Bob King Is Born
So off we go, still at school, itching to become a DJ. What is a DJ...well by now I'd been to a few parties & I went to works party with one of my brothers to some club up town, they play the music, they get the place rocking, that's what I want to do but with my brand of music. By the time I was close to leaving school I had enough vinyl to do a gig, I'd been practising my voice overs on our Johns tape recorder , but owning my own equipment was a long way off. Back in the late 60s specialised DJ gear cost an arm & a leg, way beyond what I could hope to earn with my part time jobs.
My youngest sister, Sue, was involved at the local church & we all got involved forming a youth club in the scout hut at the rear of the church, Back then there wasn't a lot of stuff to entertain teenagers apart from sport or hanging about on street corners. At first we had table tennis, a piano up the corner which no one could play & a snooker table no one was aloud to use. It was great though all us friends together under one roof ,socialising, sort of practising for what would happen later in our lives! This was my big chance......step forward Mr DJ........I aquired two old turntables & somehow got them wired into an old gramaphone, ok not very loud but it was a small place with just a few of us friends I didn't have a microphone or the bottle to speak in to one at that stage. That's when everything changed, music back then was a big attraction, kids from all over the place started coming to our club.....it was free to get in as well. After a few months we had a chat with the Vicar 'could we move into the main church hall'...'no problem you're keeping kids off street corners'. Now this church hall really needed pulling down, it was constructed of corrugated green tin sheets, the floor bowed up in the winter months with damp & the whole place moved when we got a hundred or so people in. In todays health & safety minded society you wouldn't be allowed to step within ten feet of it.
This is were my next problem started, I couldn't afford to buy any DJ gear, the grammophone setup just wasn't practical & the club had no money to hire anyone. We were going to have to take a gamble. Now & again I'd go to Hatchford Brook Youth Club in Sheldon, the DJ there was quite good, great Motown collection, quite chatty on the microphone so I approached him. No problem, he came along ,done a great show & that was that. I found out later he'd taken the clubs gear out without telling them & they'd sacked him. Back to square one.
Anyway It was about to get expensive, the only place that I knew where I could hire a DJ from was an agency,....they were very good though.....Andy Ferris arrived by taxi, gear & all!, Nicky Steele, Chris White followed & then our first resident DJs Bob Russell & Russ Anthony [AKA as the Radio 5 Roadshow]. From time to time we also used a Jamaican Guy 'Sir Taz & the Mighty Viking Sound'.
'I Spy For The FBI' by Jamo Thomas,' Stop Her On Sight' by Edwin Starr & I'd walk home singing' Without You, Without You, What Else Is There For Me To Do' by Donnie Elbert.....they don't make them like that anymore. By now we had named our Youth Club ' Albatross' after that fabulous Fleetwood Mac Instrumental.
As I said before this was a huge learning curve, I'd watched experienced DJs at work, lots of variety in choice of equipment & most of all about how a show is put together.I probably learnt more from Bob Russell about equipment & more from these agency guys about professionalism.....but more was to come later from another DJ.
By now I'd saved money, not enough to buy a pro rig' but enough to buy the bits & pieces to build it myself......off to Matthews Electronics [ they were the number one place to buy DIY parts to construct a DJ setup ]. I purchased a couple of turntables & an amplifier, Bob Russell built the mixer & I built the speaker cabs.....we're on the road [with Dad as No 1 roady].
My first gig was a works party at Rootes Sports & Social Club, my mothers place of work, quite a nerve racking time for me. Infact everytime I spoke on the microphone I hid behind the console. In those days I didn't drink so much, but that night I needed a few for Dutch courage, Anyway gigs followed & my confidence was growing, I was no longer a shy young man, I felt more accomplished & felt I could handle anything. The problem is with mobile work is that most gigs are private functions, weddings, birthday parties, family gatherings, etc & back in the day the order of music was waltzes, quicksteps, the hokey cokey, rock & roll, the Beatles & a bit of Motown. How many times have you been to a function & the DJ has selfishly played what he likes ? Well I was never going to do that, I wanted to put a pro face on this playing what people requested & expected to hear at such functions, & I wanted to be asked back. In reality private functions weren't my cup of tea, I needed to play what I liked & there was only one place to do this, Clubland.
After a few years of doing gigs, going to other youth clubs & generally checking out the what I thought was the opposition things needed to take a turn. My girlfriend , at the time wanted, wanted to go to a nightclub. Now this poised a great problem for me, I'd always been refused admission to these places on account that I had a football moustache [11 a side ], my sideburns were shaped into my hairstyle because I couldn't grow them & I looked 15 [ I was actually 17 ]. We ended up at Rebeccas and I shouldn't have worried, my girlfriend was five foot ten, looked five years older made up & was a fair looker. The doormen didn't even give me a second glance.....straight in....what a place, Everybody I spoke to said this was the best club in town, but I had nothing to compare it to, this was my first trip into clubland.Three floors of magic, the Cabassa room on the top floor had a resident band playing middle of the road jazzy music & a DJ playing chart hits & oldies. The music was unbelievable, the DJs very professional, & being pre disco days anything was played. The DJ in the Blue Soul room looked like Carlos Santana & played a good mix of chart stuff & good oldies, I remember hearing 'Give Me Just A Little More Time' by Chairmen Of The Board, quite a lot of old Motown & some very early Santana stuff [Carlos ] quite an unusual choice for the time, but it all seemed to work. At the very bottom of the club was a room called the Sin Bin, which I can't remember much about. I do remember going into it for about ten minutes but it was absolutey heaving & very warm. Five pounds down out of eight pounds wages but worth every penny.I knew this is where I want to be, forget the weddings, parties, the Hokey Cokey & all that, I wanna be a club DJ. Problem was you never saw these jobs advertised, I needed a plan to promote my rare talent & very soon I had one. Half a dozen chart hits, a dozen or so Rebeccas type oldies all tucked up in one of them plastic record boxes they used to sell in Woolworths, put on my best stage clothes, get on the bus into town & promote myself. Back in the early 70s clubland in Brum wasn't very big so I thought cold call all the clubs over a period of a few weeks on a Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday & ask for an audition. Thursday, Friday & Saturday were out of the question, these were main nights.
So that's what I did, I'd turn up at a club, see the gaffer 'you got 15 minutes son', come off stage,'give us your card we'll let you know' 'can you fill in for us now & again'....so you could say that I hadn't got a result....I think in two weeks I'd played 'Jimmy Mack' & 'Baby Love' about a hundred times & I still like them today.
Nothing was happening, so back to mobile work, then just by chance I was told that a night club was after a DJ. I was told just to turn up on a certain night and I'd be auditioned. So I turned up 'get in the queue' 15 minutes each, well I had ten blokes in front of me & forty blokes behind. Anyway I got to the front of the queue & a big bloke in a monkey suit said 15minutes son, the girl will tell you what music to play. Not what I thought, this was a sleezy stripclub. I did get in the final four for the job but the gaffer said I was too young 'I don't really need a 15 year old DJ'....'but I'm 18'. Not totally dejected, I went back to my mobile work, honing my skills & keeping an eye on the opposition. I did actually start getting a few phone calls from my time auditioning up town. Getting gigs wasn't a major problem, getting the right gigs was. Weddings & parties pay more money than club & pub gigs, so you have to make a choice enjoyment or money. When you're 18 enjoyment rules plus you're giving up a night out with your mates to do this, but one big thing had happened ' Mr 15 Minutes' had arrived.
Anyway one Sunday night myself & a couple of mates went to the Swan in Yardley to check the opposition out. Now the ballroom upstairs at the Swan played host to the Embassy World Darts Championships for years, so you can imagine how big it was.We got there & roughly, give or take 50, their must have been 500 punters in that room. Friars Promotions from Coventry ran the gig, quite professionally as well & they had three DJs, each doing around half an hour at a time [great, never get bored]. The first DJ was crap, spoke, pregnant pause, played a crap record. The second DJ had a phoney American accent [quite common for the time because every DJ aspired to be Emperor Rosko] but to his credit he played 'Help Me' by the Spellbinders. 'SOS' by Edwin Starr & a couple of good reggae tracks. The third DJ came on playing 'Wade In The Water' by Ramsey Lewis,...he just spoke over the whole track...what he was gonna play, what he was gonna do to the two young ladies in front of him, this kid, about 20 stone of him, was so confident, knew his music backwards, could talk himself out of a hole & had total control of the room. One of possibly a handful of DJs that I have seen in my lifetime who good perform with one arm tied behind his back, the microphone in his other hand using only one turntable. That's how confident & quick witted he was. He was however rather naughty with the microphone though, he'd played ' Do The Teasy' by Joyce Bond & had two or three couples on stage doing rather suggestive dances....my kind of DJ. His name was Alan King AKA the Judge. Over the next few months I went out of my way to know him, we had a fair bit in common, especially with the music, but he held no prisoners....1st time I went to one of his gigs without warning he gave me the microphone 'over to you young pretender' I think I shocked him a bit but you've got to remember by that time I was 'the master of 15 minutes'. From that day on we became life long pals...he should have worked up town, he was better than anyone i'd seen in clubs...he's what I call a natural born DJ. I don't think the likes of some of the club bosses I worked for would have put up with some of his antics though....he would however certainly have gone down well in the history of Birmingham Clubland.
And that is where Bob King was born, Alan became my brother in music & my brother in DJaying & later my best man at my wedding.