Monday, 18 April 2016

The ongoing saga of whether you're really a DJ if you're not using Vinyl

Flashback - An article I wrote for Pure Grooves Magazine in September 2010

I've just been reading an article I wrote back in 2010 and it seems as relevant today as it did then. I thought I'd share it.


 About a month ago I was doing a disco and a lady in her 50s came up to me and asked me for a request. I checked on my computer and I had the song she wanted, and told her I had it and would play it soon. She then looked at me and with contempt said, ‘You use a computer? You’re not a real DJ then!’ and skulked off.

I can only say I was spitting feathers! I’ve DJed on and off since I was 17 years old and to be told I’m not a proper DJ because I’ve chosen to go down the computer route annoyed me immensely!

I remember DJing with vinyl when I was young, thin, had hair and could see properly, and I can remember carting 2 tonnes of records from venues in the pouring rain at 2 o’clock in the morning, and having reached 50 this year, there is no way in the world I would want to go back to that!

In the 1980s we all started to make the move to CD, and I will say this here and now, that I hate DJing with CDs. Why? Because the cases that came with them, force all the track listings to be tiny. And that plays its part when your eyesight is failing and it’s semi-darkness behind the DJ console. Also, even the CD’s themselves don’t lend themselves well to DJing, mainly because the track listing is rarely on the disc itself, and even when it is, the problem of reading it is still the same.

To carry the amount of songs I do in CD format also means loads of boxes of CDs to cart back and forth, so the same problem I had before still occurs.

Around 6-7 years ago I made the decision to DJ using a computer. Now that may seem easy, but let me tell you, converting vinyl and CDs to computer file formats is an endless and ongoing job. I had already started converting my CDs back in the early 2000s, and when I did eventually start DJing with a computer in 2004, I had around 11,000 different tracks available to use. As I’m typing these words, there are in excess of 35,000 different songs at my disposal for each and every event. Do I need them all with me all the time, probably not, but there is nothing better than seeing someone come up to you and ask for something like Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours’ ‘Mirror Mirror’ and in less that 6 seconds have it cued up ready to play for that person next.

Is it obscure? Not really. It was a top ten hit in 1966. But more significantly it was the person whose birthday I was doing’s favourite song, and it took him and his friends straight back to a time when they were teenagers in their local youth club. You can’t beat the feeling you get when someone’s face light up like this person’s did. That happened back in 2007, and I still can see the look on the man’s face when I think about it.

Had I been carrying CDs about or vinyl, there’s a good possibility I wouldn’t have had it with me as it was something I rarely played, but it’s one of the things that I think makes me stand out above a lot of DJs in the area I lived. And I received a whole host of referrals from the hosts and guests, just because of that one song.

Sure there are a lot of people that think you aren’t a DJ if you don’t use vinyl or CD, but I’m of the opinion that great customer service and being able to have people going home with a big smile on their face, and coming up to me saying what a great night they’ve had, is what makes me a ‘proper DJ’.

Here’s another finding I have as well. When I DJed with either vinyl or CD, I spent half of the night facing the back wall of the venue whilst hunting for songs. All the time I’m facing away from the dance floor, I can’t see what’s occurring, which means I can’t gauge how the event is going.

However, with a computer, I never need to face any other way because the monitor is in front of me, and if a guest should ask for a tune, I can type in the song, find it if I’ve got it, and have it in the queue to play, usually in less than 10 seconds and without the need to take my eyes off of what is happening in front of me for any amount of time.

On top of this, I have spent a fortune over the years replacing my old well worn vinyl with better quality sounding CDs. So why would I want to play my worn out vinyl? To me it makes no sense. If I was just a collector that had all my vinyl in pristine condition at home, that’s fine, but this is what I do for a living and with the vinyl being moved about in loads of different environments, the chances of the vinyl being damaged is significant.

There are times when I play the file as converted from vinyl on my radio shows and at discos, and I have to say that I cringe when I hear the difference in quality. And that’s after I’ve already doctored the file to clean up the songs!

Like a lot of people, I will always have that affinity with vinyl. For me, taking the record out of the sleeve, looking at the label, and placing it on a turntable and cueing it up are things I have a warm affection for and I do still love playing vinyl. But only in my own home.

So am I a proper DJ or not? I think I am. What makes me think I’m a proper DJ is not what format I play music on. For me it’s the way I do what I do. On my radio shows, I would like to think people who listen enjoy the professional way I put them together and like the music choices I make. With the disco I would hope the people at whatever event feel the same. Where the disco is concerned however, I would like to think that what also makes me a ‘proper DJ’ is that as well as preparing for the event thoroughly, I’m able to satisfy the guests and dancer’s tastes, as well as the remit placed on me by my clients.

And finally, the smile on people’s faces as they go home after having a terrific night is what makes me a proper DJ.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Oh yeah…….The woman earlier. I played her song too. She danced, was happy and said thanks afterwards. I smiled back!

By the way, I do still carry a certain amount of CDs - just as back up mind you!

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

What I play at home and in the car.

Someone recently asked me what I listened to when I’m playing music at home or in the car. Depending on my mood, I’ve been known to play a whole load of different styles and genres of music.

So I thought I’d give you some idea what other music I listen to.
Truth be told, I like most genres of music and can usually find something that I find satisfying to listen to.

It must be said that I am a massive Stevie Wonder fan so you’ll often find one of his albums on a usb stick to play in the car when I’m out. ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ being my favourite. At the same time, you could find albums as diverse as James Taylor’s ‘Gorilla’, an album that rates as one of my favourites, to Queen’s ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ .

Donald Fagan’s ‘Nightfly’ album is another that gets played a lot as does John Holt’s ‘1000 Volts of Holt’. Back in 2009, Will Downing’s ‘Classique’ was my favourite album of the year and that can be heard as well.

There’s a part of me that likes Smooth Jazz and many a time I’ve spent an evening listening to an internet station I discovered years ago called KJZY. I do like to chill and the mix of tunes they play works for me. Bearing that in mind I’ll admit to liking Kenny G, Dave Koz, Kirk Whalum and many others of that ilk.

I’m a great oldies fan as well. So in my collection, you’ll find most of the Beatles albums, ‘Revolver’ probably being my favourite. A few years ago I went on an ebay hunt and bought a Barbara Lewis album called ‘It’s Magic’. It’s the third time I’ve bought the album over a 30 year period. I remember buying in 1989 and giving £15.00 for it. Somewhere along the way it went missing and in 2008 I bought it again for £31.00. It’s just a lovely album and this time I’m not letting it go anywhere!

Just before he died, I persuaded a group of people to come along with me to see Lonnie Donegan in concert. Lonnie has been a hero of mine for years and he was one of the pioneers of the pop scene in this country way back in the 50s. After the concert, the great man was in the foyer saying hello to people as well as selling a 3 CD compilation set of all his singles which I just had to buy, and I have to say I still play that when the mood takes me. He was really excellent, but was suffering from the flu’ and it was sad that a few weeks later he passed away in his hotel room on that same tour.

The Beach Boy’s, ‘Pet Sounds’ is another of those classic albums that I still listen to, and I have to say I have a few Beach Boys compilation albums that always cheer me up whenever I play them.

Back in 2006, I bought an album called ‘Handful Of Soul’ by Mario Biondi. It’s an absolutely awesome album and many will know the track ‘This Is What You Are’ from it. Trust me, there are some other fine songs on the album worth hearing and if you’ve not heard it, go get it. It’s a shame the follow up album couldn’t keep to the same standard.

Other albums over the years that seem to get played a lot by me are Carly Simon ‘Hotcakes’, which brings back some great memories for me. Eagles ‘Greatest Hits (1971-75)’, Van Morrison ‘Moondance’ Marvin Gaye ‘Let’s Get It On’, and Al Green’s ‘Call Me’.

Frank Sinatra is another of those classic artists that I still find time to play. ‘The Capitol Years’ probably encompasses his most successful period and is jam-packed full of classics.  I have a few Ella Fitzgerald compilations that I love and hearing songs like ‘Manhattan’ and the absolutely awesome ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye’ still send shivers down my spine. You’ll also find compilations by the likes of Dean Martin, Tony Bennett and Bobby Darin in there too.

Classic albums do play a part in my listening and so Dire Straits ‘Brothers In Arms’ is there – as a side note it was the first album I bought on CD, way back in 1985. Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ takes me back to a time when I was just a kid. Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ is there as well. I just love ‘Money’. 

I have a load of Elvis Presley albums, but I always end up playing ‘GI Blues’ for some reason. Probably because I still love the film.

Speaking of films, Isaac Hayes’ ‘Shaft’ soundtrack is awesome and listeners to my show will have heard me play ‘CafĂ© Reggio’s in my shows more than once.

One of my top three films is ‘Cinema Paradiso’ and the soundtrack album by Ennio Morricone is just about as chilled as it could be. Now it goes without saying, ‘Saturday Night Fever’ was a major turning point in my life, and I am very nostalgic about the album and just love to play MFSB’s version of ‘K-Jee’.

So what guilty pleasures do I have that I listen to – more to the point should I admit to them? Ah - why not. After all they add to the rich tapestry of life.

First up comes Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Back to Front’ the album that has my favourite lyric of all time. In the song ‘The Golden Rule’ Gilbert sings,

‘I wouldn't behold wouldn't be cold,
I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my Dear old mum and dad,
And the fun they had,
Early one night,
Dad put out the light,
Got hold of me mum,
Said he wanted a son,
And as you can see,
The result was me’

What a lyric eh?

Barry Manilow’s ‘Greatest Hits’ is there too – ‘Weekend In New England’ is just lovely. I can remember having the cassette in my car as a teen (but keeping it well hidden).

This next one has a sentimental pull to it to me as it’s an album I remember from when I was very young.  Max Bygraves & Ted Heath did an album in 1959 called ‘Max & Ted’ and it contained songs from the 1920s in it. Dated? Yes. Corny? Yes Do I love it? Yes. And it’s been rereleased under a different name.

And finally in my hall of shame ‘The Best of’ Wham’. Do I need to say anything about this album? No, I thought not.

Add to that a plethora of compilation albums and you can see that I pretty much like a bit of everything.

I promise not to play ‘Macerana’ or ‘Agadoo’ in a show anytime soon though!