Sunday, 6 June 2010

When I Wanted To Be A Disc Jockey

I must have been about 16 when I started going out to discotheques (as they were called then). And, in every one I went to, there was a disc jockey from one of the offshore pirate radio stations, and it kind of hit me: “Wow, these guys are really popular!” And on top of that I was also listening to stations like Radio London and Caroline 24/7, so I was pretty much influenced by the jocks of the day, like Johnnie Walker, Roger “Twiggy” Day, Dave Cash and, a bit later, Emperor Rosco, and to the music they were playing on air. So, with that in mind, I decided that was what I wanted to do.

What could be better, I thought, than having a job where you just play your favourite records and chat about them, and get paid for it? So I practiced at home in my bedroom, with a small record deck, just playing the first couple of seconds of each record, taking it off, putting another on, or the same one back on again and was also doing the in-between record chat, over and over, using a hairbrush as a microphone in front of a mirror until I got it to sound and look right as much as I could.

Next step was to march into one of my local haunts, the Club La Bamba in Tunbridge Wells, not far from the famous Pantiles, and ask if they needed a DJ. No, they didn’t, but I kept going back to pester the management until they finally agreed to let me do a 20 or 30-minute spot two evenings a week as the punters came in. Although I wasn’t allowed to use the mike and wasn’t allowed to talk the record in, it was a start. So there I was just changing the records, which in those days was mainly Stax and Motown, until the resident DJ Roger Munday took over. And, for doing that, I got as much free Coca-Cola as I could drink in an evening! So, after a few weeks of just putting the records on, I started to nag the club to let me talk the records in and, finally, after much debate, they relented and let me have a go one evening. And, as you do, I made a bunch of mistakes, silly things like having the mike switched to off for the first disc I played, getting tongue twisted on another, putting the wrong side of a record on, and so on. So don’t think I made much of an impression that first time. But the club was very gracious, and after picking up some very useful tips and guidance from Roger, they gave me another try, and another, until I eventually got it right!

And when I did get it right, it was great, the most exciting feeling imaginable. Being allowed to introduce each record, well, wow, it was what I wanted and a great first experience of how to be and react with a live audience. But it was only because I persevered, probably to the point of annoying, that the club finally gave in, but it meant I got the experience that all first-timers need, whether club, radio or television.

Of course, gaining experience for presenting on television was a lot more difficult than getting experience as a DJ in a club. You couldn’t just walk into a TV station like you could a nightclub and ask if you could have a go at it. I started out as a disc jockey in an era when the clubs and pirate radio stations were overcrowded with those keen enough to get seasick on ship three miles out at sea or drink as much Coca-Cola as they could in a single evening.

The entrance to Club La Bamba as it looks today, now an eatery

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