Diggers Directory: Colin Curtis

When you consider how fast the DJing world is moving these days, 50 years in the game is a ludicrous thing to contemplate. Having live, danced and DJd through the eras of Northern Soul, jazz-funk and house, few can claim to have shaped UK dance music more than Colin Curtis. Growing up in Stoke on Motown and Radio Caroline, Colin first started DJing in 1967 and became a figurehead for some of Northern England’s most iconic clubs, including the Blackpool Mecca, Rafters in Manchester and Nottingham’s Rock City. His experiments with electro and house, alongside Hewan Clarke at The Playpen in Manchester also had a profound impact on the musical direction of the Haçienda. These days his career is viewed with similar superlatives as Mancuso, which we discuss in the below, alongside a look into his life as a record collector and the new Jazz Dance Fusion compilation he’s curated for Z Records.

DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?

Well my only family connection in these terms would be my Grandfatherís Bush Radiogram and some 78rpm Records this instilled in me the joy of vinyl and being able to share music . Like a lot of Soul fans of my generation Motown Stax and Atlantic played a huge part in the development of my musical taste. Otis Redding Carla Thomas Wilson Pickett Aretha Franklin
Levi Stubbs Four Tops Temptations.

People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?

To share music I needed control and control of your own output and your own listening you needed to own the product and back in the 60’s the only option was to purchase the vinyl to me it cemented the love of that format
to this day. But I must add nowadays not to the exclusion of listening and playing new music. Music first format 2nd ! I dig every day via the internet looking for new black music my appetite has always been insatiable to hear good unknown music for the first time.

Where do you store your records and how do you file them?

Records are stored on the classic Ikea Expedit shelving albums and 12î discs are filed separately ë Genre filing as in Soul House Jazz etc Subsections for Djíing in certain eraís.

What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?

The Internet because I am 65 it ís easier I am able to find specific wants. I have done a life times digging in the previous 50 years in Record Shops all over the UK but particular memories include Bradford Market Global and Yanks in Manchester Robinsons Manchester Mole London Record and Tape Exchange London Soul Bowl Kings Lynn Diskery and Jazz & Swing Birmingham.

Digging isnít just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters youíve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes youíd like to shout out?

I always pretty much dug for records solo so my characters were the shop owners John Anderson Soul Bowl Ed Balbier Yanks Manchester Morris Diskery Ray at Jazz and Swing Graham Warr Birmingham Oasis Artur Reid Macclesfield Private Collecter . My helpers on trips in the past have included Gilles Peterson in London.

Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?

There are always elusive records and as I have crossed so many musical genres Northern Soul Jazz Funk Jazz House Hip Hop the list would be endless. Nowadays it is the case if you have the funds you can pretty much track down the majority of your wants.

Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search for strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?

Probably already covered this earlier but back in the day visiting record shops would invariably mean being in there with other people and the guys behind the counter playing various selections. I was always interested in other peopleís choices and their reactions as often this would make me take a second assessment towards certain records.

Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?

I never felt daunted by record shops to me they always presented opportunities to learn and discover.

How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?

None ! I am interested in genre style and artists playing on the albums.If the artwork is good its a bonus but never a focus.

Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us? 

The mix includes new and older music personal choices to show a cross section of my tastes. Recorded at home.

Any standouts in the mix youíd like to mention?

Not really I have a filter built in so everything included I believe is worthy of a listen.

Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?

Arthur Reid Macclesfield Jazz Collector extraordinaire. Everyoneís collection is unique Butch Northern and Modern Soul is a perfect example of a collector who creates a bridge between discovering knowledge and selecting.

And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?

No not really in my radar but I am sure they are out there it’s an addiction for life.

Long time DJing companion Greg Wilson once called you the UKís answer to David Mancuso. Did the two of you cross paths much over the years? Is there anything you took away from meeting him or DJing alongside him?

Greg Wilson arrived with new ideas back in the day new ideas of how to present particularly opening the genre of mixing as opposed to microphone Djíing his style was well suited to the Electro Dance and Edit format that he originally championed. Greg retired early back in the 80ís having become disillusioned with his place within the club scene. It was great to talk to him again when he returned 20 odd years later and refresh his original ideas which he has put together to worldwide acclaim an achievement I admire greatly. We currently work together on a series of Manchester gigs crashing all those styles together Electro Dance House Jazz Disco itís been great fun. I am still not sure about the Mancuso comparison we are two different people !

As someone who was grew up with Radio Caroline, what do you feel about the recent resurgence in independent radio? Do you feel radio still has a big a power as it used to, to create and inform musical subcultures and trends?

Yes I think radio has always been integral with spreading the gospel about black music. Robbie Vincent back in the 80ís with his weekly Soul Show on Radio 1 Gilles Peterson has sent things Global with his World Music approach through the BBC. My sadness is with the celebrity dj culture that has been born out more recently . Leave Black Music to the people with the passion to do the shows ! There is more Black Music fired out on internet radio than ever before but it has more of a scattergun effect rather than a target audience as neither DAB or any other format has truly replaced FM.

The Blackpool Mecca played a pivotal role in your development as a DJ but will be a venue many younger readers arenít acquainted with. What was so special about your time there? Are there any current venues that come close?

Blackpool Mecca was a magical time for me between the years 1971 and 1979 both as a punter and as a DJ. It was a rapidly growing underground 60ís and 70ís based soul scene that was built around rare 7î singles. During this period my main sources of records were John Anderson Soul Bowl Graham Warr Birmingham and Ian Levineís much vaunted US trips. I was taking in an overload of black music changing styles and endless unknown records through this period the playlist turnover was insane.

You’ve just released a new compilation on Z Records called Jazz Dance Fusion. What was the process of refining your extensive experience with the sound, into a digestible compilation? What kind of introduction were you keen to offer up?

Jazz Dance emerged in the clubs i the late 70ís as a stand alone option for the more discerning dancers often added as a seperate room at many All Dayers and remained stable until the mid eighties. Here again I took the option through a Manchester nightclub Berlin to try and grow this audience by widening the genre to include Brazilian Latin BeBop Vocal Jazz Fusion this was added to an eclectic mix of the current releases of the day and proved an exciting testing ground for me to play longer sets and push the boundaries. So I took the Muse Jazz Catalogue to help illustrate these two periods of my career mixed up the styles to show the crossection of music within this genre to try and reignite and appeal to a new audience as well as old. I was very pleased when Joey Negro and ZRecords agreed to put the album out in all three formats Vinyl CD & Digital !

Finally what’s coming up on your horizon that’s getting you excited?

Black Music in all its formats ! The Next great track I am going to hear ! Always forward with a nod of respect to the past ! Promoting more and exciting gigs in 2018 and onwards !

Jazz Dance Fusion compiled by Colin Curtis is out now – buy from Z Records and Sounds of the Universe.

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