Profile: DJ Chris Anthony
My name is Chris Binns, and I want to tell you about my story growing up with music. How it shaped my life, comforted me through the hard times and inspired me to live my dream of becoming a full-time wedding DJ and Master of Ceremonies.
I was born in Stoke Newington, Hackney in November 1966 and, at the age of three, I remember a blazing row between my mum and dad. Life at the time was tough for them as Windrush immigrants from Jamaica and growing up in a troubled environment as a child was scary. Often I would try to escape the negativity by hiding in my bedroom, or wandering out into the garden, over the fence and into the local Lordship Lane rec. It was my way of coping with the neglect I had to face.
Through all the pressure, my mother had a nervous breakdown and years later was diagnosed schizophrenic. Her ability to handle her mental state and her emotions whilst taking care of me and my two sisters was greatly impaired. The early ‘70s was a particularly traumatic time as my mother's condition worsened. It was during this period, after my parents split up, that I was staying at my dad's rental flat and one lonely afternoon decided to dig through his fledgling collection of 7" records. I had always observed them before, sitting on top of the cabinet player in a wire holding rack, but they never really attracted my attention until now. I was more into toys and playing out!
However, on this day, I was feeling particularly bored so I decided to explore. I was fascinated by the mechanics of the drop down spindle in the middle of the turntable and how you could stack up to six singles on top of each other. But most of all I was fascinated by the music. The significance of this afternoon has never left me, because playing my father's records became my go-to place whenever I was feeling down or lonely. The music was my drug. I had found love in music, and the music found love in me.
So what was this music that so captivated me? It was the roots rocking sounds of rocksteady, reggae, soul and Motown. These were the sounds my dad loved and I began to love them too. The Uniques, Alton Ellis and The Heptones, to name a few. These genres became the bedrock of my passion for music; they shaped me and stayed with me throughout my life.
Songs of Significance:
Pat Kelly – ‘How Long’; The Harry J All Stars – ‘The Liquidator’; Eric Donaldson – ‘Cherry Oh Baby’; Laurel Aitken – ‘Bag-A-Boo’.
There's no doubt about it, my childhood was a bit crazy. With my parents’ impending divorce and the deterioration of my mother’s mental health, family life was very unstable. There was never a home we stayed in for more than a year because mum would often break down and need help from social services. Frequent drop offs to relatives were needed to keep us safe and in school. Mum just could not do it consistently enough.
By this time, we were seeing dad less and less, which meant that all I had to keep him close was the collection of 7" singles he left behind when mum threw him out of the house. Whenever things got hard, this collection was the one place I could go to make me feel ok. This collection was my close friend, my confidant who had my back.
In 1972 I was taken by my mother for eight weeks to visit Jamaica. The richness and clarity of this experience will never leave me as I was taken on an exciting tour of the island. My family were farmers and have a large plot of farmland and I got up to so much mischief, that to this day, relatives still talk about "that Christopher"!
My mother was from Montego Bay and I recall my first experience of the people and their music from the many rum and domino parties we went to. Although I was only six at the time, the pictures in my mind of the massive speaker boxes and the heavy-hair Rastafarians controlling the music have always stuck with me. I was intrigued, and a little intimidated, by the men playing the records and how in to it they were. I remember seeing a Rastafarian for the first time and screaming “there’s a stringy head man” and running away!
I also vividly remember the stacks of 7" vinyl records lined up on the side of the table and the record man looking intently at each selection. I cannot recall in detail the DJ setup, but I can be sure he did not have a booth and lights! These parties, as is so often the case in poor communities, simply involved gatherings of people that enjoyed good company. The music provided the perfect sound track to complement the rum, Red Stripe and delicious food. I truly believe music born out of struggle and hardship contains a deep spirit and soul, and that is certainly true of the sounds that originated from the Caribbean. My first trip to Jamaica has not been repeated on too many occasions but the lasting memory of my time there is now family folklore!
I have never been one for sticking rigidly to a particular genre, and while I still loved the music I had discovered through my dad’s vinyl collection, with the release of Saturday Night Fever in 1977 I was turned on to the funky sound of disco music. I discovered The Bee Gees, The Jackson 5, KC & The Sunshine Band, and so many more. For me, disco was the precursor to the ‘80s soul era, which as we all know continues to be a strong part of the musical line-up at many weddings today.
Although I became heavily involved in the ‘80s soul movement, I was not yet comfortable with my abilities as a DJ. I went to many house parties in London and I loved how the DJs mixed their music. I always wanted to do what they did, but I was such a shy guy growing up that I never had the courage to play to the crowds. I had so many internal conflicts, which came from the troubled times in my early childhood, that I had absolutely no confidence. But deep inside there was a yearning to play music and get people dancing and enjoying themselves. I really wanted to be the life and soul of the party, but I would have to wait a long time for that to become a reality.
I simply played to an audience of one, which was me! However, my dream to become a full-time DJ was still in the back of my mind. To play to an appreciative audience was all I ever wanted, and the feeling it gave me to picture a full dancefloor dancing to the sounds I was playing still excites me, as I know is the case for many DJs. I often wonder what is the motivation for a DJ to play music to an audience. Is it to give to an appreciative audience, or is it more about the DJ's ego and their need for adulation and attention to feed a deeper insecurity?
Songs of Significance:
The System – ‘You Are In My System’; Quincy Jones – ‘Ai No Corrida’; Patti Austin – ‘Hot! In the Flames of Love’; BB & Q Band – ‘On The Beat’; Roy Ayers - Poo Poo La La’. There are so many but I loved these and still do!
I left school with an arsenal of music and a real love for playing it. I was still a bedroom DJ, although I harboured a strong desire to play to an audience. Without the courage to start a DJ life, I instead became a carpenter and joiner, working for the Greater London Council. It was a great career for me because I loved making things out of wood and it appealed to my creative side. It also meant I could keep on listening to my music whilst I worked! Those late teenage years were filled with regular nights out at the best clubs in London as well as the Notting Hill Carnival, which was a great place to enjoy soul and reggae music.
These were truly great times, but inside I still felt the emptiness that growing up with mental illness presents. Those feelings of neglect and hurt would always surface as I struggled with my emotions. It’s funny how inner emotions can keep you afraid and confined. You become a master at masking your feelings and people think everything is normal. Inside you are being eaten up, but outside you portray a confident and happy person. Mental illness is a terrible affliction and can really make life difficult. In many ways, a piece of my mother resides in me even now, although I no longer get as depressed as I did back then. Fortunately, music has always been my companion, and helped me get through difficult times.
When I met my wife Sonia, we both shared this passion and loved much of the same music, although my tastes were a bit more eclectic than hers! The early ‘90s saw the birth of our two children Jermaine and Myles, and for a time life was really good! We were happy and settled. I had a growing family to care for and my focus was on them. By this time I had begun to grow my CD collection and had continued with the soul and new jack swing theme. Chart music wasn't particularly on my radar, but there were some tunes I liked in the top 40. I was still a soul head banging out ‘80s classics!
By the mid ‘90s Sonia and I decided to marry and we tied the knot in ‘96. Out first dance was Brian McNight’s ‘Crazy Love’ and I actually sang ‘Always & Forever’ by Heatwave. The recording of that song will not be appearing on YouTube! But hey, my wife loved it. These were two great songs that really captured our love for each other and of good soul music.
We also had a great DJ (Sharky DJ) whom I still DJ with occasionally, and he was really impressive on the night. I recall standing behind the booth and getting my first real feel of DJing a wedding. It was so exciting and really inspired me to do my first gig.
That chance came when, after a personal development seminar, I was asked to DJ alongside another participant of the course for an after-party. Fortunately, the equipment was provided so all I had to bring was my CD collection. It was a nerve-racking experience for sure, but I felt so cool making others dance. It was the best feeling!
From a personal musical perspective, the ‘90s represented a move toward silky smooth soul. Jazz funk, RnB, New Jack Swing and Hip Hop were all taking my attention. As much as I loved the soul classics I always ventured to music that was not the mainstream. I loved trying to pick out songs that were on the flip side of singles and album tracks that many would never have really discovered. Music was a religion for me and seeking out obscure greats was an obsession.
Songs of Significance:
Sounds of Blackness – ‘Optimistic’; Solo – ‘Where Do U Want Me To Put It’; Blackstreet – ‘U Blow My Mind’; Lo-Key – ‘Come On In’; Dwele – ‘Keep On’.
In 2000, Cameron, our third child, came along to complete our brood and I now had my hands really full! By this time I had begun to DJ at friends’ parties. I purchased two passive 10” speakers and a Wharfdale amplifier which I got on the cheap from a friend. It was a great amp but so heavy. By this time I had lost the CDs and was playing music from a computer. I literally started out playing with no controller; I was proper green as I couldn’t afford all the equipment!
As I started doing more gigs I reinvested what I earnt back into my equipment. After every gig I would rush back to my local DJ store in Walthamstow, East London, to buy some more gear. I became a proper gear junkie. I would spend hours looking at equipment and planning the best stuff to buy. However, when I was starting out, I remember being very confused by wiring. For some reason, all the connections and different types of plugs and sockets really confused me, so it was a great stress when I had to set up. It seems so trivial now, but at the time it was a real panic trying to remember the instructions Mark gave me in the DJ store!
My initial gigs as a DJ were a bit haphazard, but I enjoyed them. As the ‘00s progressed, I grew in confidence and started to do more parties via word of mouth. I was still very much an amateur DJ though, and still worked full-time as a construction professional. I was never DJing at a level I would call prolific and my fees were rock bottom. This meant that I couldn’t imagine ever becoming a full-time DJ, so I settled with being a hobbyist. At least I got to play music to partygoers sometimes!
By the mid-‘00s I had built up my gear and was doing a bit of gigging, but not as much as I would have liked. I recall my first wedding at which I was required to use the mic, boy was that a scary thing! I remember mumbling a few words now and then and that I couldn’t wait to get back to the music! Everyone had a great time though, including me, and I knew instantly that weddings was the route I would like to take.
Songs of Significance:
Erick Sermon ft. Marvin Gaye – ‘Music’; Jaheim – ‘Just In Case’; Chante Moore – ‘Bitter’; Jill Scott – ‘Gettin' In The Way’; Lauryn Hill – ‘Nothing Even Matters’; Madonna – ‘Little Star’; Maxwell – ‘Pretty Wings’.
WHAT AM I WORTH?
As I became more confident behind the booth, I naturally wanted to increase my prices. However, I was stuck in the very low end of the market charging no more than £150 to DJ. Deep down I knew I was not fully appreciating my talents and eventually I realised that I needed to do something different. This thought process led me to seek out somewhere I could learn new skills and meet other DJs who were in the same boat as well as those who were earning good money so I could learn from them.
My search lead me to the door of the NADJ. I recall the first ever meeting I attended. Tony Winyard told me about a DJ meet-up happening in Sheffield and that we were to meet with some other London-based DJs to travel up by mini-van. This was the first time I had ever been around a group of other mobile DJs. I know this sounds crazy, but my earlier days of DJing were really isolated. I had a massive inferiority complex and thought my skills were nowhere near as good as other DJs. In so many respects, I needed to get out of my comfort zone, and the NADJ really helped me do this. Tony Winyard had a massive effect on me that day and I knew I was in the right place. He continues to be a friend and mentor, and I have a lot to thank him for.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 92, Pages 19-24.