Were you a regular clubber before you started DJing? If so which clubs did you frequent?
I always wanted to be a DJ… It came before the dancing. I’ve never felt comfortable dancing although I would always get into the groove whilst DJing… I find it difficult to keep still and was always a very animated/comedic DJ.
I remember in about 1963 my Dad bought me a reel to reel tape recorder and I would record Pick of the Pops with Alan Freeman every Sunday. I would place the microphone next to the radio and would always chop the DJ patter out so as to get a very rudimentary mix. Our home was totally silent whilst I was recording. I also got my mother to write the lyrics down in shorthand.
Regular clubber? Yes I was although I was mainly interested in breaking into the business locally. I first started going to clubs in the early sixties when there was hardly a club in town. I was a regular at “under 18s” in the Majestic Ballroom (later the Top Rank, Monroes and so on) The other popular club for the under 18s was The Experience which later became Snobs. The Ex was above the Bowling Alley which later became Fiesta, Ritzy and now says Karma outside. The Ex was later called Snobs. I distinctly remember Northern Soul style dancing being in its infancy back then, it just seemed natural to add a flourish to our dancing. One song was “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by the Temptations… One of the best groups ever in my opinion. I always saw myself being the DJ and not the dancer as I don’t like being in crowds
So how did you end up being a DJ? Where did you first spin?
I went to Trelawney Youth Centre in about 1967 or 68 and always had my eye on the “jock box” one night the regular DJ asked if I could take over for an hour as he had met a girl….
I got into the perspex screened booth with one turntable and span “I Feel Love Comin’ On” by Felice Taylor… I put on the B side by mistake and it wasn’t too bad as it was the instrumental …. I remember picking the microphone up and saying this was the build up to the A side. Quite a lot of people danced…about 20. It all seemed very natural to me even though I was really nervous. I still get terribly nervous and cover it by trying to be amusing and lively… not a wanker just something to watch other than a DJ prattling on too much. I got a hot dog and a slush puppie for my efforts.
What venus did you play over the time you were active DJing in Plymouth?
I did a few mobile gigs back then and always found it challenging. My first one was at the Embankment Rowing Club upstairs. There was a small stage with a lit log fire behind it and I remember sweating my arse off. This was in 74 and I was a milkman for the Co-op then. I used to use my electric milk float to transport my equipment around!
My first taste of the real thing was the very, very cool Disco 150 above the Top Rank/Majestic … where God TV is now. I played a few James Brown tracks and a cut I’ve always loved “Tom the Peeper” by Act One…. FUNKY…. Oh and some Fred Wesley…
I went to Norway in January 1975 for a few months and worked in a few clubs and outside shoe shops in the snow….often… Whilst I was in Norway (mainly in the Oslo, Drammen, Tønsberg, Skien area). This was when I learned that I must enunciate correctly and slow down on the microphone. It worked. Music I remember? Shame Shame Shame by Shirley and Company and Hang On In There Baby by Johnny Bristol. Cool times but I was really unsettled in this period of time.
Most of my DJ career in Plymouth was taken up as the resident DJ and I spent one year at the Top Rank followed by a spell in West Yorkshire at Top Rank owned clubs. I got to work with Osibisa back then and they were quite stunning live.
Disco 150 (above the Top Rank)
Commodore Club/Images (1974)
Gatsby’s Hotel in Torquay one off with KC and the Sunshine Band (there was a DJ there but he was playing rock music so someone told him to piss off… I had brought a little box of 45s with me and was in!)
Top Rank 1977 (Majestic/Monroes…)
Top Rank (Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield, Reading, Derby)
Fiesta 1978 – 1982
I went to work in Norway when I left the Fiesta .. four years was too long… Loved it all though.
The Roxy (just because I always wanted to work in a punk club even though I was a soul boy!)
These were all quite manic years and at times I was way over the top!
In 1995 I went to live in California with my wife who was born in Detroit … Motown!!!! I set up an upscale wedding DJ/MC/Co-ordinator business in San Francisco and found myself booked solid with five star venue weddings and events. I had gone teetotal at this point and my jocking took on a whole different style which proved really popular. I was making really decent money here and on average was getting $1000 + per event. One time I was paid $3,500 for four hours.
I really enjoyed this phase of my career. I often got quite emotional when Bride’s, Groom’s and their families thanked me for doing such a good job. It was truly an honour to be a part of someone’s big day. I remember them all with fondness.
My DJ company name was Get Ritzy DJ Company in the San Francisco Bay Area… Google it
On Broadway in San Francisco I was once asked to be the jock and MC at an upmarket Gent’s pole dancing club and made a shed load of money in tips as I always asked the ladies what they would like and would make a point of giving them the mix they wanted for their show. The Ladies all liked me as I didn’t go leching in the changing rooms so I got lots of tips in $ bills put in my empty champagne bucket… I went home one night with $900 and spent most of the next day ironing the money as it was all a bit sweaty!
Where were you buying record back then?
Pete Russell’s on Market Avenue was the most popular for DJs back then and even though the staff were all laid back hippies we jocks were always well taken care of. There was always a list of new music on the wall along with the release date and many of the better jocks queued up to buy on the day. Most of the respected jocks all carried attache cases covered in record company promo stickers back then… Just for show…
Later Virgin opened on lower Cornwall Street and we also had Rumbelows (where the McDonalds is near the mall) We did get a lot of free promo only copies of new stuff back then too.
Was there a point/period where Black/Club sounds started gain popularity?
Black music or Soul as I preferred to say has always been popular in Plymouth. In the early 70s it was Disco 150 or the Roxy (with Jeff Spence who was another name from that time. A little later it was Snobs (DJ Gary Lyon was superb) on Mayflower Street (above the Fiesta. The Majestic played a lot of black soul music and the DJ Jon B was very good at it. Then there was Castaways on Union Street (last known as C103) where Henry Oxford was the jock,
I was sort of fortunate whilst at the Fiesta in that I got to work on a different theme each night throughout the week. Sunday was Ballroom Dancing, Monday and Tuesday I could be working with u2, Madness or Motorhead and conversely some superb soul – reggae acts. The Real Thing were superb and the Royal Marines had booked them. Wednesday was over 30s, Thursday Nurses and Doctors nights or whatever we could dream up.. Friday was over 25s and Saturday a regular disco night where I played all manner of pop and soul hits.
The Fiesta was the busiest in town so I guess we were doing something right.
Coming from the talk jock era do your remember when the transition into beat mixing started to happen in plymouth?
Personally I always liked a smooth transition and hated having dead time when there was no music playing. I was never one for banging on too much on the microphone but did do the slick voice over with a nifty line in patter. I remember when Tony Prince started Disco Mix Club which was totally amazing at the time and I would play the DMC cassettes whenever I thought it would work. I reckon real full on mixing started late in Plymouth and The Academy jocks were best at that. Norwegian John Marlow was superb with three turntables. John is still a friend and what always seemed weird was that John was over here jocking whilst I was back in Norway on the agency circuit again.
Before technics 1200 became the norm I used to “hold” the next disc using a cut up slip mat made out of snooker table cloth that would save the grinding start.
Personally I think mixing is all too easy these days and whilst I was in California I used a PC loaded with OTS AV which was and is way cool as it auto mixed tracks really well. If I do a soul gig these days I’ll always use OTS AV. I only do Soul and Motown gigs nowadays
Which club do you hold the fondest memories of from a DJing perspective?
Most of them were special to me but the best days had to be my four years at the Fiesta.
Gigs these days?
I do the occasional gig these days and when I do it is always Soul, Funk, Motown, Stax and Atlantic stuff. I try to stay clear of playing too much Northern as the Northern fans tend to take over… No disrespect intended as I do like Northern!
I did work at Oceana when I first came back to England and put on a night called “The Best Disco Night in Plymouth Ever” I had had a major foot surgery a couple of days before the gig (I broke my ankle falling off a stage in San Francisco in 2003) and I was dosed up on Tramadol and in between dashing to the toilet on crutches and showing other older DJs how DJ CD players work it was pretty much not the success I wanted it to be.
I do plan on an event in the Main Plymouth Guildhall this year and that will involve a massive PA and Lighting rig with just Soul, Disco, Funk, Motown and a shade of honking horns from the Stax – Atlantic days…and some pop reggae.
Massive thanks to David for this amazing insight to how Plymouth nightlife/dj culture was back in the 70s/80s.