Interview: Greg Wilson

Greg Wilson speaks openly to Jasmine Phull about being at the top of his game in the 80s, scrounging for pennies in the 90s and finally bringing it all back again in 2004.

Jayne Robinson

Date published: 3rd Feb 2011

Greg Wilson started DJing in 1975. Well before the synthesisers, drum machines, the 12 inch and Mac books, there he was with vinyl.

In the early 80s it was all about Tuesdays at Wigan Pier and Wednesdays at Legend. Back then “the music played was mainly soul and funk”, and with Wilson a mélange of electronica and soul patrons came in droves. These black music venues were doubled over by this skinny white guy from Liverpool who was single handedly transforming the 80s funk-electro scene.

Greg Wilson has seen the life of the dance music scene unfold from its inception in the 80s to its reinvention in the noughties. Though in 1984 the Manchester Legend wanted only to exit on a high-note so when it was really good he swiftly left the industry. As he speaks he is doleful about the 20-year-hiatus that had him down-and-out yet his words are those by a man with a now retrospective view: “When you listen to people talking about how they achieved something important to them it’s generally the getting there that they gained the most satisfaction from”.

Greg Wilson speaks openly to Jasmine Phull about being at the top of his game in the 80s, scrounging for pennies in the 90s and finally bringing it all back again in 2004.

Did your hometown of New Brighton help shape your love for dance music? What was the music ‘scene’ like when you were growing up?

It was a seaside town, and my family ran a pub with 2 functions room, so there was music all around me, be it coming from the fairgrounds or the mobile discos that came in and out of my home. By the time I was a teenager I’d acquired a pretty impressive amount of 7” singles for someone so young, inspired by my older brother and sister, from whom I’d ‘inherited’ the basis of my collection.

When I started out in the clubs in 1975, the music played was mainly soul and funk. The 12” single had yet to make its entrance and British DJ’s were still very much microphone based, mixing not being considered until a few years later and not coming into its own here until the following decade.

Can you remember a defining moment when you knew you were on to something good? When you knew music was what you were meant to be ‘doing’?

I don’t think there was ever a eureka moment as such - it was just a path I was naturally drawn to. Before Legend my life could have taken a number of different routes, but after Legend the choice had narrowed down – the whole experience, club, music and especially the people, was a huge inspiration for me, and continues to be so.

You were the first British DJ to mix live on UK TV. Do you still think mixing live is an important element for a DJ on tour?

Mixing is still important, of course, but a lot of people have realised that the fundamental skill needed to be a DJ isn’t mixing ability, but programming ability. Knowing what tracks to play, and in which order, is much more difficult than learning the technicalities of beat matching. When I started out DJs really thought on their feet, reading the crowd as they played. You had to be able to sense the vibe and change direction when necessary. When, in the post-rave era, many DJ’s began to rehearse a set playlist, spontaneity took a back seat and programming skills suffered as a consequence, as did the possibility of spur of the moment surprises, which often provided the highlight of a night. As I’ve said previously, the best DJs, in my opinion, are the ones who are both gifted mixers and intuitive programmers – that’s a compelling combination.

Did you have to experience ‘struggle’ to get to where you are today? Is that an important factor in making a ‘great’ artist?

The 20-year-period when I wasn’t deejaying was pretty bumpy. There were some up times, but plenty of down ones. I remember being so skint that I was looking inside the furniture for coins that might have dropped down there. I’m really glad I experienced these struggles though – it helps give you a fuller perspective on things, and teaches you a bit of humility in the process. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy – it’s the struggle that teaches you to appreciate things, without it you don’t really know what you’ve got.

When you listen to people talking about how they achieved something important to them it’s generally the getting there that they gained the most satisfaction from, not the actual achievement itself. Struggle is a necessary part of life, without it we don’t have that friction that oils the wheels and drives us forward. It might not feel too comfortable at the time, but it’s all for the greater good.

Is there something that’s missing in the music industry that was there 10-15 years ago?

It’s the maverick characters of the golden era that are missing for me, but they were pretty much extinct by the end of the 80’s; when the accountants took over.

Is there something in the music industry now that didn’t used to be there?

On the positive side, artists who would previously have had to go to a record company in order to get their music heard can now build their profile independently, via the Internet. If your primary motivation is the desire to make music, not to make money, you can sidestep the record companies completely and build a profile online. There comes a point where you may need a record company in order to take things to the next stage, but if you’ve already generated an online following there’s more opportunity to deal with the record companies on your own terms, without having to totally compromise your artistic integrity.

One track that makes you feels elated? Why did you choose that particular song?

There’s obviously loads, but off the top of my head I’ll go for a random one, ‘Jackie’ by Scott Walker (originally written and recorded as by ‘La Chanson De Jacky’ by Jacques Brel), which I think is a song that you can only fully appreciate when you have a few years behind you. I’ve re-connected with it more recently, and it’s certainly tied in well with my 50th birthday, bringing a smile to my face whilst stirring my heart. I actually selected it as the final track for Random Influences #1 to mark the occasion.

RANDOM INFLUENCES #1 by Random Influences

One great - recently deceased - artist?

Malcolm McLaren, who was one of the mavericks I mentioned earlier. He was a key player not only in the Punk movement, but also in bringing Hip Hop to the UK back in the early 80’s (I wrote a piece about this called ‘Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Bronx’). There’s a post on my blog, ‘Bumblebee Land’, which highlights his legacy, whilst making an interesting comparison between McLaren and Simon Cowell.

Your New Year’s resolution?

Just to find more balance in my life. It’s been increasingly full-on for me during the past few years, which, although obviously great on the one hand, has meant that I’ve been unable to get round to some of the things I want to do, not least the intention to record a few tracks of my own. By the end of 2010 I was really worn out and in need of a break, but having taken most of January off I now feel regenerated and ready to take up some new challenges.

Interview by: Jasmine Phull

twitter.com/j-fool

Catch Greg Wilson at Brighton's Audio on February 25th. Tickets are available through Skiddle below.

Greg Wilson news, events and info.

Tickets are no longer available for this event

Upcoming Events At Patterns , Brighton

Here are the next 4 upcoming events At Patterns , Brighton

Supercharged presents My Nu Leng
×

Supercharged presents My Nu Leng

Patterns , Brighton

Wednesday 21st Nov

11:00pm til 3:00am

Minimum Age: 18

For ticket prices, please click here (Additional fees may apply)

SuperCharged presents My Nu Leng Wednesday 21st November Patterns, Brighton 11pm-3am

Stone Foundation
×

Stone Foundation

Patterns , Brighton

Friday 23rd Nov

7:00pm til 11:00pm

Minimum Age: 16

For ticket prices, please click here (Additional fees may apply)

AGMP presents Stone Foundation + support from Nick Corbin, performing live at Patterns in Brighton t...

Esben and the Witch
×

Esben and the Witch

Patterns , Brighton

Tuesday 27th Nov

7:00pm til 10:00pm

Minimum Age: 16

For ticket prices, please click here (Additional fees may apply)

The extremities of beauty, noise and power have been tested over the past decade; witness Esben and ...

Martin Stephenson & Daintees
×

Martin Stephenson & Daintees

Patterns , Brighton

Wednesday 28th Nov

7:00pm til 10:00pm

Minimum Age: 18

For ticket prices, please click here (Additional fees may apply)

AGMP presents Martin Stephenson & Daintees Tour.