Interview: Ian Dewhirst – Mastercuts series and then some
‘…It’s amazing how much stuff is now sounding good again. I’m listening to an awful lot of seventies and eighties soul at the moment…I can’t believe some of the stuff I’ve missed.’
Internationally renowned for his ‘Definitive Classic Mastercut’s’ compilations, also as an integral player in the growth of the Northern Soul scene, and more recently for his eclectic online Soul music show, Ian Dewhirst has been championing and collecting all forms of Black music since 1965 (aged ten). He is literally a walking music treasure vault and reference library.
UK Vibe’s Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards literally cornered the Writer, Music Compiler, Researcher, Record Collector, Deejay and lover of ‘Great Music’ to find out more about the man.
What with Snowboy’s book still in everyone’s mind, we began by getting Mr Dewhirst’s personal thoughts on Snowboy’s comprehensive digest, before segueing into his general feelings on music past and present and the impact the internet has had and will have on music accessibility in years to come.
The Dood: Right, Ian Dewhirst, kindly give me some feedback on what you feel about Snowboy’s book, ‘The History of UK Jazz Dance’.
Ian Dewhirst: I gotta tell you, I’m a bit of a historian. I did the Stax Northern Soul Compilation in 1974 and I came through the whole Northern Soul scene. And I really feel Mark has done something incredible here, because he’s managed to document a scene that you can’t find an awful lot of information about.
A lot of information that you do get sometimes can be talking heads on a TV program, who might devote thirty or forty seconds to something like Wigan Casino, and to me this is the way to do it. I know, because Snowboy interviewed me for the book – how serious he is? He made a point of actually finding me, really to talk about what was going on in the North of England at the time.
The Dood: For him to get a more rounded picture for the book?
Ian Dewhirst: Exactly…because presumably it would have been easier if he had done the book in like one year instead of ten years. Ten years gave him that depth of research, and he spoke to everybody and cross referenced. So this will be very, very accurate…
The Dood: …Definitive.
Ian Dewhirst: Yeah! Definitive, I think that’s the word. I used to use it on my Mastercut’s albums. So definitive is a very good word…I think the whole thing is first rate. It’s really nice whilst we’re still alive to be able to document how things have progressed. I think there’s gonna be a lot of interest from around the world.
The UK’s always been a great enthusiastic base for music from everywhere. Whether it’s Reggae, whether it be Funk, whether it be Soul, there’s always been those fans in the UK.
Even if you go back to the Rolling Stones and The Beatles, they were influenced by Motown. Led Zepplin were influenced by Muddy Waters. That’s where they got the rift from ‘A whole lotta Love’ from. The Rolling Stones were influenced by Chess Records; The Beatles were influenced by The Marvelettes. They did covers of ‘Please Mister Postman’. ‘Twist and Shout’ by the Isley Brothers.
There’s always been a strand of appreciation across the UK for genuine American Black music and it really does go back. And I really do think that this book covers a really interesting period.
I’m not old enough to have been there in the sixties, I wish I was. I was fifteen in 1970 and I was out there Deejaying at fifteen years old. Really it was an incredible period. I feel so lucky and blessed to have been a part of it. Northern Soul and Jazz Funk and the whole Disco thing as you get into the eighties. There’s still a very, very keen, loyal music base in the UK.
The Dood: Is that loyal music base still there even with the onset of modern technology?
Ian Dewhirst: Modern technology in a lot of ways is uniting people. There’re so many forums on the internet now. There’s Soul Source; there’s Essential Modern Soul, there’s DJ History. They’re all dealing with their own little areas right, but what you’re actually getting is, you’re getting incredibly knowledgeable people. For instance, for Northern Soul, the most knowledgeable people in the world are on Soul Source. I’ve got no connection with them!
And again, Modern Soul, there’s incredible depths of knowledge. I’m pretty well known through Deejaying, through doing compilations, but I’m astounded by the depths of knowledge that even I got, and I’ve been around since the year dot.
The Dood: So you’re still learning?
Ian Dewhirst: I’m still learning man! I do a two hour show every Sunday and I’m constantly every week anxious to learn.
The Dood: Where can we hear this show?
Ian Dewhirst: Star Point Radio, which I gotta say, that’s another area that’s really keeping the music alive. Basically Star Point Radio, Solar Radio, there’s other little stations springing up, Stomp, Real Love. All these kind of Internet stations. I also write for Manifesto magazine and I’ve done an article about the history of Soul music in the UK. It traces it back to when it all started. I’m just old enough to remember pirate radio.
The first time that the UK heard Motown or Stax Atlantic was via Caroline or Radio Luxemburg. Also there were shows on Radio One – Mike Raven, David Simmons and then eventually Robbie Vincent. So there’s always been that appreciation…. I think what Snowboy’s book has done, its kind of put it into one nice, as you say definitive volume and it’s really something to treasure.
I know the kind of research he did on it, and you can just tell looking through it. It’s gonna take you two or three weeks to read. The way I look at it this book looks to me like it could be the template and the main resource document for any future coverage of that period. And what would be a fantastic thing, if somebody wants to do a TV program on black music or black people in the UK, anything like that; this looks like a very good reference source to me. So all credit to him for doing it.
The Dood: So where we’re coming from, where we’re at now and where we’re going. How do you see the future of the music, Jazz Dance and good music per se?
Ian Dewhirst: I’m actually optimistic. I think what will happen is that…We’re living in a different age now, where it’s no longer about the physical format, everything relatively easy to get. However, I still think people need guiding. There’s so much out there, I’m fifty-four now.
The Dood: The music’s keeping you young obviously! Chris Hill credits the music for keeping him young also.
Ian Dewhirst: Exactly, I recommend it to anyone. He (Chris Hill) came up with the best quip tonight. I haven’t seen him for
about a year and I said, ‘How the hell are ya?’ and he said, ‘The trick is staying alive!’ Ha! Ha! I must hand it to him; he’s a consummate showman. I’m very, very bullish, because what I think will happen is that…I mean I’m finding this with my radio show, it’s there, it’s on the internet, I do all I can to promote it, I work through forums, try and get plugs wherever I can.
Bit by bit we’re really finding a wide audience. And when I say wide audience, it’s not the usual internet listeners. Another of the sites I’m involved with is Six Million Steps, which is a group of six of us who are devoted to the music. A lot of the guys are very into the mixing side of things and we’ve put the radio shows up there. And what we’re finding is we’re using Google analytics on the site now and we have a worldwide audience coming in now.
The Dood: Very interesting.
Ian Dewhirst: It really is. We’re getting the Australians, the New Zealanders, the Pacific Rim, Thailand, Japan. I think the UK has a big reputation for being assimilators. It’s almost like at the end of the day the English are always gonna be pretty good at this because they’ve been buying the stuff, getting it which ever way they can. In the mid sixties you had the Mod/R&B scene in London, the Northern Soul scene in the North, the Jazz Funk scene – clubs like Blackpool Mecca , Manchester Ritz.
We’ve a long history of assimilating music, listening to it and then bestowing judgement on what we think are the ones to recommend. And so I think we might have quite an audience who will automatically look at what’s going on in the UK as a knowledge base and they will come to the forums.
There’s an awful lot of what we call lurkers. They don’t make themselves apparent but they’re watching, they’re assimilating, they’re learning and hopefully we have a passion that’s attractive to people who want to learn. And this book really kind of solidifies and condones what I’ve just been saying, the fact that somebody [Snowboy] would make a book like this.
The Dood: What books would you recommend to students starting a degree course in the UK Jazz Dance scene?
Ian Dewhirst: I would recommend a number of books. Definitely Snowboy’s and ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’ are good examples. There’s another book by Tim Laurence, I forget its title though [Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-92]. There are probably a couple of dozen books in total that cover the US, that cover the UK. There are three very good books, of which Snowboy’s is one. I’ve always got a book on the go.
The Dood: Let’s get back to you and your music. Are there anymore compilations in the offing? Is there anything currently that stirs you?
Ian Dewhirst: I would love to be positive about the future of the music business, but I’m brutally realistic. The whole landscape has changed. If there was an opportunity for me to continue my work over the Internet, then great. I still think people need to be directed. They need a portal to go to, to get good recommendations. There are a lot of people in the UK that could fulfil that. It could be Dr Bob; it could be Gilles Peterson.
A lot of our view points are valid. We’ve lived through the music. We know better than a lot of people because we were there on the ground…But you know what? I love learning about it. There’s simply so much Soul. It’s amazing how much stuff is now sounding good again. I’m listening to an awful lot of seventies and eighties soul at the moment. I’m digging deep. I can’t believe some of the stuff I’ve missed!
The Dood: Do you still have a lot of vinyl or have you transferred it all to CD and computer?
Ian Dewhirst: I’ve got more music now than I’ve ever had in my entire life! I’ve got a room full of vinyl. I’ve gone through several vinyl collections, but there’s always a nucleus that stays there….My downstairs, one complete wall is full of CD’s. Because I’m a little bit anal about this, I like to be able to get to everything immediately. I’ve got several hard drives full of stuff. And a big, big pile of CD’s, DVD’s that people send me.
The Dood: So you’re the John Peel of the Jazz and Soul world?!
Ian Dewhirst: That’s my ideal gig! If only I could be that!
The Dood: You’re a lucky man, you get paid for doing what you love and that’s rare. There’re Accountants and Lawyers out there that have a music flame burning inside but can’t express it. Were you listening to the radio under the covers from an early age?
Ian Dewhirst: That’s exactly what I was doing, you got it in one. I got given a transistor radio, which is quite a revolutionary thing when you’re like ten years old. You listen to it in bed under the covers and pretend you’re asleep. I was listening to (Radio) Luxemburg for instance in 1965. Emperor Rosco and shows like that. That’s when I started to get into Motown. I knew I liked Motown and eventually Radio One started in 1967.
Within three months of Radio One starting, there was something like twenty huge R&B and Soul records, including some that didn’t even hit in America. Felice Taylor’s – ‘I Feel Love
Comin’ On.’ Number eleven hit at the end of 1967. Never even hit the R&B chart in America! It’s a Barry White production. But we heard it in the UK, because Radio One decided, ‘yeah, we’re gonna stand by that.’
Tony Blackburn, he wrote the sleeve notes for Motown Chart Busters Vol 4 – He was there! He’s not everybody’s idea of a soul boy but credit where credit is due – he did help the cause.
I told you I was kinda genned up on this. I’ve just been doing an article about radio.
The Dood: How do you explain the frustrating trend with black music stations turning commercial and subsequently watering down their content?
Ian Dewhirst: It’s a typical thing, that really when something starts to become successful, you lose a lot of the core supporters. It’s simple; all that happens is when a licence is granted all of a sudden the perspective changes for a station, then they go out to a wider audience and end up getting rid of the very things that made them great in the first place.
But you know what? With Internet radio, people have a choice. There’re so many stations out there. I’m very bullish about radio. I think now people can make a choice, if anybody wants to find Soul music on the radio…I’ve got to say in the UK we’re spoilt. We have the best internet radio going. We’ve got dedicated people, guys who only play new releases. They won’t touch any of the old. I like to cover my audience, so I mix it up. I play soulful House and Garage the first half hour, eighties the second half hour.
The Dood: What time and day are you on?
Ian Dewhirst: Sunday afternoons two ‘til four, with a big audience! Tune in Sunday afternoon and have fun!!
The Dood: Don’t worry, we’ll big it up on the website.
Ian Dewhirst: Today, you can load everything onto your ipod and listen to it while you’re travelling. That’s why I’m quite excited. I think that people are making far more choices now. They can listen to shows when they want. I have a live audience, a very good live audience, it’s not so crucial. We do five times the amount of live listeners on downloads.
The Dood: People have busy life styles. Like shift workers, they can come back and log on to BBC iPlayer short of thing and listen to the show at their leisure.
Ian Dewhirst: It’s a revolution!
The Dood: Give me some of your favourite artists? I’ll through one out to you. Phyllis Hyman?
Ian Dewhirst: Wonderful! One of the greatest vocalist ever! She’s almost as good as Linda Jones. Let’s see, who’s my favourite? There’re really so many, it really difficult – Stevie Wonder! It’s amazing, what I quite like at the moment and I’ve got a soft spot for is a record called ‘All I Do’. Randy Crawford’s version – UNBELIEVABLE!! My biggest record at the moment.
The Dood: Really, I used to bug out to Stevie’s version on his ‘Hotter Than July’ album!
Ian Dewhirst: It’s fantastic! She sings the shit out of it! And I like Brenda Holloway’s version from ’65 as well. So I’m having a bit of fun at the moment. It shows you, you’re never too young to learn. I’m fifty-four years old, I have ‘All I Do’, Stevie Wonder’s version, now I’ve got a Brenda Holloway’s from ’65, that I’ve never heard which I love and I have a Randy Crawford version from 2001 that I LOVE! So those are two relatively new listens for me.
The Dood: Do you drop them on your shows intermittently?
Ian Dewhirst: I did a show with Randy Crawford last Sunday! (Laughs raucously)
The Dood: Excellent! Thanks for your time.
Webbo / Mike / Ian
Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards
The Original Mastercuts Show
(Every Sunday 2pm to 4pm)
Manifesto Magazine: Sept 2009 – Issue 108
Article – ‘Soul Music Radio in the UK’