Interview with Ian Wright

Legendary deep funk collector and DJ, Ian Wright was kind enough to sit down with us and answer some of our questions. 

Let’s get started. How did you get into soul and funk music? How long have you been digging for records? How did you amass your amazing collection of deep funk? What have been some of your biggest digging finds? What rare deep funk records have been your discoveries?

I got into soul and funk music in the ‘usual’ way, going out to nightclubs with my mates in the early to mid eighties, we were lucky to frequent the Barn in Braintree and the Windmill in Copford, Essex, typical handbag clubs I guess but thankfully with DJ’s that played lots of James Brown, Fatback and decent soul and funk from the 70’s. We even got to see Fatback liveat the Barn on a weekday back in the eighties! When the rave thing started around ’87 I got disillusioned withthe local club scene.  The whole ‘soul night’ thing seemed to be fading away so I started buying classic rare groove stuff and DJing at local pubs (in Witham) so me and my mates could get our soul and funk fix away from what was happening elsewhere.  I was primarily playing only LP’s and 12’s at this stage plus any James Brown/JB’s albums and comps I could get my hands on.  Around ’89 I was working in London so would nip to Crazy Beats, a record shop in Upminster in my lunch hour. Gary Dennis was a good salesman so I started buying the odd 7” here and there.  In fact it was through Gary that I had my first taste of a rare 7” after going to one of his dos around this period. It was there that I heard Mickey and the Soul Generations ‘Iron Leg’ for the first time. That intro hit me like a brick in the face! Plus in Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘Bold Soul Sister.’ I had my first taste of proper sister funk, still the one by which all others are judged in my opinion! From then on it was sweaty palmed collecting fever all the way. First stop was the Soul Bowl mailing lists every Wednesday. Without that weekly fix of rare and obscure vinyl I think it would have taken me a lot longer to amass my collection! Of course there were many other dealers but John Anderson was, and always will be, the main man when it came to rare/one-off soul and funk 45’s from the states. Ebaywould change the whole picture a few years later but back then I was happy buying off John and any other dealer I knew (Dave Raistrick and Garry Cape to name a few). As the internet was still in its early stages I knew of very few other collectors into this ‘funk stuff’ on 45. Thankfully through another one of those mailing lists (Jazzman Records) I made contact with Malcolm Catto and Keb Darge, who had himself become disillusioned with the Northern scene and DJing in general. The three of us met up two, three times a week with all the 45’s we were finding and back then they were coming in thick and fast! In ’95 Keb started his Deep Funk club in Soho and a new genre was born. The Deep Funk 45.

As far as discoveries go I don’t particularly like saying ‘I discovered this or that’ because pre Ebay it was the dealers themselves who were bringing these 45’s back into the country so they were the ones taking the chance, albeit for probably bugger all in those days so hardly a risk. But as Ebay became the smart and best way to find vinyl , previously unknown or, ok, ‘undiscovered’ 45’s found their way onto the site and with a lot of ploughing through tons of shite loads of gems were there to be had. Over the years I’ve picked up countless ‘unknowns’ and through DJing made  them into popular sought after tunes. Just a few that stick in my mind are Zebra ‘Simple Song’, Philip Wright ‘Keep Her Happy’, Barbara King ‘What I Did in the Street’, Vivian Lee ‘Since I was a Little Girl’, Leroy Clofer ‘Mr. Big Man’, Black Fur ‘Feel the Shock’. Best buying trip has to be Boston in ’96 withDave Raistrick, he kept all the Northern, I had pick of the funk. Salt ‘Hung Up’, Carleen & the G ‘Right On’ and Black Fur were amongst the haul.

How did you get into DJing? What were some of your first gigs?​ How did you become involved in the deep funk scene? What have been some of the best DJ nights over your career? What special events do you have coming up?

As far DJing deep funk goes I guess my first nights DJing that stuff would have been at the Arts Centre in Colchester in the early Nineties, along with 3 or 4 other DJs playing anything from hip-hop to acid jazz (it was indeed billed as an acid jazz night). I played an hour of funk on 45’s which made me realise you COULD play unknown funk and funky soul to a regular crowd. In fact they loved it. It was soon after this that Keb launched Deep Funk at Madame JoJo’s. I did a few slots there now and again but was never into DJing week in week out like Keb, who of course made a serious career out of that and his compilations of the same name. Instead I concentrated on buying more vinyl and remixing interesting 45’s that had bad vocals or some dodgy rock guitar in it.  Or just editing good 45’s that were spread over two sides, pressing them onto acetates and giving them to Keb to play at Madame JoJo’s. Yes I could have been selfish and kept them all for my own gain but at the time I was happy to help Keb promote the club and the music, and he included a few of those edits on his compilations which helped get my name out there. It wasn’t really until the late nineties that I started venturing abroad to DJ and with the release of Sister Funk in 2000 a whole heap of work came my way. In fact I had to turn down a lot of requests to DJ as I just didn’t have the time with my full time job on the money markets. And no, before you ask I wasn’t responsible for the credit crunch.

Over the years I have been lucky enough to DJ in Oslo, Barcelona, Malmo, Munich, New York, Tokyo, Madrid, Bilbao, Porto, Milan, Berlin, Hamburg, nearly all of those I have been back to several times. I would say my personal favourites have been Oslosoul, Soul Inn in Berlin and Club Function in Malmo. This weekend (March 6th) I’ll be dj’ing in Switzerland for the first time, at Les Docks, Lausanne.

How did you hook up with Jazzman Records to put out the amazing Sister Funk compilations? What kind of a process did you use to choose the tracks for the comp? What are your top 5 all time deep funk records?

I’ve obviously known Gerald for many years as it was he who originally put me in touch with Keb and Malcolm in the early nineties. The first Sister Funk (on BBE) had been really well received but I wasn’t happy with all the problems that came after because tracks hadn’t been licenced properly (or in most cases at all). I knew Gerald was doing things the right way and artist awareness was now really important to a lot of people buying the compilations so it was an easy decision to go with Jazzman, although it was frustrating to have to wait so long to release it! The only ‘process’ from my point of view is finding tracks on 45 that are good enough with the right ‘sound’ – gritty raw and funky with powerful female vocals – unknown is nice but not essential.

Hmm…Top 5, pretty hard to say 100% as its always changing and I don’t really have ‘favourites’ as such. But I’d have to include a couple of James Brown tracks – probably the ‘live’ version of ‘Give It Up Turn It Loose from In the Jungle Groove and the long version of ‘Soul Power.’  A couple of sister funk tunes – lets go with ‘Don’t Go’ by the Aristocrats (helps that I’ve still got the only known copy!) and Ike and Tina Turner ‘Bold Soul Sister’, and finish off with something from my Essex soul boy days – ‘Do What You Wanna Do’ by T-Connection, a track I still play out today.

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