Profile: Chris Spittal
My early love for music, as with most people, came from my parents. My mother used to take me to Radio 1 road shows and my father’s varied taste – everything from classical to rock ‘n’ roll – rubbed off on me. However, at the age of 10, my musical eyes began to be opened by outside influences. Our next door neighbour gave me a rare birthday present, it was a double cassette called ‘Rap Traxx’. This was a genre of music that I’d never heard before and it rocked my world! It never left my Sony Walkman for the entire summer of 1990! My taste in music expanded further as time passed: from Indie to Grunge, Punk to Rock, and then, eventually – when I was old enough to go clubbing – late ‘90s dance took over. My taste in music was wide and varied and I didn’t care if that wasn’t cool!
As a teenager, my friend’s older sister was always having parties. My buddy and I would play vinyl records, through home hi-fi speakers owned by his dad, to entertain her guests. She was really old, like 18 or something! It was 1996 and I had three records in my box. The only one I can remember now is ‘Missing’ by Everything But The Girl, what an awful song! We were in no way, shape or form DJs, but we enjoyed the attention from her friends!
My budding DJ career didn’t go any further than that over the following decade, as I entered the world of work, however I did pick up experience that proved invaluable. After a short career as a window cleaner, I became an Event Manager for a venue that concentrated on weddings: Pavilions of Harrogate on the Great Yorkshire Show Ground. My boss at the time, Robert Whiteley, taught me everything I needed to know. Managing events here pushed me out of my comfort zone. I was soon supervising up to 30 staff in one night and even became a toastmaster after getting some training from the late sports commentator Dave Callaghan. My confidence grew, feeding from nervous energy, and I realised that I liked this new Chris Spittal, he had balls! I remember once telling 400 businessmen at a Friday afternoon business lunch to be quiet and getting a round of applause!
The main lesson I learned from coordinating weddings was that customer service is key and that what the customer wants, the customer gets… well, within reason. I soon became a pro, working alongside registrars, various different catering companies, flower arrangers and photographers… I had the venue running like clockwork! Weddings were our every weekend bread and butter. Not only that, but once a year we opened our doors to the largest wedding fayre in the North of England. Every single type of wedding supplier was there, from florists to jewellery specialists, caterers to photographers… why are there always 15 photographers at every wedding fayre to 1 of everything else?
The event had a full catwalk show four times a day with a speaker system that made me go weak at the knees. Cathy, the organiser at the time, was a nutcase, but so much fun, and the after show parties will go down in history. This was before I was a DJ, I was simply a party animal / hard-working Event Manager burning the candle from the middle, never mind both ends!
At the time I owned a classic-style Mini my girlfriend (now wife) had bought me. I loved it and managed to get a nice FLI sub in the boot to make sure Armand Van Helden’s classic ‘You Don’t Know Me’ sounded at its best for everyone I drove past! I even picked up the nickname ‘Mr Oizo’ around town for nodding my head to the beat like in the Levi adverts. I was someone! Or, at least, I thought I was!!
Looking back, I can see this was the time that I started to develop what I like to call my DJ Ego. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but a necessity for all DJs. Our ego, or self-confidence, is something we all need, and feed off at gigs. By nature, DJs don’t want to be unnoticed; we don’t want to be sat at the back! The trick is not to let our ego run way out of control.
Part of my job at Pavilions was security, so a couple of colleagues and I went on a course called ‘Door Safe’. It was run by the local constabulary and once completed you got what we all know as a ‘Door Licence’. Obviously things have changed now, but at the time this gave me the right to work in town as a Doorman. This kind of made me laugh as I am 5ft 4” and every Doorman I knew was well over 6ft! But I was able to hold my own, being able to run under people’s arms and pop up in the middle to break up any arguments!
Around the same time I was buying my first house, so I needed a little extra money. I started working for a friend and doorman at Harrogate’s prestigious nightclub, complete with sticky floors, Carrington’s. Generally, my role was to stand behind the DJ and keep my eyes peeled for any fights breaking out on the dancefloor. However, my eyes would often wonder towards the DJ booth, interested in how he mixed one song into another. This was one of a number of influences that would soon lead to me standing behind the decks myself!
Another was one of the DJs that used to work at the Pavilions, David Bielby or Bib to his mates. I would regularly stand in awe watching as he made rooms come alive with his mixing techniques, using a corded telephone in place of headphones! A true talent, but he always tells me he’s still learning. I guess we all are, and that is what feeds the passion.
Somehow I managed to hold down my job at Pavilions while also working my way around most of the nightclubs in Harrogate on the doors. Needs must when you’ve bought a house and you’re skint! It was around this time I asked my girlfriend, Vicky, to move in with me. I was growing up!
We decided to get married in 2006 and I was my mother-in-law’s worst nightmare! Having seen so many weddings, I knew what looked amazing and how the best weddings worked (at least in my head). I was put in charge of the evening entertainment and booked, of course, none other than my mate Bib to DJ the night. I also booked a band that I regularly saw out in Harrogate and my ego/confidence made another appearance when I asked if I could join them for two or three songs, as a surprise for everyone at the wedding. I’d secretly been practising to play the drums for months before and there weren’t many people who knew. My ego saw me through and I was a total hit, playing a couple of AC/DC classics and ‘When September Ends’ for my wife, as this was her favourite Green Day song. It was a complete surprise for everyone and I loved being the centre of attention!
Some might say I started my DJ journey as a ‘Pirate DJ’. Well, I was a member of Ripon Sailing Club and in 2007 I unwittingly signed up to help with the club’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Because of my experience at Pavillions, I originally signed up to help run the bar. Very soon, however, music became the centre of attention in our conversations. What would we do for entertainment? With next to no money in the budget, for some reason I offered my services to play some songs at the year’s big event!
Before long I was on eBay picking up every NOW CD I could find. I also bought myself a Denon DN-4500 twin CD player and a Behringer mixer, which I laid out on a table, and managed to borrow a pair of speakers that sat at the side. No tablecloth, no lights, no frills, just music as loud as I could play it! I spent two weeks preparing my playlist ready for the night. However, I soon learned that DJing was about feeling the vibe and reading the dancefloor, something they don’t teach you in DJ 101!
Although I’d spent two weeks on the playlist, nobody danced until 30 minutes before the end when I think they just felt sorry for me. However, at the end everybody said what a fantastic time they’d had and asked if I’d do the next one. “Yes of course,” came my reply! The next event was to be the Christmas dinner and it would not be in the clubhouse this time but at a local hotel.
I naively thought that maybe the hotel would see my DJ skills and ask me back to work for them in the future. This became my motivation for investing in a more professional looking setup, so I bought a black tablecloth and some lights. Still nothing fancy, but they flashed and I wrapped a rope light (bought from a Christmas sale) around the stands.
This time it was an awards ceremony too, and I wanted to make it spectacular. I played songs like ‘Simply the Best’ as people walked up to collect their prizes. It was dramatic and nothing like the club had seen before… Looking back, however, that perception of the event may have been all in my head, as after the ceremony everyone went to the bar in the other room and I was left playing songs to myself. Well, I enjoyed it!
On a holiday near Castle Donnington, Vicky and I decided to go and watch some Aston Martins racing at Donnington Park race circuit. As we arrived I saw a sign reading ‘DJ SHOW’. Intrigued, later that day we went and had a look. This turned out to be one of the early BPM shows and I was impressed by all the equipment, having previously not realised that half of it even existed! Attending the show opened my eyes to all the professional DJs around the UK and made me feel very small, but I knew I had potential.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 91, Pages 15-20.