Mike Shaft

INTERVIEWED BY GREG WILSON 2022


Mike Shaft was a pivotal figure with regards to specialist black/dance music, and spreading this out from the underground to a wider public via his majorly influential Piccadilly Radio ’Soul show’, ‘Takin’ Care Of Business’ (or ‘TCOB’), which he hosted weekly in Manchester between 1978-86, playing Soul, Funk, Disco, Jazz-Funk and, although not all of it was to his own taste, providing a portal for the emerging Electro-Funk sound I was associated with – for Mike played a vital role in my own ascendancy when he invited me to put together mixes, the first of their type in this country, for his show during 1982 and ’83.

The first of these mixes was broadcast on May 10th ‘82, so, given the occasion of its 40th anniversary, I thought this would be an opportune time to catch up with Mike, or Shafty as we called him back then, and cast our minds back to those days, what led up to them and what came out of them – Mike’s successor, Stu Allan, leaving his own legacy via his Piccadilly/Key 103 shows championing Hip Hop and House. Stu would continue the tradition of the end of year ‘Best Of’ mixes, which I began in ’82 and ’83, before Chad Jackson and others (including Mike himself for a one-off in ’86) took up the baton – this series of mixes continuing until 1991.

Further to this interview, I also want to announce a series of twelve monthly two-hour mixes to be broadcast via Worldwide FM, ‘Greg Wilson’s Early ‘80s Mixtape’, the first of which is aired this Sunday between 8-10pm. As the title suggest, this will document the music played on the black/dance underground here between 1980-83, which, in my opinion, was the most fertile period for dance music, a hugely expressive hybrid era that laid the foundations for all that followed.

Although the master for the first mix is long lost, it was re-constructed from a well-worn cassette, taped off the radio that Monday night, and can be streamed/downloaded via SoundCloud, where you can also read the accompanying backstory regarding its re-creation. The quality of the music speaks for itself, this first mix alone combining tracks released by now classic underground dance labels like Emergency, Prelude, West End and Streetwise, and produced/mixed by people who subsequently became household names – Arthur Baker, Tee Scott, Larry Levan, Shep Pettibone This is what we were bringing to the airwaves of Greater Manchester and beyond.

 

 

GW: Could you outline how you started in the clubs?

MS: I’d always wanted to be a club DJ and then a radio DJ. I mean, that was the path I wanted. I used to, on a Sunday morning, put speakers outside of my window and play music to the street. The guy opposite didn’t always like it because he was usually up till late Sunday morning. But we had some fun with that. Then one day I opened the paper and Rafters was looking for a DJ. Rafters was a club underneath Fagin’s. I went down there; I think it may have been a Thursday night – Rafters was closed, but Fagin’s was open. So I went in there and spoke to the manager, they were part of the same organization, and he said, “Okay, okay, why don’t you just have a go here in Fagin’s”. So I did, I played three songs I think it was, and he says, “Okay, what we’re going to do is get three guys who we quite liked to come back to Rafters and do a weekend each and then we’ll decide”. So he says, “I want you to do the first weekend”. So we hung around Fagin’s for a couple of hours and later on in the evening, he came back to me and he said “I want you to do the last weekend” – I suspected, I’d get the job then. So I turned up for the last weekend of the three and I played all the big tunes at the time, and I was offered the job. I don’t know if you know this story – at the end of the night, he came up and he said, “Well, we want to offer you the job and we want to get a name for you”. I said, “Oh, right, okay.” So he goes away, comes back with Isaac Hayes ‘Theme From Shaft’ and he says “That will be your theme tune. We’ll call you Mike Shaft from now on”. I said, “Great!”, and a week later in the Manchester Evening News it was Mike Shaft appearing at Rafters. It sounded as if I had flown in from the States or something. I hadn’t. I may have flown in from Whalley Range, but it was great and that’s where I started.

MS: I did Rafters for a good while and then one Saturday night I arrived there and there were huge numbers of people on the street outside the club. So I parked the car and go over to find out what’s going on. This guy comes up to me and says, “They’re not letting us in tonight, they say there’s too many black people in here”. I said, “What?” So I go down and speak to the owner and he says, “Yeah, it’s getting a little bit black for us”. I said, “Well, then I can’t continue working here”. He says, “Okay”. They paid me for the night I think and I went away. I mean, it was very upsetting. In fact, there’s a story I always like to tell about that night, I was outside with the crowd for a period of time and Rafters had these huge glass doors. A bouncer would hold the handle of the glass door and open it and let people in, or not let them in, as the case may be, and somebody threw a brick from the opposite side of the road and smashed the glass door. The bouncer was standing there left holding onto just the handle. That was my cue. I said, “I’m not working here anymore”. So I left there, and I think Pips was next.

Pips was a huge operation. Oh my goodness, I’ve never seen anything like it. There were four clubs, effectively, in one area. You went into the door, if you went left, you went to one club. If you went right, you went as far as you could go, you’d get into a different club. You know, it was just crazy. It was wonderful. It was different musics. It was one organization. It was Pips, four different areas, lots of different music. So downstairs was the hard Funk stuff – a mate of mine, Robert worked down there. Upstairs was the Pop/ Dance situation and not so much Pop, but more Dance. I played there. The huge area in that club was the Roxy room. It was legendary at the time, people traveled from all over the country to come to the Roxy room. That’s all they played, David Bowie. Roxy, Lou Reed, that kind of stuff.  It was an amazing place and that was the next place that I worked.

GW: It was probably the best known club in the North at the time because they had the TV adverts – ‘Pips, behind the cathedral’.

MS: They made it the best-known club – I mean, I’ve never ever seen a club advertised on television. They’d have television adverts on a Friday night talking about Pips ‘behind the cathedral’. It was just wonderful to see. Then to get a job there, that was just magnificent.

GW: Just going back to Rafters a second and what was happening there, would it be the first occurrence of the black community in Manchester coming into a city centre club in big numbers?

MS: I wouldn’t say it was the first because I used to go to a place that had to close when they were building the Arndale Center. I used to go to another place, next door to Oxford Road – that was just a pub and at the end of that the night I would go home, but one night everybody says they’re going to Explosion, that was the name of it, so I tagged along and we went in there, and I mean, my goodness, that was proper black music, you know, things like James Brown, Funkadelic, Parliament, really quality stuff.  I just loved it there. In the end, I got a job there, not as a DJ, but on the cloak room. I got to know the woman on the cloakroom really well. One day she says, “I’m going to London, I’m moving to London, do you want to take over the cloak room”. I took over the cloakroom and loved it – I knew everybody who came in, you know, it was great. So one night I went up to the DJ and asked him, “How did you get started as a DJ?” And he said to me, “Well, you know, I went up and asked the DJ, how he got started, and he told me”. So I said, “Okay”, and he gave me a go one Saturday night – full house! He says, “I’ll let you play two, three tracks”. The first one was a disaster because I introduced it and it took about 30 seconds for the music to start playing. But once that happened I picked out three of the biggest songs, so there was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be right, and the people on the dance floor loved it. That was my first actual experience of DJing but I never worked there because it closed down, as I say, when they built the Arndale.

GW: And you said there was quite a big representation there?

MS: Oh huge. I mean, for the best part of my DJing life in the clubs I have had, I would say, 50% black guys, let’s put it that way. 25% black women and 25% white women, but very few white guys there. That’s just how it was – it was my crowd, you know. I loved them to pieces and knew most of them by their name and they moved with me to the clubs that I went to. That was just fabulous. As my reputation spread across the country, people from Huddersfield and Newcastle would come down to the club, see what was going on and book me for nights there. One of my all-time favorite nights is a place called the Videotech, which was in Huddersfield. I’d never heard of it. I knew Huddersfield because a lot of black people live there. It was magnificent. It was an old cinema and they didn’t do much to change it. They just opened it up. It was already opened, they put a dance floor on in and that was it. They moved all the seating and put in some different type of seating and it was magnificent. I always tell this story – there was a New Year’s Eve and they had a big screen still there and they put the screen on BBC One and the pictures were coming in from London. There were just tons of people on there and then I pan down and looked at the crowd, which seemed to go on forever in the club. It was just wonderful. So I’ve always attracted a hugely black audience, and I make no excuses for that.

GW: This club, Explosion. What was the demographic there?

MS: It was very much like that. I mean, it was a black music club and attracted a huge number of black guys and black women. Not many white guys at all. There were a few of them, but not that many.

GW: Oh right. I never knew anything about this place. Who was the DJ?

MS: I couldn’t tell you his name. I have no recollection of that.

GW: Was it a black guy, a white guy?

MS: A white guy and he was playing all this magnificent music, some of which I’d never heard before. But I used to go down to shops in Manchester – I don’t know if Spin Inn was around in those days – and buy the quality tunes, you know. This guy was playing them. I’d go up and ask him, “Who’s this? What’s this?” He never said a lot on the microphone. He just played tunes.

*I’ve subsequently discovered that, although unbeknown to Mike, legendary Capital Radio DJ Greg Edwards played at Explosion, as well as Time & Place, in the early ‘70s, when he made his original bow on Radio One – his show broadcast from Manchester.

GW: Right. So from Pips. Rufus would probably be the next stop, would it?

MS: Yes, that’s an interesting one as well, because I was in Pips and that was going great. One night this guy came in – I didn’t know him, I’d seen him around, but I didn’t know him. He came up to me and he says, “I’m opening up a black club, and I want you to come and DJ”. I says, “You, what?!” He says, “Yeah, it’s just at the other end of the street”. It was a place, which was a bar called Roundtrees, and downstairs there was a club. I went in there one night with him and we had a look at it. It was a bit of a mess. He said, “Listen, I’m doing it up, it’s gonna be fab”. And in the end, I left Pips to go and work for this guy at Roundtrees. It was just magnificent because that was 100% black music. I could play exactly what I wanted and it worked. People came from all over the place and if you didn’t get in there by 11, on a Friday and Saturday night, you weren’t getting in – It was full! I remember Colin Curtis, the first time I met him, I’m walking down the corridor and I didn’t know him. He came up to me and says, “Listen, I’ve just traveled up. I’m Colin Curtis”, he says, “I’ve just traveled up from Stoke and we’re in two cars and the other guys can’t get in”. I says, “Man, I can’t do anything, because I don’t try and get into the bouncer’s business. If they say it’s full, it’s full and that’s it”. That’s the first time I met Colin Curtis.

GW: Were you doing Huddersfield at the same time as this?

MS: No, Huddersfield was somewhat later, I think, than that.

GW: Okay, so you were on the radio by that point?

MS: Um, was I on the radio during Huddersfield? No, I think it  may have been before that.

I went to Piccadilly in ’78.  When it came on the air in ’74, I wanted to be on Piccadilly. I sent in a tape, as did everybody else. Didn’t get a job. Didn’t get invited for an interview. I told them I wanted to do a Soul show, and on the first week, at the end of the first week of broadcasting, they had their first Soul show, and it was presented by Andy Peebles. I listened to the Soul show – I don’t know how much, I listened to a good chunk of it, and I knew at that moment I would never work at Piccadilly while Andy Peebles was there. Just knew it, because the show was excellent. While he played some stuff that I wouldn’t play, I can’t remember exactly what, the show was excellent. Four years later, and this is a long story, I warn you. Four years later. I open the paper and Andy Peebles is going to Radio One.

Now, before that, I got a call from somebody saying, “I’m a producer at Radio One and we want to talk to you”. So I’m amazed by this – Andy Peebles is going to Radio One and this producer from Radio One is calling me. The plan for Radio One was that they would be splitting from Radio Two in the evening, which is what used to happen around about six or seven o’clock in the day, they would both broadcast the same programming and they were going to split. Radio One was going to have its own programming, including a Disco show on a Saturday night, which is what I was being spoken to about, and a, kind of, a cool Rock show is what they got Andy Peebles to do, Because he was famous for having interviewed John Lennon, and that’s the caliber of presenter he was or he is. So I’m going to do an interview with Radio One at Broadcasting House one day, and at Piccadilly the next, and in the end I got a call from the guy at Radio One.

In fact, there’s a cracking little story. I’m going into Piccadilly for an interview, another interview, and there were quite a few, and the receptionist calls me over and she says “I’ve got a message for you here, it says can you phone this number urgently?” And I’m thinking I didn’t recognize the name. I think what’s this all about? So I phoned and she says “Hi, Mike”. She says “This is Tony Hale’s secretary, Tony doesn’t want you to sign anything at Piccadilly”. That’s all she said. So I went in and had another interview, and the interviews are going on there for a while. In the end I was offered a job at Radio One. I didn’t tell Piccadilly I was talking to Radio One, but I told Radio One I was talking to Piccadilly.

I got a contract for the first four shows of this new ‘Discovating’ show that was coming to Radio One. That was it. On the Thursday before the first show happened on the Saturday, I get a call from Tony and before he even says anything, I said “It’s not happening, is it?” He said “No, it’s not.” I said “Is it anything to do with me?” He says, “It’s nothing to do with you”. I said. “Well. So be it then”. What had happened was that in negotiations with the unions, remember what unions were? They weren’t happy with the number of staff the BBC wanted to employ for the split. They wanted whole new staff in each of the stations. Anyway, it didn’t happen. I put the phone down to Tony and within minutes, the phone rings again, “Mike, it’s for you”, and it’s Colin Walters at Piccadilly who says to me “You know, we’re still interested in you, don’t you?”. I said “No, I wasn’t sure.” He says “Come in and see me tomorrow.” This was a Thursday night, the Radio One show should have started on the Saturday. I go in to see Colin Walters on the Friday. He comes and meets me at reception. He says “Would you like a drink?”, “Yeah, I’ll have a hot chocolate.” You know, that’s what I had when I went in there to make demo tapes. And we’re walking into his office and he said “When do you want to start? This Sunday Ok?” I said, “yeah, yeah!” And that Sunday I did my first show on Piccadilly. Some weeks later, Colin called me in and said “We love what you’re doing, we’d like to give you a contract”. I signed the contract, the day after that Radio One phoned and I had to say to Tony “I’m sorry, I’ve signed up with Piccadilly”. That was my first proper radio experience.

GW: Were you aware of the Les Spaine, over in Liverpool at the time?

MS: Yeah, because these were really pioneering times, in lots of ways. Well, I wasn’t at the start of it, but as my fame spread, people from Liverpool started to come to my club, and I talked to everybody to find out where they’re coming from, what you’re doing here, you know – “How did you hear about this place?”. I heard about The Timepiece in Liverpool and everybody raved about it. People would come up and say “Have you got such and such track”, and I’d say no. “Oh Les Spaine is playing it in The Timepiece”. So eventually, I don’t know how long it took, but after I finished work at one of the nights I was doing in Manchester, I then drove to the all-nighter at The Timepiece. I absolutely loved it! Got to know Les there and used to go over semi-regularly. Most nights I went home to sleep because I was knackered, but occasionally I’d go to the all-nighters, and they were absolutely brilliant in every way.

There wasn’t Black music on radio stations prior to these days. There was a guy called The Baron, who was on Radio Manchester, and he played the odd track, but you know, the world was Pop music in those days and for a black act to make it, they had to make Pop music. That’s the end of it. But then some groups came along, and although they were making Pop music, like, Les Spaine and… The Real Thing is a perfect example. They had huge hits, but they also had an underground following out of The Timepiece. And it was great – they made some absolutely wonderful music, some of which I still play now. Not the Pop stuff, but other quality tunes as well. There was an undercurrent of Black music happening. Getting down to record shops, I mentioned Spin Inn before, they were getting Imports in and you’d go down and pick up the first copy of whatever it is, and get it played, your crowd followed you because they liked the music that you played.

GW: Yes, something that should be pointed out is just how powerful the position you had in the city because of that radio show. So Spin Inn would obviously want to get copies of the records that they were stocking to you so that you could play them on the air and then they could order in loads more and sell them.

MS: Absolutely, I’ll give you a perfect example of this. One of my best friends was a girl called Brenda. Brenda lived in Manchester. Her Mum and Dad ran a chip shop in Stretford. Then one day Brenda says to me “I’m going to America”. She’d met a guy from one of the bases, probably the one on the M62 (Burtonwood US Air Base). He was going back to the States and she was going with him. So you know, she packed up and moved to the States, but we kept in touch. We’d phone each other every so often and one day I said to Brenda “Listen, I need you to do me a favour”. She said “What?” and I said, “I want you to stick a 90 minute cassette into your cassette recorder and record an American radio station for me”, because I’d never heard an American radio station. The closest you came to hearing that was.. oh, gosh, what was it called? Wolfman Jack. Wolfman Jack had some LPs released with his stuff on, you know, but that was it.

So anyway, eventually, Brenda sends me this tape. I put it on in the car and there’s a track on that tape by Michael Franks called ‘One Bad Habit’. One of the best pieces of music I have ever heard to this day. I go down to Spin Inn and I said to Gary (Laine) in the shop, or Kevin (Edwards), or whoever was there at the time, “Can you get me a copy of this LP please by Michael Franks? And can I advise you..”, and you may think I’m talking crap here, I said, “Can I advise you to buy as many copies of that as you can get, because this is going to be one of the biggest tracks ever in the city”. So it comes in, I pick up my copy, started playing it on the radio, and this thing went like wildfire out of Spin Inn. They loved me for the number of copies that they sold. It just showed the power of those shows. During the time that I was there, in Liverpool, it was Terry Lennaine doing his stuff. Brian Smart was on Radio Merseyside – I met Brian, he put me on the air a few times as a guest. That’s how people found out about music and that’s how the scene built up.

GW: So at this time, were there any other black DJs working in the centre of Manchester that you were aware of?

MS: Well, I didn’t know every DJ who was working. So I can’t give you a definitive answer.

GW: But you didn’t know of anyone?

MS: No, not really. There was Persian, who was in  Moss Side at the Reno, but that was about the only guy. There were lots of other places that played, you know, specialist type music, but I really didn’t know anybody else. My mate Robert, I mentioned him before, he worked downstairs at Pips in the Funk room and he played a lot of heavy Funk in there as well. So those are the only people that I knew, other than me.

GW: Okay, so, with the radio show, obviously, it became a big concern. Just to put this in context again, am I right in saying Piccadilly had the largest catchment outside of the London stations in Britain?

MS: Yes, it did. Only because there’s more people in London. Piccadilly had the best performing radio station in the country. When it came on air, in those days, there was (BBC) Radio Manchester, there was (BBC) Radio One, and some (BBC) Radio Two listening in an area. That was it. Then Piccadilly came and within the first 18 months it had moved to number one in the city. That’s because Colin Walters was an absolute genius. He employed some amazing presenters, all experts in their field, and made a great radio station. But they also advertised everywhere – you couldn’t go anywhere in Manchester without seeing an advert on somebody’s car, a windscreen sticker, on the side of buses, everything was Piccadilly 261. Kids would be shouting “Piccadilly 261” at you. I remember… I’ll tell you how interesting going to work there was; By the time I got to Piccadilly, I’d built up a really decent following in the clubs. Colin said to me, when he gave me the job, he asked “What’s this Mike Shaft name all about? I don’t like that. Let’s go back to your real name”. I said “Colin, I spent the last five or whatever years building up my name playing black music in this city and other places and you want me to play a black music programme on the radio, and change my name?” I says “I’m not doing it, sorry”. He says “Okay, then carry on”. I always laugh at that, because it was such a funny situation. I wasn’t about to change my name, my goodness!

GW: What you did with Piccadilly, as far as I’m aware, as a difference to Andy Peebles, was that you brought in a more club orientated kind of vibe to things.

MS: Absolutely. Peebles played a Soul show, and although I played an awful lot of Soul, I did a dance music show. I played slow songs, you know, some of my all-time favorite songs now, are slow songs that I played back then. ‘Best of My Love’ by T-Connection. – God! the first time I heard that I nearly fell through the floor! I played that, but I will let you know this, in the clubs at one O’clock in the morning we played slow songs, three or four slow songs. And you could see, as it got closer and closer to one O’clock, guys, you know, seeing who they wanted to dance with – and vice-versa as well, women the same, they would be on the dance floor, dancing up close and personal. A lot of relationships started on those dance floors. But what we did, was to take a bit of the nightclub onto the radio, that was the main difference. I’ll tell you this, and I can’t say I’m proud of it, but there you go, the first record I played on Piccadilly was Dan Hartman ‘Instant Replay’, which was massive in the clubs at the time. People look back on that now and think that’s a bit watery, but it was massive in the clubs that I was playing in, and that was where I wanted to start the radio show. So with that first record, people knew that Andy Peebles wasn’t on tonight, this was Mike Shaft.

GW: Yes definitely, it was a huge record. Just moving forward a little bit to… I’m trying to work out when we met. I would imagine it might be a Wigan Pier all-dayer or something?

MS: Well, I don’t know when we actually met, but in the way people were coming to my clubs and talking about Les Spaine and Liverpool, suddenly people are coming to my clubs and talking about Greg Wilson in Wigan and “Oh, man, he’s playing this, he’s playing that, he’s playing the other”. So I had to go and have a look. So I think it was a Tuesday night was it?

GW: Yes, in Wigan,

MS: I went in there, paid my money, got in and just stood around and looked and it was rockin’! And I will say this, the hugest amount of music was stuff I’d never heard of, because it was way more uptempo dance…..hmm, is it up-tempo? do I want to say up-tempo?… Probably, more than what I was playing.  I loved what I saw – and then there’s the mixing. Then there were the lights – I’d never seen a club set-up like that. It was just fantastic. Everything about it. Then of course, you came to Manchester, to Legend, which was just awesome. Used to be in there quite regularly. That’s the first I knew of you, and then, as you say, we got to know each other at things like all-dayers, where we’d be on the same bill.

GW: Yeah, you invited me to do the mixes exactly this time, going back 40 years ago.

MS: Yeah.

GW: At the time you were doing the Main Event. It was almost like a rival to Legend because it was a Tuesday night.

MS: Yeah. It was a Tuesday night and you were the Wednesday night in Manchester. That is a great story, because the head of promotions, a guy called Tony Ingham, great guy! He went on to be a managing director of the radio station or chief, whatever, as they call it, CEO. He calls me in one day and says “I’ve got an idea”. He says “I’ve been speaking to Blues and Soul”, which was the magazine for black music back in those days, “We want to put a night on, we’re calling it The Main Event and it’s going to be at Placemate 7”, as that building was called then, it was other names before like the Twisted Wheel, “…and we want you to play, and John Grant”. It was advertised on the radio, officially. Advertising my own gigs on the radio, I had to be, you know, (laughs) very clever in naming them because it wasn’t allowed, but I got some namechecks in, but we had adverts running for this night. We used to get bands on in there. It was magnificent, just magnificent. Some of the best records I’ve ever played in my life started off in that place. Luther Vandross ‘Never Too Much’, the first time I picked that up, that afternoon in Spin Inn, went into the Main Event and played it there, everybody loved it. The other one…oh, gosh, what’s this one called? ‘Somebody Else’s Guy’.

GW: Jocelyn Brown

MS: So that is a fabulous record. but it’s a very difficult record on the dance floor because it’s got this long intro with no beat. Yeah, so the dance floor is packed, I put this on and people are walking off the dance floor. I said, “Don’t go yet, just wait for it, just wait for it”. They’re walking off the dance floor, then in kicks this groove, which is just ridiculous. Everybody’s rushing back onto the dance floor – oh my goodness! So I can remember some great nights when we used to get bands on – Level 42 came and played for us. You know, because of the radio station and Blues and Soul, we had pretty much access to anybody we wanted for PAs and that kind of thing. It was a great night.

GW: Yeah, John Grant had been at Legend previous to the Main Event and once he’d gone from there and once the Main Event started, it basically started to, kind of, empty out Legend. That’s why I got the job there. Because I had my Tuesday at the Pier. It was owned by the same people and they just needed to give something a go. So I came across to Legend and that’s where the mixing really come into its own as well, because I just felt it was the environment to just go down that route. Also, at that moment, these new electronic tracks were starting to come out and I was supporting those. So Legend was building up. It was kind of bubbling at that point when you asked me about the mix. I always felt to myself that, on one level, you were in a rival venue and there was a lot of reasons not to get me on the radio, but you were professional enough to understand that with your listenership, there was stuff that maybe you wouldn’t have wanted to play yourself, but you knew that you should be playing it, and the mixes enabled that to happen, with me coming in and covering that side of it.

MS: Greg, you say a professional, I’ll put it this way – I’m not stupid. What you had going on down there was magnificent. I could have pretended on the radio that I was a DJ playing all that stuff. I wasn’t the biggest fan of that type of music, but I could see the response you were having on the dance floor to what you were playing and I thought “Let’s get Greg on the radio, get him to do a mix” and hopefully get all these people listening to the show and to the mix. I’ll never forget this, to do the recording, I had to borrow a recorder, an open reel recorder from the radio station, take it down to Legend and work out how to set it up so that the music went into it. And that was the first time we did that. It was an actual live mix. Later on, of course, I just said to you “Let’s do a mix every year, at the end of the year” and you would do that on your own equipment and just bring me in the finished tape. I just had to be a part of it. You know, it was the biggest thing going on at that moment. My dance music was always a lower groove, you know, a more get-down groove. What I saw when I came to Wigan Pier first of all, and then at Legend was a whole new level of dance that I had never played.

GW: It had such a big effect on me, you bringing in that reel to reel, which was a Revox B77. I still carry them round with me now (laughs). But that’s what it did, because we used to go back to the station and somebody would top and tail it and it was ready to be broadcast. but eventually, I bought my own Revox, then started getting into editing and it took me down a whole different route. But do you remember you used to call me the Boy Wilson. You’d say “I’ve got the Boy Wilson in the studio” (laughs).

MS: People don’t understand about those days, man. Piccadilly was huge and, consequently, I was huge in that music field. This is the thing about Colin Walters, at every corner of that radio station you had these experts, top people in their field – he just built a magnificent radio station, it was a joy to be a part of it.

GW: You were doing a Monday night show at the time when I started.

MS: Right. Okay, yeah, we started initially on a Sunday night. I don’t know if I ever did a Friday, but then it moved to a Monday then it moved to a Sunday. You know, it was all over the place. We were in the afternoon on a Sunday once if I remember correctly. He fitted it in where we could. I don’t think there was a week when there wasn’t a Black music show while I was there, obviously. But it did move around the schedule.

GW: Do you remember when I started to get a lot of criticism for the stuff that I was playing from the wider scene and obviously Frank Elson was not too into what I was doing, and there was rumbles there and everything?

MS: There were. You know, people would ask me why am I having that on a Soul show? “It’s not Soul”. I’d say “It’s dance music and that’s what we’re doing”. You’re never going to please everybody, you know, and people who are adventurous always end up…there’s a part of this, the community, who didn’t like it. So be it. It didn’t stop me putting you on the air, because you were good at what you were doing. You were doing a great job. I couldn’t mix like that and why would I want to learn to do that when there’s already an expert here, ready to go. So I’d find arguments with people about “You shouldn’t be playing this tune, or you shouldn’t be playing that tune”. Well, that’s fine. Thankfully, I was the one on the radio and they weren’t.

GW: Exactly. I mean, I had my nose put out a bit when, do you remember when Danny Pucciarelli came over from the States? (laughs). Because at the time, I think you were just moving the show to the Sunday and it wasn’t sure whether the mix would continue. Then Danny was about and it was almost like, I got this vibe that people said, “Oh, well, we’ve got a real mixer now. He’s from New York” (laughs).

MS: I don’t even know if I’d known of Danny Pucciarelli before that. But somebody came and says “Man, there’s this mixer”. He came over first to a place in Leeds. Yeah, The Warehouse in Leeds and everybody who went there….again, this was the same people who used to come to my nightclubs would go there, and would go to places in Liverpool and places in Birmingham…so the crowd would talk to me about what’s going on elsewhere. So Pucciarelli is in town mixing and he’s coming to Manchester. I say “Well, get him to come into the radio station”. He came in and did a mix. We didn’t even have proper mixing turntables in those days. I actually bought a couple of 1200s. I don’t know if it was for that, in particular for that night. But anyway, he came in and did some mixing for us and it was just fabulous. He didn’t do much that you weren’t doing, if that makes sense to you? It was the same music, same up-tempo groove, that house music groove. But again, when he left the radio station, people were talking about it for weeks because it was great.

GW: Yeah. I was waiting around then. I think it took about a month or so. But then you got back in touch and said “yeah, we got the slot back” and everything. With Dan Pucciarelli, what I did notice, and what I thought that he didn’t have was that, I remember he was mixing Sharon Brown’s ‘I Specialize In Love’. Amazing track! But it was a track that had been around four or five months previous, while what I was playing in my mixes were the latest imports.

MS: Well, I think that’s an interesting point you’ve raised because a lot of the time, in nightclubs especially, the music moves on really quickly, but on the radio it doesn’t need to. So you can go back to tracks that you were playing a month ago, two months ago, and just play it again. That’s what I do when I build the show now. I do a show ‘Colourful Radio’, and I have a look back at the last few months. Because it’s moving so quickly the lifespan of music passes by in a blink and suddenly you’re no longer playing, you know, D Train, because it’s no longer cool because you played it three months ago. Well, I’d gladly play it again in three months time and three months after that, and that’s how I build my shows. Different people do it… you know, there are some guys who just want to play brand new music every week. Well, good luck with that. I do a mixture of the music I play. Yes, I would add new music every week, but I’d be playing the big tunes and those new ones then became big tunes. That’s how you develop a show and the following.

GW: Yep. I suppose that the mixes I was doing, the basis of them was that they were the latest tracks.

MS: Well, my thinking on it was those end of year mixes – The Best of 82/83 for you, then Chad came along, then Duncan did one or two years and then I did one year, I did ’86, I remember that. Those were supposed to be an amalgamation of the best tunes of the year, and that’s how I wanted it. It was great because of your expertise and Duncan’s expertise and Chad’s expertise, there’d be a groove going on and over that groove you’d drop in a little something there from a track and you’d never hear it again in the mix and drop another something in, and it was just brilliant. You know, it’s like baking a cake, the perfect cake, every time you guys delivered those tapes.

GW: That best of ’82 was a revelation at the time. I can remember the feedback to it was just like, a whole other thing.

MS: Listen, there was nobody else doing that stuff then, nobody in this country that I know of doing that with music – it just wasn’t happening! Most people were still playing seven inch singles in those days. Then the 12 inches began to make their mark. But the song would finish and some DJs, like me, would speak after it. In other clubs they would just run it into the next track with no chat from the DJ. You know, guys like Persian never even had a microphone. He just played music. I, because of my position on the radio, I did my live gigs as well. I’d be screaming and shouting during the song, really whipping up the atmosphere. But for the mixing, you guys, you personally, followed by Chad and others then. Nobody else was doing that.

GW: Yeah. It left a great legacy. Because even when you’d left Piccadilly, which was in ’86, I think?

MS: Yeah.

GW: You went to Radio Manchester, that it continued with Stu Allan’s show, and he brought the House and the Hip Hop into play. I think those mixes went on until 1991.

MS: Really?

GW: Yeah. So there was a long lineage to it.

MS: But the thing about me is, I have no worries about whether I’m good, bad or indifferent. I am what I am. I had no problem inviting guests into the show. So Colin Curtis would come in and do a Jazz break for us when he could. Hewan Clarke would come in and do a Jazz break for us. We used to get the Northern Soul guys in every so often. I had no problem with that, because when they did it, it would bring in a new audience for that segment and hopefully, when I continued, they would stay with the radio station and stay with the show.

GW: Yeah exactly. I think the great thing with you is that you had an oversight that was different. You weren’t totally immersed in your own publicity, so to speak.

MS: (laughs) Let me tell you this, and I laugh at this, but it was such a terrible situation. The Northern Soul situation, where people used to cover up records. For somebody who doesn’t know what that is, every record that you bought would have a label on and on that label would be the name of the artist and the song, the name of the publisher, the length of the record, etc, etc. In Northern Soul, they were so protective of their music, that they would cover the label up and put a false name on the label. So that if you saw it as it was going around, and it said, Joe Bloggs, you’d rush down to the radio station or to the record shop, “Have you got that track by Joe Bloggs?”, and they’d say “There’s no track by Joe Bloggs”. I can’t imagine how much money was lost to the people who made those records because they were covered up. Yeah, I had no problem, every record I’d play I give the name of the artist and the name of the song, in the hope that people rushed down to the shop to buy it.

GW: Well, that was the same mentality I came from, and certainly Les Spaine. I remember when I first went to The Timepiece, which was an amazing experience. I was 16. And all the local DJs were stood around the booth because it was the all-nighter and they’d finished at their clubs and were asking him the names of tracks and writing them down, He was quite happy for them to know, because he knew the next week he’d come with something else, then something else. He just had that confidence in his own ability.

MS: Well it means that when they go and buy that record, the artist gets paid. You cover it up with some false name and the artist never gets paid for that. Because nobody buys that song until in 12 months time they uncover it. It’s a different mentality, it’s not my mentality. I loved it when I played the track I mentioned before, that Michael Franks track, when Spin Inn couldn’t import enough copies of that.

GW: Yeah. That’s how it worked in Spin Inn, that everything was bagged up for you. For Curtis as well and eventually I managed to get myself into that situation too. But they had to come in that direction. If they had three copies of a record , that’s where Spin Inn would want to place them, because then they could maybe sell 50 copies.

MS: Absolutely. It was worth Spin Inn selling me that track and then me playing it on the radio, because when the fans heard it they’d go to Spin Inn and buy it – it’s that simple. And man, we had some some fantastic effect on the sales in that shop.

GW: Yeah, cos again, people would probably think, “Spin Inn, one shop?” as there were other shops that sold imports, but what Spin Inn was doing was bringing these tracks in and then wholesaling them out to the other shops – they were at source, so to speak.

MS: Listen, you say one shop. One tiny shop in Manchester. The first time I went there I couldn’t believe the size of it. It was no more than about eight feet wide and probably 15 or 16 feet long. There was a counter, so you had limited space in there. You sweated like hell on a Saturday afternoon, but you have to go there because that’s the place that sold those records. In time, Kev opened his own shop in Newton-le-Willows, which was great fun, but that meant a drive for me because I wanted to support him. And there was another guy who worked there and he opened a shop in Levenshulme. I can’t remember his name, unfortunately. So you know, I was driving around looking for the best tunes to play on the Saturday night or the Sunday night on the show.

GW: Do you remember when we went to the TV show, The Tube?

MS: Oh, the Tube, gosh, I launched the magazine. TCOB North of Watford, Takin’ Care Of Business, North of Watford. I mithered the Tube to talk about it – I don’t know how they came to book you, but we were there on the same day.

GW: Yeah, what happened with me was that they had David Joseph, who was going to be appearing on the show from Camden Palace. He did a PA at Legend, and because The Tube was based in Newcastle they came just to check him out. But I was playing around with two copies of his record and they heard that – the next thing they said to me was “Would you like to come and do this on the Tube?”, which was great, but then the horror of the situation hit in, and the realisation that I had to do this live, and what if it went wrong and everything.

MS: Oh, listen, the thing about it is, you took your own decks…

GW: I know, in your car.

MS: And therein lies another story, because I had this car, it was a regular car, you know, it wasn’t bad or anything, but the decks wouldn’t fit in the car across the car. So what we had to do, in the end, was put it from the boot into the car and it went into the seat next to the driver – that’s the only way it would fit there. So we drive from Manchester to Newcastle with me in the driving seat, you in the seat behind me and this huge double turntable box on the two seats. Oh, man, that was crazy, but you know, we got it done and the video still exists somewhere. It was a laugh, and you know, he tried to stitch us up with his drugs question (laughs).

GW: What are those? I mean, it’s bizarre, looking back as a period piece, because he’s even saying, I’m saying, “On turntables”, and he saying, “What’s a turntable?” People didn’t use that term then. They called them record players.

MS: But this is it. We’re talking now about a period, you know, that this sort of stuff went on. So I was watching a television program called ‘Julia’. Julia’s an American cook. I think she went to Paris, wrote a book on French cooking, which took over the world. Then she went back to America. The story in this TV programme is following her life and the first time she did cooking on television in the States was the first time cooking was shown on television there, and the director was there trying to work out how to get the best pictures. They couldn’t see when she was whisking her eggs. They couldn’t see that with the camera and he came up with this idea of putting in an overhead mirror. So they shot the mirror, which was looking down into the pan. And it’s just all of this stuff started somewhere. That’s the point I’m making, you know, and we were part of that. We were part of that, you know, I am very proud of what I did.

You know, there were places I look back on with disgust. I remember working at one place in Bolton, It was fantastic, a really high quality club rather like a Legend, lots of lighting and sound. They booked me for six weeks. Did the first one, it was okay. Did the second one, it was huge, mainly black people. Third one, I went in there and the guy called me in and says “We’re not going to carry on”. I says “What do you mean?”. He says “It’s too black”. I said “Okay, you’re gonna pay me up?”. There on the table was my full pay packet, he gave me the money and I left. The thing that saddened me most was that the girl who booked me was the head of promotions, she was a black girl. To this day, I feel for that woman, you know, that she had to go through that in her role in life, because I don’t know what she felt about it, and then canceling the night because it was too successful. But you know, we’re all here for a reason. Things have changed over the years. I don’t think you see too much of that now. Clubs are far more integrated now than that, not that I go in many clubs. Now I can tell you that for nowt, but it’s different now.

GW: But in a way, what we had back then Mike, we lost it. Where black and white kids came together on the scene.

MS: Absolutely.

GW: That was lost later down the line. I think in Manchester in the 90s, I always remember the Haçienda booking me for a night, just a one off for me. And there were Drum ‘n’ Bass DJs and stuff, and that got cancelled because the police objected to having that audience in the city centre. So that was going on even in the ’90s.

Another thing Mike, eventually you took over the Wednesday night at Legend at the start of ‘85.

MS: Man, wow! After you left I think Chad went in there for a while, didn’t he? And I got a call from Mr. Lennon – Terry Lennon, great guy, love him. He says “Come down, let’s have a chat”. So I went down. We had a chat, agreed a fee and all I can say is some of the best nights in a small club for me were held in Legends. It very quickly developed into a magnificent night, playing, again, all this stuff that I wanted to play. Not a lot of Electro or anything like that, it was just straight up Soul and Dance music. The most memorable night we had there was Loose Ends. Loose Ends came up one Wednesday and we’d been plugging it and it was rammed! I kid you not when I tell you that there were an estimated 300 people locked out on that night. The whole of Princess Street was just a roadblock. They were fantastic, we just cleared a space on the dance floor and they just got up and sang along to ‘Hanging on the String’. It was just magnificent, I loved that venue. I’ll never forget the first time I walked into Wigan, and the first time I walked into Legend, because I personally had never seen nightclubs of that type – they didn’t exist. They were what was going on in Studio 54 in the States, that quality of lighting and sound and here in Manchester, we had it through those guys. They were visionary.

GW: Yeah, definitely. And there’s an amazing photo of that Loose Ends night. You’ve seen that haven’t you?

MS: Yes, I have. The scale of the photo doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s jammed up, you can see that and there’s just enough space for the three of them to dance, but the whole place was just rammed. They got everybody into that place that they could and then, outside, 300 people who couldn’t get in.

*During the coming years, Mike, despite his personal aversion to Electro, would be more partial to a new wave of electronic dance music influenced by New York Electro, but coming out of Chicago. Mike, along with other DJs in the City, most notably Colin Curtis and Hewan Clarke, as well as radio up-and-comer and key catalyst for the next phase, Stu Allan, pioneered a direction that would eventually sweep though the Haçienda and, accompanied by its chemical high, would change the course of club culture forever. This historic footage is from Moss Side community centre in September ‘86 (almost a year ahead of the famous Ibiza DJ trip), where Mike can be heard DJing on the night.

 

Greg Wilson’s ‘Best Of ’82’ Mix:
https://soundcloud.com/gregwilson/the-best-of-82-by-greg-wilson

Greg Wilson’s Best Of ‘83’ Mix:
https://soundcloud.com/gregwilson/the-best-of-83-by-greg-wilson

Mike Shaft’s final Piccadilly Radio show:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5NwksM700E

Mike Shaft reminisces about Piccadilly Radio:
http://mikeshaft.com/2014/02/24/piccadilly-radio-40th-anniversary-celebrations/

 


© Greg Wilson 2022

 

 

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