Nick Brown is based in London, UK. He describes himself as a London Rare Soul DJ and promoter, ran the Scenesville nights at Notre Dame and The Camden Centre in the early Noughties. He took some time out recently to talk to Dr. Robert @Nutsmag.
1. How and when did you get into music and what were you listening to then?
As a young kid I had older brothers and sisters, so I was always exposed to some sort of music, but really got into music seriously with 2-Tone in 1979/80 and was a regular at the Orpington Civic Hall Mod nights between then and 1984, when they finished. It was an under-18s ‘youth club’ night, but what an education! The music I heard there was astonishing, from the standard Kinks/Who/Small Faces/Stones chart classics right through to stuff like Mary Love “Lay This Burden Down”, Huey Piano Smith “Don’t You Just Know It”, or The Action “I’ll Keep On Holding On – these might seem like basic things to us now, but if you think how unlikely a gig like that would be today, with 400 under-18s all going mad to something like The Carnaby or The 81, it will put into perspective what special times they were.
2. Where was your first DJ slot?
Bit of a dim memory, but I think it was a gig I put on myself somewhere around King’s Cross/Pentonville Road in about 1985. I can’t remember the name of the pub and when I’m in the area I do wonder what became of the place – they may even have demolished it for Thameslink or something. We had about 30-40 in, which was OK for a small do in those days, and I would have played stuff like Donald Jenkins “I Walk Alone”, The Wanderers “You Can’t Run Away From Me”, The Rubies “Spanish Boy” and other popular but affordable 100 Club sounds of the time, as well as Flash McKinley “I’ll Rescue You”, which was largely unknown at the time, but my mate Miles liked it, so I’d always play it for him.
3. What was your most memorable DJ spot?
Probably the last half-hour of the final night at Notre Dame, when I was running Scenesville there. We were only there for about a year, but the whole year had gone as well as I could have hoped for, and I remember getting to the end of it and thinking “phew – got through all right”. I think one of the things that made it quite special was the crowd was pretty emotional that night. They’d formed quite an attachment to the venue and they engaged very enthusiastically with the music that was played there, so I think it was a bit of a wrench for people to see it go. I played our last record (it was always Clyde McPhatter “Lonely People”), and then Andy Rix let me play his JD Bryant “I Won’t Be Coming Back”, which I thought was the most appropriate record we could say goodbye to the venue with. The handclaps cracking out from the dancefloor during those 2 ½ minutes are a memory that will stay with me forever!
4. What so far, has been your worst DJ experience?
No real disasters, though I remember a funny incident DJing at a friend’s book launch sometime in the late ‘90s (John Reed’s Weller biog) at the Helter Skelter bookshop. The idea was to play all Weller-related stuff, and I was DJing from both my box and his, because I had a lot of the ‘earlier’ stuff (the Jam, their influences and the tracks they’d covered) and he had a good stock of Post-Jam stuff (Respond label, etc). Great plan, great night, except there were no headphones, and I did get to a bit of the night when I was pulling unmarked 12” white labels out of his box and hoping the result was going to go my way! Proper seat-of the pants DJing, but it was all good fun!
5. Your favourite scene DJ’s and why?
Ady Croasdell, for playing one-offs next to pocket-money classics and treating them exactly the same; collector-researchers like Andy Rix and Gilly for the incredible stuff they are able to unearth by taking digging deep to another level; Kitch for blending a pioneering spirit with faultless taste and a staggering depth of 45s to select from; Dean Anderson for his uncompromising sense of quality standards; Randy Cozens for playing sets dictated by pure taste rather than what’s big; the Stafford 60s Mafia for their campaigning determination; Chris Dale and John Weston for their imaginative approach with established records; my wife Dawn for not caring what anyone else is playing.
6. What has shaped your DJ sound and why?
I came to the Northern Soul scene during the mid-80s when the Stafford/100 Club axis was setting the tone, and the whole ethos of the scene was about pioneering discovery and exploring the boundaries around the ‘core’ sound of traditional 70’s-style Northern Soul, while still keeping in touch with the essential spirit of dance Soul. The buzz of being at a venue the first night they play a new discovery is for me the best part of the Soul scene, and it’s probably an attitude I inherited from that time. It’s easy to find unknown records that are below par or that don’t fit the genre: it’s much more challenging to find new stuff and keep the standards up, but it’s more exciting too. As a DJ, I try to do that, but also to respect the heritage of what’s been found up to now, particularly if it’s good but currently ‘under-represented’ on the scene. The challenge is to put that all into a creative, entertaining and unpredictable blend, avoiding the easy option but still making sense to everyone in the room. It’s a tall order, but a good target to aim for.
7. What was your best ever find/discovery?
Pic & Bill “What Does It Take” is probably the one that stands out. I bought it in about 1984 (when I was still at school) from a stall at Bromley Market for about £2 or £2.50. As I was a regular, the stallholder recommended it to me, saying anything by them was worth having. I took him up on it, and bought 3 or 4 P&B titles (including “Talk About Love”) for the same kind of money, and was a sworn Pic & Bill fan from then on. Because of its Northern Soul ingredients (it ticks just about every NS box you can think of and is a killer tune), I assumed “What Does It Take” was a widely-known oldie, but over the years it became clear it was virtually unknown and it has turned out to be freakishly rare. Up to today I only know of one other copy for certain, which Ady Croasdell got from the Charay offices, so probably their file copy. A real prized piece, and I play it out at every possible opportunity.
8. Who was your biggest influence musically and your favorite artist(s)?
The first band to really strike a deep chord with me was The Specials and I like any act like them that is really decisive about its attitude and its music. Favourite Soul acts include Ray Pollard, Pic & Bill, Johnny Gilliam, Carolyn Crawford, but if we’re honest, what we really collect on the Northern Soul scene is not so much vocalists as songwriters, arrangers and producers, and some of my favourites are Curtis Mayfield in his Okeh years, Eddie Singleton, The Funk Brothers, Eddie Silvers, Arthur Wright, Barry Despenza, The Harthon team and and Popcorn Wylie. Beyond the Soul Scene, I’m a big Garage fan and as far as I’m concerned there is nobody that comes close to The Dovers for an overall output of work. I’m also a great lover of Indie music, and the toppermost band for me will always be the Stone Roses, who to me personify the principle that it’s better for some of the people to like you a lot than for all of the people to like you a bit, which is a concept I think is good to keep in mind when promoting and DJing.
9. Do you collect specific labels/artists/genres?
Currently, the general price of records means it doesn’t make sense for me to collect any labels or artists A to Z, but there are certainly some labels I like to pick up whenever I can because I know I’m going to get something good. Murco (Shreveport Louisianna) has never let me down for Southern dancers and Deep slowies, nor has Enjoy from New York for the Early Soul/R&B end of things. The label I’m most focused on at the moment is Gay Shel from Dallas, Texas, which has a few cheapies but much of it is very hard to find and all of it is excellent, so I’m trying to get it in before everyone catches on and the prices go through the roof! Dallas/Fort Worth in general is a recording centre I really rate for Soul releases, as are Georgia and the Carolinas, though only the proper Soul stuff from the Carolinas, not the ‘Carolinas Merseybeat’ stuff. I also like a nice bit of Lowrider.
10. Where can folks currently catch your DJ set?
Errr, anywhere that’ll have me! Actually, I’m planning to get some Scenesville events going by the end of the year, so I guess just watch this space…
11. What is the record you would most like to own?
Hard to say without falling into cliché, but generally what gets me excited is a record with three characteristics: very rare, very good and very unknown. Something with all those three things to the max would be what I want most, and naturally, I don’t know what it is yet! Out of the known things it would be something like original acetates of the Ringleaders “All Of My Life”, Little Ann “What Should I Do” The Temptones “That’s When You Know You’re In Love, etc. I remember seeing an Edgewood acetate of the slow side of the pulled Jimmy Armstrong release on Shrine, and it was the closest you’d ever get to owning a copy of the 45. I suppose an Edgewood acetate of the uptempo side must be out there somewhere – that’d be worth having!
12. Please give us a top 10 all time favourites and a current top 5 spins?
Top 10 Tracks of All Time:
First two are dead certs, head and shoulders above everything else for me, the rest is in roughly the right order
- Shirley Edwards: Dream My Heart (Shrine)
- Bobbie Smith: Walk On Into My Heart (American Arts)
- Tommy Yates: Something’s Got To Give (Verve)
- The Dolls: The Reason Why (Toy)
- Al Williams: I Am Nothing (La Beat)
- Margaret Mandolph: Something Beautiful (Planetary)
- Anita Anderson: Little Bit Longer (Contact)
- Doris Troy: I’ll Do Anything (Calla)
- Eric Mercury: Lonely Girl (Sac)
- Arin Demain Silent Treatment (Blue Star)
Current Top 5 Tracks:
- Pic & Bill: What Does It Take (Charay)>
- Jessie James: Are You Gonna Leave Me (Shirley)
- Les Watson & The Panthers: Occasionally I Cry (Pompeii)
- Bob & Fred: I’ll Be On My Way (Big Mack)
- The Moments: Baby I Want You (Hog)
Next Club Spots: Crossfire 25, London, October 11th 2014