Inaugura la sección de entrevistas uno de nuestros soul heros de la escena actual: Steve Guarnori. Admirado en la redacción no sólo por su talento tras los platos sino por la imagen que transmite, su actitud positiva y su eterna sonrisa, independiente y coherente en sus opiniones y claro y sincero en todas las respuestas. Tras más de treinta años involucrado en la escena, sigue disfrutando de su amor por el soul con la misma pasión y dedicación del primer día. Muestra de ello es el tiempo que se ha tomado en contestar cada una de nuestras preguntas. Aquí os dejamos con el primer capítulo. Disfrutadla porque merece la pena.

Opens the interview section one of our soul heros of the current scene: Steve Guarnori. Admired by the CSC staff not only for his talent behind the decks but the image he gives, his positive attitude and his eternal smile, independent and coherent in his views and clear and honest in all the answers. After more than thirty years involved in the scene, he continues to enjoy his love for soul music with the same passion and dedication of the first day. Proof of this is the time he took to answer each of our questions. Here you are the first chapter. Enjoy it! It’s worth every penny. 

We read on a website that your beginnings on the soul scene were a result of your preferences for the contemporary soul/funk that was played at local clubs when you were still at school? Is that right? Does it mean you liked modern soul before northern?

Initially I got into contemporary soul music that was being played on radio and clubs, so stuff like New York City, William DeVaughn, Temptations, Detroit Spinners, Harold Melvin etc. It was the 70′s and these were new releases played on Radio and the TV show ‘Top of the Pops’ so I guess it was modern! Northern had been around since the 60’s but it became very popular in 1975 – it crossed over from being an underground scene to an overground one- with several records getting in the pop charts. That’s when I first started really paying attention to it. I read about it in Blues and Soul magazine, it was different and underground, a world of mystery and I didn’t know anything about it. Then a couple of local guys in the discos where I lived in Kent, Steve Noble and Kim Styles started bringing northern records along and dancing to them, and I thought “this is good music” and I got into it. I started talking to them and they told me about Wigan Casino, and the rest is history. I think a lot of people got into northern that way – older kids at the local disco.

What was first in your case: soul music or the soul scene?

As a teenager the scene was important. There was a strong sense of belonging when you went to a soul club or a Niter, you had a common bonding with everyone there, you wore the same clothes, you had those soul patches, you liked the same music and you all danced the same. In the 70s it was more like a youth culture everyone was either into soul and / or reggae or rock music. I think when you are younger ‘belonging’ to a scene that you can identify with others is more important. And all the records were new to me, things like Yvonne Baker, Willie Hutch, Larry Hale etc. all a new experience with these unknown and interesting names. It was an exciting new world with no boundaries and seemingly no end. The music was important as well, but the comradery of the scene did make it special.

We also read on soul-source that around 1977 you were alternating local soul venues in the area of the Home Counties with trips to the Wigan Casino. Yet it seems that you soon stopped going to the Casino due to the exaggerated presence of pop/white sounds and that it was not until two years later, in 1980, when you resumed your trips up North once Soul Sam other djs were already playing modern sounds. Is that true? How do you remember those two different Casino eras you experienced?

Yes. When I first went to the Casino I was still in school so I had to save up from my Saturday job for the train fare. Like a lot of people when I first went I’d never experienced anything like it, literally looking over the balcony of the Casino and see 2,000 like minded people dancing and clapping in unison to the music you like at 2 a.m. in the morning. I thought “Wow there is nothing like this in Kent where I lived – it’s amazing”. You have to remember back then there weren’t really many nightclubs particularly in the south of England and most things closed down at 11 p.m.  Wigan did have a special place in my heart, as it was on every week and like I said there was a great sense of belonging – you know you could go up there and you’d meet soulies on the train etc. In fact the train from Crewe to Wigan was full of people going to Wigan, there’d be hundreds of them and music blaring out of cassettes in every compartment. Everyone was so friendly; we were all in the same club.

But I stopped going in 78 because of the high level of Brit pop records. One night a DJ – Keith I think it was, played Judith Durham, Peggy March and Muriel Day all together and I was not pleased. I climbed up on stage and told him I hadn’t come 180 miles to hear this rubbish and I wasn’t that polite – I had an altercation with him – that’s a nice way of putting it. He looked a bit shocked at what I said, as the dancefloor was packed and I think he thought he was doing a good job!

About the same time Randy Cozens and Ady were starting 6Ts nights in London, and these felt far more authentic. So our little group started going there. But I did go back to Wigan in 1980 – the story there was I went to an allnighter at the Bedford Nite Spot early in 1980 and Soul Sam was on. He played all these 70s things like his “Love committee” and “James Mack” and “Top Cat” cover ups, and I thought “Wow! This is fantastic”. I spoke to Sam and he said this is what they’re playing at Wigan now, so I just had to go back there. It was a great period as although the numbers attending the Casino were declining, the music was fresh and I could relate to it.

On a Sunday, did you go on to the Tiffanys alldayers in Manchester or other Sunday alldayers or did you take it easier and went back south after the Casino closed?

No, you must be joking! I never took drugs and after a night at the Casino all we were fit for was a sleep on the train back to London. We’d be on the platform at Wigan North Western waiting for the train as soon as ‘3 before 8’ had finished. It was usually a long wait because the trains were late – railways never run on time on Sundays. Either that or they’d put on a silly two coach train and there’d be like 300 soul fans all piling on.

Could you describe us how was a weekend in the days you were most involved in the scene? Did you go to several events on the same weekend?

Sometimes but I have always had to balance competing needs, girlfriends, parents, children etc at different times in my life. So I wasn’t one of those soul junkies that started off somewhere on a Friday and woke up somewhere else on a Monday morning, having spent the weekend at half a dozen soul do’s. I read somewhere that the DJ John Vincent used to wake up on a Tuesday morning in his car in a layby somewhere having been ‘on the road’ all weekend – amazing, but I couldn’t do that. I didn’t have the money for one thing. 

What Djs did you admire most in your early days? What other clubs you were a regular to? What are your best memories of your early days in the scene?

Richard Searling – he had the best tunes whether it was 60′s or 70s. Most of them came from Soul Bowl.
Ian Clark – years ahead of his time.
Soul Sam for having the balls to play different things even though I didn’t always like them
In the 80s Robin Salter.

We went mostly to Wigan because it was easy to get to on the train via London. Reading All dayers – they were good too. The best memories were really about being part of something that was vibrant, and energetic. There was so much enthusiasm. And I kept hearing new music. We also ran our own soul nights in Kent, there were only about 20 of us but we had a really good time.
A good memory was going up on the train from London on my own to Wigan and it was on Cup Final day when Liverpool and Manchester United played – 77 I think. Well there I was caught between two sets of opposing fans all heading home after the game and it started kicking off with chants going up of “We hate the Scouse”, then “We hate cockney b*stards” etc. and then they started throwing beer cans at each other! That was fun being in a carriage for two hours of that, I can tell you.
Oh and one day in 1981 I think I went to Snaith in Yorkshire after work. I got the train from London up to Goole, then got the last bus of the day to Snaith – the Highwaymans Halt or something – it was in the middle of nowhere. There were only about 20 people in that night despite a great DJ line up and at the end at 2 a.m. I was miles from anywhere with no way of getting home! In the end I got a lift back to Doncaster, then the night train back to London. When you’re young you do these mad things.

We went to loads of other places, like Yate, Bournemouth, St Ives etc. but for me Wigan was THE place for northern in the 70s.

Despite of your (apparently) preferences for the modern soul, you always were heavily involved in the activities of the London 6Ts Society. Reading your Blackbeat articles from that era one can see how you enjoyed those nights. However, looking at those early playlists full of 60s motown, r & b and club classics, when the northern soul sounds didn’t even seem to have much presence yet, couldn’t that be seen as throwback to some of you “young veterans” of the soul scene? That is, while some people in the scene went straight to the 60s newies and others went for the modern soul, how could you explain that successful going back to the 60s soul roots that happened in London? In your particular case, within the soul spectrum, that early 60s soul sounds seemed rather far away from the modern soul sounds that what you liked most.

I liked both. Basically there’s good music and bad music. I loved the 6Ts nights. They were a mix of old mods, young mods, trendies and soulheads like myself. Others like Taffy, Mick Smith, Pete Wid, Toby, Bill Scrivens and Dave Greenhill also came from the northern scene. You know Randy was really influential here. We kept writing letters about the music – remember there was no email or mobile phones back then. He’d send tapes of stuff he liked and I thought “Yes this music has something special”. He had a different set of record to what I’d heard at Wigan, things like Jock Mitchell “Not a chance in a million” and later Bobby Kline, which was one of his. My taste extended to deep soul as well so things like Bobby Patterson’s “Right place wrong time”, and Kim Tolliver’s  “Standing room only” – he put me onto those sounds via his cassettes he sent me. Randy was a real champion of the music and he sent cassettes to quite a few people it turns out -a great guy.

Had you always liked early 60s soul or in that particular time it was more a case of having a good fun with your local mates so as not having to travel up north?

No I liked the sounds. The fact that we didn’t have to travel up north was a bonus. At 6Ts things like The Diplomats “There’s still a tomorrow” and Maxine Brown 45s would get played, too slow for northern, but a good 60s record.

How was to belong to “two scenes”? Were you several people who liked both 60s and 70s soul or were you moving on your own depending on whether you were attending events up North or South?

It was fine, one gig was 60s one was modern, it wasn’t a problem for me. As time went on though, I did drift away from traditional northern a bit. That was a mistake as the last year at Wigan there were some tremendous 60s sounds played like Mr Soul, Jackey Beavers, Nurons and Appointments. A lot of people though were what I’d call “either/ors”. Some liked both, but the majority didn’t. My Jazz funk and modern soul friends thought northern was rubbish and my northern friends often thought modern and jazz funk was rubbish. My jazz funk friends weren’t too hot on some of the modern sounds being played up north. An example here would be Prince Phillip Mitchell – we got the same album when it came out, but by jazz funk friends were raving about one track and I liked “I’m so happy” which they didn’t like.

Could we speak of differences within the soul scene in the late 70s/early 80s between the South and the North of UK? Could it be said that in the North, going back to the example of the Casino’s final era, the Blackpool Mecca sessions and the Tiffanys alldayers, the soul scene was able to accept both northern and modern soul. While down South, the soul scene was on one side mainly 60s soul only fans (championed by 6TS Society) and on the other side, people into modern sounds had to go to non strictly soul events more close to the jazz funk scene. As read on the Home Counties soul-source topic, taking the example of Reading’s Top Rank Suite, weren’t the crowds that attended both rooms totally independent one of each other? Or were there also southern clubs that played both 60s & 70s soul to the same crowd.

A difficult question; I could write a book on that one! I think in the south Jazz funk was always far more dominant. In the north Jazz funk really spun out of the Mecca / Ritz in 76. I always felt guys like Mike Shaft and Richard Searling had a great feel for the music, whereas I found some of the antics going on in the southern clubs, like diving off balconies, blowing whistles – all a bit too twee for me. When I spoke to the DJ’s I didn’t get the feel that they had the same passion for the music, it was all about the “scene”. It was like the music was secondary to having a party. I never really got the jazz funk thing, and I didn’t like some of the jazzier sounds either. In the south there were some northern fans but by the late 70s it was largely based around the 6Ts club with a few outposts.

Reading Alldayers were interesting…..it started off as a big room full of northern, and jazz funk in the little room upstairs. Then one day Chris Hill turns up with coach loads from the Lacy Lady, and by contrast only a couple of hundred turned up in the northern room. It was obvious that the rooms were the wrong way round so to speak, as the jazz funk room was packed solid and the northern room half empty. And so it was inevitable that the jazz funkers would come down stairs and try and take over the main room – you can’t blame them they must have been dying of claustrophobia up there – it was heaving. If Chris had played a decent soul record it might have worked, but instead I think he came onto the main stage and played “Magic Fly” or something. It was never going to work, and it all got rather nasty, records broken, toys out of pram etc. At the next one the rooms were reversed with northern relegated to upstairs, and as for Jazz funk it was packed downstairs, thousands in. And from there the Jazz Funk scene exploded going on to the successful Purley alldayers, Caister etc. As they say “the rest is history”.

In the North the scene’s really split in 1976 with the Mecca and Ritz playing New York disco – again some people liked both, but I think those years 76 and 77 saw a real divide created in the types of soul and dance music. There was no going back from that point.

Wigan was interesting because people forget two things about that time. Firstly the oldest record was only 10-12 years old, and a load were less than five years old so today’s equivalent would be a scene that played music going back to say 2001 – think about that. And allied to that point they always played new releases on the northern scene. It’s been conveniently forgotten but records like Anthony White “Can’t turn you loose”, Edie Holman “Night to remember”, Silvetti, Brainstorm, Lovelites, Flaming Emeralds, and 7th Wonder were all played as new releases and were absolutely massive at Wigan. So was “A house for sale” by Millie Jackson which I’ve always thought was a good dance record.

Did you abandon the scene anytime because of work, family, work commitments, etc. or have you been 100% active(travelling and djing) since you started.

Abandon would be wrong in so far as I always bought records. I stopped going to events between 1987 and 1990 when my wife was very ill. So that was a couple of years off of going out, and when I started going again it was more modern events I guess. I also had to end Blackbeat, I didn’t have the time or energy to keep it going with everything else that was going on in my life. I split up with my wife in the end and my then new girlfriend hated soul music. I dragged her along to a night in Cambridge in about 1990, all she did was sit there and moan “This is rubbish, can we go home now?…..I’m so bored…..this music is terrible, remind me again why you like it? “

In case you stopped at some point, could you briefly describe us how was this journey through the desert? Did you suffer a lot staying in at weekends? Did you keep in touch with mates who still attended soul events?

No I didn’t suffer at all. And I went to record fairs throughout, especially in London, there were loads of them in the late 80s in places like Crouch End and Paddington. It was amazing what you could find. And there were a number of shops still selling records, I just kept buying records and built my collection. I was also going to the USA every month and buying stuff there.  

How often do you go to soul events? Which are your favourite ones and why? Please recommend us what current events should we not miss under no circumstances.

Today, probably about two a month. I’ve been ‘renovating’ a house in Somerset and that takes up some of my weekends. Plus it is lovely down there, so there is always a wrench come Friday – I want to go down to Somerset to relax after a week in London.

So to going out, I have a group of friends and we often travel together because we leave relatively near each other, Karen, Geoff, Martin, they are a good bunch, and all open minded musically, and sometimes we take a group decision on where to go. I like the events that Steve Jay runs up in Spalding, but generally we like going to different venues. Somewhere we haven’t been before.

Essentials? For northern – Lifeline. For crossover – Soul Essence Weekenders of course. I also like Boomerang, they have a very good ethos there. In Bedford ‘Groovesville’ is persevering with an uptempo theme. I also like the West Midlands and many of the events up there, they’re a great crowd up there and again open minded. 

With regard to Djs, who are your favourites?

I still rate Sam, for a guy nearing his 70th birthday his enthusiasm is fantastic. I remember when we went over to Gijon in the Asturias a few years ago, it was his first time DJing abroad since the late 1960s I think, and we both loved it. The crowd were enthusiastic, danced all night, appreciated what we played; as a DJ it was everything you could want from a soul allnighter. And everyone made us so welcome.

For rare soul I rate Butch. Very knowledgeable guy as well as being a tremendous DJ who knows how to read a crowd.

For modern soul – Fish. I worked as a resident for him at the Bass Museum alldayers, and they were great because in the alternative room you could really push the boundaries musically. I have always thought Colin Curtis has a good ear for a good tune as well.

We remember seeing you dancing (with class) at Lifeline. Do you dance regularly or do you predominantly stand at the bar? What sounds would drag you to the dancefloor? Same sounds that you play?

Oh no – how embarrassing! Actually I usually dance. For dancing I like the faster funkier sounds like Joseph Webster, Salt & Pepper etc. They’re just made for dancing. Doesn’t every DJ dance? I can stand at the bar and sometimes do that as well if the music is a bit dull or if I want to have a chat. I think more DJs should dance though.

Is there any genre you can’t stand (60s r&b, oldies, soulful house?

R&B – the 50s rock and roll variety. I know it is popular but it just leaves me cold. You know those old tapes that Randy did had some R&B on like Chuck Jackson, Guitar Red, Kip Anderson and The Cobra Kings and they were great and I don’t include them, but some of this stuff I hear out today is like ‘E grade’ Rock and Roll – awful and nothing whatsoever to do with soul. I can’t stand that “Got my Voodoo working” record (Charles Sheffield). I don’t like hearing 60s pop out either (although I quite like some 60s pop music). I can’t believe things like Holly St James have been revived, and I now hear Tim Tam & The Turn Ons is being played again – why, when there are so many underplayed great records out there? It comes down to the DJs and taste at the end of the day. 

I also don’t really like some of the nasally ‘nu R&B’ either, the stuff where they sing from their throat rather than from their lungs! Anyway I am beginning to sound like a grumpy old man! I like everything else soul wise deep, funk, northern, soulful house, good new soul like Mike Jemison on Soul Junction for example.

Have your tastes evolved throughout the years?

Yes very much so. Some records I loved in the 70s and 80s sound awful now. And of course I have made mistakes too like ‘rejecting’ a copy of Ellipsis “People” at a nothing price. Then when I started to like it, the price had gone through the roof and people are paying silly money for copies that looked like they’ve been used to sand down rough wood! The 80s / 90s stuff hasn’t aged well and I was big into that at one time – now it sounds flat and a bit boring.

When driving up and down the country what do you normally listen on the journey back?

If I have bought new CDs, I’ll play them, other than that just soul CDs I have made up, or one of my travelling companions has done (usually Geoff). Either that or I might listen to radio, or we’ll just talk – you know putting the world to rights, talking about the night we’ve been to, moaning about politics.

Are there still many people who travel to events depending on the DJ line-up? Do you think that one only name can still attract people to an event?

I’d say no, with two exceptions. I think Butch and Sam can make a difference to attendances – put them on and your numbers will go up. Other than that I have seen events with top line ups and poor attendances, and the opposite, mediocre DJs and a full house. There is no logic to it at all. Travelling is more a part of the scene in the north of England, where I guess people have always travelled to go to a soul venue ever since the days of the Twisted Wheel. In London you can put on a venue across the road from someone’s house and they still won’t turn up. I was on the bill once with Keb Darge in Central London, and I though ‘this will be a full house’, and there were only 45 people that turned up. So you can never tell. Yet despite this some people in London really try hard – and hats off to them – people like the Monumental gang who persevere despite low attendances – that’s dedication.

How many different scenes could you distinguish in the current soul scene? People only attending to oldies local nights, those who still attend and travel to allnighters on a weekly basis, modern soul only people…?

There are 24 identified genres. Seriously, the problem is today everyone is a DJ, and there are more venues than you can shake a stick at. The other week I counted 35, which is ridiculous. People as they get older will get more picky as to where they go and the scene is totally fragmented. Of course some people like oldies others newies, others 70s, others crossover, others modern, and there is some crossover between the genres, but it’s all become to complicated. People are travelling less to soul nights as well. It’s partly an age thing – I mean on a Friday night after a slog of a week at work to jump in the car and drive for 2 hours takes some doing. The Weekenders have also had an effect, for a lot of people they can get their soul fix by pitching up at half a dozen weekenders over the course of a year. I don’t go to pure Oldies evening do’s so I cannot really comment on them.

How do you see the future of the soul scene? Does it worry you?

Sure, it’s not healthy. An ageing population, and outside of parts of Europe there is very little in the way of new blood coming in. We joke about soul nights in old peoples homes but I am sure it will come and they’ll be hopping about on their zimerframes to the Salvadors. In Europe it’s far healthier, but in the UK, where is the next generation coming from? I went to a soul night in St Albans in the 90s, a bar, it was packed with young trendies. But the problem was that 12 of us were there for the music, the other 112 were there for the social, and for pulling. They’d have been there if it was a Status Quo tribute night! Soul music isn’t trendy either, I asked my son about it – he likes The Royal Esquires “Ain’t gonna run” because he thinks it’s got a Drum & Bass type rhythm to it – I’d never have thought of it that way! It’s interesting because the remains of the UK mod scene is also out there but is a musical millpond now. I went to a local mod soul night, I didn’t know anyone there and they were all dancing to things like Ray Pollard “The Drifter” and Gil Scott Heron “The Bottle” – so good music. But it was like being in a parallel universe, these folks would never pitch up at a rare soul night and only ever go to their mod nights –a very strange experience. In a way it’s a shame that the mod scene isn’t pushing the boundaries and is content to sit on tried and tested oldies. For a lot of people now, too many in fact, the soul scene is just a revivalist scene, like the Teddy Boys and Rockabilly. That’s a real shame and can’t be good for it’s future.

Since I am on a roll I’ll also tell you that whilst I think Wigan Casino introduced thousands of people to northern soul up north, it has also damaged the soul scene in the UK. As I say there’s too much reviving going on – I see it with the Jazz Funk scene as well incidentally – people wanting to relive their youth – rather than accepting the way they are now. Ears closed to new sounds – how sad is that? It’s like people buying the latest Queen CD repackage when they have the Queen’s greatest hits three times already……their musical appetite has stopped growing. I think this whole Oldies obsession has both held back and damaged the scene in the UK.

Do you travel to soul events outside UK? Which ones would you recommend us?

Yes, usually when DJing though. Well the Spanish crowd are great so I’d recommend any of their events! Seriously the enthusiasm for the music in Europe is so refreshing. I’ve also done Rimini in Italy but that was mainly Brits on tour when I was there which is a shame because the promotors have the right idea, they just need more of the indigenous population to turn up. Bamburg in Germany is also very good, ran by Malyka  with a two room format. Again they have a very progressive scene in Germany. I am waiting for bookings in Scandinavia and France so I’ll let you know when I’ve been there. I also did a gig in Washington once – that was good but unusual. 

Do your work colleagues, non scene friends or relatives know you are a soulie and what does it mean that? Do they know what you dedicate your energy, time and money to?

Yes, it’s not a big secret. One or two at work also like the music so I have done them CDs etc. Someone at work, not a soul fan, asked me about The Rotations the other week – amazing. Most people don’t get it though, they think I like the Supremes and Aretha Franklin, and I cannot abide either!

Could you still go to a night club playing the “mainstream” top 20 music on a Saturday night?

No. Jees, I don’t think I have ever done that. I can’t stand commercial pop music and you’d never see me in a club like that.

In case you didn’t notice we have been fans of yours since long time ago, not only for your sets but for everything you write, both your record reviews and your entertaining and informative events chronicles. Aside from your many contributions to magazines, you also spent two years publishing a blog through which we could enjoy your frequent trips across the country with such clarity that was almost as if we had been there. More recently you also put your own website “Too Darn Soulful” and you did a radio show on Soul 24-7 although both projects are sadly no longer active.
Has been the lack of time that led you to abandon these projects or is that you need to constantly change? Will you intend to return to any of them?

It’s time really. I have a very demanding job, and it’s just a case of getting the balance right. I also have a lot of time consuming hobbies, I like Films and TV and have a good collection of them, and cycling amongst other things. I’d like to write more, I enjoy that. As for radio DJing I loved that too. Soul 24-7 was a great idea, it’s just there is no money in soul music and the guys couldn’t get anyone to sponsor them. We had a fabulous audience. It was great getting emails from Atlanta, Chicago, Japan, as well as Brighton and Bolton. And interviewing Sid Barnes, Lou Pride, Cal Thomas and the former lead of the Imperial Wonders.  Soul 24-7 was a really exciting time, but as I say no one would invest in soul music radio. On another soul station I think it’s kept going because the DJs pay to DJ and get their shows “sponsored” – I commend their dedication to the cause but how ridiculous is that when you think about it? DJ’s paying to be DJ’s – whatever next! 

 

We saw with envy some pics of your modest record collection. How is it organized? Alphabetical by label? By genres?

Ha! It’s a mess right now. I have a lock up which has a load in, nothing too special but I always find bits and pieces in there. I have a load in Somerset and a load in my Hertfordshire house. Singles are in label order. I did that after the first time I went to Soul Bowl where there was a big barn full of records, all in label order and I thought that was really cool. Albums are in artist order. Then there are just boxes upon boxes of unsorted stuff. It’s fun ‘cos you never know what you’re going to find.

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!