Last night Conch Records hosted a session with legendary UK DJ Greg Wilson, talking about his DJ career, his approach to edits, and showing us how he worked a Revox B77 reel to reel. It was a fascinating talk, and he has some amazing stories.
Like how he taught Fatboy Slim to scratch. That story was funny as hell. Dated back to 1983, when Greg was doing a tour round the UK called the Hacienda revue, and it stopped off in Brighton. There was this enthusiastic kid called Quentin (aka Fatboy Slim/Norman Cook) who was hanging round the DJ decks asking questions, so Greg showed him the basics of scratching.
Fast forward a few years to Beats International hitting big with Dub be good to me, and Greg is reading an interview with Norman Cook of Beats International, and he cites his influences as Grandmaster Flash and Greg Wilson. Greg goes, what the heck's that about? He asks an old mate of his (Kermit from Black Grape/Ruthless Rap Assassins), and they remind him of that moment back in 83. Greg tells it way better than I do.
When Greg got onto the internet, about 15 years ago, he noticed all the various dance scenes being documented, but black culture wasn't being included. He talked about that black culture in the UK going back to the 50s and 60s, even earlier with US GIs coming over to England, bringing jukeboxes with them. The dance scene there didn't start with a bunch of DJs coming back from Ibiza and suddenly inventing dance culture.
He mentioned that some folk say the northern soul scene led into rave, but he noted that there was a 7 year gap between the Wigan Casino closing and rave hitting in 88.
Discussing his edits, he said he's rubbish, technically, but he's got a mate who is really good at all that technical stuff. He put Greg onto a program that he said was prefect for Greg, called Acid, which was ideal for making loops, the basis of a good edit.
He talked about black music from the UK not being taken seriously in its country of origin, as it wasn't American. He namechecked a handful of UK acts, like Cymande and Freez.
He talked about the New York hiphop scene. I asked him about Afrika Bambaata, who used to go downtown to the record pools to get records that no one else in the Bronx had, and wanted to know how Greg went about getting records that were exclusive.
He answered by going into a story about the northern soul scene, which thrived on DJs scoring exclusives that no one else had, using an example of a record DJ Ian Levine found. The rumour went round that he had discovered this amazing, rare record called Theres a ghost in my house and was going to play it that weekend. And he was right, says Greg, it was an amazing record, and later went on to be a chart hit in the UK.
But on the way home from the casino at the end of the night, some folk had stopped off at a service station (gas station) to get a feed, and they were flicking thru the record stand in there. EMI put out these cheap compilations for a pound (records were 3 pounds then) called Music for pleasure, and on the track listing was Theres a ghost in my house.
He wanted to highlight that kind of exclusivity that riddled the northern soul scene, as he said he was not interested in it at all. He wanted to popularise the tunes he found, share his discoveries with everyone.
Greg talked about when he got into DJing at 16, he bought a book by a famous UK radio DJ named Emperor Rosco, called Emperor Rosco's DJ Book, and in the back were the addresses of the record companies. Greg wrote to them all and started developing contacts to send him the latest records and US imports, getting on their promo lists.
Greg pointed out that these record promo lists started in 1971, predating the arrival of the much-trumpeted record pools started by David Mancuso and co in NYC by 4 years.
He talked about with his current approach to DJing, he is always "looking for the balance between the past and the present." He mentioned DJing off laptop, but had reintroduced the Revox reel to reel in his DJ setup.
One way he uses it is to drop sound effects and samples into his mixing. He also uses it in the Jamaican dub style, dropping the reel to reel into record, then feeding it back into the mix, creating a live tape delay effect.
So, does he still make edits on tape? For the romance of it (as he put it)? "Madness! No!" He uses a computer, much easier say to make a 16 bar loop - he only has to edit it once, then enter repeat 15 times and it's done.
He talked about when he got back into DJing, after a 20 year break, which was on the back of an old mate of his, Kermit, playing him the first Black Grape album, and asking what he thought of it. Greg could hear where the edits needed to be, so he learnt digital editing using a system popular in radio, called Sadie.
He finished with a quick demo of the Revox, how to chop up tape and find the edit points. It was a very entertaining few hours. Big thanks to Conch Records, Murry Sweetpants, the British Council, and everyone involved in making it happen.
Go see Greg Wilson 1st March at Debajo, Queenstown, and this Friday night at the Nathan Club, Britomart, Auckland.
RELATED: Greg Wilson in NZ! (Listen to his mixes)
Gregwilson.co.uk // electrofunkroots.co.uk
WATCH: Greg and his flash perm on The Tube, 1983, showing Jools Holland how a DJ mixes records, the first DJ ever to do this on UK TV. Greg talked about this event last night. The song was from David Joseph... Have added Greg's edit below, its's a free download...
"With the new Electrofunkroots site just launched a week ago [late Jan 2012], I thought this would be a good time to share this edit of David Joseph’s ‘You Can’t Hide (Your Love From Me)’, a track I’ll forever have a strong personal association with, given that it was with 2 copies of this 12" that I made my claim to fame as the 1st UK DJ to mix live on TV – on February 25th 1983 at Newcastle’s Tyne Tees TV studio, on the classic British music show, ‘The Tube’."