"To be honest we played what we liked and the crowd devoured that.
We kept ourselves on our toes as we knew we had to keep serving up something a little different whilst on a similar theme and the crowd knew we were doing this.">
Colin Parnell, the other half of the original "Jazzifunk Club" Horseshoe/Electric Ballroom Jazz Room DJs, who established an historic legacy with Boo, talks to Seymour Nurse at
The Bottom End in a very exclusive interview.
Seymour Nurse: How did you first get into music, and who were the first artists that you were listening to?
Colin Parnell: I had a really wide interest in music growing up. I liked all sorts of music bands like Queen, Genesis and then liked the rebellion of the punk era. As I got more social I found my passion first in soul, funk then jazz funk and taste developed and I discovered more jazz fusion - this was where the real fun was beginning!
S.N: What clubs did you first go to, and which DJs were you inspired by?
C.P: In the early days I would go to the Lyceum in the Strand central London. It was a huge affair where soul and funk would be played with DJs such as Greg Edwards who at that time was aligned to Capital Radio. The Royalty in Southgate north London was another venue.
Froggy (Steve Howlett) was around then with a unique set of mixes up his sleeve. It was commercial dance music but every now and then a little Jazz Funk would be dropped and this was the beginning of the next chapter!
Shortly after this the hunger was for more esoteric sounds, it needed to be harder and more unique then the current set of clubs playing similar music. George Power was at Crackers in Wardour Street Soho and this is where things started to take off.
was a central London venue that welcomed a predominately black audience, initially it could be made a little intimidating for a young white bloke like me but that settled down when everyone knew you were seriously into the music.
We tried everywhere to see what DJs were playing (Studio 21, Le Beat Route, Barracuda, Legends, Flicks
amongst them) but Crackers
was the hottest set at that time.
George was starting to promote as well as DJ and started other nights or afternoons at Spats in Oxford Street and Gossips in Soho. In terms of inspiration clearly George Power was the first influence and was something of a loner against the 'Mafia' DJs such as Chris Hill and his friends.
Andy Hunter who worked with George at the time was another who dropped his share of Jazz tracks and Robbie Vincent was also quite influential. He introduced Jap Jazz to the UK and was really unique in terms of what he was doing on the radio. Froggy was also unique in terms of his technical skills nobody around could match him for his mixes!
S.N: Robbie Vincent and his "Fusion 40" show was an inspiration to me when I was first getting into Jazz. I remember having a radio cassette player with a dismantled coat hanger sticking out of it, and I couldn't walk in certain parts of my bedroom because I would lose the signal for his show.
Your Jazz DJ partner at The Horseshoe and Electric Ballroom was Boo, and together you created such a historic legacy that many jazz club enthusiasts are unaware of. How did the two of you first connect?
C.P: We lived locally to each other. The first time I met him was when we were 14 and me and a couple of mates invaded the communal grounds where he lived to play cricket!
Boo was bit of a rebel back then with long hair and was a cockney red! It was a time when we probably liked differing music but it was not long before we had the same tastes going to the same clubs. We developed a very close friendship and lived in each others pockets for years.
We still see each other although not as often as we should. In fact, last week we were at the Indigo having a look at Brass Construction, Change and GQ! Even so, I would still say that Boo has been my best friend over all the years, always there if I needed him, which I have.
When we worked together DJing it helped that we were different in some ways. He was detailed and methodical I was more of a social animal, so he dealt more with the technical stuff with the sound system, although I helped and hindered a little.
He dealt with the finances (the beginning of his accountancy skills!) and I recall that I developed some good contacts with the record labels in and around London, I would visit them at their request often and they would play me stuff and ask my opinion!
We got on mailing lists and received all the promo stuff and early releases. We had a unique working relationship at the time; there were few if any partnerships of that sort at that time. We bought music independently and amassed a strong and wide collection, which we still have incidentally .
S.N: How did you get into DJing?
C.P: We started a sound system, a little road show that we used at private parties. We were quite selective about our gigs; it had to be an audience that would appreciate what we were doing. We were very dedicated in getting our music across to the audience; we loved the music and wanted to spread the word!
The 'Ambassadors of funk' sound was born which developed into the "Genuine Jazzmen mobile Jazzcotheque". We developed a little reputation for playing "hard" tunes, and spent all our spare time (and all of our money!) in identifying and buying music, stuff that nobody else had.
"The Mobile Jazzcotheque" 1981
S.N: You played in the Jazz Room at the legendary "Jazzifunk Club" at the Horseshoe and Electric Ballroom. How did you make the connection with George Power?
C.P: We followed George around at his various gigs and got to know him. We kept telling him that we could do a job better then him and that he should try us. One night he challenged us to turn up to his next gig with our records, he knew we had a mobile sound on the go.
We did just that to his surprise and I think he saw that we had some balls; he also saw what we had in our record collection! He then asked us along to play at one of his nights, "Whisky a Go Go" a famously well known venue at the time in Wardour Street Soho (later known as the WAG club).
"Whisky a 'go go" (17th May, 1981)
This was a run up to George launching his promotion at the Horseshoe, the Jazzifunk promotion featuring his "double disco".
I guess he was trialling us! We knew the audience well having been amongst them, we knew what they wanted and we just played what we liked. I think George thought that it was a bit too esoteric as he opened the Jazz Room at the Horseshoe with Pete Christian and used our sound system with us warming up for Chris Whyte and Pete.
However, after the first week he installed us in the Jazz Room and that was our exclusive domain for the period that it ran.
"The Horseshoe", June 1981
S.N: What was your experience like playing in that Jazz Room at the Horseshoe?
C.P: We had a mad hungry crowd starting around 200 and growing to 350-400 devouring all that we dropped, it was quite unique and extraordinary to watch the dancers compete. What was going on in this room had never before been sustainable with such a large crowd.
The other room had a similar amount of people in (around 600 people on the night were coming in), where Paul Anderson and others would play the soul and funk. A minority of people would float between the two rooms but the majority of our crowd would never leave the Jazz Room.
The soul/funk room was bringing people in that had not been exposed to our type of Jazz Fusion before and they were being converted by the music and the atmosphere it created with the dancers.
It was amazing to be part of it and see it all unfold and develop. We would get guys as far as Birmingham coming down to the venue, it was all pretty outrageous.
S.N: Where you playing at any other clubs during this period?
C.P: We occasionally did our own thing at private gigs, and did some other work with George. We played at the Electric Ballroom on a Saturday for a while whilst the Friday night at the Horseshoe was still going down, at Planets (later the Churchill Suite) in Piccadilly and the occasional slot at his afternoon sessions at Spats.
"Jazzifunk Club" Electric Ballroom, Saturday 19th September, 1981
S.N: What are your memories of the dancers and battles at The Horseshoe and Electric Ballroom?
C.P: Sometimes you just had to step back from the decks and choose your next drop just to take in what was going on. It was frantic, fast, and furious but a beautifully co-ordinated Terpsichore.
The room was big, so whilst it was busy there was also space for the dancers to try new moves and develop their techniques. This was of course different to previous night clubs where there would be no space and some of the dance off challenges would be more intimidating.
The atmosphere was always good as a result, and never any trouble. There was a lot of the original Crackers crowd in there. Richard Baker, Michael Brown (Pasadena's) and John Riley who were in our own 'Untouchable Force' dance troupe were amongst them, Mohammed also.
Don't forget that Paul Anderson, then playing in the soul/funk room, would have been a name amongst the early dancers, as was Trevor Shakes who formed 'Torso'.
The Electric Ballroom was a much shorter experience for me. We still took the same crowd initially, but it was such a sweat box in comparison, the room was much smaller and as a result it was more intimidating and you had to be on your game to be on that floor, otherwise you were watching from the sidelines.
The first "Jazzifunk" Electric Ballroom Friday Night Flyer (16/4/82)
S.N: It is so good to see the true dance innovators of that era being acknowledged here, and yes, the Electric Ballroom was such an intense and competitive environment. Did you feel that you started pushing the boundaries of Fusion in relation to the dancers, and what were you looking to establish with them on the dance floor?
C.P: We did not initially set out to establish something new or push the boundaries. To be honest we played what we liked and the crowd devoured that. We kept ourselves on our toes as we knew we had to keep serving up something a little different whilst on a similar theme and the crowd knew we were doing this. It was evident that we had developed an important relationship with the dancers.
They were not only enjoying what they were doing, but it was important to them. They were knowledgeable about the music too and we shared a mutual respect for each other.
A lot of other DJs really did not believe what we were playing. City Sounds
(record store in Holborn at the time) used to have a weekly magazine and asked us for our weekly top 20 play list so they could publish it in the mag. They sold some records from it, and in return would always look out for stuff and make sure we had it first.
I was in the store one day when a certain DJ (who shall remain nameless) said to the owner "I donít believe they actually play any of this stuff" when I was in the store. I was called over to verify, and invited said DJ along to the Horseshoe any Friday night, to his huge embarrassment.
"Blues and soul" mag sent someone along to verify what was going down, and made a modest but accurate report of it in the mag. We were not 'Mafia DJs' of course, so got limited media coverage and we were very much specialists. "Black Echoes" mag also made some visits to report what was happening,
listing some of the drops frantically; there were shaking heads in part amazement and part disbelief!
"Blues & Soul", March 23- April 5, 1982
S.N: I appreciate you putting the emphasis on the fact that the dancers were knowledgeable about the music too, and that there was a 'mutual' respect between them and the DJs.
You and Boo then became the first Electric Ballroom Jazz DJs when the Jazzifunk Club changed venues. How was the transition from The Horseshoe to the Electric Ballroom for you?
C.P: The crowd followed initially. It was a shorter time for me there as I only played the first few weeks when I had become unwell, rather leaving Boo in the pooh to carry on single handed for a while. The atmosphere was different, still frantic and hot, but the room was a lot smaller and the whole thing had a more intimidating feel to it.
S.N: You were at the Ballroom for a relatively short period. Why did you decide to leave the Jazz Room?
C.P: As above, I became unwell, Boo carried on for a while, and then he and I agreed and decided to call time on it. I do not think the atmosphere at that venue ever matched what was going on at the Horseshoe but we certainly launched it well and set the crowd for those to come, and Boo did great keeping it going on his own.
We had worked, or gone to see DJs every night for years, and I think to be honest we had blown up a little. We had day jobs too remember!
S.N: George Power brought Paul Murphy into the Jazz Room after you and Boo left the Electtic Ballroom. Paul fully established himself there and created quite a legacy. How was your connection with Paul as a DJ and Record Dealer?
C.P: We had little relationship with him at all. We shared some of the same crowd at times, but I was told that he never had the size of crowd to create the atmosphere we had at the Horseshoe, despite the fact that he had the same venue on a different night until we took the Friday and blew him out of there. George Power had a bit of a marketing machine and of course Paul did not.
There was never any real needle between us, he was always quite suspicious of us I understand, and occasionally we would hear from the dancers on this subject that he knew us both.
I never went to any of his gigs, or his record shop in Exmouth market. I seem to remember that Boo had been a few times and then he banned him because he claimed that we were not telling people that we got our records from him.
I believe we played six records from there!
That said, he knew his stuff all right and I believe at that time he made a telling contribution to the Jazz Fusion scene and the dancing that came from that period as we did.
Of course, he was the only person who could have taken over from us at the Electric Ballroom, and the ever shrewd George Power moved quickly to secure his services.
The crowd was already there of course, our legacy from the Horseshoe. It was strange looking back and a little sad I guess that we never did anything with Paul.
S.N: There are many people that had no idea that you and Boo were the first Jazz Room DJs at the Ballroom, including some dancers that were going there.
I personally feel that you and Boo did not get the recognition you truly deserved in club history. Paul Murphy created the most phenomenal sessions at the Ballroom, and I remember his last night in the Jazz Room as being quite emotional.
I first started collecting the Jazz-Fusion that was being played in the clubs at 12 years old, as my older friends were putting me on to the tracks that you and Boo were playing at these original sessions.
Snowboy in his book, 'From Jazz Funk & Fusion to Acid Jazz. The History of the UK Jazz Dance Scene' (2009), described your playlist as being 'out of this world'. The famous (or infamous) Jazz-Fusion dancer/battler Milton "Milly The Kid" McAlpine said that you and Boo were "electric", and his favourite Jazz DJs.
Where did you get your records from?
C.P: We used a number of sources. We spent all of our spare time at record stores, and I had family in New York who I sent off on missions to find stuff for us and have it sent over. It was great opening up the packages to see what we had!
Credits should also go to; Mole Jazz (Kings Cross), City Sounds (Holborn), Record Shack (Berwick Street - I later met Jeff Weston from there on future business dealings as he worked with agents who looked after professional footballers), -
Groove Records (Greek Street), Tony at OBJs (where I first met DC Lee!) Kingsland 'waste' market; and the odd discovery at HMV/Virgin/Our Price.
S.N: You have been quite elusive over the years giving me a DJ "Holy Grail" to track down. What have you been doing since that period, and are you still connected to the music?
C.P: I can't believe I am thinking back to 25 years ago!!! It is extraordinary as the experiences and memories linger on. I have been involved in the Automotive Industry for 25 years so a lot of my time has been taken with that industry. That said, we still have the music and I still have a great interest in it, and have opened up to all sorts of new music over the years.
I go to see as much live music as I can including a lot of festivals, still go to Ronnie Scott's and Jazz Cafe, and go to gigs hosted by Perry Louis and Snowboy even now. One day I will walk up to Snowboy and introduce myself!
S.N: I always said that I would find you and Boo if you were on this side of the Galactic centre... Which tracks would you name as your Top Ten
"Jazzifunk Jazz Tunes"?
C.P: Oh ten is just not fair! This is so difficult for me because I can't really narrow it down. But, in no particular order and for differing nostalgic reasons:
Johnny Hammond- Los Conquistadores Chocolates
Chick Corea- Central Park
Dexter Wansell- Life on Mars
Lonnie Liston Smith- Expansions
Norman Connors- Mother of the Future
Urszula Dudziak- A Night in Tunisia
Fania All Stars- Vente Conmigo
The Janet Lawson Quintet- So High
Ramsey Lewis- Slick
S.N: Thank you Colin, I really appreciate you doing this interview, and your priceless and passionate contribution to our Jazz-Fusion music and dance Movement. Seymour
C.P: It has been interesting to see our names in Snowboy's book amongst that whole scene, and have credits from Gilles Peterson on his CDs, claiming that we were amongst his teachers. Maybe we will come back, dust down the records and do a set to blow off some cobwebs! Colin Parnell.
Colin, Seymour, and Boo at "Ronnie Scott's" Jazz Club, 2010
DJ Bülent "Boo" Mehmet Interview
Colin Parnell And Boo Reunion
The Bottom End Blog: The Jazz Fusion Dance Movement
Copyright 2010 © Seymour Nurse