The DJ Years
The Original ‘Nigel Bee’ Beware of Cheap Imitations!
I actually started DJing at the age of 13 back in 1973 as my father was the co- owner of the successful ‘Georgian Club’ which was one the first Black Night Clubs in London. I was young but spent Friday and Saturday nights at the club watching DJ’s perform and entertain the clientele. My school was just a short walk away from the venue so along with school friend Michael Morgan and a few others we would go to the club and ‘borrow’ equipment and records. We began organizing after school dances and discos, placing cardboard or heavy sheets of paper on the classroom windows to darken the room and charged between 20p and 50p for entry. These functions proved extremely popular with our classmates!
Throughout the late Seventies and Early Eighties the nightclubs that played black music were very rare in South London. Tiffanys in South Croydon was very popular on Sunday nights where the DJ’s played the latest Soul plus Jazz Funk and of course my father’s nightclub The Georgian which opened several nights per week. Two of the owners of TWJ Sound Trevor and Spencer Williams had a very successful Sunday night at the Bali Hai Club in Streatham where they played a mixture of soul, R n B and Reggae. In later years they moved on to hire ‘the Podium’ Banqueting Suite in Vauxhall on Friday Night which they called’ Spots Club’ and it was the place to be for all of the ‘Buppies’ on a Friday night with a capacity of 600 plus people. They also went on to buy and operate the legendary Nightmoves nightclub in Shoreditch.
Record Hunting – US & JA Vinyl Imports
During my late teenage years my love of music was as strong as ever. Every Saturday evening without fail I would listen to Greg Edwards Soul Spectrum followed by David Rodigan’s reggae show on London’s Capital Radio Saturday and Tony Williams’ Reggae show on Radio London during Sunday afternoons. The following week I would be in the specialists’ records shops buying as many of the tracks that I liked as possible! In the Seventies and Eighties buying vinyl records meant you had to go to the record shops and if you were a DJ or record collector that meant you went looking for music every week. Soul music imports from the US or reggae imports from Jamaica were sometimes extremely limited so there was an urgency that motivated you not to miss out! There was no guarantee a particular track would be licensed by a company for release in the UK, so you had to make sure you bought your copy. Besides spending huge amounts of time seeking out new tracks I would spend hours at ‘Beanos’ a second hand record shop in Croydon looking for old records as a collector but also for tracks I knew would work when I was gigging. Lawrence and myself would often spend Saturday afternoons should searching the racks for oldies. Beano’s prices were really cheap for old/deleted Soul and Reggae tracks as they made the bulk of the profits from collectible pop or Rock & Roll records so there were always bargains to be found if you had the time to search for them. Being a DJ now is so much easier when it comes to getting your music. Youngsters now just sit at home and download what they want! Aspiring DJ’s have access to huge amounts of music on-line which is one of the reasons so many of them can pursue DJing with relative ease. I hear of DJ’s going to gigs with five thousand plus tunes on their laptops who possibly do not realize that the amount of music you may download does not necessarily make you a good DJ just as being a record/vinyl collector does not make you a good DJ. The art of being an effective DJ involves knowing how to sequence your tracks, in other words knowing what track to play at the right time and reading your crowd correctly. That takes a certain amount of skill, confidence and of course experience. Early DJing Years In 1979 I joined band formed with some friends I had met at college while studying accounting on an evening course at South London College. The reggae group was called ‘Progression’ and we held practicing sessions every Tuesday and Friday evening in a studio underneath a black barbers shop. I was joint lead vocalist and principle song writer. Progression became quite popular over the next couple of years but tensions within the group began to build up with certain member’s Ego’s becoming inflated. There was even a fist fight in the practice studio at one stage and the group split up shortly after our final live show at the Balham 200 Club in January 1981. With the demise of the group Herald Bradnock, Tony Francis and myself who took responsibility for staging the groups live shows then decided to form ‘Fairplay Promotions’ a legally registered promotions company. At this time I already decided to once again concentrate on my DJing. During 1982 I began to build a small sound system to play at house parties along with John Marshall, Keith Hills, and Jeffery Allen who were three young black men who lived on the Shrublands council estate. I bought most of the equipment and my practice and training in martial arts began to diminish as music and organizing the house party sound system/mobile disco took up most of my free time. I called the sound system Prophecy Hi Power based on the title of a popular roots reggae track by an artist called Fabian. ‘Prophecy’ would be our ‘signature tune’ as was the fashion within the black sound system culture. My brother Nicky and a few of his friends acted as MC’s (toasters) and a few other friends who were both black and white helped out transporting the sound equipment to gigs. Back in those days I hated talking on a microphone in public and was quite happy to be the ‘selector’ and play the records while my brother and other the MC’s ‘toasted’ and made the necessary announcements during the gig. We only used just one record deck as this was the accepted DJing style of black sound systems; the MC’s would talk in between records being changed over as well as entertain the raver’s generally. As a party ‘sound system’ we became very popular and well known in the Croydon area as a party sound system/mobile disco and attracted many bookings for parties, weddings and private functions so during the early 1980’s I was concentrating on collecting and playing music. I was gradually becoming frustrated with the other guys involved with the sound system as I was buying all the records plus paying for any upgrades to the system I felt were necessary. The break up of the sound system began when I got my first club gig at Dougies Nightclub in Clapton East London in 1984 as one of the directors of Fairplay Promotions. I decided a more professional approach was now required; we were playing in a nightclub and the way TWJ played and presented when performing as a road show would be my template as to how to entertain a crowd. A good friend of mine Lawrence Freedman was also a record collector and budding DJ so we agreed to form an alliance and in May 1984 and I decided to call our operation ‘Nightstar Roadshow’ with DJ’s Nigel B and Mr. G (for Grooves). This name sounded much more professional than ‘Prophecy Hi Power’ and reflected the fact we played all the best of all genres of black music.
The Name ‘Nigel B’
I also became very interested in pirate radio at this time but it could be a very high risk activity because of the penalties imposed if you were caught broadcasting illegally. For me using my real name was not a viable option so my choice of the DJ name of ‘Nigel B’ was an obvious choice. Many DJs used an alias but back in 1983 I was one of the first DJ’s to just use an initial at the end of my name. Of course it is now a very common for DJ’s, radio presenters and media personalities generally to just use an initial as part of their broadcasting persona on even on legal radio stations. The first issue with my DJing name was a small one.Back in the eighties Black Echoes (later simply called Echoes) was a weekly black music publication that featured interviews with soul and reggae artists along with various black music charts, reviews and event listings. Having your name appear in Black Echoes gave you certain kudos within the black music DJing scene and during 1986 I sent in details about a forthcoming event I was gigging at. The reviewer gave the event a write up and wrote that the name ‘DJ Nigel B’ was a silly name for a DJ! Clearly my ‘silly name’ was not affecting my popularity and or performances and my services were in high demand. Three years previously I thought ‘Nigel B’ was a nice and easy choice for a DJ name but little did not I know then how the name I had chosen would cause me certain problems over the following years of my DJing activities. Back in the eighties Black Echoes (later simply called Echoes) was a very influential weekly black music publication that featured interviews with soul and reggae artists along with Black music charts, gig guides and forthcoming events.
Alongside my DJing activities I was also heavily involved with Fairplay Promotions in my capacity as a director with Herald and Tony. During early 1984 we had began collaborating with Al Hamilton (who would go on to create Commonwealth Sports Awards) to assist him with his national black beauty contest ‘Ms Unique’. This took us around the country as we attended heats organized in Manchester and other major cities around the country. Supporting Al Hamilton with this project was Rodney Hinds (Chief Sports Writer for the Voice black newspaper) and we became very good friends over the years. ‘Ms Unique’ was a moderate success and we continued to promote the winner that year and to manage the marketing and promotion of the concept by making the winner Natalie Bostick one of Fairplays special guests at our very first big event. Our first event was the ‘Hawaiian Beachwear Party’ at Dougies Nightclub Clapton on the 26th August 1984. It was Fairplay Promotions first major event as the venue could hold around 600 people comfortably and also my debut as a club DJ alongside Lawrence. The night was a tremendous success all around; our marketing was effective and we filled the venue to capacity and Lawrence and I both played really well. DJ’s Nigel B and Mr. G. had played their first nightclub and we had done a fantastic job! Fairplay Promotions struck a deal with the owner of Dougies for us to hire the venue on a weekly basis after the success of the ‘Hawaiian Beachwear Party’ which began on the 1st November 1984 with Lawrence and myself as resident DJ’s every Thursday night. I was 24 years old and Lawrence was a few years younger and over the next few years we began to establish Nightstar Roadshow brand and our DJ names. The next few years saw Fairplay become quite successful organizing and promoting many successful events around London which attracted the attention of other promoters on the black entertainment scene. Herald, Tony and myself were considered ‘young upstarts’ by some of the older and more established promoters and club owners but we were getting very good results! Eventually I resigned from Fairplay Promotions in 1987 as I was not happy with the direction the company was taking plus my DJing activities had become extremely hectic! I remained on friendly terms with Herald (Tony left the company shortly after I resigned) so he continued to book me for regularly for events. (See my profile for photos for many of the original Fairplay Promotions flyers!)
Pirate Stations During the Eighties
Up until the mid-Eighties, black music had been relegated to David Rodigans Saturday evening 3 hour Reggae show on Capital Radio and Trevor William Reggae show on a Sunday afternoon. These offerings were naked tokenism by the broadcasting authorities. If you were a Soul or Funk fan then you made sure you tuned into Greg Edwards on Capital Radio on a Saturday evening. All of these DJ’s had a tremendous influence on me during my teenage years through to my mid twenties and during 1984 l became very interested in becoming a radio DJ and sharing my music with a much wider audience. Pirate radio stations that played strictly black music had begun to broadcast across London during the early Eighties. Brian Anthony started a pirate station called JFM in 1981 which included DJ’s Pete Tong, Jim Colvin and Froggy who would along with other presenters on the station would go on to enjoy huge recognition and success. The station was very popular with fans of soul, jazz funk and jazz music. The shows and the gneral output of the station were presented in a very professional manner which led many people to believe JFM was actually a legal radio station. Their output consisted mainly of new releases and US imports and many of the tracks they played went on to be massive cross over hits. JFM was eventually forced off the airwaves during 1985. Pirate station Horizon Radio also started broadcasting in 1981 headed by Chris Stewart with shows over the years presented by DJ’s that included C.J. Carlos, Andy Jackson, Bob Jones, Nick Lawrence, Tony Monson, Sammy Jacob (aka Sammy J.,) Paul Buick, Andy Taylor, Gilles Peterson and Simon Goffe.. Horizon Radio was by far the most popular pirate station of the era as far as lovers of soul, jazz funk and black music were concerned. Every live event organized by the station was highly successful with the venues packed to capacity (and sometimes beyond!). Young black and white people in their thousands were listening to Horizon Radio to hear great black music and to keep in touch with the sub-culture of black music night club entertainment and of course the legendary all dayer events. The station had a massive reputation and seriously challenged Capital Radio during the early 1980’s because they had tapped into a huge demographic base that was being generally ignored by the mainstream broadcasting media except for the token offerings of very few ‘specialist’ shows. Pirate stations always operated with the threat of being taken off air by the government which happened often. During 1984 Horizon enjoyed a period of six months where they broadcast 24 hours a day seven days a week without a being ‘busted.’ It was very unusual for a pirate station to broadcast this consistently without being disrupted but finally in October of the same year. Horizon suffered a huge raid on their studio which took the station off London’s airwaves for good. By this time many of their DJ’s had already established their reputations and would also go on to enjoy success and recognition within the music industry. Very shortly after Horizon went off air for the last time Solar Radio began broadcasting with many of the same DJ’s who presented shows on Horizon along with a few new names including Tomek, Helen Mayhew and Louis St. Clair. The station was very popular but went off air voluntarily during September 1985 so they could apply for a legal broadcasting licence. Their application was unsuccessful but eventually other stations that played black music were granted licences to broadcast in London such as Choice, Kiss and Jazz FM. After Solar ceased operating pirate station LWR (London Weekend Radio) burst onto the airwaves in 1985 founded by Zak with DJ’s including Jigs, Daddy Ernie, Jasper The Vinyl Junkie, DJ Elaine (Elaine Smith), Ron Tom and Tim Westwood presenting black music shows. Gordon Mac (who was previously a DJ on JFM) launched Kiss FM during October 1985 which included DJ’s Jazzie B (who went on to form the highly successful UK group Soul to Soul), Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson, Coldcut, Trevor Nelson, Judge Jules, Chris Philips, Dave Pearce, Gilles Peterson and Norman Jay broadcasting on London’s airwaves. Kiss explored and exposed the growing sub-culture of club and dance music which was already highly popular and also started the ‘rare grooves’ phenomenon where old, hard to find tracks were given a second lease of life by being broadcast on Kiss FM. Bootleg copies of rare tracks were frequently pressed during this time as the demand (and the prices) for these rare and sought after tracks far outstripped supply. Kiss would eventually obtain a licence to broadcast legally across London. DJ Lepke founded DBC (Dread Broadcasting Corporation) pirate radio station which broadcast from West London on Friday nights with a format similar to the sound systems of the day. Besides reggae the station also broadcast various styles of music including soul, gospel, jazz, funk and soca. One of their DJ’s was Ms P. who would go on to present the first Reggae show on BBC Radio 1. Numerous other pirate stations broadcast to London during the 1980’s including Powerjam FM playing various types of black music as the demand for black music on the airwaves was not being satisfied by legal mainstream radio stations. The pirate stations supplied what the people wanted; soul and dance music, jazz funk and of course reggae whether the tracks were new releases or considered classic or ‘vintage’ tracks. It was a golden era for lovers of black music all over London! Opportunity Knocks! At this time besides DJing frequently and contributing to running Fairplay Promotions, I was also working full time for Southwark Local Authority as a Housing Officer. My work colleagues knew I was a DJ mainly because I often came back from my lunch break with bags of records! I also began to organize the Christmas office parties where I played the music. One day during 1985 a colleague approached me and said her partner was DJ Simon Goffe who had a show on the hugely popular pirate station Horizon Radio. She gave me Simon’s number and we agreed to meet up. A few weeks later Simon contacted me and told me that he had been offered the residency at ‘Peoples Night Club’ in Paddington. Previously the venue had been called the ‘The Q Club’ which had been one of the very first Black nightclubs in London during the Seventies and Eighties where many top artists from the US had performed. Simon explained he had another gig on a Saturday night so asked if I could start the night off until he arrived and then we could share the DJing. Now that was exciting! The opening night was the 27th June 1985 and over the next few years every Saturday I played at the Peoples Club where the owner brought in other resident DJ’s to work with Simon and myself including Daddy Ernie and Tim Westwood who at that time were with pirate station LWR. The Peoples Club quickly obtained a cult status on the street and every Saturday night was either packed to capacity or very busy. We played the very best upfront soul, reggae, rap records that were popular with lovers of black music and classic tracks as well. The night started at 10pm Saturday night until the people decided to go home which turned out often to be 5 or 6 am Sunday morning! My previous DJing years had frequently involved me playing music to a crowd all night which meant I knew how to entertain an audience for six or seven hour straight. On the club circuit you shared the night with other DJ’s which usually meant playing a 45 minutes or an hour set so adapting to DJing on the club circuit was very easy for me. These were exciting times for me as a young DJ! I was playing with highly respected DJ’s and gained valuable experience while establishing my reputation at this venue. Daddy Ernie, Tim Westwood and Simon Goffe all had radio shows on popular pirate stations while the Peoples Club was operating and I was the only one who did not have a radio show when the club opened, but then another golden opportunity came my way. I had a burning desire to be a radio DJ so enrolled on a part time radio presentation course at Loughborough College, London in September 1985 and enjoyed learning about radio broadcasting for a couple of months. One Sunday evening during early 1986 I was sorting out some records and playing some music when I was very surprised to receive a call Chris Stewart. Horizon Radio had been taken off air permanently by the authorities the previous year and he was now assisting Trevor & Spence Williams, the promoters of the Spots Club (the Podium Vauxhall), with a new pirate station which would be called Fame FM. I was one of the resident DJ’s at Spots Club on a Friday night so they wanted me to join the station! That made perfect business sense to me as the DJ’s playing at the venues and events organized by Trevor and Spence could also promote their ventures on their radio station. I dropped out of the course and began broadcasting my first regular radio shows a few weeks later on a Saturday nights which I called ‘Stepping Out’. Now I was DJing three nights a week at various nightclubs, still doing private functions, holding down a full time job and had my own primetime radio show! By this time Lawrence Freedman and I were no longer DJing together as we were both very busy with our own gigs but we shared work if either became double booked and remained firm friends until his death in 2002. As a result of the exposure I gained on Fame FM combined with playing out weekly at the top black entertainment night clubs, during late 1986 I was approached to contribute record reviews for a new black weekly newspaper ‘The Journal’ which I called ‘Night Heat with DJ Nigel B’ reviewing new soul and reggae releases plus promoting my nightclub residencies. The publication did not pay me for my efforts but I had always enjoyed writing and it was a very good way of marketing myself so wrote my column until the paper folded several months later. Fame FM permanently went off air within a few months after a couple of government raids on the stations transmitter site. I continued DJing being one of the resident DJ’s at various nightclubs and playing at private functions and in 1987 met Roger Russell who approached me for some advice about DJing. Mixing records live was becoming the new trend for DJ’s Roger was a brilliant mixer which was something I never really paid attention to as my focus was on my microphone technique both for live gigs and radio presentation. We got on well so I resurrected the name Night Star Roadshow and we began working together. That year I also became involved with Louis St Clair who had started black music pirate station T.K.O. – at this time some of the other pirate radio station major players on London’s airwaves included Power Jam, Time FM and of course LWR. My time with T.K.O. was a great adventure! Putting up transmitters at Crystal Palace with other DJ’s on the station, dodging officials from the DTI who were trying to track down the studio and having regular shows on the station was definitely a positive learning experience. I became the Programme Controller for the station quite soon after joining which mainly involved making sure the DJ’s covered their shows and arranging cover if someone couldn’t do their broadcast.
The Other ‘Nigel B’ – Part 1
There was a dispute regarding payments I was promised by Louis St Clair when the station finally stopped broadcasting so we did not part company on the best of terms. A few months later I heard on the grapevine that he had started another pirate radio station called Lazer FM operating out of East London and had a DJ on his new station using the name Nigel B! Then a few friends contacted me saying that they had gone to events as they heard I was playing the music but it was somebody else – and this other ‘Nigel B’ was not that good anyway! This development obviously caused confusion among the public and over the following years I received reports this guy was using my DJ name. I had mixed emotions and I felt angry but amused at the same time. I was angry because I had worked so hard to build my reputation on the club circuit; your name and reputation is your ‘brand’ in the DJ world and this guy was blatantly cashing in on name. I was well known on the black club circuit so Louis St Clair had probably encouraged this other ‘Nigel B’ to use my DJ name to convince people that I had moved with him to build up a following for his new pirate operation. There had always been an unwritten code that a DJ would not knowingly use someone else’s name because we all wanted to build a reputation and following on our own merits. But I did find the idea that someone was actually going around pretending to be me very funny! I knew I was a good DJ and to have someone going around saying they were me was almost surreal. When I spoke to Simon Goffe about the situation he laughed “You’ve been pirated mate!”
Choice FM Wins Broadcasting License!
In 1989 the government confirmed their intentions to inflict high fines and prison sentences for pirate radio operators and DJ’s in the Broadcasting Act 1990. The authorities were already cracking down hard on pirate stations and news spread of the popular pirate DJ Dub Bug being caught broadcasting and fined £5000.00. While I enjoyed the thrill of being a pirate DJ and the added adrenaline rush of broadcasting on an illegal station, the prospect of receiving a huge fine and a possible prison sentence for just playing music seemed very severe. No more dodging the DTI at Crystal Palace or worrying about being busted while broadcasting illegally was a huge incentive to join a legal station that played the type of music I loved. Having made the decision to concentrate on trying to get a radio show on a legal radio station a couple of months later I heard that a couple of Black business men had won a legal radio broadcasting license for South London. The station would be called Choice FM which was going to be Britain’s first 24 hour black music radio station with a legal broadcasting licence covering the South London area. The majority of black music DJ’s I knew wanted a show on Choice FM and were practically breaking down their doors to be considered as a presenter for the station. Of course I wanted a show as well! I knew I had established my reputation and felt my experience was more than enough to be considered to be involved in this new and exciting venture. DJ Jigs who also played at the King on the Rye and had previously worked on LWR had already secured a show on this new black music station which would begin broadcasting in a few months time and gave me some advice regarding applying. I had carried out some research and found out telephone number for the temporary offices of the station in London so I contacted Patrick Berry, the Managing Director who agreed to see me. The meeting was brutally brief. Patrick asked me a few basic questions about radio broadcasting using words and terminology I had never heard before in my life! I had a great deal of knowledge regarding music and DJing but very little regarding the required standards of radio presentation or the industry in general. He asked me a few questions I couldn’t answer so he politely told me I could not join the station. When I walked out of the building into the afternoon sunshine I was absolutely gutted. I was really down for a few weeks but on reflection it was the best thing that happened to me because I made the decision to learn everything I could about professional radio presentation and the radio industry. Despite being rejected by Choice FM overall, the decade of the 1980’s had been a very good one for me as far as DJing was concerned. I was well known on the club circuit and had been weekly resident DJ at several popular night clubs plus was frequently in demand for private functions. I had gigged at my first established nightclub at the age of 24 and been asked to become the weekly resident DJ. My name and reputation had was spread and I became the weekly resident DJ at many of the top black music venues in London including Dougies Night Club(1984-1988), Peoples Club with Tim Westwood, Daddy Ernie and Simon Goffe (1985-87), Nightmoves, Limelight Night Club with C.J. Carlos and Simon Goffe(1986-88), Spots Night Club Podium Vauxhall London (1987) with C.J. Carlos, Limelight Night Spot Crystal Palace with Simon Goffe, C.J. Carlos (1986-88), King on The Rye Winebar & Nightclub (1988-1990) and gigged with Gordon Mac at The Limelight Club in Crystal Palace. In addition I had been the guest DJ at many large events promoted by Fairplay Promotions or by other popular promoters and even played with legendary reggae DJ and broadcaster David Rodigan at the Podium! I was well known on the club circuit and had been weekly resident DJ at several popular night clubs plus was frequently in demand for private functions. All of my DJing goals had been achieved or even greatly surpassed my expectations by the time the end of the decade. Although I did not fully appreciate it, my interests in psychology and observation had made me a very effective DJ as I could ‘read’ a crowd’s mood and predict what tracks would work best. This ability plus having started DJing at a relatively young age helped me to establish my reputation during the 1980’s.
Choice FM Begins!
Choice FM 96.9 began broadcasting legally to South London from studios in Trinity Gardens, Brixton on the 31st March 1990 as an independent company and was Britain’s first 24 hour black music radio station with a licence. The station was a instant success with a DJ lineup that included some presenters I knew from the black club circuit and pirate radio including Jigs and Daddy Ernie Jigs who were both very supportive as I tried to get a show with the station and I was always grateful for their help. Terry Peters and Mike Gee also had shows – I knew them both quite well as they were previously fellow DJ’s when I was with pirate station TKO. Other presenters such as Jenny Francis, Jim Colvin, Kirk Anthony, Martin Jay and American Miles Crawford ( also Head of Music) I had never heard of but generally the Choice FM line up included some of the best known DJ’s on the black music scene. The DJ who did not have a show was Mistri (Paul Charles) and he was one of the biggest DJ’s on the black music circuit at the time who had (and still does!) a huge following which he thoroughly deserved. He was very charismatic, could really get a crowd going, and could keep an audience entertained just by talking to them! I had met many DJ’s on the club circuit and there were a few who had Ego’s as big as a block of flats, but Mistri is one of the nicest people I have met on the on the DJ club circuit. We never actually worked together but always had great conversations whenever we met and I felt he respected me as a DJ which I appreciated. When I found out he did not have a show on Choice FM I thought to myself if he could not get a show with his huge reputation perhaps I had been over ambitious in approaching them in the first place! Choice FM licence was only for the south london area and the buzz within the black music DJ community by the middle of the year was that pirate station Kiss FM headed by Gordon Mac had also secured a London wide licence at the second attempt which would effective blow Choice FM off the airwaves! Pirate station Kiss FM began broadcasting on 1 September 1990 relaunched as a legal station but Choice not only held their audience but their folowing was actually growing due to their music format and presentation style which targetting a different type of listeners. During 1991 I heard that Choice FM were organizing a DJ competition as part of the ‘Choiceathon’, an on air event to raise money for various charities and immediately contacted the station to see if I could enter the competition. When they agreed I could enter I was very excited! I would be competing against five other DJs and each of us had to prerecord a 20 minute music radio show which would be broadcast several times over the ‘Choiceathon’ weekend. The winner of the competition would be decided by phone-in votes. This was a great opportunity that had to be taken seriously One of my favourite sayings is ‘‘Luck’ is frequently when Preparation meets Opportunity’ When I heard the results was one of the happiest moments of my life as I had not only won the competition but won by a very significant margin! Winning the competition opened the door to one of my biggest dreams at the time which was presenting music shows on a legal radio station. After winning the competition I began to sit in on shows with various Choice FM presenters to gain an understanding of studio operations and how to professionally present a radio show. The broadcasting mixing desk looked very intimidating at first with its numerous faders and dials; at first being a presenter on a legal radio station seemed quite a daunting prospect. But the presenters who allowed me to sit in on their shows were very helpful and encouraged me to ask questions if I was unsure about something – and I was unsure about a great deal! One Sunday afternoon I sat in with Jim Colvin who had previously been with pirate station JFM as he presented the Choice FM ‘Soul Powered Countdown’ chart show. His presentation style and timing was so slick and professional I am sure I was sitting there with my mouth open! I was in awe and had total respect of his abilities and driving home afterwards I decided that it was the ‘Jim Colvin standard’ I had to achieve if I was going to be a credible radio presenter. (Little did I know that a few years later I would be DJing at his wedding!) Over the next few months I sat in on various weekend shows as I was working full time during the week and always took numerous notes – no one had mentioned giving me a regular show but I was just happy to be allowed access to learn whatever I could. It took a while to master the skills of being a professional radio presenter but I was determined to make the most of the opportunity now I had a foot in the door at Choice FM. During 1992 a new Black female presenter joined the station who I had never heard of and her name was Angie Greaves. Between 1992 and 1997, Angie presented the “Angie Greaves Breakfast Show” and it swiftly became the most listened to show in the station’s schedule with the listener figures eventually trebling in number. Angie also introduced quotes from the inspirational book ‘Acts of Faith’ by the Black author Ivanya Vanzant which proved hugely popular. At this time I was still the ‘newbie’ at the station learning what I could and waiting for opportunities to cover various shows as a standby relief presenter. We got on really well and as we both shared of Bajan heritage had something in common and over the next several years she would often invite me to one of the yearly Barbados Indpendence Celebrations where she would be compering the events and other functions as well. During her early years at the station I was still the ‘newbie’ learning what I could and waiting for opportunities to cover various shows as a standby relief presenter so I appreciated the support and encouragement Angie provided. I was eventually offered my own regular weekly show on Choice FM during November 1995 which was scheduled for 3am – 6am Saturday morning. In the radio industry and elsewhere this time of the morning is called the ‘graveyard shift’ but I was so pleased and proud to finally have a radio show on a legal radio station the time of the show did not matter to me! Choice FM was the only legal black radio station in the history of Britain and I was now officially one of their presenters! I decided to call the show ‘The Weekend Vibes’ and my first broadcast was on the 5th November and set out to make the show as interesting as possible with features such as horoscopes, phone in competitions alongside great music. Despite the ‘graveyard’ time slot, I built up a loyal following of listeners who were night workers, traveling to or from work or just leaving the nightclubs around the capital. The studio phone was constantly ringing with people asking for requests and dedications and the three hours of each show just flew by! I was really enjoying being on Choice and of course playing at various nightclubs around London where I could now demand higher fees for my gigs plus my private bookings had also began to increase due to the exposure of having a regular weekly radio show. A few months later I was offered another radio show on Choice between 2am- to 4am on a Monday morning which I decided to call The Vibes Reggae Show’ plus I was being asked to cover various other shows on the station as my voice is very generic. Many people who listened to my shows and who I eventually met in person told me they thought I was a white guy! I took this as a compliment because that indicated my presentation sounded clear and professional which was the (Jim Colvin) standard I had always aimed to achieve. Whether it was the Jenny Francis soul show, Commander B’s reggae show or even Martin Jay’s popular Caribbean Affair which was a Soca show on Sunday evening, I was asked to ‘cover’ most of the shows on the station over the next several years. It also became very obvious that being a ‘live’ DJ, and being a radio DJ/presenter were two very different disciplines. I had witnessed some excellent presenters on Choice FM struggling badly when they tried to ‘cash in’ on the fact they were on a popular station by DJing at night clubs and events. People often assume it is easy to be a good DJ but the good ones just make it look easy!
The Other ‘Nigel B’ – Part 2
By 1995 I had weekly two shows on Choice FM, had residency at prestigious and very successful Granaries Night Club on Saturday nights playing alongside Commander B (Paul Blake) and DJ Roger Russell on the ground floor. I was very proud that I had achieved my goal of being on a legal radio station and while the pay at Choice FM was very low for a freelance presenter, the perks, kudos and enhanced credibility enjoyed by the presenters was huge. I was aware the other ‘Nigel B’ was playing out with an outfit called ‘Special Touch’ but there was not a great deal I could do about it – besides most people within the black music scene knew who I was so while the ‘problem’ had grown it still was not a major issue for me. Obviously the more exposure I gained on Choice FM the more this imposter could fool and deceive people into thinking he was the ‘Nigel B’ on Choice and enjoy the reflected glory of all of my hard work. One Saturday afternoon I was covering a show when I received a call in the studio, the studio line was always busy with listeners calling in for dedications or requests. ‘What’s your name?’ the voice on the phone asked and then started shouted insults at me down the phone. I could hear other voices in the background shouting insults at me as well so I hung up and got on with doing the show. This was very childish and immature behavior and removed any doubts I had about what this other ‘Nigel B’ and his total lack of total lack of integrity. This guy and his friends were calling me up while I was doing a show and insulting me implying I was pretending to be him! I weighed up the fact that I had spent many years to establish my name and reputation but on the other hand this imposter was making money off of my name and all of my hard work. I had a few radio jingles made using my new title but my best jingle was ‘Nigel Bee, beware of cheap imitations!’ which was voiced by fellow Choice FM presenter Kirk Anthony who had a deep Canadian voice. For promotional material when I was gigging at venues I added the tag ‘The Original’ and also changed the ‘B’ to ‘Bee’ – so ended up using the name ‘The Original Nigel Bee’. All DJ’s to a greater or lesser degree are driven by the demands of the Ego which is something I had figured out during my early days on the Black club circuit during the 1980’s. In any industry if you have pride in what you do you want to be respected by your peers and I was no different; but wanting to be respected by your peers and being Ego-driven are two very different things. It was not a matter of my Ego feeling threatened but a matter of principle. While writing and researching this chapter I checked out the website for the other ‘Nigel B’ which confirmed everything I had suspected. According to his own website his previous DJ name was DJ Blackgold so clearly he had DJ name before he decided to ‘pirate’ mine. He says his real name is Nigel Brown so I might still have been inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. Any remnants were dismissed and I laughed out loud when I saw that he calls himself ‘the original selector’ using the word ‘original’ of my promotional material and radio jingles which I used on Choice FM to make it clear he was not me! He claims he presents popular radio shows, has played with all the ‘best’ DJ’s but it is all deliberately very vague to try and give himself the credibility that I earned during my DJing years and certainly more credibility that I believe he actually deserves. I guess when you’re desperate to be admired, respected and gain a reputation a person will resort to all types of underhanded tactics! I read an article in the 27th May 2011 edition of ES magazine the about the highly successful UK rapper Dizzee Rascal who also started out on pirate radio. He explained that when he was up and coming and had a huge street reputation but had not yet signed a record deal, promoters would put him on posters when he was not performing. Then people would complain at Dizzee for not turning up at events he knew absolutely nothing around! This ploy was used by dodgy and devious promoters just to boost the number of people attending their events and while the legal term is ‘misrepresentation’ it is of course is basically fraud. In the DJing world at the street level there is no remedy unless you take matters into your own hands and prepared to threaten or use violence. Of course I was never as successful as Dizzee Rascal but I know exactly with how he must have felt. The DJing and the entertainment business in general has its fair share of dodgy characters just like any other industry. I was not the first relatively successful street, club and radio DJ whose name has been ‘pirated’ and I am sure I will not be the last!
I look back now and find the whole episode highly amusing and realize I wasted a lot of negative energy with that situation but at the time it was very annoying. Having a keen interest in psychology I now realize the other ‘Nigel B’s’ antics and deceits stem from his own insecurities. It was probably his initial fear of not really being good enough as a DJ to make a name for himself in his own right; besides there is something very strange about a man who goes around pretending to be someone else to boost their Ego! The other DJ ‘Nigel B’ is still on the music scene and I now laugh when people think he is me or that I am him! With a certain amount of age and experience comes wisdom and worse things could have happened in my life than someone pretending to be me, so time and a period of reflection has taught me to place my life experiences in their proper perspective. I enjoyed my DJing years immensely having played with some of the best DJ’s around during the 1980’s and 90’s and many of them have since firmly established their reputations. Choice FM no longer exists and has been rebranded as ‘Capital Extra’ but many of the former presenters are still broadcasting or DJing live. At the time of writing Jigs, George Kay, Mistri and Natty B are presenting shows on internet radio station Mi-Soul. Tim Westwood who I shared a DJ residency with at The Peoples Club London for a couple of years back in the 1980’s spent several years with BBC Radio 1 Extra and currently with Capital Extra, Jim Colvin is now a very successful voice over artist, Angie Greaves left Choice FM during 1997 and went on to present ‘Angie’s Sunday Magazine Show’ on BBC London Live and the weekly ‘Angie Greaves Music show’ for BBC Three Counties. She also presented weekly shows for Jazz FM and LBC becoming the very first female presenter on radio station Magic 105.4 FM, has won an EMMA Award and also been nominated for a Sony award for broadcasting. Angie is also an accomplished voiceover artist for for numerous commercials, documentaries, animations and corporate projects including working for the Biography Channel and Sky TV. She currently with Magic Radio. Patrick Berry a founding member of the consortium that won the radio license for South London was the Managing Director of Choice FM until 2004 when the company was sold to Capital Radio PLC. Firmly rooted in the London communities in which he lives and works and with a commitment to their social and economic development, Patrick was appointed Director of Business Links for London until 2008, has been the Business Governor for South Thames College and has also worked as an international trade consultant with the government of Nigeria. Patrick continues to be a successful media entrepreneur and businessman. Over the years The Choice FM Family have sadly lost Michael Pryce a journalist and Head of News at Choice FM who revelled in the environment of black music and news, presenting live music events and interviewing artists but was always eager to help young people who were interested in getting into the radio industry sadly passed away in 2009 after suffering with cancer. Kirk Anthony, the man with the legendary voice who made his first show on Choice FM ‘The Quiet Storm‘ hugely popular went on to present the station’s Mid-Morning Jam and was appointed Head of Music at the station in 2006. After leaving Choice FM he relocated to Lagos, Nigeria in 2009 to continue his radio career and and became the Director of Programmes for Nigerian station Smooth 98.1FM Lagos and held that position until his untimely death on May 31 2013 after suffering a heart attack. The picture with Kirk, Michael and myself at one of The Choice FM’s Sunscene Coach Trip back in 1990’s is one of my favourites; both men were very generous with their advice when I started with Choice FM as a newbie and I will always be grateful for their encouragement.
I have so many great memories and look back with great fondness at my many years of playing music at parties, weddings and of course being the resident DJ at numerous nightclubs. I built a solid reputation for being one of the best club DJ’s in London and was respected by my fellow DJ’s, gained a qualification in radio presentation and production, and learnt the skills to become a very competent and popular radio presenter.
Update – July 2015: I was very surprised to be told I am mentioned twice in a bo0k published earlier this year: London’s Pirate Pioneers: The Illegal Broadcasters Who Changed British Radio http://www.amazon.co.uk/Londons-Pirate-Pioneers-illegal-broadcasters/dp/0993265200
So I look back over my DJ years with mostly great memories and feelings of pride knowing I was a part of Black music and broadcasting history in the UK. Not too bad for someone who started his DJ adventures being very reluctant to talk into a microphone! I made some great friends along the way, met some very interesting people and learnt a great deal about human nature. I left Choice FM in 2001 after spending ten years with the station and had a fantastic time! Since leaving I have worked on several projects including writing my first book which will be published early next year and of course I have launched Reflections Radio for lovers of great music. For those who tuned into Choice FM during the ‘Golden Era’ I hope REFLECTIONS RADIO is a fitting legacy to a now legendary radio station and brings back some great memories for our listeners.
“Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.” – Tom Peters
(C) Nigel Beckles 2014 ‘The DJ Years’