DJ - MARK BICKNELL
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Mark Bicknell has been an integral part of the Northern and sixties soul scene for well over 30 years, this DJ's DJ has held countless residencies at some of the biggest clubs in Soul musics history and guested at pretty much all the others, in this exclusive interview we chat about this legendary DJ's past, his love of the scene including its incredible music, his influences and his own record labels.
Hi Mark, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you are from, how long have you been part of the DJ scene, how you became part of it and what or who were your early musical influences.
I was born in Lewisham, London in 1960, spent most of my early life to to late 20's in Reading, Berkshire where I first got into Northern Soul aged 16, cut my teeth at all the top venues of the day including Wigan Casino, St. Ives recreation centre, Yate near Bristol and many others, really got involved with the Mod revival in 1979 where I saw the opportunity to start running soul nights in and around the Reading area, cut my teeth learning my craft as DJ for about three years where I got my big break being asked to play 100 Club by Ady Croasdell and around the same time Chris Kings Hinckley live act allnighters, from there I ran further events down south including the very last alldayer at the Top Rank In Reading, throughout the 80's I began to get more and more high profile DJ bookings all over the country including The Unicorn Club allnighter as a resident for John Bucks RSG allnighters in Leighton Buzzard with further spots for Ady at The 100 Club, went through the Stafford Top Of The World allnighters and DJ'd there upstairs in the oldies room as a guest on the legendary night when Lorraine Chandler and Eddie Parker played, Stafford changed the scene on it's arse at the time with the change in music style and tempo, I started out playing classic Northern really and with the Stafford influence changed the direction for me in collecting.
One of my biggest influances as a DJ was Mr Ian Clark who was one of the original DJ's at the Yate allnighters and later at the West Hampstead soul nights in London and later the 100 club, he was top of the shop in my books musically way ahead of the game and was a huge DJ with equally huge records, other people who impacted me were old school collectors and DJ's guys like Dave Greet, Tony Ellis, Pete Widdison, Brian Rae, Ady Croasdell, Pat Brady all certainly inspired me as a DJ when I first started.
Do you have any favourite musical styles and has your style of DJ’ing changed over the years?
I have always been drawn to male vocal groups such as The Dells, Falcons, Volumes, Hesitations, Precisions, Artistics, Volcanos and so on, as I've got older I have the attitude that I collect good records rather than rare records, I was involved with the big ticket items for many years but when I stepped back from doing the big gigs I moved on pretty much all the big ticket items with no real regrets apart for some of the money they are selling for now. I had some of the real big hitters through my hands and always worked to the original record ethos without question.
Do you have any current favourite DJ’s and who were your favourites back in the day?
There are so many good guys and girls out there now, not going to too many gigs I can't really comment on anyone in particular but guys like Nige Brown, Sean Chapman, Dave Rimmer, Ginger Taylor to name a few have the passion and the records to do the business week in week out alongside many others.
Can you recall the day you fell in love with the music and the tracks that changed your life?
Music has always been a big part of my life as a child my late father Alf Bicknell worked for a pop group from Liverpool from 1964 to 1966 he was The Beatles Driver, body guard, road manger during the height of Beatle Mania, my folks love Motown which rubbed off on me when I was about 12 and I really started to enjoy pop music of the day but there was something about Soul that got inside me and well gripped me ever since.
Can you tell us about your promoter side and any nights/weekends that you are involved with or were involved with in the past.
I ran Soul Nights in Reading in the late 70's early 80’s, a couple of alldayers, moved to North Wales around 87 and ran a few gigs there, moved to Manchester in 1990 ran several events including The Concord Suite, Droylsden, Hyde Town Hall and The Bridge Hall, Bury Allnighters, ran The North Cheshire Soul Night in Stockport for over ten years and dabbled with the odd gig here and there but no longer have the desire to promote events.
Can you tell us about some of your favourite times behind the decks, where, when and with who?
Head and shoulders above the rest, Richard Searling hosted a Detroit and Chicago Allnighter at The Ritz in Manchester mid 90's and invited me to DJ, Richard stood next to me in the DJ booth and well I had the sprung dance floor bouncing 1500 plus people in the palm of my hand, Jimmy Burns, Johnny Rodgers, Eddie Parker, Brooks Brothers, Peoples Choice etc the place was rocking and when I finished it's hard to explain that it was one of the best sets I ever put together, a sublime feeling to hold that dance floor just a magical night for me.
Can you tell us about your record labels, the concepts of each one, how long they have been running, styles of music, artists etc and any other ways you promote the music that you love.
The Secret Stash thing started for me about three years ago when I first became aware of what they were dong when they got the exclusive licence on Chicago based One-derful Records and sister labels M-Pac, Mar-v-lus, Toddlin Town, Midas and Halo the gospel label.
I contacted Secret Stash a few times with no reply but then out of the blue they contacted me I explained who I was and what I did and basically said to them that the records they were releasing they had no one this side of the pond to really help pitch and promote the records to the Northern/Soul scenes. After a few emails Eric Foss my direct boss said would you like to hear the master tapes! boom! that was it the rest is on going history, it's a dream gig for me as I basically A&R select tracks for release, promo, market and retail the records. With the success of these releases I have now set up Bigman Records to licence further material and release records, it's always been an ambition to have my own little label and the first Release due out soon is Bull And The Matadors - A Part Of My Life B/W My Babe two stunning previously unissued crossover gems which have already been well received with pre orders.
Is it difficult to set up a label, I can imagine there is a lot of red tape…..
If you are legit yes it can be a very slow process, but it's something I've learned pretty quick as there are several stages to follow, lot of red tape yes but it's worth it.
In these days of digital DJ’s, are you a vinyl purist?, What are your thoughts on record prices today and how they have changed over the years.
Yes very much a vinyl purist USA originals are my bag, record prices are nuts these days and as I said my only regret selling the big stuff is their current value but everyone has done it and has a tale to tell, I still dabble and tend to go for under the radar records, if you dig enough there are some stunning records out there, I tend to go for the more traditional Southern Soul groove now and very much like the soulful R'n'B which I have always championed, my only rule is not to go back into the 50's it has to be that hard edged 60's style and there is some sublime stuff out there in that style.
What are your favourite current club nights/ events?
None really as I don't go to many, always loved the 100 club, tend to like the smaller cellar club venue rather than the huge halls.
What is your treasured track and why?
My three RCA Victor Lorraine Chandler Demos all signed on the label at Stafford Top Of The World, one of those magical nights.
What advise would you give an aspiring DJ?
Collect from your heart, rob a bank or win the lottery.
Can you tell us 10 all time favourite spine tingling tracks and 10 current playlist favourites.
That would be impossible.....
Other of my highlights include writing for Black Echoes in the 80's, I had my own Radio show from 2000 to 2007 on Solar Radio Big Daddy's Soul Shack, compiled two CD's back in 93/94 for Sequel Records - Soulunderground Volumes 1 and 2, produced a fanzine - Soulunderground through the 90's, numerous record digging trips to the USA. Worked with many top acts including Gene Chandler, Bettye Lavette, Edwin Star, Barbara Lewis and numerous others, brought Barbara Acklin, Ruby Andrews over to perform in the early 90's, co promoted bringing Bettye Lavette over to perform at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool about 15 years ago, DJ'd at all the major weekenders, Cleethorpes, Prestatyn and the early ones for TAC in Great Yarmouth in the early 90's, had the pleasure of DJing in Germany, Italy and Spain, made some life long friends along the way and it's still in my heart.
just to add I have many exclusives with my work at Secret Stash, alt takes, unissued tracks, all the studio masters, stunning material from the likes of The Sharpees, Ester Bell, Josephine Taylor, Larry And The Hippies, Bull And The Matadors, The Pagents, Jimmie Jones, McKinley Mitchell, Harold Burrage, Vic Pitts And The Cheaters, Syl Johnson, Otis Clay, The Ringleaders, alt takes of Big Daddy Rogers - I'm A Big Man, alt take of The Sharpees - Tired Of Being Lonely, alt takes of The Inspirations - Your Wish Is My Command, alt takes of The Ringleaders - Baby, What Has Happened To Our Love, pretty much all the masters still exist but some are missing, all the records we put out are under exclusive licence from the Leaner family, One-derful Records and sister labels released over 280 records between 1963 to 1971, formed by George and Ernie Leaner two brothers who were well respected on the Chicago recording scene.
For more information on Secret Stash records and Big Man Records click HERE