COLIN CURTIS CONNECTION
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Tuesday, 17 April 2018
Michael Edwards UK Vibe meets Colin Curtis UK Vybe !
“This tradition has been kept going by fashion, dancing, music and the camaraderie, which is unique. It’s not about numbers, it’s about that special feeling where people are connecting through dance and through music in one place and it’s kept everybody connected through all this time.” – Colin Curtis
Colin Curtis has been in and around the black music scene for over 50 years, be it watching, reviewing or purveying the music in all its guises i.e jazz, soul, funk, house et al. Renowned for the numerous residencies he has established in many UK cities from John O’Groats to Lands End, Mr Curtis has been there and done that and quite rightly deserves the moniker of the Godfather of DJs. Whilst other high-profile DJs have gone on to financially capitalise on their reputation Colin has stayed tethered to his club DJ roots.
With his long overdue, and first ever compilation album, ‘Colin Curtis presents Jazz Dance Fusion’, now out on the streets, a regular podcast and a popular bumping residency called VyBE in Preston, Michael J Edwards sat down with this seasoned, clear spoken, forthright and knowledgeable individual to discuss how exposure to half a century of black music and the people within the industry has shaped him into the man he is today.
Michael J Edwards: Greetings Colin Curtis how are you doing?
Colin Curtis: Very well thank you?
Michael J Edwards: We are here at the Trapeze Bar in London and you’ve come down to spin a set.
Colin Curtis: I have yes. This is the third time I’ve been here. It’s the bastion of Jazz dance in the UK along with ‘Out To Lunch’ in Nottingham. It’s a tradition which has been going on for 50 years now. I’ve been DJing for 50 years last year (2017). This tradition has been kept going by fashion, dancing, music and the camaraderie, which is unique. It’s not about numbers, it’s about that special feeling where people are connecting through dance and through music in one place and it’s kept everybody connected through all this time.
Michael J Edwards: Were any of your parents or grandparents into music?
Colin Curtis: The only connection my grandparents had with music was that they owned what was called in those days a radiogram, which 78’s slotted in to. Every time I went there I was completely fascinated by the fact that I could control the putting on of the record, I could control the volume, I could control the music, and something inside me clicked together that told me I wanted to share this experience with other people. I don’t think I knew it at that particular time, but that’s what transpired. It was my grandfather’s radio that got me into Pirate radio as well. He allowed me use of the radio when broadcasts went out from Paris, Reykjavik, Moscow. I used to tune in to find the Pirates and when I found them I used to stick a bit of paper with Selotape. Eventually he got so angry he gave me the radio because he was fed up of seeing me stick the paper over it.
I was listening to R’n’B music from probably 1965/66 – I’m now 65. I started actually DJing, or shall we say turned professional in 1967; I signed to Mecca. I was working two of their dance halls at the time.
Michael J Edwards: Did you have any other staple job/career at the time?
Colin Curtis: I’ve never ventured far away from music whenever I’ve pursued any careers. I had a company in the late 80s/early 90s that pursued video games. I was importing Japanese and American videogames – Sega Mega drives, Super Nintendo’s. There is a massive connection between that type of person who had a passion for that and the music, so it was a fairly straightforward transition… All the work I’ve done in my life was to create finance to fund the purchase of music. And that’s been the drive I suppose; four children and one marriage later.
Michael J Edwards: Have any of your children followed your passion for music?
Colin Curtis: Not really, not in that respect. The same way nobody forced me down the path I travelled; I would never do that to my kids. My eldest son, he likes a bit of Todd Terry, and all four of my children actually came down to see me last year (2017) for the first time in one venue. I did a 50th anniversary set in Stoke-on-Trent at a venue called The Exchange. Two of the local promoters very kindly gave the night over to me and we had a ball. They actually said afterwards that they were kind of embarrassed that their friends thought that this old guy was their dad and was playing this music that was kind of out of step. But I don’t play music that is out of step, I play new music anyway.
We had a ball that night and I think over the last four or five years as people have become more aware of my history, I’m starting to get a lot more gigs outside the box. A lot of kids that come into music over the past 10/15 years whether it’s through sampling, whether it’s through Hip-Hop, whether it’s through grunge or whatever; a lot of it is traceable back through history. And with the Internet they can go back and do that and that again makes a connection. It’s a combination, but for me – Soul music, Jazz music, House music – that’s the religion. Being a working-class boy from Stoke-on-Trent, it makes no sense.
Michael J Edwards: So your roots are set in Stoke-on-Trent?
Colin Curtis: Always Stoke-on-Trent, although I suppose history, and history doesn’t lie that most of my successful residencies were in or around Manchester. I made a massive connection with Manchester both from buying music in the early days, finding record shops like Ralph’s Records, like Global Records, like Spinnin’ Records. Fantastic connections not just with the music but with people. The connection with music and people is so vital to these underground scenes, but for me it’s vital to life because it gives you other people’s opinions and allows you to be opinionated. All the record shops became essential hubs for people who were buying the music; nowadays you buy music by clicking on the Internet. It’s kind of like the Soul has been taken out of it.
Michael J Edwards: Do you miss that tangible feeling of holding a record?
Colin Curtis: Yeah you do! When I talk to a lot of DJs who came through that era and their trying to survive now in the digital era, I think they miss it as well, because as well as having the opportunity to buy something tangible, it was that connection… It was a feed for them, because if they stood in the record shop on a Saturday for a few hours when all the new imports arrived, they would hear the basic theme and the top tunes of the day. So they were the ones they bought, it was a kind of information hub. If you want to find information now you go on the Internet, do you go to iTunes, do you go to Amazon, do you go to Traxsource? Where do you go? Where is it specified that you’re gonna get a cross-section of what you want to listen to, and make your own opinion on. I suppose If you’re into dance music then you go to Traxsource. That disconnection between music and meeting people in the record shop, hanging around for hours on end on a Saturday. You pick up a vibe from people and sometimes people talk about, “You broke this record, you broke that record.” A lot of the time that record broke in the record shop that day, because of people’s reaction to the record being played.
I used to visit London in those days, City Sounds, Groove. When I came down to Groove Records you’d stand in there and they’d stick on an import sometimes, that may have been played two or three times earlier that day in the shop to get some feedback. But when the shop was full there was a reaction and five minutes later there were no copies left and everybody is running around London trying to find copies. That doesn’t exist anymore. It doesn’t exist with internet.
Michael J Edwards: It was the same with white label’s?
Colin Curtis: Yeah, the white label syndrome is something else; which for me was never a surprise because I grew up in the 60s with what became Northern Soul, or tagged as Northern Soul, and was about rare records, it was about rare music. I suppose the substitute for new music became promos, demos, white labels and DJs getting records 6 to 8 weeks in advance. Which is a double-edged sword really; sometimes that works and sometimes by the time the record becomes available people have lost interest and moved on.
Michael J Edwards: What style of music and which artists grabbed your attention in those early years?
Colin Curtis: In the 60s, in the UK, the sound that grabbed me particularly on the radio (and probably grabbed a lot of kids as well) was the sound of Motown, the sound of Stax, the sound of Atlantic. It was just different. I’m a big fan of 60s pop music and some of the early 70s bands. I was connected, because I was still in the DJ/entertainment business introducing acts like (David) Bowie and Roxy (Music) and all those guys. The first real underground club that I worked at which was The Golden Torch, which went on to become a legendary Northern Soul venue with 13 months of All-Nighters, which is still talked about today. Prior to that it was a straightforward club with the live acts and we had Oscar Toney, Jr., Johnny Johnson and The Bandwagon. So I was touched by Motown, but also being a fanatical minded person I needed to dig a little deeper and find out what else was going on, so I discovered people like James Carr and James Brown and The Temptations. I had to keep expanding, I can’t sit on laurels, and I always knew that whenever you find something they’ll be a reason for that. So backtracking historically and also being very aware of new music as it was released; it became an obsession for me.
As my DJ career continued, I started up as a mobile DJ with a friend from school. We got our own rig, we got our own sound system, we used to use WEM gear back in those days. And that developed into me being able to buy music and afford to pursue the career I wanted, which was with black music. Playing Soul records in the early days, and as time went on through the 60s playing what became called Northern Soul; it was just great Soul music to me at the time. In the 70s when The Golden Torch closed I moved to the Blackpool Mecca and hooked with Keith Mitchell and then with Ian Levine, who now resides in London and is obviously a well-known name. He was one of the biggest collectors in the UK at the time, and one of the biggest suppliers of music was Soul Bowl Records in King’s Lynn, ran by an old friend of mine from Scotland, John Anderson.
So I had got access to music in a five-year period to probably what most people would hear in their whole lives. Unprecedented access to all this fantastic obscure/not obscure albums/12 inches. I became obsessed and started to build huge record collections and take that back into the clubs. In those days of course residencies is what held people together. We talked earlier about the record shop connection, but also with people in residencies. If you go back through history, in the States as well, it’s just the same. People still talk about Paradise Garage, people still talk about clubs that were part of the lifestyle. And for me, The Golden Torch, Blackpool Mecca, later on Rafters in Manchester. By the time that got tagged it was Jazz Funk, and all of a sudden we were playing Jazz Junk, which inevitably took me down another road.
Dancing is such an important a commodity to people in Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Leeds which were the main cities I played. Dancing had become a religion for them, so the Jazz dancing took on a life of its own and in London it started to expand. So you had different styles, Manchester was more balletic, London was much more steppin’. When you look at video’s from the early days at The Horseshoe and places like that. We had Crackers and Electric Ballroom; I became friends with Cleveland Anderson. I always wanted to keep my mind open, not just to what was happening around me, but anywhere, because I always know that somebody there may have some good ideas. I want to listen, I want to learn all the time. I still go out at 65 to learn; I still go to clubs and listen to other DJs, because I will learn something. If they’re out there plying their trade there’s something there. And if I can incorporate that, or even incorporate them into something, that’s good for me.
Michael J Edwards: What was your first residency?
Colin Curtis: Mecca in 1967, I signed to (Blackpool) Mecca and did the regular Saturday night upstairs, about 1000 people. I had taken the gig because it allowed me on Thursday and Sunday to do Soul sessions downstairs, so by ’69 the Soul sessions were starting to take some good shape. Sunday night we’d probably get around 400 in as a stand-alone event. Thursday nights it was a mixture of stand-up comedy and playing Soul records. In those days what was also exciting is that places like Woolworths had imports, because Woolworths in America was a huge company. They sold American records and they also bought from distributors all of their overstock, so if a record was considered to be finished or deleted it was taken out of distribution and turned up at Woolworths. They shipped them over to the UK and we went in there, look through the baskets and find records by Bobbie Hebb… You’d find fantastic records by The Monitors, The Elgins; fantastic 60s bands for less than a quid in those days and supplemented what we were doing.
I mean, Charles Wright ‘You Keep Saying (You Don’t Love Nobody)’, fantastic 60s music, that I was then able to share on Thursdays and Sunday night’s originally. That was the first residency, but I’d been on the verge of looking for a more underground option when we moved as a family to a place called Kidsgrove, which was a couple of miles away from Tunstall; which is one of the most God forsaken places in the UK. But down a backstreet in Tunstall was this fantastic club which I’d never heard of before called The Golden Torch. The first time I walked in and heard the records it was like listening to the inside of my head… I came away from that night absolutely fuelled up that this was a club I wanted to play in; this was a stage further than the more commercial aspects. This was an underground club, it was standing alone, there was live acts on there. And eventually by 1971/72 we’d convinced Chris Burton to do all-nighters, because the Twisted Wheel in Manchester was closing down, the police were all over it. We lasted 13 months of what I can only describe as electricity of very fast very danceable Soul music and unbelievable audiences.
That’s down in history now as a fantastic time. And literally 10 yards away from the front door was a row of houses, it was just a side street. It couldn’t happen nowadays because health and safety would close it down in 10min never mind 13 months – fantastic times. And then that residency continued on to the Blackpool Mecca and then to Rafters in Manchester, teaming up with people there like John Grant and Mike Shaft, who was probably the biggest black DJ in Manchester. He was on Piccadilly Radio and he was an originator of the Funk Baktu records like Bambara. He loved his Soul music Mike and he did a show and I started going on his show doing Jazz breaks. I’d do like a half an hour Jazz breaks; we got on well and I worked with Michael a lot in Manchester. The main event we did which was connected with Piccadilly Radio was also connected to Blues and Soul, the magazine. That was on Whitworth Street in the same premises as The Twisted Wheel. So for me it was like a trip back in history.
That was the early 80s, we were playing The Strikers, we were playing Luther (Vandross), it was a fantastic time. In Manchester through Rafters from ’78 until about ’82, it was a huge time, because if you look at ’78 to ’82/’83. the glue of what London is based on is music that came out during that period. Because that was a crucial period for black music in terms of people connecting with other people and also connecting through music by buying a tangible product. And if you look at the most successful underground style in the world today it’s Northern Soul, it’s 60s Soul; it’s the most collectable music. If you’d bought £100,000 of records back then, you would have made more money than investing that same amount in diamonds and gold, on 7 inch singles; on album’s not quite the case. Yes, album’s still have rarities, of course they do, but 7 inch singles had become a commodity for the world, and I think it is even sexy for kids today… It doesn’t fit in the CD player, it doesn’t fit in the Sony Walkman, it doesn’t fit in the iPod. Yes they are making more vinyl today, but not in the numbers that some of the media would like you to believe.
Michael J Edwards: There are two generations of people who buy vinyl records at the moment, the over 50s and the under 20s. Agree?
Colin Curtis: Yes that’s right. Talking about vinyl I do a once a year special in the North-West called VyBE. We’ve got three rooms of music, and I think it was the second one where I booked Sean McCabe, who is one of the House (music) guys nowadays. This guy lives in Wales, he does it all out of his front room, but he’s a phenomenal talent. He plays all of his own instruments and he puts together some fantastic house music; he remixes house music, he’s got massive respect for the sound of the 90s. He’s hooking up now with people like (Louie) Vega, Josh Milan and King Street Records are taking an interest in him. But this guy came to play for me at VyBE, and the most important thing to him was that he couldn’t believe that we were going to have a turntable there; so as well as his set he brought a box of vinyl, so he could play vinyl, because he wouldn’t normally play vinyl in a House environment – like me – he would turn up with two memory cards. That connection is still there. I mean Sean is one of the younger brigade and he looked a young boy that night yeah! (Laughs). Compared with the rest of us.
Michael J Edwards: Stand out moments for you that are imprinted on your mind from different eras or different decades?
Colin Curtis: Over 50 years you do have so many… I mean that first moment when I walked into The Golden Torch I knew there was a connection there… I wanted to be there, I wanted to offer what I had in that environment. Magical moments at Blackpool Mecca all-dayer’s: Brass Construction live, Players Association live, Al Hudson and the Soul Partners live. This was like unheard-of; Manchester Ritz: Archie Bell and the Drells live, Lonnie Liston Smith live, Side Effect live, Ronnie Laws live. And then you move on to Nottingham and it was the same again. We had Lonnie Liston Smith over at Nottingham, we had Shakatak over at Nottingham; we had some fantastic times with live acts. If you think that Brass Construction were probably the biggest Funk band in the world and we have them live in front of 2500/3000 people back in the day, you can only dream of stuff like that now. Because without record companies, bands like Brass Construction can’t survive. Bands that’ve eight, nine, ten pieces – you can’t reinvent the Funk thing. You can make music that sounds retro, but you can’t reinvent what happened, so I wouldn’t swap it.
And it’s never been about money for me, because Soul music is a commodity that you don’t really make money out of. I think some clever guys have stepped out of it like Carl Cox and Pete Tong, who have gone on to become very wealthy guys; Judge Jules as well. I think they’ll all respect the source, but it makes no difference to me about the money. Staying connected for me with black music is what’s important; and I’ve been able to branch out, as like today down the Jazz route. I mean we started the Jazz thing really as an option on the back of Rafters, because we knew kids wanted to dance. So we started doing Jazz sessions on a Thursday, sometimes at Rufer’s, sometimes at Rafters.
We added Jazz breaks into nights. Birmingham – I used to go to Chaplins there on a Monday night, Graham Warr DJing. That was the first sign that Jazz dancing had got a mind of its own. The Baptist Twins, Lance Lowe… That whole set of people, the way they danced to music and the way individually they stood out on the dancefloor. This wasn’t about showing off, this is about connecting with music. I was interested then in developing the Jazz, so then I had to build up the jazz connection, I had to build up my knowledge, build up the Jazz connection, and that’s what I’ve done… I love House music, I love Soul music. I know nothing about Reggae, if that’s any consolation to anybody.
Michael J Edwards: The music keeps you young and vibrant?
Colin Curtis: Every day yeah; every day when I get up and I know I’m going to hear some more good music. Access to music through the Internet is now obviously much easier; we’ve talked about the non-tangible effect. It isn’t the same feeling, but it’s still exciting for me to hear records that I can think, “Woah! Yeah!, that’s in the set, that’s in the show. In 2009 I lost my brother who was only 46, so I decided to concentrate on music along with my family. And that’s what I do; I just do my family, I do the music and I don’t regret it. Yes it does keep you young, I’m 65 and still running about like crazy. Last year (2017) was probably the busiest yet in my life – my 50th year. But this year is shaping up as well…I like seeing the effect that music has on the different age groups that I now play to. It’s about the connection; from experience, if I’ve connected with music that I know if I play to 100 people there’s can be some connections. So many people over the years have come to me as they probably have to many other DJs who have had longevity and said, “You’re the reason I started to listen to Soul music, you’re the reason I do this” and so on. You can’t buy that stuff. I don’t wallow in it, I don’t gloat in it, but it’s just nice to know that what you’re setting out to do still has an effect all these years later.
Michael J Edwards: Compilations; you’ve recently released a fresh compilation. Expand?
Colin Curtis: I’ve avoided compilations like the plague, I mean I got offered compilations back in the day. I remember one coming out on Buddah (Records) called ‘Mecca Magic’, which was about Blackpool Mecca, but it didn’t really represent truly what I wanted. What I found out with big record companies when I first tried to do compilations in the 70s/80s, was that you would submit say 50 tracks and then they would say, “Well we can get seven of those”. And then you would submit tracks that were second, third and fourth choices, and eventually you end up with a compilation that you’re not actually proud of. Yes you picked the music, but it isn’t the first choice. If you can get on the one with exactly what you want to say then you can build further compilations down the line.
But eventually Joey Negro approached me (2017) and asked if I would do two or three different types of compilations. The one I didn’t expect him to have any uptake on was the Jazz one. I did a Jazz compilation on the Muse label and I sent that to him. I’d also had it pencilled in for another couple of people because I didn’t think Joey (Negro) would take it, and that was the only one he came back to me which he wanted at that time. Now the landscape has changed a little bit and we will be doing some more work with Joey. But yeah, that took off and so ‘Colin Curtis presents Jazz Dance Fusion’ is out now as a double album with 12 tracks and then a CD with 20 tracks.
Michael J Edwards: What was the process behind you choosing particular tracks for the compilation?
Colin Curtis: The whole Muse Records label started playing a part in my life in the 70s. In the Jazz rooms in Birmingham, in Nottingham, in Manchester, as I started to discover the Muse label, which was developed by an old friend of mine (who I’m trying to re-contact now), a guy called Arthur Read from Macclesfield, who had this phenomenal Jazz collection and I was able to listen to it. He didn’t want to sell any of it, but I was able to go and listen and learn. So I’d go there for sessions and Muse label was one we focused on, so that became, shall we say, the first wave of Jazz dance in the late 70s, from sort of ’78 to the early 80s. And then there was the second wave, when I went back to Manchester and Berlin. I’d left Blackpool Mecca and Rafters had finished, so I wanted to do a night where I was playing for say four hours straight, and so I wanted a balance. I knew the Jazz dance phenomena was very much about fast music and mainly about male dancers in the 70s. I wanted to bring females into it, I wanted to bring in Bossa Nova, I wanted to bring in vocals – and that’s what I did at Berlin.
So the second wave of Muse label was connected with Mark Murphy, with Michelle Hendrix and some of the vocals that you’ll hear on the album. And it was that mixture of those two eras – the late 70s/early 80s and then the mid-80s – and it was in the mid-80s that the clientele of my club on Tuesday night were Mick Hucknall; it was Gilles Peterson; Mick was the reason Gilles came to learn about Manchester; it was nice to hook up with him again a couple of weeks back on his show. And now we’re gonna do something together, I’m coming down to Dingwalls later this month, and hopefully he’ll be coming up and reciprocating something in Manchester. Lots of the ‘heads’ used to come to Berlin, so that allowed me to push the music in and beyond any imagination, because the heads wanted to go out and collect this music, they wanted to go out and find it.
So I had got a friend there from Manchester University who came from Brazil, so he would go back to Brazil to visit his family twice a year. I would give him some cash and he would bring me back a nice pile of records; so there was a constant input. I’ve always loved the way black music develops, I mean people sometimes get frightened, they got frightened with the advent of Hip-Hop, Electro with (Afrika) Bambaataa, Mantronix and all those guys… The thing is with these things, they’re not fads per se because Hip-Hop is a very relevant genre. Now I’ve hooked up again with Greg Wilson, we’re finding out that that particular Electro period is very popular with younger people as well as the people who were there. So it’s great to revisit these areas, it’s great to have all his passion. But these fads tend to pan out and something is learned and everybody benefits, whether it’s Soul, whether it’s Jazz, whether it was Miles Davis picking something out or Herbie Hancock picking something out of Hip-Hop and coming up with ‘Rockit’… So don’t be afraid when the music changes, just wonder why some people are now getting that music and then a connection will be made and something good always comes out of it.
Michael J Edwards: It’s all good music?
Colin Curtis: It’s all good creative music… It’s tough for independent Soul artist now, they tout their wares on websites like CD Baby, and the digital age means it’s difficult to sell tangible products. A few of them are going back and pressing two or three-hundred (Vinyl); selling those and keeping things financially afloat that way. But it’s also difficult in the States as is in the UK; if you think back to the 80s, the big radio show was Radio One, it was Robbie Vincent, it was Sunday night, it was a big Soul show that went all across the country. You tell me one FM radio show now that goes all across the country – not one! And yet, if you were to target one day, say a Saturday or a Sunday and say, “Right, on this day we’ve got to get the six best DJs in the UK, whether it be Reggae, whether it be House, whether it be Hip-Hop; and on that day they can play on an FM/National format” – music would start selling again in all those formats. But nobody wants to recognise this in the powers that be. And that to me is hugely frustrating!
Michael J Edwards: Poli-tricks?
Colin Curtis: It is! It’s always Poli-tricks, always always! The same way that black music has been disrespected in America, we kinda do the same thing in the UK. Pulling to one side BBC 6 Music and all that, it’s almost isolated as if it’s a sideshow, it’s not the main show; whereas Robbie Vincent’s was the main show. For me Robbie Vincent musically was still a little bit narrow, he could have gone a lot wider, but the impact of the music he played, and the impact of the sales that were made through music in those days is down in history, it’s there. People’s huge record collections are started by shows like that. Now of course people have the shows, now you’ve got thousands of black music Internet stations, but the impact is not in one direction; it’s scattered out. So now we have to have the injustice of watching people like Craig Charles purveying black music.
There are two arguments there, 1) Yes, Craig Charles is getting a bigger audience; the personality DJ works! But 2) the music and the work is coming from behind, it’s coming from other people who remain nameless. So somebody who’s got all the knowledge can go on that radio show and be lucky if they get a tenth of that audience. So it’s a double-edged sword effect; but it must be difficult for people who poured their heart and soul into any aspect of black music to watch and listen to this guy selling black music. I’ve struggled with it, I’ll be honest; but that’s not a personal slight on Craig Charles. He’s been put in that position and given those opportunities. I think he probably gets the biggest audiences. And when I read some of the charts, the music is very relevant, but picked by other people. (Chuckles)
Michael J Edwards: How do you see the future panning out and what would you like to see going forward?
Colin Curtis: With regards to the platform that black music is given I would like to see more focus in terms of radio. People said that DAB radio was going to take over, DAB hasn’t taking over, and DAB has somewhat – from what I can see – a minimal effect to the UK. Pulling the whole of the UK together, FM is still the only format you can do that. You can have Internet shows until you go blue in the face; but realistically Gilles (Peterson) is still out there, Gilles is doing his show on the BBC. Several people have got relevant shows, but I’m not seeing a groundswell for new music like we saw in the 80s and 90s…I can’t think of any new music Soul nights in London; where can you go to hear new Soul music? Particularly what people call grown folks Soul, the stuff I play on the podcast, and that’s available to people. And I’m putting that out every week – a new Soul podcast, which can be as long as five hours, a new House podcast, which will be two or three hours, and a Jazz podcast at least once a month. And the Jazz podcast will reflect music from jazz dance nights and also new Jazz that’s in the pick at the moment.
Michael J Edwards: What’s your connection with Perry Louis as we’re here at Shiftless Shuffle, the ever popular Jazz Dance session?
Colin Curtis: Perry goes way back with me, he was one of the dancers I used to see around whenever you played Birmingham or Nottingham. Perry’s smiling face along with people like Baz-For-Jazz; these guys were on the dancefloor. So my relationship with them has been built from that. They’ve become important people in moving sections forward. When you’re in charge of a minority sport, it’s a tough call, so I’ve got massive respect for Perry, I’ve got massive respect for people like Nick Hosier who does weekly Jazz shows. Harv Norris, he’s broken through with his style… I think I brought a list with me today of about 30 people who would fall into that category of keeping this Jazz flame alive, and I think that’s phenomenal. It’s a mixture of those guys remembering how good it used to be and wanting to keep that flame flying. It’s a tough flame, because Jazz Dance is a minority sport to start with. So I’d like to see opportunities for this style of Jazz to be taken into arenas where people can actually view it. Maybe some form of a summit where you can have a little bit of the dancing live on stage alongside the DJs; just give them the opportunity.
One of the albums I championed was by this unknown guy named Gregory Porter; and I met Gregory down at the first Southport in Minehead. I was talking to him before he did the live set; and I would guestimate at that Southport Weekender there was probably about 300 to 400 people in the room. And I would guess that 80% of them before he went on had no idea who he was, no idea whatsoever! That particular day he had a young lithe, very frisky band with him, and he actually rocked the whole joint, and the room just kept filling up. That magic of Gregory Porter live in a raw situation, which nowadays is difficult to see because little world commodity now and he comes on stage and you sit there. These were people standing up; and I was due to interview him about 12 months later when I was taken ill and I never got back to that. For me, that was a massive breakthrough; I’m a little bit sad that we see him singing Nat King Cole. He is an out-and-out fantastic Jazz singer, he’s a fantastic writer of lyrics; he writes stories that have happened to him. When you listen to the poignancy of ‘1960 What?’; we’re talking Gil Scott-Heron style here, we’re talking social commentary. He needs to get back to that, but the people who own him now may not let him. And that’s what we were talking about before with regards to people controlling the music that’s out there and it’ll be nice for me to see people being made more aware. And as I said, despite forecast,s despite all these shows, I’ve not seen an effect like FM radio in the UK in my lifetime, that was the biggest effect. It may be that that affect isn’t as strong nowadays because people are more aware of black music, but I still think it would be nice to see. Even if it was on Radio 2, it would be nice to see the relevant black music shows in each area of black music on an FM station going national, and let people decide.
Michael J Edwards: What’s your take on the term ‘bootlegged’ music?
Colin Curtis: Bootlegged music, illegal copies of records came into my life very early, it came into my life in the 60s, because the supply and demand came in. We’d start Soul nights with records that were hard to find, people couldn’t buy them. I remember sitting in Keith Mitchell’s house the first day a character called Jeff King (nicknamed Batman), from Leicester turned up in a car. And in the boot of the car was 100 boxes of the first six releases on Soul Sounds Records; which was a bootleg and Rare Soul records label around 1969/70. These records went out to individuals, to shops; it was a phenomenal way of spreading the word to people and for you to be able to own an actual copy of the record. The moral side of it? Extremely questionable; but I think in a situation where the music is genuinely tough to get, or if you’re a kid now and you get into 60’s Soul, a lot of the records are going to cost you between one hundred pounds and five thousand pounds.
It doesn’t make any sense that people should be denied access to the music, so people bootlegged that music, and people are allowed to own it. It’s a double-edged sword…yes I can fall out with it morally, but when it’s getting the music to a wider audience; I suppose the argument is the same as the drug argument; it’s a difficult one. If record companies were able to release more realistic genuine releases then maybe. But then I heard somebody say on the radio the other day,”The next two hours of my show is about the re-edits and re-issues”; not anything about new music. They lead people to believe that the only new music is the past, and it isn’t; there’s great music made now, there is lots of great music. It’s all spawned from America, because I got into American radio through Frankie Crocker, through B.K. Kirkland on WBLS. This music was insane, the way it was presented was insane, it was phenomenal, and I always wished there would be a UK station like that. They were able to get the music out to masses, but as more control came over the radio in the States, the access to all the wide spectrum of music that these guys were purveying at the time, well it just disappeared, and it’s very difficult to see how you can bring back without a lot of things changing at the top. So for 60s/70s/80s – any old music, how do you repackage that in getting out legally to kill the bootleggers. If you moaned about the bootleggers, then they must be doing something to upset you in terms of quantity; so do some yourself, do some proper ones and let the artists benefit, not the bootleggers.
Michael J Edwards: Are there any artists past or present that you would like to see perform live again, or for the first time? I appreciate you’ve seen a lot of artists.
Colin Curtis: I’ve seen a huge amount of artists; I’ve seen Eddie Kendricks, The Temptations; I would like to see Eddie Kendricks live again, but unfortunately that’s not possible. I came down to the Dominion Theatre the first time Luther Vandross came into the UK. I came down with Mike shaft, we drove down in the car…and it was an unbelievable show. We were leaving and some friends of Mike’s were coming in and they had spare tickets, so we sat through that again. I’m a huge Luther fan and always will be; I was into him as a backing vocalist, I was into him on the first two Cotillion albums, both of which I played at Blackpool Mecca. That particular day he’d done the first show, and when he did the second show all that you thought was spontaneous i.e. that ad-libs, the dropping the handkerchief, it was all part of the show. For me it was a magical moment. Earth, Wind and Fire, the first time I saw them with Santana, where halfway through Santana’s set most people had left, because Earth, wind and Fire had just mind boggled everybody!
Michael J Edwards: Earth, Wind and Fire were the support act?
Colin Curtis: Yeah! Earth, wind and Fire were support. I saw them again at Stafford, and even then people are still learning about them. Parliament, Funkadelic, Parlet and Bride of Funkenstein, live at Bellevue, four and a half hours. I think I actually fell asleep at one point, we kept moving seats at one point, as people kept leaving, we’d move for better views. Bernie Worrell on keyboards, (George) Clinton – it was a phenomenal day! Brass Construction Live; lots and lots of moments. Jackie Wilson live, Jackie Wilson on the Tuesday night at Tiffany’s at Newcastle-under-Lyme. And as I say I was very fortunate to see Gregory (Porter) in the raw, as well as Gregory in concert mode… Lonnie Liston Smith, the first time he played live for us in Manchester.
Ronnie Laws in Manchester, Side Effect were in Manchester; Gloria Jones in Manchester, unfortunately she was with Marc Bolan at the time in the car when Marc died. I hooked up with Gloria, she came to Blackpool Tower when we played there; we played a retro 70s session and she came and sang two songs for us. It was very emotional for her and for us, because she had remembered a conversation she had at the Ritz with me that day, because that was the first time I saw Marc Bolan without a wig. He was in a blazer, with short hair and looking smart on that day. Obviously the T-Rex thing was huge for him. We could probably do another interview and I’d find another 10 of those. I mean I’ve been very lucky… Never give up, just keep on going – I’m possessed by it (laughs)
Michael J Edwards: What would be your advice be for the younger generation?
Colin Curtis: If you want to DJ, if you’re going out there, make sure you’ve got your act together. Make sure that the music you’re playing is the music you believe in, and play the music from your heart. But have some knowledge too, don’t just become technically brilliant for 60 mins and then not have an act after that. Learn about music, learn about where its come from, and put the music out in the right perspective to the right audience. But always, always believe in the music you’re playing.
Michael J Edwards: Colin Curtis, thank you so much for your time.