We asked Greg Wilson a few questions ahead of joining us behind the plates at the party last Saturday. Unfortunately his answers disappeared into the mysterious ether that is the Internet until just this morning.
Strange… but anyway, it was another fantastic night; and here, better late than never, is some interesting insight.
Mister Saturday Night: Let’s start with the days back at the legendary Wigan Pier where you started this whole thing off. Can you tell us a little about those times?
Greg Wilson: Wigan Pier was one of the early New York-styled discotheques in the UK, opening in 1979. Its sound and lights were way ahead of the game, including the first proper laser system in the country, and the emphasis was very much on the DJ and light jock (we were positioned in a 15 ft high fibre-glass frog!). It was completely different to the fabled Wigan Casino, which was in a rundown old ballroom and had a pretty basic sound system, as did most British clubs back then. The Pier and the Casino were chalk and cheese, and it was very much a case of the old passing over to the new guard. The Casino, which was well past its glory days by the time I came to Wigan, would close in 1981.
We never played Northern Soul at the Pier, but the contemporary music of the time, which, when I took over in 1980 was Jazz-Funk, and the back end of Disco (from the black side) and Futurist / New Romantic (from the white side). I was initially the 4 nights a week resident, playing Jazz-Funk and the other black strands on the Tuesday night, whilst combining the better known tracks from the Tuesday sessions with the Futurist stuff and the more commercial dance releases that wouldn’t make it onto the Tuesday playlist (things like Shalamar, Michael Jackson and Imagination). I eventually specialized purely in black music, retaining the Tuesday at the Pier, alongside Wednesday at Legend (the greatest club I ever worked at, which I took over in 1981), whilst doing various other nights at different points during 82 – 84, most notably the Stars Bar in Huddersfield (Thurs), and The Exit and The Hacienda in Manchester (both Friday). I also played at all the main All-Dayers in the North and Midlands, events where the best known DJ’s on the black scene would be brought together on the same bill for an all day session on either a Sunday or a Bank Holiday Monday.
Before I was at Wigan Pier I’d already deejayed for 5 years in my hometown of New Brighton, near Liverpool. It was really the Golden Guinea, where I was resident between 77-80, where I first picked up recognition on the main black music scene, and from the then DJ bible, Blues & Soul – it’s New Brighton where I served my apprenticeship an graduated from, so to speak..
MSN: Since your return you’ve firmly established yourself at the top level. What have been the key milestones for you since you came back from retirement?
GW: I was fortunate that during the first part of my return everything developed very organically. This all started with my comeback night in Manchester (Dec 03) when a couple of other DJs who were there approached me to play their nights–Ralph Lawson (from Back To Basics in Leeds) and Solid State, who promoted in Sheffield. It all snowballed in a word of mouth manner, which is the best way, as it gave me time to settle back into things and gradually adapt to the pace of being a DJ once again. I didn’t have an agent until I started working with Matt Johnson after we hooked-up around the release of Credit To The Edit Vol 1 in 2005.
Credit To The Edit was certainly a milestone–it took my name to people overseas who’d never heard of me before, so it was the catalyst for an ever-increasing amount of European bookings, as well as my first trip over to New York. It was a dream album for me–being able to put together my own collection of edits, showcasing my work in the perfect way, whilst linking my past to the present.
The Essential Mix in Jan 2009 was another major moment. I’d expected it to receive a mixed response, given Radio 1’s ‘in new music we trust’ policy. I thought a lot of the audience would have been critical of so much older stuff being in the mix, so I was totally taken by surprise when the response was almost 100% positive. Further to this I hadn’t taken into account that within days (and in some cases hours) of it being broadcast it had been uploaded onto blogs all around the world. I just hadn’t considered the bigger picture, with the mix going global almost instantly, introducing many many more people to what I’m about. Now, wherever I am in the world, people talk to me about the Essential Mix – it’s quickly become regarded as something of a classic, which is very pleasing on a personal level. You always hope that people will connect with what you’re doing, but it’s a shock and a buzz, in equal measures, when it happens on this type of scale.
MSN: When we last spoke you mentioned you were hoping to get back into writing and producing again. How’s that going?
GW: Edging ever closer–the intention is there, just looking for the time.
MSN: We’re now doing our party at a wonderful loft space in Brooklyn. Some see this as a return to the underground. Do you have any views on the ebb and flow of how dance music is consumed, understood and presented over the years?
GW: The underground is the lifeblood of the scene. Without a strong underground everything stagnates. Throughout the 90’s and into the millennium dance music had become an increasingly corporate entity and big business for many, DJs included–the heart went out of things. There were always people trying to keep the underground flag flying, but they were generally buried deep beneath the hype and hysteria of the Super Clubs and Superstar DJ. Thank God we’re out of that rut!
Smaller gatherings, where people who go a bit deeper in their passion for music, and can share ideas / inspirations / the dancefloor / the moment, is always vital in the growth of any movement. Look at any of the great music scenes and you’ll find that they began with a small amount of people with shared passions and ideals. The current underground is connecting what went before with what’s to come, which is a very exciting development, linking in directly to the power of the internet, which has revolutionized the way in which we source and share our information. I feel that we’re at the very beginning of the next wave, waiting for a younger generation to come along and take things by the balls, having gained a fresh perspective that respects the past and expects, for the future, something better that what’s currently being spoon fed on a mainstream level. The underground provides the nourishment.