For as long as I can remember, music and all things technical have been a big part of my life.
However, I’d say junior school was where the seed was really planted! I somehow fell into being part of the school band playing percussion and just about anything I could get my hands on to make a noise with! I was also lucky enough to be chosen as ‘that person’ who got to put on the music in the school hall (using the Coomber tape recorders) as the rest of the school entered into assembly… I think this was when I first got bitten by the DJing bug!
It was also during my time at junior school that my dad moved to Spain and owned a bar in Palma called the Pine Tree Inn. My older sister and I used to visit him every year and the bar quickly became a place we loved! Dad often had entertainment on and one evening my love of music and playing instruments was ignited thanks to one man and his keyboard. That man was my dad’s friend Jim, who also owned his own music bar a little further into town.
After seeing and hearing Jim play live in the bar I remembered thinking to myself, “that’s something I want to do, entertain people!”
As soon as I returned home from Spain I told my mum and stepdad that I really wanted to learn to play piano and sing. I was very happy that my family supported me that year by buying me my first keyboard for Christmas and my birthday (they are only a couple of weeks apart). I can still remember the day I walked into Toys ’R’ Us in Chatham and picked up that Casio LK-50. It was like a dream machine, the keys lit up so I could learn to play songs and there were loads of sounds to choose from. I could use it to record myself and play it back too whilst layering other things over the top, I was mixing!
Towards the end of my final year in the juniors (2003) we put on a school play, our very own rendition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Since I was one of the tech geeks of the year group (even back then!) I was asked if I’d like to help putting together the visuals and sound effects for the show. I spent many days producing various PowerPoints for the different scenes and even found the audio stings they used in the real shows!
This play was one of the first times I’d ever seen the school’s four lighting fixtures get used. One of the PE teachers placed the lump of a DMX lighting desk on top of a piece of PE apparatus, connected it to the socket on the wall and, with a push of a few buttons, I had control of the lights: two in front of the stage, one to the left and one to the right. Sadly I didn’t run the lights during the show, as I was on stage – playing instruments and singing – but I was allowed to set them up and play with them whilst rehearsals were taking place. This was when I realised I liked doing both parts quite a lot: being the tech geek at the back and the guy on the stage! Little did I know that fast forwarding a few years I’d find a way of doing both at the same time.
In my secondary school years I was fortunate enough to be part of the school stage crew. I started helping out during my second term and became the guy running it all a few years later when the older guys left! My school was then called Chatham Grammar School for Boys (it has since changed name) and what a school it was… I couldn’t imagine being able to get away with half the things we did in that school today. Health and safety then was a little bit overlooked as we were just allowed to run up and down ladders, play with all the lights we had at our disposal and no-one ever batted an eye lid! Well, until you missed a few too many lessons, then you might have had a little telling off!
The setup was quite a bit more advanced than what I’d experienced at primary school, and during my time there we had many upgrades and additions to the kit we had to play with. The stage was home to many school productions, open evenings, assemblies, school discos and much more, all of which had an AV element to it that I was proud to be part of! For the open evenings we used to get in a little more kit from an ex-student who went on to create his own sound and lighting company. We used it to design and program a complete lighting show to an audio track and fire it all off manually on the night, now that was fun for a young teenage geek!
I particularly enjoyed doing the lights for school discos. For these we were sometimes again blessed with being lent some kit from the ex-student: a handful of UV cannons alongside Martin MX-1 scanners and Martin Egos that I operated on the little MC Showtime controller. We then had some generic par cans and two giant moving heads (at least that’s what I thought at the time), Geni Oby-3s, that were all hung from the ceiling. This was all run through a Zero88 Fat Frog desk.
A few years down the line and many school discos under my belt, the older guys left and there was no-one left to DJ. So I said that I’d like to take over and give them a rebrand, which is when ‘Neon Nightz’ was born! It was almost like a mini nightclub for the teens and we all loved it. The school were absolutely amazing and pretty much let us do what we wanted and even gave us a small bit of money each for the effort we put in! Hey… we’ve got the makings of a little business here!
I was still at secondary school when I became a mobile DJ… well a roadie at first. My family was invited to a party one evening and my stepdad (knowing that I was interested in all things sound and lighting) went up to the DJ, Jeff, and said, “if you cross my boy’s hand with silver he’ll help you if you want,” and that’s where it all began!
From that night Jeff and I worked together most weekends. Initially I was the roadie who helped him bring the kit in, set it up and occasionally played a few tracks when he went to the toilet. To be honest, I was a little afraid of talking on the microphone, so didn’t fancy making announcements and left those to him.
90% of our work was at one venue, Lordswood Sports and Social Club, and this is where I began to learn the tricks of the trade. After the first year my confidence grew and I started to take more of an active role. I came up with the name ‘Kent Discos’ and suggested to Jeff that we should rename the disco and start expanding as a few of my family and friends had asked us to do parties in other venues. Needless to say, Jeff agreed as more work was always a good thing, although back then we were only charging around £120 a night!
We performed at many different parties and events and I squirreled away the money I earnt and started to buy additional equipment. I also replaced some items on the setup as they were getting a little rough around the edges (Jeff had been DJing many years before I came on the scene). Picture the setup: at the beginning we had a 4ft centre light box with homemade wooden panels either side with the disco name cut out of card and stuck on the front. The sound was a mix of unbranded, cheap speakers and amplifiers and four home CD players attached to a Samson rotary mixer. The lighting resembled a Maplin’s special offer sale! We had a Geni Wildblaze and XTC, some mini strobes, rope lights and a handful of other cheap effects that didn’t really do a lot!
Jeff originated from County Durham, which is where his dad still lived, so he often went to visit. Sadly, his dad became ill and these trips became a little more frequent. This meant that Jeff decided he needed to slow down on the discos as he also worked full-time as a maths teacher at a school in Sidcup, so you can imagine that his life was pretty busy. Oh and he also had three boys and a wife at home, they didn’t have much interest in the discos, so the advertising and bookings ended up becoming my baby and it wasn’t too long before I started investing more of my own money into the business to improve its appearance.
Unfortunately, all of the back and forth with everything became a little too much for Jeff’s family and sadly he and his wife separated and had a divorce.
At this time Jeff
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 102, Pages 15-24.