Turntables and production to football..
Going back to the halcyon days of nineties clubland it was rare to pick up a copy of any music publication and not see the DJ duo Chris & James listed at various nights all over the country. From those early Gardening Club gigs to the hallowed Renaissance turntables the duo graced virtually every club night in the country. After an incredibly successful career in both DJing and production the duo went their separate ways. PHC got to sit down Chris Day to talk music, clubs and what it was like to be part of one of the UKs most successful DJ Production outfits..
So taking us back to the very beginning, can you give us some idea of your early musical influences and at what point did you decide it might be something you would be interested in being part of?
I was born in 1970 in Leeds, and my first real musical memory is of my Dad’s Who albums – particularly his copy of the gatefold ‘The Story Of The Who’…the sleevenotes, the pictures and the music just fascinated me. My sister is a couple of years older than me, and I very much inherited music from her as she got into different stuff – 2 Tone, then pop then indie which was huge in the then drab landscape of Leeds. She was a fan of The Wedding Present, and then that led me into other similar music, particularly the whole C86 scene which NME had created – Velocity Girl by Primal Scream, The Woodentops, That Petrol Emotion etc.
I certainly wasn’t an academic kid, but I was very good at football, and that along with music were my two abiding passions. Football didn’t quite work out – I was scouted by Leeds for Leeds City Boys (their feeder team), but I knew their were better players, so lost focus by 14.
Even though Leeds was a very multi-cultural city, with lots of different sights and sounds, I was initially listening to white indie music, with very little black influence. Thankfully once I started listening to John Peel and Annie Nightingale other cultural and musical influences were presented, which opened my ears and mind. I can well remember John Peel playing Bomb The Bass‘s ‘Beat Dis’ (I’ve googled it, and it was probably January 1988), and it blew my mind. I genuinely don’t know what it was about that track, but it hit me really hard! Even listening to it now it sounds beamed in from the future.
I then started ‘joining the dots’ backwards and got hold of Public Enemy’s ‘It takes a Nation Of Millions’ which uncovered a whole world of hip-hop that I’d never experienced before. I vividly remember Chuck D proclaiming that Hip-Hop was the black CNN, and for me I think that it really highlighted how whitewashed my experience of music was, especially when you think back to Morrissey’s comments on Reggae. Along came stuff like De La Soul, Gang Starr after this and hip hop was huge for me for a few years.
The thought of DJing or producing never even occurred to me – I was aware of turntablism, but for me it was just a hobby collecting records I loved. I’ve always had an almost obsessional need to master a subject completely once I’m interested in it, something I’ve always done since early childhood. For me this meant listening to how records were structured, how the gaps were filled etc. Around 87/88 I went to The Warehouse in Leeds ,I think Nightmares On Wax were DJing, and I can remember kids with whistles, wearing kickers and dungarees, but the music didn’t make any sense …..yet! I was still much more into Indie Dance and the burgeoning Manchester sound, along with hip hop. September 1989 I went to South Bank Polytechnic, at Elephant + Castle in London, and spent the next few years going to lots of gig with a couple of other students (Stereo MC’s, Jesus Jones, stuff like that), and the occasional club night – The Brain being one. Again no real interest huge interest in house music as such. Trips back to Leeds highlighted how the North had started to kick off –bleep and the Warp sound was massive, as were big Italian piano records - I bought loads at Crash and Jumbo.. By this point (1990) I’d bought a couple of very cheap belt driven turntables and mixer, and has started to try to master the basics of mixing.
I’d read lots about the Balearic scene (mainly in Time Out), but it sounded very cliquey, and we had heard about The Gardening Club in Covent Garden, which seemed like the epicentre of it at that point. I persuaded a couple of my friends to go down to a night called The Yellow Book one Friday in early 1991 and we got knocked back! We tried the next week and got in, and the energy was just incredible! I can still see in minds eye Rocky + Diesel DJing with their arms in the air as they dropped Sabrina Johnson’s ‘Peace in the valley’…..whoosh this was it, I’ve found what I was looking for.
I literally never left the dance floor – someone dropped the live version of The Woodentops ‘Why why why’, Steve Lee played Arthur Bakers mix of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Big Love’ (a remix I’d never heard), and the night ended with a mass singalong to what sounded like a Chris Rea record…..bizarre but brilliant. A real mix of great records from multiple genres.
It was the opposite of cliquey – everyone was so friendly (!), and knowledgeable about the records. Over the next few months I would be there every week – Giles on the door got to know me, and I had made friends very quickly, my college friends having long since lost interest in attending. Yet again I wanted to master the subject - in this case DJing! I’d be there in front of the DJ booth, watching and listening. One night I met a guy called Ian, and we became best friends for the night, as you did in those days!
The next week I bumped into him in the toilet, and he reacted as if he had never met me – turns out this was Ian’s twin brother, called James. We became good friends and the 3 of us, plus a few others very much became part of the scenery at The Yellow Book, and other parties in London like Puscha and Sign of The Times. James had a DJ set up at home in Romford, and had been buying records, and I taught James the basics of beat mixing, which he soon picked up.
Week after week we would be trainspotting, and then try to track down the records. Glenn Gunner in particular opened my eyes to a more U.S. garage sound, mixed in with some disco stuff which I’d never heard. I always though disco was naff, but some of these records were incredible – Katmandu, Tantra, Bumbleebee Unlimited. Yet again I was digesting all these records, and joining the dots. The natural thing was to start DJing together, and James persuaded the owner of his local pub to let us have the Monday night slot, and we had great fun playing the stuff we had tracked down to about 8 people! Ian put some flyers together and Chris + James was born. Over time we actually got confident enough to give a tape to Glenn, and Shelley Boswell (the Gardening Club manager), and they both liked it enough to promise us a slot in the future. It’s still floating about on the Web somewhere (links below,its from 1991 but its wrongly labelled as Club 4 Life 1993) – I can remember its got De Melero, Chimo Bayo, Paradiso, Bruce Hornsby ….….a housey, Italian Balearic mix up that would come to define the C+J sound.
The Saturday night at The Gardening Club had been running as Ophelia, and this was a more U.S. / garage focussed night, and Shelley was changing this to a night called ‘Ethos’. This didn’t run very long, but we guested, and Shelley was impressed enough to give us our own night in Feb 1992 which ran every Tuesday called ‘The Pinch’, which would be a student night. I cannot emphasise how important this night was in our development. Anyone who has heard of the 10,000 hour rule (popularised by Malcom Gladwell, but actually written by K Anders Erricson), will know that to master a skill you must put in hours of purposeful practice – for many bedroom DJs this would have been without a crowd, but we literally learnt on the job, which is far more relevant.
Every week we would be there from 9-2, doing the warm up (chuggy balearic and hip hop), the transition bit (garage), and then the main set. After about a year the night became successful enough for us to have guests, and it gradually became a harder edged night more percussive progressive/ trance focused with Fabi Paras a regular, alongside Billy Nasty, Darren Emerson etc. A few guest slots followed, at clubs like Back to Basics, and we were starting to learn what guest DJing looked like as well.
Around early December 1992 Shelley asked if we would be interested in also taking on a Saturday night residency, alongside Jeremy Healy…. a more glam style night called ‘Club 4 Life’. The first week was us, then Sasha, then Healy and it was roadblocked. I’d never seen anything like it. If I’m totally honest I found it all quite hard to take in – we’d been DJing for less than 2 years, and suddenly we were residents at one of the best club nights in the country.
I’m still not sure what Shelley saw in us, but she was great to work with, and I have very fond memories of that time. Our style at this time was fairly unique – early trance, Italian house, balearic, garage, indie, pumping Euro, hip house all mixed up. Gradually our DJing took off on a national and international scale, and we had to balance our commitments to The Gardening Club with our burgeoning travel and studio work (more of which later). Around 94 we played at Renaissance for the first time (I finished the set with Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Big Love’), and Geoff was impressed enough to ask us to move over to their DJ agency, which unfortunately meant us leaving The Gardening Club, but was the right career move.
Interview Note: Chris also selected these tracks that really are worthy of checking out The Clash - Rock The Casbah, Secchi feat Orlando Johnson - Keep On Jammin (loaded mix), Elevator - Shinny (harmony mix), Two Tons O'Fun - I Got The Feeling, Paris Angles - Perfume (all on you).
What came first Chris & James or the Delorme ?
Around 1991 I bumped into a couple called Danny Hagan and Jo Bartlett at the Gardening Club – we bonded over a love of 80s indie music, Jo worked at Ultimate Records and it turned out Danny ran Cherry Red record (both later founded the Green Man festival). Danny asked me to come and work for him, and I become an A+R man, whilst also setting up a dance label for them (MFF Records). We picked up a few records to release, and I though it would be fun to have a go with James at making a record, and also invited another couple of guys called Martin Tyrrell and Jason Hayward, who were part of the wider GC crew, to do something. This became The Guitar Dance EP, which was an MFF release. Martin lived in Delorme Street in Fulham at the time, and I lived in the next road, so he decided on The Delorme name. After that release Martin and Jason invited me to become part of The Delorme, and after another single on MFF (‘Physical Energy’) we went into the studio to do another single, just as I found out Cherry Red weren’t happy with the sales figures for MFF, so I was going to be out of a job. The result of the studio session was ‘Beatniks’, with sample taken from a Jack Kerouac reading of ‘On the Road’ which I’d bought in Camden Market in the late 80s!
We pressed up a few whites, and I took it into Billy Nasty at Zoom, as I knew him well from The Pinch nights. He played it, loved it, and called Dave Wesson out to listen, and they basically offered me a deal for it on the spot. Myself, Jason and Martin were all fans of the trance stuff coming out of Germany at the time, and Martin was really into his techno (still is I believe). The C+J production side hadn’t really taken off at this time, as I simply didn’t have enough time as this was all around the time the C+J DJing was in the ascendancy as well.
As part of the 'Delorme' you released tracks on Billy Nasty & Dave Wesson's Zoom label which is acknowledged with being one the labels (and shop) that promoted the early sound that went on to be termed 'Progressive House'. Did you set out to make those early tracks in a progressive style?
We were all listening to the Guerilla stuff, but it was a more trance influenced sound to me if I’m honest?
The Delorme project appeared to last a good couple of years with some great productions and remixes most of which hold 'Classic' status in 2020. If you had to pick one production and one remix from the Delorme back cat what would it be ?
Off the back of ‘Beatniks’ we got offered the Lost Tribe ‘Gimme a smile’ remix by Stress Records, which was incredibly exciting. Jason knew an engineer from Brighton called James Wiltshire, who he brought in to help mix the track, and I personally really hit it off with him from a working point of view in the studio. James came with us to Slough, as the Stress guys offered us use of the studios there. It was so exciting, and as none of us drove we got the train! I had a chat with Nick Gordon Brown (NGB), and when he realised I was also in Chris + James I think a lightbulb went off in his head for future projects!!!
The Lost Tribe remix was the first remix any of us had done, and we had so many ideas we ended up with 2 very different mixes – I’m pretty sure Jason came up with the idea of the middle section, and it still sounds decent now. We were then offered a management deal with DMC, and knocked out Kathy Brown, Suzi Carr, 2 Phat Guitars and a few others, but for me the River Ocean mix is our best work. Its not the best pressing, but it’s a very strong mix, and was huge at Club 4 Life.
Unfortunately it all ended in tears, as I was kicked out of The Delorme, as by the end my C+J studio work had also taken off, and the other guys felt I couldn’t do both. It’s a shame as they were great mixes, and the quality control on them is outstanding. Jason and myself made up by the end of the 90s, and Martin and myself have reconnected recently.. The guys did a couple more mixes after I left, but James Wiltshire wanted to come with me to be a production team, so that’s when the C+J stuff really took off. There’s no doubt that The Delorme would have been huge as a production / remixing team, and the studio chemistry was incredible.
We had a conversation back in March time (2020) and you said that you worked for Stress records before you were an artist on the label. Whereabouts in your music career timeline does that fit in, I can see a 93 Delorme remix of the seminal 'Give Me A Smile'.. were you there as early as 93 ?
No, NGB asked me in 94 to go and work for Stress – Dave was very busy with BIR and his DJing work, and I think he needed that DJ / Producers ears around on a daily basis.
The Stress label seems to hold many great memories for anybody that had anything to do with it, can you describe your position at the label and what a typical day at the office would be like ?
First of all I must say NGB and Dave were just the best people to work with (and for), they fostered such a positive atmosphere around the label. Both were great at spotting talent, but also had a strict ‘No Wankers’ policy – you could leave your ego at the door! It was a very fertile environment, with everyone wanting the best for each other and contributing to the growth of the label. NGB had a brilliant theory that great records had 3 hooks – a decent club record might have 1, a crossover 2, but a great record all 3….always learning!
I’d be in and around the offices 3 -4 days a week (by this point I’d moved to Windsor), helping NGB with the direction of the label, sorting out remixes etc if I wasn’t in the studios downstairs. I also compiled the Buzz Chart for DMC with Dave, which meant we both had our ear to the ground with what was selling in shops, being played from outside the stuff we liked.
I’m not sure there was a typical day, but it was bizarre that you might go to make a tea and there was always the potential Kylie had popped up from a session with BIR and already had a brew on!
We even had a regular kick about on a Thursday evening for those that lived locally, and played a few games as well from memory.
Have you seen the newly launched Stress imprint? how do you feel about such an iconic label being resurrected in 2020?
I’ve seen it – good luck to them. I’d love to hear a GotSome remix of ‘Club 4 Life’, as his River Ocean track was my favourite record of last year, alongside Bonobo’s ‘Weekend’.
How would you describe your sound as DJs during the C&J period?
Pumping balearic, then prog, then trance by the late 90s? I think we were both heavily influenced by those early Yellow Book / Ophelia years, where DJ’s played the best of each genre, and cleverly programmed their sets to incorporate this mix of styles. James was probably more into the pumping Euro sound, and later tech house, as he worked in Tag Records, and I was always thinking how can I work in something the crowd aren’t expecting, but I also loved the Northern rave sound, so played lots of stuff like Hardcore Uproar, M17, Blow ‘The Cutter’…stuff which definitely wasn’t being played in the London ‘glam’ clubs at the time. By the mid 90s we were playing a more progressive sound – the Crème de La Crème mix CD’s are a good example of this. By the late 90s it was more trance / Euro.
Did you have a particular routine when Djing ? Would it be a couple of records each or would you do half hour stints on rotation? Pretty much always 2 records each, which really kept us on our toes – sometimes you would be mixing into a record you had never heard before, so it was all about reacting to what was in front of you, and watching the crowds reaction.
Do you have any standout gigs from your DJ career or maybe ones that you kind of wished you'd not bothered with?
Personally I loved the early Renaissance gigs, Wobble, The Rhumba Club – all crowds who were open minded and friendly! Worst gig I can remember is at the No 1 Club in Manchester for a LuvDup night – a local gang rushed the door and let off CS gas. The DJ booth was high up, and the first thing I knew was that the dancefloor had suddenly cleared….the next thing I knew I had passed out. Leeds lads should know not to cross the Pennines!
Moving over to C&J productions, Chris & James featured two 'James', How did that come together and what part did the second James play in the production team?
After I left The Delorme, James Wiltshire (JW) was keen to carry on working with me, so I suggested he come on board with myself and James Bradley (JB) to push the C+J stuff. I had hours of DAT tapes full of samples, and JW brought the technical know how to put the ideas onto record. The first remix we did was Chris Rea’s ‘Espresso Logica’ With ‘Calm Down’ for instance I’d had the Jazzi P acapella for years, and was sure it would make the basis for a great track – JW came up with the idea for the guitar sound (a replayed ‘Knock on wood’ essentially), and I pulled out a Richard Pryor live album for the ‘Calm Down’ sample. JW was very much a key part of the C+J sound, and I made sure he received an equal share of all remix money, publishing and advances. Lots of engineers at the time were used and abused by DJ’s who just stuck there name on the engineers work – ours was very much a collaborative situation. JB was great at networking (far better than me), and he kept the name out there which hugely helped with A+R people, plus he had his finger on the pulse through Tag with what was hot.
How did you feel about the EBTG – Missing project ? Is it correct that the C&J mix got a more positive response than the Todd Terry one when originally mailed out?
I know NGB touched on the ‘Missing’ story a bit in his interview, but I’m sure people would like some flesh put on the bones. DMC were managing us for remix work, and I believe Rob Dickens (label head at Warners) approached them about C+J doing ‘Missing’ (this was early 1994)– Geoff Travis rang me up and explained the band were looking for a club mix on a downtempo track, to try and reinvigorate the band. A few days later a cassette arrived, and myself and JW listened to it, and it was so obvious here was a potentially huge record – make no mistake that’s a great song, and even the original demo version was built to be a 4/4 dance record.. We agreed to do the remix, and I remember the first day I’d come down with really bad flu, and had to leave the studio and go home – I left JW and JB to it. A good nights sleep put me right, and I was in early the next day, to see how they had got on – it was terrible if I’m honest, no progress and it sounded flat.
I’d been playing Sasha’s remix of Jomanda a lot, and wondered if we could get a similar arpeggiated keyboard sound to run around the vocals, and we soon had something up and running. From there it all fell in to place quite quickly – ‘’Brother in Rhythm gone hard’’ as Dom Phillips later reviewed it. I actually think the chords around the vocals that JW came up with are better than those in the original.
From memory Power mailed it out as a double pack originally (with the Flossie Dub, named after my sisters nickname), and it stalled a bit (number 69 in the chart)…. I’m not sure people knew quite what to make of it to be honest, and the band got dropped. However Sasha had been playing it at the end of his sets, as had Jeremy Healy, and through that summers Ibiza it seemed to develop a life of its own. I’m guessing the label got Todd Terry mixes done for the US market in 1995, which then came back in as ‘The Bootleg mixes’ with our mix, and it flew a year later. Todd’s mix isn’t to my taste, but it really opens up the song to a different market….I’m just hoping he was on points!!! It was great for our profile, having a part to play in such a huge worldwide hit – it’s a shame Ben Watt referred to our remix as ‘a bit handbag for my taste’….some people eh!
You did a number of mixes for DMC.. What was the process for approaching these remixes, did you feel you had more creative freedom with these as opposed to a major label project?
Not really, it was more around getting access to tracks that were untouchable – I had a ‘Dream’ list I gave to NGB of stuff I’d love to have a got out ….Fleetwood Mac, Chris Rea, Stone Roses, Kate Bush, JT Company etc.
In the end the only one that came through was Chris Rea’s ‘Josephine’. It was hard to approach, as its such a seminal Balearic anthem, but the feeling was it would suit a deeper house make over, very Fathers Of Sound.
We didn’t actually do that many C+J DMC mixes, which was more down to how busy
we were with outside remix work. The Spirits ‘Don’t bring me down’ is a remix I rate as amongst our best work – slightly different vibe, somewhere between progressive and vocal house?
In terms of creative freedom its not something I’ve ever considered really – we just approached each track very differently – some tracks suited a larger more progressive feel (Isha D, EMF, EBTG) whilst others fitted a more peak time house sound (Talizman, Medium High, Tinman). Whilst researching for this interview I’ve spent some time listening back to lots of the tracks and remixes – its interesting that something like Talizman seems to be so popular still.
The Chris & James ethos appeared to be to produce tracks & remixes aimed squarely at the peak time dance floor but we still got a couple of prog remixes courtesy of another alter-ego Holy Trinity which you did with James Wiltshire who went on produce as Jimmy Gomez. You guys took on the monumental task of remixing Bedrock - 'For What You Dream Of' and Superstars Of Rock – Orange Sunshine, the latter of which Dave Seaman featured on his rare 'Silk Mix' CD which Renaissance gave away during their collaboration nights with Silk Cut cigarettes. Why did we not see more of Holy Trinity as a remix or even production outfit?
Myself and JW just knocked those out for a bit of fun to be honest! The Orange Sunshine remix was very good, and may have been an avenue to explore I guess, the same with Chris + James ‘Ying and Yang’. That was an idea for a track I’d had floating around for a while – the vocals are a mash up of a gated Cowboy Junkies acapella, with the Floor Control ‘Evangalista’ guitar line.
There are a few other aliases myself and JW had for DMC mixes from memory as well.
Why and when did you stop DJing / producing?
By the late 90s the scene had become so split into sub genres, and the idea of playing a mix of them in a night was simply non existent. The early 90s night out hearing a bit of everything was long gone, and I’d simply lost any interest in carrying on if I’m honest. I spoke to JB and he was of the same opinion, so we called it a day just after the Millenium. I’d like to think I had a good 10 years of DJing, producing and remixing, and have left some stuff that still holds value today? Despite numerous offers over the years I have no desire to play at Retro nights or such, but good luck to those that do. We have the occasional party down in Brighton, as I’ve digitised my collection, with a Traktor set up, which is fun (but clearly cheating!!). It was a crazy 10 years, and I was very lucky to be part of such a great movement. I believe James Bradley is back DJing, so I’m sure he’s keeping the C+J flame alive well.
For my own part I moved into elite football coaching - I was at Brighton for 7 years, and have been with the National FA for 4 years, working across National Talent programmes.
It’s been a real eye opener digging stuff out for this interview, and researching stuff I hadn’t thought about for a long time! Thankfully (!) there appears to be very little video footage, although I did find this clip from Déjà vu in Hull.
And finally Chris, can you give us a Top 10 of your own productions, I know we've talked about some previously but if you had to make a list?
Yeah I think so.. this is entirely subjective but I'm gonna go with the following ..
1 – River Ocean - Love and happiness (Delorme mix)
2 – Spirits – Don’t bring me down (C+J mix)
3 – Lost Tribe – Gimme a smile (Delorme mix)
4 – Delorme – Beatniks
5 – Chris + James – Club 4 Life
6 – EBTG – Missing (C+J mix)
7 – Kathy Brown – Turn me out (Delorme mix)
8 – Superstars of Rock – Orange Sunshine (Holy Trinity mix)
9 – Talizman – Only you (Chris + James mix)
10 – Chris Rea - Josephine (Chris + James mix)
Many thanks Chris its been great catching up, we wish you all the best pal..