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An important taste-maker DJ and one of the originators of the jazz dance movement.
Interview by Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove.
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Bob you were a young Mod in the 60’s. You were born in Chelmsford were you?
Chelmsford, yeah, my parents moved to Chelmsford after World War Two, because the grandparents had a shop in Southend and it got bombed and they had to move. They moved them inland, so the whole family moved to Chelmsford and I was born in Chelmsford, and my brother too.
When did you first start to get interested in black music?
That was…my interest in black music I suppose came from Linda, the youngest of two elder sisters. I was maybe 11, 12, 13 at the time, just broken into my teen years, and most of my friends were liking The Beatles and The Stones and, you know, the British pop explosion from the early 60’s. I'd hear music coming out of my sister’s bedroom that I knew nothing about. That turned out to be Country Blues, City Blues, Rhythm & Blues, people like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sleepy John Estes, people like that. I asked her what it was, it attracted me tremendously. Then my local youth centre Rainsford Secondary School in Chelmsford had a youth centre and they used to have bands on a Friday night and a lot of the bands were white or mixed -race bands but they played black music and being that age you literally thought they wrote them or they composed them, but obviously they were doing cover versions. Then also when I got a bit older the Corn Exchange in Chelmsford had live bands. And it was all sort of British bands playing American covers, you know, like Blues and R&B stuff.
Was it weekly at the youth centre?
The youth centre was weekly. The bands that played there were mainly Blues-based at the youth centre; people like The Pink Fairies and stuff like that.
Was it Blues Rock as well?
Like 'Sam Apple Pie' type bands?
Yeah, very much, Blues-based but Blues Rock, Folk Blues, that type of thing.
So what are we in the mid 60’s here are we?
We’re talking sort of maybe ’64, ’65. Around about that era. I remember going there one Friday night and seeing a very young Van Morrison who knew Twink who was the lead guitar player of the Fairies. They bought him in as a guest vocalist on one of the songs. It was amazing.
In the youth centre?
In the youth centre, yes, but I didn't know at the time who they were so it was only sort of later down the line I thought “Oh, I saw that guy” - Van Morrison down the youth centre! But, yeah. they were very Blues. I remember there was a group that played in the youth centre that were made up of half young black guys and half whose parents I think were at USAF at Mildenhall, because we used to go to Mildenhall on a Wednesday night or a Tuesday night during the week and get taken in. You had to get signed in as a guest, but we saw a lot of American black bands that would only tour American air bases, wouldn't even play at major dance halls or anything at the time. But these black kids, there was a band called The Healers, and I've tried to look back in the history books and I can't find anything about them to see whether they had a recording contract, but they would be playing, you know, and they had a brilliant Hammond organist who would do things like covers of Jimmy Smith The Cat and stuff like this, you know, and they were very Hammond-based bands, a bit like Georgie Fame and The Animals and bands like that. It was only later on in life I found out they were Jazz-based instrumentals but I used to think they were just Rhythm and Blues instrumentals. Same as Ramsey Lewis’s Wade In The Water or something like that, played on a keyboard, but they are Blues, they are sort of Jazz-based instrumentals you know?
That’s right. So that was in the youth centre at Rainsford. So were you buying records at that point?
I started buying records around about 13-14 years old from William Dace, who had two music shops in Chelmsford, one had a lot of instruments, you know, and had a very small record section and then they had a record shop but that one got closed down and they concentrated on moving all the records up to the one above the…it was near Tindall Square in Chelmsford which was near the Corn Exchange in the centre of town. They used to sometimes have sales and I'd be buying a lot of sort of Blue Horizon singles, Blues stuff. Because I was going to the Corn Exchange at the time I'd be listening to Georgie Fame, Zoot Money, Graham Bond, I'd buy their albums and stuff like that. But a lot of my singles collection was the Sue Record label, the off-shoot of Island. Because it was my introduction to sort of a whole new world of black music, I followed The Who around. They were my favourite band and they used to do cover versions of Land of 1000 Dances and stuff like that, which the original by Chris Kenner got released on Sue UK so that sort of fitted. Sue was great because it had things like Dust My Broom Elmore James on it alongside Harlem Shuffle Bob and Earl, you know and Fascinations Girls Are Out To Get You, so you had like Blues, Rhythm & Blues and what later became Northern Soul all in one catalogue.
So how did your tastes grow from there then Bob. You’ve gone from the youth centre to the Corn Exchange and seeing all these artists. What else was there around live-wise that you were checking out or were they the main venues that you were going to?
They were the main venues that I was going to. There were bands that were playing music, especially at the Saracen’s Head. A friend of mine put on some Jazz concerts there with different bands, and there were different bands playing at the Saracen’s Head. There was a hall in Maldon behind a pub, and I can't think of where it was now, but the bands that were playing there were mainly…I saw Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated at the Saracen’s Head with Cyril Davies and Alexia Korner. And then the hall in Maldon…and Chelmsford City Football Club used to put stuff on as well, but that was mainly…it was black music but it was more mainstream and the odd Afro-Caribbean act like I saw the Skatalites there and Derek Morgan and people like that, and Pat Kelly. I saw Pat Kelly at Chelmsford City Football Club so apart from the youth centre and the Corn Exchange there weren't many Jazz-based, that I was going to.
Was there anything at the local colleges or anything?
If there was I didn't attend them.
I guess at that point your taste was more Rhythm & Blues and Blues?
Yeah totally. I changed…as soon as Linda, the Sister who got me into this in the first place, took me…one of my birthdays she took me along to ‘Ready Steady Go’ and I saw live, twice, I saw James Brown and Otis Redding, so that kicked me more from Blues and R&B in to the Soul side of things, but at the same time I was still buying instrumentals and picking up, you know, sort of like Jazz-based instrumentals that I thought were R&B instrumentals. And then towards the end of the 60’s my father bought me my first Blue Note album which was Jimmy Smith’s Back At The Chicken Shack on Blue Note and that took me completely into a different direction altogether. And then I could see, even though it took me into a direction of what I called R&B-based Jazz, that late ‘60s sort of Blue Note catalogue, I could see the connection between that and the instrumentals I was buying in the early 60’s you know, so I suppose that was my earliest bit of getting into Jazz music, if you could label it under the word ‘Jazz’.
At that point had you any inclinations to do any DJ’ing at all?
Well I started DJ’ing in ’67, which was my local youth centre. My next door neighbour had equipment. He was a college kid, and he built Hi-Fi equipment and he said “You've got a record collection” – which had amounted to quite a few; at that point it was hundreds of singles and albums. Out of our crowd that I hung around with, 30 or 40 of us, I was the one with the…I was ‘the jukebox’, so to speak. I started DJ’ing at the youth centre and that failed quite miserably. I lived on this housing estate in north Chelmsford called Melbourne housing estate and they had a pub called the Red Beret and I just went in there one day and asked if they had any spare dates, because I'd built my own decks, I'd bought two decks from the electronics shop in Chelmsford; they were the ones where you pulled the arm to start the deck. Eagle used to do a little microphone mixer but you could adapt it. It was a 4-channel job, you could have one channel for your microphone because the input was at the front, and it was battery operated and I used to slot that in the front and I built a little box for them to go in and everything because I was into electronics, or into electrical stuff. I started doing every Thursday night at the Red Beret in Chelmsford, playing my black music collection, nothing else but. I played the odd Georgie Fame record or the odd Jimi Hendrix track or whatever but it was. Mainly black music.
Where did you go on from there then?
I used to go socially to a club in Chelmsford called ‘Deejays’ after the Red Beret. I used to go down there for a drink after I'd done my DJ’ing and I walked in one Thursday night and Colin Newcombe, the owner, said to me “Are you free tomorrow night?” This was about, maybe 1970 and I said “Yeah I am” and he said “My DJ has let me down, could you.....” – it was the only late night club in town so… - “....could you play?” He said “I’ll pay you and everything”, and I think I started playing there and all I took along was my record collection, but being a discotheque where the public went in it needed a bit more than that. He said “I like what you do but is there any chance you could play some pop stuff alongside the black music that you play?” so I started…I got a residency there every Friday and that was I think about 1971, 70-71, so that's when I, you know, I could present my record collection to the public rather than just playing in a pub. And I still played at the Red Beret on a Thursday and I still played…I used to do the Golden Fleece in Chelmsford on a Saturday afternoon had a side-bar, I used to play there on a Saturday afternoon but it was more or less like a laid-back listening for a bit of Motown or a bit of Stax, but really laid back. I used to get away with playing mid-tempo stuff in there. Because there was no dance floor it was people coming in and having a drink, sitting down and socialising, rather than the place going mad, people dancing. So basically that’s how I branched into DJ’ing as a hobby at that point.
Do you remember the period when Deejays, as a residency, went over to 100% black music?
Yeah I think so. I think it coincided with…I'd got this reputation for playing black music on a Friday night, and early doors was always album tracks and things like that and I got people that used to come there just literally from the off just to listen to the tracks I was playing early doors, and then about ’73, ’74 the early strains of Disco started creeping through and one record that started….up until then I'd play the Rod Stewart’s and that, alongside, so in terms of percentage it was probably 30% pop, 70% black and then…but when things like – I know it's a commercial record – but when George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby came in, which was the early start of Disco, I could get away with playing a lot more because people accepted that because it crossed over. Big chart record. So I could drop in things along the lines of that and the moody stuff and I think from about ’74 onwards to ’78 it became 100% black music and filtering Fusion and Jazz-Funk alongside the more mainstream black music that I was playing alongside the Motown and the Stax and what have you. One of the people that actually visited the club, there were two brothers, one of which - they lived locally I believe they lived in Ongar or in Ingatestone – was a guy called, a young guy called Andy and a young guy called Mac, they were brothers and Mac was an art student and Andy went on to become Andy Polaris of Animal Nightlife. They used to come up and Mac stood out like a sore thumb because of the way he dressed, the way he wore his hair …and he'd always have a couple of albums with him. He’d always have a couple of things and say “Oh yeah, play this and play that” and he’d bring me in – because early doors you could get away with playing a more left-field track, the club would fill up between 9.00-9.30 and 10.00, but I mean 8.00 until 9.00-9.15 you could play really what you wanted without it being too mad. So he would bring in albums for me to play and a lot of his albums were Fusion stuff and “Have you heard this?” and “Have you heard that?”, so my play list then went off in another direction! Even though I was buying Jazz-based albums my stuff was mainly Prestige and Blue Note and he was telling me that, you know, there was other stuff to buy like Chick Corea and people like that, so yeah that sort of branched off. While I was at Deejays friends of mine called Chris and Charlie Dyer, they put on nights, they decided to put on Jazz nights at the Saracen’s Head in Chelmsford with bands like Morrissey and Mullen, you know, and the Breakfast Band and bands like that. So that sort of helped generate a bit of a scene.
Were you aware of any other Jazz thing happening live-wise around that area at the time?
I wasn’t. I was engrossed in what I was doing and a lot of my stuff was basically vinyl-based. You know, I was enjoying what I was doing and I was turning a blind-eye to any other culture that was going on. I just wasn't…it wasn't open to me, I didn't know it was going on, you know what I mean? I wasn't open to the fact it was going on. Unless it was started by a friend of a friend or something like that.
Yes, because the live Jazz scene and what was happening in the clubs were two different worlds weren't they, until the height of that Jazz-Funk thing.
Yeah and a lot of musicians – and I'm not creating a musician/DJ war here – when Disco, for want of a better word, I wasn't heavily into commercial Disco, I was always into any music that’s left of centre, like the underdog, I like the underdog, the rawness of the underground scene rather than the commercial scene, that’s me – but there was a lot of musicians lost a lot of work through DJ’s so there was a bit of animosity between a band and a DJ you know. I never saw it that way, I never drew a line because I grew up on live music so I would appreciate live music as much as a recording so it didn't bother me that this would be, you know, that there would be affliction between me and somebody playing a guitar because you can't beat live, you just can't, it's a spontaneous thing and I've toured with live bands so I know that the atmosphere generated by musicians is tremendous.
There's also an interesting point that Kenny Baxter, a local saxophonist, he said - because there was an interesting point I think in the late 70’s early 80’s when our Jazz-Funk scene became enormous and there was a lot of British bands playing Jazz-Funk wasn't there and that was probably the first time that the bands and the DJ’s had actually come together.
That’s right, yeah.
And your Saracen’s Head proves that because there you are, in that picture you’ve shown me, Morrissey and Mullen in the front and there you are in the back on the stage.
At the back playing the records…
But Kenny Baxter told me that with his long running band, ‘Turntable’ at the Top Alex Sunday lunchtimes which was an institution for 25 years, when he had his Jazz-Funk band he used to go and buy records from Record Man in Rayleigh, so Kenny’s source for finding stuff for his band was the same source as…
…yeah, same as us lot, yeah…
They’d go down there and buy Chuck Mangione and all the latest Jazz-Fusion imports.
…yeah, Crusaders albums and whatever…
…yes and I thought that was really interesting, so Kenny, what he was doing with Turntable was very kind of state-of-the-art kind of…
So the jigsaw puzzle did fit, but you did get the odd musician that would fly off the handle that venomously hated DJ’s in their presence because they felt they were losing work because of DJ’s, it’s just like everything else, you know and I know the DJ culture in that period between say ’75 and ’85 blew up to become massive didn't it, and the DJ instead of accompanying a musician or a singer or whoever at a gig was all of a sudden ‘the act’! Does that make sense?
Because clubs got built and discos arrived, and whether it was a good thing or a bad thing only time will tell, but it was the same argument with musicians, you know, fully blown Jazz musicians it was the same argument when Fusion came in, do we record it or don’t we record it? Do we record Jazz-Funk, a watered-down version of Fusion? Or because you know obviously people want that, you know, the period between the 70’s, say between ’74 to about ’79-’80 where renowned musicians from the Jazz world, Herbie Hancock, Crusaders – whoever – started making funky records.
Yes, that’s right.
Where the solos were Jazz based! And a lot of them were ostracised for that weren’t they, so…
I suppose to a certain degree that’s what made Mac bringing a Jazz-Fusion record along to ask for you to play early-doors. It probably didn't seem that strange to you, even though you weren’t playing Jazz-Fusion at that point, because it was only one step away from the kind of Jazz Funky stuff that was already around wasn't it?
That’s right, I mean I was playing,.... I mean Kool & the Gang were – for all intents and purposes – a Jazz band when they started out and they became more commercial and the rest is history, but you know I was playing Kool & the Gang records and the stuff he was bringing in was a bit more electronic but I could read the connection, I never thought “Oh I don't really like this, this is a bit too…’
And you'd have had all the Mizell Brothers productions and Roy Ayers and things…
Yeah exactly and the Donald Byrd’s and everything. Yeah because Blue Note went through a transition didn't it, during that period, so…
Yes, yes. I remember you telling me that the barrier-breaking record that you played that Mac brought along was the ‘Light as a Feather’ album by Chick Corea wasn't it?
Yeah that’s right.
So what was your reaction when you played this for Mac for him to dance to, what went through your mind?
Well I listened to it on headphones before I played it, because I had a habit of, you'd get given so many different things and certain things I wouldn't bother playing if it didn't fit into my style and I was quite pleasantly surprised that I liked what I was hearing, not that I shouldn’t because he had good taste in music but it was…but again it was so advanced to what I'd got up to at that point, because I'd always been in a position through my life of, I don’t know, being in the right place at the right time and hearing the right things, but then again I've always been accused by my peers of being ‘too ahead’ of ‘being in the right place at the right time’…you know, I start playing them and “No you can't play that Bob, that’s far too ahead of what's going on, no-one will get into that” and they don't! And then 5-10 years later they do! But with Mac I was just so happy, I heard sort of the first 2-3 minutes of this tune and thought, “Yeah I'm gonna play this, I like this” and I think him and his brother and a couple of others were the only ones dancing to it, which would be par for the course in the club at the time, but I started going out and buying stuff of that ilk and searching out…
Yeah, and searching out stuff of that ilk.
Where were you managing to find those kind of records locally?
When I was playing in Deejays, Deejays was down a little alleyway opposite one of the old cinemas in Chelmsford, near Chelmsford bus station and there was a shop, a couple of shops either side of the old cinema, one of the shops was called Ecstasy Records run by a friend of mine called Martin Havelin. He originally had the shop in London Road in Chelmsford and then he moved it round to almost opposite Deejays, so I used to go in there on a Saturday morning and spend my ill-gotten gains from Friday night, and he had a massive Blue Note catalogue and Prestige catalogue in there in browsers. Maybe I was the only one buying them. I'd go in there and place my order and say “I need this Chick Corea album” and he went “Oh alright” and then he ordered it, and then in time being, because of my taste increased he would get these things in for me, you know what I mean? The rep would say, “Well look this is along those lines”, and he’d go “I've got this” and 9 times out of 10 I would buy it, so…that helped quite a bit. And then I started branching out later on and going to other places in Essex, like Record Man in Rayleigh. That was a big, big shop for me. Every Saturday with my daughter going down there to buy records and Colin Snow - God bless him – who owned it, because he had a love for Jazz didn't he, he loved…
Earl Klugh was his big love wasn't it.
Yeah, he had a love for Jazz, because he ran a night called Blue Note didn't he and things like that didn't he.
Yeah, at Crocs in Rayleigh originally.
So you knew that if he…he was one of the first shop owners that I'd been into that would put stuff by for you, you didn't ask for it, he’d go “Oh by the way these came in, here we are. I think you'll like these half a dozen albums” and he’d got to know everyone’s individual tastes. We were all in there for black music but we all had our own little off-shoot as well didn't we, we all had our own little individual tastes and I think Colin was the first person that I'd encountered even though Martin was a friend of mine and he had a shop in Chelmsford, but you really had to push Martin because Martin’s main outgoing sales was pop. So for him to sort of, you know, but Colin, yeah, Record Man was a big piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
And it was just great that he loved Jazz that much that he would actually put on live music every Wednesday wasn't it?
I went to it when it was at Crocs then it went to TOTS didn't it, but apparently it started at Zero Six originally, briefly, I never went there when it was there.
No, I never went there when it was at Zero Six, I went to Croc’s and Tots.
That’s right and Crocs you were the main DJ on the Blue Note night, and other guests, such as myself. There was always three DJs wasn't there and a live band. And you saw the most…well a guy that’s obviously a legendary Essex-based saxophonist, Gary Plumley, first time I ever saw him was playing with the Aerial Beagles and you’d see all the big British Jazz-Fusion bands of the time playing there didn't you.
Yeah and left-of-centre underground bands that you didn’t know about, but were brilliant. The majority of which didn't even have a recording contract!
That's right, well Aerial Beagles would be a good example because they didn't have a recording contract. But all with your fantastic music in the background influencing us with your Jazz. Before we go any further than the Blue Note Club at Crocs in Rayleigh, and as I say, TOTS where it went to: I know you had a very very loyal following at Deejays of course, incredible, I speak to some guys down here in Southend who said they used to get a bus to Chelmsford. It was really hard to get to Chelmsford in those days. Even though it was only – what – 18/19 miles away from Southend, they said they would get a bus and they wouldn't even know how they were going to get home but they just had to get there, they were very loyal. You had a very very loyal crowd at Deejays didn’t you. Some of them tell me they were also going over to the Goldmine on Canvey as well, which actually is quite a long distance from Canvey to Chelmsford in those days – now you can do it in 20 minutes! But in those days it was almost all ‘A’ roads and ‘B’ roads I suppose.
They used to see me on a Friday and go to the Goldmine on a Saturday.
Yes. Did that seem a bit of a distance to you in those day?Did you see Goldmine as any kind of competition?
Not really, I mean I knew Chris Hill from when he did the Orsett Cock and also to the Goldmine on a Monday when he used to just do 100% imports, as a punter. But we never really talked, I never really spoke to him, and one of my closest friends at the time was a friend of mine from Witham, called Paul Gratue who went on to become resident at Crackers on a Saturday night, in Wardour Street, but Paul used to know Chris better than I did, but talking about the crossover of the crowd, I remember being at home on the Sunday afternoon and the phone rang and my wife at the time, Anita, picked up the phone and said”There’s a bloke called C. Hill on the phone for you” and I went “Oh right, ok then” so I picked up the phone and he goes “Is that Bob?” and I went “Yeah” and he went “It’s Chris Hill here” and I went “Oh right, how are you?” and all that and he said “Er, some of my punters that visit you on a Friday.......” - in other words they're his that visit me and not mine that visit him! – “......said that you play this record” and I can't remember what the name of the record was now, it was a Jazz thing, “Where did you get it from?” and I said “Oh….” And I think it might have been one of those I got from Tony Ashby (Tony’s Imports, Clacton) or….no, because Tony wouldn't have come along until the Countryman or the United Brethren days, so I might have got it at Martin's shop or something like that, so I told him and he went “Oh alright, ok then”, and it was a feather in my cap because I played a record he hadn’t got, and at the time Chris was always the person you looked up to, to hear these things you know? I mean he played stuff that – as you know – he could play a commercial record one minute and yet play the most underground Jazz track the next and hold the dance floor, so he was one of my idols basically back in the day because he's the person that I thought, you know, that's the sort of person that I…his style of DJ’ing influenced me a lot, apart from, his style of DJ’ing how he swung from one genre to another, and also musically and also I was getting a lot of it as well from hearing different people on radio as well. But Chris was a big idol back in…and still here of course, a good friend today, but yeah that was funny that moment because I think that broke the ice between me and him, in terms of that’s when I got to know him on a more personal level, you know, more friendship level other than that it was ‘Chris Hill at the Goldmine’ and me at Chelmsford. But I didn't realise at the time I was creating anything, all I was doing and all I've ever done through my whole life – and I say this to people – because I like to push the barriers musically speaking in black music, it’s just me and my personal taste going off into a different direction and when I'm DJ’ing I'm just playing my record collection at the time, you know what I mean? If it’s a ‘roots’ night obviously I’ll play my old stuff, but I don't consider myself anything special, I just play music and if people like it they like it. And you don't know you're creating anything at that particular time, it's only years later when people start writing books and putting it all together that you were a bit, you were quite a piece in the jigsaw puzzle.
That’s right, which of course you are without a doubt. It is quite interesting isn't it because there was a certain amount of education there to the punters because from what you're doing and what Chris was doing with your various clubs, with your selections, which are going to be a lot different from each others.
Yeah, we crossed over at some point.
Yes, but what was great about that was you were unknowingly creating a taste for certain styles of music that weren't necessarily being played in other parts of the country.
Oh yeah and you definitely weren't hearing it on radio, mainstream radio.
Well when you consider that later on when the Jazz Dance thing went into London, on a heavy level through Paul Murphy – and, you know, Paul Murphy’s from just down the road here in Benfleet – was a Bob Jones punter and a Chris Hill punter and without a doubt would have had his taste in Jazz. He went on to be this barrier-breaking Jazz DJ but you formed his taste.
Yeah because when I met Paul he was pushing me Funk albums and you know, he was pushing me Cameo LP’s and stuff because he worked in a record shop and he said “Have you heard this?” and “What’s that you’re playing?” and I’d be saying “That’s Miles Davis” or “That’s Art Blakey” – you know “Really?!” and the next thing he took it into London didn't he.
So when you were doing Deejays in Chelmsford in what, um, the late 70’s you started doing a night in, would it have been Ilford would you have said?
Kingswood Club in Hornchurch. We did that on a Tuesday. Murphy asked us to do that. That was after Deejays. I packed up Deejays because I felt, without sounding big-headed or anything, I'd outgrown the place. It just wasn’t happening for me any more and Colin would agree with that, I think, the people wanted more mainstream than what I could deliver so I parted ways with him – on a happy note I might add. We didn't fall out at all, we just moved on and a friend of mine called Brian had a pub in Chelmsford called The Countryman and he was a Jazz fanatic and he used to put bands on there as well. But mainly like Jazz-Funk bands and stuff like that, anyway he said to me “Do you want to DJ at the pub? But I can't offer you a Friday or a Saturday” and I said “Well that suits me fine because I'm busy doing other things, like going to London or doing weekenders” because you've got to remember this was almost the end of the 70’s now, so by that time I was asked to play in other places other than my home town. So I said that suited me fine, no problem, so we started a Monday, which was a free-for-all night musically speaking, freestyle, and I used Russ B’s equipment and Grumpy Brown, they had a little mobile disco at the time, well not little but a mobile disco and they leant me the gear because they were punters at Deejays in the latter part of me DJ’ing there, so the whole thing worked. So we started Monday nights and Monday nights were extremely successful and he said “I've got a Wednesday free if you want it”, he said “I 'd love you to do a Jazz-based night”, well I said “It won't be as busy as Monday, I'll tell you that for nought. It won’t”, but he said “It doesn't matter, I want you to do a Jazz based night on a Wednesday” so that was it, all I played was Jazz, or my interpretation of the word Jazz, you know, from R&B type Blue Note stuff to…I could play Back At The Chicken Shack, which was a slow burner at the beginning of the evening, and end up playing a fast Fusion or Latin track at the end, and join the dots in between!
Did you ever have any live bands on a Wednesday?
No we didn't. He had live bands there though, I remember him booking the Breakfast Band there, he had a poster on the wall for it behind where I used to DJ and funnily enough someone’s just put something up on one of the socialising sites on the internet of me DJ’ing. There’s a photo of me DJ’ing at The Countryman, so and behind it is a poster for the Breakfast Band appearing at the pub. So he did put live bands on but not on the nights I played there. But Wednesdays was good. There must have been a couple of hundred people on a Monday night, you know, it was packed you couldn't move, then on a Wednesday you were down to maybe 50-80, maybe half full, maybe 100 maximum, but everybody that was in there liked it.
The crowd from Chelmsford, all sorts of people.
And of course you had the great Jazz record dealer, Tony Ashby from Tony’s Imports in Clacton. Who was, I would say, was definitely a very influential Jazz record dealer wasn’t he.
He had a shop in Clacton didn't he, initially, and he came down to see me and started selling records. It ended up that he'd ring me up and come round my house. I wouldn't even have to walk out the door, you know, amazing really. He put me on to a lot of things, you know, like Giant Steps Coltrane was through him. He definitely gave me a mono Atlantic copy of that, and stuff like that, and so Tony was instrumental, I think, in supplying a few DJs with good Jazz records, in Essex, and of course there was still Record Man and things like that, so between the two of them you… Tony would go for the more obscure as well, he would go a bit left-of-centre you know, so…
Yes because he used to import all that Fusion stuff didn't he on, you know, yeah he used to turn up some amazing stuff didn’t he.
Yeah, he turned me on to a lot of things I never thought I'd get into, do you know what I mean?
So there was that going on. When did 'The Countryman' start?
I think The Countryman lasted from about…maybe 5-6 years? Yeah, it would be 5 or 6 years because as I was explaining to you earlier on, I found a diary of 1984 and it said ‘last night at The Countryman’ yet I started it in the late ‘70s, so yeah, yeah, and then went from there to the United Brethren, another pub.
But the United Brethren, we were spoilt for choice at the Countryman because the Countryman had those two nights and the UB, as we used to call it, I had to play everything under one roof, you know, the Soulful stuff as well as the…not that it bothered me but I couldn't…the owners weren't like Brian at all, they didn't you know…
I did say this to Chris Hill as well as you: one thing that's very interesting that a lot of Jazz musicians don't really understand, and will probably find it strange that there's some DJs even in the Jazz exhibition. The fact that you are taste-makers, you know, and in the same way that one will go and see a band, every time you see your favourite band they’re always going to play a similar set every time aren't they, whereas a DJ you're going to go for the whole evening and you're going to hear a massive variety of music and it's going to influence you. That's certainly the reason I became a musician was from collecting the records I was hearing DJs play, you know, like yourself and Chris, and there's many many other musicians like that - Orphy Robinson, Courtney Pine, Steve Williamson, Kevin Haynes... there's a lot of people that have got into Jazz through going to see DJs in clubs rather than being influenced by other musicians they've seen playing live, so that’s what I find very interesting about having you and Chris in this Jazz exhibition.
I remember DJ’ing at the Albany Empire in Deptford, which takes the scene in to London I know, but the reason I'm mentioning the Albany is that they used to put on Jazz things on a Sunday and they had the Jazz Warriors playing. I was playing a John Coltrane track and Steve Williamson was warming up on stage, the Albany being like ‘a round’, I was on the balcony and the stage was down below, and he was warming up and he cocked an ear to what I was playing and it was a John Coltrane track and he come running up and he goes “John Coltrane! I bought this album this morning!” and we were talking about it and that and he said “Are you Bob Jones?”, and I went “Yeah” and he went “Awww, wait a minute” and he went running down, went to the back, and that was in the days when Courtney Pine was playing with them, and he came running back up again with Courtney Pine and Frank Tontoh, and he went “You know Frank?’ and I went “Well not personally, but I know you guys yeah, because I follow…” they said “We used to go down to, on a Thursday night at the Zero Six in Southend, the music was more like a mature musically-minded black music night as opposed to the commercial stuff on a Friday or a Saturday and whatever time he’s put a guest DJ on that your name was on the bill we would travel down to London because we knew that you would slot Jazz into your set”! That’s amazing isn't it, so we had a chuckle about that, but like I say, you don't realise you're doing anything and that statement you just made might have, very young black kids growing up in the sort of, you know in London obviously and they had to travel into Essex to hear the music, but you know they might have gone back and been influenced by it, a track that we were playing, and the rest is history isn't it? They took up the various musical…they’re all 100% accomplished musicians in their own right and as time went on and I started doing gigs in London and supporting artists on tours and stuff they'd be in the house band or something and say “Ah, how are you?”, and all that, and your mates would go “Do you know Courtney Pine? Do you know Steve Williamson?”, and just nonchalantly say “Yeah”” just like I'm talking to you!
…..“I taught them all they know”!
Yeah, I taught them all they know – yeah – they used to come and see me play at the Zero Six, their career started at the Zero Six [laughter]”! But that’s an amazing thing to happen isn't it because you know I don’t take praise very easily, never have done, and I just can't believe that people like that would be influenced by…but what you just said it runs true doesn’t it.
Yes it does. DJs don't realise what a responsibility they have sometimes because you never know who’s in the audience.
But is it responsibility? Should you realise?
No you shouldn't.
If you do you'd start worrying about it then.
Because you never know who’s listening in the audience.
That’s true. It’s all good!
Yes, listening and being influenced by all that. And of course, there was the other classic club that we just nearly touched on just now around all this period which we were talking about in Hornchurch, so tell me more about that night that you did with Paul Gratue.
Well it was all Paul Murphy. He came down to the Countryman one night and he said “I've got this idea to put this night on. Would you be interested in doing it? I want to get you and Paul involved” so I said “Yeah, no problem, we’ll do it for you. What do you want to do?”. I think Tom Holland was playing at the Lacy at the time, he didn't want to…
Lacy Lady, yes.
We’d have gone up against Tom but Tom’s playlist would have been a bit more commercial. He said “I want to go left of centre and start playing sort of like hard Funk tracks and hard Fusion tracks” you know what I mean? As much as you could, I mean there wasn’t a deep Funk scene then but there was a harder side to Funk, you know, if you take for example Evolution by Roy Ayers that’s quite a hard tune.
Oh yeah, heavy yes.
So that side of things as opposed to the more commercial side of things, you know the crossover tunes, so we started playing there. I can’t remember exactly how long it lasted, it was um…
And you had to prove yourself because the majority of the crowd that went were the real hardcore of the Lacy Lady in Ilford, plus travellers, because some of my lot used to come up there from Chelmsford and other parts of Essex, you know, Billericay and that, the lot that used to follow me. And between us it cut a rug so to speak, that club. It only finished because when it was a normal club, when we weren’t there, I think they used to have a lot of trouble there, like fights and…
There was a murder there wasn’t there?
Yeah and someone got killed, so I think it lost its licence obviously and the Police shut it down or the Council shut it down, but it had – funnily enough talking about Chris – I was always told back in the days the best atmosphere was in clubs not necessarily that had chrome and mirrors and a big mirror ball and flashing lights and all that, you could create a better atmosphere in, say, you know, maybe a red bulb in the corner and low lighting and dust coming off the dance floor and, you know, musty sort of….and that was the prime example, when we first walked in we thought “Oh my God, what have we got here?”, but that was a great club and a lot of…that set the precedence for what Paul later did when he took it to London at the Horseshoe and the Electric Ballroom and stuff like that.
Because the early strains of the Jazz Dance scene at the Kingswood happened in a bigger way when it went to the Horseshoe and the Electric Ballroom.
Because for the sake of documentation here: Paul Murphy, the reason Paul Murphy started Dj’ing was because you and Chris…
Yeah it was really bad weather, really bad January, February weather. I couldn't get there, the whole place was all snowed…and Paul only lived around the corner from the place didn’t he, and he went there with a bag of records because he used to warm up before we got there anyway sort of thing, so I think we got him into DJ’ing that night. He seems to think that was his nod into doing it himself! But we still did it with him after that and then it got shut down due to the fights and stuff, but and then he went on and took the element of what he’d got from us. Because his playlist up until him meeting me in Chelmsford when he worked for a record shop, he was pushing records, his playlist was mainly, you know, Funk-Jazz and Jazz-Fusion and Cameo and Kool & the Gang, do you know what I mean, and stuff like that, which was fine. I like to think – he's never really said it, I don't think he's ever put it in print – I like the think that what I played, because my playlist was a little bit opposite to his, you know when he took it into London he was playing things like Art Blakey, Miles Davis, you know Jazz as mainstream Be-Bop, Dizzy Gillespie and stuff like that, well he wouldn’t have heard of that if we hadn't given him the help along the way.
That's right, of course, that's right, and yes its quite amazing when you think that there’s Paul Murphy and he’s come out of Essex and been influenced by yourself or what you were playing and DJ’d, and obviously he was a Goldminer as well and an old Lacy Lady punter so…and then going into London and even though Jazz was, by that point, being accepted everywhere on the dance floo,r all of a sudden you've got, you know, this situation, like Murphy is considered worldwide as the Godfather of the Jazz-Dance scene which is true – and if it hadn't been…
We lit the fuse for him.
You lit the fuse, yes.
Unwittingly! Unwittingly lit the fuse for him!
Yes, you're the innovators. It's quite amazing, because I remember hearing a story about Will Gaines, because obviously Will Gaines is American and from Detroit but he’s lived in Essex since the early 80’s.
He used to go to the Wag a lot when we were up there.
That’s right, he did, yes he did, and Slim Gaillard. I was only talking to Will about this when he went to one of Paul Murphy’s nights at the Electric Ballroom and was battling the Jazz Dancers, so Will was doing his…
Like having a face-off kind of thing.
Having a face-off yes! And that was quite interesting really.
Yeah because by that time you had those different music, even dancing styles didn’t you, you had the balletic sort of Brothers In Jazz style 'West Side Story' type of very flamboyant, lot of space, they need a lot of space, then you had the sort of IDJ fast-footwork and also taking elements of break-dancing from Hip-Hop plus tap dancing, fusing it into what we now know as a Jazz form, but very unique to the UK. Then Will, you know, being an unbelievable dancer as we all know, you know, the old and the young – the roots and the present time! And they must have respected that as well, the kids that were dancing with him,
Well they did, they did, yes so it was quite amazing really. So there we are, Essex-based tap dancer jumping in the circle at the Ballroom you know!
Yeah you wouldn’t even ‘go there’ would you, woah I’ll let them get on with that!
So you’ve done the Kingswood in Hornchurch, we've had the Countryman and United Brethren in Chelmsford. Were you doing anything else in Chelmsford after that Bob? You moved out of the area didn’t you at that point?
I moved out of the area to, yeah, it coincided with my personal life but I moved out of the area because I wanted, I just wanted to expand musically and I didn’t think I could do it in Chelmsford, so yeah I moved into Southend and started going things down there and started doing stuff with your good self and Phil Levene and…
And there was that great club, Scruples.
Scruples, yeah, in Milton Road in Southend.
That was an amazing place wasn't it, Will and Deb, it was an amazing, amazing place.
Yeah, one of the few places in your life that you played where the owners, or the people that managed it, were really into what you were doing weren't they, because that was the thing, you could play in a club but the manager wasn’t…yeah that…and do you remember doing them nights at Whispers, just down the road here?
Yes, just off Leigh Broadway. I had a DJ residency there for a couple of years. Yes I booked you there a couple of times. What's interesting about Scruples though, as a venue, is that there was a Jazz night on a Wednesday which I did which had Export, that band Export in there, which was Graham Hunter, Dave Mascall etc., Gary Plumley used to come in regularly as a punter...... just whatever nights. That ended up becoming – I guess because of yourself and me and Russ and Grumpy I suppose – it did end up becoming a bit of a social hub for Jazz as well as outside of the Top Alex.
Exactly yeah, it became a meeting place for people didn’t it, musicians and DJ’s alike. I met Dave Mascall because he played in the Aerial Beagles when they played at the Saracen’s Head in Chelmsford. And then bumped into him at various times in my career.
That’s right, yes that was quite an amazing hub, people…if Scruples isn't mentioned in these interviews it’s never going to be remembered and it is part of the Jazz history because that was, you know, when there was Jazz played there live it was packed, very, very well supported. And it was a communal thing, as you say, because even we would go to other people’s nights there on our own nights off.
Yeah totally, you'd wander in just for a drink and a chat, you know what I mean, and to listen to what was going down. I think a lot of it was to do with Will and Deb wasn't it, because they ran it so well didn't they, and they used to draw you in to whatever they were doing anyway and they were very open-minded musically.
Yeah, yeah, and the live element was always very important to them at Scruples of course. Because that Jazz night they had on a Wednesday was rammed, you know, for Export. It was incredible.
NB. Bob Jones left Southend to live in London. Bob influenced other DJ's such as Gilles Peterson, Chris Bangs, Eddie Piller, Patrick Forge, Kevin Beadle and many more, and they went on to start the London-based worldwide jazz-based movement known as 'acid jazz' in the late-80s.