A Mickey Nold jingle:

An interview with Mickey Nold, who hosts “Basement Soul – with Mickey Nold and the Consortium”, every Sunday on PCRL (103.5 f.m.), an essential mix of grooves of soul, interviews with soul stars past and present, and information on allnighters/events. Last issue, we spoke to Mickey about the scene as it was – but this time, I concentrated mainly on his exploits in the sixties. Also Moke gets to spread the word on the airwaves, and spin some tunes, with members of the Consortium.

Last issue in Moke, I interviewed. Mickey Nold, the d.j. who hosts, the mainly Northern Soul orientated programme “Basement Soul”, on local pirate radio station PCRL. We got such a response from people, about the article, that it was only right to follow it up with some more Mickey. This time round. it was slightly harder to get a hold of him. as the station was recently raided by the D.T.I. This involved seizure of very expensive and much needed broadcasting equipment. And subsequently involved an “all hands on deck” situation for some weeks just to keep the station on the air. But due to Mickey’s geniality and also my persistent harassing him on the show [sorry Mickey…]. I did finally arrange to meet up with him, once more…In the interview, last issue I concentrated mainly on the show that he currently hosts (on a Sunday lunchtime with the Consortium, a loose (in many senses of the word) group of various Northern DJ’s, and occasional listeners with taste…., as well as his Tuesday late night session.

In that interview, Mickey had intimated that he had been a pirate DJ back in the 60’s – which intrigued me enough to ask more about what happened then. This time however, I got to venture into the mysterious Studio 37, somewhere in darkest Birmingham – a quiet little room, the walls bedecked in albums such as 60’s Quincy Jones Stateside releases [Mickey is a fan of Quincy]. “Live On Stage” featuring The Miracles/Marvin Gaye/The Marvelettes/Mary Wells. The Motortown Revue Live In Paris Album, Grady Tate albums, The Magnificent Men and original 60’s copies of music mag “Downbeat”.

Behind his seat at the mixer is a ceiling height shelf unit, groaning and bowing under the weight of hundreds of classic albums. Rule one of interviewing – NEVER turn up empty handed so I brought Mickey a vinyl copy of “My Prayer” by The Platters (featuring excellent tracks such as “Alone In The Night”. “Doesn’t It Ring A Bell” and an early version of “Magic Touch”)

To begin with. I asked him about the recent interview on his show with Johnny Terry of The Drifters, which was conducted by Bill Randle, who also works on the show.

What was it like having someone like Johnny Terry, on the programme?

He left The Drifters in 1965, so he was with them when they had their major early successes, Saturday At The Movies, Under The Boardwalk and all that great material, so it was really nice to have a member of the group. And plus he was the bass voice, the Drifters are constructed around doo-wop, and the sound is constructed around his voice. And it was just pleasing to show the listeners those tunes, and his contributions to the records, and make them realise that he was an integral part of that sound, although they had probably never heard his name.

How did you get in touch with Johnny Terry?

Bill Randal who did the interview virtually lives in Detroit, he’s just such an enthusiastic fan of male groups, his holiday is devoted. to seeing people like The Dramatics live on stage, in the States – and after that, he’ll pop backstage and chat to them, and they’ll say to him “Do you know my mate, who’s so and so…” and he’s probably someone who recorded about three tunes, about three hundred years ago, and he gets to meet him. Bill’s such a lovely guy, that he gets on with anybody, and I’ve yet to meet someone who dislikes him, so it opens doors for him, and he’s met so many people over the years. And a few years back, I said to him, “Why don’t you take a tape recorder with you?” We’ve done thirty interviews now, over the years.

What sort of people has he interviewed?

Brenda Holloway, C.P. Spencer, George Williams, Barrett Strong, Joe Hunter, many of these are producers from Motown; Mike Terry, Ivy Joe Hunter and singers; Caroline Crawford, The Dramatics, Martha and The Vandellas, & Edwin Starr. And his questions aren’t the typical interview questions, he knows the background, and he talks to them from the perspective of a friend, rather than an interviewer, which is good, because they can relate to him, and relax, so that he will get things out of them that normally, anyone else wouldn’t. And he’s careful, he doesn’t want to expose people to things in print, that they’d much rather not discuss.

As recently shown, when Ike Turner came to Britain to promote his recent music, and the interviewers all concentrated more on his alcoholism, drugs and wife-beating?

Exactly, he has had his bad press, and that was all they wanted to talk about.
The fact that he made a major contribution to the scene, from day one, nobody wanted to discuss which is fair enough, as he shouldn’t have beat her.

Getting back to the original reason as to why I came here, tho… 60’s pirate radio?

It’s a long time ago, I was thinking about it the other day, I hope I can remember anything!
It started really with the lack of decent music on the radio, frustration with the Light Programme {which evolved into Radio 2 after the onset of Radio 1 – ed}, the audience would hear “Sing Somthing Simple” by the Mike Sam Singers (they were an aging vocal group singing cheesy hit songs). Horrendous it was, and the only way you counter that was to listen to the odd pirate that had started, such as Caroline, or Radio London. The other alternative was the American Forces Network (AFN) [see “Good Morning Vietnam”.], and that really was kicking stuff.

They had black American Forces DJ’s playing the tunes, and they were playing things that hadn’t come out yet in UK. But, you could only get it for about half an hour in the evening, if theclouds were right, and the sun had gone down! So the only alternative was to do it yourself, with what records you managed to find, and put them on the air. I happened to be electronically inclined, so l built my own transmitters – starting with a Radionics set, which is like a children’s kit for building your own radios, that had a transmitter circuit, which could broadcast for about forty feet, and in the instructions, it said – “DO NOT Connect To An Aerial Longer Than 12 Inches!”… so straight away, you put a 30 foot aerial up, and you find that the range goes from 20 feet, to 100 feet! Later by adding a valve output stage, miles. In those days, it used to be the General Post Office (GPO] that used to chase down pirates, and they were hot on your tail – they were having a hard enough time with the ships out at sea, so if there were any land based pirates, it was a piece of cake for them. They didn’t have to get a boat out to get you, they would just drive round to your house! We used to have some wild parties, and broadcast over the weekend – always keeping an eye on the street to see if there were any green Post Office, Morris vans around. But it was too hair-raising though, plus the fact that your parents had all the noise that was going on whilst you were doing it. So in the end we decided to go and do it in a field somewhere out of the way, where we could see the detector vans coming and leg it! But the difficulty was that the transmitters wanted a lot of power to run. So what we actually did was tap a street lamp (outdoor wall light) [VERY illegal, don’t try this at home, kids!]. We went along a canal-towpath, found a nice quiet little spot, where we could erect a 200 hundred foot aerial between the trees. And then we needed a power socket, which you don’t find many near to many trees – so I managed to tap a light switch on the side of a building belonging to Birmingham University at the time, and we ran this wire up a little dirt track, along a canal bank, dug a hole in the ground, and put a thirteen amp socket into it. We put a piece of turf on the ground, and covered it up – so that all you had to do when you arrived, was uncover the turf, plug in the transmitter, and you were away. And the next day, low and behold, the council had came and laid a new tar-mac road over where we had put this cable we couldn’t believe our luck. The difficult part then, was finding record players, so what we used to use was a couple of ‘Discatron’s’, which were portable record players, [made in Aston, Birmingham] that could carry on your shoulder, just like a transistor radio basically. They looked like a toaster really, you dropped the record in the top, like a piece of toast, pressed the button – it didn’t have turntable [a bit like a jukebox], the stylus floated on a spring across the record – and you could spin the thing around your head by the straps and the record wouldn’t jump! They were incredible – but they wore the record down pretty quick.
We had a couple of those when we were broadcasting, and when the GPO came down the towpath, we legged it the other way.

What sort of music were you playing then?

Well it was whatever was happening at the time really – just good stuff that you couldn’t hear on the radio, it wouldn’t have been too up to date, as you couldn’t find it in the local shops. Mickey & his beloved Discatron Good soul music – things like Moses and Joshua “My Elusive Dreams”, and all the Motown classics, Stax groups & funky jazz. There was a few of us that used to do this broadcasting, some of them would bring some rock, or whatever they were into.

What was a good shop for records in Birmingham in the sixties?

Well, it was always the Diskery [still going strong! – ed], it used to be in Hurst Street, but it’s moved round the corner, next to the Wellington pub, just off the Bristol Road. Birmingham wasn’t a good place for soul music.The only place you could hear a good soul tune was on Radio Luxembourg, or A.F.N. – and as the record would come to the end, the signal would fade, and you wouldn’t get to hear what it was called, just at the crucial time. There was the Top Ten Shop, in Selly Oak, which a friend of mine [Funky Dunk] later became it’s owner.

It was a singles market then, wasn’t it?

Albums were seen as an adult thing. They were a party thing as well, especially the Geno Washington Live albums – you try and find an original Geno Washington album that hasn’t been scratched to hell, simply because it’s been to that many parties. I like the James Brown At The Apollo album, the one with the 28 second version, of “I Feel Good!”. I was much influenced by James Brown I’ve got about 180 of his singles. I was playing soul music to death, and everybody was saying – you don’t want that, no… but it was my transmitter!

So what happened to Radio Nold?

Well, you get married, and have 2.4 kids, you get a proper job, responsibility, a mortgage – you can’t afford to get into trouble. Plus everybody else around you gets married, and it doesn’t help if you want to carryon doing the things you want to do. It didn’t pick up again, until I started pirating on PCRL. I did them a demo tape and sent it to the c station – I’d just left Enterprise, which was ,an offshoot of PCRL. PCRL went for a license, and the Government said that if you went off the air for about six months, you could apply for a license. But they didn’t get one, it usually goes to whoever has the most money and influence, really. So that was 10 years ago now. I was doing similar things in the 60’s to what I’m doing now passing microphone around, while a nice Hammond organ instrumental record playing in the background and people would just ad-lib, they would have a pint of beer each, and after a few, they would be more free and easy on the mike. At the start of the programme, nobody would have anything to say, but half ten, eleven o’clock – it would get out of hand, there was a lot of swearing going on! But all these people having a laugh and a giggle broke up the music. People wanted to hear something like that, but it just wasn’t heard on the radio -it was all the BBC stiff upper lip. It was so easy to find a pirate on the radio, in those days.

The BBC ended up having to hire loads of the pirates, didn’t they?

Yeah, they’re all on Radio 2 now! Johnny Walker, Tony Blackburn had his day, Kenny Everett was an absolute dream the things he used to get up to, but it was the American Forces Network, that I used to like. But you were lucky to hear a whole tune, so you would buy a bigger transistor radio to get better reception, or you’d have a longer aerial. You could hear the pirates in the day then, as well. I found out that if you connected your radio aerial to the lightening conductor at school, the signal would be wooo-aaah! So at playtime, everyone used to rush round to hear the latest music.
There were a lot of pirates around at the time, more people experimenting with the medium, than being behind a station and the music. A lot of them was technical whiz-kids experimenting with equipment, seeing who could have the biggest aerial, the most powerful transmitter – that sort of thing. The tricks you could do with transmitters – you could put a fluorescent tube twenty feet away from a transmitter, and it would light up, without wires being connected to it.anything, there was that much energy in the air! And people talk about mobile phones now!!! I can remember sitting near the transmitter during a thunder storm, and there was a flash of lightening – it didn’t strike my aerial, but it was in the area – and huge blue spark jumped out, and just missed my hand where I was sitting at the table.

How has the pirate scene changed, since then?

We!l in the 60’s, it was the Medium Wave band that pirates would be on – that was the only radio that the people had got. FM had arrived, but it was only for someone who had real nice hi-fi equipment, and not many people had that. Plus you needed a separate aerial for it, and if you came from a working class background, you couldn’t afford it – it was like a colour TV. We used to pirate on the TV channel as well as on the medium wave. What you used to have in those days was channel 4 and channel 8 on a twist knob. Eight was ITV, and four was BBC1 (In the Midlands area). So what we did, was we used to broadcast on one of the numbers in-between, so that when you were twisting from one channel to the other – you’d find us, and think “Oh, music!”

And that was on a par with the power that we broadcast on the radio now. So that was VHF, the old black and white TV frequency, and it was good, because nobody else had thought of that. I had a friend who
owned a newsagents in Bournbrook (K.A.Windridges – now closed after 100 years trading), and we used to send listeners in there, to post their requests. Everybody would listen to the programme, somebody’s auntie or uncle, and withthe TV it was your accidental people tuning in, with the radio, it was people who wanted alternative music – they were so fed up with what was on the other station. But you couldn’t do it over along-term-period, because the GPO were on your tail all the time. If you were caught, you would get an enormous fine, and ALL your equipment would be confiscated and not just whatever you use to broadcast with, but anything in the house, with a plug on it!When PCRL were recently busted by the DTI, you said they even made off with your breadbin!, Oh, that was a bit of a laugh…with the stereo decoder for the stereo transmission when we used to have a cassette player running, it would pick up interference from the computer-monitor, and would come over as a whistle. So what we did was put the two cassette players for the adverts in a stainless steel breadbin, to screen it from the interference. It was a Wedding Present, as well! You spend about 12 months getting a studio right, getting all the levels right, and people are making less mistakes, because they’re happy with the set-up, and then the DTI come along and take it all away, and we’d have spend another 12 months putting it all back together again! And with that, the interview was over, as it was time for one of his contributors, Davie A, to do some session work for the programme.

Later, Mickey asked me if I’d want to be on his show and do a session of tunes that I like… well do Danny The Mad Badger ride a yellow Piaggio Zip, does Alex from The Trypt Up stuff broccoli down his trousers for the George Michael shuttlecock look !?!

And so it was that a week later, I found myself broadcasting to the good people of Birmingham on the show. Naturally, I was just a bit nervous, not having done any broadcasting for years [since my own days as a C.B. Radio pirate, when you could buy all the equipment from Tandys!] and the last time I was on the radio was introducing a Corduroy track on Radio Tip-Top [no shit!]. To begin with Mickey introduced me, and asked me a few things about Moke (not easy to answer, as I haven’t finished it yet.), and I played my first tune – “Soul Power” by Li’l Ray and The Fantastic Four, a foot stomping Hammond workout, with soul clapping and a crazy flute, the melody being not a million miles away from “Champ” by The Mohawks. Next up was Herbie Goins & The Nightimers with “Cruisin'” – which I played due to it’s mythical status for me,. as a young modster (and the funky Hammond that kicks it off!) – and sure enough Mickey only goes and pulls out a copy of the original album from the shelf (I’m suddenly overcome with an “We are not worthy!” feeling). Next up is “Back At The Chicken Shack” by Brian Auger, from 1966, a suitably cool slice of mod-jazz, from the Aug [which I’ve got on Japanese import, on Flavour .. Records.) And finally to finish, what else but some guitar crunching soul from the Faces, with “E too D” – beat that! Apologies to anybody in the Birmingham area tuning in to hear expert knowledge on soul, and instead getting some bloke rambling self-consciously in a strange accent – but it was a blast! !! Listening back to the show, it’s weird as anything to hear my voice. on this radio show that I’d been listening to for years.I sat in the squeaky green chair, with a can of Doctor Pepper and a list of recording details (‘ am in the presence of REAL soul DJ’s – so am going to have to at least pretend to know my stuff!). My voice came across as if I was eating a plum or something, and it sounded like I was really nervous which I was, funnily enough. I tickled the ears of Soul Sam, the studio dog, and made a joke about Oasis – so all in all, it was cool! Mickey had to do a voice-over on the Auger track, to announce that the local Marcus Garvey event had been cancelled, and that Sue from Newtown had lost her camera – as we are on real community radio. It was interesting to hear the way. Mickey had mixed it all together, and he finished off with a shortened version of “E Too D” as the last song on the programme – what a way to finish…RESULT! (Gordon@Moke)

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