In March 2006 Snowboy was a guest at the Bohannon-Club Berlin for a DJ-Set. Before his set we talked to him about the beginnings of Northern Soul, Rare Groove and Deep Funk and about John Anderson and his warehouse record store “Soul Bowl”.
“I am a musician, a percussionist and a recording artist and a DJ. I’ve been Djing since 1978, originally playing Jazz, Funk and Disco and a bit of Jazz and I have been collecting Jazz, Funk and Soul ever since then, probably at equal measure. And became a musician in 1982 through the influence of the music that I was buying and also what I was hearing in the clubs. And I wanted to find out what all these fantastic sounds were on all these records we were buying. When I started going to these Jazz and Funk clubs, they didn’t really play anything kind of retro like the Northern Soul scene. It was all about, the best clubs were run to play the DJs who have got all the imports, they could play the records, they called the older Funk “Street Funk” those days.
Occasionally, they had just one record a night, they might play, an oldie I’ll always remember that Oliver Sain “Bus Stop” was a really huge street funk record in those days and of course the one that really, really everyone went absolutely berserk about was Soulpower ’74, Maceo, you know, ’cause it was such a raw sound to us, obviously the Jazz/Funk sound, Disco sound was very sophisticated. And of course Soulpower what is very sophisticated but it’s not so much rawer sound and especially with the breakdown in the middle with the “Paaarty” and the sax and all, obviously it’s a song the people got sick of now, but at the time we heard it for the first time it was like: Oh, my god almighty!
Not available in ordinary record shops
And that just created a stampede of people trying to find this record, because in those days we didn’t know about Soul Bowl and those kind of record lists. We would just go into a record shop and say: Have you heard of Maceo’s Soulpower ’74? I think it was only around the early 80s when it was a fashion for a lot of brand new release independent Soul, we started finding out about different people who stocked it, because Soul Bowl was the greatest record warehouse in the world. At least in England. Even though Soul Bowl is still going now, it’s sold – six years ago – the entire warehouse to Craig Moerer in America, so Craig doesn’t know what he’s got in there. Because he tried to get one of the employees of Soul Bowl – Andy Davis – he was trying to get him to go over there once a month just to point out the stuff, in the warehouse you got millions of singles?
Now, everyone was really hungry for all the new independent soul releases each week on their record lists, on Wednesday morning, you had to be up. John Anderson at Soul Bowl would not answer the phone until 8.30 – not a minute before! He was a bastard like that (laughing) there was no play grade with him… Unfortunately, they didn’t have re-dial in those days on the phone…
And the annoying thing is, 8.30 came finally and all of a sudden the phone wouldn’t go and you would go “Oh, for fuck sake”, how could someone beat me, I was doing it every 2 seconds?! There was such a fever for independent Soul then, of course, when the rare groove thing started in ’84. The Rare Groove scene was never big in Northern England , it was purely a London and Southern England scene and in fact, a lot of people don’t realize, from a worldwide perspective, that Gary Dennis from Crazy Beat Records, that Gary was one of the biggest Rare Groove DJs, but everyone ever only concentrated on the London DJs.
But in Essex, Gary’s Club, which was a club called “Waves” in Southend-on-Sea, where I’m from, like at 9 o’clock, when the club opened, they’d be queuing all the way down the High Street, all the way down there to get in, and all the Rare Groove-DJs played at “Waves“, every single week, whether it was Norman Jay or Chas from Vinyl Junkies or Roy Roche and these guys, all the big names, and Gary discovered a lot of these what I just thought of as “Rare Groove Classics” now, like the The Apostels – “Soulful”, things like that. They were all Gary Dennis discoveries. From Soul Bowl: Jo Hanson used to let Gary go in there, and Gary used to go every week, once a week he’d go through the Soul Bowl warehouse just to check the chance of records of interest to him and every now and then? You know, £2,50 a record, so a lot of these Rare Groove DJs were discovering records from Gary and breaking it in London and getting the reputation for it, which is not really fair.
Rare Groove records were not so rare
But the weirdest thing was, talking about the Rare Groove scene, that a lot of these so-called records weren’t rare in the Rare Groove scene at the time and the ones, the big ones in London , were not rare. But you couldn’t go into a local normal record shop or a normal second-hand record shop and pick them up. And yet you could, I mean “Soulpower ’74” is a good example, or better let’s say “Across the Track“, you couldn’t get that in any record shop in London and yet if you find Soul Bowl, that had 500 copies. That’s what I mean, for £1.58 or £2.58. But the thing is, those London DJs, they didn’t move in the kind of Soul Bowl circles that we did. And then we were buying our independent Soul releases each week and the Rare Groove things were there if you wanted them. They weren’t on the list necessarily, but you could just phone up John Anderson and say “Oh, I got this track by the Jackson Sisters or Maceo or whoever, Soul Toranodoes“. And he’d go “Yeah, Ok.”
It’s like – this warehouse – had stacks on his racks. All these records were nothing to them; they had plentiful supply, so it’s quite funny, really. This is how important John is. You must realize that in the Northern Soul scene in the 70s, the two biggest DJs were Colin Curtis and Ian Levine, there was no one anywhere near. They were like the Master Diggers. Anything Colin played was immediately sold after, on hotline or whatever they called it. Everyone wanted these records, rare records, rare Northern Soul thing. Now, Colin Curtis said to me that he reckons probably over 90%, maybe 92, 93% of all Northern Soul discoveries came from Soul Bowl! Now how about that? That was incredible!
John Anderson had already been there
Ian Levine was always making out that he found this or that in America – Yes, you gonna find the records in America, quite often, even in those days, but wherever he went – John Anderson had already been there. Because he got to the point where John Anderson first started going over there in the late 60’s. And in those days there was no budget airlines, you couldn’t get cheap flights, and to ship them over was outrageously expensive, so these were really, really expensive days. And John just did the trip to see what it’s like over there and when he came back he called. He didn’t even had a phone in his house in those days, so he used to phone up big collectors or someone like Colin Curtis from a phone box, in Scotland, it’s in Glasgow you know, he lived in Glasgow, and he just phoned these people and he said: “You don’t know me, but my name is John Anderson and I wondered if you’d be interested in these records?”
That’s the way he sold originally through, just a public telephone box, which is quite funny. At that time John had four warehouses in America, they were almost like… it got two different leads all over America that would find him huge amounts of records on behalf of John. And they would send him to these warehouses and from these warehouses it’d go over to the UK. They wouldn’t stand in those warehouses long, they were just the last point before they came over here. And John stated obviously in those days, it was absurd, because there was just records everywhere. You just couldn’t buy all the records that there was, you know. You were leaving, if you bought 100.000 7″ singles, a million behind.
Do you know what One-stops are at all? One-stops are, in America , they’re like the local distribution, so like, if you were a record shop you’d go to a one-stop because all the records from the area got distributed to there. And you go in there and order what you like and of course, John was just going to One-stops and just bought absurd amounts of records, or sometimes there were one-stops that closed down or closing down, he’d just go and buy the whole lot. Because they were selling them for like one cent.
Countrymusic for the bin
Ten singles ten cents. He had no feeling for the records, it was just a commodity, just buying the bulp and sending them back. He tried to read out all the Country and all other kinds of music before it came over. And he just throw it away… You know, anything that just looked like Soul, or that they knew it was Soul, they’d send it over – the rest, country and everything, just thrown away. ‘Cause, they said, it’ll cost us money to bring over. And no one ever and ever will ever be of that size that John… There’s no record dealer anywhere in the world or will ever in the history of recorded music who will ever be as important as John. Soul Bowl still exists. So this was the idea, ’cause he was gonna retire, ’cause he was – I don’t know how old he is now, he’s probably 55 or 56 maybe older. He also is a rich man and has had no real life with his wife and he said: “I’m just gonna retire, just do whatever I wanna do.” So he sold his entire warehouse to Craig Moerer.
His friend Andy Davis at Soul Bowl
But his retirement didn’t even last two months. Within two months he was back in America buying more records. But on a much smaller scale. I mean if you get Soul Bowl’s list now, you are not going to get those big power records that you used to. I mean, from a Funk-perspective I was very lucky, because one of my best friends, Andy Davies, he used to work for Soul Bowl and I bought from the Funk from the list. No one probably does it at these times. From the mid 80s, John started listing Funk and at this time there was just a few people buying that Funk, that was all – one was Philip Lehman from Desco Records and me, Gary Dennis, just a few of us, the “Japs” weren’t interested at that time, I knew, who was buying, ’cause Andy Davies just told me, probably eight or ten people, that was all that was interested.
And what would happen was, that it got to the point where Andy Davies would phone me the night before the list on a Wednesday morning and tell me what was on the next day’s list. Andy was phoning me up to say this was on the list tomorrow, that’s on the list, and it got to the point where he was – there was record fairs, big record fairs in London and Manchester, and John Anderson would give Andy the stock, ’cause most of the time John Anderson never used to go to record fairs, or if he did, he turned up later, but Andy would go at five o’clock in the morning and set all the stuff up.
Boxes with the hottest stuff before the Record Fair
And it got to the point in the end where Andy was coming home with the stock from Soul Bowl on Friday with a special box of all the heavy stuff and he’d phone me up and say: Is there anything here you want? You know, and that even before the Record Fair. And this was the fortunate thing for me when the Deep Funk thing started. When Deep Funk began, was that there was no precedent being set, no… All we knew was that we wanted to play…, we didn’t want to play any of the Rare Groove records. Whatever we played, we wanted to establish just in that little club which was half empty, or quarter empty, or quarter full. There was no big deal with Deep Funk when it started. And a lot of people objected it first because the sound was too heavy.
Because we would play – every record we played no one knew and almost all the stuff Keb Darge played I didn’t know and most of the stuff that I was playing Keb didn’t know, because it was such a new thing and we were all, you know, pulling stuff out of our collections. Keb knew all the best stuff was coming out of Soul Bowl, just like the Northern Soul scene, John had everything – Funk as well. He’s got all the Soul – he’s got all the Funk and a lot of the real heavy, really, really heavy bits I was getting in those days, which is £5, £8, £10 – I never spent more than £10 on a record, because they weren’t charging any more than that. That was ’cause no one wants them. I mean, I remember buying Chris Columbus (?) – £10? That was the dearest record I bought, you know. I paid more, I paid £300 for a Jazz album – but Funk, you physically could not pay more!
Keb Darge as the Back-Up-DJ for Snowboy
And I didn’t know Keb before the first night of Deep Funk, ’cause I was booked – ironically, I was booked to be the main DJ. And Keb was meant to be my back-up DJ. The idea was – it was in the height of the Acid Jazz scene, and obviously I was recording artist on Acid Jazz – so they brought to get me in and thought that might bring some people in. That was the idea, and I was the only one who got paid, for every week… Deep Funk was every other week, it was Northern Soul upstairs and downstairs it was basement with Deep Funk. It was a place called “Almond’s.” So I met Keb the first night we went there, the first Deep Funk. But we got immediately straight away, next we got chattin’ and you know, he got to me very quickly, and I got to know him very quickly.
Keb had to get the list like everyone else, he had to go to the record fair like everyone else! I never bothered. I didn’t, I never had to go to a Record Fair, because Andy called me. So it was, I was very spoiled, I’ve never gone to America digging around and everything, because I had a mate working at Soul Bowl who pleaded me all the bloody records. And for peanuts! And it used to annoy Keb just because it frustrated him because Keb was always used to be in the first. In the Northern Soul scene, Keb spent a stupid amount of money in the 80’s. Everyone blocked the records first because they’d think: “Ah, I’m gonna get money from Keb!” And the one person he couldn’t get in with was John Anderson. Because John Anderson was against Keb in those days. ‘Cause John Anderson said Keb spoiled the Northern Soul scene, ruined it, by paying all this stupid money for records.
Keb Darge and the greedy dealers
Yeah, you see, he offered this stupid amount of money for the records, and it pushed all the prices for the records up, so he ruined the Northern Soul scene. This is what John felt about Keb. So he wouldn’t do any favors for Keb. But John, just like anyone else, as soon as the records were gettin’ established and the prices were going up, John jumped in like everyone else. And in the end I wasn’t gettin’ the phone calls, Keb was gettin’ the phone calls. And I spoke to Keb about it once. He said: “Well, I know I’m paying more, more money for these records than I should be. But the dealers know, the dealers are greedy, basically. And if they know, they gonna get more money out of me than anyone else, they can offer me the records.” He said: “That’s the way I always operated”.
And it was true! I mean, luckily, a lot of the records we established in the early days of Deep Funk I already had, so I didn’t have to pay for these stupid amounts of money, but four or five years later, when records like Tickled Pink and all of these kind of stuff were coming along, I couldn’t afford to pay with Ian Wright. He’s a rich man, and the best collector in the world, without a doubt, in Funk. There’s no one like Ian. But the prices was so stupid and there were probably only ten or twelve people in the whole world, really, that were prepared to pay these prices. This is before the Japanese came in.
Certain Japanese dealers just don’t care what they’re payin’. Some of them are so rich and it’s just like rare stamps to them. But what annoyed me is, that all these records that the “Japs” where after, were records that we all established at the Deep Funk and they didn’t know about it in the first place. They just kinda knew these records, they were just like a wantlist of the final six of us that were on our playlist that we had been through all over the years. I’ll be honest with you though, I felt that after five or six years at the scene that a lot of the records that was starting to get played were new discoveries – weren’t my thing at all. I think about it, but a lot of these tracks were being discovered by other DJs. They weren’t necessarily Ian, Keb or Malcolm Catto.
Deep Funk was never a style
I really started to feel that we were getting to the bottom of the barrel with the new discoveries. And I still believe that now, eleven or twelve years ago, when Deep Funk started, those first five years, every week there was ten or fifteen or twenty new discoveries. It was such an exciting period of time. I think within five or six years in the Deep Funk scene what started happening was that a lot of nights, they were calling them nights, nights of Deep Funk, a lot of the music hasn’t to do with Deep Funk, but bear in mind that Deep Funk was never a style of music. It was like Acid Jazz – Acid Jazz was never a style of music, it was a scene.
And the same with Deep Funk, like Keb would say: “There’s no such music as Deep Funk, it was the name of our night”. It was the soundtrack to the club. Bear in your mind that when we started Deep Funk, we weren’t playing any of the Rare Groove classics, we wouldn’t play no classics at all. We wanted to establish new ones. They might be known, just in our club, not in a scene, just in our club. At all these so-called Deep Funk nights all over the UK and they would just play all those bloody records that were established in the Rare Groove days. Plus: all these tracks of the bootleg-compilations.
Trouble with Bootleggers
That was one thing that was really annoying us: There was this bastard in France called Nicolas Magneron (from Soul Patrol, d. Red.). He was watching very closely all the records that we were bustin’ and the next thing, there were all these compilations coming out, with all the tracks on ’em, you know? And to be fair: One or two of the guys in our scene were lending him the records and getting paid very well for it, you know? So, in a way they were kind of… They were letting the side down in my mind but… Nicolas Magneron was kind of using us, cause it was some records that we had only just gettin’ established and then immediately he was kind of put it out on these compilations.
The annoying thing at the time was you where turning up to clubs with The Majestics or The Latin Breed or these kind of records. And it might be some kind of spotty seventeen-year-old student deejaying before you’re playing all these records off the bootleg. They were kind of… I mean, the “Latin Breed” and the “Majestics“, those two were my tracks, they were my discoveries at the time. Actually, I can’t say they were my discoveries, they came from Soul Bowl, but John Anderson would say: “It’s the only copy I ever had of this, I have never seen it before.”
John Anderson discovered, but didn’t play as a DJ
So all these so-called Northern Soul discoveries, Ian Levine was like “I discovered this, I discovered that” but they came from John’s, yeah, really, John discovered them. But he’s not a DJ, so that was always the problem. Compilations are great in one way, of course, it gets the music out, but in another way it was kind of making a lot of people getting sick of those records, buying the bootlegs and, if you went out and played The Majestics or something it didn’t mean anything to anyone, because they already knew the record in the club or the DJs were all playing the records so many times they were sick of them, so that’s the shame, you know. We’d be spending all our hard-earned money and it is our decision obviously, but we were spending all this time and effort and money finding these records.
A lot of these other DJs that played the bootlegs, they’re not contributing anything in a way. And that was the exciting thing about the early days of Deep Funk, that if somebody knew of records flying around, we’d all be searching for these records it was so exciting, so vibrant! But I think that when Desco came out, that really brought a new perspective on our scene, in the funk scene generally, because we suddenly started to realize that there were brilliant new releases being made that were just as good – if not better – than these originals.
p. s.: Anfang Oktober 2019 ist John Anderson 70jährig verstorben.
Die Arbeit: Transskription: Kobus (Vielen Dank!) Redigieren: Felix Steinbild, Stephan Offermann
Interview: Felix Steinbild und Johnny Hitman