Chris Hill is one of the major influences in British music. The first star club DJ, for over 35 years he could and still does pull more people to his gigs than any of the supposed "names" of radio. Conceivably he invented the modern notion of clubbing. Without him there would be no "Weekenders".
The first to mix soul, jazz, R&B, Latin, to toast, to shout, to blend arcane, unknown, esoteric and wonderful tunes, stuff we would never have heard had it not being for him with the most obvious, so that even the most obvious became re-heard afresh, differently and with a new potential. Above everything else Hill has impeccable musical taste. What was obscure to us was blindingly brilliant to him. The diamonds in the rough had never been hidden to him, they twinkled in obscurity until he blasted them at us while we danced deliriously never knowing what these miraculous sounds were. He conveyed that enthusiasm every night through his manic showmanship. Simply, he's a star.
For many of us in the 70's and 80's and still today a trip to Essex and the Lacy Lady or The Goldmine was obligatory. A joyous pilgrimage. From these jaunts emerged some of the better bands of our time. Aftershows were spent listening to Hill speaking in torrents of words, excitably shouting stories, a show unto itself, telling you what you should listen to, what you heard, who to look out for, and where to get it. From north London or Brixton the coolest, hippest kids serious about music, dancing and fun, took mental notes that later put them in the charts.
It wasn't just soul, funk or jazz he loved. He adores songwriters, R&B, the blues, country, rock and pop. People with stuff to say and passion to say it. He was intimately involved with the bands of '76, signing my lot The Boomtown Rats after a long night in Cork after a sweaty, screamy gig and talking endlessly and brilliantly not about sales, markets, deals and clauses but about music. He signed Sinead O'Conner, The Waterboys, Incognito, Eddy Grant and on and on.
He's still doing it. Gigging to sellouts, making the cooler compilations, his Soul Weekenders, the pilgrimages to Essex to see and hear the legend and his music. A National Treasure. Go see, listen and learn.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CAISTER
From its infancy to the current Golden Age, the Caister Soul Weekender has been the flagship soul music event.
Since the Caister Soul Weekender first began in 1979, the event has gone through three major periods. The first, from 1979 to 1984, was its infancy, when everyone was younger, including the DJs and the soul music scene was in its early stages of development. This “infancy period” of Caister, originally called “The National Soul Weekender”, saw the beginning of what was later to become an ongoing music phenomenon. The event soon became called after the original location at Caister on Sea and was soon the essential twice a year sojourn for Soul clubbers from around the UK.
The second stage from 1985 to the early 1990’s was Caisters troublesome adolescent years. During this period Caister Weekenders fragmented with some events continuing in Norfolk whilst some of the original organisers and DJs split off to do their own thing in locations like Barry Island, Bognor, and Prestatyn. At this time the DJs were pulling apart musically with the advent of house and garage music and this lead to dissention in both the team and management. By the end of the 1980s it was becoming the dark ages for soul music and Caister.
Then came the Glorious Rebirth from 1994 onwards. This has been the continuous “Golden Age” of Caister with the event going from strength to strength for an unstoppable 20 years. The Caister family is now united in its pursuit of the music which we all love and the enjoyment of the world’s longest running and greatest soul event. We now have a close knit DJ team, the New Soul Mafia with a finely tuned mix of old and new, together now with a real love of the music and representative of what Caister is about for this new millennium.
The Legend Continues, with a new generation coming along, old, new and even bigger soul tribes, more dedicated fans, plus a truly “family” atmosphere. Let’s hope for at least another 30 years of Caister!
Some of the many DJs that have played in the Main Rooms at Caister during the Golden Age of the past 15 years include...
CHRIS HILL, FROGGY, TOM HOLLAND, ROBBIE VINCENT, GREG EDWARDS, CHRIS BROWN, SEAN FRENCH, STEVE WREN, GARY DENNIS, BOB MASTERS, IAN & ROB, MICK LISTE, JAY BRAHMS, ROD WILLIAMS, DAVE REEVES, SCOTT JAMES, BOB JAMES, ANDY UNIQUE, DAVE BURTON, CHRIS ALEXANDER, FROSTIE, MARK WEBSTER, JOHN OSBORNE, PETE COLLINS, RONI O'BRIEN, TONY MATTHEWS, DAVE PALMER, DJ HARVEY, JAZZBOD, JOHN DEAN, JOHN DELANEY, JOHNNY SKATES, GRAHAM THE HAT, STEVE KITE, SOTR Crew, MICK JACKSON, JON JULES, SARAH UNIQUE, TONY WINYARD, SHEP KENNEDY, BRANDON BLOCK, SOURMASH COLLECTIVE and many more (with apologies to all those not mentioned).
CHRIS HILL REMEMBERS....
It was a very cold January Sunday when Robbie Vincent and I first drove up the old (pre-bypass) A12, to take a look at the original site for what was going to be called the "1st NATIONAL SOUL WEEKENDER".
Robbie had the idea after hearing of an 18-30s event the previous year. The holiday centre site was in a town outside Yarmouth called Caister. "I‘ve never heard of it, and its fuckin' miles away," was my first response.”it’s bleedin' freezing" was my second. "It wont be so cold in April" was his reply......"You want a fuckin' bet?".....
We arrived at the camp to meet The Showstoppers team (the original promoters) and Ladbrooks management who owned the site. It felt like a German prisoner of war camp that day. The idea was to get all those soul music fans that came to our clubs (The Goldmine, Lacy Lady, Frenchies, Royalty) and that listened to Robbie and Greg Edwards radio shows, together for one glorious weekend in April 1979.....a one off!!!.....After the visit to the site we all agreed - this could work!
The original DJ line up was Robbie Vincent, Chris Hill, Greg Edwards, Chris Brown, Jeff Young, Tom Holland, Froggy (and his sound system) and Sean French, along with Light Of The World, and the event sold out in no time. When we arrived at the camp on 20th April to kick it off, I had been right........It was still fuckin' freezing!!! but the heat generated by all those funkateers made Norfolk sub-tropical for the next 3 days! The music was awesome, all new Earth Wind and Fire, Billy Paul, Al Hudson, Mcfadden and Whitehead, new street funk, jazz-funk, philly soul, salsoul, New York - Miami - boogiedisco-tastic!!! and the tribes of soul fans had now created a new phenomenon...THE FAMILY!
Banners hung from every spare space, and the incredible heat meant that everyone was stripped down to shorts only, including the fellas! The rooms (Neptunes Palace & Mermaids Hall) closed at 1am, no wonder there were chalet parties! And the partying never stopped. In the mornings we had a mass jog, then football matches, beach games, and a treasure hunt.......and then it all kicked off again in the main room. At 5pm on the Sunday we had finale......... it was suddenly all over. We had made history...... Driving back along that old A12 I thought, wouldn't it be great to do that again, one day "Maybe we should do this again later in the year" somebody said. "If this works we could do it next year too" “And the next" "We'll have to call it The Caister Soul Weekender" "Yeah, everyone will come back again, you know like Billy Paul said "Bring the family back". We were high as kites, just buzzing on the vibe of it all. The next day we were back in the real world again. "Dont be fucking silly" I thought "they'll all grow up one day, get married, have kids, and we'll be just sad old DJs with our record collections and no punters" Mind you it was a great idea. Thank you all for making a dream a reality.
CHRIS HILL - CAISTER SOUL WEEKENDER
MEMORIES OF THE KENT SOUL SCENE
by MARK WEBSTER
Trees are green. The sea is blue. Essex invented soul music? The truth. Kosher. The facts inviolate. Except of course, trees are more of a woody colour, especially in winter and the sea is more see-through and, strangely enough, also often woody coloured. Which leaves us with Essex inventing soul music. Now far be it from me to doubt the qualifications of that fine county and its association with a great black American art form. After all, I was born in bleedin’ Rochford and I am the late, great Sam Cooke (you’ll notice as you go along that some of this will be made up). Nevertheless, I would like to put in a mild shout for the county on the south side of the Medway where I spent many of my formative years. As opposed to my borstal years, my army years, my wonder years and happy new years.
Kent. Yes Kent. So good they named it, well, once but in doing so called it Kent. Yes, that’s what I said - Kent. The garden of England. Hopping country. Keeps the Channel out of London and stopping Bexleyheath becoming Bexleyheath-On-Sea.
Kent - birthplace of Bob (I’ll have a ‘P’ please Bob) Holness, cod and chips twice, and everyone else who was born in Kent.
Kent. Sounds like a rude word when you say it, sometimes. So anyway, Kent. Thing is, in the great scheme of things, Kent (home of Romney Marsh - formerly a stylish number 10 for QPR, Man City and England and now a place where they keep sheep) did have a role to play in getting The Good Groove away over the last 30 years and I was one of the many bit part players who made up the crowd scenes. OK, we didn’t have no Lacy Lady, no Gold Mine, no Bentley¹s but we did have...
King Arthur's Court. In an East Kent village just outside of teeming cultural metropolis Ashford (name now changed to Ashford International by deed poll) and so called because legend has it, it was the actual court where Arthur was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years hard Kinging. It was here amongst the tudor beams and student nurses that I cut my dancing teeth. And anyone who’s seen my teeth dance will know it was time well spent.
King Arthur's Court is famous now for giving Gravesend altar boy and former Blues & Soul roving reporter Pete Tong a weekend residency and a chance to practice his singing over Roy Ayers ‘Love Will Bring Us Back Together’. Word has it Mr. Ayers never fully recovered. It’s why he is bald! It also progressed the career of Nicky Peck (now PC Peck) and many others.
Kempton Manor. Similar village / Ashford / converted barn scenario to the above, only (as one of the flyers discovered and reproduced in The Family Album pays testimony to) this is where Robbie Vincent practiced growing his hair when he was 12. Resident DJ’s were two brothers with brillo pad feather cuts and shiny shirts who played Kool & The Gang’s ‘Open Sesame’ to get the night started then spent the rest of the evening lamenting the absence of the gentle breeze stirred up by 200 pairs of flares flapping. Kempton Manor also played regular host to the likes of Chris Hill, Tom Holland, Froggy, and many others along with some truly amazing nights and queues into the A20.
The Atlantis. Even the crowd from Margate couldn’t believe they could go out for a session in Margate. The Atlantis came into its own at Bank Holidays when everyone had had as much fun as Dreamland could offer (or a quick fag - which ever came first), then turned a dingy basement venue into...a dingy basement venue full of great folks from all over the South dancing to the sharper end of the scene (Earth Wind & Fire’s two-tiered ‘Running’ my signature tune for the gaff). Had my first can of Breakers malt liquor there - a beer so fashionably new, yet so unsure about itself, it was flat and warm within 2.3 seconds of cracking it open. But still looked cool in the fist, by golly.
King's Lodge. A mere careering, out of control, bouncing F1 tyre away from Brands Hatch, this was the son of Hilltop early-in-the-week session where the aforementioned Mr.Tong really showed his worth. This ‘showing of worth’ comment has absolutely nothing (or just about everything. Either way. You know, whatever) to do with the evening when Tongy started his birthday night in his Anthony Price suit and ended the night in his birthday suit. Also where he played Neil Larsen’s brilliant ‘High Gear’ album in its near entirety when it came out, so it wasn’t all spotty arses.
Woodville Halls. This great lump of a municipal building in Gravesend town centre is the only place I’ve been that had a sweetie shop open during a big night out. It’s where a certain (or uncertain - who could tell through that steely countenance) famous promoter learnt how to put on a really big do, and it¹s also where I learned to kiss the feet of Lonnie Liston Smith’s ‘Expansions’, watched Animal Nightlife turn on one of the best moments of music and showbiz I’ve seen and drank from a can of coke with a fag butt in it. The Woodvilles became the ancestral Kent home for Hilly, Tongy, Froggy along with regular guests like Brownie and Frenchie. Ah memories. Really, just a series of small electrical charges in the brain. Anyone for a banana custard?
Flicks. A night club in Dartford. A proper night club in Dartford. They made you wear proper Dartford trousers. Me, I’m buying Ball jeans in South Molton Street for 35 quid (like, a yacht and and two pairs of gold socks today) while every nob end in the long, long queue has bought his fighting strides in Mr Byrite for £4.95. Nevertheless, not just Robbie but the great and good Colin Hudd ensured you still had to suffer those slings and arrows of contagious fault dunes (I don't know - bollocking Shakespeare said it) because the music was so fiiiiine. Poxy sticky keyboard.
Stage 3. First, the caravans. Second, the dodgems. Third, the night club. The Isle Of Sheppey is an island called Sheppey - that much i’ll give you. What may now come as a surprise is that Patrick McGohan found it easier to get away from that bloody great bubble in The Prisoner than you would getting off the Isle of Sheppey late at night. They got a bridge that rises and they’re not afraid to use it. Having said that, sometimes it was worth the linger because one Nicky Peck (not two, but one) proved why he was underestimated then and sorely missed now at some great one offs down there. Nicky, of course, could have been arrested for that moustache he sported for way too long; indeed, chances are he could have banged himself up, being the copper he now is and that. Al Jarreau’s ‘Distracted’ is always on the car stereo to and from in this soldier’s brain.
And so that there it is - Kent (Cathedral town; Canterbury where the Kings assassins said ‘are you Thomas Becket?’ and he said ‘eh?’ so they said, ‘alright, are you Thomas a Becket’). OK, so I may have missed some Kent stuff. Indeed I may have made some Kent stuff up. But its all totally true Kent stuff to the letter. The point is, Kent was the early bastion of Soul.
Mark Webster - Essex-esque to start, Kentish-like then, and all London now.
THE CHRIS HILL STORY
Chris Hill started DJ-ing in the late Sixties having been around the Soho R&B scene, with his heroes Georgie Fame, Geno Washington and Chris Farlowe for a number of years. It was in Essex however where Chris established himself as the supremo Soul Jock. Firstly in a small club in Orsett and then the legendary Goldmine at Canvey Island. Throughout the Seventies the club was a catalyst for the growing underground soul scene with music fans from all over the country flocking to the legendary Saturday nights. Many of those Goldminers went on to became stars in their own right. Sade, Spandau Ballet, rubbed shoulders with Light of the World, The Clash, Depeche Mode and many more, whilst every visiting American Soul and Jazz artist would make a point of checking out the hottest soul spot in Europe.
At the height of its fame, Chris, who had also by then hit the British top ten charts himself with two comedy records of his own, decided to move closer to London and started his now legendary residency at Ilford's ‘Lacy Lady'. It was at the Lacy Lady that fashion, style, and music clashed in a spectacular shock wave that filled the tabloids and fashion magazines and had echoes in the later punk and new-romantic scene, as well as laying the foundations for today's current dance scene. It seemed that everybody that went the Lacy Lady in 1977 went on to form bands, make records, produce films, or make a name for themselves in the world of television media or fashion. At the Lacy, they were fed a diet of the best music black America had to offer, hard driving jazz funk, fusion and the hottest soul. It was here also that the jazz scene was formed with the dance floor packed for the most uncompromising bebop as well as the latest soul and disco from New York and Philadelphia.
It was during this period along with DJs Chris Brown and Tom Holland, and later with Robbie Vincent, Froggy, Greg Edwards and Sean French, that Hilly kicked off the first soul all-dayers at the Reading Top Rank Suite, then later the massive Purley and Alexandra Palace affairs. The FUNK MAFIA had been born, and in March 1979 it launched its most ambitious project - The Caister Soul Weekender. The original site was actually at Caister (giving the event it's name) a few miles from Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast. It played host to the largest gathering of soul and jazz fans there had ever been, for a whole weekend of music mayhem and madness. The British soul scene would never been the same again!
In 1977 Chris helped form Ensign records whose first signing, The Boomtown Rats introduced the young Sir Bob Geldof to the world. However the growing UK soul scene also enabled Chris to sign a new generation of home grown R&B talent. Light of the World, Eddy Grant, Incognito, Beggar and Co, David Bendeth, Phil Fearon, and Black Slate all spearheaded the new BritFunk movement whose music exploded through the growing soul family that had grown up around the clubs, the all-dayers and the new Caister Weekender.
In 1980 Chris moved back for his second stint at the Goldmine. Also during this period the Caister Soul Weekenders outgrew their original location and moved from Yarmouth to Bognor, to Barry Island and finally Prestatyn in North Wales, but they also outgrew their original dream with a new generation of DJs who moved away from the soul roots that had been its origin.
Chris decided to quit the club scene in 1985 and concentrate on his Ensign duties with a young Irish singer called Sinead O`Connor who he had recently discovered. In 1987 he was offered a weekend job in Hamburg on Radio 107 and created the hugely successful SoulBeat which made him a huge celebrity in Germany. When Sinead's world-wide hit (Nothing Compares to U) happened in 1989 Chris looked set for a quiet retirement, until Gary Dennis suggested he return to his old Essex roots. Reopening the Lacy Lady at the Kings, Ilford, they set about rebuilding a scene that had all but collapsed under the attack of rave, house and every other dance craze. The new Lacy Lady revived almost single handedly the greatness that had been. Then after a trial revival weekender at Camber Sands and a chance meeting with someone in a hot tub in Thailand, the return of the Caister Soul Weekender seemed the next logical step. The family was back! With most of the original team reformed along with those younger DJs that had kept the faith, the newly refurbished Vauxhall Park Holiday Centre at Yarmouth came on board. While a few miles from the original site the magical name Caister remained.
Meanwhile in February 1995 the Kings closed its doors for good and the Lacy Lady moved to the Island Ilford for 2 record breaking years, where a monthly gig regularly pulled in over 1500 happy funkateers.
In 1998 with another team at the helm, the Caister Soul Weekender extended to 4 days and staged a live concert with D`Influence. Back on track musically the best of Soul R&B Jazz and Funk, both old and new, now forms the basis for the greatest and longest running event of its type in the world, and Hilly is still there (just!) playing the best and climaxing the whole event at finale, just as he did at the first one back in the days!
AN INSIGHT BY STEVE KITE....
Back in 1979, as a 17 year old Soul Boy (complete with wedge haircut, piped jeans, webbing belt, striped T Shirt, white socks, and navy & white boat shoes) I attended my very first Caister. I had been a regular at the Gold Mine in Canvey Island, and that was great, but this was something else! Something very special. As my friends and I entered Neptune's Palace, there were 'tribes' from all over London and the home counties, and they weren't just dancing! Inside the main room, the 'tribes' were busy trying to see who could make the biggest human pyramid, whilst some people were randomly diving off balconies into the crowd, no one ever seemed to get hurt. DJ's would spray water from the stage, in a vain attempt to rehydrate the steaming crowd. Outside, the mayhem continued. I am proud in the fact that I was guilty of taking part in the legendary 'Pillow Fight at the Wooden Fort' (dressed in a toga). I had the time of my life. I felt like I belonged there, part of a massive family. I had been bitten by the Caister Family bug, and I couldn't wait to come back!
2012 and onwards - So what's changed? Many of the tribes are still here, with a host of new tribes being added over the years. Chris Hill & Tom Holland are still providing the music, supported by a close knit DJ team, affectionately known as the New Soul Mafia. Many of the big tunes from 'back in the day' are still played, as well as the very latest in Soul, Jazz & Funk. There are now four rooms of music featuring specialist sets, such as: Philly, Northern Soul, Reggae, Motown, Brit-Funk, Latin, Jazz and so much more. If it's your first time, or whether you've been to every single one, be prepared for the highlight of your year! The pyramids, balcony diving and pillow fights may have stopped, and everyone may be a little bit older, but the music, the dancing, the fun & laughter, the feeling of being part of something special, the sense of belonging, and being back together with The Family feels the same as it did, back in 1979. The legend of the Caister Soul Weekender continues, and long may it endure.
Steve Kite - May 2012
How many people can say they've paraded the European Cup at Chelsea and been awarded by The Queen? Here's one...
Continuing Chelsea's long-held association with and support for the armed forces, the European Cup was last night paraded at Stamford Bridge by members of the army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. I spoke to one of those, life-long Chelsea supporter Tony Matthews: one of only 141 people ever to have been awarded the Queen's Volunteer Reserves Medal.
He said: “I was collecting for the Poppy Appeal, and it was through that I was asked if I'd like to be involved. I nearly bit their hand off! “As a life-long Chelsea supporter, it was such a proud moment for me. I'll never forget that moment: stood in the tunnel at Stamford Bridge holding the European Cup!
Tony was awarded the QVRM by HM The Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2003, for exemplary meritous services in his duty as Chief Petty Officer on HMS President. He said: “I'm proud to be able to carry on the tradition that links Chelsea with the armed forces as far back as the association with the Chelsea Pensioners.” Tony, 54, has been a match-going Chelsea supporter since the age of nine, and sits in the Matthew Harding End whenever he can get a ticket.
After football, his other great love is music: being a Caister Soul DJ (favourite track: 'Trip To Your Mind' by Hudson People) who plays at the twice yearly Caister Soul Music Weekender at Great Yarmouth.
Tony says: Appearing at Caister one of the greatest honours of my life: up there with collecting my medal from The Queen.”
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