Morgan Khan

IN CONVERSATION 2023

Morgan Khan is one of the most important figures in the rise of dance culture in the UK, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything about him in the history books. In a prime example of being written out, Morgan’s legacy has been largely lost to time. Yet here is someone who championed all the main club genres, from Rap and Brit Funk, through Electro, Hip Hop, Hi-Energy, Rare Groove and on into House. His ‘Street Sounds’ and especially ‘Street Sounds Electro’ compilations were seminal for the pre-Rave generation, and the gateway into underground dance music for countless people.

In what is certainly the most in-depth interview to date about his music industry career, Morgan talks about his time at PRT, where, amongst many other things, he was instrumental in licensing the Sugar Hill label and scoring a major UK hit with ‘Rappers Delight’ as the ‘70s ended and a new decade began, before he set up his own labels, Excaliber, which licensed choice US imports, and R&B, where he masterminded the commercial breakthrough of London group, Imagination. His next phase, beginning late-’81, was to launch the Streetwave label, which led to his series of era-defining Street Sounds compilations.

I know Morgan is viewed by some as a contentious character who rubbed people up the wrong way, especially around the time his Street Sounds empire went belly up, leaving many people out of pocket. However, his legacy cannot be denied – without it our understanding of UK dance culture is missing a whole great chunk.


GW: Okay, let’s just start at the beginning. You were born in Hong Kong?

MK: I was born in Hong Kong..

GW: To Anglo-Indian parents. Is that correct?

MK: Absolutely correct. My father Indian, my mother Scottish.

GW: And at what point did you come to live in the UK?

MK: ’67.

GW: So how old would you have been then?

MK: Oh my goodness.

GW: What year were you born?

MK: 1958.

GW: Okay, so you would have been about nine then? And you moved to London?

MK: Correct.

GW: Okay. So how did you discover dance music? What were your musical influences as a younger kid?

MK: This is the bizarre factor. So when I came here and even for my formative child years, dance music, Soul music, music of Motown, Atlantic, Stax, music of black origin was so far removed. My parents were into the crooners, they were into the Big Band sound. My older brother was at the peak of the Rock and Roll period, because he was four years older than I was. So he was into the Rock and Roll era, with his 8 track player, etc. My middle brother was getting into the Rock side, Uriah Heap, Deep Purple.

So my influences were from “crooners” to the Big Bands, to the Rock and Roll side. This sounds like a cliché, it sounds like something from a Hollywood script, but the pivotal moment was literally when my mother bought me a small Sony radio for one of my birthday presents. I just wanted my own FM radio. I soon came across Capital Radio, the pivotal moment was listening to Soul Spectrum with Greg Edwards one night, and seriously, hand on my heart, after I heard an episode of Soul Spectrum, that was it! My life changed! All I wanted to do was have more records. Greg Edwards was a pioneer, like yourself, Mike Shaft and various people like that.

MK: There were very few black radio shows, shows playing black music, in terms of in the UK. I wasn’t aware of the pirates, but I’d heard something. I think it was ’77 or something around that time when I heard Greg, and I actually made it one of my wish-list things, to actually go to to Capitol Radio, when it was at Warren Street, to go and meet Greg. I actually remember going down in my school uniform and meeting Greg once, before he went on to Soul Spectrum. I think Soul Spectrum was 6-8pm in the early days? Whatever time, it was on Saturday nights, and I remember going down to Capitol Radio because what I heard with this music, I’d never heard! My mum and my dad had some hit Motown things that they would play, but we’re talking about the commercial things like Diana Ross, or whatever. This was new and this was fresh to me. This was like, I was blind and now I could see. Maybe that’s a good quote. I was just blind in music and I suddenly saw there was this musical form. Of course, Greg was playing Disco then, he was playing Jazz-Funk and he was playing Soul. At that stage of course, there was no such thing as Electro, Urban, or as we now call it, Hip Hop.

GW: Yeah. So it was the late 70s Disco era, with Earth Wind and Fire, kind of, period? So what were the bands that you really got into? What were the acts that you initially started buying?

MK: Again, early days? [Laughs] My whole credibility’s gonna be shot now. It was more Disco orientated. On Greg’s show, he played some Jazz-Funk. But the Soul side, the Disco side, the Donna Summers of this world… Aquarian Dream was one of the first albums I bought. My very earliest moments… Walter Murphy, not ‘A Fifth Of Beethoven’ but ‘California Strut’.

Walter Murphy ‘California Strut’

GW: Okay. That was on the flip side of ‘A Fifth Of Beethoven’.

MK: Well done, that was the B-side of the record. So I was listening to Greg, no digital. It’s very important to put a caveat on that, to make a point here… There were no mobile phones, there was no digital. The only way you’d get records were by one or two ways; Buying it as a 7″. Of course, 12″ were also available. Or by home-taping the daytime radio, or some specialist shows, and sharing the tape. I would have done this then. Those TDK sharing and hotbox days, I’d call them the Spotify of the late ’70s/’80s. It was the way kids heard music. They would tape shows, Greg’s show, or Mike’s Shaft’s shows, or whoever. ‘Home taping is killing music’ far from it! Even though we ran a campaign on our early Street Sounds albums, it was actually a way of spreading the music to a much wider audience. Remember the 15,000 people who came down to UK Fresh? They wouldn’t be listening to daytime radio. They were listening to a handful of shows. But they’d got into the scene because it was organic, it was real. It was from the streets. So going back to my roots, it was just one or two radio stations. I made a decision there and then, within a few weeks or months that I wanted to be involved in this music. Indian… doctor, lawyer, accountant… That was the kind of trajectory that my parents wanted for me. My family were all in the airline business. My father, my brother and my cousins were pilots. Everybody was in the airline industry. So that was an option. But one day I wake up, and I’ve decided I want to be in the music business.

GW: How did you folks feel about that?

MK: Again, it’s a strange story. My mother was made aware of it when, one Sunday morning, I had packed my little bag and told her I was leaving home, that I was going to go be a DJ and work in the music industry. It was really a case of “Yes, son, go on back to bed. We’ll talk about it later”. But no, Greg, I was serious, I packed my bag and was going. I hadn’t spoken to her about it in depth, because she would have tried to dissuade me. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, you know, I think they had expectations. I was a good scholar in school, I’ll never be Einstein, but I knew I could follow the airlines route, go to my parental and family ties. I could finish in school and if I had the right A-Levels grades, I could go into medicine or accounting. But I opted out, so it didn’t matter what I did. I remember before that moment, my mother was having a bad time… a family crisis. I’d started working quite early after school from the age of 14 onwards. After school I’d work at Gulf Petroleum, a petrol station down the road. I would start doing these things to make money to help my mum. I also started working weekends at Manpower, clearing out oil drums, just to make money to help my parents, my mother and myself. So when I left home, I didn’t really care what I did. I literally got a bedsit and that was it, I was out! So called ‘out of the roost’. I wanted to be in the music industry. So I got a bedsit In Lavender Hill and I got these part-time jobs, Manpower, agencies, working in burger joints. I did everything humanly possible day and night. But my other time was spent writing continuous letters, A4 letters, writing to company after company after company. I was bombarding record labels almost on a daily basis, with stamped envelope letters, sending them out. That is effectively what I did for the first few months.

GW: How did you make a breakthrough in that direction? How do you start earning money from the industry?

MK: Well, I made contact with Greg Edwards at Capital Radio again. He thought I was this fanatical, over enthusiastic kid who wanted to be in the business. His knowledge of black music is probably second to none – hearing his interviews, watching how he conducted himself when I went to some of the Soul Spectrum shows. But the break came when I was walking in London, and there’s a club called Cherry’s, a discotheque on Coventry Street. I was walking by one night, when literally at my feet lands a body. The bouncers have thrown out the DJ from Cherry’s, and I’m looking at this big guy, his name was Billy, I remember his name, because we became friends. He was a big black guy, your stereotypical bouncer. He was like, “What the fuck you looking at? Are you a DJ?” Seriously, I said, “Yes”, even though I’d never touched DJ decks, never touched a mixing desk, or anything like that in my life. He said, “Well come in here” There was a woman manager, Barbara or something. And I went in, there I was, a fledgling! There was a little DJ booth, it was the middle of the night and there were a few people in the club. Someone, maybe the chef, or Billy, was helping by putting the records on. So I end up in this little box with a Perspex glass front, two decks and a mixer. I think Billy and one or two people could see that I really wasn’t a DJ, because I was lifting the needle at the wrong time, putting it on at the wrong time to get it spinning. But, I kind of got away with it. I got away with that first night and became Cherry’s’ resident DJ, for a few days a week. It was amazing! Coming into Cherry’s were a lot of people from the music industry. But at the same time, Greg Edwards had made contact, or told me to make contact with Calendar Records. They had a record that they wanted to break. So I then decided to form my own promo company, because I thought I could be a great record promo man. My first company was called Mega Fusion Promotions. So I have this guy he’s trying to get his record played on air. It was Okay, not great. It was ‘Magic Mandrake’.

Sarr Band ‘Magic Mandrake (Calandar Records, 1978)

MK: [Sings] “Magic, Magic Mandrake” [Laugher]. And so that was my first record as Morgan Kahn promoting a record, and Greg Edwards had helped me. He told me who to send the records to, how to put a package together and send them out to certain people. I wasn’t paid money, I was given a little bit for mailing, but I was paid in food, by this guy from Calendar Records [Laughter]. No, I’m serious! I’d go to his office, get the records for the mail-out, but it got me noticed. I started going to DJs and one of the people who noticed me was Fred Dove, do you remember him?

GW: Yes. Of course.

MK: Fred Dove was a Disco promotions manager who, I think, unfortunately, throughout his career remained… I will say this because I don’t care about the push back I might get. Fred, maybe because his colour, creed, whatever, he didn’t succeed as much as he should have done… He should have been head of the Warner label’s black music division, or marketing director, or head of A&R. He was amazing! His ear and his ability. But he only remained as the Disco Promotions Manager. Call it the token black guy at the record label, this was my impression. Again, I’m speaking from my heart, he never progressed. He needs to be written into the history, because he promoted Warner’s black catalog; Warner, Elektra, Atlantic, and he gave me a break. He said, “Morgan, I’ll give you a chance. Not a lot of money, but I’ll give you stock. Show me what you can do” The first album I worked on was the Aquarian Dream album with the track, ‘You’re a Star’ on, a huge club record, particularly at Caister, at the weekenders.

Aquarian Dream ‘Fantasy’ (Elektra, 1978)

MK: That was my first break. But I was still writing letters, constantly writing letters, and one of the recipients of those letters was Dave McAleer at Pye.

GW: Okay, a famous name! I know Dave McAleer very well. He started the Disco Demand label on Pye (later running the Champagne label in the early-’80s).

Dave McAleer

MK: Absolutely! Again, written out of history. He also curated and edited the Guinness Book of Hit Singles. He was an encyclopedia of music! You’d name a record, he’d say the year, who produced it, what label and what catalog number. So I kept calling him saying, “Dave I want a job, I want a job. I don’t care where it is”. Again, maybe my ruthless nature… He already had somebody in the Disco department, but they had no clue. I’m not going to mention who the person was. They came in, did the job. But they had no idea what they were doing. They had no passion for the music. It was literally a case of “I work at a record company”. Let’s not forget, Pye in the ’70s was a major force! Think of a major label; Warners, Universal, Sony, whatever, Pye was up there with them as a major label! They actually distributed CBS at one time. When I was there, they had Casablanca, Buddha, 20th Century, Vanguard, Vogue, Hi/Cream. They had so many labels! Then all the labels that they each represented, with their own catalogs. So they were a major tour de force. I eventually persuaded Dave to get rid of somebody and bring me in as so-called ‘Disco Promotions/Post Boy’. That was ’78 I think, my first contract. That was my first break in the music industry, per se; being full-time in the music business and dealing with what would become my life.

GW: That’s exactly where I remember meeting you. I didn’t realize that you’d done bits for Fred Dove. Just dwelling on what you just said there, we were talking about a time when there were very few black people involved on the music business side. We had Greg Edwards, who you’ve mentioned, on the radio. And we had Fred Dove.

MK: Mike Shaft?

GW: Mike didn’t come onto Piccadilly Radio until the late ’70s. Earlier still, in the north, you had Les Spaine at the Timepiece (in Liverpool), but by that point, he’d moved to London, where he was working at Motown with Keith Harris. Keith Harris was probably the most high-up black figure in the music business at that time, with Motown opening in London.

Keith Harris

GW: There was Owen Washington as well. He was doing stuff for CBS.

Owen Washington

GW: Is there anyone else you can think of at that time?

MK: I can’t. You’ve actually just reminded me about Owen, so we’ve counted less than a handful. What an indictment of a record industry that had, of course, black artists. And huge success with their black artists!

GW: Erskine Thompson was another person, obviously.

Erskine Thompson

Erskine Thompson Wins ‘Contribution to Black Music’ MOBO Award in 1999

MK: Let’s not forget Erskine!

GW: And then later we had Orin Cozier.

MK: Much later. I’m trying to run through my mind. Have we left anybody out? I’d say it’s an indictment of the industry. An industry that had huge black labels, from Stax/Volt, Atlantic, Motown, Philly, all these kinds of labels, and you can only talk about a handful of people in Europe. Let’s forget Europe for a minute, because the UK was the doorway to Europe. So you only have a handful of people of colour, so to speak, who are representing the music. What an indictment of the industry!

This is a very important point, when I went to Pye, Dave Massey and I created a label called Calibre. Calibre was for the American import stuff. Not the homegrown stuff with the labels that we handled. At Calibre, we were given the lowest budget, we were almost considered the non-serious label. Even though, when the P&L was done, and this is from Madeline Hawkyard, in the accounting department, we were bringing in the bucks. And through Casablanca, through Buddha; through our own successes. Meanwhile, in the Rock department, their story was, “Well, we need to develop a Rock band for four years, there’ll be no return”. Of course with the Pop department, they would have a runaway hit on radio. They’d have a hit single and, of course, they would spawn something from it. This is a very important point to make, that we were not considered a serious part of Pye. Until the Monday morning meetings, which were fantastic! On Monday morning, there we were, the Disco department, as we used to call it. When record after record started going into the charts, into the Top 60, and Top 40. That started pissing off the mainstream people, because it was like, “Look at these upstarts, having hits with this kind of new music, this black music”. Even though some of the artists weren’t black, I call it black. So please forgive me when I use that terminology, I’m meaning music of black origin. Disco, House, Funk, Jazz, blah, blah, blah.

GW: Well, that’s what we called it back then, the black music scene, didn’t we?

MK: Exactly, Greg.

GW: At that point in time, as you say, there were very few black people in the industry. And, like yourself, coming from Indian heritage, you were probably out on your own in that respect. I can’t think of anybody else. Was there anybody else?

MK: No, I’m trying to rack my brain. In terms of the Indian side, zero! Now it’s always taken verbatim, in every company, you have the Indian accounting stereotype. But there was absolutely nobody in any label. It’s crazy! There was nobody.

GW: Yeah. I suppose you could say there was Biddu, who was around at that time doing his productions.

Biddu Orchestra

MK: I take it back. Thank you, Greg. You have an encyclopaedic mind! Biddu of course was Indian and he had his success, not only as an orchestra leader, with his own band, he had hits in the ’70s with writing and producing Carl Douglas and Tina Charles. He produced ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, one of the biggest records of all time. He also wrote and produced Tina Charles ‘I Love to Love’. And of course, the Biddu Orchestra.

GW: He did things like Jimmy James And The Vagabonds on Pye.

MK: On Pye. So he was one of the artists on Pye. And of course, we also had The Real Thing on Pye. They had success with Tony Hatch with their hits, ‘Can’t Get By Without You’…

GW: Oh no, it wasn’t, that was Ken Gold. I think Tony Hatch was involved with Sweet Sensation.

MK: Hang on, hang on, who wrote ‘You to Me are Everything’?

GW: The track’s producer, Ken Gold (with Micky Denne). Because they wrote everything on their own, previously to that, then they brought in Ken Gold. He wrote ‘You To Me Are Everything’, which became the number one hit. The follow up (‘Can’t Get By Without You’) was also Ken Gold, but everything else on the album, the Amoo’s had written.

MK: You are right. It was Ken Gold. I should know I was at Pye. Actuallly I started just after ‘You to Me Are Everything’.

The Real Thing

GW: Then the next album ‘4 From 8’, they insisted on it being all their own stuff, it kind of flopped. But they had ‘Children of the Ghetto’…

MK: Monstrous tune!

The Real Thing ‘Children Of The Ghetto’ (Pye Records, 1977)

GW: … which later, kind of, pointed back to what they were trying to do. But, obviously, The Real Thing were a proper example of what it was like to be a black band in the industry back then, when they were trying to do their own thing. Their very early singles were quite full-on, political almost. By the time of their success, they, themselves, felt pigeon-holed into Pop.

MK: But they weren’t, because if you look at the early black groups of the ‘70s, they were the palatable, digestible Pop/Soul movement. They were what the industry expected. The early performances of The Real Thing, on Top of the Pops, is what you expected. It wasn’t edgy. I love Chris and Eddie Amoo, sadly, we’ve now lost Eddie… I think it’s very pigeon-holed, but what they tried to do, to get out of that pigeon-hole, to be credible, was ‘Can You Feel The Force’ when they brought in this incredible remixer, John Luongo.

 John Luongo / The Real Thing ‘Can You Feel the Force’ (Pye Records, 1979)

GW: Yes, I speak to him now. You know, he’s still doing stuff. I think works in America, trying to get royalties back for people. So he works in that department.

MK: Ah, I get it. But again, there’s another artist, UK artist. This always goes hand-in-hand with The Real Thing. I’m trying to think… Who did ‘Sad Sweet Dreamer’?

GW: Yep, Sweet Sensation. It was kind of Pop/Soul, wasn’t it?

MK: Yeah.

Sweet Sensation

GW: It was quite sad, because Marcel King, the singer, he had this, kind of, young Michael Jackson voice, and it was a lovely, heartfelt record. It was a number one record. But it never worked out for him. He was supposed to record… do you remember David Parton did ‘Isn’t She Lovely’?

MK: Yes, absolutely.

GW: So you would have done, ‘Can You Feel the Force’ at Pye, wouldn’t you?

MK: The John Luongo version of ‘Can You Feel the Force’ was a very important moment, both in the UK, and my own history. Yes, I was label manager at Casablanca. Casablanca was no question, one of the most prolific and successful labels, I’m not going to ignore Salsoul, I’m not going to ignore Philly International. But Casablanca Records, what they were producing with people like Georgio Moroder, remixes or whatever. But with The Real Thing, we now had a UK band with this amazing remixer/producer, who created this tour de force, the work of art that ‘Can You Feel the Force’ was. It was mixed, not just for the Pop charts, but for the clubs.

The Real Thing ‘Can You Feel The Force’ (John Luongo 122 Mix)

GW:  Also what was nice about it was they wrote that themselves as well. So they did get a hit that they wrote. But yeah, for sure, that was a monster track and it held its own against those American records. There was also Heatwave, of course, an amalgamation of American and UK musicians. Rod Templeton was in Heatwave. So yeah, they were doing their thing.

Heatwave

GW: Yeah. Do you remember J.A.L.N. Band?

MK: Yes, I do.

GW: They had that hit in ’76 (‘Disco Music’), so they were quite ahead of their time, in a sense, in what they were doing. Weirdly, it was Pete Waterman that produced their first record and everything. He didn’t do ‘Disco Music’ , but he certainly did ‘Street Dance’, the Fatback Band cover, in ’75. So yeah, I suppose, at that point, it was just really bubbling. There were a lot of British artists having to take a more commercial route. But there were a few people coming through that were doing something a bit different, especially when Hi-Tension and Light of the World came along, because that defined the British Jazz-Funk direction in many respects.

MK: Light of the World was what year?

GW: Light of the World would have been ’79. ‘Swingin’.

MK: That Brit-Funk movement… incredible! It was like we had come to puberty, so to speak. We’d reached a point where we were doing the music as good as the Americans. Because up to that point, the records that were happening; the imports were king! What was happening in the States, and what was coming in here, definitely ruled the roost, in terms of what was being played in the clubs and on the radio. So the whole Brit-Funk movement changed that. Again, let’s not dial out that those early pioneers. They were trailblazers, that led the roads for the next wave, the Soul II Soul’s of this world.

GW: Yeah.

MK: Soul II Soul was probably wave two, or wave three, but they wouldn’t be here, they wouldn’t have had that success if the doors hadn’t been opened by Beggars & Co, Light of the World, The Real Thing, David Joseph.

GW: Freeez.

MK: Freeez, exactly!

GW: Lynx. Yeah, definitely, and I think that that was the culmination; Soul II Soul going in and topping the American charts, winning the Grammy. Because when you go back to the time of the late ’70s, as you’ll remember, people on the cutting edge side of the scene, were very snobby about British artists. It was like it wasn’t the real thing, it was all about the American artists. They put down British artists very easily. So for a British act to get played on those nights, you knew it was a great track. You knew because it had to stand up alongside the amazing American records. I think there was a British identity beginning to emerge, because Hi-Tension sounded different. I always think of Hi-Tension and Light of the World, their big influence being that Brass Construction album, that first one in ’75. It just set that idea up of these big groups with brass sections and things like that, and I think that was where they came in from, but they put their own twist on it. It’s fascinating!

Brass Construction ‘Brass Construction’, 1975

GW: Do you remember the film ‘British Hustle’?

MK: I remember. Yeah. I do [Laughs].

“British Hustle”, directed by Curtis Clark

GW: It’s a fascinating film because Greg Edwards was playing in that. You see in all the dancers from Crackers, although it was filmed at a club in Brixton (Clouds). Chris Hill was on there with the Gold Mine too. So obviously at this point, you’re at PRT and you’re putting out all these great releases.

MK: Yes, important point, Pye changes name to PRT. Precision Records and Tapes. It was Pye but for whatever reason, had new branding and became PRT.

GW: Yeah, and you were dealing with all these different labels, things like Casablanca with Donna Summer. Parliament were on Casablanca at the time, weren’t they?

MK: Parliament, Parlets, Brides Of Funkenstein, all of the George Clinton crew. Donna Summer and Patrick Juvet, and of course, the fledgling band, which the UK A&R thought would never happen… I actually put out a double a-side ‘On The One’ and ‘Cameosis’ from the group Cameo.

GW: Yeah. The Village People were on Casablanca as well. They were huge at the time.

MK: Of course, The Village People. We had Casablanca doing that kind of music, but they also had their funkier roots; The Mothership Connection. On one of the early Mothership Connection tours, it was really funny because, across the room from me were the Warner Brothers people. Why? Because they had Funkadelic. So they had the hit with ‘One Nation Under A Groove’. But we never had the hits at Pye, with Parliament’s Casablanca repertoire; we’re talking about the Horny Horns, Brides of Funkenstein, Parlet, Parliament, Funkadelic, George Clinton. Clinton was on Capitol/EMI, Funkadelic was Warner Brothers, but we didn’t have the big hit records. I remember we would all go into the backroom and we would laugh about it. It was like how would Bootsy and Clinton decide on who, or which label the track would be with? And our conclusion was whoever paid the most money. Why was Funkadelic’s ‘One Nation Under A Groove’ by Funkadelic? Why wasn’t it by Parliament? It’s the same band line-up. Think about it.

GW: Yeah, they were shrewd enough to split it and do deals with two labels. I suppose that’s what they were doing.

MK: Well, actually three labels. They had Capital/EMI, they had Warners and Casablanca, which of course, we handled. We had Buddha too, don’t forget; Norman Connors, Gladys Knight. We had Hi/Cream, Volt, Al Green, Ann Peebles, 20th Century, Gene Chandler, Barry White, Edwin Starr.

MK: It was an incredibly informative period. I was thrown in at the deep end, as a young guy, to all these labels, dealing with these huge, huge international artists that Pye were controlling. So that was amazing period in music, the likes of which probably will never happen again. I had a learning curve to deal with all these artists, managers, companies, labels, the politics, the PRs, the entourages arriving, getting a budget, putting the A grade artists at The Montcalm, a very nice hotel, just across the road from where Pye was, in Cumberland Place. So our Donna Summers of this world, the Al Greens, etc, all stayed in the beautiful suites at The Montcalm. Our second and third division would stay somewhere else [Laughs]. So this was a great period, from every side. Doing my expense account some months, I won’t name the artists, but doing my expense accounts… all of a sudden there’s £500 on drinks! Try to transpose 1978/79 to now, you know, £500 on drinks! We all know it wasn’t for drinks.

GW: Yeah [Laughs].

MK: PRT didn’t want to know. Artists wanted to do X or Y illegal substances and whatever, but it was the weirdest time. It was the weirdest time!

MK: I was also thrown in with the responsibility of creating our first label, Calibre. It was never enough to have these labels. I could see what was happening with the imports. I could see what’s happening on the dancefloor. So I persuaded Pye to create this Calibre label and sign all these imports, because I saw all those coming in. Nobody was going for them, and I could see these records, because I was clubbing it every night. I was clubbing probably Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I was living at Pye. I still had this bedsit, but I was staying at Pye, because on the sixth floor, they had the director’s suite. There was a shower and bedroom there, so I used to go back to Pye at night. The guards let me in, I’d use their shower and get changed. So guess who was there first in the morning at Pye? Morgan! Because I’d spent the night there. This became a typical thing. But I was producing hits. I was mainly the one who didn’t attend the Monday marketing meeting, but they forgave me after a few months, because I was delivering the hits. I was off the cuff, the way I was handling it. Success enables you to be slightly more of a maverick. I’m sure you understand this?

GW: Of course, and they’d encourage that within the business as well. They want that magic, and your enthusiasm. Around that time, that’s when I remember meeting you, when I came to PRT. I used to go around all the record companies, so I met you there, then. Very importantly, out of all the amazing labels you’ve mentioned, the label that most people will look at, from your time at Pye, is the New York label they licensed around that time, Sugar Hill.

MK: Which we’ll talk about in a minute, but remember we had other labels too. We had AVI, El Coco and we had Vanguard, Players Association. My god! the labels that we were controlling, an amazing amount of labels!

MK: Sugar Hill, though, Sugar Hill is a different story, a totally different story! We hadn’t got the Sugar Hill label yet and I was asked by Derrick Honey to go to the States to evaluate a potential label that Pye would sign. So I was sent out to the States to evaluate the music and this label.

GW: Was that your first time there?

MK: yes, my first time. Turning up in a Levi jean jacket, pair of Levi’s, trainers… A minus chill factor! I can remember the baggage people in New York, they’re called red caps or something, I remember them saying “are you crazy?”. One of them loaned me a coat. Pye put me up at the shittiest doss house called the Wellington Hotel in central downtown New York. I will never forget that. When I arrived at the Wellington, as I walked in, hookers, dealers, everything humanly possible was in that hotel! Apparently it still exists but has been upgraded, so it’s much nicer now. So Pye sent me out there to meet Joe Robinson, to evaluate if it’s worth signing and taking this label called Sugar Hill.

GW: So did you go to the New Jersey office to meet them?

MK: Absolutely. Englewood, New Jersey. So yes, I met Sylvia. I met the early Sugar Hill Gang, young people, rappers. They were all there in the studio. Something else which needs to be emphasized… we talk about fringe peoples, or colours, or races, or ethnicity. People have not acknowledged Sylvia Robinson. There needs to be a documentary on Sylvia Robinson.

Sylvia Robinson

GW: Yes.

MK: Sylvia Robinson was the wife of Joe Robinson and the label boss of Sugar Hill Records. She was instrumental in writing and producing records like ‘Rappers Delight’ and ‘The Message’. So important! Again, in a very male dominated industry. Sugar Hill very much was an urban, cutting edge version of Motown. I think that’s how they saw it; they had their own studios in Englewood. They had their own facilities, their own record label, and their own publisher. But they were urban, they were ‘street’. Joe and Sylvia did street music, and they knew it would be successful because it was authentic, it was raw, and it was from the street. That was what their M.O. was about; doing street music, for the love and for the purpose of what it was. They had seen what was happening; the kids toasting on street corners by these fires. Now it’s called rapping, rapping over beats. They saw this, but they wanted to put it on vinyl. So they put together an ensemble of artists. Look at all the records, the producers, the writers and musicians. They interacted on other each other’s records. Very much similar to the Motown story. So that was my first opportunity to go to New York, to go to Englewood, meet Sylvia and Joe, and to evaluate the label. Of course I raved on the phone! There’s many stories about how excited I was. I got so carried away… every language in the world, telling my bosses they’ve got to go with this! “This is monstrous! It is the music of the future! …Nothing like this before”. I was going crazy at the time, hearing ‘Rapper’s Delight’ and the Sugarhill Gang in the studio!

GW: By the way, as far as I’m aware, there’s film being made about Sylvia. In my book, Discotheque Archives, I have Sugar Hill as a classic label, but I also have All Platinum, which was again, Sylvia and Joe Robinson.

MK: Absolutely. On All Platinum they had groups like Positive Force.

GW: Well Positive Force crosses over. Positive Force was released on one of the All Platinum labels…

MK: Turbo.

GW: Turbo. But then they switched the track to Sugar Hill. So it was almost that they’d made the decision at that point to leave the All Platinum stuff behind and to move forward with Sugar Hill. I mean, Sylvia herself had a hit single in the late 50s, Mickey and Sylvia, you know?

Mickey & Sylvia ‘Love Is Strange’

MK: Yeah, she was an artist in her own right. How funny I was watching on YouTube her, I think on Ed Sullivan or something, a rendition of ‘Pillow Talk’. Young, beautiful, but maybe naive.

Sylvia ‘Pillow Talk’

MK: But there’s no question, she became a pivotal executive in the record industry. But no one talks about her.

GW: I think it will come through. I mean, they were notorious in terms of their dealings. You didn’t mess with the Robinsons, did you? In the end, the way Sugar Hill came to an end was quite sad. It was all around ‘White Lines’ – that they’d taken ‘Liquid Liquid’ by Cavern, as the backing for it and they hadn’t credited it. It ended up bringing down both companies. Two of the really important New York labels, for different reasons. 99 Records which was doing all the No Wave stuff, they just went under as a result of the court case. It was sad that it came to that conclusion but, like you say, at the point you visit them, it was the beginning of the journey for Sugar Hill; ‘Rapper’s Delight’ was about to be this massive global phenomenon.

The Sugarhill Gang ‘Rapper’s Delight’, 1979

MK: I get that. I find it humbling that just on that first meeting, Joe… anyone who didn’t know Joe Robinson, think of George Foreman, but probably bigger. He was a man of physical stature, but intelligent, with that business acumen. He was a businessman. He was the one who decided, against everyone’s advice, that they would not sell ‘Rapper’s Delight’ as a 7 ” single. He made the decision that they would only sell it as a 12″ single, because he had done the dollar work, 77 cents compared to $2, blah, blah, blah. So he did one million 12″ singles with ‘Rappers Delight’. When he came to the UK, I had to meet him at the airport, I was with him all the time at the Montcalm. I was the label manager, but also very much his go-to, because he knew that I was responsible for the whole Pye deal coming to Europe, that I understood the music and understood it’s significance, but that I also loved it as a punter. That’s something, if I ever lose, Greg, I will stop. If I stop hearing something… I heard something last week from Rocky Jones on DJ International. People don’t realize how important Street Sounds was to the House movement. And I went crazy. I was weeing myself, jumping around the living room. If I ever lose that buzz when I hear something great, that’s when I’ll stop. But, when I heard one after the other; when I heard ‘Rapper’s Delight’, when I heard Positive Force ‘We Got the Funk’. Oh, my God! Can you imagine?

GW: Yeah. And then, of course, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five was just bubbling at that point. They hadn’t hit their stride at that point. But I remember coming to see you at PRT… I used to come to see all the record company people, because I was getting all the records sent to me. I was on all the mailing lists. But, if you made that journey up to London, you could come away with an armful of albums, which weren’t being mailed out.

MK: Exactly, exactly. Because it was like, “Here, take this, take this, take this white label promo”. Yourself and one or two others used to do that on a regular basis, they used to come up into the room, I’d be going crazy, doing whatever, and it would be “By the way, this has just come in on import, it arrived on courier”. Again, no digital files, we relied on good old couriers. We’d get our courier packages two or three times a week. We’d get our vinyls, our American imports coming in, so if you were opportune to come in on that particular time, we would have all these records lying around that came from the American labels. Then from the importers, every Friday; City Sounds, Bluebird, Groove… I’d go to each of the shops, because they all had different importers supplying them. I would go, have my collection of records to pick up. I used to tell them “Just put everything new into a bag and I’ll collect it”. So I’d come back with my records… I can’t explain to you the excitement. I’d put one on after the other and go “I want to get this! I want to pick this up.” The beauty of it was, I would look at the label and I’d call an American attorney called Alan Skeenan, who was very instrumental in helping me. He became very successful at dealing with street labels, because, again, Street Sounds was licensing a lot of products. Alan was instrumental in bringing the artists over, in terms of the contractual negotiations for UK Fresh in ’86. So he would help me find these people. Rochelle Kern was another American attorney, they’d help me find these people. If the labels didn’t have their phone number on, I’d go to the distributor. The distributors didn’t mind because they were handling the distribution Tri-state, and they weren’t doing big units. Another point to mention, Greg, was that we ended up selling invariably many more thousands of records in Europe, than they sold themselves in America. Something that people need to understand, it sounds crazy! They were selling 1000, 5000, 10,000 in the Tri-state area. They would license it to Pye, or to one of my companies, and we would sell tens of thousands, because the European market was much more open to dance music. American radio wouldn’t touch it. Another massive point to understand is they could never get radio play. They would not get radio play of black records. So licensing it to this crazy guy from England, who is offering us money. “He’s offering us money? And he’s gonna release it too? He must be crazy! We’ve only a few thousand here in America…”. So that was the opinion. I know, it sounds insane, but that was the opinion; “This guy wants to release it. Wow! Great for us. But he’s offering us money, and royalties!”. So for them it was a win-win situation. That’s how we got the licensing in the late ’70s and the early ’80s.

GW: Yeah. One last thing I want to ask you about PRT is… Tell me about ‘Calibre Cuts’, which was a bizarre track. It was kind of a medley track. There was all sorts of stuff on there. In many ways, it was very much an early mix track.

MK: Thank you, Greg [Laughs], you’re the first person to mention that. Calibre Cuts was me; 100% Morgan Khan, with quarter-inch tape, cutting it together. Sometimes using two tape machines and taping onto a third machine. I used the material that we had control of. At that stage, the licensing department didn’t even think about doing a mix record, even though they had the licensing rights. So I had my little Revox at night. By the way, it also went Pop. It charted too. I think it’s been considered the first cut up, mixed mix that went Pop.

 

‘Calibre Cuts’ 7 inch sleeve

GW: Yeah, it’s got to be, in a sense (bar bootlegs out of NYC). I’m trying to think of anything. I mean, there were obviously the promo mixes… The ones Greg Lynn did at CBS, and Fred did some through WEA, which were just straight edits, from one track into the other. But what you did with that, it was more akin to, I don’t know, I was going to say Chris Hill doing ‘Renta Santa’, where it was all sorts of different records thrown into one. But he did a voiceover. They were called ‘break in records’. It goes back to an American called Dickie Goodman. I can also think of West End putting out something similar with Tony Humphries, which was just that a kind of vibe, but that was later down the line. So where did that idea come from?

MK: I know it sounds crazy. I, kind of, had a vision that the future of club-land would be mixed, would be different records that are mixed together with a flow. I’m sure anyone listening to Calibre Cuts will say what retarded editing and mixing. This is me, Morgan, with a razor blade, cutting and splicing together quarter inch tape, sometimes at more of an angle to get a little bit of a mix, that is what I was doing. But I saw that clubland would want something where you had a continuous flow. I saw it way back and I could see this being the future path of DJing; the mix DJ. So I wanted to put something together. I was the label manager, so I decided to put it out. Unbeknownst to us, it sold. I can’t remember what number it went into on the charts, not particularly high. But it went into the Pop charts as a kind of mixed record. Because when you heard it… it’s done badly, it’s done terribly badly compared to… I mean, Greg, you’d listen to it and you wouldn’t even pee on it now. [Laughter] But I could see it being the future route, there were no mix DJs at the time. There was no one doing this at the time, and I thought let me do a record the way I wanted to hear it in a club.

‘Calibre Cuts’, special 3 section 12 inch single. Pressed only on side A.

GW: So how aware were you of what was going on in the New York clubs? When you went up to Sugar Hill, did you check out the club scene in New York or anything?

MK: Not the first trip. But afterwards, we’re talking about 1980. I was just about to leave Pye to form my first label, R&B Records. Before that I had, of course, Excaliber, because I wanted to piss Pye off after I left Pye. They had Calibre, I created Excaliber.

GW: Okay, I didn’t realize that! [Laughs]

MK: There were hundreds of imports on Excaliber. We had so many hits. Excaliber was my label to piss off Pye.

GW: Okay, so what happened with Pye? What caused you to leave?

MK: It’s very simple. I was coming to Pye’s offices one night. I was always there late at night. They never complained about me bringing young ladies and spending the night there, or bringing my friends back from the clubs and playing music ‘til four in the morning. But I brought back band members from a band called Osibisa.

GW: Oh, yes.

MK: They wouldn’t let me in and they wouldn’t have the band in. The security guards had an issue. It was like “hang on!” Between me and you, Greg, I had brought in so many people before then. We had partied in the offices until five or six in the morning. We had taken the alcohol from the director’s room and… I put it back. But it all started because there was three or four members of Osibisa. Black gentleman, they wouldn’t let us in…

GW: Right.

Osibisa

MK: …and I could not believe this. It was absolute racism. The next day I saw Dave McAleer, my managing director… “Dave, I need and have to have an apology. What happened was completely wrong!”. Then they said “You shouldn’t be here, with people at night”. That was their default kind of thing. I was like “For fuck sake! I’ve been doing this for all my time with Pye”. They wouldn’t retract, they wouldn’t do anything. So I handed my resignation in to Madeline Hawkyard and to Dave. They were sad to see me go, because we’d had hits. I remember walking out of there with a little box of my personal belongings. Sitting at home in Camden, a small little place again, and I’m thinking I’ve got £20 in my bank account. I had nothing! and I’d just quit. But unbeknownst to me, a day or two later, I’d get a call from Elliot Cohen from Red Bus Records, to fund a new label… “Do what you want, Morgan. Have free A&R control, because we know you’re a hitmaker”.

GW: Let’s get back to that shortly. But with Osibisa coming back to the offices, what must be said is that they were extremely racist times back then. So I would imagine, in terms of what you had to deal with, yourself, on a day-to-day level… I remember you once saying, that you’d experienced racism, even from people within the club community, from people on these scenes, as well as the industry?

MK: Hugely! I won’t say too much, because some parties have either passed away, and they can’t defend themselves. But I was never accepted. I remember this story like it was yesterday, of being brought into a green room and being told that I had to make a choice between us or them. Meaning, I had to align myself with this particular group of DJs, or the independents. I remember turning around and saying “Fuck off!” You know, Steve Walsh, Froggy, Greg; these people are my friends. I’m not gonna align myself with those other people. But I knew where it stemmed from. I’d heard the rumours, I heard the conversations. The jokes weren’t funny. I laughed at the time, but they weren’t funny. We’re in the green room again and it’s [in a faux Indian accent] “We have no curry masala for you, Morgan. We want to curry masala”. I say “No, it’s okay, I’ll have the sausage rolls”, while I’m thinking “You ignorant motherfuckers!”. I remember how racist it was at that time, completely. But America was a breath of fresh air! There were a few black labels, especially in late ’70s, early ’80s, with the whole Electro scene, which we’re about to talk about. But I was also dealing with Salsoul Records.

MK: Salsoul’s initial releases were aimed at the Latino market, which was huge! But when I hit America, it was the strangest thing, and I’ll never forget this… With the Jewish-white industry… 80% of the music industry was Jewish White, and I’m not being racist, I’m just stating facts… With record labels, you had an Italian mafia side. You had a Jewish mafia. And you had a Black mafia. I mean, in terms of where the money came from. So it was very much fragmented; you had black New York, you had Latino New York, and you had the white New Yorkers. You’d never cross from one to the other. But, because I was Indian and maybe not particularly dark coloured, I was always considered by the white label bosses as, kind of white-ish, so they accepted me. With the Latino label Salsoul, when I walked down the street with Glen La Russo, people would speak to me in Spanish. You know Glen La Russo and the Cayre brothers, of Salsoul, an incredible label! A Historic label that brought us amazing, amazing music! So when I walked down the road in America and New York, they thought I was Latino, because of my colour. Yet the black labels considered me a brother. So in the States, I had the reverse of the UK, even though the UK was much more open, racially, than America. In terms of the record industry, I was accepted more wholly in America. It was a very strange and different situation.

GW: Yes, very. Tell me about Red Bus Record.

MK: So I was headhunted by Red Bus. Why they had hunted me is an important story. Their claim to fame was Mungo Jerry’s ‘In the Summertime’. They were the publisher of it, way back. They had had a record when I was at Pye by Kelly Marie called ‘Feels Like I’m in Love’. But it never happened. I was the one who kept pushing it and pushing it in clubland. Radio had told us to fuck off and die. But I started pushing it and all of a sudden, up north, in Scotland (where Marie was from), we had the first reports back saying “This record is filling the dance floors!”, so I kept pushing it and sending it out to more DJs. The record broke in Scotland and all of a sudden, on its 15th release (I’m exaggerating), months and months later, Kelly Marie’s ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’ was being played on Radio 1. It went to number one, nationally.

GW: Yes.

MK: So it went to number one and Red Bus never forgot that I was the person who pushed it and gave them a number one single. So they’d heard that I’d left Pye, then I got a phonecall “Please come and talk to us. We will fund you what you want for your own label”. So that’s how I got into bed with Red Bus Records. I then created R&B Records, the logo slogan was “It’s got to be about the product”.

GW: Did PRT distribute R&B Records?

MK: Yes, they did [Laughter].

GW: So you’ve moved now. You’ve jumped ship. You’ve gone from PRT and you’re in a great situation, now that you’ve got your own label. Tell me how R&B evolved as a label and how you went about signing your artists, because certainly with Imagination, you were about to have massive success with the label.

MK: Until that stage, I’d had a hit single with every first release, with Calibre and my labels at Pye. So I wanted to sustain the same kind of thing. I was building this reputation. So when I went to R&B I said, “There’s two sides; I want to do home-grown talent, and I also want to carry on with the import side”. With homegrown talent, it takes time and development, processes which don’t exist these days. But I knew I had to fire my other side, which was picking up hot imports. There was nothing like the buzz of going into Groove on a Friday, finding a record, calling the Americans, doing a label deal, getting the quarter inches or multitrack sent over by courier, then running with it. A great buzz! So I created R & B records for my home talent, and Excaliber for my imports, because I wanted to carry on doing what I’d done with Calibre at Pye. The first Excalbre record, EXCL101, (The Love Symphony Orchestra ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’ / Eastside Connection ‘You’re So Right For Me’). Then on the on the UK side, I had R&B records. Red Bus Records was a publisher, but they had their own studio, doing mainly library music. They had two very talented people working there, but all they were doing, literally day after day, was making library music; adverts, that kind of stuff. The gentlemen’s names were Tony Swain and Steve Jolley, who would become so successful, and so important in the music industry, after I discovered their true talents. So I met with these two guys, and I heard some of their melodies. I liked their melodies. I really liked their melodies! But they had no idea what Dance Music was. I don’t think their tracks even had a drum tracks in them. They had no idea. I then started my A&R recruitment, where I wanted to find black artists, groups, whatever. So I started A&Ring people. I A&R’d Leee John, who of course became the vocalist in Imagination. Then Errol (Kennedy) and Ashley (Ingram) became involved. They had ideas for their songs, but I didn’t really feel what they were doing, they weren’t great. I remember hearing the melodic melodies of Swain and Jolley, but again, just melodies, so far removed. But my forte is putting people together; it’s hearing a producer, a musician, a writer, an artist, and pulling them all together. That’s the important side; that chemistry, that mix. Cake ingredients mean nothing until you create the Betty Crocker cake, so to speak. So I put them together and we started working on ‘Body Talk’; lyrics, with Leee, the melodies were more Swain and Jolley. The beats, the music, the drum tracks, I completely worked alongside Swain and Jolley on all that. Every time it was like, “No, you can’t do that. It’s not Pop”. My reply was always “Fuck Pop! Screw it! Do it this way. We’re doing it this way!”. I was pushing and I was adamant… If you listen very carefully to ‘Body Talk’, you should listen to it with headphones… On the 12″ version, there’s a break, if you listen to it, It jumps, I think, to around 9DB. You can’t do that these days. Because what I did, I was so carried away, we did fly-on-the-mix, there was no SSL (Solid State Logic). There was no recording and playback. It was fly-on-the-mix. I got so into the track, vibing, I can remember pushing the kick right to the top of the mixer, literally while I was dancing to it. And they were like “No you can’t do that!”. It was completely in the red. I remember screaming “Don’t fucking touch it. It’s brilliant! It’s there. It’s grooving!”. “No we need to bring it back. Once you raise it, you can’t bring it back down again”. I was pushing the hats too. The track started off nothing like the way it turned out to be. But I knew what we had to emulate; We had to be different, to not just be American sounding, but better, sonically. I wasn’t trying to go for an American sound. If you listen to ‘Body Talk’, or ‘In and Out of Love’, it wasn’t an American sound, it was our sound. It was a UK sound. The acoustics, so to speak, the sonics, stood up to any record on the dance floor coming in from America. As a matter of fact, more so! That was important to me!

GW: I remember when it came through on the white label, it’s a really down-tempo track and it was very unique sounding. It had a lot of bottom end. So, like you say, it stood up to the American stuff. I remember you brought Imagination up to Wigan Pier, where I was. I don’t think I was at Legend at the time. So you probably went on to Legend the next night?

MK: Yes.

GW: That track was absolutely huge on the Jazz-Funk scene! and it broke from there. This is what you were really good at, you understood where the clubs were, up and down the country; who the people were that would get behind and support this music. You were also very aware of listening to what they were playing, things that you could pick up on. So you were there at the clubs, you also continued that by bringing the artists up. That’s how we built our relationship, which was great.

Greg Wilson at Wigan Pier with R&B signings, Savanna

MK: Bringing them to the clubs doing live PAs . We actually did stints of PAs, I remember one of the whole PA circuits, we did a little later on with Steve Walsh. We got Steve to take us around the country, taking the artists to the clubs, because we had to have that club support. The clubs would then feed back to more mainstream and hopefully we’d get the specialist local radio on board, so more people would hear it. Going back to ‘Body Talk’, the person who I would say was responsible for breaking that on daytime radio was Peter Young, no question. Peter Young was the first person on Capital Radio on a Saturday afternoon, who actually got the record, he put it on. I remember someone calling me and saying, “Turn on the fucking radio, Morgan, ‘Body Talk’ is on!” Peter Young kept playing it on Capital Radio. So we’d done the club circuit, we were very flamboyant, if you remember that; another important thing was the look. I knew it just wasn’t about the music, it was the whole package. Again, forward thinking, imagery is very important. You remember the first appearance of Imagination, ‘Body Talk’, the white piano, the pseudo gay, almost Greek god, Roman setup, kind of thing. They were not gay, they were absolute heterosexual males, so to speak. But it had to be the show. It had to be the look. Actually, another story… TV, I won’t say who it was at Radio 1 and Top of the Pops, they told us tone it down. They called me in to a backroom and said, “If you don’t tone it down, they won’t be on Top of the Pops” Because they did not like what we were doing. They did not like our first Top of the Pops appearance. I remember Oliver Smallmead, who was a radio plugger at the time and the PRT team guys saying, “Morgan, we’re here, it doesn’t matter just bring it down a little bit” Meaning where they touch themselves, that kind of thing. So they had me to tone it down. But you know, it kept going up the charts. That Top of the Pops appearance broke everything. I mean, oh my god! The record sales! We had Damont who was pressing our records. Damont was a pressing plant in Hayes, they were pressing our records. I actually went down after the Top of the Pops on Thursday night. On Friday, the orders were just crazy! Woolworths and the other major wholesalers, I actually went down there with a couple of members of staff and we helped packing and putting the 7″ records into bags. The demand was so incredible off that Top of the Pops appearance.

Imagination ‘Body Talk’ on Top of the Pops, 1981

GW: Yeah. It was a huge track. In fact, my memory of it now is that the subsequent Imagination records didn’t get played so much on the upfront scene because they’d gone so big. They were already a massive commercial force. As with the likes Michael Jackson and Shalimar, these kinds of acts weren’t played at the specialist nights because they were churning out Pop hits. Imagination immediately went over into that category. The follow up they did was ‘In and Out of Love’, that was the next single. Then they did ‘Just An Illusion’, which was a huge Pop record. ‘Flashback’ was another hit too. So they very quickly crossed over as a Pop act. What’s interesting now, when we look back over the American and New York history, was just how big they were in the clubs in New York, with all those classic DJs, like Larry Levan. I think during that period, the Americans showed more respect to UK Dance artists than we did in the UK.

MK: Correct. Again, having the hits, they weren’t considered serious. They weren’t given that respect, you’re absolutely right, Greg. They didn’t have that respect. Black music then was considered ‘singles’ music, when one-off artists would come along. I don’t think, until that stage… I’m trying to think of the album… In terms of black UK artists, who’d had a hit album? Not a single. By the end of ’81, who’d had a hit UK Pop album?

GW: Well there were two. The first one was Linx. Linx had a hit album in ’81 . Then Freeez had a hit album.

Linx ‘Intuition’ / Freeez ‘Southern Freez’

GW: I think at that point, it’s like what you were talking about before; someone like Fred Dove, that he was always just the ‘club promotions’ guy, when he could have been so much more. The club promotions departments, like you were talking about with PRT, were the poor relation. They were probably given the smallest budgets, the smallest office, and they got on with it. But they were creating all these hits and the record companies were starting to wake up to it. I think when you get into that early ’80s period, you were already on that trajectory. You understood what was around the corner, that’s what you were doing with R&B. But I think once they saw these albums go into the top 20, the business, in general, changed. What was about to happen, in 1981/82, was that Dance music A&R departments were starting to emerge within the record companies. They were bringing in A&R departments, which again, is what you were a forerunner of, with what you’d been doing those past few years. So it changed, you then had people working in club promotions, people like Jeff Young and Pete Tong, coming through into the music business, being able to sign records, rather than just mail-out. I think it changed all that for Dance music.

MK: I think they were later. I don’t think that was ’81-’82. They were later down the line.

GW: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. They were the ones who then… off the back of Linx, Freeez, Imagination, and those successes, the record companies started to cultivate, not just Dance Music departments for mailing out to DJs and promoting the records, but also licensing and releasing the stuff themselves. I think it changed the business around, with the success of the British acts in the early 80s.

MK: No, I definitely get that. But remember at the time, even during the Imagination period, the industry – music wise, genre wise, was very static. Yes, we had Brit-Funk and the UK talent that was having hits. But the music, as a whole, was still very Soul… Call it Soul-Dance or Soul-Jazz and Jazz-Funk. We’d had ‘Rapper’s Delight’… Everyone considered ‘Rapper’s Delight’ as a novelty record…

GW: Yes, of course.

MK: Again, everyone had considered it that. They never would have believed, if you’d said “Bet your house that this form of music, later called Hip Hop, would become THE music of future generations, and the Pop music of today” no one would bet their house. I knew it was great. I knew it was incredibly innovative. But I did not know the longevity. Nobody knew the longevity. After ‘Rapper’s Delight’, Sugar Hill were… I’m trying to think now…. When did Profile come? When did Tommy Boy come?

GW: Well, Profile started in ‘81. Tommy Boy had ‘Jazzy Sensation’ in ’81, but “Planet Rock” came in ’82. That’s when it all kicked in.

MK: Exactly. 1981 -’82 is when this new wave, this new thing started happening; The new entrepreneurs or mavericks in America. Remember, you had Enjoy, Profile, Tommy Boy and Vintertainment. You had all of these young guys in America, seeing what was happening on the street, trying to capture a snapshot of what was happening on the street on vinyl. They were putting out all these records. Let’s not forget Sleeping Bag and Fresh.

MK: So all of these labels were doing what they were doing. But here’s a great caveat; again, there was no one this side of the pond, European wise, that was seeing what was happening out there. These imports were coming in and they were selling in their zero figures, picking up a few hundred sales maybe. I was seeing this happening at the tail-end of my time at Red Bus. If you were to ask me, why did my Red Bus period end? It’s a very simple story, I was the Managing Director, 50% owner of the company and I dared to ask the question, how much have we earned? I should never have asked that question. I didn’t get the answer that I wanted. I then walked out, literally walked out of that building. I was living in a one bedroom semi, a crap piece of shit, while having number one records, selling in their hundreds of thousands, and earning £50 a week!

GW: Yeah.

MK: I mean, there had to be some justice, somewhere down the line. So I remember walking out. I won’t go into the legalities, they took a couple of years to sort out. But again, when I walked out, because of my reputation, because of what I had done, the noise on the street was about Morgan Khan, I was then headhunted by then CBS, they became Sony. CBS Records wanted me to come in and bring an Imprint label to them, I’d have free hand. Marcel Augustine was at the helm, a genius man! an Unbelievable A&R executive, who changed the shape of the music industry, in terms of the majors. He was at CBS, then he was at Polygram, where he changed them into the tour de force they are right now. He saw my value. Then I created my first Morgan Khan 100% owned label, called Streetwave.

GW: So you set up Streetwave through CBS?

MK: Correct. I was given a bunch of money and I started my little office in East Acton, at 1 Haven Green. That was the birth of the Streetwave and Street Sounds story. Streetwave was the artist label. Again, my first artists, my first success, why we had to run, not walk, even before the paper had been signed or dried; I’d already found and started working with Alton Edwards when we had the monster record, ‘I Just Wanna Spend Some Time With You’.

Alton Edwards ‘I Just Wanna (Spend Some Time With You) 12” Extended Version

MK: So again, R&B had its first hit single with ‘Body Talk’ going top 10, and it was the same with Streetwave. The first release… as a matter of fact, and those who are lucky enough, if they look at the very first pressings, and you probably have it, it has the Epic label with the word Street Sounds overprinted on the left. Epic, of course, was the label of Michael Jackson then. So we hadn’t even had the time to do the labels. I started buzzing the record and it exploded! So we had to rush and run with the release and, of course, it was a top 20 record. What a way to launch my Imprint, Streetwave label at CBS!

Alton Edwards on Top of the Pops

GW: Yeah. You our intention was to create a, kind of, British Motown set up, in Acton?

MK: Correct.

GW: It started well, but you didn’t have the subsequent success. The Patrick Boothe record did alright, didn’t it?

MK: Not in relation to the success of Alton Edwards. Again, because I don’t think the infrastructure was in place. I also probably take blame because my interest started being focused much more… There is an EP I released. A very important EP that I released on Streetwave. Very few people know about it. Of course, Greg, you will. It was a very important, pivotal moment in my life, was an EP called Street Noise.

Street Noise Vol.1 Cassette J-card

MK: Street Noise was the forerunner of the Street Sounds compilations. Street Noise was an EP of import tracks that I’d put on to an EP/album. That was the concept. I didn’t have an import label on Streetwave, but the imports were all coming in, so I put them out on the Street Noise EP, on Streetwave. It was effectively the forerunner of the first Street Sounds album; hot imports on one record. I was as excited by that. Maybe I was impatient. I was very impatient, at times, with artists who did not see the bigger picture. But sometimes I knew what had to be done. Alton Edwards’ story had an effect that, because we had a massive record with ‘I Just Wanna Spend (Some Time With You)’. Unfortunately, the management did not honour the agreement that we had, that caused problems and delayed things. Every time that we ran with another record, the momentum had been lost. I was getting fed up of this story. Even though my relationship at Red Bus and with Imagination… it wasn’t Imagination’s problem, it was my issue with my co-directors and shareholders. It was like, “God, it takes forever! it’s taking forever to do!” Whereas the American imports were about flying to the states, picking up an import, licensing it and getting it on the street. It was that ‘young buck’ thing that I still had. I still hadn’t got the thing about fully developing and taking some time. I needed something to occupy me during that taking my time period. So that is the reason why I then created Streetwave, very quickly in ’82. I was still at CBS, but it wasn’t going well; They wanted me to focus on long-term artist development and on longer term projects. We parted company mutually. Talking of nepotism, I went back to Pye [laughs]. I said, “I have a new label, Streetwave”. I’d taken Streetwave from CBS and I wanted to put it through Pye. I wanted to create a compilation company also. So I went back to Pye with my new labels.

GW: I was just thinking back to Imagination and probably around the time that you went from R&B Records to setting up your own company. We won a competition with R&B for an Imagination remix. I did it with Paul Rae. I was supposed to get a gold disc, but I never got the gold disc from you. I remember speaking to…

MK: Sue them…

GW: [Laughs] It must be somewhere though, because I remember Steve Walsh telling me at one point that he had the gold disc in his house and he was gonna give it to me, then I didn’t see him again, as he passed away a few years later. So yeah, my Imagination mix with Paul Rae, we never got our gold disk then Morgan, so I’m gonna have to make an official complaint, back in time.

MK: [Laughs]

GW: So, then you start Streets Sounds. What you do with Street Sounds is a bit of a revelation, because you have a specialist scene that’s moved on from the Jazz-Funk scene, when we hadn’t quite hit the Electro-Funk wave of music that was about to arrive, but you start releasing on Street Sounds, which is a more soulful, Boogie type, Disco-Funk collection of imported music. But what you’re doing is offering people maybe 7, 8 or 9 tracks for the for the price of one import 12″.

MK: Correct.

GW: And then you’re getting them really quickly to the streets.

MK: Correct.

GW: You got to a point where you’ve put out the Street Noise EP, which is the prototype for an album series that’s going to have phenomenal success, both with the original Street Sounds compilations and then the Street Sounds Electro series, which we’ll get into later. But with regards to Street Sounds and your success there, I’m not sure if the first album was a hit album, but certainly it started to become a regular series of hit albums in the charts. I think some people don’t properly understand that you were selling against all the major artists of the time, and probably punching above your weight.

MK: Way above, Greg! Punching waaay above! flyweight to heavyweight. Apart from BMG at first, the majors didn’t want me involved. They didn’t understand the concept, they couldn’t get it in their heads. They just did not understand it. At one particular stage, across the series, remember there wasn’t just one, there was The Anthems, The Artist Series, The Rare Groove, The Jazz-Funk, Jazz Juice. We brought many people into the industry; Street Sounds kind of discovered a lot of people. With Jazz Juice, Gilles Peterson, a fledgling teenager, had done nothing before, then look where Gilles Peterson’s career went!

Gilles Peterson

MK: Many people got involved, then they went on to establish themselves in their own right, as producers, mixers, record company bosses, artists, whatsoever the case may be. But yeah, the first album I’d say was 1982, that was the main Street Sounds, reflecting what was happening in your general club.

GW: Can you remember how well that did, the first Street Sounds?

MK: Okay, with 2, 3, and 4, the sales figures just went through the roof! As the series went on, because it was new, wholesalers didn’t understand it. Street Sounds number 1 came, “Okay, so who is this?” Well, it’s Raw Silk and blah blah, and blah blah. ‘The Message’, or whatever. All these tracks are happening in the clubs. But they didn’t get that. Imagine going to the wholesalers, imagine going to Woolworths trying to explain this. Who got it was Our Price. They got it so much that within two or three years we had our own racking. Our Price had the Street Sounds section because we were so prolific with the terminology of releases; the different series’. So Street Sounds had its own section across the country. But the majors, Woolworths or wherever, they didn’t get the first album, but they got it by number 2, number 3, and as the series progressed. They were buying in the thousands because they saw the albums coming in and going out, because the kids could have a snapshot of everything that was happening in clubland. But, as with anything, it’s not necessarily the first person who discovers the cure for something, or the innovation, it’s often the next wave of people to do it. So Street Sounds 1 did okay, it made some money and I could see this was definitely an ongoing thing, because I could see from the independent stores, wow! With a lot of pissed off shops… I’ve never told this story… There were three or four importers, probably more, who didn’t speak to me. They refused to order the album. You know, why, Greg? Because they were stuck with the 12″ singles and imports and they couldn’t move or shift them. And as the series became more upfront, literally, as an import came in, we would license it within a week or two, press it in one day, and then get it on the street within two or three weeks. After albums 2 or 3, I was actually getting acetates and pre-release stuff. So I was releasing even before the States! So the importers, the shops, were thinking fuck this! They were getting $8 to- $10 a 12″, now no one was buying them because they’re buying the Street Sounds albums.

Street Sounds Edition 1

GW: Yeah, exactly. I suppose with any new innovation, there will be certain people where it clashes with their business model.

MK: Of course, as you point out so wisely, no matter what the innovation, technology, energies… When the combustion engine took over from steam, how many businesses went under, or had to change or adapt? The whole digital era, we’ve seen a whole new raft of industries grow. This was as groundbreaking; these albums changed the music industry. People don’t seem to realise, not only in terms of making an affordable product of a credible happening, the records were alive, happening and buzzing in the clubs. The label was A&Ring; it was actually introducing and bringing in a brand new scene that would become the prolific mainstream music for the next 30 years; Hip Hop, Electro, yeah, it’s unbelievable. Greg, if someone told you in ’82 or ’83, that fast forward 40 years, THE major form of music would be Hip Hop, would do you believe that?

GW: No. Absolutely. Going back to the time of ‘Rapper’s Delight’, you mentioned a track… I was DJing at Legend and Wigan Pier then, those were the big nights up north, when this new electronic sound was starting to come through, bit by bit. So you mentioned ‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, which had that sound… I remember later having an argument with an American, who said “No, it’s Hip Hop, it’s Hip Hop!” I said, yeah, but we didn’t know what Hip Hop was at the time. That term wasn’t coined until later. What we called it was Electro-Funk. And that track was an example; a drum machine backing, and it had electronic sounds. Rap came of age with ‘The Message’. So from the novelty of Rapper’s Delight and a few other tracks that followed, like ‘The Breaks’ by Kurtis Blow, now it was serious! It was social commentary. It was then on a different level!

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five ‘The Message’, Sugarhill Records

MK: It was a message in the music. It was social commentary on ‘The Message’, and subsequent Hip Hop tracks. It wasn’t a “Smack my ass, bitch” kind of thing. It wasn’t that throw away bubblegum garbarge. The social commentary was effectively about their lives. It was almost an aligning of the planets… That rarely happens, probably never again… with technology. The 808 drum machine; without that technology, without that innovation… I’m sure in a parallel universe, Hip Hop would have happened. But can you imagine Hip Hop without the 808?

GW: It was the Electro that brought the Hip Hop through, from a UK perspective. Probably a US perspective too, in certain respects, with things like ‘Planet Rock’ and utilizing rappers on Electro tracks. This is where it broke through. From my side, playing Electro in ’82, it was something that got me in a bit of trouble, in terms of Electro causing a schism within the scene, because other DJs didn’t want to be playing it, but now they were being asked for it. The record shop Spin Inn, although they sold Electro, they made no qualms that they didn’t like it. Frank Elson in Blues and Soul magazine wouldn’t even write the word, he’d asterisk it. So I was getting all this flak from my contemporaries, people I respected in the industry, who were telling me that I was ruining and polluting the scene by playing this “electronic garbage”, as they were seeing it. My take on it, at the time, was, it was very uncomfortable to be singled out and to have what you felt was everyone was against this. Obviously in London, the Funk Mafia didn’t go for it, those DJs kind of ignored the Electro, so it was only happening more in a marginal sense. Whereas what we were doing in the north, it was going out on Piccadilly Radio, which was the big station, so there’s this music was coming through. So it was very awkward at first, but it was only when I realized that all the people that criticized this music, were what I considered at that time to be middle-aged white people. They were saying what they thought black music should be. Whereas I was looking at the kids in the clubs and saying this is what they’re into.

MK: Its where it was at, and what they wanted, it was organically coming down on the street. You speak about a middle-aged white mentality, that was the mentality. You know, my party piece story is; going back to ’79, taking the acetate for Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ to a particular weekend, giving it to a particular DJ, him putting it on, headphone on one side, one side off, moves his head, head stopped, looks at me, picks up the acetate… it’s a heavy, very heavy, lead-based record! He frisbeed it back and it cut my head! yes, my head! and he says quote, unquote “Why you play me these niggers talking over ‘Good Times?’”

GW: Yeah. And that’s from somebody within the scene?

MK: There wasn’t a word ‘rap’ then, it wasn’t in the vocabulary, so to speak. I gotta remember, all the people told me, “It can’t be”, “It can’t happen”, “It’s impossible”. This makes you want to do it more! But what I was seeing, especially in the States, also an important point, I was flying to the United States regularly. Within three or four months of the Electro albums coming out, in ’83, by then I would fly into the States every two or three weeks, because, again, no courier, no digital. It wasn’t WeTransfer, sending over a WAV file. I went and I collected the quarter inch or half inch tapes, and sometimes I’d bring the master back. I would release quite a few of the records from the Street Sounds albums on my sister label, Streetwave, as singles. Like I did with the ‘UK Electro’ album, there was a singles version with the different mixes on, because the albums would just have the one version that everyone had. So Streetwave would actually put out quite a few of the records from the Street Sounds albums, but in their various guises or mixes. In the States I was looking more at what was happening in the stores, but it was still only in the stores on the streets. American radio did not touch it. They would not go close to it. I don’t think this changed until three, four, or five years later. Greg, when did MTV play the first the first black rap record?

GW: They started in the early 80s. I think it was only Michael Jackson that broke the door down. It started off with pretty much a rock playlist, it probably wasn’t until Run-DMC/Aerosmith ‘Walk This Way’ in ’86 that they began to take rap seriously.

MK : KTVU, WBLS, even in New York, you wouldn’t hear these Electro records. People have to understand this; you had these independent individuals with their cause, pressing up these records at local pressing plants in New York, Jersey, or wherever, and selling them in the Tri-State Area, via a distributor, or from the back of their cars. This is what they were doing. But they were seeing something… and this is quite fascinating… They’re seeing that of 1000 pressings, 300 were going to the distributor for export to Europe. Because we, as an audience in the UK, we’ve always been receptive to the music, much more so than the American public was. The UK kids were more open and more adventurous. When they heard it, they understood what was happening. They got what was happening here. Why, three years later, in ’86, did we fill Wembley Arena with 15,000 people for two shows? Why did that happen? Because it came through and emerged organically. It still wasn’t being played on the radio, you still wouldn’t hear these records happening on daytime radio. But it was a movement that was happening on the street. No matter how radio tried to suppress it. Daytime and mainstream radio tried to suppress it, tried to hold it down. But they couldn’t, because the scene unfolded… Unlike the ’70s, it was a scene, this was a culture; It was the fly girls and the b boys. It was how you talked, how you walked, how you acted. There was the look. It was the baseball cap. It was a fashion. It was the DJ. It was the mixing. It was the graffiti. It was the breaking. This was a real scene. I’ll give you an analogy; this was the Rock and Roll of our generation. It was an entire scene, the look, fashion, dress, talk, walk. Everything was about the scene. There had never been anything like it, not since that whole Rock and Roll era.

GW: And yet what you’re talking about is probably the most unappreciated aspect of British pop and dance culture. It’s still largely unknown with these things, how they emerged and how they developed. On a cultural level alone, the fact that this was a period of time when people of different ethnicities came together, and were as one, with the music. It’s like I always say, within these environments, it was like an oasis, away from racism. Because it was all about the music, it was an appreciation of the music, and that broke down all of those barriers. So if people of different ethnic backgrounds, like the same things, they generally like each other. It’s a simple equation. It was a beautiful time of people coming together. We haven’t really had the same since.

MK: It really was, and there hasn’t been any scene doing that since then. It did unite and it did bring people together. It didn’t matter who, or what you were, there was one common denominator and that was the music. Your dress, your speech, your language, how you were, it didn’t matter what your racial, cultural, educational or religious background was, it didn’t matter. When this music happened, that unity. Standing on stage with Mike Allen at UK Fresh ’86 and we’re looking at a sea of youthful, excited teenagers. Some as some as young as 12 or 13, who’d lied and said they were 14… Watching those faces, seeing the demographics, watching them battling one another and just being there. There’s never been that kind of movement before. One that completely unified and made people feel part of part of something. It didn’t matter who they were, they we’re part of it. I don’t think the grown-ups got it. I don’t think the record majors got it. I don’t think the establishment got it. They definitely didn’t get it! Hip Hop was going to emerge from the Electro scene and people tried to dial that out. People tried to dial out the fact that Electro morphed into Hip Hop; if you listen to the first electro instrumentals, the Newcleus’ of this world, whatever. You had rappers on these electro beats, then rapping became more predominant. Then the Electro staccato, kind of, and Electro instrumentals – stripped down, became less prevalent. So as the Electro albums progressed, you know more than anybody, it was Electro, then Electro/Hip Hop, then Hip Hop/Electro, because there was this evolution.

GW: I think that’s a really good way of gauging it. Your series of albums and the point where it did switch, bringing in Hip Hop, alongside Electro and a point where Electro became secondary to Hip Hop, because we moved into a different time; the Hip Hop era. We’re doing this interview now, it’s October of 2023, the first Street Souls Electro album was released exactly 40 years ago, in October of 1983. But just before that… we spoke before we started this interview, about Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’, which came in around mid 83.

MK: ‘Rockit’ was a pivotal moment; when what was a fringe music movement suddenly became recognized by the industry, and recognized by the establishment. He won a Grammy for it.

GW: Absolutely! Because once Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’ came along, it just took the Electro argument completely away. That was the game changer. In the sense that now you had a record which was definitely Electro, but it was not by The Jonzun Crew, or Captain Rock, or by someone that nobody knew. This was Herbie Hancock! Herbie Hancock was an icon and if you go back to the previous scene, which Electro-Funk swept away, and you go right back to the beginnings of Jazz-Funk, you find Herbie Hancock’s ‘Chameleon’, from back in 1973. That was Herbie innovating Jazz-Funk. Then in a sense, he also ended Jazz-Funk when he released ‘Rockit’, it was almost like we we’re then in a completely different era. So a lot of people who had criticized Electro, as being mindless machine music, had to think twice. Also Marvin Gaye using a drum machine on ‘Sexual Healing’, and then later The S.O.S. Band with what they were doing. People were then starting to wake up to the fact that this technological revolution wasn’t going to destroy black music, it was actually going to revive it. It was being taken into new, uncharted territory.

MK: It was. Exactly! It was a new art form. It wasn’t something to be afraid of, which a lot of people were. A lot of people saying rap is is the end of music, it’s not real music, and it’s easy on the musician; people talking, rapping over these of records. Another point to remember is that sampling wasn’t in the vocabulary. Sampling, taking other records’ riffs, or other records’ melodies, or a four bar section, even a two bar loop. Unheard of! It was creating a new art form; it was creating something that is now a part of our vocabulary. The sampling, the 808, social commentary and the whole concept of a message in the music, all these aspects, Soul rarely had. Soul talked about love and good times. This music was real, this music appealed to the kids. When the kids listened to it they related to that particular rapper, or that particular track. You know… Eminem, I understand Eminem, I completely get that Eminem was a franchise for an audience of middle class white kids. They understood what was being said, and could relate to it. I think Rap has to be about a commentary of sorts. So this scene coming in and emerging from the Electro stuff, the beats are always important. The beats and rhyme, the rhythm bounce of the rap, this art form evolved from those early Electro records. Then you had the emergence of Run-DMC and all that kind of stuff, it was like, oh my god! But the roots…. when Rick Rubin sat in the studio, before he did Run-DMC, you don’t think he was aware of the Electro scene? Course he was.

Rick Rubin

GW: Yep. With the Street Sounds Electro albums, a crucial aspect to it was that they were a mixed series of albums. I’ve always said that they were the first mix series, but I’ve now realized that there was that CBS ‘Dance Mix – Dance Hits’, which I did one of. I think that came in just before, but they only did three albums. What you did was bring in Mastermind, from Brixton.

Herbie Mastermind

MK: Herbie Mastermind. Greg, I you know couldn’t make it, but Herbie came to the Electro Beer launch, Herbie was there! He was in tears. He was he was mobbed as a rock star! he was inundated with such a love at the launch of Electro Beer.

Morgan & Herbie at the launch of Electro Beer, 2023

MK: What he did for the Street Sounds Electro mixes, on two turntables and a GLI mixer, I remember that little GLI mixer. You know what he did? He didn’t just take the record and my brief. This something important, Herbie is an artist. My brief was to play as much of the track as possible. The kids want to hear as much of a track, but with the mix points “Do what you want, Herbie! Create something”. I was unaware that he would create some mixes between tracks that still, even with the technologies of today, are mind blowing! He didn’t have those new technologies, he just had records.

GW: Yeah. You had Noel and Maurice Watson doing doing some of the albums?

MK: 4 and 5.

GW: Yeah, they came a little bit later. What I think is one of the main reasons for the success of the Electro series, was that in 1983, that’s when breakdancing really emerged. Initially with the black kids – an underground thing that came onto the streets in ’83. That’s when Broken Glass went on the street. I know there were a few things happening in London before Sidewalk and those guys were doing stuff. But it had emerged, and breakdancing was a phenomenon at that time! People just adored it! And it was massive for that flash moment. But what happened the year after was all the white kids in suburban areas were breakdancing. It was all over the place! You’d go to Dorset and there would be someone breakdancing.

MK: A fresh audience! It was 99.999 recurring white and from the suburbs. They were from the suburbs, the stories I still hear… Cornwall, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow… they all came down. They all came because the music had spread, and spread through the Electro albums, the cassettes were hugely popular!

GW: With the cassette you had this situation, now with kids going out, rolling the lino out, bringing a ghetto blaster and wanting to dance to the music. Now with someone like myself, I was doing my own mixes. So for Broken Glass, I could do bespoke mixes for them. But most people couldn’t do that. But Street Sounds Electro did it for them. So they were the soundtrack of that wave of breakdancing. They needed a Street Sounds Electro cassette as as much as they needed a piece of lino and a ghetto blaster.

MK: I totally get that. Looking back, and seeing first hand, those kids seeing us and what we were doing, seeing what was happening on a street level. With what this music was doing, there was definitely a dysfunctional line between those kids and adults – the establishment people. But here’s what I never understood; when I was picking up these imports and going to New York and coming back with the tapes and cutting the albums and putting them out, seeing what the demand was, from the streets, there was still this incredible negativity. As I pointed out, I was putting the tracks out as singles, but no one would play the records, radio wouldn’t touch them, they were not going near the tracks and this went on year after year. In ‘84 there was a kind of breakthrough. When was the first Run-DMC?

GW: 1983 ‘It’s Like That’ with ‘Sucker M.C.’s’ on the other side. Yeah, it was probably around mid ’83, I think.

Run-D.M.C. ‘It’s Like That’ / ‘Sucker M.C.’s’

MK: Okay, but again, daytime mainstream radio, Radio 1, whatever, wouldn’t go close to these things. So how did the kids hear it? They heard it from the Streets Sounds albums and from home taping. I once made a joke, a great joke; We shipped gold, we shipped platinum, but actually out in the streets, it was quadruple platinum, with everyone home taping. One album would go out there to one person. I’ve heard stories now through social media, the official Street Sounds Facebook group, which has expanded and grown beyond all expectations, where people are telling me that they had a cassette or an album and they would they would make 10, 15, 20 copies for their friends. That’s how the music spread, because they couldn’t hear it on the radio.

GW: Yep, definitely. It’s a bit like what you were saying at the start of this interview, where you were talking about when you started getting into music and the idea of copying things on cassettes. Because people had to do it, they didn’t have the money to buy the records, certainly not on a specialist scene, where things happen on a weekly basis. So this kind of distribution, with cassettes was key. At Rock City, in Nottingham, which you’ll probably remember, they used to do cassettes for their crowd, of all the new music that was coming out, to tune them into it, because there was no radio station in the vicinity that was playing this music. So that was the only way they could hit the local kids with the music that they were going to hear in the club. That’s how they did it. They just had to blatantly bootleg cassettes.

MK: No, I totally get that. And it’s Wow! Thinking back, I’m talking to you about it now and it’s still emotional. Talking about that first Electro album. When in October did it come out? I thought Electro 1 came out on Monday the 23rd of October. Do you know when it came out?

GW:  It was definitely around about now. So 40 years ago exactly.

MK: I’ve decided to make Monday the 23rd a National Holiday Electro anniversary. That is what I’m gonna do.

GW: [Laughs] Yeah, definitely. And you know, other thing about it, which was particularly striking, was you had John Carver do sleeves; he did the design for the Electro series.

MK: Yes. Very creative, very innovative, very different! Totally not what I expected. I mean, if someone has said to you, pale, pale yellow, blushed beige, and a very light pink number one, on our on our banging Electro street concept album, what would you have said?

GW: Yeah.

MK: [Laughs] I mean, yeah!

GW: Perfect! You know, that the numbers of the series are there on each sleeve. Iconic, and they look great now, when you see all those sleeves put together.

GW: As well as the Electro 1, 2, 3, onwards, you also did the Crucial Electro compilations.

MK: They would have as much of a following and much kudos as the main ones. Yeah, I could have pressed 5, 6, or 7 times as much vinyl. One of the Crucial Electro 4s sold on Discogs three weeks ago for £240!

GW: [Laughs] You never have a box of these things, in the back room, for when they start selling.

MK: No [Laughs] Insanity, what these albums sell for!

GW: Yeah, again, the Street Sounds series, these are big selling chart albums that are competing against all the main artists. Later, they separated the compilation chart from the main chart, but during this time, the two formats were still charting together. And you were right up there! So at that point in time, Morgan, it’s all happening for you, you’ve got these, these two series, and then you’re also plugging into that with the Hi-Energy series, that I think you did with Ian Levine?

‘Hi Energy’ compilations, 1984. Sleeve design by John Carver

MK: Yes, correct, absolutely correct. End of ’84/’85, I was also going to The New Music Seminar, where I met two gentlemen, Rocky Jones (DJ International) and Larry Sherman (Trax Records), My Westside Records label was as prolific as Streetwave and Street Sounds with House Music. People forget about that.

MK: We put out whole Acid albums. Hence, that article in The Guardian; What chance did I have against Pete Tong? What chance did anyone have against the A&R cheque book of the majors? They’ll fly out there. I would license something for X thousand, five or seven or whatever figure that might be. And there’s a major label coming in saying here’s a quarter of a million.

GW: Yeah, well that’s it, it became so big. But again, you were there right at the start. All the scenes that existed then; Rare Groove, you were promoting that, the Jazz side, like you said, with Gilles. You were going back to the classic eras, you were putting Philadelphia International compilations together.

MK: The Philadelphia Box Set sold out. We did the Solar Records Box Set, the Disco Box Set was so successful for us. We tried to be authentic, to capture all the different styles. We had the Artist Series, we tried to reflect music of black origin throughout its total genres and sub genres. And that was important to me, very important.

MK: I think the one thing people will recognize and keep coming back to are all the Electro albums. Because the door they opened, the movement that they created, and I would think, also inspired UK labels… When the UK labels saw what we were doing in volumes, they realized that this was mainstream. I had a phone call from someone called Clive Calder at Jive Records. He called me and he said “I don’t know what to do with this artist we have”. An artist on their American label called Whodini. I’d get this all the time, Greg. I’d get that from labels in the UK. “We do know how to break it, would you put it on the Street Sounds album?” So, Street Sounds evolved into being… call it a Spotify playlist, or a Beatport playlist, to the people of today… we were being used to A&R. Because if you were sandwiched between Luther Vandross, or Alexandra O’Neal, on the Soul album, or your song was sandwiched between Arthur Baker and Run-DMC on the Hip Hop album, and you are a new Hip Hop Electro band, you had presence and you got awareness. So we were being used as a forerunner to break artists. This was quite incredible! They didn’t do it themselves. We did it. We were responsible for breaking new artists. I mean, one of the most famous stories is Cheryl Lynn’s ‘Encore’. The true story is I went to CBS, they didn’t want to release it. It was released on Streetwave, so the reality is, and I’m telling the truth that I license ‘Encore’ from CBS. Unbeknown to them it is going to go top 5. I get a phone call as It’s rising up the charts. The American management of Cheryl is huge! A very big player! He’s questioning “What the fuck are you doing not releasing it on CBS?… we see it on a label called Streetwave! What the fuck is this about?” So I got a phone call from one of the most senior people at CBS saying you’ve got to, not destroy the record, but you’ve got to do something about it, because you’ve embarrassed us beyond belief! Can you believe it, Greg? The same happened with Carl Anderson’s ‘Buttercup’ and CBS. I licensed it, they weren’t going to go with it. So why not let me license it. I sold thousands upon thousands of records, but they still didn’t see it. How could you not see the potential of those records? A lot of people, when they started putting out Hip Hop, Rap or Electro in the UK, the American side of the majors didn’t get it, they did not understand what they had! Capital, EMI…. Why did I get George Clinton and all these wonderful, brilliant, amazing tracks on my Electro albums? Because then they were disposable. “What the fuck is this? Let’s give it to Morgan”. [Laughs] Here’s a guy prepared to pay an advance, and with royalties. “We can’t see it happening”, “What the fuck, give it to him”. Can you see how how negative, how naive, how ignorant these people were?

GW: Yeah. Well, it was a good job that people like you were about, to turn what they didn’t consider of value into gold. That’s what you were doing.

GW: From my own side, I did my first productions on ‘UK Electro’. You released an album called ‘Street Sounds UK Electro’. It was funny at the time, because I’d been trying to get remix work. I knew all the record company people obviously, I was asking them if I could get any remix work. They were going to their superiors who were saying “Well, English DJs don’t remix, Americans remix”. So it was like banging my head against a brick wall. I ended up working with a couple of musicians. And, as you know, we did our take on Electro and we did various tracks. I remember, we came to you. I think Island, we’re looking at it quite closely. But we came to you, and you obviously got it straight away. What you did was when you’d heard the tracks, you put us in a studio in Oldham for a week. We already had some demos, one of which was  ‘Real Time (Restrospective Dub)’. Then we did a new version ‘Real Time’ (both versions appeared on the LP, credited to Zer-o) in the studio session and we came out with all these tracks that were different to each other… You know, we were just making it up as we went along, Morgan. We had a LinnDrum, an emulator and the musicians; Martin Jackson (Magazine) was on drums, Andy Connell (A Certain Ratio) was the keyboardist, and we just made it up. Then what you did was you suggested that it all be released under different pseudonyms, so it appeared that there was a thriving UK Electro scene, when really, apart from the ‘Hip Hop Beat’ track by the Rapologists (produced by Mastermind, and featuring Soul Sonic Force DJ, Whiz Kid), that was on that album, everything else was what we’d done.

Andy Connell, Martin Jackson & Greg Wilson, 1984

GW: Although it didn’t do as well as the normal Electro output, ‘Street Sounds UK Electro’ did pretty well, in comparative terms. We got the album to number 60 in the charts. So for a slight moment, the possibilities looked good. But then a lot of it was down to an ego clash between myself and Martin. Martin was a bit older than me, he’d been on Top of the Pops with Magazine, he did know his way around the music business more so, but didn’t know his way around dance music like I did.

MK: How is Martin, by the way?

GW: I haven’t seen him since those days. I’ve spoken to Andy. Martin and Andy later went on and did Swing Out Sister and had international success with ‘Breakout’. But then I think there was some kind of fall out there, he left Swing Out Sister and pretty much vanished. I really don’t know where he went or what he did from then.

MK: Okay. So tell me more about the Cymande documentary that you mentioned before we started the interview.

GW: Well, the thing is that when I managed the Ruthless Rap Assassins, I produced a track called ‘And It Wasn’t A Dream’, which was about their parents generation coming to the UK. The backing sample that they used was ‘The Message’ by Cymande. The connection was that they were also immigrants. ‘And It Wasn’t A Dream’ was the best-known Rap Assassins track, it still gets a lot of kudos; Mojo named is one of the quintessential British records, alongside the likes of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Itchycoo Park’, so that was lovely. That was a few years ago. But at the time, we had nightmares with the institutionalized racism within the business then. Trying to get the track on the radio was difficult. Simon Bates actually played it. We were all sat around waiting for it “He’s going to play it on Radio 1, great!” But he played the wrong side! He never corrected it and he never played it again. It was almost like he was annoyed that he’d played the wrong side, so he threw that record away. We just didn’t get the right kind of support, although the press were all over it, both from the black music and the rock sides, and we got massive critical acclaim. It was just radio.Apart from John Peel playing it, we didn’t get Radio 1. We did two albums for EMI and then, as things do, it came to an end. So yeah, the track ‘And It Wasn’t A Dream’ is featured in the Cymande documentary because it sampled ‘The Message’.

MK: I remember now, for the 01 track on ‘Street Sounds UK Electro’, ‘Real Time’, you never sampled that, though?

GW: No, it was played. The bassline is from ‘Bra’, another Cymande track. So that’s where they picked up on that from. So yeah, it’s a lovely documentary, you gotta check it out. I mean, it’s so heartfelt, because those guys should have been massive, and yet they got no love in the UK. They had success in America, but they came back here and nobody cared, and they just stopped making music. But eventually, they came back together and people have discovered their genius, which is fantastic.

MK: When is it documentary released?

GW: Well, it’s been doing the film festivals over the last 18 months. But I think they’ve got the distribution. I don’t know who the putting out through, but they’ve got a deal for it now. So it’s going to be made available, so it should come out on one of the streaming platforms (its finally coming to cinemas, blue ray, via the BFI, and streaming in Feb ’24).

MK: Like a fringe kind of thing.

GW: Yeah. I think people have really warmed to it, a bit like when you see that Sugar Man documentary. It’s got that kind of aspect to it, like somebody who should have been big, who was kind of on the margins, but was brilliant. So, bringing that story to light; I think they’ve done a great job, in terms of putting a spotlight on Cymande after all these years. Because what they were doing was so ahead of the game. I remember, I got an album in 1974, called ‘Super Bad’. There was a character called Mr. Superbad, he did that track on Contempo ‘Kung Fu Man’. He ended up on the radio in Scotland. He was American boxer who came over in the ’60s, and was in an R&B band, before he became Mr. Superbad and started to advertise these albums on the TV. But he was on an album alongside The Isley Brothers, Sly and the Family Stone, the Pointer Sisters, it was all American. Cymande’s ‘The Message’ was on there too, so I always presumed that was an American record. It was only later that I realised they were British. So, yeah, the documentary puts Cymande back into the spotlight, all these years down the line. I saw the premiere in Manchester about a year ago. It’s been in Brixton, but it has been screened in America and Canada at various film festivals and things. So they’ve just been building it up, and obviously, they’ve got the deal now. So that’s how it’s going to work itself out. Fingers crossed for it.


GW: Going back to the UK Electro album, you put out 4 singles as well. You were also licensing to the German label XYZ?

MK: XYZ, absolutely correct.

GW: XYZ coined the term “Italo Disco”, they started putting out Italian Disco records on compilations called ‘Italo Disco’, and now we have this genre. Some of the tracks that were played on the black music scene in the 80s were Italian, like Advance ‘Taken Me To The Top’, Klein & MBO ‘Dirty Talk’ and Electra ‘Feels Good’. So there were quite a few Italian tracks that came into play along the way as well. I used to feel that the ‘UK Electro’ album was really messy, it was like a first attempt. Then when I discovered online forums in the early 2000s, I went on Electro Empire; a great forum for the generation of the Street Sounds Electro kids… I was shocked when I learned that ‘Street Sounds UK Electro’ was revered as a cult classic for them, there were so many people that were into it. So that really changed my opinion of it. When I went back to it, rather than being full of criticism for my youth and what we were doing, it was like, wow! we were really pushing the boundaries there, it was innovative. It didn’t work out with Martin and Andy going forward. I don’t know how we even ended. We kind of split after the ICA gig, which was our only live appearance.

GW: We did the ICA, we had Broken Glass breakdancing and everything else. But I didn’t find out for years later, that Martin and Andy later did a John Peel session with some of the tracks that we were working on, tracks that we played at the ICA gig, that they’d developed further. But they didn’t release any more, so I don’t know, how it all ended there. I just remember going home and licking my wounds, I had no money at the time, then within about six months I’d lost my car and my house. This was because I’d come away from DJing, which was my only source of income, I was now in the recording business. But it was very naive of me at the time, because, it’s like you say, you were working in the recording business and getting minimal wages for doing it, you got a nice expenses account, you could drive around and take people out and do things…

MK: But no real money.

GW: Yeah, as for money in your pocket… So that’s what the business taught me then; it’s a difficult business. In the mid-’80s I ended up having to really rethink myself, I eventually moved to London, to get things back on track, because I was stuck up north and there wasn’t anything happening for me.

So, with ‘Street Sounds Electro’, it was a cultural moment in terms of what it represented. But in my mind, you’ve never been given any credence in the histories somehow. I’m sometimes shocked, Morgan, that I can read a history of what was going on in the UK, and your name isn’t mentioned.

MK: Greg, I don’t have any ego. I don’t care what people think. I’ve seen three documentaries, including the Idris Elba one. It wasn’t mentioned, wasn’t talked about, wasn’t talked how it came to be. Bypassed. Totally, absolutely, bypassed. When Michael Hann from The Guardian approached me, you saw that article? He was the first one… you got to speak to M Khan, you got to speak to Morgan, Street Sounds, what happened and how it happened. So how can the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 have done all these documentaries without a mention? How, Greg? Now? How can you, not just cancel history, but try to rewrite it? Cancelling is one thing, but trying to rewrite history when they are saying to me ‘guess who pioneered Hip Hop music in the UK?’ Guess who, Greg?

GW: Go on.

MK: Tim Westwood.

GW: Right. Okay. Yeah, but Tim was, a young DJ coming up during that time, you know.

MK: No, but he wasn’t playing Hip Hop at the time. He was carrying record bags of Steve fucking Walsh. He wasn’t  even a pimple on the ass in those early days. He wasn’t there.

GW: I often think now that I’ve gone on so much about Electro-Funk, because it’s the right terminology for the time. But sometimes I wonder if people don’t realize that DJs like myself were the ones that were playing the first Hip Hop in this country; the first tracks…

MK: Greg, you do understand! I think you’re underestimating yourself. Your name, hand on my heart, comes up in conversations all the time. When I talk about the roots, the first wave, where I talk about Mike Allen, Greg Edwards and yourself, they all come in that first conversation.

Mike Allen

MK: Again history, I don’t understand, I don’t get why you… you have a following you and you have a name, there’s no question. I mention Greg Wilson to any of the people I aspire to, they understand, but it’s not in the calibre where it should be and I don’t get it. But I know why; when you type on Google, when you go to the documentaries, pieces on the early history of the roots, the trailblazers, or the entrepreneurs, or whatever you want to call it, it’s dialled out. Greg, it’s not right.

GW: Yeah, my feeling, and I’ve said this before to you, I think that where it ended for you was with the demise of the Street Scene magazine, which also brought down the labels. That was in ’88 wasn’t it?

MK: Yeah, it was.

GW: So that’s just as the Rave era was kicking into gear. I think that a lot of people who started writing about this era, they weren’t previously into Dance Music, so they saw it as a year zero. The Ibiza myth came about, where the DJs went to Ibiza and brought back ecstasy, the Balearic spirit and House Music. But House Music was already in place, certainly in the north, in Manchester and the Midlands. And the gay clubs in London. The Rare Groove scene was massive at that time in London, so that took precedent. But it was all in place. I think that what’s been forgotten is that there was so much written in that first burst of Rave, between ‘88, in the early ‘90s, that magazines and even books were starting to be written, but at that point, you weren’t in the equation. You’d had to remove yourself from the situation, to lick your wounds and sort yourself out. So Morgan Khan wasn’t operative at that moment in time. I think because of that, that is where it stems from. One thing that I always think of, and this shares a similar aspect as to why people haven’t put you in that place, where you should be; I look at it on a microcosm with someone like Stu Allan in Manchester. Stu’s radio show in Manchester was so crucial for Hip Hop and House. Everyone has spoken about this, Laurent Garnier, Mike Pickering, all these people talk about what Stu Allan was doing on the radio. So they all know, but he’s not written about in the books. Why is he not there in the books? I think the reason is, that he ended up going into a more Hardcore direction and eventually a more generic, kind of banging House.

So I think because of that, people didn’t want to give him the credit for being a pioneer of Hip Hop and a pioneer of House Music, which he undoubtedly was through that radio show. So he’s somebody who you don’t see him mentioned, apart from rare occurrences. So again, it seems he’s been written out the history, yet Manchester couldn’t have happened in the way that it did without Stu Allan and his radio show, and it’s obvious. But then, when we go into what you did, we’re talking about a massive cultural significance! We’re talking about how black, white and Asian came together. There was no stress there because they all loved the music. We rose above the horrible racist society that we lived in, it was all under the banner of music. What you represented was a figurehead for that, you enabled that to go right into the mainstream and affect culture in the way that it did. My take on it has always been that you cannot understand the lineage of dance culture, in this country, without understanding what you were doing. And not just with Street Sound… I noticed, when we started doing this interview, that when we took a break, we hadn’t got to Streetwave yet, because we were talking about your introduction into the music business and all the stuff you’d done with PRT and with R&B Records. Even up to that point, you’d made your mark, you had properly made your mark! So how people hadn’t put that together and wanted to understand how black culture had affected popular culture in this country, because that’s what happened. To understand it, look at Street Sounds, where you’ll find big, big clues as to how that all emerged, and actually where it arrived at, when we did have like crews like Public Enemy coming over.

GW: Maybe your high point, in many respects, was the UK Fresh events in 1986, which there had been nothing like before in this country. In terms of Hip Hop, it really set the standard. It put the music out there. Can you tell us who was playing at that gig?

MK: Did you come to the event?

GW: I didn’t, I think I was licking my wounds somewhere in the north at that time, probably.

MK: So, UK Fresh, even now, when I think about UK Fresh, the whole concept… It makes me want to shake a little bit, thinking about it; we almost filled a 747 full of artists and entourage musicians! We did two shows. On that Saturday, the 19th of July, I remember it so so well. When Mike Allen said let’s make it part of the Capital Music Festival; ‘it’s your gig, your thing, it’s your your event”, Streets Sounds and Streetwave, “but part of the Capital Music Festival”. I thought are you crazy? – Maybe do an arena with 2 or 3 hundred people. “No Morgan, we’re gonna do Wembley! We’re not just gonna do Wembley, we’re gonna do two shows at Wembley!” Can you imagine? Can you imagine someone says that, Wembley Arena!

MK: So the afternoon show was Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, Lovebug Starski, Hashim, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Roxanne Shanté, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Steady B, Word Of Mouth. As if that wasn’t big enough, wasn’t wonderful enough, we had the evening show, with Mantronix, World Class Wrecking Crew, Captain Rock, Hashim, Sir Mix-A-Lot, The Real Roxanne with Howie Tee. You can imagine how they got on backstage? The Real Roxanne and Roxanne Shanté together! Aleem with Leroy Burgess, Just-Ice, DJ Cheese. I mean, my God! All in one place!

The Real Roxanne & Hitman Howie Tee perform ‘Bang Zoom (Let’s Go Go)’ live on Saturday morning TV show ‘Get Fresh’ – broadcast just before their performance at UK Fresh 86.

MK: None of these people had a profile in terms of the mainstream, yet they filled Wembley Arena! Try to imagine what that vibe must be been like. We had Mick Jagger in the in VIP booth, stage left, and he’s saying to myself and Chris May, our press person, “Hey, I don’t know any of these people, are they on the radio? Who are they?” and he’s looking around at this place and what was happening. We also had artist management telling Mike and I to calm the audience down. It wasn’t violence, or anything, it was more the euphoria! It was almost to the point where the roof was going to come off with all the screaming, the excitement, the breakdancing battles, all that was happening. This was a microcosm of urban street, everything was happening, everything was in that moment, at Wembley Arena. Their management had never seen anything like it! It was to a culture, to a genre, to a fashion. It wasn’t a concert, it was a buzz, a vibe at UK Fresh. It was for the kids, it was their day… “Parents, fuck off! The man, fuck off! We’re here for our music, our culture!” and it was all in front of them. They lived it and they danced it and they felt it. Unbelievable! It was one of those truly unbelievable days!

GW: It was also, as far as I’m aware, the first visit to the UK by Dr. Dre?

MK: Yes. Many first visits, by many of the artists. I mean, nobody knows the politics backstage. Nobody knows that on the afternoon show, we almost didn’t have a headline act, because Flash wouldn’t go on second to the end, and Bam wouldn’t go on second to the end. They both wanted to be the headline act on the afternoon show. So the bullshit I had to give. I can remember running back and forth with my PA, Joe Everil, running back and forth and saying “You know, even though Bambaataa is credited as the last act on the night, people will be leaving by that stage, I want to tell you, that that’s why we want you on before the last act”. So I was telling Bambaataa this bullshit.

Morgan Khan at UK Fresh, 1986

MK: With the energy that was going on, in hindsight, it should have been recorded. Absolutely! Would it have been the Woodstock of UK Hip Hop? Absolutely! I call it the Woodstock of UK Hip Hop and the UK Electro scene. Because it was, at that moment, live at the time… Pure! The kids ages were from 12, to, I don’t think anybody there was over 20. Well, I’m sure there were some older people. How old were you in ’86, Greg?

GW: I was 26 then.

MK: So around the 20s. But young, because the music was aimed at that audience and there was real hero worship. Jagger couldn’t get it! He didn’t get it… “Who are these people?” It was the hero worship, but who to exactly? I’m not taking away from the artists, this would have been nothing without the artists, the producers or the mixers. It was a hero worship to the music, to the scene, to the culture. This is something that is so important; That is what the event signified.

UK Fresh ’86 official program cover (more here)

GW: So would you say that that was the high water point for Street Sound and Streetwave?

MK: In terms of the Electro, yeah. Not necessary individual albums, platinum discs or whatever. But in terms of events, yeah. We’ve had reunions, other gigs, and we’ve had celebrations. But I mean, how many Woodstocks can you have? I recently watched Summer of Soul, a phenomenal documentary, worth watching. Everyone goes back to that summer of Soul. They go back to Mavis Staples, they go back to Aretha there. They go back to that one particular night, that one particular day, that captured a mood, it encapsulated everything. UK Fresh was also that moment.

GW: So from that point, you were about to overstretch? Because you were about to launch a magazine called The Street Scene. Or was that launched before UK Fresh happened?

MK: Yes, that was launched just before UK Fresh.

MK: I have many regrets. Financially, The Street Scene would be the biggest one. I didn’t have reins on the financial controls. But in terms of creativity, yeah, what it achieved, in such a short period; It exceeded Blues & Soul magazine, it exceeded Black Echoes. We were there right at the top, on the shelves. We were the first lifestyle magazine. Until then, magazines like Record Mirror were about the artists; where they recorded, who their influences were. Whereas Street Scene told people what Janet Jackson ate for her breakfast, what her favourite clothes were. So we were the first lifestyle magazine. We had a pullout section inside too, which gave all the facts, figures, the charts, and all the rest. But we were a lifestyle magazine ten or fifteen years before lifestyle magazines became successful.

MK: What we achieved in that small period of time was was incredible! Given the choice, would I do it again? No, of course not, because of what it led to. The end of Street Sounds, Streetwave, The Street Sounds empire. Unfortunately I couldn’t have hands on everywhere. I was the record man. I was on the record label side. I left the wrong people to manage the magazine. Looking back on it now, the warning lights were always there. Here’s an example, and there’s thousands! I wish there was just one! So, we’re now in 2023, imagine you got an Uber cab fare for £2,500, would you be a little bit overwhelmed? This was for one journey! One trip! Because one particular person at the magazine asked the taxi to drive them somewhere, spend the night in the car, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, next day. While they’re out whoring it and drinking, all on their expense account. This is what was happening. Not by everybody. We had some wonderful people on the magazine. But by some people, there were no constraints. But that’s one side. The other side, which was the demise, everyone saw it as a vehicle for my labels. Whereas the MO with the editor was that you didn’t talk about Street Sound or Streetwave. In every edition, we would have an advert in it, to it make it about the scene and the music. But we didn’t get support for the magazines. They did not advertise, even though it was a snapshot. It was a brilliant magazine. If you can get a copy of Street Scene, run through it, look at the in-depth articles on black music. Nobody was doing that, certainly not Record Mirror. Echoes was Echoes and Blues & Soul would never touch Hip Hop, whereas we were addressing all the other music forms. Echoes had Rodigan and Reggae and all that was great, but they had their market. We encapsulated a snapshot of the youth. We were there, but nobody would advertise in it. Because of the perception of what the magazine was. Sad! Can’t change history. It’s done now. Can’t change it.

GW: Yeah. But if you look at that whole period, you also put out those early Trax and DJ International records. You were right on the money there as well. Putting those compilations out….

MK: Exactly, we the Jackmaster album, and we broke Hip-House. I, we, broke Hip-House with Rocky Jones. There was no such word as Hip-House, taking house and putting Rap on it. There was no such word until Fast Eddie and Tyree came on board. Acid music with Larry Sherman’s Trax Records, all those kinds of genres.  You know, we were there, we were on the cutting edge. Streetwave couldn’t be the vehicle for it, as it had the wrong genre perception for it. So we created West Side records for the more housey stuff. We did the ‘House Of Hits’ boxset.

MK: Hardcore, of course, we were the Hardcore label too. There’s were many aspects to Street Sounds, but people do tend to focus very much more on on the Electro albums and the Hip Hop side that we did. Overlord X ’14 Days in May’!  Have you heard it recently? I heard it recently on a podcast. It still stands up! As a British Public Enemy.

GW: It is one of the best British tracks of the time, I think. Yeah. Definitely.

MK: If someone hasn’t heard it, they should listen to it. It stands up to a Flavor Flav or Chuck D kind of track. It’s raw, it has energy, there’s powers in that track.

Overlord X ’14 Days in May’, 1988

MK: It’s maybe another fault of mine, but I pushed a lot of UK Hip Hop groups. I put out product and released a lot of material, but I never made money, in fact, I lost money. I really tried to expose, break and develop UK Hip Hop. I really tried to do that.

Blues & Soul Magazine, 1984

GW: So bringing things up to date… Obviously, there was a period of obscurity, when people didn’t know what you were doing, or where you were. Then more recently, thankfully, there was the Guardian piece that basically put your legacy in the spotlight again. From my side, you know, I obviously tell people the story whenever I can, because it’s such a crucial aspect of our culture that has led to where we are now. So from your own side, how did you feel after that Guardian article? Did you get a big feedback from people about it? How did it all work out?

MK: Greg, when the article hit, they had to stop the comments, there were hundreds! They stopped them because to quote, unquote The Guardian, ‘nobody was talking about anything else!’ They’ve never had more article comment or feedback. Such a response, also talking about thousands on my Facebook, since that article. I still haven’t clicked and read all the messages. That all came back from that article, it gets reposted and reposted all the time. There was also a Red Bull interview. Those two articles put things into perspective. But Michael Hann’s Guardian article was objective, not a fanzine approach, very objective. He was horrified after his research, after his analysis; becoming aware of what the reality was, of how the books on our history, how so many individuals in the industry want to cancel us. Cancel the Mike Allen’s, and you and I. They want the acceptable, perceivable face of… like with Tim Westwood. We now know the problem with Tim, but they wanted to push a more palatable and promotable side, because they’re marketable, because they fit the story better than an Anglo-Indian. It doesn’t play right in the story… Imagine your Hollywood director, you have a UK entrepreneur bringing Hip Hop and Rap music over. They developed the scene, there was nothing here before. They were at the forefront of the first wave. Now try to imagine the lead actor… who would you choose? Denzel Washington? Of course! Even on the white side, who would you choose? Johnny Depp? Yeah! Would you choose Morgan Khan? Can you see what I’m saying?

GW: Oh, I think you’re putting yourself down there. You know, I think there’s a there’s a Morgan Khan out there that could serve you well.

MK: [Laughs] let’s find him. Let’s find him for the Electro Sounds musical. But I think you understand the point, there were no Indian, or Anglo-Indians. In respect of rock, it was the wrong platform, the wrong profile, I kind of got that.

Morgan, recently with Davy DMX & Chuck D

MK: I just came back from the Urban Matters festival in Helmond. it’s an urban heritage festival. You’ve got to go next year. They have all the heritage artists. This year they had Soul Sonic Force, Grandmaster Flash, Scorpio, Sugarhill Gang, Sparky Dee, etc. They had a panel and I was actually one of the keynote speakers on the panel. I was asked to come on stage and talk about 50 years of Hip Hop. I realized the love for the brand there. This is Helmond, not even Amsterdam, south of Holland. People were walking up to me, one after the other Through Street Sounds, they’d discovered their music, they’d discovered their mojo, they became who they were. I had captains of industry, importers of Ferrari, whatever, who’d grown up on it. They wouldn’t be who they were without it, the music changed them; they were going in one direction, the music made them maverick and it made them aware. The Electro albums changed them. I hear it time after time after time. I think this is the legacy that makes me most happy. Should I have monetized my live show? Had good business people around me? Yes. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, I have. But no matter what anybody writes or says, there are trolls and jealous people, but on the other hand, there are wonderfully great people, the Street Sounds family. I’ve always done things because of my passion, and I know it’s the same for you too, Greg. We will have totally different lifestyles, but I know you have passion for the music. It’s why we consider each other to be friends. I know where your roots come from, how you try and hold the flagship. I read your articles online, I see it. You are a standard bearer for the music, and for the lifestyle…

GW: … and also for the truth.

MK: The truth!

GW: The truth is so important. It’s great to be doing this interview with you, because obviously, there’s a lot of nuance, depth and detail in this that people need to learn about. So I’d like to thank you, and congratulate you on this anniversary, because it is something. 40 years on from the launch of the Electro series and what it represented. And hopefully, there’s going to be people out there that will want to put this together properly. I figure that history, in any terms of history, not just music; it’s told by the victors. But time passes, then a fuller story starts to emerge. People begin to discover and realise what was happening, that this was happening and that was happening. So they come to a fuller understanding of how it all came about. If you take Street Sounds out of the equation, you can’t have a full understanding of what it was all about.

MK: Again, how can you have all these documentaries, all these articles that ignore the real truth, of birth and development? Everything that we followed and believed in, through those early years ‘79 and ’80, bringing in Electro records and albums, and the Hip Hop scene? Why is this never included?

Street Sounds and Morgan Khan 1986 ITV Documentary with Hugh Laurie

GW: While I’ve been doing my book tour, one of the things that I frequently hear myself saying, is that when people talk about dance culture, in this country, it’s as though there were only two defining scenes; Northern Soul and Rave. But they miss out the third defining scene, the black scene, as we called it, which was the Jazz-Funk into Electro-Funk era. That is just as important, if not more important, in many ways. If you look into the amount of records that were broken there and then, it’s phenomenal! The serious number of records that would never have been in the UK chart, that were played by DJs on the specialist, black music scene. Records that were picked up by people like yourself, who understood what was going on, and released them through their labels. It’s like you mentioned earlier, when you were at PRT, the amount of records that became hits, which came through the clubs, so it wasn’t about mainstream radio.

MK: They never played it on the radio until it went top 40. And then they played it with bitterness, under duress. If it was in the top 20, they had to play it. Then all of a sudden, everybody’s into it “My god! What a record!” and usually then you had the smart producers at Radio 1 and Capital going “Hey, we broke this”. No, no, no! You jumped on it. You had to jump on it, if it hit the top 40, Radio 1 had to play it. Before that, they just didn’t.

GW: Exactly! People like Greg Edwards, Robbie Vincent and Mike Shaft, these specialist DJs were massively important, because they could reach so many more people with what they were doing.

Greg Edwards, Robbie Vincent & Mike Shaft

GW: So that whole connection and network of DJs, people within the record companies and the magazines, it was a specialist scene. And yeah, a lot of people would never have even realized it was happening. But it was a big specialist scene. It was massively connected up, both in the north and the south. So there were a lot of people interested in this music. That’s what you found out when you started releasing those compilations. Just how many people were wanting to buy those records! Do you have any idea of how many records you sold?

MK: I’m looking at my wall right now. Greg, we’re talking of incredible figures!


Morgan is currently writing a book, which he hopes to publish later this year. It will cover his career in the music industry and, of course, all things Street Sounds, taking a deep dive into the culture and lifestyle that surrounded it.

A Spotify playlist, consisting of records referenced in the piece, is available here:

 


© Greg Wilson, January 2024

 

 

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