I love the internet and its ability to move you around a topic. The other day via Facebook I saw a Groove Records rundown from the Mike Allen Capital Rap Show and then had a dig about and ended up finding an interview with the man himself courtesy of long time B-Boys the Essex Rockerz (check their Flickr page for graffiti goodness) via Charlie Dark’s Nike Run Dem Crew Twitter feed. That right there is the joys of the internet for me. Anyway, back on topic, here’s the interview with Mike Allen courtesy of Mark & Howard of the Essex Rockerz.
Mark/Howard: Well obviously firstly, thanks for doing this Mike. The first area we would like to talk about is, although we knew you from hip hop, you were quite a major player in the soul weekender/jazz funk scene?
MA: What happened, I joined Capital in 1975 and prior to doing that I’d been a professional disc jockey, in other words I’d relied on playing records for a living since 1970. So I had my own sound system, employees, road crew and stuff like that, so when I joined capital in 1975, they started getting excited about doing gigs. So I spoke to them and said “I can rent you the gear”, they said “that’ll be good”, so I started up a company called ‘MARS’ (Mike Allen Rental Services) which was based in Lotts Rd in Chelsea and we supplied Capital with all the audio and the outside lighting for their outside appearances. And then it grew and we took on bands like Robert Palmer and stuff like that, we actually did Gary Glitter… but we didn’t get paid so I don’t suppose that counts or was that tongue in the mouth (laughs).
We used to do loads of people, huge acts like The Commodores all their European stuff. So I was working in Capital from 1975 and around 1979/80 they said did I want to do lunchtimes (I was working nights) and I think I worked pretty much every shift in that station and then in 1984 I’d pretty much had enough because if two records came out and one was Rod Stewart and the other something different, Rod Stewart, being indicative of established white orientated rock, would be the one on the play list, and I desperately wanted to do something that would change the balance. I mean its alright being a ‘jock’ and doing little tricky things that impress other ‘jocks’, you know like getting the jingles to match one after the other or getting the records in the same key and you’d cue it and just take the front end out of a boring record so it would all just go ‘ba da da bang!’
You know it would be like a fuselage of shot across the studio and everyone goes “wow” with adulation. But six people know you’ve done it and the other million listeners don’t have a clue and are like “so what?” So I just thought I want to do something that’s good and then I got into listening to hip hop and of course I was listening, as a lot of people did then, to ‘best of ’ compilations like the ‘Electro’ series.
Mark/Howard: So this was at home?
MA: Well, I’ve worked 6/7 days a week for ever so no, this was in the office. So I’d have a desk like this (points to our similar environment) and Roger Scott used to sit there and I’d sit here and this was our little office and there’d be a record player and some cupboards and stuff and that was our little world. We were surrounded by vinyl…it was incredible. So anyway, I was getting really into this (music) because it had an energy and around 1984 stuff was very quiet, we were getting stuff like Aha and things like that, you know that was around. But it was all a bit too ‘synthy’, it didn’t have any grit.
Mark/Howard: It was too clean sounding?
MA: Yeah, and everyone had backcombed hair, but from the age of 11 I’d been playing the guitar, so I knew a bit about the construction of music and I think then somebody played me Double Dee and Steinski!
Mark/Howard: So that would of been the first cut you heard?
MA: Well it was around about that time, and I listened to it and I loved the construction of it… I really loved it. It was the first Double D and Steinski, so I thought this is good and I was doing the Friday and the Saturday night shift so I thought let me just try out a little bit and it was very, very different to the stuff that was around at that time.
Also it sounded very compressed because don’t forget we were talking about compilation albums, so I went down to Jean at Groove Records because Chris Palmer, he and his brother used to run Groove. Chris and I used to play in a band together, he used to play bass guitar and I used to play lead. So I knew his mother – ‘aunty Jean’ Anyway, I picked up some real stuff and that was the difference you see because the New York cuts, they cut the vinyl, you know pressed it so deep, the depth of the cut determined the amount of vibration you got from the stylus and when the stylus dropped in, if you had a really deep cut, you got loads of movement in the stylus and it sounded like a rocket going off. It was like giving a pre-amp boost to your amplifier, like you boosted the signal before you put it in. A New York cut was cut deep, an LA cut, stuff like Egyptian Lover wouldn’t of been cut as deep, until maybe when Dr Dre started and you started to get the records cut with the New York sound.
Mark/Howard: Do you think LA took from that New York sound?
MA: Look, I’ve only got to tell you a joke, like get the meatballs out mother, there’s a fork in the road. its gone, your gonna give it to somebody else. A lot of guys for example would record and album over here, but then take the finished tapes over to NY so you’d get it cut in NY. We over here probably had a better overview of that American scene than any American, because we were getting stuff shipped over from all over America to the UK. That would not of been the case stateside because New Yorkers would have been fiercely NY and the same with LA. Texas as well was starting to produce a sound, I think around 1985 – a three man crew. I can’t remember their name? It was hard though, too hard, you couldn’t play it on the radio…
Mark/Howard: I’ll bet it was that group ‘The Future – Easy Mike inc’, they did a track called ‘Prelude Its Real’?
MA: (shrugging) 15 years ago… I can’t remember where I was last night! (big laughs) The trouble is you know, that there is so much information in front of you, and I can tell you how I put a show together, i.e. I had a turntable and I used to go through stuff…. da da da da… no ….da da da da… yes. I could hear it and remember the beat pattern and tell you exactly where the cut point is because all those shows that we recorded were all done on fixed speed turntables, they didn’t have vary speeds.
Mark/Howard: Ah yes that reminds me, on the phone you mentioned about this ruling by the radio authority banning the use of Technics in those days?
MA: Yes the radio authority didn’t consider the output signal of a vari-speed Technics up to their standard of broadcasting practice, which was total nonsense because I used to record the national show for Radio Luxembourg, and they used to use vari speed Technics with no problem at all. The capital stuff was all fixed speeds.
Mark/Howard: So what about those mixes then, I remember Froggy being quite prevalent on the show….
MA: Yes, he was really good…
Mark/Howard: And when you got those mixes, were they recorded outside of your studio at Capital?
MA: Well, if it was a Froggy mix or Simon Harris, yeah they would come with a piece of tape. “Hi mike…. Friday night, do you want to play this?” Yes, if they were good, and some of them were not, not talking about Froggy or Simon Harris but I mean quite a lot of people sent stuff in. When I started, people like Simon Harris might have been into hip hop but he wasn’t doing mixes and Froggy he was doing …. he used to … Oh I was telling you about the sound system at Capital, well the rival outfit to Capital in London was Radio London and Radio London with Chris Hill and Robbie Vincent, they used to do weekenders and they used to do the holiday camps. I only ever did one, somewhere in Lowestoft….
Mark/Howard: That would’ve been Caister?
MA: Yes that was it. They offered me an hour and I got too much money for it, oh God, and so those Caister Weekenders were largely Froggy’s sound system and not mine.
Mark/Howard: So do you think he was influenced by you doing the radio show?
MA: In the 1970’s early 1980’s there was a club in Down Street in Mayfair called ‘Gullivers’ and there was a band called Heatwave (above) who used to hang out there and the house DJ – Graham started to get into mixing. Remembering at that time DJ’ ing was a guy with 2 turntables, saying ‘Mr Steviiiieeeee Wondeeeeer’ and all that jazz.
So the concept of a jock not saying anything, you know doing running mixes with varispeed turntables and things like that, that was one of the clubs where it started and it was influenced a lot in the press by a guy called James Hamilton who was a librarian at Capital, but he also used to run James Hamilton discotheques. He was very public school, very grand you know “Oh hello Micheal”. Anyway, he used to do these discos and I used to do a lot of West End Hotels before I got into radio, all the Park Lane stuff all the time and we used to have a truck – a lorry – a seven toner with air brakes. I used to love that.
So anyway, James Hamilton brought his knowledge of doing mobile discos for society in the late 60’s early 70’s and was a big soul music & black music fan. He was writing about this for Sounds or maybe NME and then he was working going to see guys in other clubs and this whole mix thing grew in 1979 early 1980 where people didn’t speak and just played the tunes. Now what have we got? Fatboy Slim, probably the best example who doesn’t say a word apart from when he get’s the money and I bet he says ‘thank you soooo muuuch’. So anyway that set the platform for the hip hop mixes because peoples ears were set up for it so I thought what i’d do were 20 minute sweeps, you know like 3 x 20 minute sweeps. As a concept it was good because I mentioned earlier the ‘cartoon’ aspect of hip hop and I don’t think people truly understand, when you say cartoon, people think your saying its cheap, although I thought it very clever because cartoons are clever by nature, taking an idea and presenting it beautifully clearly. And it was comedic, that beat….
(Mike illustrates by beatboxing in his own style a beat…boo daa boo dooh baaaa boo daa boo dooh baaa…etc. The best example I can think of is “six minutes, six minutes, six minutes Doug E Fresh your on.”
Mark/Howard: Well that just blew up didn’t it big time?
MA: I’ve got a gold disc, no, silver disc of that for 250,000 sales, they must have sold over half a million on import. When it came out in the UK they said will you be playing it on your show and I said “Well I played it about six months ago.” But that has that cartoon quality which makes it so approachable and it was absolutely magical because to me, raised on rock and roll, I was thinking “oh this has got energy hasn’t it?” And those drum beats – I used to love it!
Mark/Howard: But again, the production on it was phenomenal wasn’t it? It was so heavy. We were going to clubs in the early 90’s and they were bringing that track back and it’d blow the jam, you know, you’d have all this new stuff and someone would put ‘The Show’ on and the younger kids would be going what the hell is this?
MA: Well, because it was cut for effect, we all were into that NY sound. It was very, very strong a lot of bottom end. He was a really nice guy Dougie, such a nice guy…
So that sort of sets up the scene for you, so you can see where we were getting into mixing we’d got way from voicing every link. So the concept of mixing with vari-speed turntables, although that wasn’t the case at Capital, that’s what resulted in that particular style of mine which was little drop ins and breakbeats, so you’d be coming off of one lets say 98bpm track and you wanted to get into a track that was 96bpm, there were ways, I mean, Froggy was very inventive, at one time at live gigs he used to lean his thumb against the turntable to slow it…to break it, so he could thumb in the track from the next turntable.
Mark/Howard: His reputation is sound, a lot of people rate him as one of the best mix DJ’s on the planet.
MA: Oh, he’s very, very good. I haven’t heard him recently (Froggy passed away after this interview was done), I mean we’re talking about 17 years ago, but he was very inventive and James Hamilton as well. Froggy, he was very kind to me because he always used to bring a mix around, not loads, because I don’t think he did a lot, but he’d bring something around and it was good …. always good, very clean, workmanlike, you know nothing naff or scruffy about it. It was good stuff.
Mark/Howard: As well then, we were talking on the phone about your own mixes for the show. I’ll always remember the James Brown Livin’ in America mix, so how healthy was your interest in producing stuff?
MA: Oh yeah, well those boys used to bring in a mix maybe once a month, but that wouldn’t been in the first 2 years. In the first two years, 1984 to 1986 I was on my own out there, a lot of people just couldn’t believe I was doing it. They were absolutely outraged at Capital – “What, does he know what he’s doing?” I mean when I was putting the show together on a Friday, you could imagine, there’d be all the FM rock boys and there’d be this noise come thundering out of this office, because you got to wind it up haven’t you? You can’t just let it sit. I subsequently learnt that the youth profile of the station was held up by my two shows.
Mark/Howard: Do you think that Capital were aware that this whole thing was going to ‘blow up’?
Mark/Howard: Or were you?
MA: I wasn’t doing it because I wanted it to be a success, I was involved with it because I liked playing with it, it was incredible and when Morgan Khan asked me to do a remix to Masquerade’s The Solution to the Problem’ we just got the back end of it, turned it up, just got clear tape and put that stuff on it with Ronald Reagan…did you ever hear it?
Mark/Howard: Oh yes!
MA: (laughing) Did you hear the bottom end on it? It was so bassy it was incredible. We didn’t do the vocal, we did the Def Dance Mix, me and a couple of guys, which was the B side.
Mark/Howard: They put that mix on Electro 13 which was the UK Fresh retrospective…
MA: There were guys using it to cut up with at Fresh…. They quite liked the fact that there was Margaret Thatcher, I mean now its a bit passe but it was alright at the time.
Mark/Howard: Talking of Thatcher, I remember a jingle that you used use with an impersonator of her “You are listening to….Mike Allen”
MA: Yeah, yeah…Nnnnoww, nnnooww.
Mark/Howard: Who sorted that?
MA: Bill Mitchell was the guy that did all the stuff for capital…(Deep voice) “all the hits and more …. 194.” Well, Bill Mitchell was a Canadian and he was a mate of one of my best friends, so when they got Bill to do the station idents at capital they did mine…. thank you very much.
The two guys that I asked to help me on The Solution to the Problem, were called Ed Stratton and Vlad, and they helped me in the studio, one worked as a tape operator and one worked the desk. We did it (the remix) in about 3 hours, the remix from the master tapes, it wasn’t a cut up it was a remix that was turned into a dance track, I mean ‘Solution to the Problem’ although being a really nice pop song – it didn’t do anything for me, so we added a really good drum pattern, and turned it into something completely different….and that bass drum, the bass end on it – was so hooligan because it was a bit Schoolly D, it was a bit splattery, it wasn’t clean you know?
Mark/Howard: So do you know how many people were listening to your show at thattime, did Capital ever monitor it?
MA: well, I think its a bit like a great magazine, you know they’d probably punch out about 50,000 copies and you’d read yours and then pass it onto someone else and so on. So you probably got 150,000/200,000 readers in effect. So most of the people that would listen to what I was doing on a Saturday would record it, which was why TDK wanted to sponsor the national show. I mean they approached me and said we found all these kids breakdancing in Tunbridge Wells….Tunbridge Wells! And they’d said to them “what are you doing” and they’d said they we’re listening to this hip hop show on the radio. And the TDK people had said, “what is it on now?” The kids had said “no…. we record it.” That was to the PR person at TDK and you know the next phone called they made … was to me.
Mark/Howard: And when was that?
MA: That was about ‘84 mid around ‘85, just before T-KID came over (the clip below has Mike interviewing T-KID on his trip to London).
Mark/Howard: OK, was that part of the promotion for the show?
MA: That’s a good question, but no it was a completely separate issue, but I think maybe it came off the back of the T-KID thing.
Mark/Howard: Oh right, because to me, when I heard about it, it was like TDK were promoting hip hop and the other elements of hip hop rather than just the music.
MA: Well that’s right, cos they wanted to get people to buy tape…
Mark/Howard: Even though its so called ‘illegal’ to tape radio shows?
MA: Oh yes, of course! And your not supposed to go out with girls either.
Mark/Howard: Well younger ones anyway.
MA: I don’t mind them in there thirties, but then to me that’s young!
Mark/Howard: So what about interviews, was it up to you to hunt these people down?
MA: Well I can categorically say that there was no support from anything in the UK, virtually everything on that show was imported and I paid for it.
Mark/Howard: So Capital weren’t interested whatsoever?
MA: The format, the content, the jingles, you know Vlad made the jingles, you know the Mike Allen theme, and I gave them their name in exchange for it, which was ‘Sonic Graffiti’.
Mark/Howard: Were you aware at that time of all the elements in hip hop?
MA: No it was unfolding. You look back on it and it’s very easy to see, like in a rear view mirror, but going through that time, we didn’t know where it was going one week to the next. I can remember Paul Oakenfold coming to see me when he was a promotions guy at CBS and saying “this album is brilliant”, so I said “well give us one then” and he said “well, I’ve only got a cassette”, I said “that’ll do” and it was Public Enemy!
Mark/Howard: And the rest is history!
MA: Yeah, but I mean that’s how huge tracks arrived, on little scaby cassettes. I remember going to Lyor Cohen’s wedding and the whole Def Jam posse went down to the Dominican Republic and we were staying in this hotel, and everyone was there. Public Enemy was playing out of speakers hung from a hotel balcony, and this was a brand new hotel, never been open till that day and everybody was there… you know Beastie Boys and the whole New York Posse…what a fuck off event that was. Public Enemy were playing their second album out over the pool you know, and LL came out of his room about once a day and went back in with his young friend. But they had the biggest throwdown you’ve ever seen.Run DMC the whole lot; the night after the wedding. Anybody who was anybody on the East Coast was there.
Mark/Howard: Lets now touch on you own style of, because to me you were, in the nicest possible way, so uncool you were cool. I mean we all remember that flowery shirt you wore on ‘Electro Rock’.
MA: Oh yeah.
Mark/Howard: Or a yellow suit for UK Fresh, more like Miami Vice.
MA: Actually it was blue, I changed, I had a dark blue brocade one with a peach vest. This was 1986, it was Don Johnson time – Crockett and Tubbs. I had a light blue suit on in the evening.
Mark/Howard: But the guys you met up with, like the rap guys, would they be sort of “What’s Mike wearing?” Because if you met Run DMC, they’d be about Adidas and ‘goose down’ jackets.
Mark/Howard: I mean the first time I went to NY, I had to have a goose down jacket, you know, I had to find De Lancey St and I had to have a goose down jacket. So I thought maybe that would influence you? Or was it because you were a little bit older?
MA:Years ago, I had my first bank account when I was nine, I mean I wasn’t necessarily rich, but I knew the style that I liked. I still get my shirts in Jermyn St and my 9oz wool suits, you know, I know what I like. I still wore baseball jackets and lace front trousers but I was conscious of the fact that I was in my late thirties and those guys were doing what they do and I didn’t want to imitate them because I was presenting the music and what I wore or did, well that was my style. This whole business of disappearing into the background you know wearing black trousers and a black shirt, you know can’t be seen – man of mystery, I think is all bollocks. “Yeah I wanna’ be seen, I did this.’
At this point in the interview, its time to get a few goodies out to see if Mike remembers some of those cuts. He is handed an original of ‘It’s Yours’ T La Rock & Jazzy Jay, but hey all you collectors who’ve think they’ve got the original on a maroon Def Jam label, think again, try finding it on the ‘Partytime’ label. An original ‘Johhny the Fox’ Tricky T seems to do it for Mike as does a scarce ‘Hard To The Body’ Point Blank M.C’s in which we remind Mike that he gets a name check in the track.
Mike enthuses about the Duke Bootee style of production used on that and more obviously the Word of Mouth records. Indeed he attributes the Duke Bootee sound as the archetypal New York cut sound of those mid-eighties. Among other records brought out include ‘Power Drill’ Goon Squad, ‘One Way Love’ TKA Crew, ‘You Don’t Really Wanna Battle’ Cutmaster DC and the monumental ‘My Hands Are Quicker Than The Eye’ Byron Davis and the Fresh Crew.
Mark/Howard:: Are there any others that you remember from those times?
MA: I always thought Mantronix were very good value for money, especially from a fan’s point of view and the fact that he (Mantronik) produced good stuff and it was always fresh. I mean for a lot of these guys it was tough, because they’d have been listening to other people and all of sudden they get a record deal and probably had about three or four good ideas in their head and then they’re expected to do an album, you know “oh Christ! What are we going to do?”. So by the time you’ve done the remixes, the black car mix, the white car mix…..then that should fill it. So it was very tough, you see I could go on air once, twice a week and play stuff, but I wasn’t actually in a stones throw of the people, but those guys would do stuff and it had to be good otherwise they just get booed off. It was a tough gig to get that right. I can’t think of much else that in those times was so far in front of anything else, I think Duke Bootee’s stuff was good; most of his crews were out of New Jersey.
Mark/Howard: Well that leads us onto the one thing that every nostalgia head will talk about and that is the infamous Word of Mouth Crew session on the Friday night before UK FRESH. Are your memories pretty good of that?
MA: Yes, I mean they just turned up and said they’d like to do something. I think we had studio 4 which was a major music studio at capital at the time, so Ed set it up because he was the recording engineer and recorded it. He was in there to play the commercials because at the time the DJ didn’t play the commercials because DJ’s were some lesser species, you know tainted. So anyway, Ed got the levels and we’re like “you ready to go boys?” And away they went and it just ran live.
Mark/Howard: So where would you be sitting?
MA: So o.k, I’d be sitting here (gestures) and you’d have the window into the master control room studio B at Capital, studio over there, window into master control room and then on the right, studio 4, major music studio. So Ed just gave me all the commercials and said “you play ‘em, I’m going off to fix this”. So I was like, playing the commercials, cueing the mixes and talking at the same time, fortunately there wasn’t a broom in the studio otherwise I might of had another little jobby. And we just did it, live, and it was so slick, so absolutely excellent, so much energy – incredible!
Mark/Howard: At that time, he (Cheese – above) was seen as the best scratch mix DJ?
MA: Yeah, yeah – incredible.
Mark/Howard: And of course you had the other one Jazzy Jeff (& Fresh Prince)?
MA: Yes, I had them both on the program a couple of times and they were good, they were good, very, very good.
Mark/Howard: DJ Cheese though, was seen as the the street DJ?
MA: Yeah, he was a gun fighter wasn’t he?
Mark/Howard: And then Jeff who was the cleaner cut?
MA: Suburban, you know, out somewhere in the Hamptons type.
Mark/Howard: Yes, and you’d never really class them (Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince) as hardcore hip hop.
MA: I know exactly what you mean.
Mark/Howard: But saying that, look at show Jeff did in Madison Square Garden in 1986 where he did the ‘transformer’ scratch and the whole of the crowd went bonkers! They might have been ‘party rap’ but as a DJ he was top of his game in my eyes….
MA: I saw him do it at the Albert Hall, I mean stunning, soooo slick. But there was a funkiness about Cheese that Jeff didn’t have… it was something funky and I suppose it’s like comparing Jimi Hendrix with Eric Clapton, you know Jimi Hendrix would play just 3 notes and you’d go “Oh Yeah!” that’ll be the three won’t it? and then Eric Clapton would do it and you’d go “Yes…very nice”. And that was that quality that Cheese had, just that side of dangerous.
Mark/Howard: At UK FRESH they did two shows didn’t they?
MA: Yes that’s right, not many acts did two shows.
Mark/Howard: And that was the one thing that I thought was great, because Mark, being slightly younger than myself, had to go to the day show, and I went to the evening show and it was only when we both came back that we were able to talk about it… and then I told him about Mantronix ‘cos they only did one show.
MA: Yes they only did one show, closing show two.
Mark/Howard: I remember you saying that because the Mantronix set was so hot, Wembley were charging you for every minute that set ran over?
MA: Oh yeah, because we had a penalty clause so that for every minute after 11pm we were getting charged and we would have to pay and Mantronix were rolling over and I’d said to (Kurtis) Mantronik before he went on, look don’t go over 11 O’clock whatever you do as we really can’t afford it. And he was going on and going on and I’m standing at the side of the stage with Morgan (Khan) hollering “finish – finish up” (big laughs) and of course the crowds going mad. Bloody hell! Whilst all this is going on, you’ve got the tills at Wembley Arena going “kerching, kerching… thank you very much.”
Mark/Howard: So when the time came for you to move to LBC, were you aware that something had ended, maybe that golden era?
MA: Well I was still doing National Fresh so that didn’t finish till 1987 and I movedto LBC in September 1987, so at that point there was still another year to go at least and I was doing this thing on Sunday afternoons called ‘Street Talk’ which was about the music, but having a slightly broader palette because we were talking about collectable old soul and we were doing mixes and talking to people like Coldcut and things like that. It was, strangely, at the very front end of people mixing at home and creating their own stuff. We’d have guys that would do the 12 week course on how to master the art of sampling… And you had that guy from ‘the Prodigy’ who won the mix competition. So it was good, and I think it was very much of its time, but then I think that capital got a bit annoyed that we were doing it because in their eyes LBC should have been a speech station only and because I’d said to them “I’m walking”. So LBC – I only did that for six months.
Mark/Howard: So then, its quite interesting what you’ve always maintained that you didn’t leave hip hop, it left you?
MA: Oh absolutely, it just walked away from me, I mean I was doing capital and the national show and then LBC in which there really was a lot of information in that show. It’d take a day of studio production before that show went out, and remember everything was over beats.
Mark/Howard: So maybe that’s why that change came about as Mike Allen, that person in hip hop at a certain time, but because it became more about conversation and explaining….
MA: I can see why you’d say that, but I’d signed to do five speech shows a week – Monday to Friday with LBC and one contemporary music show, but I think it really had just come to an end. You know its like relationships – you just look around one day and think I don’t want to do this anymore; or they look around to you and say it. It just wasn’t there for me anymore and it wasn’t my plan to walk away, it’s just that areas to do it went and strangely, this probably sounds very flashy and I don’t mean it too, but I thought I’ll finish doing live gigs at Wembley on the 6th June 1986 and that’ll be it – no more. So yeah, that’s what happened, it wasn’t anybody blowing me out the water or anything like that.
Mark/Howard: So did it take a period of time for the phone calls regarding hip hop to die out etc?
MA: Yes, but it moved on so quickly, you know, a river has very little loyalty does it? It comes down, touches the bank here and there and then its gone, and that’s the way with music – if your not there to give it a platform, it moves on, thank you, gone.
Mark/Howard: That’s quite true, when you think about it, as I said, there was nobody else doing it…so if it wasn’t for you, the like of Mark and myself and thousands of other kids would never have heard this music.
MA: That’s really nice to hear, but don’t forget that I had a great time and that was the great thing about it – that we didn’t know where we were going with it – we were making it up as we went along and it gave me an insight for what it must have felt like for people like the Beatles because they were making it up as they went along, they didn’t know what they were doing, everyone assumed they did, they were going “what if we play this chord after that? Oh that’s sounds good.”
So I can understand how stuff happens because that whole era was such an eye opener for me because you like to think that somebody somewhere has got the master plan and reality they haven’t. It was terrific, had a great time doing it. I enjoyed it although I didn’t do it for the money – I never made a great deal out of it, but I got so much enjoyment out of it.
Mark/Howard: What about now? It seems your not really aware of the reverence by a lot of those kids (now adults) from that era, and infact, I haven’t met one old schooler who doesn’t smile and profess and certain degree of respect for ‘The Boss in London’- Mike Allen.’
MA: Some people have called me from time to time, you know asking for copies of the shows and if I want to sell them? The answer to that is no. I haven’t got a single radio show I did. And that’s all really, you see I’ve not gone back there – I just did it and now it’s in somebody else’s hands now. I carried the torch for a while and said after “there you go – its yours now.”
Mark/Howard: I think that’s an interesting point, the fact that you haven’t come back to talk about it. We’ve never seen you in magazines etc. Everyone asks “where did Mike Allen go?”
MA: The strange thing was, I was still on the radio all the time, just turn the dial and I’d be there: “hello”. You see stuff changes and that’s one of the sad things about people that cannot accept change, they get old before their time and that’s why young people move forward, or younger thinking people, because their prepared to accept change, you know, if something alters – fine, they go with it. When you start to be intransigent and say “oh no this has to be this way” well that’s wrong, otherwise if we’d have been intransigent then we’d have never had hip hop. You’ve got to open that door and let it in, because if you don’t, it’ll push you out the way.
Mark/Howard: I think this is the problem that we’ve found now, that because all the history has been made, documented and ‘approved’ by all the self appointed style councils – stuff seems to be stunted and regressive.
Mark/Howard: To becoming an almost ‘closed’ culture, you know if your not in a certain clique, ‘representing’ a certain way.
MA: But I think its true to say that music in the 1980’s started to change on radio, it fragmented, I suppose really you were starting to see the pirate stations grow and then in the 1990’s you got stations like Kiss and Xfm and suddenly everyone’s playing a version – a facet of something, whereas back in 1983 to 1986 – Capital were playing everything at different times of the day. So if they weren’t playing what you wanted, you’d wait until that particular show came on. But now, you don’t do that, you want to hear it yesterday, so you put on Xfm etc. I mean the other day, I was driving along on a beautiful sunny day, roof down and they (Xfm) played The Stone Roses ‘I am the Resurrection’…. great.
Mark/Howard: Were you aware of the Bridge Wars conflict at the time? Were you aware of the connotations of that?
MA: What the violence?
Mark/Howard: Yeah, that something could happen here where you’ve got open warfare on 2 rappers dissing each other….
MA: Do you know, I think sometimes, especially in recent times you see situations where they’ve been set up, you know, were they really dissing each other? If they’d have been good to each other, nobody would’ve followed it. So maybe their management team got together and said “let’s have a terrible argument, that’ll be really good – why not do that”. It works a lot in radio, you know – one DJ will say “I was listening to the so and so show…what a load or rubbish”. So what I’m trying to say is that I don’t believe all these things are as innocent as people would have us believe or as clear cut, let’s put it that way. I was interested in the music, what they did in-between didn’t touch me.
Mark/Howard: I think that whole era changed when you dropped the first PE album, before that, for my money, it was about scratching and beats essentially
MA: I think I know why your saying that, because it was making a statement wasn’t it?
Mark/Howard: ….and then this album (‘Yo! Bum Rush The Show’) came along, and the music was phenomenal, but then, suddenly the party was over in hip hop, there was now a consciousness that needed to be addressed?
MA: Well that’s why I said to you earlier on about the politics, to me there was always the politics in it, because even with the Roxanne stuff, they were party things, but they were a direct reflection of what kids were doing in a playground – you know, the kid that’ll be the most successful in the boys playground is the one with the heaviest fists and in the girls playground the girl with the sharpest tongue. So the Roxanne stuff was a direct reflection of what had happened to us wherever we lived. We knew that, we listened to it, we thought “I understand this.” So the business with the guns, I suppose was inevitable.
I mean were talking about the majority of people in those places like the Bronx that really didn’t have a great chance to improve their life, so a lot of the time, dealing drugs was the only option etc etc.. I’m not making excuses, but one can be aware that this is the way it probably was. I was very glad I didn’t live there. That’s why I said to you earlier on, the UK’s pretty alright.
Mark/Howard: One of the things that has always plagued me if you like, is the fact that I always felt like a bit of fake because I was into this ‘ghetto’ culture. I would go out and ‘drop a hard-core piece’ in the day listening to Schoolly D and then that same evening could switch off and go to a swanky restaurant in surburbia with my girlfriend, listening to some Depeche Mode in the car. So how did you see it? Was it pure enthusiasm for the music and the other social issues didn’t matter?
MA: Well there’s never been a comedian as far as I can see in the history of the UK that hasn’t come from the working classes. There hasn’t been a rock and roller that you wouldn’t call a working class kid, even back to Cliff Richard. Even now in Jamaica, around Kingston, there’s people living in packing cases, and their only hope of getting out is to do deals with drugs or to learn to play an instrument or sing. Its their only way out and the only way is up. That probably sounds a bit of a cliche, but it happens to be true and that’s the sad thing. So I was hoping to put all of that up in the music, but not make a big thing about it, rather just put it there and if you see it you see it and if you didn’t, well that’s ok because you wouldn’t of heard it if I had told you.
Mark/Howard: Well I think that’s interesting because at that time all I could see were the cuts and scratches and Chrome Angelz (above) pieces, and it wasn’t until after PE (Public Enemy) that I started to realise this thing maybe existed on a deeper level rather that just for enjoyment.
MA: But not every record had a message in it, but it did start to harden up and it wasn’t an area of society that was widely represented so that’s why stuff that I was doing was considered so important because you couldn’t get it that way anywhere else as nowhere else could afford to fund that much vinyl for a radio show. It took most of what I used to earn, because I wasn’t getting them for a pound each, I had to pay the going rate plus the cost for the runners to pick them up from the airports. But that’s what it cost to be in front. The same with motorcars, if you race motorcars it costs money. I used to race them you know?
Mark/Howard: If money wasn’t an option then, what would be that car for you?
MA: I don’t know, I really don’t know…..
Mark/Howard: You wouldn’t race Ferraris then or Maseraattis?
MA: No, I don’t dislike Ferrari’s, but a friend of mine bought one from and picked it up in Chigwell and by the time he got to Heathrow he’d burnt the clutch out, and it was a new clutch. Ferraris you see, when they’re good they’re great, but they’re a bit like a ‘skittish’ horse
Mark/Howard: Just like an Italian women
MA: Yes, you have to ask yourself, “is it really worth it?” So I think the tuffest car is a 911, I don’t know if its the most beautiful, but certainly the tuffest. Because you can go shopping in it or you can tear it up in it. The next few minutes are taken up with recollections about driving at 140mph down the M11 in a ‘french racing blue’ Carrera and the ‘blow back’ from it when you have to slow down to 90mph quickly after spotting the local constabulary by the roadside. Now that is what I call ‘Wild style’.
Mark/Howard: If you had to put together a top 10 or even top 5 from that era, could you drop a few names in the hat?
MA: I suppose, Word of Mouth Crew, in no particular order, I think Public Enemy, I think some Mantronix (above from the UK Fresh program) because he brought something special to it.
Mark/Howard: He was ahead of his time, and that was the problem in that I don’t think he was appreciated enough by a lot of people. I mean, Music Madness when they dropped that everyone turned their back on it and I was like “no” this is electronic hip hop, this is the extension from Hard-core Hip Hop but everyone was like, we want James Brown samples.
MA: Well that’s actually pretty true of the radio stations in that they were saying they didn’t know where to go with it, it was surprising them all the time, so of course some people just resisted change.
Mark/Howard: What about the ‘Juice Crew’ and that Marly Marl sound, did you get into that?
MA: Yeah, well he used to work for WBLS and he was their cut up man and WBLS weren’t really a great deal of use to us, because we were on say about 8pm and they being five hours preceding us, they were still playing soft soul and remember that WBLS wasn’t all hip hop, it was a black music station so it’d be the soft easy listening stuff in the afternoon and they’d get in to ‘rearranging the dust’ a bit later on that night.
Mark/Howard: Its just to me, one my all time favourite tracks was ‘The Bridge’.
MA: Oh yes, a great track.
Mark/Howard: It just had such a raw edge, you know impact, it just had all the bits you could imagine going to a hip hop jam in New York. It mostly wasn’t because I never did get that chance…
MA: Well there was a lot of danger in the air at those sort of things. Your absolutely right in that to put a definitive top five together is so hard, but if I were doing a list, then I would include the ‘The Bridge’. What you have to remember is that the industry at that time was so small, you know for certain tracks I’d play, like Tragedy by the Super Kids – there might have only been about three or four 12’s knocking about. Again a lot of the stuff, they might just knock out about 50 to 100 pressings, hardly any at all, and they would sell them at the gigs, “we’ve got a gig at so and so, so we’ll take 200 records”.
Mark/Howard: So some of those guys that you got to know who got onto the bigger labels like Def Jam, did it change them? To me when the Raising Hell Tour came to England that changed my perception of hip hop.
MA: Well I think Rick Rubin got hold of them and shook ‘em up a bit and as well I think there was a pride amongst them that they were with a dedicated label like Def Jam. Plus the fact that the Raising Hell Tour was a label tour and a label tour was good because it could include 2 or 3 bands that weren’t necessarily on the same label, but under the same management. And there would be that camaraderie which, whereas, if you got that same amount of people on the tour but it was a disparate situation, i.e. bands on different labels with different management, then as a whole they probably wouldn’t be hanging.
Mark/Howard: Did you get to go to a lot of concerts?
MA: No, because most of those concerts that were in and around London were done on a Saturday night, and we were recording then. But I used to see the guys, you know, we’d meet up in the daytime. People like Cool J, a very nice guy and Chuck D, who I think is about 42/43 now, but he was quite a profound guy, not frivolous but in fact quite a serious man. You could talk to him about some serious things. Did I tell you I lent him my headphones?
Mark/Howard: Go on…
MA: Well that wedding I mentioned earlier, we had to fly down from New York to the Dominican Republic and his headphones packed up and he said “Can I borrow your headphones man?” I was like “Can I listen to your album?”
Mark/Howard: And he’s like “you won’t play it on the radio will you?” and that next Friday night your like “Hi troops, guess what I’ve got for you tonight?”
Big laughs all around…
Mark/Howard: What would you say was the most exciting time? When you had say a tape in your pocket?
MA: I always used to feel very excited when Icame back from Tom Silvermann because he always gave you something that was good, not just one thing, but about 3 or 4 things that were really, really good. I suppose it depended on the trips, but I had a lot of respect for Tom because not only was he looking out for his artists but he had a preparedness to embrace their thinking. He wasn’t fixed in his thoughts, he would listen and he was flexible… He was a good thinker. Yes I liked him, I thought he was a very good man.
Mark/Howard: Do you still keep in contact with him?
MA: No, but I’m sure if I phoned him out of the blue and said “Hi, I’m back into it” he’d be like “OK that’s cool”. But you know, I think I’ve done it as far as all that’s concerned. As I said to you earlier, I’d carried the flame and handed it on.
Mark/Howard: Did you dig graffiti art?
MA: Yes, I thought the graffiti was exciting, but I thought ‘tagging’ was a pain in the arse and I’ve said it on the radio so many times, you know it’s like a dog pissing on a territory, you know, so what! I couldn’t see the point – so you travel all the way up the Northern Line, really, alone? So what. Although we did that TDK tour around the country, so we really did try to cram as much stuff in as possible, so that everybody felt they were being represented. I felt that the ‘sonic graffiti’ was the music and that the visual graffiti, the two went hand in hand with it… even though I did wear a flowery shirt in Electro Rock.
Mark/Howard: You got respect for that. You were you.
MA: Well that was me, I did what I had to do and with that same attitude, if I’d have been following the crowd, no doubt I’d have been playing the Eagles and Jackson Brown. I thought that there had to be a bit more to life and I loved the description in Sounds magazine that described me at UK Fresh as the ‘Bob Holness of Rap’. (big laughs) If the crowd were doing something, then I wanted to be doing something else.
Mark/Howard: I think the crew that everybody associated you with graff wise had to be The Chrome Angelz? You were broadcasting the tuffest beats and TCA were untouchable on the graff front.
MA: Yeah, they used to use quite a lot of white. I seem to remember them reminding me a little bit of Toulouse Lautrec and the last three or four things he did. He was really focusing on light and playing with it, almost liberally with his use of light. And I remember thinking that when I saw some throw-ups by The Chrome Angelz that they too were very clever in the way that they used white; to make something shimmer and make it go ‘Bing!’
Mark/Howard: I think that was the essence though of that era, that someone so unthreatening like yourself was playing the most cutting edge music anywhere and you’d come out with phrases like “forgive me, I’m just a latent window dresser” or “graffiti so dangerous, it’ll frighten the gas man”.
MA: Did I say that? (laughing)
Mark/Howard: Yeah, and I’d think “what the [email protected]?” as I was doing my hard-core wild style sketch for the back wall of Argos the next night. I’d wonder what that piece was like you were describing on the radio that someone had sent into you?
MA: Oh yes, we had all that stuff sent in – brilliant stuff. There was some stuff that was quite small, but it was immaculate… Absolutely fantastic. Its a shame it wasn’t TV as you could of seen the stuff we had, so much of it. And I did all that myself as I didn’t have a secretary, you know parcel it all up to send back to people and I though to myself, next time I have a good idea, keep your mouth shut Mike! So that show, I used to do it all … make the coffee….
Mark/Howard: Well it came across to us, that the set up you had was massive? Like with the backing from Capital?
MA: But they didn’t do anything, they didn’t understand it; as far as they were concerned it was like “what’s this?” I mean they weren’t awful about it, but when we got Wembley organised, they really wanted to know and they wanted in on it.
Mark/Howard: So to wrap up then, I think that’s something quite special in that you’d done it and if you were there, you were there, and not a willingness to come back like some people do, again and again.
MA: Oh yeah, you mean do a return gig in the back room of the ‘Rifle & Hounds’? No all that would be a bit sad. No I did it, it was good, had a great time, thank you very much. It’s not bad for a gig is it? To finish at Wembley with your own rig?
Many thanks to Mark & Howard from the Essex Rockerz.