If you’re into house music it’s important to learn about its roots, and as far as pioneering DJ Paul Taylor is concerned, those roots may never be improved on. A firm believer in the sanctity of house music that predates Beatport, Ableton and USB sticks, the head of legendary club night Retro is, as the name would suggest, rather fond of the old school. Still promoting the gems that propelled house music to be the widely popular animal that it is today, Paul took the time to share with us his love of classic house, some career highlights, and a clue as to which former England footballer could pick tunes better than he could pick a pass. Here’s Paul Taylor, In Conversation.
Your DJing days started during the era of jazz funk, and you were among the first UK DJs to bring house music over from America. Was it difficult to introduce the imported music to an audience that had not encountered it before?
It was. Dance music at the time was very commercial, there was no real definition of what a dance record was. There was disco scene in the States that made it easier, but it was just a case of cherry picking the right tunes to introduce into a local audience who were used to anything from Motown to disco to pop/rock. It took quite a few years to achieve the balance of a new form of dance music coming through.
What was your entry point into the US house music scene?
I took a trip to New York in 1986 and as a DJ I was obviously intrigued to find out what was going down in one of the greatest cities for house music. The transition from disco to house was already happening in the States. I remember quite distinctly discovering a club called The Limelight. It was a revelation to me that a brand new scene was happening right before my eyes, so much so that I struck up an immediate conversation with the DJ that night. The DJ’s name was Mike ‘Hitman’ Wilson.
I took that experience back to the UK and it forged my undying love for house music and gave me the vision to create what is now known as Retro.
In thirty years spent producing music, you’ve appeared in various forms and as part of various groups. Of all the collaborators from down the years, are there any that stand out as the ‘wow, I’ve worked with…’ kind of figures?
Absolutely. During the days of ‘Loveland’ and ‘Serial Diva’ we worked with a diverse list of the top acts at that time including Boy George, D:Ream and Lulu but I gained a lot of inspiration when I worked with Kevin and Ann Saunderson, the creators of Inner City. They brought out the best in me.
And of course, the fellow DJs who I’ve worked with since the beginning such as Joey Beltram, Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold, Pete Tong, Jeremy Healy, Rob Tissera and Brandon Block to name a few.
A three year residency at Pacha in Ibiza must have thrown up some special moments. What were the highlights?
Absolutely. One of my favourite DJ experiences since the hazy days of the early 90s of Angels in Burnley, Pacha invited me to play a sold out New Year’s Eve in 2008, I played a four hour set in front of a mainly Spanish audience who didn’t know me and it was an amazing vibe. And of course, The Pacha Classics I mixed, which turned out to be the best selling album in Ibiza that year and an award winner.
Retro is the longest running dance brand in the UK’s history, so can you tell us a bit about it for those who don’t know their house history?
Retro is 28 this year and began in Angels in the Lancashire mill town, Burnley and enjoyed 14 years’ success in the iconic Tall Trees in Yarm. The Retro sound epitomises the ‘four to the floor beat’ that is house music. I’ve basically been doing the same thing for 28 years, creating classics along the way.
Retro is still going as strong as it was in ’89 because we’ve stayed true to what the scene is all about. Many people reminisce about the good old clubbing days, which just don’t really exist any more, but Retro fans will tell you that the vibe at our nights is as close as it could be to how it was back then. We’re two, maybe three(!) generations on and I often get kids coming up to me saying they were brought up listening to Retro CDs and mixtapes and now they’re into it. It’s a great feeling and really demonstrates to longevity of the classic house sound.
I headline the lineups at Retro and have a team of very talented residents including Ricky Isted, Mark Plumb and Chris Ryan hosting Retro nights across many clubs in the North West, North East, Cumbria and Yorkshire, alongside an Ibiza residency in the summer and a big handful of dance festivals each year, including History of House and the Retro Beach Festival where we see thousands of fans and incredible line ups including Jeremy Healy, Judge Jules, Brandon Block, K Klass, Todd Terry, Julie McKnight. The list goes on……
There’s talk of reunion shows for Retro at Tall Trees, which ran for 14 years. Can you divulge any details about its rumoured return?
Tall Trees was one of the most iconic nights in clubbing history - Retro put over 4000 people in the club every month. The first two were very successful so we’re working on putting together a big reunion in the North East. Watch this space for a date later in the year.
You have a party at The Warehouse in Leeds to look forward to, as you’ll be joining Rob Tissera on Sunday 28th May for a bank holiday spectacle. How exciting is the prospect of lining up next to some old friends?
I first worked with Rob way back in 1994 when I invited him to play at Angels in Burnley and Rob last played for Retro on NYE in Darlington.I will be joining him on the main stage at The Warehouse at the end of the month, with Retro making a Leeds comeback and taking over the ‘Garage’ with special guest and old friend, Ian Bland (Blandy) alongside a stellar local lineup. We’re all looking forward to putting on a great night in Leeds.
You said in an interview with The Lancashire Telegraph in 2014 that England international footballer Stewart Downing is a close mate and has played at a few of your nights… so how did that come to be?
Simply through our love and appreciation of classic house music. He’s a big Retro fan and I’m a huge football fanatic so we clicked straight away. We once had an interesting debate about which was better, scoring a goal in a cup final at Wembley or dropping Jimmy Polo ‘Better Days’ at Tall Trees. I won’t tell you what the answer was! Stewart is actually a wicked DJ and I think if it wasn’t for his football career he would have definitely had a music career.
You’ve not been quiet in stating your belief that modern house music lacks the character and quality of the original house movement. Do you think that technology is to blame? And if so, can the downward spiral be reversed?
No it can’t be reversed and I’m not being negative. I just feel that technology has ripped the soul out of dance music. There has been a vinyl revival and people are clinging on to the past because the future is looking bleak.
There are far too many so called producers these days and not enough creative songwriters and artists, it’s unbalanced.
For me, when I saw a very famous DJ making a tune on a flight from Ibiza to Manchester was when I realised that house music has lost it. When you don’t have to commit all your passion, time and energy into creating something, how can it be good? In the height of my producing career I would spend at least three days and three nights creating at least one track with a team of artists, engineers and co-producers.
The same can be applied to the club scene and DJs. Everything is being deskilled and that lowers the quality and experience.
Some of our younger audience might not quite understand what you mean. To finish off, could you offer us a track that you feel represents the old school quality that you are talking about?
Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, the Loveland recreation of the late 80s house classic, Keisha Jenkins’ seminal track ‘I Need Somebody’ and in particular the voice from heaven Rachael MacFarlane for me is my finest moment and still blows the roof off clubs today. A perfect balance of a beautiful song and ‘bob on’ production. We used a full band, including live strings and very talented musicians.
Paul Taylor plays at The Warehouse in Leeds on Sunday 28th May, on a night that threatens to be a mad one with Rob Tissera and friends in town.
Photo courtesy of Paul Taylor