Apologies for the blog hiatus, been off the grid in recent weeks working out which continent i’m on!
Back to business, Matty & I caught up with Reggae don EARL GATESHEAD, ahead of his appearance at We Love… at Space in Ibiza on June 26th. Earl talks old school London Jazz dances, modern house and controversial Camden gigs…
An exclusive Earl mix will follow next week via the We Love… website, so look out for that one.
Earl our meeting goes back to Nuphonic days and a certain Sav Remzi. Tell us about how you guys first met? Was it his club the Red Eye in Lewisham? What brought you both together at that time?
EG: I met Sav Remzi, who went on to run the Blue Note Club and The Nuphonic label. He was in the process of turning the upstairs room of the restaurant he owned in Lewisham, into a Jazz Club. To be called “The Redeye.” It was about 1992 I think. A mate of mine’s girlfriend was doing his P.R. I went along as a potential DJ, as I was playing a lot of Jazz at the time. I ended up doing his booking as there was nobody else to do it.
We started out with the cream of the London Jazz world playing live. We soon had to change, as Sav and I discovered , nobody was interested in coming to Lewisham to hear live Jazz. Worse than that, the people who did come would buy a bottle of water and keep holding it all night. I remember Sav saying, “they’re too intelligent to drink!”
So I went into the, then beginning to boom, dance music world to find people who were at the more classy, Jazzy, end of the scene. Bob Jones was our Saturday night resident. Gilles Peterson brought Galliano and played with them. Norman Jay came. Ashley Beedle (then working at Black Market) had a residency. Andrew Weatherall had a weekly night. Billy Nasty was local and supported the place. Rob Mello was resident too.
Pretty soon the place was buzzing and making money. Unfortunately the neighbours grew tired of the party people pouring out of the doors in the middle of the night and they got us shut down by the Council.
Tell us about the Blue Note in Hoxton, East London: obviously legendary days? How do you see the difference between the scene back then and now?
EG: There’s nowhere like the Blue Note now. I don’t know……..People were more serious and committed to music then, it was more a part of their life than an accessory for their ipod the way it is now. And the music itself was more organic and more likely to involve live instruments and percussion. Computers have been great for getting music to everybody and letting anyone make music. But the great wave of programmed music that has followed digitalisation, has lowered the standard a little, and decreased the respect that people used to have for music.
What do you feel DJs and Promoters from the present could take from those days?
EG: Promoters have to be realists. You have to play to the people that are there in front of you. Music changes with the world and you can’t go back. Good promoters already know this. There’s some healthy mashing together of scenes in the Drum and Bass, Dubstep , Bassline , Grime and Reggae world. That’s where I am at the Moment.
While at Nuphonic I once threw a Trojan Sound System gig with you at Koko with Dr Alimantado, there was a story that he made some strange comments at the end and alot of people left? I was not there but what was it all about?
EG: I didn’t hear him (no I’m not doing a Wenger, honestly I didn’t hear him) but apparently he said something stupid about gay people. Tado’s a nice guy but it’s no good looking for Liberal attitudes from Jamaicans, they’re from a different culture.
You’re obviously known best for your long association with Reggae & Trojan Soundsystem, but over the years you have been quite eclectic in terms of playing House back in the day and Jazz etc. So what sort of vibes can we expect from you in Ibiza this month, and have you been to the island before?
EG: I’ll be playing my first love Reggae. I like to play a bit of every kind of Reggae and see how the people are responding. So expect Ska, Rocksteady, Roots, Dub New Roots and Dancehall, old and new music. They don’t get much Reggae so I’m going to try to show them what the best of it is like.
I’m committed to spreading the word. I’ve never been to Ibiza before and I really want to play there, to try to reach people. Bob Marley said ‘Them that feels it Knows it” I’d like to reach the people that feel it. They’re everywhere.
More recently you’ve been a staple at Fabric, Secretsundaze & Plastic People, all modern forward thinking nights in London whose those promoters have embraced your sound in a big way: were you surprised that reggae and dub sat so well next to the more electronic programming?
EG: I must admit , I was at first. The first time I played at Fabric on a Saturday I was nervous about how it would go and I remember asking Judy (who programmes the night) what I should play, thinking maybe I should water it down a bit. She said ‘play your best tunes.” what a brilliant answer from a promoter. So I did and was absolutely shocked when they went down great. People who like quality music can recognise it in any form. It’s more obvious that Reggae should mix well with Drum and Bass, Dubstep , Grime and UK Garage. They’re all Reggae’s bastard children. I was always confident that if we were given a chance in the mainstream of music it would work.
We managed to get Trojan Sound System across and now a lot of Reggae acts are following in our footsteps. That was always what we hoped for. It’s a mission not a competition.
You come across as being a firm believer in holding strong weekly residencies tell us about where you presently play regularly?
EG: I’d be a bit surprised if anyone is in the cross section of venues that I play. I love to play tiny Reggae events for the Dreads and Heads in Brixton and Shoreditch. But I come alive and feel validated in my life’s work when the sound is playing to 20 thousand 30 thousand or more at a Festival.
When and where were you playing House records? Do you still follow that scene? Why did you move to reggae?
EG: About House Music- Masters at Work got me into it and I still love Chicago and New York Garage. it’s great to see it’s on the way back in. I played it at The M.O.S and Fabric and places in between.I still think that was a brilliant sound. Loved UK Garage too and I really like UK Funky now. Reggae was always my first love , but for years I couldn’t survive playing it, I kept at it because I loved it. Then one day I realised that with my background I was perfectly placed to explain it to people musically, maybe more so than anyone in the world, so I decided to commit myself and go for it.
Despite hailing from Tyneside, you obviously have a strong connection with London, what do you think of the musical landscape there at this moment in time?
EG: Bit of a boom time for music all over the UK I think. No one genre’s dominating but all of the electronic forms are producing good work, a lot of it bass line heavy, which obviously suits me. You might be surprised to hear I like Folk music too and am a regular at Folk clubs and the Folk Music scene is at a 30 year high.
The Trojan Soundsystem have been all over the world at various festivals, and the brand is huge in what it represents to people. Any particular places or shows that still really stand out in your mind?
EG: Golly! we’ve had some amazing shows with Trojan. The first time we went to Rome…….Rome is a Reggae city and when we went there for the first time it really meant something to the people. We played in a huge squat and absolutely took the roof of it. The Garden Festival in Croatia we played a day to night set there that absolutely was full of vibes, it was 4 years ago but people still come up to me and talk about it. I really enjoyed Glastonbury 2 years ago as well.
What are your three favourite Trojan records?
EG: That’s Impossible! I don’t Know I’m Still in Love-Alton Ellis, / House Of Dread-Big Youth/ Everything I Own- Ken Booth but there’s soooooo many
***Big thanks to Earl for the words, and you can catch him alongside Matty J & Ben Terry in El Salon on June 26th: We Love… Sundays at Space, Ibiza ***