Greg Wilson (DJ)
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Greg Wilson (born 1960, Wallasey, Merseyside, England) is a DJ and producer associated with both the early 80’s electro scene in Manchester, and the current disco / re-edit scene, for which he’s acquired a global following.
Growing up in the seaside town New Brighton, situated opposite Liverpool on the River Mersey, Wilson lived above his family's pub during the years 1966 – 1973. The premises included 2 functions room, so throughout this period mobile discos came in and out on a weekly basis, having been booked for the wedding receptions and birthday parties catered for. His main musical influences came from the record collections of his elder brother and sister, especially the numerous soul singles they bought on labels like Tamla Motown, Stax and Atlantic. Wilson began his career as a DJ in 1975 at the age of 15, having bought a mobile set-up from his schoolfriend Derek Kelsey (later known as DJ Derek Kaye.) Almost immediately he landed a residency at a local nightspot, The Chelsea Reach, his debut taking place on December 6th 1975 – he would remain at the venue until 1977. Further hometown residencies would follow at The Penny Farthing (1976-77) and The Golden Guinea (1977-1980), where he first built his reputation as a black music specialist, playing soul, funk, disco and jazz-funk.
Directly after a short period trying his hand as an ‘international DJ’, with monthly residencies at clubs in Denmark and Germany (and following on from an earlier European stint in 1978, playing in Denmark and Norway) in 1980 Wilson landed the residency at Wigan Pier, then one of the leading clubs in the UK. He was the 4 night a week resident for 18 months, but, in 1982, would give up his Thursday, Friday and Saturday slots to become a full-time black music specialist. His continued stewardship of the clubs weekly Tuesday night jazz-funk session, playing to a mixed black / white audience, earned him plaudits on the scene nationally, with the Pier subsequently picking up the Blues & Soul award for the North’s Best Club (Wilson would also be named best DJ).
It was his then controversial championing of the early electro records that set him apart from his contemporaries, confirming his status as one of the country’s most cutting-edge DJs. In 1981 he’d been offered an ailing Wednesday night jazz-funk residency at Legend in Manchester (Legend and Wigan Pier were owned by the same company, Lennon’s Leisure), gradually turning its fortunes around until, by the spring of 1982, it was attracting a capacity crowd every week with, like Wigan Pier, people travelling from places including Birmingham, Huddersfield, Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford, Nottingham, Liverpool and London. Legend attracted a predominantly black crowd to listen to the new electro-funk sound of groups like the Peech Boys, D-Train and Afrika Bambaataa. Wilson also began to take a serious approach to mixing around this point, Legend being the first club he’d worked at in the UK to have Technics SL-1200 vari-speed turntables, later to be the industry standard (Greg had first worked with 1200s during his 2 month residency at Club Eastside in Mülheim, Germany in 1980). This was at a point when very few UK DJs had taken this step, almost all still very much microphone based in their presentation.
Wilson’s reputation as a ‘mixing DJ’ hit new levels when Mike Shaft, the presenter of one of the UK’s leading black music shows, ‘T.C.O.B’ (Taking Care Of Business) on Manchester's Piccadilly Radio, invited him to put together mixes for the programme. Shaft wasn't a big fan of the new electro music, but he recognised its popularity, Wilson’s mixes enabling him to feature the music without playing it himself. These were the first mixes of their type in this country, and soon developing a popular following. They’re still talked about as influential to this day, the end of year ‘Best Of 82’ and ‘Best Of 83’ regarded as classics (and kicking off a series of Best of the year mixes on Manchester radio that would run right through into the 90s).
In February 1983 Wilson was invited to demonstrate live mixing on the Channel 4 TV show ‘The Tube’, then essential viewing for music enthusiasts nationwide. After a brief interview with one of the show’s presenters, Jools Holland, Wilson, with Mike Shaft commentating, mixed 2 copies of David Joseph's ‘You Can’t Hide (Your Love From Me)’, then a new release, but subsequently a UK top 20 hit. This was the first time a British DJ had mixed live on TV.
Wilson was also a fixture on the All-Dayer circuit in the North and Midlands between 1981-1984, regularly appearing alongside other black music specialists including Colin Curtis, Mike Shaft, John Grant, Hewan Clarke, Richard Searling, Kev Edwards, Pete Haigh, Jonathan, Trevor M and Cleveland Anderson.
In 1983, Wilson was invited to start a Friday night residency at the The Haçienda club in Manchester, which had opened the previous year. This was the club's first weekly dance music night, and would lay the groundwork for the clubs legendary Nude night, also on the Friday, initially started by Mike Pickering and Martin Prendergast (aka MP2).
A feature of Greg’s nights at The Haçienda (which also included guest spots on the Saturday) was the Manchester breakdance crew Broken Glass, who had followed him across from Legend. Nowadays regarded as one of the foundation stones of UK b-boy culture, Broken Glass, with Wilson as their manager, would gain national exposure via TV appearances including a famous edition of ‘The Tube’, filmed at The Haçienda in February 1984, and remembered as the setting for Madonna’s UK TV debut.
Other firsts for Wilson include him putting together the first UK re-edit (Paul Haig ‘Heaven Sent’ 1983) and teaching Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim), then a young aspiring DJ called Quentin, how to scratch (in December 1983, during a short Haçienda tour of the South, which included Wilson’s only appearance in London to that point, at Camden Palace).
At the end of 1983 Wilson, still only 23, retired from DJing to face new challenges: as well as managing Broken Glass, he began producing records rather than playing them, and in 1984 was involved as co-writer / producer, along with musicians Martin Jackson and Andy Connell, on all but one of the tracks on the Street Sounds ‘UK Electro’ album. This included ‘Style Of The Street’ a recording by Broken Glass, and the first track that Kermit Leveridge would rap on (Leveridge later working with Wilson on the Ruthless Rap Assassins, and more recently Blind Arcade). ‘UK Electro’ is now regarded as a seminal British dance album, the first to feature samples (played in via an E-Mu Emulator II keyboard). 20 years later ‘Style Of The Street’ would be sampled on The Prodigy hit ‘Girls’.
Having split from Jackson and Connell, who went on to form the band Swing Out Sister, and ceased managing Broken Glass, Wilson found himself in limbo by the end of the year, mounting financial problems causing him to lose his car and then his house (in Wigan). Re-locating to Liverpool he briefly worked for the short-lived record label Ryker, before unsuccessfully attempting to launch his own label. With no income and no prospects, Liverpool in deep recession at the time, he reluctantly made the move to London in order to try to resurrect his fortunes.
In 1987, Greg began to manage and produce Manchester’s Ruthless Rap Assassins and sister band Kiss AMC. The Rap Assassins included former Broken Glass member Kermit Leveridge (who’d later, in the mid-90’s, go on to partner ex-Happy Mondays Shaun Ryder in the chart topping band Black Grape), along with brothers Anderson and Carson Hinds. The Rap Assassins released 2 critically acclaimed albums via EMI, 1990’s ‘Killer Album’ and ‘Th!nk (It Ain’t Illegal Yet)’ in 1991. Their best known recording, ‘And It Wasn’t A Dream’, a minor chart hit in 1990, focused on the plight of West Indian immigrants coming to the UK in the 50’s and 60’s, and was named amongst Mojo (magazine)'s ‘50 Greatest British Tracks Ever’ in 2006. In 2011, urban artist Roots Manuva would hail their music as ‘the roots of Grime’.
The Rap Assassins would split up following their 2nd album, with Wilson then concentrating his energies, in addition to production, on songwriting in collaboration with his future wife Tracey Carmen, releasing a handful of records under the project name Mind Body & Soul (or MBS) between 1990 and 1993. The first of these, a dance version of the Jefferson Airplane’s Psychedelic classic, ‘White Rabbit’, was championed by Radio 1 DJ John Peel, with many club DJ’s including Andy Weatherall and Boy George also picking up on it.
The following decade would be something of a wilderness period for Wilson, but in 1994 he re-visited his electro-funk past, compiling the ‘Classic Electro Mastercuts’ album, part of the influential ‘Mastercuts’ series released by Beechwood in the UK. This brought him back behind the decks for a few rare DJ appearances in promotion of the album.
In 1996 he was part of a collective of DJ’s and musicians, largely disillusioned with the way the dance scene had gone, who put on a monthly night in Birkenhead (with one-offs in Liverpool and London) called The Monastery. This was notable for his use of his Revox B77 reel-to-reel in a live context, something that would help symbolise his comeback 7 years later down the line. The Revox was bought back in 1982, as part of the home DJ studio he put together to prepare his radio mixes.
A mix, ‘The Monastic Mix’, was the last he put together on reel-to-reel, it’s autobiographical slant informing the subsequent Teenage DJ project, which he worked on during the final years of his DJ exile, whilst making the step from analog to digital.
Having discovered both in books / articles and online sources documenting the history of UK dance culture that there was little acknowledgement of the key role the black scene played in the evolution of club culture, Wilson raided his archives and set about putting the record straight. In 2003 he launched the website electrofunkroots.co.uk, which documents the crucial early 80’s era, what led up to it and what came out of it. Offers of DJ bookings would follow and, on 20th December 2003, he returned to the DJ fray for the Music Is Better Night at The Attic in Manchester, which proved to be the Launchpad that re-ignited Wilson’s DJ career 20 years after his ‘retirement’. Before long he was picking up an increasing amount of bookings throughout the UK, and eventually Europe and the world, gaining a newfound legion of fans, many young enough to be his children. A major catalyst in this was the release of his essential re-edits compilation Credit to the Edit in the summer of 2005 on the Tirk Recordings label, which included some original tape edits from the 80’s. The album helped establish him, once again, as a scene leader.
Apart from working as a DJ, Wilson also wrote on various aspects of dance / black culture with articles published in magazines / webzines including Wax Poetics, Clash, Grand Slam, Strobelight Honey and Discopia.
His blog, Being A DJ, was launched in June 2010. Wilson describes it as ‘not a DJ blog as such, but more a blog by someone who happens to be a DJ’. The blog is now well established, with over 350 posts published and over a million site visits to date. Greg’s observations on various aspects of club culture are now an online touchstone for an ever-increasing amount of dance enthusiasts and aficionados. Wilson has also been interviewed for a number of books, TV and film projects focusing on the history of club culture.
Credit To The Edit Volume 2 was released in November 2009. With tour dates throughout the following months in the UK, Europe, Japan, Australia and the US to promote the album.
Wilson has produced a series of documentative podcasts, ‘Time Capsule’, ‘Random Influences’ and ‘Early 80’s Floorfillers’, as well as the long-running blog series, ‘Living To Music’, where people were encouraged to listen to a monthly album selection in their home environment. This served to influence other related events, Colleen Murphy’s successful ‘Classic Album Sundays’ audiophile experience included.
2013 marked the 10th anniversary of his DJ return. It was also the year when Wilson took his first steps back into record production, via his Schooled In The Classics project. As curator of the vinyl-only A&R Edits, he’s helped draw attention to up and coming re-editors like Henry Greenwood, Sophie Lloyd, Fingerman, Peza, Twisted Soul Collective, F.A.M.E. and his long-time friend, and remix collaborator, Derek Kaye.
With 3 million hits to date, his SoundCloud presence has been a major factor during the past 5 years, connecting him with people worldwide, many of whom might never have had the opportunity to see him DJ live.
In August 2010 he co-curated (with Jack Hemingway) the Warehouse and Roller Disco areas at the inaugural Vintage Festival at Goodwood, which proved to be an overwhelming success, being named ‘Best New Festival’ at the UK Festival Awards (Greg also being nominated in the ‘Best Feel Good Act Of The Summer’ category). The following year he and Jack curated the Warehouse and Style Studio areas as Vintage was hosted at London’s Southbank. He is now in major demand for both UK and overseas festivals.
Away from the dancefloor, Wilson has given talks on music and DJ culture at numerous events including Afro Modern @ Tate Liverpool, Vintage @ London Southbank, Salon @ Standon Calling & Festival N°6 and on a panel alongside legendary figures Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder @ ADE in Amsterdam.
Super Weird Substance
In 2014 he unveiled his new multi-media platform Super Weird Substance, focusing on recording and live events. This new venture was launched with the 7” release, on Record Store Day, of the Kermit Leveridge poem ‘Lies And Other Fools’, narrated by Howard Marks. Leveridge had approached Wilson to produce his current Blind Arcade project, and Wilson would mould their demos and works in progress together with some of his own edits (with additional vocals by Leveridge) to create the mixtape ‘Blind Arcade Meets Super Weird Substance In The Morphogenetic Field’. This has since become a viral success, and has led to a series of ‘Super Weird Happenings’ throughout the UK; events that featuring talk, art, live performance from Blind Arcade and DJ sets from Wilson plus guests.
Awards and honorable recognition
Wilson was nominated in 2008 by DJ Magazine for outstanding contribution, and also named amongst their top twenty remixers of all-time.