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ARTICLE
I’ve had an interest in music and records from a very early age. I remember a favourite toy at all of three years old: my Fisher-Price wind-up record player! It played plastic discs with big hits such as ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ and ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’. My curiosity then progressed quickly to my parents’ record player, after getting my hands on Mom and Dad’s Motown and Northern Soul records. And it wasn’t long before I was buying records of my own with money through odd jobs as well as proceeds from birthdays and Christmases. By age eight or nine I was a regular customer at our local Woolworths and Our Price Records.

Before the tender age of 10, I had already attended several friends’ disco birthday parties, a big trend at the time. These were held at home where the birthday child’s parents would clear furniture out of the lounge and entertain a big group of excited kids with their home stereo and party games. I got to know the guys who brought along a box of records, and was invited to a lot of the parties they went to. So of course, for my 10th birthday I wanted my very own disco. Using Mom and Dad’s record player alongside my Nan’s, I played my first ever DJ show, complete with a borrowed set of Tandy 4 lights!
The party was a huge success – and I was hooked. Right there and then, I knew that this was the path for me. I abandoned my dreams of becoming a forklift driver – when I grew up, I wanted to be a DJ.

My parents resisted this idea for as long as possible, but eventually caved. And on my 12th birthday presented me with my very own DJ setup sourced from a local second-hand shop. This set consisted of my first twin decks with speakers built into the lid, some very questionable rope lights, and the holy grail – my very own set of Tandy flashing lights. From this point on my career progressed very quickly. I started doing lunch-time discos at school for events such as Comic Relief Day, which then led to DJing our full-on school discos. I saved my earnings to re-invest in new equipment and my first purchase was a FAL Ranger console.

By my 13th birthday, I was working in local hospital radio. I spent most of my time in the technical studio rather than working as a presenter, so I gained a lot of knowledge about radio equipment. This stood me in good stead for more local radio work. Not perhaps as above board, more the sort from high rise flats in Birmingham! I also continued my mobile work – or as much as my parents could manage – and I gained a residency in a local pub shortly after turning 13. It was a lucky accident: the land lady of the pub took my card from a local shop and – not realising how young I was but liking the price I quoted – hired me. The residency paid for my Thames II console.
Around this time I also started working for a local Rollerdrome. This was where things started to go a little crazy. I was head-hunted at the Rollerdrome by a night club and it was the first time I had to explain my age. “As long as you’re not drinking, you’re legal,” I was told. “Just don’t let me catch you, keep it under the booth.” Things were different back then!

By this point I had become a regular at local record shops and I gained a lot of respect from older DJs. I even had my own named hook in my local record store, where a bag was hung with that week’s releases for me to look through on Saturday mornings. With nothing else to spend my wages on, it was time to upgrade again. I was that annoying kid that regularly visited Piccadilly Square Light and Sound in Birmingham and wanted to see everything new. Well, all the times they’d put up with me were about to pay off! I bought Technics 1200s, some Abstract Twisters and Abstract Scatter Spots, a couple of scanners and wash lights, with a Ryger 4-channel controller to run it all.
By 1990 I was working in a night club and as a mobile DJ, including weddings. Yes, I was working weddings, entertaining 1000 guests… at 14. It’s scary when I look back at just how young I’d been – I could have made a real mess of someone’s special day. However, a local Copthorne Hotel, along with a couple of other venues, were happy to keep feeding me work and I was growing my musical knowledge of past decades.

I’m sure if my parents knew some of the next part it just wouldn’t have happened. But luckily for me they were a little naive and I was economical with details to say the least! They were just proud at that point; there were so many unemployed people, yet their son was out working and earning a good wage at such a young age.

At the night club I met some people who loved my music and my style. It was that time when old school house was moving towards happy hardcore and rave – but still with a house-y feel – with the pianos, synths, horns, helium vocals and the classic fast BPM of 128+.

The people I’d met said I could earn good money playing to bigger crowds, who they assured me would love my DJing. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for! The day of the first gig arrived. I was picked up by a Ford Escort XR3i and with a crate of records in the back we hit the M5 out of Birmingham. Then onto the M1 and the M25 and down a country lane at warp speed. Honestly, I was both worried and excited at the same time.

The Ford Escort’s sun visor read “ON A MISSION” and as we rounded a corner to the sound of very loud music, the mission became clearer. We swung into a gateway and headed towards a dilapidated aircraft hangar with what looked like a fun fair outside. Inside the hangar, speaker stacks were loaded on two curtain side trailers and another flat bed for a stage and lighting. Everyone – and I mean everyone – was on their feet and dancing. It was only 7pm.

That night I went on at 10pm and I had a ball. It was crazy! My acquaintances told me I’d been great and assured me they’d be back in touch. Then I was paid by a guy who casually pulled £100 from a roll of notes – it seemed like pence to him.

I spent 18 months working around the M25 and met some fantastic people who shaped the way I am as a DJ. I swapped skills with legends like Danny Rampling, Paul Oakenfold, Judge Jules, Hixxy, Sharky and Slipmatt, to mention just a few. Little did I know how far these guys would go. One person I met, who has given me a memory that will always stick with me, was a guy who ran up to me on stage at an M25 event.

“Oi mate, I’m Keith, I’m with the band!” he shouted. “We’re the live PA tonight and I’m shitting myself. Never done anything like this before. ‘Av you got a mic? Can you really big me and the boys up?” I looked at this guy with a reverse mohawk, piercings and a mouth that was swinging all over his face. “Yeah,” I said, “of course,” and I gave them the best intro I could. They tore the roof off the place that night. They weren’t too bad and I hoped they’d get somewhere.

I was still balancing the agency work with the nightclub scene and I had the pleasure of working in places such as Stoodi Bakers (that went on to be Gatecrasher Birmingham), The Que Club and 42nd Street. One club called Wobble had a hydraulic dance floor that swayed (or wobbled) from side to side. It was hilarious watching the dancers when the light jock started moving it for the first time each night. The agency also got me a gig in a local swimming pool that had just had a wave machine and slides fitted, called the Bondi Beat. I loved working in Bermuda shorts and a t-shirt. I had to prop the fire door open with the amp rack to keep it cool and stop the amps from cutting out!

By this time CDs were making their mark. I had two Technics home CD players (Denon hadn’t released their first rack mount yet), which sat under the mixer between my Technics 1200s. The sound quality was phenomenal, but CDs didn’t do well in a swimming pool environment; I had to wipe them with a cloth every time I changed one.

In the run up to Christmas one year I worked almost every night of December at a hotel the agency had put me in. I got into trouble with my college lecturer for falling asleep! He thought I’d been out partying too much. I needed to pay attention, he said, or I’d never get a good job or make any money. I quite rudely laughed at him, explained why I was tired, and told him I already made more than enough.

Between the age of 16 to 18, I let the M25 gigs fall off. The situations were increasingly worrying and the scene wasn’t what it was. There’s no need for me to speak about it here, there are enough documentaries out there, but it makes me sad to think how money and gangs ruined it all. Instead, I stuck with my agency work and the gigs I could generate myself.

But at 18 I started to hear those dreaded words from my parents: “you haven’t done well in college or school… you can’t do this forever… you need to get a real job” – words that struck fear in to me. I had to get a day job (a “real” job) because although I was working as a DJ, my parents wouldn’t let me be at home all day. So, I took a job as a full-time barman.

I quickly progressed to bar manager and then to relief manager, which took up a lot of my time and stopped the club and mobile DJing. During the couple of years that I worked for Allied Domecq brewery I came out of retirement for one night only.

The company was putting on a promotional night for a new tequila drink called Barking Frog and had hired a night club close to the head office. That event turned out to be one of the biggest box-ticking nights of my career: I got to DJ at the legendary Hacienda! I was above the main room and had a little window facing the stage, on which a reflection of my face was beaming from ear to ear all night. I was still smiling when I got home.

By 1997 I had burnt out and was ill and unhappy and looking for a fresh start. So I was pleased to find that Butlin’s were hiring through my local job centre and was over the moon to secure work in their laser games centre. It was easy work and although it was low paid at £75 a week, that included my accommodation and all my meals! It wasn’t long before I was working overtime in their night club. I was a DJ once again.

I completed a couple of seasons for Butlins and then a new nightclub opened in Minehead. I put my head through the door and the manager recognised me from my previous London work. He asked me to audition – the job was mine.

The club was owned by a local guy who also owned a couple of hotels and the local football club, so I got a deal to work five nights a week in exchange for a wage, accommodation and food. This was when I started to experiment with video DJing, using VHS and the very first DVDs. At the time I didn’t know that this format would become the basis of my work with the invention of MP4s and computer DJing.

So, the circle of club DJ, mobile DJ, wedding DJ started again. I enjoyed my time in Minehead with some fantastic opportunities to play at places like The Ministry in Torquay, Chapel X and Chapter 33. But the clubbing scene was slowing down and I found myself working just three days a week. I was getting bored and I‘d had a marriage that went wrong, so I was desperate to move away from Minehead.

After around 10 years of working in and around Minehead, I moved towards Liverpool, got my mobile gear out of storage and signed up to an agency again. I sold and updated my kit where needed and finally set out as a mobile DJ after trying for 12 years to have “a real job”. I bit the bullet, visited the BPM show, and learnt all I could. I watched the videos, read the books, and did a lot of marketing. I even created some videos of my own, putting out how-to and advice videos on YouTube.

I also started a video course on DMX, helping me connect with other DJs. From this I had a lot of work passed on and was honoured to join The DJ Business team, an online video magazine that ran for 30 mins monthly (some of you may remember it!). The magazine gave me fantastic opportunities with manufacturers as well as an insight into future products and things happening behind the scenes in the equipment market. It also spurred me on further in the mobile DJ industry.
In 2011, the wheels were starting to come off. The race to the bottom had begun and I was unhappy dealing with ‘bridezillas’ and cutthroat pricing. I needed to change my business model.

After a visit to Mobile Beat in Las Vegas, I did a lot of thinking on the long journey back and Schools Out Entertainment was born (my trip and the resulting inspiration were covered in depth in Pro Mobile issue 106). This was and still is my business model. I moved back down south, taking the concept with me and building my business into the success it is now.

I’ve lived in sunny Weston-super-Mare since 2012. It’s a great place to call home with my fiancée (we get married in Las Vegas in February 2022) and four children to be. My fiancée has watched the business grow from its earliest stages and has taken quite an interest in video. In fact, she’s often part of the team when we work on larger gigs. My eldest son studied music technology at school, showing a lot of interest in lighting and the technical aspects of the business, so hopefully I’ll have someone to hand over the reins to one day.

In my 33 years as a DJ, I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge and skills from around the globe and have been lucky enough to have had some fantastic experiences and opportunities. I’ve also made a phenomenal number of friends. These are just a few reasons why I would never change what I’ve done and continue to do.

I’ve been able to live life to the full in a job that I enjoy, meaning that when I look back, I have never really worked a day in my life.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 111, Pages 14-21.
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