Greg Wilson is a name synonomous with many 'firsts' in UK dance music culture. He was the first DJ to mix live on television, was active in introducing British DJs to the world of remixing and is widely regarded with bringing New York dance culture to UK shores via nights at Wigan Pier, Legend and the Haçienda. Greg's still riding high from the success of his recent event, the Super Weird Happening on April Fool's day when we manage to pin him down for a chat. "It was a great success. I'm basking in the glow of it right now," he says in his Liverpudlian lilt, his grin practically audible over the phone.
The Super Weird Happening was a 14 hour event that took place at The Florrie in Liverpool, a stunning, Grade II listed Victorian heritage building at the heart of the arts community. Greg's event was a "cross pollination" of arts, music, and spoken word that aimed to raise funds for this pillar of the community. And a resounding success it was. I ask him why he chose to hold this mammoth event on April Fools day.
"It's to do with the idea of 'the fools leap' the leap of faith," he tells me. Greg is referring to an interview with the English writer and graphic novelist Alan Moore, who spoke at the event, and the idea of which was a big influence behind the event. In the interview from 2003 he discusses this idea of 'the fool's leap'. "Anything in your life needs such a leap," Greg enthuses. "Relationships or an artistic statement. It's that kind of step into the unknown." He's not wrong. In the creative field it's this fear of the unknown and fear of failing that often prevents us from taking that creative leap and achieving our goals.
Throughout his long and illustrious career, Greg has taken many 'leaps of faith' to get to where he is today. Greg's thirst for music came from his inheritence of his elder brother and sister's record collection from the 60s. Piles of Motown and Transatlantic Soul records and 7" singles that spurned his love for the genre. By the age of 11, Greg was buying records on a regular basis and by the age of 15 he had built up a strong collection. "That was the year I started working in clubs," he recalls. "I had a friend who was also into records and had built himself a rudimentary disco and started taking bookings for weddings and 21sts. If you wanted to get into DJ'ing you started out doing mobile discos, and if you were lucky enough a club would employ you for £6 a night."
Greg's first club gig was in the old seaside town of New Brighton, a slightly delapidated area, typical of UK seaside resorts of that era. Boarded up hotels, fish and chip shops and a fairground sitting at the end of a pier. Working six nights a week, by the time Greg left school, he had amassed around 1000 nights of DJing. When he was 18, Greg's thirst for touring kicked in, travelling to Europe where he took up residency at a "shit hole" club in Norway under the watchful eye of a manager who would make him work seven nights a week, often with no break. But it was this experience that ultimately led him to one what would become one of the most formative moments of his career. A fellow British DJ befriended him and this meeting would evenutally lead to his residency at the now demolished Wigan Pier- a club that played a pivotel part in the early 90s rave scene, something akin to that of it's sucessor- the Haçienda.
It's strange to think that at such a heady point in his career that in 1983 Greg made the decision to quit DJing. "I felt like I'd achieved everything I could have achieved at that time," Greg stresses. "I'd set out wanting to be a black music specialist. I found myself at this club in Manchester called Legend....It was right at the cusp of something. Where do you go after that?....Legend for me was the pinnacle. Every Wednesday was my dream come true. I was living the dream in that environment."
Although he made the decision to halt the turntablism, he didn't quit music altogether, instead making the move into production, and, more specifically, remixing. Again observing the scene in America where remixing had massively taken off, Greg tried approaching various labels. "They would say "British DJs don't remix. American DJs remix," he tells us, exasperatedly. "I was banging my head up against a brick wall trying to get someone to let me do a remix." Greg would eventually create re-edits of Chaka Khan, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, as well the project 'UK Electro' an album widely credited with being the first dance album with samples, even clawing its way into the UK pop charts. The album was, he says, "a case of if you can't get remix work, there's nothing left to do but create your own music".
But it wasn't all positive. Having decided to quit the DJing game, Wilson had also taken a fools leap by stepping into the world of production. Greg explains:
"I was making really good money for that time and I cut that income stream off to follow the dream of becoming a record producer and it didn’t end up being the financial situation that I’d hoped for. I lost my house and my car. It all went Pete Tong on me and I ended up scrambling and trying to get my life back together."
But Greg made another leap of faith and moved to London. Signing to EMI and joining forces with the Ruthless Rap Assassins and releasing albums. in the early 90s. The Greg Wilson we know now is a legend on the dance music scene, a staple fixture at some of the UK's best festivals, who still uses his beloved reel-to-reel tape machine when playing out. This year will see him play at Farmfest a small, initmate gathering in Somerset and one that he is particularly looking forward to. Having become such a lauded figure on the festival scene what is it about festivals that keep the legendary DJ coming back for more? Greg concludes:
"You know, people always say "it's not like it was in my day" but they forget the festival culture wasn't there....[you have] a place where you can escape to and have that freedom....A lot of it is down to individuals wanting to come together and throw a party with their mates and I think that’s the same with the club promotors and nights a lot of the time....I like this idea of [ideas] growing out of the ground."
For Farmfest tickets head THIS WAY.
For more on Greg go HERE.
Main image credits- Tim Collins