My Journey

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My Journey

(Original post – Aug 2012)
I’ve got a few thoughts to share but no idea how to get them down concisely. You can guarantee you will be reading this after 4 or 5 attempts at writing it.
This is a blog I’ve wanted to get out for a while but I have no idea how to get to where I want to be with it.. it’s about being a DJ, the ups and downs of the music scene and all that’s in between. I am awake at 5.30am due to some strong summer winds, so what better opportunity to start this nonsense? I can’t see myself finishing it but if you are reading it, then I obviously have !
Over recent months, years even come to think of it, I have shared thoughts on here about my unhappiness at the music scene and the how the circles I move in have been changing. Mostly my career has been amazing. A couple of years ago there were some dark times but recently it has all been light.
As always, the sole purpose of me sharing my thoughts is in the hope that just one person takes something away from them. I am far from the authority on anything but my experiences have given me views from many angles.
So, the only way to get to where I want to with this blog is to share my journey with you. Many of you will be more than familiar with a lot of this, others not so. I’ll skip over things I’ve covered before or that you can hear about in full on my ‘chat show’ here.
Let’s go back…
1991.
I began DJing by fluke. A friend had decks at his house, I had a go, found I could mix and loved it. I started playing at a few small parties for fun while I held down a full-time job but the turning point was Marco Polo’s.
1992/93
I think I got £30 to play a guest slot every week at Marco’s. From there I built a following around Birmingham and the Midlands and started being guest DJ at other events. I was happy with whatever I was paid. Hundreds of parties later, week in, week out I found myself without a job due to a business venture of a friend’s dad failing. I was earning enough money from playing out to survive, that was the start of me being a ‘Professional DJ’ around 1995.
So, the story continues with me getting paid a weekly wage to promote Marco’s and all the music put on by various promoters, whilst concentrating on my own Sunday night parties. Organising coach trips around the UK where I would play early slots or back rooms meant I was able to get onto flyers for the likes of Cream and Love to Be.. seeing my name in MixMag was a dream come true. I chuckle when I think back !
All this time, I was playing music that I wanted to play..strictly no compromise at all. There were the odd sets where I wasn’t playing hard or fast enough, but on the whole I was making a name for myself. I was always the ‘crowd pleaser’. I would get grief from my mates who would travel with me who wanted to hear me play for them, when all I was concerned with was the 300 or so in front of me on the dance floor. I took pride in the fact I could rock the crowd like that.
Eventually I started working on Choice FM and visiting WMC in Miami every year as well as the odd trip to NYC. This was the next stage, as I see it.
As always, music trends came and went and I was inspired by new producers and record labels. U.S Garage became my everything. Even when the UKG scene blew up I continued to play U.S house on my show and was one of the only guys ‘allowed’ to do sets, for example, at Garage City one week and Twice as Nice the next. Part of this was due to the fact I wasn’t a bad DJ, part of it was down to the fact that I could reach new audiences and get the travelling crew down from the Midlands. This I know !
As time progressed the clubs where I could play U.S house came less and less, and UKG dominated my diary. At first I loved this, continuing to promote my own nights and boat parties as well as headlining many others. My Friday night show on Galaxy became pure UKG and I had some of the biggest DJs and artists pass thru for interviews and guest mixes. This was a great moment in time. All the time I played UKG every week, I still presented a Sunday show, championing the sweet, soulful house that was so close to my heart.
Skip forward… 1999. The birth of the Vocal Booth at The Ministry of Sound Bar, Birmingham.
Thursday nights, we used to play quality, vocal U .S house music in a scene saturated with progressive nonsense and commercial tripe. It was the ONLY place to go and hear international guests playing OUR music without compromise. The first 15 months were amazing, but slowly I found myself having to play more and more UKG/2 step to keep the floor entertained as the night progressed. Eventually, the bar itself ended up closing and changing names before the night went down the pan, but the love affair with U.S house in Birmingham seemed to be over.
At the same time I used to do a Friday night over the road at a spot called “Key Largo”. I had hosted many different nights here over the years on different days of the week, but Fridays became another focal point. Strictly UKG with the odd Ibiza house anthem thrown in for good measure. Again, it started out amazing but as the UKG scene changed, so did the crowd. I would play sweet vocal-laced 2 step and could feel the crowd’s unhappiness.. waiting for that big tune they could go “Boooooo!!” to shock out to. It was a horrible situation to be in. Don’t get me wrong, I would end up rocking the night, but Every Friday I would come away with my money (I think I got £150 for playing the whole night) feeling empty inside. This unhappy spell lasted for about 2 months before I had to call it a day. This was back of 2000/2001, around the time when the big crews were dominating the UKG scene.
I had gotten so used to the regular income (by this time Marco Polo’s had long since closed) that it was tough for me to walk away from that gig, but I felt I had nothing in common with the people any more, and that was a horrible feeling. Once I made the break I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. 10 years ago.
There are obviously many other key moments I have skipped over, my residency in London at Bagley’s 95/96, my own Sunday Lockdown, a residency for Baker’s and Moneypenny’s. Ibiza and Ayia Napa etc etc. They don’t really play part in this story as they were all magical times. Also, of course, much of it is a blur !
By now I had lost my Saturday and Sunday shows on Galaxy, and my 2 hour slot on Friday had been whittled down to one hour, just ahead of the Dream Team’s show. Eventually they moved onto Radio One and I did one hour before Roger Sanchez. I think it was 2003 I was given the boot from there in the end.. I didn’t even get to do one final show. I was gutted about that but I’d already decided I was moving to Spain by then, but the way I was taken off the line up stank. Anyway…
From the start of my ‘career’ I worked hard at promoting myself, my own nights and anything else in between. I made a nice little circle of friends who I would regular provide music for their clothes stores and hairdressers and my mixes used to get distributed all around the UK on tapes and CD. I had made a ‘big’ (relatively speaking) name for myself internationally thanks to the radio and my constant trips to Miami. At this point I need to say… I’ve never taken myself too serious which should be more than apparent, or considered myself to be anyone important but I have always gone out of my way to present myself professionally. I do like to think I was instrumental in the music scene with my radio shows, but other than that I just class myself as one of the crew… out there on the floor with the rest of the nutters.. anyway.. back to the story.
At some point early 2001 or 2002 I was given a residency at Fuel, playing the “Gold Room”. This was the first room you would enter and we would play nothing but sweet ‘U.S’ house. Some nights it would be packed in there, but as it was really a 2nd room, most of the time the action was upstairs where the 500 or so would be going nuts to harder stuff. Again, some amazing memories of fantastic nights. This continued for some time, Fuel itself went through some ups and downs but the promoters stuck with the Gold Room until, I think, it closed ? By now I was travelling around the country on a weekly basis but the details are a little sketchy.. I’d had the two kids and eventually we decided we were moving to Spain. I can’t remember if Fuel closed and re opened (I’m sure it did), but I do know that by the time I had actually moved to Spain, my plan was to fly back for Fuel every two weeks for £200 and secure some other gigs at the same time. Looking back it was a naive outlook, but one I’m glad we had.
Ok.. so I had to get all of that down, to put everything into perspective.
There are loads of details I skipped over, especially the bits about starting to produce music with various people and eventually, most importantly, Timmy Vegas.
From 2001 – 2003 we worked more or less 5 days a week on music in his studio, we had some success and our biggest early achievements were signing to HENRY ST and MAW. If you want to hear the entire Soul Central story, check it here. Working in the studio was funded by my DJ gigs and Timmy travelling with Robert Plant as his keyboard player. The plan was also to stay and work with Timmy when I flew back every now and then. Eventually, about 18 months after I left the UK, Strings of Life became massive and I was suddenly an international headliner.
Now before this, I had played for specialist parties around Europe, and had a great time. I learned very early on to adapt quickly to the crowd in front of me and read what they did and didn’t like in my set. I never played music I didn’t like but there is a world of difference, for me at least, in playing music I believe in to a crowd that trusts me and playing music for a crowd that doesn’t really care who I am but just want a good time. Some of my best nights, early on in my international career, where in Estonia, Switzerland and Belfast (not international but I got on a plane… shut it !)
Ok.. I’m getting to the good stuff… hang in there.
So, I got taken on by an agency and I specifically recall the conversation on the phone about the fee I would go out for. It didn’t seem five minutes ago I was happy to get £75 for playing 4 hours and now I was getting flown around Europe and up and down the UK for 4 and 5 times that amount. Amazing ! The exposure that being on Defected gave us is undeniable and it took my career to a whole new level. I continued to do the cool gigs where I wasn’t the main feature but more and more I found myself headlining at massive venues. Some were great and in exotic locations… the travelling and the food and the people meant I was floating on cloud 9 and the parties were all great… I always had to play slightly more “up for it” than I wanted but I was happy to do so, and most of the time I was drunk anyway so I was as up for it as the crowd.
Tours of Australia were followed by visits to Kazakhstan, China, blah blah blah… soon my fees were doubling and I was returning to certain cities and countries on a regular basis and I was able to meet some people who I now consider to by amongst my closest friends. It was a really great period, all the while coming home to Spain to my family and improving my home here. Thankfully, through all of this, I had the support of Michelle and was happy to be the house husband when I wasn’t travelling.. I would be home 4 or 5 days a week, with the odd weekend off, meaning I got to spend time with the kids too. The travelling was exhausting but I was having the time of my life.
Looking back it is a different story.
I found myself getting wasted on a continuous basis, rocking the crowds, no doubt, but all the time finding it harder and harder to satisfy myself with how I played. I took bookings I knew I wouldn’t enjoy, travelling 10 hours to a gig to play for 3 hours and then get straight into a cab for the 10 hour journey home. Don’t get me wrong, I was getting paid REALLY good for that, earning some people’s monthly salary to play music… what could be better !!??
This carried on and carried on, and in 2009 I started the Vocal Booth Weekender. Words cannot explain the gratification of playing great music to great people in comparison to “just going through the motions” like I had been for the few years before hand. Obviously, I had my Soul Heaven gigs etc etc that were the occasional highlights, but more often than not I found myself travelling home feeling empty. If you wanted to, you could go back and even read some of the reports of these nights in this blog.
Despite the gigs slowing down, I still found myself getting booked into places that really didn’t have a clue about how I played… they just wanted a big name and a good record to go behind the radio adverts. I fitted the bill. More and more I struggled to please the crowds and more and more I felt like shit after the gigs. This was around the time when “Electro” was blowing up, my “funky house” sets were no longer good enough and I found myself playing tracks I didn’t really know but were doing the business on the floor. I listen back now to some of the tunes I played and I feel ashamed. I kidded myself at the time that I was enjoying it, but I hated it. Some gigs I rocked it and others fell flat… again, read back 3 years through my site.. the gigs are there to see !
Actually, This is a blog I wrote at the end of 2010. It clearly states where I was at and puts the above into perspective and brings us up to date and this therapy session.
Ok.. so 2 hours into this blog am I any nearer to why I started it ? Will I delete it all once I read through it? No.. I’ll publish it and it will get read by some of you and it will all be off my chest. I feel better already.
Ok.. so right now I am preparing for the VBW. I have just come back from a week in Croatia where I got to talk to some of my peers and others in the same situation as me. I feel older and wiser. A few years ago, I remember looking at other DJs who couldn’t get any gigs when I was really busy and wondering why they were so miserable. Now I know why.. at the time I was in denial.
I got into this DJing game by chance 20 years ago. It was never about the money. I worked hard at what I did and was able to sustain a living by promoting and playing, but it was never about the money. I was happy to eventually command 4 figures for gigs across the world but those days are long gone. I know there are DJs out there “caining” it right now and this kind of starts to get me to the whole point I am trying to make.
If I put my mind to it, I truly believe I could make another tune that would allow me to start travelling around the world again. Soul Central have a new track about to be released that may or may not be the one…although I have already stated to the label that I don’t want any gigs off the back of it. I seriously don’t have the desire to play to one more person who doesn’t know where I’m coming from. There are a lot of them out there ! This admission could be seen as commercial suicide from a DJ point of view, if anything it’s a pledge of allegiance to the underground from whence we came.
When in Croatia I shared these sentiments with a few people who told me, in no uncertain terms, to “fix up” and stop being a dick. I don’t think I’m being a dick, I think I’m just being honest. I am the happiest I have been in a long time. I love the music I listen to and play on my radio show, I wish I could share it more in the clubs. If I lived in England I would definitely have a residency somewhere on a weekly basis and it WOULD be rocking. That’s how I roll (ha ha). The fact that I live in Spain means that promoters have to pay £250 just to get me to the gig for flight and hotel, before even thinking about my fee. That means the small clubs I can play at are few and far between.
Obviously I am not talking about all gigs. The few gigs I get to play now, I do so because I want to.. that goes without saying.
Someone recently made a great comment…

“You’re not paying me to play, I’ll play for free.. you’re paying me for the inconvenience of the travelling and the time away from my family.”

I am stealing that and using it for ever more !
Ok.. so am I any closer to getting to my point ? I think I made a few points already.
I don’t have the inspiration to make any new music right now, the time will come, but when I do it will be music I want to make, not music I think I should be making. I have made a vow to myself to not do anything that feels forced.
I could easy strip out my CD Wallet, fill it with shit, send a few mails and be back on the circuit again within weeks. That will never happen. Or am I kidding myself ? Maybe I couldn’t get the gigs ? We’ll never know !
I have created some great momentum with some great sets over the course of the recent Southport and Suncebeat events, and the new direction that the floors seem to be heading means that my faith in the music scene is definitely restored. Let’s be honest though, not every gig has that level of knowledge in the crowd !
I find myself annoyed that instead of people raving about the likes of the latest pop/house crossover artists, they are now raving about the likes of “insert the current ‘cool’ thing here” which means everyone is now saying “Deep House is back”. It never went away, you know what I mean ? Unfortunately I have seen and heard it all before so I find it hard to be as easily impressed as others seem to be. Some of my friends do seem to be enjoying a great deal of success playing great music to apparently great crowds. Fair play to them. I don’t do jealous.. but if I did.. that’s as close as I’d get to it.
I have heard some of the world’s so-called biggest name DJs recently, both on the traditional circuit and the “new scene” and they were average to say the least… but everyone was going wild for them. Maybe it’s the drugs? Maybe I should just shut the f*ck up ?
I often ask myself if I am bitter.. I don’t think I am. Frustrated maybe at times, but I am not bitter.
I just read back through all of this to check it…it reads through a lot faster than it took to write (almost 3 hours). I think I got it all down.
It probably comes across like a massive moan. It probably is.
I hope you took something from it, and if you want to fill in any of the gaps in my early years, feel free to add a comment below.
I’m off to get some coffee.
*edit – there are 25 comments at the bottom of this page. you can now comment using Facebook.

24 Comments

  1. Respect to you Andy for your honesty. I agree with your statement about hearing, certain big name dj’s that have played average, yet the crowd are going mad for them. I think that certain people hear that they are this big name and feel that they have to big them up, without truely listening to them. Never could understand that, when i use to see it. I remember the first time you came and played at ministry, before you began with soul heaven, you was a breath of fresh air! Big love to you Mr Andy Ward, for staying grounded and down to earth, as the day i first met you xx

  2. You came, you drank, you rocked! – As a promoter you gave support and didn’t ever just ‘turn up’. A true gent in a game of many ego’s! I think you played for us in 2007, 2009, and 2011 and looking back, in such a small period the music scene had changed so much. Lets see how these next years pan out.
    You will always have my support brother!

    1. Thanks Stu.. if I had the energy I would reinvent myself with a new name and come and rock the shit out of your spots.. I will make it happen… WWJD and all associated gigs ROCK !

  3. Andy! fantastic blog! and kudos to you for keeping it real! hoping to make next years VBW and party with like minded people listening to the best music in world!
    p.s! i think your collaboration with Random Soul was an exceptional track! an all time favourite!
    let the music take control.
    free your body, mind and soul.
    aint no place we’d rather be!
    dancing with the VB family..
    Woot woot!!!!!!

  4. Fan or not, folk have to give you respect for the honesty and humility in this blog. The story of Soul Central show recording ties in so well with this and is for me, a keeper !
    Having had the pleasure of being around you for about 6 years as a buddy rather than just knowing you as dj Andy Ward at gigs, I know that you have a good heart cos you always have time to listen and give support when I have needed some kind words; they say that a good heart will never want. I feel this will always be so for you. You have a beautiful soul and this is validated thru many of your recoded sets and comps that i have.
    So happy that you joined Pressure Famalam when i enticed you over and that have kept the Live Vocal Booth show at Pressure
    x C

  5. Love this phrase – “You’re not paying me to play, I’ll play for free.. you’re paying me for the inconvenience of the travelling and the time away from my family.”
    A great read Andy. One of the things I have noticed is if you take music and DJing seriously. There are no in betweens, You’re either high or low, the amount of negative comments you get for having a slight bit of success (even from so called friends) also gets me. You are right though. The most heart warming times are when you are being you. I feel like a snob for being picky but it makes you feel so much better! VBW is something special though and maybe all those shitty times have helped build what you have now. To be able to go to another country to the sunshine and dance and have so much in common with hundreds of people is priceless. Many of us have made so many friends from this Weekender that we will probably get on with for a lifetime…

  6. Whilst I have known you for the best part of 28 years, I don’t think I have seen you write or heard you say anything that honest. And true.. I remember when you started and the smile on your face was just like the Cheshire cat.. It could not be removed. The reason was what you were playing, the crowd you were playing to and their reaction to pretty much every tune you dropped. It roar, the yells, the euphoria.. It blew my mind (that and the occasional helping hand)… So to play to crowds that do not appreciate the journey you are taking them on is (I can only imagine as I could mix two tunes to save my life) frustrating..
    Were I living a single life, 6 stone lighter and perhaps 33 and not 43 I would be over to VBW like a shot.. Unfortunately married, I am so fat now I have my own post code (B24.5) and slipping quickly towards 50…
    What ever you do my old friend, know this.. Your friends will always love you, Michelle and your kids.. You are a leg end..

  7. Andy, over the years you have always behaved with true integrity and I respect you for that and your comments above. I do, however, have mixed feelings as all I ever wanted was to play music for a living. I would have given my right arm for one of the crowds you enjoyed over the years and finally decided to give up when the scene became over commercial. You have been blessed with talent and that has given you a wonderful life, enjoy it and celebrate it but if you no longer want to DJ then nobody will judge you. You stand to be judged more if you become a hippocrite and just take the dollar.

  8. A fresh faced 14 year old that carried the nickname Pretty Boy… That nickname…? I think we felt sorry for you because of your hump and limp…;-))

  9. Mate, I know this is going to sound a bit stupid coming from a bloke who could only dream of achieving some of the things you have. However….
    Firstly) I know you are a modest bloke, but please give yourself a break. Artists are so self critical of their work and hindsight is a beautiful thing. But each and every turn in the road is / was to teach us something you didnt know before and use it to your advantage in the next instant. You have a lot to be thankful for so far in your life (and not just your career as a DJ/ Artist etc) – and – a lot yet to come i’m sure. You’re an inspiration to people like me.
    Secondly) I personally went through a similar period of time with the UK Garage Glory years particularly (but obviously not as well known or successful in that scene as you). I look back and cringe at some of the gigs I played (and didnt get paid for because of dodgy promoters in that scene who I wasnt able to pick from the honest ones) just to be on the flyer with the likes of yourself, Artful Dodger, the Dreem teem was everything to me. I often question how was I ever into that sort of music now, while simultaneously listen to Danny Ramplings ‘Love Groove Dance Party’ on the way to my gigs. It was becaue I hadnt worked out by then that glitz and glamour dont make you feel satisfied or any real love. I am ashamed that I was so self indulged and ‘blinded by the lights……'(See what I did there, lol)
    Anyway…
    Well – at the same time UKG went all MC driven, I left it well alone too. I realised that was not my calling and the music I know so well and love was still in my heart – and has been ever since. I’m sometimes sad that I hadnt realised that for the 5 or so years i was playing mostly UKG and the odd house record what else I could have achieved by now if I’d channelled my effort in the ‘US / Soulful house direction solidly during that time?!
    All i know is it taught me some valuable lessons about the person I truly am and not someone that was pretending to act a certain way in order to ‘keep up with the jones’es’. Now I am getting a bit lost in my own writing but I think the point I wanted to make was – I can relate. I think most people who do something artistic can also relate to the self-critical nature of the beast.
    All in all – I still and always will look up to you and what you have achieved – regardless of whether you knew at the time whether it was something you would later ponder over / or regret slightly? In each regard – at least you went out and lived. At least you arent now writing a blog about working in a 9-5, dj-ing at the weekend occassionally for some short change and wondering if you’d pushed yourself what ‘might’ have happened.
    Either way – you have created a legacy (willingly or not) that has and will inspire others also.
    Go and have a san miguel and stop Ruminating, its not good for your health. Peace!

  10. A really interesting read andy, am actually surprised how small some of them fees were way back. Anyway you have hit the nail on the head about the big name DJ’s, in fact we even talked about a so called legend at minehead(though it was sunday night so you probably dont remember!!)and in all the years I have been going that weekender that set you played at 10.45 on a saturday night at the last southport at southport(or was it the one before?) was one of the best I have heard by anybody and it still gets played now and that was at a time when you were a bit down about the whole scene which makes it even better. Keep doing what you do my man 😉

  11. What an amazing read and it only reaffirms what I love about you.
    Your doing your own thing on your terms. Your honesty, truth and certainly your LOVE for this wonderful music is MIND BLOWING and inspirational for everyone whose on the Vocal Booth journey!
    Respect and love 🙂

  12. Thanks for all the lovely comments guys. I wasn’t looking for any ego stroking and I’m fully aware of the support I have out there.
    I guess the point I was trying to make was that I find myself at a cross roads now, I really want to push forward with what I do but I am not sure if I have the “energy” to make it work. Time will tell !!

  13. you know what … when you say you might delete this on a blog .. it usually means its from the heart and is worth a good read …
    excellent stuff as ever big man… .doesn’t time fly

  14. Life is about being happy fella, so long as you are happy screw the rest of it. What you do when we see you out more than pleases the people who are present. The Vocal Booth Weekender is testament to you and considering how many people come and have the time of their lives you should be very pleased and proud of what you have created.

  15. Very pleasant read – thanx for sharing youre thoughts Andy ! Big up, clad to see theres still few making pice with them self, i think thats all about, to do the things you believe into. All the best !

  16. Well put, end of the day we all have a rant. I hate this new trendy house wannabe disco thats actually classed as deep house – its boring. Just make your own sound from the things that influence you and work hard. I know alot of my own work should have done alot better, even stuff on my own label, but you can’t push harder than hype / trends and copycats in any industry.

  17. Hi Andy,
    I remember seeing you dj at polos when I was about 17. Your probably the main reason I took djing seriously from hearing your consistent tune after tune sets but also playing different versions to tracks that at that time I would not have even considered.
    I remember listening to your shows taking notes of tracks and popping to vinyl matters for nick to hook me up with the tunage lol
    I’ve had a pretty successful 15 or so years of djing and production

  18. Hi Andy
    I remember seeing you at polos when I was about 17. Your probably the reason I took djing seriously. After hearing your tune after tune sets. But also playing tracks I would have never considered.
    I remember listening to your shows on choice taking notes and getting nick from vinyl matters to hook me up with the tunage lol
    I’ve had a pretty successful 15 years or do djing and producing and the grounding is thanks to you.
    So just wanted to say thanks for the inspiration dude.
    Keep it up bro

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