Q: You’ve been away from Music Factory for quite a few years. What’s it like to be back as the Chairman?
A: I have been away for 10 years to develop my education business, but it felt the right time to come back in and take over from my dad to take Music Factory on to the next level. The reality is that I started at the Music Factory at the age of 16 and now, at the age of 51, I am genuinely excited about the road ahead and very proud to be the Chairman of my family business.
Q: You’ve been involved in the music industry for over 30 years, what do you consider to be the key developments in that period for DJs?
A: Without a doubt, technology is the biggest development, as a positive and a negative. It’s a positive in that it removes the barrier to entry, so anyone can participate in the world of music production and DJing. But it is a negative because there is now an incredible amount of noise and you really have to search for the quality. When I started you had to master your trade as a DJ using vinyl, there was no Sync button. And, as producer, you had to learn how to work a studio with a multichannel desk and a 24-track recorder. Now anyone can download Ableton or other software and have an instant home studio, which is fantastic. However, you can’t download experience and expertise, you have to develop that and put in the hard-yards to create the mixes and productions that will cut through the noise.
Q: You are well known for your association with Amadeus Mozart as the Tidy Boys running the Tidy Trax label which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. How is Amo and what’s next for Tidy?
Yes, Mr Mozart has been my production and DJ partner for 30 years now and is still as daft as ever. He was one of the original members of Music Factory Mastermix, when we first released our double gate-fold vinyl Issues back in 1987 and that is when I first encountered the said gentleman. From the start we clicked creatively and shared the same sense of humour, which has carried us through 30 years of working together with a smile on our faces and our tongues firmly in our cheeks.
Tidy Trax was born with an ethos of creativity and humour and now, 25 years later, we are incredibly proud that the Tidy brand continues with the Tidy 25 Weekender, new releases and a thriving community. The Tidy Boys are back in the studio producing new music and a new Tidy Boys album is on the horizon. Check out our website glamzoo.com for all things Tidy.
Q: What do you think DJs can do to enhance the experience they provide to customers? What advice would you give to DJs / Producers starting out today?
A: It is increasingly challenging to breakthrough as a DJ because, as mentioned before, the barriers to entry are now very low when it comes to accessing the equipment and music. However, just like owning a camera doesn’t make you a photographer, just owning some DJ software and a bit of kit doesn’t make you a DJ. You can’t buy passion and experience. My advice to anyone wishing to breakthrough as a DJ is that first of all, as a prerequisite, you have to be good but it is equally important to be different. Just being a wizard on the kit is not the golden ticket. What makes you stand out? Why will I remember you? As a DJ I think you need presence. That doesn't mean you have to act like a mad man behind the decks but just playing music isn’t enough. It’s how you play the music and how creative you can be in your approach. Also, if you want to break through as a club DJ, producing your own music is a massive plus. That can fast-track your name up that flyer if your music is getting recognised.
Q: Can you tell us about U-Explore?
A: I operate in two worlds. The entertainment industry and the education industry… which is an interesting balance. I founded a company called U-Explore and developed a free careers platform called startprofile.com to help young people get inspired about the world of opportunity out there and find their thing! I stumbled into it just by going into schools talking about my own journey and seeing the impact you can have when you give kids a different perspective. I saw lights come on and thought there had to be a better way to inspire kids about careers, so created U-Explore. Fast forward a few years and now over 1 million young people have used the platform and built profiles… try it, you might find your dream job!
Q: You have stopped regularly DJing now, do you miss it or does it make the one off gigs even more special?
A: As the Tidy Boys we decided to retire from touring a few years ago. We took a year out completely and now just do our own shows for the most part, such as the Tidy 25 Weekender (tidy25.com).
As I have a number of business interests, 3 children, 1 wife, 1 dog and have just turned 51, I don’t miss the hectic schedule of gigs every weekend and working all week. I have had the privilege of touring the world and playing the biggest clubs across the UK for 20 years with my best mate Mr Mozart, so the time was right to cut back and enjoy a bit more family life and get focused on business. That said, I now really look forward to the gigs we do, as there is no greater enjoyment (almost) than playing music and watching a floor go off. And, because we now don’t play very often, our fan-base come out on mass for a proper good night out!
Q: I have to ask about Jive Bunny. How did it feel at 19 to be more successful than the Beatles and the Rolling Stones at the start of their careers?
A: It was one of those things you could never plan, it just happened and before you know it you are headlining the Capital Radio party in London with Bros and have your arm around a Proclaimer!
Crazy times for a lad from Doncaster, but it just shows you anything can happen if you put yourself out there, think differently and seize the opportunities that come your way. I had a fantastic (if hectic time) and so much happened very quickly that I don’t remember half of it! 30 years later I look back on the files of press cuttings and it feels like I am looking into someone else's life. I saw a photo of me with no shirt on and a Proclaimer under each arm… I have no recollection of that photo being taken!
I am very proud of what we did because it was very innovative at the time, given the lack of technology available, and no matter what folk think of Jive Bunny we will forever be etched in the record books for our first three records going to number 1! It’s amazing what can be achieved with a rabbit from Rotherham and a great team effort.
Q: Where do you see Music Factory going in the future, are you looking to expand the labels and resources?
A: Coming back into Music Factory as the Chairman wasn’t difficult for me, even after 10 years away, as I knew the core business and the people, but I'm also able to now bring my wider perspective and help the team think differently. Clearly much has changed since I was last involved, particularly in the way people now consume music and how producers can distribute their music. This is certainly true of DJs, with many moving to digital platforms, using software like Ableton & Traktor and, notwithstanding licensing issues, the ability to live stream music from the Cloud into your kit is also here. So this presents the business with either a challenge or an opportunity in how we respond. I firmly come from the opportunity camp and see great potential for Mastermix and our other divisions to innovate.
With regard to Mastermix, I see us becoming more of a ‘channel’ for DJs, both as a way for new talent to get heard via our platform and a place for DJs to come and access a wider range of product, education and join a community. Equally, it is still a mixed economy out there with regards to how DJs chose to collate and play their music, so we are mindful of catering for all. We have recently introduced USB compilations to Mastermix and continue to release physical product but we are governed by PPL with regard to what we can and can’t do, so it is a very fluid situation as record labels strive to protect the copyrights and get a rightful return for their artists.
Q: People may not know but aside from Jive Bunny you also had a Top 40 hit as part of Two In A Tent in 1994 with 'When I’m Cleaning Windows'. How did a single sampling George Formby come about?
A: Interestingly, it came from my DJ partner faffing around with 'When I’m Cleaning Windows' for Mastermix and throwing it over ‘Swamp Thing’ by The Grid. It seemed to work, so we went into the studio and created a new version using the original vocal and the track got picked up by Simon Cowell who thought the track had the potential to be Christmas Number 1. In the end things got complicated with other releases Simon had lined up so we teamed up with Pete Waterman and Matt Atkin and the track came out on their label charting at number 25 in the UK. It was just another example of me and Mozart not taking ourselves too seriously. We used the chap from Stars In Their Eyes (David Clark) to front the video and went on tour to Denmark where we had a number 2 hit! We followed the track up with 2 In A Tank - 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' which was less of a hit, somewhere in the 40s I believe and then shelved the album. 2 In A Towel was never to be… shame... it was a cracker!
Q: Who were your musical influences growing up?
A: Early on it was all about Madness and the Jam, then I became a big fan of guitar-based pop bands like Curiosity Killed The Cat, Hipsway and Danny Wilson. I ventured into rock in my mid-teens with Van Halen, Whitesnake, UFO and Deep Purple, but when I started going clubbing it was all about ‘80s Soul music… I had quite an eclectic mix of music in my ‘80s bedroom!
Q: I've been told you have returned to the studio after 15 years to create some new productions for Mastermix... tell us more?
A: Yes! I have just completed Soul Sessions, a Mastermix Grandmaster. In the '90s I produced and mixed a series of albums called Good Groovin’ which predominantly covered '70s '80s and '90s Soul. With me now back at Music Factory, Mastermix Label Manager, Richard Lee, slowly persuaded me to venture back into the studio and do something for Mastermix, maybe continue the Good Groovin’ theme. In reality there wasn’t anywhere else to go to extend that theme, other than going deeper and more specialist with my choice of Soul, so I decided to park that idea and come at it with a fresh approach. If I were to do a Soul Session as a DJ, what would I play? And as a producer, 15 years on with new technology available, what would I do? Based on the music I wanted to use ('70s/'80s Soul) I knew I needed to get musical to get the smooth transitions I wanted in the mix so I enlisted my good friend and fellow producer Paul Chambers to engineer the session as he is also a musician which would be a useful asset for this project.
Produced using Ableton as our software, we set off with a plan to create, not just a megamix but more so a production. Three months later the mix is done and ready for release on Mastermix and I have to say I believe it’s the best thing I have ever done, with massive credit to Paul Chambers’ incredible engineering skills. Once the mix is out our intention is to run a webinar to show people how we achieved the mix, as there is loads going off in the background to make the transitions flow.
Q: Like Rick Astley, you started out as the tea boy at Music Factory (even though you have had more number ones than him). Now you are the Chairman, does this mean you will not be making the brews anymore?
A: I did indeed start at Music Factory as the tea boy / tape op and worked in all divisions of the business, so the Music Factory is very much in my blood. As a business leader, regardless of the Music Factory, I have always believed you have to lead from the front and be prepared to get involved at any level and lead by example, so yes I will still make the brews. However, I work next to the most amazing individual who spoils me every time I am in the office with chocolate biscuits, Haribo sweets, cakes and cups of coffee. So if I get up to make a brew the lovely Sarah Parkin intercepts me and returns me to my desk! I do, however, make a fabulous brew… ask my wife!
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 101, Pages 58-62.