Skinned 6: Greg Wilson

The Merseyside stalwart delivers a deluxe edit-heavy special – from the Stones to Patrice Rushen by way of Steely Dan – and chats about his multi-media Super Weird Substance label

Feature by Daniel Jones | 26 Jan 2015

Look past Ray Stubbs and you might well start to consider Greg Wilson as Wallasey’s finest export. Few DJs can compare to the near-legendary status he has achieved in the Northwest and beyond, and even fewer can boast a tighter encyclopaedic grasp on the annals of dance culture. Of course, Wilson won’t tell you that himself.

What he will do is remind you that a DJ is, first and foremost, an entertainer who provides respite from the daily humdrum that most of us poor sods endure. His room-reading ability stems from hour after hour spent watching mobile discos in the function room at the Wilson family pub, sharpened over decades in booths and on dancefloors the world over. That's not to mention his prolific output as a producer and pretty clear editing obsession…

This mix was recorded on the job in Newcastle a few months back and showcases Wilson on trademark feel-good form. Quite a mixed bag in all honesty, from The Stones to Patrice Rushen by way of Steely Dan...

The Skinny: How did growing up in a pub trigger your foray into DJing?
Greg Wilson: I think it was key. For starters, I saw so many mobile discos come in and out over that period, which, apart from enabling me to cultivate a discerning ear as to who was and what wasn’t a good DJ, exposed me to so much great music during a particularly fertile period (mid-60s to early 70s). One of the things I didn’t realise until many years later was that this was how my sense of rhythm was acquired. It wasn’t a natural thing I was born with, but I figure it was driven deep into my bones, often when I was asleep upstairs in my room by the constant muffled sound of beats coming up through the floorboards and into my body.

Who were the artists that initially turned you on to soul music?
Having a brother ten years older and a sister six years older, both of whom were really into the black music of the 60s and buying singles on Motown, Stax, Atlantic and Trojan meant that, apart from what was happening in the function rooms, it was also constantly played in my home. It was everywhere in New Brighton too: transistor radios on the beach; open-air baths; fairground rides. My favourite artists were people like Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Wilson Pickett, Booker T & The MGs etc.

Am I right in thinking you spent a few months gigging in Scandinavia as a youth?
That was certainly a rite of passage! There were loads of UK DJs playing in Scandinavia at the time – four in Skien alone while I was there, which is why I believe the Norwegian disco sound has evolved more in recent times. British DJs arriving back then complete with a love and knowledge of black/dance music proved to be a radical influence for the club scene over there. The reason for their popularity was down to the fact that DJs used the microphone back then, and the English language was regarded as authentic within this context.

Into the 80s, what were some taste-changing tracks for you?
There were so many pivotal tracks along the way but Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force is a seminal record in the true sense of the term. It drew a line between the past and the future. Once that record had been made there was no turning back – it was headlong into the computer age, and I found myself in the role of heretic within the black music community, for supporting this new electronic direction.

Did you face much opposition delving into new styles on the circuit?
The whole electro-funk backlash was very uncomfortable at first. The purists dismissed it as soulless machine music, and I took a lot of ridicule for following what they, at the time, believed to be a fad. By this point I was DJ at the two most successful weekly specialist black music nights in the North, at Wigan Pier and Legend in Manchester, so I had a real power base within the scene and was able to follow my instincts and go against the grain – the crowd completely into what I was playing. It was a case of the old-schoolers trying to keep the status quo – it always happens when something new comes along to take over from the previous establishment.

What was the main reason for your hiatus from DJing and what made you get back on the horse?
I stopped at a time when my club nights were recognised as the leading nights in the North, and I’d picked up the Blues & Soul award that year as North’s Top DJ. That was pretty much as good as it got for a black music specialist back then, and I wanted to enter the realm of production. This was when the idea of a DJ in the UK making a record was regarded as unusual. I came back in the early 00s as a result of engaging with the internet and realising that there were huge chunks missing in the documentation of British dance culture, relating to the crucial contribution of the black community in this country. Having kept my archive material from the early 80s, I was able to set up a website to highlight this era, what led up to it and what came out of it.

How’s the Super Weird Substance project going?
I invested a lot of time and energy in setting it all up last year, but now we’re ready to start releasing stuff. We’ve been working hard, and have got some great tracks on the way, if I do say so myself. We’ve really hit our stride, not only with Blind Arcade, who were key to our launch last year via the free mixtape I put up on my SoundCloud, but other spin-off projects we’ve been developing. I’m already playing a handful of SWS tracks and this is set to increase further in the coming months. We’ve also had a number of approaches with regards to taking the Happenings into various festivals, so that will also be a feature of the coming year.

Tell us a bit about the mix...
It’s a live recording from Stephenson Buildings in Newcastle. I was there for Suono’s 10th Birthday – I’d played their first night back in 2004 and this was to be its last hurrah. I’ve been looking for a respectable home for this mix for a few months and, with The Skinny being a good Northern publication, I’m pretty sure I've found the right host. Delve into Wilson's expansive archive exploring the impact and influence of electro-funk on UK dance at