An article written by Anthony Winyard and published in Pro Mobile the magazine for Mobile DJs, issue 65
The ‘Eskiepades’ that took me from Kilburn to Harrow… via Amsterdam, Damascus and Bali!
Picture the scene, I’m 20 and it’s a cold January evening at a flat in Kilburn, North West London. Suddenly the door to my room flies open, and one of my flatmates runs in, “Tone, there’s a phone call for… bloody hell, it’s flaming freezing in ‘ere, you must be a bleedin’ Eskimo to live in this place!” From then on my mates knew me as ‘Eskie’!
Aged nine I started my first job – a paper round – and virtually all of my earnings were spent on records. Two years later I moved up the earnings ladder and got a job as a milk boy around Notting Hill Gate in West London. In one house lived Tom Baker, who at the time was Dr Who. So, on Saturday nights I’d be hiding behind the sofa watching him fearlessly battle the Daleks, then on Sunday mornings I’d hand him two pints of Gold Top! At another house lived members of the band Genesis and, it’s true, they can’t dance!
Notting Hill was quite an affluent area, which was great for getting tips when customers paid their bill. This meant that I could buy far more records and, within weeks, started buying every new release in the top 10 of the charts, a habit that continued for many years.
The first professional gig
By the age of fourteen, I had a very impressive music collection compared to most kids my age. This meant that when friends were having parties, they’d ask me to bring my music. I soon realised that most people have no idea how to treat records properly and they’d put their fingers all over the vinyl! I wasn’t about to let them do that to my precious black gold! This meant that I played all the music at these parties because I wouldn’t let anyone else touch my records.
At one party in a pub function room, the governor asked how much I charged.
“How much do I charge for what?” I said!
“For DJing” he said.
“Oh, I’m not a DJ” I replied, “I’m just helping my mate out by playing some music”.
“Well, can I book you for Christmas eve?” he said.
“How much do you want?” he said,
“30 quid?” I said in a sheepish voice.
“You’re booked,” he roared,
and that was the moment I realised that hey, I can make some money from this music lark!
My mobile disco ‘Streetlife Sounds’ was soon born.
I started getting bookings for birthday parties and youth clubs, which allowed me to scrape together enough money to buy a Cloud double deck system, which had BSR belt drive turntables as far as I can remember. I’ve never really been into DJ gear. Music is what did it for me, so I can’t tell you what amp I had when I first started, or how many ohms or watts my cabs were!
At 16 I quit the milk round and started working part time in Baker St McDonalds, while still at school, which gave me even more money to buy music. A few months later, together with 3 other guys that worked there, we formed a Reggae Sound System that we called “Capricorn One”, and started playing at Blues (a Blues is a house party where reggae is the main vibe), mostly around south London.
The problem with the sound system scene though was that although the events were wicked and a huge buzz, the money we earned was pretty poor between 4 of us, and we constantly had to keep building bigger and bigger bass bins, etc… Well, I wasn’t building them, but the other guys were, and we split costs between us. It also meant that the actual performance time on the decks was shared between the 4 of us, and I really wanted to move things my own way, musically! So started up my own mobile disco called Streetlife Sounds, when I was 17, and cut back on the number of sound system gigs I did. Soon I was getting bookings for many events including weddings.
On leaving school and starting full-time work, I was constantly hunting around record shops in London and beyond, for particular tunes. And spending most of my earnings on records, and it became almost impossible for me to walk past a record shop without popping in!
I can do it in the mix!
When I was 19, I became obsessed with improving my mixing. One of the main guys creating the DMC mixes at the time was Les Adams, known as the Mix Doctor. When I discovered that he offered advanced mixing lessons, I snapped up a one-day personal training course. This made me realise that I had to ditch my belt drive decks, because mixing on them was as easy as skateboarding on a wet towel!
Armed with a pair of direct-drive turntables, I practiced endlessly to become proficient at blending together two tracks. My dream was to work at a west-end club, but it was a closed shop. However, I was working part time as a cab driver, and one night was dropping o a passenger at the notorious Stonebridge estate in North-West London. The firm I was working for had instructed us to pick no one up from there, as it was a very dangerous place. However, as I was driving out of the estate a very well dressed man, who looked completely out of place in that setting, ran up to me and begged me to give him a lift, as his car had broken down. I explained that I wasn’t allowed to pick him up, but he pleaded with me not to leave him there, so I ended up taking him. As we drove to where he lived, he commented that he liked the tape that was playing in my car.
I mentioned that I was a DJ, and he said that he owned a club and was looking for a new DJ! He invited me for an audition and a week later I had secured two nights a week DJing at the famous Le Beat Route club in the west-end!
Within months I had picked up two more clubs, which meant I was doing six nights a week in west-end clubs and I could quit mini cabbing and the day jobs I was doing. I was 21 and have been a full time DJ ever since.
Y viva Espana
At 22, a guy who owned three clubs on the Atlantic coast near Cadiz offered me an opportunity to DJ in Spain. It was an area popular with people from other parts of Spain and one club was on the beach with an open-air dance floor. Working there really opened my eyes and was a great experience.
Within a week of returning to London, I was offered a contract out in Finland, and was soon experiencing a completely different environment. Working in clubs that had saunas in them! Halfway through every night the dance-floor would clear and everyone would have a sauna!! Halfway through every night the dance-floor would clear and everyone would have a sauna! I was also there during one of the worst winters they’d had and it reached -36 one day!
When I returned home I was offered work again, this time by an agency called Bacchus, which had contracts all over the world, and was merging with another company called Juliana’s. My first contract with them was in Amsterdam at a club that was virtually run by the Amsterdam mafia and music wasn’t exactly the most important concern! I then flew from Holland to Damascus in Syria, which was very different to the situation now. Just the cover charge of this club was equivalent to three times the monthly salary of the average Syrian! This meant the super-rich who all tried to outdo each other in flaunting their wealth mostly frequented it!
Rock the Casbah!
Each evening there’d be one of the top Arabic belly dancers, followed by a famous Arabic singer, together with an Arabic orchestra and I’d then DJ to finish o the night. On my first day the club’s sound engineer ran through the lighting controls and explained the settings used for when the belly dancer was performing. I’d never seen a belly dancer before, never mind one of the most famous performers! When she started dancing I was mesmerised and completely forgot about the lighting, until the engineer came running up to the DJ box reminding me that I had to operate the lighting for her!
Another night a multi-millionaire hired the club for his birthday party and booked the cream of Arabic talent to perform. Unfortunately, the day of the party it became apparent that I would become extremely well acquainted with the bathroom. Every time I thought I might be ok, I ended up sprinting back to the toilet! It became obvious that there was no way I could work that night, so I called the sound engineer who had become a good friend. He wasn’t a DJ, but said he’d try to get by for the evening. The party was a huge success and at the end of the night; the host went to each entertainer and threw a huge bundle of notes at them to show his appreciation. He also threw a great pile of money in the DJ box! It is the only night I have ever missed a gig in my entire life!!
I was steadily racking up the air miles and my next destination was a club in Basel, Switzerland. This club was particularly busy, especially on Saturdays until one night we were suddenly strangely quiet. I asked the manager if he knew what was going on and he replied, in a matter of fact manner, “it’s because of the Eurovision song contest, but they’ll all be here later when it finishes.” I thought he was winding me up, as young people didn’t take it seriously back home, but sure enough later that night after it finished we were packed again!
The Eskie goes to the Arctic Circle!
The next port of call was northern Norway and a really fun club in Bodø, which was just inside the Arctic Circle. I had an absolute ball there. A place where they really knew how to party, with the midnight sun in the summer and 24 hours sunshine, the northern lights in the winter! And some of the most stunning women I’d ever seen. There were also a few other English DJs working there, and we were all constantly playing tricks on each other.
One was on an Aussie DJ named Gary James. He had never played in Europe before, and I arranged for him to be met at the airport by an ambulance driver, where he was expecting to be taken straight to the hospital for an AIDS test (this was at the height of the AIDS scare). I’d told the London office to tell him it was normal for everyone to have an AIDS test on entry to the country! We then got the Ambulance driver to drive him into the middle of nowhere and get a sudden “emergency call”, and regulations meant that he wasn’t allowed to be in the ambulance when she went off and answered the emergency, so he had to get out of the ambulance and was standing by the side of the road with his suitcases in the middle of nowhere with 8ft banks of snow either side of him, but the ambulance driver told him the hospital was just around the corner!
Alas, I had to stop my scheming and was in the air en route back to Switzerland. This time to a jazz club in Berne. The club had well-known jazz musicians, mostly from the USA, performing each week, and most of them seemed to be these old dudes in their 60s & 70s, that had performed with every famous jazz player you could name such as Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. I certainly received an education in jazz while there.
But the crazy times I’d had in Norway saw me return, and this time I was also offered a spot on the local radio station, presenting a new show called the ‘Soul Show’, which was a blast. I was also working in a very hip club, which had a music policy of almost anything, as long as it wasn’t commercial. In an average night I’d be playing hip house, heavy rock, reggae, indie, rap & soul. It was a fun club, and I loved the music policy. After 9 months of pleasure back in Norway, I received the offer I’d been wanting for a long time. Juliana’s asked was I interested in DJing in the Far East!
At that time Japan was heavily into high-energy music and R&B, which was a very strange combination, but then Japan is unlike any place on earth and absolute gadget heaven. I had the strangest date of my life there; at an Indian restaurant with a girl that spoke no English, and I spoke no Japanese, and the whole night the Indian Maître D stood by our table translating each other’s comments!
Next was a short hop over the Japanese sea to Pusan in South Korea and a club on the Paradise Beach, which was full every night within 20 minutes of opening. At all of Juliana’s clubs they would send out the latest music from London every week, meaning we were ahead of the other clubs in the city, and we also often had the latest music videos. The locals certainly enjoyed watching the latest hits like MC Hammer & En Vogue on a giant screen. Copying Hammer’s moves is maybe what inspired ‘Gangnam Style’!
My next stop was the vibrancy of Hong Kong, which is a place that wanted the latest dance tunes, but also a local music called Cantopop, which was like high energy cover versions of big pop records, sang in Chinese, to which the locals would dance in Cha Cha lines!
The Eskiepades then allowed me to sample the exotic delights of Jakarta in Indonesia, playing at a club frequented by local fashionistas and celebrities. When I arrived there the music scene was almost exclusively the Soul II Soul, 94-102 BPM type groove. Although I liked that, it got a little repetitive. Fortunately, I shook things up a little by introducing stuff like ‘Unbelievable’ by EMF and T99’s ‘Anasthasia’. Many times I was told by local DJs that those types of tracks wouldn’t work in Jakarta, and invariably they went on to be played constantly in every club in town for months on end!
During my time there, one night the Sultan of Brunei who at the time was the world’s richest man, hired me for an exclusive party and he literally filled the club with hundreds of stunning beauties.
Jakarta was supposed to be like all my other contracts, just a six-month stay, but it was a lot of fun and I was getting fed up of living out of a suitcase. I was also being offered lots of private work by local clubs and ended up staying there for seven years! In that time I did a weekly radio show for Jakarta’s equivalent of Capital FM and was lucky enough to interview scores of famous stars, including Cindy Crawford, Bon Jovi, BB King, Stephen Segal, George Benson, Take That and many others. I also ran my own club out there and had some interesting experiences with the local mafia!
In 1998 I boarded a BA flight to return home after being away for twelve years and reformed Streetlife Sounds as I was tired of the club scene and wanted to try something different. So I returned to mobile DJing, which was a welcome change. Mind you, both London and I had changed enormously!
I setup a monthly soul event in 1999 called ‘Groovers Korner’, which still runs to this day. It means I can do events playing the music I really love, as opposed to weddings when it’s all about the music that suits the audience/atmosphere. Musically, Groovers Korner is a great release and also led to me doing a few sets at the famous Caister Soul weekenders.
2003 saw me delve into the world of DJ forums for the first time, regularly frequenting DJs United & The Mobile DJ forum, which led to some networking with other mobile DJs which was a novel experience but a good one.
Specialising in weddings
In 2008 I changed the way I work and specialised in weddings and a year or so after that I took one of Derek Pengelly’s workshops, which opened my eyes to the multitude of different ways of entertaining an audience. However, I think in the last two years I have progressed at a faster rate than any other time in my career. This started with regular networking with some excellent DJs, which then led to Alan Marshall making me aware of American podcasts from the likes of Mark Ferrell, Peter Merry and Jim Cerone, which were a huge revelation. This led me to attend the MarBecca Bronze and Silver Master of Ceremonies workshops in 2012. The workshops helped me to approach weddings in a new way and up the level of service I offered to my clients.
I think training and personal development is very important and in the last couple of years I’ve also taken a number of performance classes, including acting, improvisation and comedy. I even did a live stand up set on stage to a packed comedy club, which was nerve-wracking to say the least! I’ve also completed workshops with a toastmaster, comedian, wedding planner and many more, and doing the Gold MC MarBecca workshop in Vegas, where I also attended Mobile Beat and an excellent workshop with Peter Merry.
The first Pro Mobile Conference in 2013 was tremendous and I wondered whether they’d be able to live up to that extremely high level again this year, but it was even better, which really took some doing! Both Conferences had an excellent range of presentations from both inside and outside of our industry.
Two years ago I was instrumental in setting up the NADJ London branch and have a great bunch of guys on the committee with me. We’ve had some hugely positive branch meetings that have also been a lot of fun. There’s much more to DJ associations than PLI! But, like anything in life, you get out what you put in. Or as the BNI motto says ‘Givers Gain’, which really is true.
One lesson I learnt from DJing in so many countries is that what works in one country can be a disaster in another country/culture. So as a DJ, the things that make you a superstar in one country may make you decidedly ordinary in another! Therefore, you have to have a few strings to your bow to be successful in many countries. My experience of DJing all over the world has come in useful recently as in London I do weddings for a huge array of cultures/nationalities. In just the past few years, I have had brides and grooms from over 50 different countries!
I see far more value in investing in myself now, than investing in equipment. Buying a flashy bit of equipment won’t distinguish me from anybody else because ANYBODY could buy that same bit of equipment. But not everybody can entertain the same way that I do and I really push myself to improve my performance continuously. I don’t want to give a good performance at a wedding; I want to create an amazing experience. I then want that experience at each wedding to be better than the last one I did so that the bride and groom have an absolutely incredible wedding day.
Not that long ago I was a DJ who thought there wasn’t much I didn’t know; how wrong I was! I’ve learnt more in the last five years, than in the previous twenty! The best thing you can do for your business is to network with other DJs, but preferably those with a positive attitude. Negative DJs will only bring you down and hold you back.
From Pro Mobile issue 65