Peter Isaac of 45 Live – The Interview

9 September 2020

First up thank you Peter for agreeing to do this Interview and for your support of the Forty Five Kings and what we do. We also appreciate your Donation of 45s for our upcoming Raffle! 

Now to the questions… 

  1. 1.Tell us about yourself and your history as a collector and dj and what drives you to continue?

Hi Rob.

Well, I’ve been in the music game since 1983, firstly as a conga player/percussionist in jazz funk bands up until 1988/9 when acid house kicked off here in the SW of England. A mate got some decks and encouraged me to have a go, and I was hooked almost immediately. In Plymouth in 89 there was a club called Zena’s, the first place in town to play acid, and that was church for us, then came other events; Happy Shopper, The Wasp Factory, Essense, Cultural Vibes and a ton more. Plymouth was really kicking off in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

As a budding DJ around that time I’d mostly been playing acid house at free parties building some experience and amassing more records, and I guess I started to develop a ‘style’ as a DJ which made me stand out a little, and that was ‘funky’. I tended to play acid and house that was funkier than most other DJ’s in Plymouth at the time who were more into hardcore techno. This then got me my first club residency at The Fruit Bowl (student night back room) along with DJ BP.

Life changing that was – we got paid £10 a week each! Barry and I started to learn how to structure a night, build sets, work together musically and develop something with an identity.  I don’t really remember how long that club night went on for, but that £10 per week was enough to buy 3 or 4 new 12” singles every week (alongside getting onto promo lists for free records, that was amazing) and stuff just carried on building from there. 

First

One such notable progression in 1989 was getting asked to warm up for De La Soul in Plymouth. TBH looking back now maybe Barry and I were kinda the wrong choice because we were playing house/acid/hip house, not hip-hop. Then again the rave scene was massive in Plymouth, so it all worked out just fine. It was terrifying though, our first proper booking for a serious event.

There was I on a platform that was above the main stage in The Warehouse (legendary Plymouth rave venue), as I was playing Maseo was directly below me setting up his decks and warming up. I remember feeling completely out of my depth as well as totally excited for their show. ‘3 Feet High’ wasn’t long out. It was a life changing album for so many people, so for De La to be in Plymouth of all places was kinda surreal. I got through the night in a maelstrom of nerves, excitement, otherworldliness and beer. 

1990-1992 is all of a bit of a blur, but I was firmly entrenched in the rave scene, DJing, getting involved in productions, designing flyers, painting backdrops etc until January 1993 when I was offered a Wednesday night at a venue called The Quay Club. This was my first opportunity to completely take charge, so having got a little bit bored of house music by this time I saw this as a great opportunity to return to the music I had really loved as a percussionist, that being jazz, funk and Latin as well as indulging in the acid jazz/trip hop scene that was building at the time (but hadn’t really reached Plymouth).

I set up the first night with a simple poster saying ‘Jazz Funk at the Quay Club’ and a load of people turned up much to my surprise. 2nd week I’d coined the name ‘Jelly Jazz’ and the venue was full with queues around the block, talk about right place right time.  

I then met another DJ who was playing at Plymouth University called Griff, we hit it off immediately and have proceeded to DJ together till the present day, albeit not so much these days. Jelly Jazz was just brilliant, a musical melting pot where we discovered new sounds every week, whether that be from our own digging trips or from guest DJs.

Obviously this was all before the internet so when guests dropped some obscure jazz nugget or soul 45 that you’d never heard before it really was a case of minds getting blown each and every week. Maybe subconsciously I was putting up those guest DJs at my house because I could then go through their records the next morning making a note of the ones I just had to try and get!

That wasn’t easy in those days without Google, ebay, Discogs etc, it meant calling shops in London or Manchester, calling the few dealers I knew at the time like Gerald Jazzman or waiting for printed lists from the US.

We also had a shop in Plymouth called Really Good Records, and Mike there had quite the knack of getting GREAT records into the shop.

Back at the club I was booking people from all over; South America, USA, Europe, literally everywhere and anywhere such was the strength of the scene across the UK at that time. If a DJ came over from Argentina for example, then they would hit Jelly Jazz along with clubs all over the UK.

There were loads of nights then so a tour, even for DJs without a name as such, could be swiftly put together. It was the same for bands too, we were the first club in Europe to put The Soul Providers with Sharon Jones on. The tour was organised by Adrian Gibson at The Jazz Cafe in London, but they hit Plymouth first :).

Another aspect of Jelly Jazz was the visual identity. My experience up until then enabled me to really put together a strong look for the club. Having studied print at Art College, I was able to take charge of the how the image of the night was presented as well as keeping reigns on the music, designing all the flyers, newsletters, projections, backdrops etc etc.

I like to think that this side of things was pretty central to why it worked for so long. For example, when EVERY other club in town printed their flyers on standard cheap art gloss paper, I printed my flyers on thick uncoated board to try and get the feel of the old Tip-on jazz album covers from the likes of Prestige.

People really treated Jelly Jazz as a members club, they were affectionally known as ‘Jelly-Heads’ and came week after week to let loose on the dance floor. Musically it was proper deep, hardcore jazz, funk, soul, Latin along with contemporary sounds as long as they fitted with our vibe. We had hundreds of guest DJs over the years, plus tons of bands in venues all over the South West of England, it really was a golden era.  

Jelly Jazz was weekly for 14 years straight (ad hoc after that until now and still going!), on a Wednesday night, playing seriously obscure music! It feels like that kind of club night just wouldn’t happen now, where people fully identity themselves by it and come time after time after time, so we were very lucky to have a loyal crowd like that. It was the same around the country too, Wah Wah in London, Dig! Family in Leeds, Jazz Rooms in Brighton, That’s How It Is in London, Blow Pop in Bristol and so many other weekly nights that were firing on all fours throughout the 90s, great great days.

In many ways I blame the internet and bloody phones for the decline in clubbing, and I guess you could direct that criticism at so many strands of society, but that’s another story which we won’t let sully this story of musical growth. 

Jelly Jazz still has the odd event these days, but most of my creative juices are now directed at 45 Live which I set up with Scott Hendy aka Boca 45 back in 2014. Since Jelly Jazz started I’d always bought funk and soul 45s alongside LPs (format didn’t really matter then, as long as it was vinyl), so with Scott who’d been doing some 45s only nights in Bristol, we reasoned that creating a community of 7” single freaks was a great idea!

By concentrating on the format and not the music meant we could throw it wide open and give ourselves a large canvas to paint on. From the word go we wanted to have club nights, festival stages, radio and of course a record label backed up with a crew of DJs. So between Scott and I, with some 50 years of experience and contacts between us, we quickly invited a stack of DJs that we knew who were essentially mates already, and that also absolutely loved DJing from 7’s.

The last 5 years have seen a wonderful explosion of events and creative adventures all based around the 7” single, from a load of amazing festival stages here in the UK and France with our main man in Marseille, Selecter The Punisher, getting up to our 11th release on the label, the fantastic radio show on Dublab in Los Angeles and the 45 Live website which we hope is a valuable source of info for people. Have to give a special mention to Baz Hickey over in Dublin who is a champion when it comes to adding content to the site, nice one Baz! 

So just like ‘returning’ to jazz and setting up Jelly Jazz in 1993 after my adventures with acid house, the last few years have seen me return to Acid House alongside DJ Food. We’ve both got quite obsessed with acid 45s since the start of 45 Live and have both been digging and hoarding acid 45s ever since, there’s about 6 or 7 radio show mixes between us now and we did an acid ONLY 45s club session in London a few years back at the launch of a magazine at The House Of Vans.

He’s winning the digging of course (not that its a competition) and has amassed a lot more acid 45s than me, although I’ve found 2 OG copies of ‘Where’s Your Child’ by Bam Bam on 45, so far ;). All this shows that everything is connected and cyclical, we all as DJs meander through ever changing musical obsessions, current loves will inform the next love and so it goes on until we might find ourselves back where we started, but hopefully with a deeper understanding.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gone from Afrobeat to jazz to Latin to trip hop to acid to funk to soul to D&B and so on is that one should be VERY careful about getting rid of records. You may think you’re not into something anymore so sell/trade a stack of wax, then a year or 2 (or 20 years) later you’re kicking yourself you got rid of those records. I have very bruised shins in this regard. 

As for what drives me to continue? Well as I write this in the middle of the pandemic, continuation is an abstract concept. What of the scene will be left post Covid-19? How many venues and festivals are going to go under? It’s a terrifying time for the music industry and just awful for everyone who works in it who are losing their jobs or businesses that they’ve passionately built up over many years. But continue I will, in whatever manageable and realistic form that may be.

As a kid buying your first records with your pocket money and taking them home to play to your mates and say ‘you have to listen to THIS’ is the bedrock of any DJs career, right? It certainly was with me, and simply sharing music will continue to be my driving force. 

  1. Tell us about your Radio Show, how long has it been on, where and when is it broadcast and what is the ethos behind it? 

The radio show started 4 years ago with the mighty Greg Belson at the controls. Greg, as everyone should know, is a scene veteran, a general if you like, who’s been deep into DJing and collecting/trading music for decades. He was there when ‘deep funk’ was created along with Keb Darge, he’s mates with everyone, Shadow, Chemist etc, he has one of the most amazing record collections you could ever see, he’s the undisputed king of gospel, and his list of achievements just goes on and on.

As Greg lives in LA and already had a show on Dublab, it was straightforward for him to get another slot for 45 Live, and it’s been a great success going out live on FM radio in the greater LA area as well as all the usual online outlets. Every show sees an exclusive 1hr mix from one of the DJ crew with greg topping and tailing with some selections from his vast collection of 7s.

Musically the scope is limitless, Greg and whatever guest can literally play whatever they want, the only rule is that it has to be on a 7. So there’s no predictably between one show and the next, this keeps it fresh and exciting. We’re also featuring guest slots now from DJs who are not (yet) part of the crew. At the time of writing there’s 115 shows to dig into on Mixcloud!

The label was a must, I mean how can you celebrate the 7” single without one? We’re up to 11 releases now ranging in styles from soul to hip hop, and of course acid! Releasing records is hard work these days and the ‘vinyl revival’ is more spin than actual records spinning, sales are actually very small compared to the 90s when it was easy to shift a couple thousand average records! Consequently I’m not sure that the time spent on this endeavour is ever recouped financially speaking, but then making money from the label was never considered a primary goal in today’s musical landscape, it’s more about creativity for creativities sake. We just want to put good records into the world.

The label is fully legal, we pay MCPS and make sure all dues are paid to songwriters etc which means we’ll never get into pressing ‘edits’ or uncleared samples. Not that I think sampling is wrong, it isn’t, would hip hop have ever been invented otherwise? Probably not. I also love a good cut n’ paste banger as much as any DJ. If we did press those kind of records then we’d be up to 50 releases by now.

All of this means that the label’s output is fairly small considering how long we’ve been going. We had 3 releases not getting past the licensing stage last year which was incredibly frustrating, and we had to pull 2 releases because of uncleared samples. Yet because the label isn’t a core business strand of 45 Live means it’s quite nimble, it can simply go quiet or explode into action when the right project comes along. What’s next? Well, hoping for a funk banger and some seeds have been sown on that.

I also really want to do some disco, Latin, D&B, maybe even some folky singer songwriter stuff, who knows, the label is there for whatever we love and that spectrum is very wide indeed. 

Keep on keeping on is what I keep telling myself, and right now that future is uncertain, not that it’s ever exactly certain in this game. At the moment I’m having to concentrate more on my graphic design work to try and make ends meet. 

  1. How has Covid 19 affected what you do? How have you adapted? 

It’s been bloody shite hasn’t it? As DJs we are all suffering loss of income/work, some more than others, and indeed some have sadly lost their lives. Personally I’m just trying to count my blessings whenever I start feeling despondent, and if I think about the poor people in Beirut, or those trying to cross the English Channel for a better life, things like that put things into perspective.  

As for adapting 45 Live, then mostly it’s all about the radio show. Greg has been on point as always so that rolls on like nothing has happened. Various DJs that are part of the crew have certainly embraced the live stream thing but personally that’s something that I can’t get my head around. For me it’s all about context, and that context is people in a dark room all moving as one. Sure, an online mix you simply listen to via Mixcloud is one thing and I listen to mixes ALL the time, but watching a DJ play? That’s not for me, I get bored after 2 minutes, except for Koco because he’s a magician. It’s one reason I hate the Boiler Room, so tedious, it’s just one big pose fest. There is a Mr Thing Boiler Room 45s set that is brilliant though 🙂

So as much as I may love a particular DJ, watching them play on my phone or iMac just isn’t something I want to do, I want to see them in a club, and not just stare at them either, get on the floor and dance too. I did ponder a few weeks ago about filming/streaming myself sat in chair playing records whilst regaling stories about how I found that particular record, or other relevant stories as something a bit different, but determined that this was utterly self indulgent and I’d probably embarrass myself, so decided not to do that! So I’ll leave the live streaming to the Koco’s, Boca’s and Thing’s of the world. 

Oh, and we have Brexit to contend with in a few months time, I am furious and depressed about that in equal measure. For many of us in the music industry who exist in the margins, small scale operators, niche scenes, then Brexit is a disaster. NOTHING good will come from it except maybe a creative surge? I have to remember that warehouse parties came out of a tory Britain who were wrecking the place as usual, and look what happened from that, the music scene went nuts! One has to hold on to some sense of positivity I guess.  

  1. Tell us about the 45 Live Dj Crew 

What, all 20 of them? I’ll be here for ages! What I would say is I’m very very proud of the crew, everyone is brilliant and very accomplished individual artists, from world champs to scene leaders, exceptional turntablists to vinyl archivists of the deepest kind, we’ve got all bases covered. Except punk, saying that it wouldn’t surprise me if Andy Smith didn’t have a punk 45s collection?!

So much so, when various groups of us get together for a festival weekend, I am never fearful of not quite hitting the mark, I know that whoever is there from the crew that the music will be spot on and we’ll put on a wicked show. Can’t ask for any more than that really, but if DJ Koco wanted to be part of 45 Live, that would be the cherry on the cake.

I did almost get him to come over to play at the Masked Ball in Cornwall 2 or even 3 years ago, but alas it didn’t work out because of really high transport costs for what was essentially an unknown DJ, he wouldn’t have sold tickets back then, it was only other DJs that knew what the deal was with him and then only a few DJs seemed to be aware of him at the time. So yeah, I was a bit gutted as I REALLY wanted to be the first promoter in Europe to book Koco! 

  1. Would you like to add anything else and also share links to your radio shows and label? 

A search of 45 Live online will bring up radio, record label, web site etc it’s all there. I would also add that it’s been just great seeing so many people just get right into it all over the last few years, I’m pretty certain that the 45 thing has reignited the love of DJ’ing and digging for many (older) DJ’s, whilst DJ’s at the beginning of their career discovering 45’s/vinyl is a wonderful thing, I mean who has a ‘passion’ for their mp3 collection? Literally no one ever. So all of these groups out there – The Forty Five Kings, Waxnerds, Dusty Donuts crew and all the others around the world – all indulging their love of the 45, sharing music, building communities and having a good time, that’s just wicked. Long may it continue. 

Thanks for your time! 

Dj Mr Lob 

The Forty Five Kings 

https://www.facebook.com/45live.music/

https://www.45live.net

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One comment on “Peter Isaac of 45 Live – The Interview

  1. Thanks for doing this one with me Peter and I really enjoyed your responses and the whole history behind what you do and why you do it and as a big fan of 45 Live this was a hero moment for me!