Taking a step back in time to the glory days of Choice FM Birmingham.
By now, I am sure you are more than aware of my love for these times and Choice FM, it is a truly special era in my life and instrumental in enabling me to travel further out of Birmingham as a guest DJ.
At Choice FM I met Simon Phillips & Ian Wallman (amongst many others), two lifelong friends that were also instrumental in sharing great music with the 2nd city and went on to big things, Ian as one half of the B15 Project amongst other things, and Simon as one of the UK’s finest R&B DJs. There are several other people that passed through Choice FM (later to become Galaxy) who made it ‘big’, springing to mind are KC a great DJ that went onto Radio 1 and Justin Wilkes, now working in London on radio and the voice of the HMV TV adverts as well as the continuity presenter for ITV2 (now you know where you recognise that voice from).
While I am in reflective mode, let me tell you exactly about those days (I feel a long one coming on).
I started on Choice after being approached by one of the sales staff who was trying to get me to advertise The Marco Polo Bar on air. I was promised a guest mix in return for purchasing some airtime… I declined the sales pitch but still managed to get a guest mix on the “Traffic Jam”, a 30 minute slot that went out every Tuesday and Thursday evening around 6.30pm. To cut a long story short.. I bumped into the Managing Director when dropping off my mix and one well presented letter later I was one of the residents of the Traffic Jam shows.
At the time, Choice was predominantly a black music station playing R&B and reggae, with the odd dance show across the weekend. Lee Fisher (of ‘Mother – All Funked Up’ fame, amongst many other things) presented a Saturday evening show and Phil Gifford (Birmingham DJ and promoter of the infamous Wobble) had a Sunday evening show.
I was offered a position working for the station overnights as a T.O (Technical Operator). This meant I had to work from 2 – 6am playing CDs from a pre-prepared tracklist and in between the tracks, playing voice overs from a DJ so it appeared the DJ was actually presenting the show live. I think this was ’96, it could possibly have been 1995, maybe even 1994 but I doubt it was that early. So every night I would sit at the desk and play some great R&B and sneak in the odd soulful garage track (as it was known then).
The newly formed “Dance Division” of myself and Ian Wallman would have our mixes aired every Tuesday and Thursday on drivetime.. to little or no reaction from the listeners. Slowly but surely we started to get feedback on the mixes, as we played a style of music that the black people of Birmingham could relate to, house music that wasn’t drug orientated and contained traces of soul and killer bass lines.
As a well known DJ at Marco Polo’s and other venues in Birmingham, and someone that knew a hell of a lot of people, I started to get great personal feedback about my mixes and I felt like a superstar.
Skip forward a few months later and the ever turbulent world of radio saw the coming and going of staff.. and what turned out to be unfortunate for some but a stroke of luck for myself saw me with three shows of my own across the weekend, with Ian on a Saturday.
Fri 9- 11pm: Pre-Release Showcase. Driving club sounds getting you ready for the weekend
Sat 5- 6pm: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly. A record review show where I was joined by local/national/international DJs and artists. This was a very naughty show indeed.
Sat 6 – 9pm: Ian Wallman presented The Guest List. More club grooves to get you in the mood for a party.
Sun 6 – 8pm: the Soulful Garage Selection. Winding down the weekend with the finest soulful, vocal Garage grooves.
Slowly but surely, I received more and more messages of support from people who previously hated the generic sound of banging house music, with me being invited to play back rooms at big events until eventually we ran our own nights and the infamous Choice FM boat parties, one House boat and one R&B boat sailing side by side down the River Severn.
It was the start of my love affair with the airwaves and all that has happened since seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. I have so many stories that I could share from these days, whether about one of the coach trips around the country, the mischief we used to get up to in the studio or in the clubs, I am smiling just thinking about these days.
I could go on and on, but let’s get back to the matter at hand.. the music !
I love how these tracks have stood the test of time, they sound so fresh today, even puts a lot of the music of today to shame even which is testament to the decline of the scene and sales due to illegal downloads.
I also love how you can hear people getting shouts on the radio all those years ago that still support me today, from the Board of Directors (a group of trainspotters who religiously tuned in every week and one Phil Gill aka Gillman who has supplied me with many of these tapes as mp3).
I have purposely left the adverts on the mixes as it will no doubt bring a smile to people’s faces who remember them so well.
As always, when looking back, I am filled with a great sense of joy and gratitude to everyone that has helped me along the way… on one of the tapes (either this one or one of the many I have still to share) I mention Louie Vega and how much of a MAW ‘jockey slut’ I am, who would have thought 10 years on I would be guest DJ for Louie at his own club in New York, or traveling around the world representing myself and the show !!
I hope you enjoy these tapes as much as I do, I will be adding more throughout the summer.
Click here to download this mix before it reaches it’s download limit.
Andy Ward’s Soulful Garage Selection, Feb 98 by intothevault
Deep & Soulful House Classics. 19th Mar ’23. The Vocal Booth Radio Show.
Two hours of timeless music from the vinyl archives. Soulful nuggets through to dance floor devastators.
I’m a new Head but I absolutely LOVE the old Garage sound! Thanks for sharing both the mix and the background story, Andy. I’m a big fan. Shoutout from Costa Rica!