My DJ journey began in 1982. Fresh out of sixth-form college at 17 years old, I started my music collection. I loved the underground house music coming out of America with its dark groovy element. The electro dance music from Brooklyn and the Bronx had an exciting sound and great stories behind the lyrics.
Back then I would buy import 12” records, fascinated with the emergence of super-star DJs like Carl Cox, John Digweed and Paul Oakenfold – all masters of the mix. That little world of music in my humble bedroom started to take shape with the Technics SL1200s, as I taught myself to mix like my favourite DJs, as well as learning to cut and scratch vinyl in the hip-hop style. I loved listening to Radio One and was fascinated with the DJs and their characters. I started to record my voice, which sounded awful, and then set about trying to improve my skills. I spent hours recording and rephrasing my sentences to try to make myself sound more interesting.
My first gigs were in my local youth club for friends’ birthdays. But the fun really started when I used to sneak into the Top Rank kiddies night, where I made a good friend, Adrian Richie, who was a Top Rank megastar DJ and compere. Adrian discovered my smuggled G&T bottles, so I would bring him some too. I also made him several mix tapes and he loved them.
Adrian got me my first break in the club’s smaller upstairs function room, where I performed alongside him for several months and eventually got my very first solo paid gig in the same room. Later I met the Top Rank boss, Ron Weston, who was quite an intimidating chap and reminded me of The Godfather.
Many months on from then, I performed downstairs in the big room to cover for Adrian. You simply would not believe what happened after an hour into my first show. As I twisted to pull out a 12” record, my shirt sleeve accidently caught the tone arm of the turntable and ripped it clean out of its gimble. I nervously called out on the microphone for the sound technician, who came running downstairs and was furious with me when he saw the damage. I tried hopelessly to fix the tone arm myself and continue playing music. I had several hundred people on my dancefloor at the time, so I kept the music going on one turntable while we attempted to fix the other – and I ended up turning to my cheesy stars on 45 mix album to buy us some crucial repair time! Unfortunately, our efforts were all in vain. However, we did have a tape machine and a spare turntable, which enabled me to mix some music until the end.
I quietly sloped out that morning and skipped collecting my payment from Ron. I did however get hung up the next time I went in to DJ. But fortunately for me, it wasn’t the end, but the start of some good times. I got a premium night in the main room and became the cover DJ on other nights, giving me experience in a number of other Top Rank/Mecca venues.
With my new found DJ/compere experience, I breezed through auditions and performed at nights in many Hampshire clubs over the years, including Raffles, Fridays, Barabarellas and the Silhouette. My compere skills above all landed me two summer seasons abroad, one in Majorca in the Atlantis Club and the other in Malia, Greece, working clubs down the strip.
The nightclub circuit had also introduced to some great lighting ideas, which I was already thinking about using for a mobile disco. To get on the road with my mobile show, I joined an entertainment agency called Avenue Artistes and started building up my sound and lighting equipment. As a former design technology student, I could build my own equipment and the agency was my gateway to many hotels and just about every Hampshire military base too.
The military bases gave me some unique experiences. I once had a job which was TOP SECRET and offered more surprises than I could have ever anticipated. It was a dinner dance at the home of the former head of British armed forces, Sir General Mike Jackson; a celebration of the liberation of Kosovo. ‘Secret’ was the word, as I had no idea where, when or who this gig was for – not until three hours before I was due to start. The general’s home was a large, listed mansion and on arrival I was met on the main gate by plain clothes special forces. I was then shown to my changing room, which was bizarrely the general’s safe room, full of CCTV and with blast-proof doors.
Later, I set up a basic disco in a large marquee located a beautiful garden alongside a winding stream. My background music was playing and I was sat listening to the after-dinner speeches. They were discussing military operations and laughing at some of the cockups. And sitting at the head table was Mike Jackson, Tony Blair and the head of the US Navy. I remember it being a surreal but fun night, as well as feeling privileged about meeting and shaking hands with Sir Mike Jackson.
In my early teens I loved laser light shows choreographed with music and grew up enjoying electronic music legends like Jean-Michel Jarre. As a young DJ with little money and big plans, I took the plunge and bought a small air-cooled laser with scanners and controller.
I planned to integrate this into my mobile disco lightshow. The laser would bring a new dimension and open up other entertainment avenues like vehicle launches, reveals and dance event hire. I soon realised that I needed to step it up a level to perform proper shows. But that’s easier said than done. Firstly, it was not easy to buy a high-powered laser, as they cost upward of £40,000 new. Although I found out that I could bag one second-hand from a hospital and get it re-gassed at a fraction of the cost. There were also problems that I hadn’t anticipated. I knew lasers were dangerous but class 4 lasers are seriously dangerous; 6W of intense light in a pinhead can cause instant burns and blindness if misused, whilst spectral reflections can be damaging to eyes.
I also had to go back to science school and study laser safety. I joined a laser safety group, which actually added to my problems. I’d gone down the cheaper route of buying a bare-bones laser that didn’t do much other than burn everything it touched, and the challenges were mounting. I had to learn how to build a beam table to house the scanners and effects, so I did more research, joined yet more forums, and much later I finally got it working.
This laser was no doubt a beast. When on full power it could be seen outdoors for around five miles on a clear night, which brought in some huge events. One of the biggest was a dance event which featured Mister C from the Shamen as the headliner, playing on a 100,000W sound system to an estimated 20,000 people. Other laser lighting hires were a bit more sophisticated and included working alongside firework companies to perform combined laser firework shows.
Occasionally my new water-cooled laser did, however, get me into trouble. My problems were linked to the water supplies that were needed to cool the laser down;
gas lasers were very inefficient and relied on a steady water supply and drain to cool them down.
One time, I accidently flooded the back stage of the Grand Harbour (Leonardo) during a dinner dance. The flood water was two inches deep by the time we noticed. It turned out the drain hose had come dislodged by someone trying to close a door. Another laser water-cooling incident happened on the ladies night at HMS Sultan, when I experienced a spectacular soaking thanks to a cooling hose connection coming off the laser – much to everyone’s amusement!
My laser show brings me onto another incredible military gig story, which happened at 3rd Bat Para Regiment Dover. This was a high-specification gig that was going to last three days and I was the laser disco part of an entertainment team that included a band. We all arrived at the base and set up our gear in a large marquee that backed onto some barracks.
It was time to start connecting up our power, but we realised there was not enough of it. The Sergeant was mystified as to why he hadn’t received our power specifications, which were supposed to have been sent to him. He was furious with the situation, had a very difficult phone call with the agent, and after that, he said, “Just do your best for tonight and we will sort it out tomorrow.” We thought we could get away with it if we didn’t have both band and disco gear on at the same time. However this did make for some transition problems, as when I finished my DJ set there would be a delay while I powered down almost everything but my PA to hand over to the band, who would start to power up their gear in the dark. As soon as they powered up and the drummer hit his first beat, their PAR cans flashed once, the marquee went pitch black, and all you could see were a few candles on the tables. Later we realised that the fuse board in the barracks had burnt out.
It was all over and we sat down and discussed with the Sergeant how we could proceed. We all left the meeting, headed to the late-night mess hall, and then off to bed in the barracks next to the parade ground. It felt like I’d only just closed my eyes when I awoke suddenly to hear the thundering sound of a Chinook hovering just above the parade ground. I peeled back the curtains to see four soldiers roping down and un-coupling a huge field generator. Later that morning the generator guys kindly cut up all our cables and connected us up.
The laser show also took me abroad to Geneva with a company called Prestech to perform eight shows a day for an oil company exhibition of oil exploration. Our exhibition stand drew hundreds of guests over six days and coincidently Jean-Michel Jarre visited our stand and handed me tickets for his show in the arena next door. It was a jaw dropping moment for me, meeting one of my heroes.
One of my most enjoyable DJ and lighting memories was working with Steve Kingsley on his 70s and 80s nights at the Pyramids in Southsea. A huge stage was custom built with goalpost lighting, laser system and a massive 15,000W wall of sound. This all delighted the capacity crowd of over 1000 who used to attend these nights, and I got to work up close with many music icons including Sister Sledge, Rose Royce, Edwin Starr, Real Thing, and Phyllis Nelson.
As the years passed and tech changed and lasers got much smaller, I wanted to bring laser into my corporate shows and create a synchronised music and laser extravaganza. I decided to invest in building two new high-power white lasers, which I used in my James Bond and Star Wars shows. The James Bond soundtracks were the perfect orchestration for my new show following the theme of 50 years of Bond, whilst the music was my own 20-minute Bond mega mix and the laser graphics took me six months to produce. Finally, the show was ready and one of my first clients to experience the live show was Porsche. I posted a promo video to YouTube, which attracted the attention of William Benner from Pangolin Lasers. He asked my permission to stream it on Pangolin’s website and kindly arranged for me to have access to Beyond – Pangolin’s flagship 3D software – for free based on me helping his software development team de-bug the software for laser and DMX integration.
Music has always been a huge love and, around the year 2000, I decided to take on a new challenge by learning how to make it. I was aiming to remix existing music and produce quality original music, so I began to study well-known record producers and studio hardware, so I could built up my knowledge. My first project studio would only take up a small space in my spare room. I filled the space with some world-class instruments like Nord Lead 2 (used by Jamiroquai), Access Virus Ti (used by Tiesto), Focusrite preamps, and a Tascam multi-track.
Five years later and with many hours of production experience, I produced my first real house track, a dark yet feel-good song delivered by an incredible lady called Katarina.
Sadly, the track was never released for legal reasons. Another studio success was a cover of Kaiser Chiefs’ ‘Ruby’ that I did for our local football team, which was played on local radio. It was quite surreal because we needed to replicate the sound of the terraces by recording layers of voices, but all the players wanted to be involved and sing their parts, and consequently they turned up on my drive in their fancy cars, much to my neighbours’ amazement.
I have always enjoyed editing and remixing song arrangements, particularly songs that don’t quite work for me in the mix. So over the years I have also made numerous remixes and re-edits of popular dance tracks – these are mostly kept in my private collection and only appear at my own gigs. There was one exception though: my remix of Basement Jaxx - ‘Rendez Vu’ ended up on one of their EPs.
For many years I have been supporting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a charity researching early stage 1 and 2 diabetes in children. I’ve supported them with all my DJ, music and PA services, usually set up on the back of a flat-bed truck at the start and end of a sponsored walk. Part of my show is to provide a PA for up to 3000 runners, with announcements to raise awareness for the disease and music to keep the runners’ spirits up.
The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 123, Pages 14-18.