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Greg Wilson interview

DJmag talk to the electro-funk re-edit pioneer

With a 35 year DJ career, re-edit king and electro-funk pioneer Greg Wilson holds a unique place in UK club history. 

Catch him giving at hour long talk about it at The Lighthouse, in Islington, from 7.30pm on 20th January.

We caught up with Greg ahead of the event.

First two records you ever tried to mix?
"If the definition of mixing is going from one record into the next by playing the incoming track over the top of the outgoing one, it would be ‘I Want You Back’ into ‘ABC’ (both by the Jackson 5).

"This was prior to 1978, when mixing originally made an impression in the UK (and we first became aware of the term). The main tool of the DJ’s trade back then, apart from the records of course, was the microphone (the majority of British DJ’s would still be microphone based until 10 years later, when the rave explosion tipped the balance). I wrote a piece about the evolution of mixing from a UK perspective if you want to get the full lowdown.

"Anyhow, Motown spots, featuring a run of four or five singles, used to be part of a DJ’s arsenal back in the mid-'70s, and these were often played in a continuous sequence, one after the other, without the DJ interjecting over the microphone. I’d realised that the beginning of ‘ABC’ was similar to the break of ‘I Want You Back’, so I’d bring it in over the top. Not mixing as we’d come to know it, more mixing by default."

First ever gig?
"My first ever club appearance was on December 6th 1975 at the Chelsea Reach in New Brighton, Merseyside. I’d set-up a mobile disco with a school friend earlier that year and we’d got a booking above the Chelsea that night, in their functions room, doing a wedding reception. The manager came up to ask us if it was possible that one of us could come downstairs as their resident Saturday night DJ hadn’t turned in for some reason and I jumped at the chance – Saturday at the Chelsea being a big thing locally. There was no problem with records because these were the days when a lot of clubs would buy their own.

"It went really well and they offered me a regular slot, so that was the start of my club career. I was still only 15, so I had to hide my age. They eventually found out a few months later, but let me continue on the proviso that I didn’t drink any alcohol.

"By the time I left school, the following summer, I was deejaying most nights of the week, having added another local club, the Penny Farthing, in Feb ’76."

Fondest club experience?
"Wednesdays at Legend in Manchester circa '82/'83, when there was no club night in the country more upfront. This was as good as it gets for a DJ like me, a black music specialist, working with a crowd (predominantly black) who absolutely knew their music inside out, and for whom dancing was a serious business, crews travelling from a 100 mile radius (and often even further afield) to show off their moves. The club itself was way ahead of the game, the sound and lighting was something to behold - they just don’t make clubs like Legend anymore. It was the first I’d worked at in this country with Technics SL1200’s, inspiring me to place the emphasis on mixing when the overwhelming majority of DJs were microphone based, which set me apart from my contemporaries. With the electro-funk that was coming out of New York at the time, which I’d totally embraced, I had the full package – the right club, the right people, the right music. It was a potent combination that would conspire to turn the scene on its head – it was definitely a case of ring out the old, bring in the new."

Worst club experience?
"Going back to Legend for a few months in the latter part of ’84 (I’d retired from deejaying at the beginning of the year). The Wednesday night was now a shadow of its former self, the club only half full when it had been previously packed solid week in and week out, so it was soul destroying to be back under such circumstances, having experienced my ultimate DJ highs there.

"Things hadn’t worked out as I’d hoped since I’d come away from the clubs, and I’d lose my car, and eventually my house, as a consequence. It was a pretty bleak time for me and I had no heart for deejaying – it was purely a short-term financial decision, which had never been my motivation.

"I wrote about this recently on my blog as part of the ‘Catch The Beat’ piece."

Most mental event?
"There’ve been a few, but one that springs to mind is the Psychedance party we threw in Liverpool in 1993, with bands and DJs appearing. It was in a lock-up on the docks that was used by Echo & The Bunnymen for rehearsing. I was more involved in making music than playing it back then but did a rare turn behind the decks.

"It was a private party, all supposed to be hush hush with admission strictly by invitation only, but a few days beforehand loads of people started ringing my home number asking me where it was. I had absolutely no idea how they knew my number and was somewhat disturbed to eventually find out that it’d been printed in Pete Tong’s column in The Sun. Fearing we’d be overrun on the night with people we didn’t want there we considered cancelling but the address was still secret so we decided to take the risk and go ahead.

"On the night of the party there were a couple of guys I noticed standing near the door. What I didn’t realise is that they were pocketing the tickets that people were handing in as they entered the venue – later I found out that they’d taken these into the centre of Liverpool and made a small fortune selling them on to clubbers there. It soon got silly, with loads of people congregating outside and the police turning up. Fortunately we had a lawyer on hand and he managed to stop them closing us down.

"Despite all the stress it turned out to be a brilliant, if somewhat surreal night, which people were talking about for months to come. I remember John Kelly turning up in the early hours after he’d played Back To Basics in Leeds and asking if her could DJ for an hour – he was blown-away by it and kept saying that it reminded him of The Underground, the infamous Liverpool club where he started out in the late 80’s.

"We sold Psychedance t-shirts on the night (the artwork was done by Brian Cannon, who used to work on all my projects from the mid-'80s – early '90s and would go on to become the sleeve designer for bands like Oasis and The Verve). Sometime later I met up with a guy who’d been there – he told me that one Sunday morning all hell broke loose in the house where his flat was and, before he knew it, he was spread-eagled on the floor with armed plain clothed police barking instructions at him. As he lay with his face pushed firmly into the floor he could see from the corner of his eye that one of them was donning a Psychedance t-shirt (which had obviously been obtained on the night of the party). It turns out that the guy who lived below had set up a cannabis farm in the building."

Most significant club of all time?
"Given the legacy of The Beatles, The Cavern in Liverpool during the early '60s must be right up there. With regards to dance music, the Paradise Garage in New York during the late '70s/early '80s had a huge influence and it must have been quite a buzz to have gone there during this period."

If you could live any era, anywhere?
"I’d have liked to experience San Francisco in the mid-'60s (before things went pear-shaped) when, along with Swinging London, it was right at the centre of the cultural universe. I’m a bit of a sucker for the '60s and sometimes feel I was born too late. My brother (who’s 10 years older than me) went to the legendary Manchester Soul Club, The Twisted Wheel, attended the Isle Of Wight Festival and, to my eternal envy, saw the Stax Volt Tour in ’67 when Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd and Booker T & The MG’s came over to the UK.

"Having said that, it was good to be about during the '70s and early '80s when underground dance culture was sowing the seeds for what lay ahead."

Words: Adam Saville