Chris Hill


Although radio, pirate at first then legal stations later on, was making a serious contribution to the soul scene towards the end of the 1970s, venues such as pubs, concert halls and especially nightclubs, helped to solidify the interest and appreciation of it’s many patrons for years. And they also enabled certain DJs to develop a loyal following of die hard fans. This practice which also occurred within the reggae sound systems, has since become the norm in modern club culture, and led to the formation of the so-called Mafia DJs who were a handful of jocks who would take turns to spin (play records) at a venue. Some of the most popular records became known as anthems, and would often encourage the clubbers to do special dances whenever they were played. Although there were many hard working jocks who maintained and supported soul music’s popularity in venues across the country, the DJs who stood out among others as making a significant mark on the scene were Chris Hill, radio DJs Robbie Vincent and Greg Edwards, Colin Hudd, and a DJ who was much more well known as Froggy. They were just some of the aforementioned Soul Mafia, and despite the forboding noun, their only intention was to make the clubbers dance all night to their favourite records, while waving banners, blowing whistles, and wearing T-shirts on which their group names were printed (i.e. Soul Funketeers, Brixton Front Line, etc). There was often a friendly rivalry among these tribes as they became known, such as between the NSF (National Soul Festival) supporters, and fans of the Soul Mafia. Occasionally, there were even themed nights in certain clubs, where everyone would be required to dress in school uniform, or as doctors and nurses.

In the past, many of the nightclub venues situated within the areas of Kent just outside London for example, had an exclusively white clientele. This was often due to the relatively close proximity of the residents, who were on the whole Caucasian, to the venues. In the Borough of London known as Westminster, which has always had a migration of revellers from other areas to it’s nightspots, the racial make-up of the club goers on certain nights was often by design, and not coincidence. In some of England’s northern cities a similar situation sometimes occurred, and since the 1950s in both regions exclusively black venues sprang up in response to the exclusion. Disturbed by the discrimination that their black patrons often faced while trying to gain entry into certain places, and feeling the need for a change, Chris Hill and Robbie Vincent decided to transfer one of their highly successful club nights to a camp site outside of London in Norfolk, and held it during a weekend in 1979. It was a risky strategy, as many people were not expected to travel so far out. But it payed off handsomely. The legendary Caister Soul Weekenders were born, and continue to this day. They provided a good showcase for black music and its performers, along with the many jazz and soul concerts of the era, as artists often performed live at these events. Bands such as Light Of The World even returned to the clubs they used to frequent as patrons, in order to perform PAs there. Later on, nightclub owners incorporated different rooms in which DJs would play the related genres of music. This allowed patrons to choose which type they cared to enjoy at their leisure. But by then, this type of venue had been enjoyed by nightclubbers in the north of England for nearly a decade.

Meanwhile, Ska music was being revived and restyled by a new generation of youths, and a British version of soulful reggae called Lover’s Rock began to climb the charts. And in the north of England, a strong following had built up over many years around all-dayers in nightclubs, and highly collectible 7” soul records from the 1960s.

While the UK soul scene was at it's height during the late 1970s and early 1980s, an unusual phenomena occured. A number of recordings by white rock and pop artists who often came from the West Coast of America, became very popular choices at nightclubs and house parties. These included (Escape) The Pina Colada Song by pianist and singer-songwriter Rupert Holmes, Chock E's In Love by guitarist Rickie Lee Jones, and Guilty by Barbara Streisand and Barry Gibb. The first song even reached the UK chart. Around the same period, a slew of highly accomplished white musicians such as Hall & Oats, Boz Skaggs and Jimmy Messina were making what was called Blue-eyed soul. In reality, very few of these artists actually possesed organs that colour.

In certain nightclubs at the time, records by jazz artists were played alongside ones by soul and disco groups. This cohesion of genres soon proved to be quite a formidable mixture. One of the most popular tracks at the time was Expansions by Lonnie Liston Smith, a jazz pianist from Richmond Virginia in the USA. Many of the American jazz musicians went through a fallow period during the disco music boom of the 1970s, as sales of their records declined. Some of them decided to ride it’s coat-tails, while others went on to perform what was known as jazz-funk and jazz-fusion music. The latter was a genre pioneered by Miles Davis in the 1960s, and enhanced further by the likes of Herbie Hancock in the 1970s. Their compositions often had minimal if any vocals, but made up for this with highly stylised melodies. However, by no means did artists from the USA totally dominate this field, as musicians and singers from Latin America also released material which very quickly became (and are still) highly sought after by fans and DJ fraternities. In fact, they would often spend large amounts of money on obscure records, in order to maintain their kudos in the scene. These include albums by Al Di Meola, pianist Chick Corea, and a trio of musicians from Brazil called Azymuth.

Japanese Jazz musicians such as Sadao Watanabe, Casiopea, and Hiroshima also entered the fray, and became well known thanks to the likes of Robbie Vincent who promoted what he called jap jazz on his Saturday radio shows, and Tony Monson who often imported the records. Blue Feather, a band from Holland also helped to make the phenomena international. Even the Russians had a go! This along with the soul scene, greatly influenced the sensibilities of black music fans in the UK, and the British funk musicians who were to emerge later on because of it. Eventually, specialist jazz-funk nights were held in venues across the country, with some of it’s main exponents in the South being George Power, two teenagers called Pete Tong and Gilles Peterson, another youngster Dez Parks, and elsewhere in the country two Northern DJs called Colin Curtis and Greg Wilson.

The eponymous album by Lonnie Liston Smith