Interview: Ashley Beedle Q&A in advance of Strut Christmas Party

Ashley Beedle is one of those incredible DJs who has most likely forgotten more about music than most of us will ever know. Hyperbole aside, it’s a thrill to hear him speak about his early nightlife experience, the transition from soundboy culture into early club days, and the music that soundtracked the different times of his life. We’re honored to have Ashley on the line-up for our Christmas Party this week, and hope you can join us for what promises to be an incredible evening!

You used to talk about soul clubs in North London that you went to when you were young. Can you tell us about those days?

Yes, I was 16 or 17 when I was going to places like Bumbles, which was either in Tottenham or Palmers Green, and the Royalty in Southgate. I actually saw Marvin Gaye perform there. At the time, I was dabbling with sound systems and I was involved with Stateside which was a sound up in Wembley. My cousin Ricky Bushell hooked me in and I travelled around with them. Already at that stage it wasn’t just about being a pure reggae sound – 2-step soul had started to come in since reggae was a very male phenomenon at his height. The DJs had realised that they had to appeal to the girls and it was soul tunes like Natalie Cole’s ‘This Will Be’ that worked and got them onto the floor. Norman Jay was doing that too with Joey on his sound.

My first club experiences were really during my last year at school when London’s West End was big. Clubs like Crackers and Obie J’s. Where I was living, Harrow (North West London) had a big club scene at the time – there was a big Asian and black population there and the soulboy thing was big. Places like Harrow Leisure Centre, the Kings Head at Harrow On The Hill, Circles in South Harrow, the Headstone in Harrow & Wealdstone and the Co-Op disco which was very influential. There was a white guy, Dave, who ran a sound system called Channel One – not the reggae one we know today – and he played big reggae hits next to tracks like Fatback Band ‘Spanish Hustle’ and ‘Going To See My Baby’, then Elton John’s ‘Philadelphia Freedom’, Mass Production – ‘Cosmic Lust’. I went to Wembley too – the Hop Bine. The dancers from Crackers used to go there and they moved around different clubs and cut each other up. It was a really interesting time. Hammersmith Palais did a Sunday gig where Kelly’s Roadshow played . The biggest tunes were The Real Thing’s ‘Can You Feel The Force’ and GQ hits like ‘Standing Ovation’. I remember there was a turning point when jazz funk became too insular – you’d be paying £20 for a rare album with just one playable track on it. Then kids got into Slave, Freeez, the Brit funk wave which was massive during the early ’80s. There was crossover with the punk scene too as punks took elements of Soulboy fashion like mohair jumpers and plastic bag tops while studded belts and winkle pickers crossed into the soul crowd. That doesn’t often get mentioned.

Which were your favourite clubs during the heyday of electro and boogie around ’83-’85? Any life-changing club moments at that time? Where did you used to buy your records back then?

This was a strange time for me – I opted out a bit during this period. I was checking bands like The Clash, A Certain Ratio, Orange Juice and Siouxsie And The Banshees. At the same time, Rob Mello and I used to go to Bentleys where Derek B was the main DJ. I first started to hear electro and boogie there, all mixed up, just as the B Boy thing was coming through. Then there was Spats in Oxford Street where Tim Westwood was the resident. He’d play that US remix of Tears For Fears with the big break, Ryuichi Sakamoto ‘Riot In Lagos’. It all changed so quickly. Boogie was big and I got totally caught up again after being an indie kid for a while! I had blue plastic brothel creepers, a quiff, the lot! There was a lot of crossover with electro and boogie. A seminal record back then was Terence T ‘Power’ which was a big record when pirate station LWR first started up. Rumour had it that it was Terence Trent D’Arby behind it but it wasn’t! It came out and I remember that you could only get it in Tower Records in Piccadilly. We had no mobiles so it was all word of mouth at that time – a collector called Rajan tipped me off that they had copies. I got there and the queue was round the block! I used to go to obvious small shops like Groove Records in Soho but HMV and Tower used to have some good records back then too. Groove would sometimes even buy their copies there. Reggae shops too – Hawkeye in Harlesden brought in UK boogie tracks and soul to broaden their selection.

How did you find the transition from sound system DJ to club DJ back in the day? Or was it a natural move for you? Where did you first cut your teeth as a DJ in clubs?

I started to make my name when I was with Shock sound system. When we started that, it was just before acid house. Rare groove was really going on but then these proto house records started to appear. I went to Meltdown one night, a club run by Jonathan More and Norman Jay at The Crypt in Brixton. They were playing proto house records mixed in with Fela and James Brown and then eventually all these other house records appeared and they played them too. There was a 12 called ‘JB Traxx’ by Duane & Co. – a massive record. That was the vibe, then Trax came in. We were then given our own room at Clink Street and that was the first time that we did longer sets, playing 2-3 hours. None of us really went to Shoom at the time but the Shoomers came to Clink St after Shoom had finished. We were playing the black end of house which was very different to their sound and we still played soul too staying tru to our suburban soulboy roots. Then Phil Perry, who had Queens in Windsor, approached me to play there – that was the first time I saw Phil, Breeze (God rest his soul) and Weatherall. They played odd records but I adored them and I kept going up to booth asking ‘what’s that, what’s that!’ Tracks like Les Negresses Vertes ‘Zobi la Mouche’, ‘Oh Well’ by Oh Well, Belgian new beat. All coming in at different angles.

You’re in Manchester now? How are you finding life there… and music?

It’s one of the best moves I’ve ever done. London was good but personalities had started to outstrip what the music was about. I found that none of them talked about music – it was all about their careers. I met with T. Williams and listening to his stuff buzzed me up again. Julio Bashmore too. Floor-edged UK funky house that references the older stuff we played but in a great new way. I did my ‘Yardism’ EP in response to that (which is doing well, may I add!). So, I moved to Manchester partly to get out of London and my partner is also studying here. There are so many little scenes here – everyone knows each other and everyone is really helpful. There’s some really new stuff up here and, dare I say it, it may be a bit ahead of London! Wet Play is a great night, Red Laser Disco, Hot Milk playing bashment (which Eoin Mcmanus who is connected to the Oi Polloi store is involved with). Another lot called New Bohemian, Irfan Rainey flying the flag for black house music – he runs a night called Community. Then the Electric Chair crews influence is here everywhere. They really were the forerunners of a lot of stuff happening in Manchester now.

At the Strut party, we’re looking forward to you getting back to the original vinyl. Do you get a chance to spin the rare older tracks as a full DJ set these days?

I do and I don’t. I try and keep a balance, making sure that I’m playing new material but bringing in old tracks too. I mix it all up. If you’ve been DJing as long as me, you start to know what your records are about. DJ Harvey said that you start to understand that when you hit 40! I’m looking forward to the Strut night – it should be great fun.