Besides the record buying during your business trips, have you been in an exclusive record buying trip? Have you ever been record digging in a warehouse or through big private collections?

With one girlfriend I took her on a holiday to the USA, and that revolved around record shops, so her initial joy soon turned to disillusionment. “What a nice man taking me on holiday to the USA” she thought, until she ended up in the rain outside some thrift store in a dodgy part of Ft Lauderdale!  Yes I have been round warehouses and loads of shops, but finding bargains in such places was never easy. By the time I got to them John Anderson, John Manship, Dave Raistrick and a host of others had picked them clean. So you were looking at the “just arrived” stock to see if there was anything in the latest arrivals. That’s how I got my best find – in LA – it’s on the website – a guy comes in off the street and they don’t buy his records. There’s a Ty Karim, Virginia Blakly etc in there. It was a dream come true – I don’t know about “Right place wrong time” – more like “Right place right time”.

The other end of the scale is spending 8 hours in a lock up infested with poisonous spiders in searing dry hear and finding nothing more exciting than a handful of Glades 45s. I’ve had plenty of other finds – Groove Merchants on Suemi in Memphis $1 from a guy that claimed to know everything about rare soul, Willie Tee on Nola in Dallas $1. And I walked into Malaco had a chat with the main guys there and walked out with a copy of the Patterson Twins! They must have liked me, but I spent an hour in there talking with them about their acts – right back to Cozy Corley, they’re a great bunch of people down in Jackson. But remember you are also talking to a guy who found copies of Brand New “Thousand Years” and Wil Collins & Willpower in London for 10p!

Were they always worthy trips? (Have you got similar stories like the on at Pico Boulevard?)

Yes some, and I’ll get round to writing them up. But some days were a complete waste of time. You just knew everything good had already gone. I wasted four hours of my life in Val Shiveley’s shop in Philly. Tons of records, but I was never going to find anything rare!

Have you noticed important differences in recent years due to the proliferation of the Internet, eBay, price guides, etc..?

Yes. The internet has opened it up, totally changed the world of rare soul. With the radio I remember playing Dan Folger’s “The way of the crowd” and I get this email from someone going “Dan was in my class at school”. Then I played an obscure 80s thing by Derwins Theory – next I get an email saying “Hi this is Derwin Daniels I am Barabara Lynn’s drummer” or whatever and “You played my record on your show”, it was amazing the reach of the web even back in the early 2000s. I guess with records like Dwight Franklin and James D Hall being repressed that shows just how influential the web is. It’s all opened up now. And as for collecting, well you can see for yourself how many records that were thought to be rare and which keep turning up – like the Four Tracks, and even a few Lester Tiptons. The other thing that has changed things is the price guides – everyone in the US has John Manship’s price guide so if it’s in there they know what price to ask. Look at how many set sales there are on E-bay now compared with even three years ago, and some of the prices are crazy. My tip is that there are still many good records that aren’t in the price guides though and I like that! 

What are your recent buys? And your top sounds at the moment?

Mainly acetates, but I brought back Rufus & Roots “Caught up”. I originally got it in 1980 for £1 and sold it for 50p – I probably needed money for a train fare or something. And Andy Fisher on Fat Fish – always liked it and only just recently managed to get one. I had a go at Sonia Ross “Let me be free” on Tragar – a gorgeous record but didn’t come close to winning it. That’s interesting because it came out on a Kent CD and without that CD, I doubt I’d have ever heard of that particular tune it’s so obscure.

On the current scene I like things like Marc Evans and William “Smoke” Howard – really good contemporary dance music. Oh and on the UK side, Incognito.

According to dictionary the mission of the Dj is both educate and entertain… In your case, to what extent does an empty floor affect you? What’s your reaction? Do you consider urgent to fill it again by playing a “safe & tested” floor packer? Or on the contrary, you don’t give much importance to an empty floor once you have the conviction of playing quality tunes, maybe semi known but danceable according to your tastes and anyway deserving to be played. We’ve heard you say that you enjoy playing a “floor clearer” from time to time, and on the contrary that you don’t mind playing a “party time set” when the occasion requires. Does it mean you don’t take djing to serious?

This is always a controversial one. A DJ has to do both – entertain and educate, and be inspiring. Most important a DJ has to have passion and believe in what they are doing and the records they have. Yes it’s true I said that I don’t think I’ve done a good job in a set unless I’ve cleared the floor at least once in a set – remember in the UK and with the northern scene people tend not to dance to a record they are not familiar with. But you have to get the floor back too. It’s different with the modern scene, there if the beat is right, they’ll dance to it even if they’ve never heard it before. You also have to read the crowd and what they are thinking. I have seen so many DJ’s kill an atmosphere, and at the end of the day if the public get bored they might not come back next time. It’s fair to say a lot depends on the venue as well, sometimes people say ‘we don’t mind if you play something we haven’t heard, we’d rather you do that than play safe’. I want to re-stress playing with passion though. As a DJ if you look bored or are just going through the motions with the same old tunes you’ve been playing for years, then that’s wrong. And it probably shows too.
My party sets really come about when I am on prime time Saturday night at weekenders, like my 3 a.m. set at Yarmouth – there you got to keep the floor rammed. There is no point in trying to be too adventurous then because at that time everyone just wants to hear something they can dance and singalong to.

One thing I have noticed about weekenders though is that with some of them there are less new 60s and 70s sounds being played in either room, I am hearing non stop anthems and ‘singalongs’ from 6 p.m onwards and that isn’t right.

Prestatyn in October in the modern room is interesting, as it’s predominantly new releases / Y2K and with that scene you can still have some fun and keep the floor full which I like; the crowd in the modern room there are simply fabulous.   

Your Saturday afternoon set is a must in our annual pilgrimage to the Cleethorpes weekender.
Except for our gang and the regular dwellers of the bar at any time of the weekend, the atmosphere is not particularly festive though that time of the day. How do you face those spots?

Very relaxing because there is no pressure to fill the dancefloor. It’s a Saturday afternoon chill out, the people that are in there are receptive to hearing something a bit different. You can play what you want without complaint and that’s a fabulous position for a DJ to be in. I enjoy playing different things, and if someone comes up to me and says “what was that record?”, well that makes it all worthwhile. A few years ago I didn’t realise I was on the lineup, and hadn’t brought any records to play. The dealers were going to cobble together some records for me to play out of their sales boxes – I nearly did it, it would have been great fun just putting a set together like that!

One name of the current soul scene we deeply respect is Soul Sam, whom you seem to know since the late 70s when he played at the Casino. How is your relationship?

I have always admired Sam’s enthusiasm – we started writing to each other when the Casino was still on, when we both liked modern and we were telling each other of our latest finds, and of course he wrote a regular column for me in Blackbeat. I’ve known him for over 30 years. When he comes round my house, for example sometimes when he DJs in London, my missus cooks him tea, or we go to the local Chinese, but I know he is itching to go in the record room to play me his latest tunes and also to hear what I have got. You can’t knock that enthusiasm, he lives for it. That being said I don’t always like all of his tunes and vice versa he doesn’t always like mine, and if I uncover his latest cover up, which very occasionally happens, he can get a little bit upset…ha ha. 

We were lucky to have you both djing in Asturias a few years ago, also your double decking sets in Soul Essence are also a classic and I think you’ve travelled together to Bamberg too. Watching you two playing together is synonymous with party and quality. Do you plan your sets in advance; do you try to give any kind of continuity between each other’s records?

Thanks. When DJing abroad because of the weight restrictions on Ryanair Sam and I would plan what records we’re taking, so where we both have the same record, we’ll only take one copy of Tolbert, or one copy of Ernestine Eady. We then operate under the premise if we both have it we can play each others copy. That allows us to maximise the number of different tunes we can take with us. We don’t plan them in advance but we do try and keep the flow going, so if one plays a 60s then the other will follow it with a 60s etc. But of course we have to change every now and again, and it was funny once at Yarmouth because we were both playing modern and Sam had pulled out a 12” single as his next record and I suddenly switched to 60s, so Sam had to go back to his 7s box and pull out a 60s record. But yes it works well because we both have similar tastes and neither of us are afraid to push the boundaries. Sam is one DJ I am very comfortable double decking with as we keep each other on our toes so to speak. I have double decked with Jon Farrell, he has good taste and so that works well too. I have also double decked at an alldayer with a pretty boring DJ, in fact he doesn’t DJ anymore; he had shall we say somewhat questionable taste in soul music, and then you get a mismatch and it shows. 

When djing, do you equalize every record before playing? Do you usually check the controls or do you consider yourself useless with the controls?

I set the pitch and cue it in, that’s it, unless someone has ‘crocked’ the controls. The problem is most DJs are deaf and how a system sounds behind the decks is completely different to how it sounds to the dancers, so best to leave alone and call the promoter if there’s an issue.

Do you arrange the composition of your dj box bearing in mind the type of audience/music policy of the venue you are going or on the contrary do you think that with a wide range of records and sounds you could Dj to any venue anytime? Do you check your box every time you go out djing?

Yes always pre think about the audience – you have to. There’s no point taking a load of northern to say a Prestatyn modern room set, or taking a load of new releases to Groovesville which is predominantly 60s. I start with an empty box and pack it based on sounds I think will go down well with the audience. I always take far more than I am going to play, and always come away thinking I’d like to have played a few more unknowns than I actually did.

Imagine you are invited as a guest Dj to an event that you positively know that its music policy is light years from your tastes:

a)       You love Djng above all things so you accept the invitation and as you like to please the audience you arrange your spot according to the local music policy.

b)       You take the challenge. You accept the invitation but you play following your style and you tastes, so risking to get “booed”

c)       You kindly refuse the invitation as you only like to Dj at events of your likes, were you would attend equally as a punter.

The answer is c) I won’t compromise. My tastes are pretty broad though so I can do everything from banging newies right back to 60s. I have a great oldies collection, Gwen & Ray, Lou Pride, Danny Monday, Kenny Gamble, Top 500 type stuff but I don’t want to play them out in an exclusively oldies environment. I’ve seen DJs mismatched with venues and no one ends up happy – the public complain to the promoter and moan that the DJ in question is rubbish, and the DJ complains about the crowd being unresponsive to anyone who’ll listen to him / her. I’ve seen it happen to others and don’t want to be in that position. I like a challenge but I won’t compromise my musical integrity for a booking fee or some ego thing about playing records.

Unfortunately it is infrequent that UK Djs publish their playlists, being your case an exception to the rule, we remember you always put them on your blog. Having a look at them was nice to see how often they changed, how mixed the sounds were and especially how many unknown records were there sometimes, so rare (or at least uncommon) that we couldn’t event get a sound file on the net.

Could you tell us any particular record that you discovered or that you helped making it big?

Discovered is the wrong word really because normally I buy records from dealers, so I haven’t really discovered them. To me discovering them is finding them in a grubby warehouse. Someone like John Anderson or Andy Dyson tend to discover them or even get them from dealers in the US- so who has really ‘discovered’ the record? There are loads that I played first, I look at a lot of the crossover stuff that’s big and think, ‘Yep I played that 15 years ago or twenty years ago’. On the northern scene in recent times probably things like Richard Marks, and Roy Roberts. Those two were Andy and myself hammering them, though if you read Manifesto you’ll get told it was a different group of DJ’s. These days I am persevering with more acetates although it is hard work to break new sounds.  

In your playlists we can often see some cover-ups and some of them we understand are your own cover-ups. Are they always very rare records? How long you normally wait until you uncover a record?

Yes they are normally very rare though you can sometimes get caught out. It’s the internet again. You can get a record that no one knows, then all of a sudden copies start appearing on E-bay, so your exclusive is no longer your exclusive. What it is, is that one supplier or dealer, usually in the USA, had all the stock, a copy drips out and it’s unknown / mega rare. Then another copy pops up, then three more. Sometimes the dealer may want it covered up as they may be playing it as well or want to keep the hounds off of the scent – that happened with Little Major Williams. Mick Smith and Dave Welding were playing it, I got the third copy, and it was still one those with the copies already wanted covered up, so fair enough. And I don’t get hung up on this old stuff about depriving the artists of royalties etc. In the 70s that was more relevant, I don’t think it is anymore, most of them are dead. I know that’s a generalisation and the artist can benefit, but finding good quality new rare records is so hard these days, and it’s expensive. So why shouldn’t the DJ get a bit of exclusivity out of it? I’ve had things covered up for 5 years and they haven’t really had their day yet, but am doing less of it now. I’ve got enough strong unknowns still to play and because of that, it’s becoming less of an issue. The bigger issue is the amount of time it takes for a new sound to gain wider acceptance.

On the contrary, have you ever had a record uncovered just when you started playing it? How can one be sure that the record you are about to cover up is unknown to the majority?

No apart from Richard Paradise which I had covered for two years, and was playing it, then Arthur got a copy. Then they all turned up. On covering up an unknown it’s just experience really that prevents you from covering up a known record, and asking about in a circumspect sort of way so as not to give the game away.

Would you show the true identity of a cover-up to your best friend?

Probably not. The point about cover ups is to preserve the ability to keep it as one of your unique sounds. With a true unknown, no one really knows whether other copies will turn up and I’ve been caught once before. It’s dog eat dog with DJ’s, you know they’ll kill each other for an exclusive – ha ha! Playing some good new record to some of my DJ friends would mean that they get onto the dealers as soon as they can, trawl the web, get copies, play the tune and then it’s their own discovery. I don’t really care, but it’s a bit niggling sometimes when someone says “Oh yeah that’s x’s record, I see you are playing it now as well”, when you know X heard it originally from you.  

About the future of your records, have you already made plans? We are not asking you for the details but we are just curious to know if people have decided where and how they want their records to end up?

Yes there is an option that before they go on the skip, the main dealers can try and sell them off – they don’t know it, but it’s in my will. So when I die they can expect a phone call from someone saying “Hi are you interested in Steve’s old records?”. And I bet I am not alone in doing that. The problem is the collection is too big to sell off in one go. No one could give you a reasonable market value for it, and selling everything in today’s market would be nigh on impossible anyway. The trophy records would all go, but a lot of stuff wouldn’t. I mean who wants complete run of Loma or O’keh singles? Or just about everything on Stax / Volt or Arctic or Minit? Not to mention the thousands of obscurer records.

And what about you? Do you want to go on as long as mind and body permit?

Yes, I have no plans to retire. I’m still quite young and as long as I am hearing good new music, that’s what keeps my enthusiasm going. I remain passionate about hearing new and underplayed music and as long as that’s the case, I’ll carry on. 

Thanks very much for your time and sorry for the length of the interview.

Thanks and sorry about the length of some of my answers!

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