Dialogue with Roger Squire
Considered by many to be the pioneer of mobile DJing, Roger Squire started out DJing in the 1960s, before going on to set up a successful multi-op and an equally successful DJ equipment retail company. Greg Cartwright caught up with the industry legend at the Pro Mobile Conference 2015, immediately following his acceptance of the Pro Mobile Lifetime Achievement Award...
Q: We might as well start at the beginning, Roger. How were things different for DJs back in the sixties?
A: Well, the thing about the sixties was that it was a very different environment. You had swinging London and Carnaby Street. You could go all round the world and the top of the charts was usually British; you had the Beatles and the Stones the British invasion dominating the worlds music scene. I was based in North London and we had pirate radio before commercial radio, before the BBC had Radio 1! It was an exciting time musically and culturally, which led to a gigantic sea of change in DJ entertainment. It was a revolutionary time. London became a very happy, very dynamic, very entertainment-oriented place, and disc jockeying came into vogue. I started in 66 because it seemed the right thing to do at that time.
Q: How did the events differ?
A: Well, before the mid-sixties, function entertainment usually involved a trio or a quartet playing waltzes, quicksteps and foxtrots. Then, at ten oclock, the band would play Rock Around the Clock in a hopeless manner. The dynamism was poor, the continuity was poor, and the entertainment factor was almost non-existent.
So, I decided that with good recorded music, two turntables and a decent mixer, combined with a good microphone technique and some master of ceremony skills, it would be possible to make weddings, engagement parties, anniversaries and social events fabulous. I was the first person to popularise that form of entertainment; there were others before me but they didnt really brand it and market it well. I evolved a particular format and a brand image, and it really took off.
Q: Yes, popularising this format is what you touched on in your acceptance speech, isnt it?
A: What you have to understand is that when people got married in 1966 they usually booked a church hall for their reception. There was no such thing as lighting that worked with the sound, there was no such thing as projected lighting. The typical church hall would have ten fluorescent lights. Atmosphere lighting in 1966 was turning off eight of them! Years later, you had better sound systems, better lighting, and the need for more DJ chat was reduced. But in 66, if you couldnt entertain you wouldnt get a booking.
Q: In 1966 you actually coined the term mobile discotheque. How quickly did that term catch on? Do you think DJs were glad to have a title under which they could operate?
A: Yeah, that was pivotal because the concept of people dancing to records had happened for many years. Even in the Second World War, when the air raids were going on, people would take a wind-up gramophone into the underground stations and dance on the platforms. Even in the 1930s, my father (who was a techy) ran a business called Electro Music Hire and did some weddings, but didnt get a lot of bookings because the sound quality was poor and it wasnt a developed entertainment style.
So, to return to the question, the reason that it took off in 1966 is that, first of all, the sound systems got better and we had 45s instead of 78s. But it was also down to the branding. Due to the introduction of nightclubs, the word discotheque had just crept into the English language, meaning record library in French. It was going to happen anyway, I just happened to spot it first and think to myself, Well, weve got the word discotheque. I want to run mobile entertainment shows. I need a good name I cant be Roger with His Sound System, thats boring, but Roger Squires Mobile Discotheque has some pizzazz!
So, it gave this new style of mobile entertainment a brand, it gave it energy, it gave a bit of sparkle, which is a big part of the reason that it took off. When something works, other people copy. So we ended up, in North London, with hundreds and hundreds of copy-cat mobile discotheques. Some did well and some didnt; you had to get the branding right, the music right, the music sequencing right, and you had to use the microphone to entertain an audience properly. It needed coordination, which is, funnily enough, what were talking about at this Conference: its drifted away a bit and I think were going to come back to DJs providing more coordination, which is a good thing.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 71, Pages 52-56.