Dialogue With Theo Loyla
Theo Loyla has recently hung up his headphones after an astonishing 50 years as a mobile DJ. Following his final performance at the beginning of the year, Pro Mobile’s Editor Eddie Short spoke to Theo about his mobile DJ experiences spanning six decades!
Q: Your career started in the Swinging ‘60s; what was it like to be a DJ back then?
A: It was very different, but then life as a whole was very different. People were not as well off and the general standard of living and technology was nothing like today. Transistors were new and there were no computers or mobile phones. It was against the law to dance on a Sunday, or be a homosexual. Unions were powerful and restrictive, with the Musician’s Union hindering venues from using DJs. Wages and fees were lower. Social attitudes, and in fact society as a whole, were very different to today. Abortions were illegal, therefore very rare, and contraceptive pills were not easily available. If you ‘got a girl into trouble’ you married her. There were more punch ups, but less violence. There was more deference and respect, but more discrimination.
Q: From your unique perspective, how have things changed over the years?
A: In many ways. First of all, the mechanics of running a mobile disco have evolved considerably. When I started, I played 7-inch vinyl records and lighting was very basic. Modern technology makes it much easier. Also, mobile discos were a new thing back then where as they are now part of the normal establishment. People’s standard of living has improved, but not necessarily their level of happiness.
Q: What is the most valuable lesson you learnt as a DJ?
A: You can’t please all the people, all the time! Not every gig will be fantastic. Some records will, against expectations, clear the floor. Things can, and will, go wrong. Not everybody is your friend, but there is always the next time and the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and benefit from your experience. Be prepared with a plan B and back up equipment. Tomorrow is always another day, but you can’t undo your mistakes, you just have to move on and do better next time.
Q: Your DJ business was called Banana Power Travelling Discotheque; that’s quite an unusual name, where did it come from?
A: Back then it was the age of flower power and the hippy culture. However, I was more of a soul DJ than the hippy psychedelic rock music type; so ‘flower power discotheque’ wouldn’t have fitted me. At the time, Donovan had released a song called ‘Mellow Yellow’, which included the line “electrical banana is ‘gonna be a sudden craze”. The ‘Great Banana Hoax’ had also occurred in the USA, where the rumour was circulated that dried banana skins could be smoked with effects like cannabis! It wasn’t true, but it rattled the US Government, FBI, and CIA, who investigated it and many people tried it. Bananas were bright, colourful, fun, and exotic. In living memory, they had not been available in this country, because of the war; so I just made the name up. At that time the term ‘mobile disco’ had not been born, so my service was referred to as a ‘travelling discotheque’.
Q: As well as DJing at private parties, you also run line dancing classes. How did that come about, and do you use any of the same skills as when DJing?
A: I always liked dancing. Back in the ‘60’s I entered dance competitions at my local Mecca, and won a couple. At various times over the years I tried ballroom dancing, but was never very good. Then, one day in early 1996, a lady came into the record shop that I ran asking if I could display a poster for a new line dance class she was opening at The Winter Gardens in Margate. It was the new craze at that time and was all over the media. I went along with my then wife and 200 or so other people to see what it was like, learned some easy dances, and absolutely loved it. We went back every week from then on, and it has become a big part of my life. It was mainly country music back then, which I had hated for most of my life, but the new country artists – like Garth Brooks – were very different. I passed various medal tests and entered competitions with some success, including dancing at Wembley in front of several thousand people at the national finals and doing theatrical performances and demonstrations. I never won any major prizes though.
Then, in the spring of ’98, I was asked if I would become the instructor at a line dance class where the committee had fallen out with the previous teacher. We gave it a go, and the class did well. We went on to open others, and I continue to teach five classes every week. We also run social nights and get asked to perform and teach at parties, weddings, corporate events etc. Many of the skills are the same as DJing. I am instructing an audience and using a microphone to do so. I am on stage and visibly performing/demonstrating. I play and select music and respond to requests. At a social, I want to keep a full dance-floor and play popular numbers but at the same time I try to fit in requests for less popular ones too.
Q: You were a founder member of SEDA, and currently serve as the association’s Honorary President. How important do you think association membership has been to your career?
A: That is hard to say. SEDA – and other associations – have certainly helped, not only me, but thousands of other DJs. I was a DJ before SEDA and, if it had not existed, I would still have been one. But it came about because I, and some others, felt the need for an industry body to promote the better, responsible DJs, and make life more difficult for the cowboy operators which is why we formed SEDA on January the 6th 1974. It has certainly not harmed my career to meet and network with other DJs!
Q: You DJed for the last time ever at January’s SEDA ShowNight; how did it feel to play for the final time in front of your peers and friends?
A: It was a magical and emotional evening to be surrounded by so many of my friends and colleagues and the mass of inflatable bananas was very funny and touching!
Q: After so many years, why have you now decided to retire from DJing?
A: There are various reasons, including pressure from family, not keeping up with technology, enjoying less of the modern music, the physical effort of lugging gear about, slower recovery time from late nights, and a general feeling that many audiences don’t really want an old balding DJ for their entertainer! In recent years, I have also become less enthusiastic on cold wet nights. I resolved, however, to continue until the 50th anniversary of my first gig, which was in December 1966 at The Old Barge public house in Norwich.
Q: What advice would you give to a new or aspiring DJ?
A: Remember you are there to entertain; so be an entertainer! Learn how to use your equipment and music, and remember that appearance is as important as sound. Look the part. Be the part. Even after 50 years, I would get tense or nervous before some gigs. It is about caring, but you mustn’t let stage fright stop you from being a success. Like I said at the beginning, not everyone is going to like you and all the music you play. Join your local DJ association and learn from your peers. Volunteer to go out and assist experienced DJs. You never ever stop learning in life until the day you die. Things change, and what was true 50 years ago, is not necessarily right now - although a lot of it probably is!
The full article can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 82, Pages 62-66.