Profile: David Mitchell
Music has always been in my blood!
My parents had a caravan and we used to go away almost every weekend, travelling round all the wettest parts of the UK. There’s nothing more therapeutic when you’re trying to sleep than rain bouncing off a tin roof! It was on those trips that I gained a lot of my older musical knowledge. My parents always had a C90 in the tape deck playing songs of the ‘60s and ‘70s – Beatles, Kinks, Marmalade, Stones, Queen… and, as all dads loved them, Status Quo! My brother was 11 years older than me and also loved music. He had a vast collection of 45s he’d get from the indoor market – ex-jukebox vinyl with the centre missing – and would always have something playing. That was my life growing up. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was a musical education which continues to serve me well today.
My actual DJ career started in the early ‘90s when I was 13/14. I wanted a new Hi-Fi, but my dad had been made redundant and the milk run wasn’t going to fund the flashy Aiwa stack (remember Aiwa?) I had my eye on! The committee of the local community centre in the next street used to run a kid’s disco on a Friday evening, but there was nothing in the town for under 18s. I hatched a plan and drew up a proposal for the committee on a school PC (my Commodore 64 didn’t have a printer!). I had an unwavering confidence that they would say yes, and my plan would work. That unwavering confidence has been the key to my success throughout life. Failure can only happen if it’s an option!
My proposal was to charge £1.50 for entry; I’d get £1 and the centre would get 50p. To sweeten the deal, I also offered to do their kid’s disco for free. This sealed the deal, and the committee agreed to give it a go. I went back to school and set about making posters, which I printed on bright coloured paper I picked up from the local art shop. I plastered these around my school, in the community centre and at the local shop.
But there was one big issue: I had no gear! The centre had an old Citronic vinyl twin deck but all my music was on CD. So I set about dismantling my dad’s Hi-Fi! I ‘borrowed’ the Hitachi amplifier from his 13+ year old wedding present separates system and his JVC CD deck. Together with my Goodmans CD player I had two music sources… but needed a mixer. Fortunately, my school had a media department who very generously let me sign out their Genexxa mixer (Tandy’s own brand – remember Tandy?) every weekend – and that was my setup!
The first night was a laugh! I think a lot of my mates thought it was a bit of a joke… but the joke was on them! There was a dance school based in the community centre so the first night was me, my friend David, and 27 amazingly fit girls from the dance school! Best gig ever!! Apart from I blew my dad’s amp…
I went into school on Monday and everyone was asking “Aw how was your disco?”… Needless to say, the following Friday the dance school girls were joined by about 30 guys in YSL shirts and Kickers, plastered with Joop aftershave! And that’s how it took off. I regularly had over 100 there, with the committee and my parents doing the doors. £100+ a night was a lot for a 14 year old in the ‘90s, but most of it went to Our Price for music or on getting a new amp, speakers and my own mixer. My parents saw I was on to something and generously backed me with the use of their credit card to get the gear I needed, allowing me to pay them back from my takings (this was something that repeated later in my career). I really couldn’t have done it without their support – physically and financially. Although my dad was soon back at work, so wasn’t there for a lift around the corner. Instead I used to pack my stuff into a wheelbarrow and wheel it round to the centre! The neighbours often reminisce about seeing me heading round with my gear. Not turning up, no matter what, was not an option. “I’ll do whatever it takes” was, and continues to be, my motto.
The next few years consisted of under 18s gigs, school exams, driving tests and growing up… which brought me into the realms of 18th birthdays. I was the go-to guy for all my friends’ parties and this opened the door to one of my favourite chapters in my career. One of my friends had a party at the Old Course Hotel in Prestwick and, of course, I was the DJ. It was a nice boutique golf-themed hotel, right across the road from Prestwick Old Course, run by Paul Sheppard and his wife, who were lovely people. The day after the party I was heading into Kwiksave (remember Kwiksave?) and I heard a voice shout my name. I looked round to find Paul, who approached me and asked if I would become their resident DJ. I was over joyed and bit his hand off!
I had an amazing time as their DJ over the next few years and really felt part of the family. We held my mum’s 50th there and my girlfriend even got a job at the hotel. Each New Year’s Eve we would see in together, my parents and girlfriend there as guests and me as the DJ… really special times.
The work was only on an ad hoc basis, so during that time I did the whole ‘day job’ thing. I became a Store Manager for Poundstretcher group when I was 19, which gave me great experience of dealing with staff, rotas, customer service etc. The combined income from my residency and daytime work also allowed me to purchase my first set of professional equipment, including Peavey HiSys2 speakers and Numark CD decks and mixer.
I was still very much an amateur, but did a few other private gigs from time to time. One the most memorable was a birthday party with a ‘70s theme. I was a fan of bubble machines and had two of them. They were great for kids’ parties and also suited the ‘70s theme. What I didn’t take into account was the residue they’d leave on a shiny dancefloor! Yup – the birthday girl slipped and went down like a sack of tatties! (Potatoes for the non-Scots.) Thankfully she was fine and accepted my apologies! But it got better, she later came up to ask me if I wanted any ‘70s-style Chicken In A Basket from the buffet. Unfortunately, I was leaning down looking through my CDs and didn’t hear her coming up behind me… when I stood up I gave her a Glasgow kiss! Needless to say, I didn’t get a 5* review from that gig!
The next key person in my career was Steven Kelly. He was the manager, later owner, of the Red Lion in Prestwick. It was the early 2000s and my dad had been in with his workmates to book their Christmas works dinner and asked if there would be any entertainment. When Stevie said no, my dad piped up with, “Aw my son is a DJ….”
So a meeting was set up and Stevie asked me to become their resident Karaoke host every Friday and Saturday! Sorry… Kara-what-now? I had been to a good few karaokes and murdered the obligatory ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ and ‘Angels’, but I had never hosted karaoke and didn’t have any karaoke gear. But I’ve always been up for a challenge, so I headed back to the only shop I knew – RGM Music in Kilmarnock, where I purchased my rig – to get myself a karaoke setup.
I was by no means a singer… and I didn’t have a huge back catalogue of karaoke tracks… but my music was a hit with the regulars. I’ve also never exactly been shy on the mic and know how to create a party atmosphere, which really got me through the first few weeks. Prestwick was a hub of great karaoke singers, and they really took me under their wings. They suggested which songs I needed to add to my collection and signed up to sing in a steady stream, which was really useful as I could only really murder a couple of songs at that time! My friend Martyn would come and help me with the gear and we’d eventually do all the gigs together. I’d also go around other karaokes on my nights off, watching what they did, listening to what they sang and played, and used that as my education. You can learn so much from others in this game. No matter where you believe yourself to be in the pecking order – you can always learn more.
Things progressed quickly from there and I picked up more residencies, firstly at Dantes in Ayr and then a night in Stevie’s friend’s pub, The Clansman in Kilmarnock. Soon I was working seven nights a week, with Martyn doing gigs in other venues, and I decided it was time to drop my Poundstretcher job. I bought a second rig (thanks to a loan from the bank of Mum and Dad) with Mackie SRM450s, a Mackie CFX12 mixer, a triple deck JVC CDG player and Pioneer CMX5000 decks fed into a DJM600 mixer. It was around this time I met my good friend The Barron, a scouse personality DJ (AKA The Liverpool Lip), who sadly passed away recently. The guy was amazing on the mic, full of patter, and introduced me to his agent JBD who gave me some karaoke work too. Life was great! It was party every night and sleep all day!
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 88, Pages 15-20.