Interview with DJ Andy Williams

In anticipation of our appearance at the Goods in Montreal here's an interview conducted with the Goods co-founder Andy Williams back in 2008.

Legendary DJ, Andy Williams was nice enough to sit down with us and answer our questions. For those that don’t know he has been bringing the most interesting and rare Jazz/Funk/Reggae/Soul/Tropical music to dancefloors everywhere including his home, Montreal.

Let’s start off. Tell me about your childhood and how you were influenced by music?

I grew up in the 60’s in Derbyshire, England where you could count the number of West Indians on one hand. Our neighboring Cities, Birmingham and Nottingham had an influx of Jamaicans creating an influx of musicians and clubs.  Not too mention the teen culture for music was big at the time! At the age of 10, my parents would go to the market on Saturdays and I was dropped off for afternoon parties at Tiffany’s Teeny-Bopper Club. We would listen to Sweet, 10CC, Mungo Jerry, Sly and the Family Stone, Jackson 5, The Beatles, and lots of Rock Steady Groups (e.g. The Untouchables, Mr. Aitken, Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, and Johnny Nash).

I was sent off to Jamaica to attend Boarding School at the age of 12 at Clarendon College, a very well known and prestigious school. It was there I had the experience of my life. This was due to the avid music listening of family members such as Jeff Smith, Lorna Hughes, and Uncle Clive. On Saturdays Uncle Clive would take me to see Mr.Brown’s Sound System in Blackwoods, which had records hot off the press, and world famous reggae artists being showcased. The trucks would come in with gigantic speakers all lined up, Rude Boys on their Scooters or CB 200’s, and the women wore the hippest frocks ready to dance to the whee hours of the morning.

How did the environment you grew up in influence the music you DJ today?

I got to understand the importance of sound and the level of consciousness I experienced, helped my performances in the latter years. I’m a story-teller when it’s time to perform. If I’m doing a jazz set I would reflect back to past experiences of late modern jazz my parents would play. If I’m playing reggae, I’ll make sure that Mento is firstly introduced and various genres/styles are added in terms of making the story complete. So from Mento to big sound productions of modern times. England was a mecca for West Indian Studios and still is, whether it’s I.G Culture or Don Letts keeping us up with the latest rhythms. It’s pretty much unavoidable due to the array of sounds and it’s a big part of our culture. I’ve had chats with Mr. Scruff and Quantic and others who grew up in the same environment as I and it is definitely innate.

How did you get into digging for rare records?

My Uncle Bobsie was a well-known deejay in the Midlands, UK, who would pass his records onto me and also my Uncle Earl who also grew up in the UK(London) was a music lover. When Uncle Earl moved to Baltimore in the 70’s he was a club owner, who would also pass his records onto me. Plus a long time friend “A Man called Warwick”, who is also from the U.K, would come by my home and have listening sessions.  Warwick and I were listening to Cumbia’s way before it was popular on the dancefloor.  Not too mention that playing dance-floor jazz classics at a hip-hop night was gutsy. We both played the tracks that were references to what Generation X kids were listening to. Warwick introduced me to Miles Cleret in 2002 in Brighton and Miles opened my mind to music I already was favouring, which was Afro-beat. But he took it to another level. I was listening to Sonny Okusun and Segnor Bucknor, just to name a few.  But it was his array of 45’s that threw me for a curve ball because I thought I had a large Afro-beat 45 collection until I met him. I was very fortunate to have HMV records from Nigeria before they got quite expensive.

How did you get into DJing?

I’ve been deejaying for 31 years now, which is hard to believe. I started off deejaying my high school dances at 16 with Winfield Lewis then graduating to the Club circuit in Toronto. Another influential character was Greg Gooding who use to have listening sessions at his house with his turntables. I use to be a big fan of Malik X, a legendary Brit who resided in Toronto in the heyday of the acid jazz period. He was the biggest deejay geek ever! He was a record nerd like Bob Jones, John Peel, Keb Darge, and Snowboy (just to name a few).

The style of music you spin is very unique. How did you develop this style?

From a lot of listening sessions with friends who would turn me onto new sounds or avant-garde peculiarities. My friend Nav, (Owner of the Wrong Bar) in Toronto use to work at a joint called “Rotate This!” As soon as he would see me step into the record store he would call me over for a quick listening session and he was always on point. Jason Palma and “A Man called Warwick” would have a radio show on CKLN (Toronto) prior to my show that would showcase some nuggets. We would compliment each other.

I remember about 18 years ago, I was playing “The Youngones” on my show, and the Jason/Warwick Clan came over to me to say,”What the F^&%^ was that?”  They immediately did their research and even went deeper. Back then Warwick and Palma were huge diggers and we were all trying to bring something different to the wheels of steel, which we’re all still doing today.

One may argue, passion over reason,or reason over passion (which is a quote I’m always related with in terms of my work ethic). But for the entourage I knew we just absolutely dug deep to find tracks that can take you on a journey.

 How did you make this work for the dancefloor?

People are always looking for something fresh and unique. I think it’s important to have tracks that are familiar but not necessarily anthems. With the mix of obscurities and crazy bass-lines along with mad breaks, it’s a recipe for erotica and hypnosis for any music lover.

What is your philosophy behind DJing?

Always envision yourself at the venue prior to playing and think strongly about your crowd. If you don’t know, please do your research. Otherwise why should they pay to see you play when we have iTunes and mp3’s.

Tell me about your club night the Goods. It has been running strong for 8 years and counting.

Scott C and I were first members of an outfit called Brass Knuckles. After 5 years we decided it was time to take it up a notch. So we got this great tango hall at a venue called Sala Rossa. It’s truly an amazing experience if you haven’t experience it. We have contemporary dancers to breakers to steppers to house dancers to just people who want to shake their gluteus maximus. Our Guest deejays are usually international names and we also showcase locals who wouldn’t be seen playing around the city who know their music and are technically savvy. Also we have deejays from other Canadian cities.

Some of our guests have been names such as Keb Darge, DJ Spinna, Mr.Scruff, Quantic, Bugz in the Attic, Domu, Mark de Clive-Lowe & Bembe, Russ Dewbury, Rich Medina, “A Man called Warwick”, DJ Format, Karsten John, John Kong, Mad Mats, Carlos Nino, Christian Pronovost, Trevor Walker, Nickodemus, Moonstarr, Philharmonics, Afrodizz, and Soul Jazz Orchestra, just to name a few.

How did that the night start?

Scott and I had the same idea of what we should be playing and what the people would like to hear in terms of a mixed bag treat. Our motto is “You know what you like and so do we”. So we thought it was worth giving it a shot.

 What was the idea behind the night?

A place where people can come out and dance without a club atmosphere. Our target audience is from 18-60. A room full of great dancers.

 What are some of the most unique tracks you’ve played that rock the dancefloor? 

8 years ago I played Urszula Dudziak’s version of ” A Night in Tunisa” which blew peoples’ minds. A list of other artists would be the following:

Chukka Congress, Wilfredo Stephenson, Dan Satch, Lloyd McNeill, Buschi, Gak Sato, Curv, Drumagik, Seiji, Louie Vega, and a few obscure Bullwakies to scratch the surface.

You are also DJing at the Pan African Space Station in Cape Town in September. Tell me more about the festival.

Very obscure acts from Ras G to the organizer Ntone’s eclectic jazz mixes.

 How did you get involved with it?

Ntone & Neo, the organizers were huge fans of my album “Variations in Time”  plus my long winded expeditions with Quantic made me more visible to the underground scene globally.

How did the Variations in Time compilation come about?

 I wanted to give something back to the Black Community in Montreal so that school aged children could have access to rare resources.

I thought it was quite a positive statement in this capitalist world we live in to donate the album sales to benefit Tyndale St. George’s Community Centre. How does this socially conscience philosophy work in the world music?

I beg to differ and I plan to do the same with upcoming albums this year and an Anthology I’m doing for a well known label as well. It’s about the music. It has nothing to do with me. So what happened is the album and EP were sold out without any desire to do a follow up. The label owner, Kevin Moon who was quite generous decided to do a one-off. Kevin is very involved with artists all over the globe and he has been a huge fan of the arts and supporting peoples’ work. We shared the same vision which made things easy and not complicated.

Tell me about your current project Monk Swing.

Monk Swing was an off-shoot from the album, showcasing prominent local Montreal Acts. I was honored to be rubbing shoulders with Eval Manigat, Clifton Joseph,and Karma & Lotus. These are talented artists and gems amongst gentlemen!

Do you have any other new musical projects in the pipeline?

I just started producing beats for poets and dancers, which will be a surprise to a lot of my compadres, and there’s a few more compilations in the works. I’ve made a dozen beats and I’ve already sold 7 tracks.

Where do you find most of your rare records?

When I’m on tour I love to venture out to the cities I’m performing in to see what’s in the stores. I rarely shop in Montreal which probably has the most record shops in the world. I don’t like chatting when I’m digging because it feels like you might miss out on a nugget in the dollar bin or the Jazz bin. My favorite store is Record Mania in Stockholm or if I have a lot of time on my hands I’ll go to Amoeba Records in L.A. or Groove Merchant in San Francisco

What are some of your favorite finds?

Melba Liston, Return of the Medicine Man, Hans Koeller, The Youngones, The Equitables, Nairobi Sisters, and anything by Lloyd McNeill.

I read that you’ve been also working on a documentary about jazz music for the last 16 years. What can you tell us about this? When is this coming out?

I’ve been archiving jazz interviews and concert footage for the last 16 years,and I’m still hoping that I can cover the important jazz institutions or music schools out there such as:

Cass High, Guildhall, Jazzmobile, A.A.C.M. B.A.G, just to name a few.

There’s no deadline on this project, it’s just my hobby. There’s a trailer on:    under the Film Section and you can make a donation if you like.

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