totally down to that I’m sure, but when they got behind something they really supported it. It wasn’t like putting white labels over things. They prided themselves on pushing brand new records and letting the whole world know about them.
For all the rivalry spoken about the North and South I know Colin Curtis and Chris were good friends and spoke on the phone. The obvious way to be ahead for DJs was – for northern soul it was the white label cover up – but for jazz-funk it was to be as upfront as you possibly could. You had to get it as new and early as you could.
And looking for album tracks too, right?
Yeah, that’s true. Album tracks were just as important as singles. Chris Hill discovered many album tracks.
Can you think of examples?
I remember Chris Hill used to have a record shop in Ilford called Disco 2 Plus 2. Chris was away in America on business working for All Platinum and he brought a load of stuff back from their warehouse that had died on its arse over there. Stuff like the Sonny Stitt album with “Slick Eddie” on, Ingram’s “Mi Sabrina Tequana,” Reuben Wilson “Got To Get Your Own” – records that were dead in the water. These were huge at the Lacy Lady, where Chris DJed. He pumped them out to the Mafia DJs. He must’ve supplied City Sounds with Ingram. Chris had made it such a huge record at the Lacy Lady no one could get it at all. It was going for £50, which was a lot of money in 1978. He said, “Give City Sounds a call. They’ll sort you out with one.” I said to Chris, “I don’t understand it. When I phoned up they denied they had any.” But when I said “Chris Hill told me to phone you”, he said, “Oh yeah it’ll be £10, I’m afraid” (which was still a lot).
But what I didn’t know, was that they had hundreds of copies and they were letting them trickle out one at a time and getting premium price. About six months later it was in my local chart shop in Southend for 49 pence! Cut-outs [deletions] were the thing then and you almost had to go to all of those shops because they had a totally different selection to the other shops.
Where was the Goldmine located? I’ve never been.
You wouldn’t want to! [laughs]
Is it near the sea front?
It’s on the sea front, but the sea front is broken up by a great big car park. You go past a holiday camp, then there’s all flats on the sea front, and in the middle of it was the Goldmine, opposite the entrance to a car park.
Can you see the oil refinery from there?
Yeah, you can. The thing about the Goldmine is they always hired security from Canvey. When Chris first started at the Goldmine in 1972 he was getting death threats and poison pen letters from locals saying “Why are you bringing these n-----s on here?” It was such a white Union Jack-wearing place. It’s a very insular place. Basically the local doormen would keep the local people out, because they’d cause trouble, and ambience was so important.
The original punks were soul boys and girls. The fashion came well before the music.
Chris talked a lot on the mic didn’t he?
He did. I think, generally speaking, I would say all southern DJs did and I still do. I guess, in a way, that tradition continues in the soul and funk scenes. Chris was one to rally the crowd and hype things up. At the time I wouldn’t have thought he talked too much on the mic, but I guess looking back at it... But you know he was the first true superstar club DJ. His personality is larger than life, but you mustn’t let that overshadow his knowledge of music, which is absolutely phenomenal. Second to none.
I guess the tradition is Radio 1 Roadshow with really good music?
Every DJ in those days seemed to have a roadshow, everyone was a mobile DJ. I was.
Is it true he originally left the Goldmine because the forces fashion thing got out of hand?
Yes, it was.
And he went to the Lacy Lady then?
He was at Lacy Lady from ’76.
So he started playing swing and then the clothes followed?
It was the music first. Chris [Hill] has always tried to do things a bit differently. He played three swing records just for a laugh one week and the place went mad for it. He did it again the following week, and then the following week a few people started turning up in the clothes – it was a very high fashion crowd, the soul crowd, in those days. They came down in army fatigues, then more and more came. Chris made more of a thing about the swing but never played more than about 45 minutes even at its height. He didn’t want it to take over.
But in the end, so much media started coming down. He did a swing compilation, there was a double-page spread in The Mirror. Then there were a lot people coming to the Goldmine because of the publicity and loads of the regulars couldn’t get in. He found it claustrophobic and then he went to the Lacy Lady. It was a blacker crowd, but a lot of the same punters. When he moved there a few of the heavy dressers still came as well, like the Bromley Contingent - Siouxsie, Billy Idol, Bernie Rhodes, Mick Jones from the Clash, John Lydon, all that lot. The original punks were soul boys and girls. The fashion came well before the music. Mick Jones was a rated dancer there. Both Siouxsie and Lydon mention the Lacy Lady in their autobiographies. Later, when the music came out Chris, for a joke, played “New Rose” by the Damned and a couple of other things. No one objected to it funnily enough. But again, people started taking it too seriously, so he thought, “It’s going to end up like the Goldmine,” and stopped it. Siouxsie invited him to the 100 Club one night and he went down there, and it was the legendary night with the Pistols. He thought, “Bloody hell, half of these are from the Lacy!”
Did you go to the Lacy?
No. I can only tell you what other people told me. They said that the music was very upfront, very jazzy, probably half black because it was closer to London. Very heavy dancers. It was very dimly lit in there. Chris used to post a playlist of what he was playing to the side of the DJ booth.
Were many of the British tunes getting played, the Brit-funk?
Yeah, well later obviously at the Goldmine. Obviously, the Light of the World tracks were massive immediately – “Swingin’” and “Midnight Groovin’.” They were on Chris’s label, Ensign. They were a poor man’s Brass Construction really.
Well, some of it’s crap and some of it’s good. What about Hi-Tension?
Yeah. One of the first times I ever went to a club – Zhivagos, Southend – in 1978 they were playing. Shortly after that you started getting loads of the Brit-funk white label stuff like Stop’s “I Can Feel It,” that was probably the first of the Brit-funk white labels. I think it was 1980. I don’t think people thought of them at the time as being second rate, although if you listen back to some of them they haven’t stood the test of time. I remember buying the Level 42 “Sandstorm” with “Powerline” by Double Journey on the other side. People did say – and I don’t know if it’s true – that that was the only thing they’d recorded then. “Sandstorm” was monstrous on the dancefloor. There was as massive hype about Level 42 just because of that record. It was quite normal to have a jazz-funk band playing live at these nights.
Tell me about Caister.
I went to the second one and it was a few years before I went to the eighth one (playing percussion with Jonathon More of Coldcut). The Caister thing took off quite quickly and in the main hall it was quite commercial. You used to get a lot of idiots in there. It was a bit like an 18-30 party. But you must never dismiss the second room, because that’s where a lot of the real heads went. You heard the best soul and jazz in there.
That’s what was known as the Jazz Room isn’t it? What was played in there?
You’d hear a lot of the indie soul too. I remember Bob Jones playing John Coltrane’s “Mr. PC.” There was a lot of jazz fusion being played there. A lot of the stuff you’d later see on those Mastercuts Jazz Fusion compilations.
Chick Corea, etc...?
Yeah. Plus your Japanese jazz. Hiroshi Fukumura, “Hunt Up The Wind.” They just didn’t expect the reaction they were going to get with Caister. They had to do a second one quickly. The all-dayers just got so huge after Reading and then Purley.
Tell me about Reading and fights between funk and northern.
Chris Brown booked Chris Hill to DJ. It was meant to be northern soul in the main room and then jazz funk in the small room. Chris brought some coaches down from the Lacy Lady and there were so many people there for the jazz-funk that they literally couldn’t get any more in the little room. I know Chris ended up playing downstairs, but I’m a bit unclear about how it happened.
There was a guy called Cockney Mick, who was actually a Northerner, who ended up taking one of Chris’s records off when he was playing and trying to break it (Idris Muhammed “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This”). The crowd surged forward and it was Chris himself that escorted Cockney Mick out of the room before the crowd got to him.
Did you go to Knebworth?
Yes. Knebworth was absolutely incredible. 12,000 people. It got ruined a bit by a huge crowd that rioted in the food area. They steamed it. It looked like a brawl in a Western saloon. GQ was playing there, Lonnie Liston Smith, and they incorporated Colin Curtis and John Grant in to the DJ bill that day. A lot of people are quite keen to fan the flames of the North-South divide and no one did it worse than Frank Elson, who had a page in Blues And Soul magazine. I remember there was a one page tirade about southerners because Greg Wilson had booked Cleveland Anderson to DJ. Chris played at one of the Manchester Ritz all-dayers and made such a big impression. Colin said you couldn’t get a syndrum the next day for love nor money after he’d been playing one. But they never booked him again. Chris wanted Colin to be in the bill at Caister but Colin didn’t want to be part of it, though he did do the radio there once or twice I believe.
You know those all-dayers in the mid-’80s – Birmingham, Notts, etc... – did you sense the music changing then, because there were a lot of electronic records coming out? Frank Ellson refused to write electro in his column. Were you conscious of this?
Yes. Also, in my opinion, I remember at the time thinking so many people were jumping on the jazz-funk boom bandwagon. It seemed that there were so many records that all seemed to be like lift [elevator] music. It really diluted it. There were so many idiots going to these clubs because of the half an hour of novelty records at the end too. That was rife everywhere by the early ’80s. At that point, there wasn’t such a thing as a rap night or a jazz night. You’d get people just waiting for the jazz breaks, rather than dance to everything all night long. So when Murphy started doing the Horseshoe and, later, the Electric Ballroom it was inevitable that that was going to happen, really. You could feel that there were people starting to pick and choose the music. A lot of clubs wouldn’t play rap music.
At the time what were you playing in the mid-’80s?
Mid-’80s, it was pure jazz but in the early ’80s a mixture.
Why do you think some people were resistant to it?
Well, it did sound quite alien at the time.
Do you think age has something to do with it? I was younger and I liked it instantly.
Yeah, good point. Same as electro, a whole new crowd came in for the jazz thing around the same time. The Electric Ballroom, as with the all-dayers, they’d go into the electro room and breakdance and then go into the jazz room and jazz dance. It was a new sound for a new age group.
When electro started it was almost the same feeling as when punk arrived. They were talking about electro as though it was the Antichrist.
I mean, I realize it wasn’t actually a committee or anything, but there were a lot of the same DJs playing at all the same events.
Yes there was. Guys like Nicky Holloway and others got a bit frustrated at the lack of opportunity, I think. The Funk Mafia sort of dispersed naturally, really, partially through what Nicky was doing in a way. He booked all those DJs at the Royal Oak and Swan & Sugarloaf. Chris Brown and Sean French got booked there.
Well, so did Trevor Fung.
Yeah. I think the Funk Mafia dispersal was quite gentle. It would be wrong for me to say the Funk Mafia DJs, the older ones, had had their day and it was time for the young ones to come through, it was a natural thing. The older ones continue, and do to this day.
I guess what sealed it, is the new generation of kids who listened and danced to electronic music wanted to hear it out and if the Soul Mafia weren’t playing it they’d go to who was.
Well, you see, you’ve got to remember that on a Monday night at the Royal Oak there’d be Bob Jones and Ed Stokes playing soul downstairs, and upstairs there’d be jazz. On another night there’d be Pete Tong playing Def Jam and again upstairs it’d be indie soul. That was the weird thing and the best thing about the Special Branch days, it was the best of the new and the best of the old. And you had people who’d been in between like Chris Bangs, who came into his own with his Bournemouth weekenders. Then you had Oakenfold and Tong, plus Jeff Young, who all championed new movements in black dance music.
Do you remember early house getting played at the all-dayers?
No. At that point I was playing jazz and rare grooves. I remember going to a rare groove night once with Gary Dennis and suddenly hearing J.M. Silk, though. I already knew there was something called house music. It’s weird, but I don’t know why I didn’t like early house because they just sound like electro, and they’re fucking great, but at the time I’d become so up my own arse with these pure jazz and soul sounds that I didn’t want things to change. These house records which were getting played next to rare grooves, some people went with it, some people didn’t.
Did you feel this was going to change things?
You could see almost straight away that something was happening here. Also some friends of mine who were doing rare groove nights started doing acid house nights. You could almost see people jumping ship to do this new thing. As would have been documented to people, the second Ibiza was the massive split.
Was this new group mainly black?
No, it was just the new clubbing generation whatever colour.
I never went to the E Ballroom, so was that black?
Very black. Paul Murphy in the jazz room upstairs and George Power and Paul Anderson in the main hall, it was almost entirely electro. It started off more boogie but just from demand of the crowd it went that way. It was almost entirely breakdancing in that hall. The jazz was 1000 mile per hour jazz, breakneck speed, or if not, intense all the same. The older crowd didn’t like the faster jazz. When electro started it was almost the same feeling as when punk arrived. They were talking about electro as though it was the Antichrist. I personally thought it was a really fresh sound. I loved it, but I wasn’t playing it.
Did you see Paul Murphy DJing? What was it like and what did he play?
I saw him DJ a lot, and I DJed with him myself. You’ll have to see the lists in the back of my book for long lists of records played. If you look at Groove Weekly (Ralph Tee’s fanzine) from that period, which everyone read, Murphy used to put a chart in there virtually every week. He had a shop by this point, called Fusions Records, in Exmouth Market and then underneath Record Shack in Berwick Street. Paul Murphy used to be the chief buyer for Our Price so he had so many contacts to get these obscure jazz fusion records. He was just taking chances on things he saw on lists in America and they were so bloody cheap anyway. He didn’t sell them at collector’s prices, but he sold them cheaper than a normal album, which was weird in those days. All the Funk Mafia DJs used to buy virtually everything from him in those days, as did Colin and the guys in Glasgow. In the early days the jazz DJ from Coventry, Baz Fe Jazz, used to work behind the counter. If you weren’t buying from Murphy you were missing out.
Is it true Baz found God and sold his collection?
Yes, he’s a Jehovah’s Witness.
Who was up in Glasgow?
It was a really good scene up there. Billy Davidson and Bob Jeffries, Kerrso, Kenny Mac...
Who played jazz?
Billy and Bob played it alongside the disco and stuff. A guy called Nick Peacock, these guys are all still DJing. Kenny McCloud was the main promoter in those days, and he’s resurfaced lately. I interviewed him recently, but I never thought I’d get hold of him. Kenny was the main promoter of the all-dayers in Scotland. They were getting 800-1,500 in at an all-dayer, twice a month. He would actually take a coachload from Glasgow to the Goldmine and they all slept in the coach overnight. It was quite common. It was quite common for people to sleep in the car park overnight!
It closed at 2 AM, right?
Yeah, but what the ’Mine used to do was go on till 3 sometimes, like a lock-in.
When the Funk Mafia split, do you think the organization of it meant there was a bottleneck that prevented younger DJs coming through?
You may well be looking into it too deeply. In a way the Funk Mafia was a joke that got out of hand.
Did it feel like the end of an era to you?
I didn’t really like things getting partitioned, I liked a bit of everything. I was going through a lot of soul searching then anyway, because there was Shoom and acid jazz and I didn’t like what was happening to my scene, that it was becoming very novelty. It was all very tongue-in-cheek, but that’s the way Chris Bangs is. We talk about this split, but it was still being incorporated in the Special Branch and Doos At The Zoo. So yeah, there was a split, but then there was still everyone there at the Belvedere every Sunday night (Gilles’ session) and you’d still get all the crowd from Shoom, the E-heads and jazz heads together. No one should underestimate what Nicky [Holloway] achieved with Special Branch.
When was the first time you saw Colin Curtis DJing?
Birmingham Locarno. It was a different kind of jazz, less furious. A lot of the new young predominantly black jazz dancers coming through wanted it fast and furious, but this was still the northern style of jazz dancing, almost balletic and expressive.
What was your reaction seeing that dancing for the first time?
It was such a gradual progression I just grew with it, so I never saw it that way. In any club anywhere in the country, you always had the best dancers… These dancers were always the ones I wanted to play to as a DJ. I’ve always been interested in the minority in the club than the majority. Let’s face it, there’s nothing more fulfilling than playing to a crowd going crazy to music you love.
Do you think house killed off that culture? Before house arrived, the dancing was of a better quality. The problem was, the dancing was so good in some places, it was actually intimidating. So house democratized it, but also killed the quality, maybe.
There are some dancers I know from those days that used to like to go to house clubs and do jazz moves to the house records, but you shouldn’t forget that house wasn’t anywhere near the tempo the jazz was.
Did you go to Dingwalls? What was the atmosphere like?
Yes I did. The atmosphere was absolutely remarkable, it really was. Certainly in the early days. It was the first time I’d felt that same tingle that I had when I went to the Goldmine. It might have been a sunny day outside, but when you went in it was dark and almost cold. The soundsystem was amazing. Early doors was Patrick Forge playing to a few jazz dancers that were getting there early to give it a good caning. They’d all have their own spots on the floor and they were facing the decks, though not necessarily looking at Patrick. It was almost pointing north. The bar closed early, even though the club was rammed. You could carry on drinking if you bought food. People would pay a pound for a burger and not eat it, just so you could drink. I know I did.
When you walked in there, you knew you’d get something good. Janine, who ran it with Gilles, only had a small budget for bands, but they knew all the musicians and they’d say, “Can you put something together for £300?” and they got the most startling lineups on there. They were only meant to play for 45 minutes, but musicians being musicians... By the time the band had finished, which was when Gilles came on, it was always rammed in there. You couldn’t move. Gilles would come on. He’d play a more commercial set. He’d play boogie and rare groove next to jazz. Later on he would start dropping instrumentals of hip-hop tracks. I do remember him playing “Fight The Power.” I don’t think I was there the first time because apparently people booed him, because that was taking it one step too far. But once he got away with that on came the De La Soul and he managed to claw his way into other areas. I remember the first time he played “Pacific State” by 808 State. But we liked it. Everyone liked it. It was modern.
You’d stand on the dancefloor and it would feel like someone was tapping you on the back, so much sweat was dripping from the ceiling.
It had a jazzy intro, too.
They broke a lot of barriers with that club. It got so rammed so early it got to the point where you didn’t know anyone in there because so many had caught on to it. When Dingwalls closed down they tried it at the Underworld down the road and it just didn’t work at all.
You could get away with murder in that club. They created an environment where anything was possible. It was very remarkable and very exciting. Dark, sweaty. You’d stand on the dancefloor and it would feel like someone was tapping you on the back, so much sweat was dripping from the ceiling.
Why is the jazz dancing dying out then?
It was getting so competitive on the dancefloor and getting so violent, that people were scared of going on the floor in case someone came up to them wanting to take them on. A lot of the higher echelon dancers stopped going out or stayed at home and listened to those records there. Greg Wilson’s quite right about this, the more electronic stuff did take some of the dancers away, they started getting into breaking instead. Greg might have it that it was up there, but the Electric Ballroom was just as upfront. Also, the jazz became antisocial. It became so intense there was nowhere else it could go.
Paul Murphy stopped doing the Electric Ballroom because he said he wanted to play something different. Gilles took over from him and within a year he wanted to play different stuff as well. It was great playing that intense, but you paint yourself into a corner. If it hadn’t been for the acid jazz scene – acid jazz prolonged its inevitable decline. By ’85 there was nothing at all for the jazz dancers up north and at all-dayers. The rare groove scene, as well, all fell in with this, so records like “I Know You Got Soul” by Eric B. & Rakim was getting played on the rare groove scene, so you’d hear a Latin soul thing by Bobby Matos, a Boss Trés Bien bossa next to a rare JB’s thing, next to “I Know You Got Soul.” So everyone was really happy with the way things were.
Why do you think most people weren’t mixing in this country? Did they not need to?
When DJ mixing came in, it came in with a real force. We’d read about it in Record Mirror, in James Hamilton’s column. I remember about ’78 or ’79 I went to a club down my way called Crocs, and the guys there were trying to do it but getting nowhere near. Chris Hill did it quite successfully, he could beat mix, but obviously it wasn’t very advanced in those days. I think Froggy was the first person to really get it to a world class standard, I would imagine, although we had nothing to judge it against. Even I had a dabble at it, because James Hamilton had created so much mystique about it, but there wasn’t the knowledge like there is now.
I know it’s reported that Larry Levan’s not very good at mixing, but Chris Hill had a column in Blues & Soul and he was reporting from a DJ seminar in NYC in 1979 with Froggy, Sean French and James Hamilton. Chris was saying that they went to the Paradise Garage expecting it to be more or less the same as it was over here, same records, etc... They were shocked to discover it was a high testosterone gay crowd and the music was fast and they played a lot of rock records. He said Levan’s mixing was all over the place. You’d never have heard a rock record into the mix over here. That night was where Froggy learned to mix, watching Levan in the booth for the whole night.
Do you think the fact mixing didn’t happen earlier was because the types of records played here, like jazz and Latin, can’t easily be mixed?
Certainly the more disco-y stuff got mixed – Jupiter Beyond, Sing Sing’s “Gaz,” they got mixed – but then I guess they were more four to the floor. In fact, the only time I do mix is when I’m playing broken beat stuff. One thing I’m disappointed in – and I’m glad it still exists on the soul and funk scenes – is that at various places where I’ve DJed round the world, you get these young DJs that are incredible mixers and they say to you, “I wish I had the guts to use the mic,” because I’ll be up there hyping the crowd and telling them what the tunes are. I still believe a lot of people want to know what the tunes are, but most people haven’t got the guts to come and ask. I think it’s a shame that the art of talking to a crowd – without sounding like a commercial wedding DJ – is fading. I believe that talking over the mic is the quickest way to break down the barriers between DJ and the audience.
Because you’re talking to them, you’re giving them information, you’re controlling the situation. It’s not like being in a club where the dancefloor is full of smoke and the DJ is a silhouette. I like that atmosphere as well.
It brings a little humanity to what you do?
Yes, definitely. You don’t have to go as overboard as Chris does it. But the fact is, I’ve always found people really respond well to it. I don’t think you lose the mystique of being a DJ, but you create the impression of being one of them. One thing that really bothered me years ago, I was in this incredible record shop in Houston, run by two gay guys, this was in 1989, and all they sold was disco 12"s. They were talking to me about mixing, but it was so sanitised, they were talking about which keys records were in and all this stuff and I thought, “What about the dancefloor, though?” That’s fine if you’re doing a radio broadcast.
Within two or three weeks of Deep Funk starting Keb Darge was offering kids £200 for records they’d paid for a tenner for.
Do you think that collecting mania on the deep funk scene will happen to everything eventually? Will deep funk calm down?
It already has, in a way. It’s a bit of damp squib. It was so overpowering to start with. I was the original resident at Deep Funk with Keb. I did it every single Deep Funk for the first two years. At that point it was full of collectors all ’round the decks. We were collecting this funk and I never questioned whether anyone else was buying it. And we actually found out, very quickly, that there actually wasn’t that many people worldwide who collected it. There were four or five people in America that really cared for the obscure funk stuff and a few people over here. The British collectors were coming down to Deep Funk. Because Keb came in from the northern soul scene, he brought that same attitude and we weren’t used to that down here. I was buying from Soul Bowl every week. Andy Davies is one of my best friends and he was the only person who worked for Soul Bowl. So Andy used to sort me out with records every week. They used to go, “You’re a lucky bastard! I have to phone Texas!” And Andy phones me the day before the lists go out and says “I’ve got this, this and this.” I didn’t even have to try, and I was in a very unique position.
The best funk came from Soul Bowl, not to say I have the best collection. It was handed to me on a plate. The prices were nothing more than £30-40 and usually around a tenner, because there was no demand for them. Then John Anderson said to me one day, just before the first Deep Funk, “I see you’re DJing with that Keb Darge, he’ll ruin the funk scene like he ruined the northern scene.” You know how controversial John is, anyway. I said “What do you mean?” He said, “He’ll push the prices right up.” And it is true to say that that within two or three weeks of Deep Funk starting Keb was offering kids £200 for records they’d paid for a tenner for.
Keb’s attitude is very unique. It’s not necessarily a northern soul thing, it’s just Keb. Keb said to me, “If I want a record, even if I can’t afford that record, if I offer you enough money for it, you’re going to give it to me, and that’s how I’ve always worked. That way I’ll get the record.” Just because of the ratio of funk records to soul records being made in the ‘60s and ‘70s, to answer your question, there wouldn’t have been as many funk as there were soul. The period we were more interested in was more ’67 to ’73, with the Fatback drumming. Quite a specific sound that everyone was looking for. It wasn’t about rarity or the roughness of sound it was about whether it was as good as the established classics. So because there were so many collectors turning up to Deep Funk and there was so much trading going on immediately, the fever was almost unbearable. Honestly, within a couple of months it was unbearable. So many records getting turned up. The pressure to keep on top of it was unbelievable.
This was ’94?
When it started was it popular?
No. It was northern soul upstairs. It was at Ormond’s and downstairs it was me and Keb and a DJ called Greg Belson. Greg played the first hour, maybe a bit at the end of the night. It was not very busy at all. The reason they booked me was because he’d booked me to play funk a load of times and also I was on acid jazz as an artist and I DJed to jazz dancers, so they thought I’d bring a load of dancers down with me. So that’s what I did: I brought a load of dancers with me. In fact, I was the only DJ that got paid. They played for nothing and if it took off they’d get money, but I was the guest DJ but permanent! We moved to Madame Jojo’s after a few years.
If it wasn’t popular, how did it keep going?
Well, it did. It was financed by this DJ called Smithers. She’d come in to some money. What happened the night… There was this fever going on, records turning up all over, after a year or so there was the odd Deep Funk-style night springing up all over the country and we’d go and play at those either together or individually. The one thing we wouldn’t do at Ormond’s was we wouldn’t play any classics at all, any of the records that were known before. What we were trying to do was establish these tracks that we loved. We wanted to make them known. It wasn’t like we were trying to create new classics outside the club, we weren’t big-headed like that. So a lot of people used to complain that the sound was too dense because you’d be hearing one record after another that they didn’t know. But our attitude was, after a period of time, they will get to know them.
Keb was selling bootleg funk tapes on Camden Market and used to make a fortune out of it, so that subsidized his buying. The club was never packed at Ormond’s. There’d be a lot listening and drinking, and the jazz dancers would be dancing to the funk. Then we went to Siam City on Southwark Bridge, just on the right hand side. It didn’t last too long there. Then it moved to Madame Jojo’s on a Sunday and started getting a big turnout. It’s a fucking nightmare now, it’s all hen parties. The thing is so many great records turned up in about the first four or five years that you couldn’t keep the quality up.
This parallels with the northern scene, really, isn’t it?
That’s right, yeah. I really believe we’re almost at the bottom of the well.
Why is it that the Brits are so mental about collecting?
I can’t answer that, but I do remember John Anderson saying to me, “OK, the Americans aren’t big soul collectors, but they collect things like hillbilly, doo-wop and rockabilly.” They have a big collector’s mentality for that stuff.
Is it because it isn’t easy to find in the UK?
Might well be, I really don’t know the answer. I don’t know what it is about blokes but they have this collector’s mentality. Apart from classical music virtually all musicians are men and most DJs. It’s odd really. Maybe it’s a way of expressing themselves.
What were the most ridiculous points during the deep funk mania?
Quite quickly, you suddenly started hearing that “Impeach The President” was going for £100. You thought, that’s a £10 record! But people go “It’s a £10 record? You try and find it now.” Suddenly you realized that all the records you’d taken for granted over the years were getting sucked up by collectors. I paid £200 for “For Real” by Flowers, a soul record, once, and I thought, “I’m only paying this once, it’s a record I love. I’m never paying more than that.” Then something else comes along and it’s £250. It was the competition. The prices escalated so quickly that you were shelling out £300 here and £400 there almost without thinking about it. It’s hard to explain, it was like a whirlwind.
Was it like the gold rush, where you get sucked into this mania?
Very good way of putting it. It was so quick you almost couldn’t keep up with it. In the end I was shelling out nearly £500 for a record and in the cold light of day you were thinking, “Now I’ve got it, I don’t even know if it’s a great record or not.”
Can you think of examples?
Yeah. There’s a record called “Trespasser” by Bad Medicine. Everyone was after that at one point. I think that hit about £200, and when I eventually got hold of it, I thought, “This is…” Sometimes you have to put it next to something and say, “Is this as good as that?”
Like putting a James Brown record on?
Exactly. You can’t get better than a James Brown record. That’s what all the big boys now are coming to the conclusion now.
Are the big collectors like Shadow taking it to a new level or are they like Chelsea, they’re killing all the competition with their money?
What’s happening is there are people that have got the money will buy anything at any price. They have to have it. Then there’s those that have been trying to keep up but are now dropping like flies. I keep right on top of all the latest discoveries and I tell you what, you hear one in a blue moon that’s as good as the early ones.
I heard the Arthur Monday 45 and I didn’t even buy it on a reissue for a fiver.
That’s a good example. I turned that down for £100 and I’ve never had any regrets. It’s just such a nothing record. I paid a fortune for Mickey & the Soul Generation, “Get Down Brother.” The main side, I paid a lot of money for, it’s a so-called Deep Funk classic, but it goes into this breakbeat halfway through and does a sloppy drum fill and loses the groove. Keb wanted it so I swapped it with him and he had a bad result with it. But what I didn’t realize until years later is the B-side’s fucking fantastic! Wish I’d kept it now. It was not worth that kind of money, though, not for “Get Down Brother.” It’s gone for £1,200.
Do producers, like hip-hop producers, shell out for these records, too, looking for breaks and loops?
No, they’re not. Shadow’s a legendary collector. He’s a lovely guy. I think he was one of the few people in that scene to dig properly. In the hip-hop scene, when they talk about digging, all they’re after is the same old breaks.
Someone I really take my hat off to is Kenny Dope, because he realized quite early with the deep funk scene that – there was quite a complacency in the States for many years – then the deep funk scene, like the northern scene, dug so deep, with all these 7"s with outrageous breaks on them. And obviously Kenny, king of the breaks, he worked out there was all this information over here that he didn’t know about. So he made it his business to get to know this stuff. He’s one of the few American producers who, when he comes over here, hangs out with the collectors and the DJs rather than coming over, taking outrageous amounts of money, and back on the first plane back home. He’s made it his business to get to know the dealers, the collectors, the records.
This interview took place in May 2005. © DJ History