Mike Allen Interview

Mike Allen Interview

In 2002 I forwarded a number of questions to Mike Allen about the Capital Radio Show, he was gracious enough to reply with very detailed answers to everything I asked. I will always be very grateful for the time and effort Mike put in, below is the full reply in Mike's own words...

Here we are. At last. Part of the story of Hip Hop from ’84 – ’88 from my perspective. Thank you for putting your questions online. I have tried to answer all of them. Sometimes, during a radio programme, stuff just happens and all the pre-production goes out of the window because someone might have arrived with a hot ‘cut up’, such as; Simon Harris, Froggy, Chad Jackson or Max & Dave of the Hardrock Soul Movement. Or maybe, Powerful Pierre or possibly; Lonely John would arrive with two or three amazing tracks from America, they had cleared through customs just twenty-five minutes earlier.

Q. Tell us about the Capital Rap Show and National Fresh shows you hosted. How long did they run for and why did they stop, had you become disillusioned as to how the scene was going?

MA: The Capital programme began evolving around September 1984 into a more urbanised music policy, as in; tougher and more relevant. The transition to pure Hip Hop took around three months. I can’t recall there being one single recording that turned me onto rap. During the mid eighties it was becoming very inventive, humorous and full of social comment – it was also, largely, a small label product and very in tune and reflective of what was happening at the time. Perhaps, more recently, the large labels have corporatized the music form and maybe now starting such a programme may not be so rewarding.

During 1985 TDK approached me and asked me to put together a programme to be broadcast on a weekly basis across the UK – they were looking for a suggestion for the name of the show: ‘National Fresh’ I said. The programme was recorded on a Monday, at Radio Luxemburg studios in Hertford Street, London, and featured my regular contributor from New York; Chuck Chill, with ‘The New York Juice Report’. This ran in tandem with the Capital output until 1987 at which time LBC Radio asked me to join them to host evening/night talk shows together with a Sunday afternoon programme about urban style, music and culture. I called it ‘Street Talk’. In September ’87 I began broadcasting for them. All ran very smoothly until the financial crash around the world in 1988. Sadly, TDK, no longer had the funds available to continue sponsoring the ‘National Fresh’ programme. So in answer to the question, why did I stop playing Hip Hop? In truth: I didn’t leave Hip Hop; it left me.

Q: The times the Capital show went out changed between 85 and 86. There was also a Sunday show in 1985 called ‘The Mix Marathon’ I think? Also I have heard you say ‘Kiss in the car’ on some tapes, was this another show?

MA: You are right there were some changes to the running time of the Capital programmes. Not even for money can I recall them all. I can remember the start time being moved forward for Saturday to eight o’clock – therefore Friday night started, possibly an hour or two later. As for the mix marathon. I don’t have any recollection of doing such a show – it could have been a reference to the way I played the music, in a running mix form invariably four or five sweeps across an hour, which at the time was considered very different – not so now, of course.

Q: Not including UK Fresh 86 (We will mention that later), what are the moments that really stand out in your memory from the show?

MA: Probably The Word of Mouth Crew and DJ Cheese arriving at Capital with their gear, setting up in studio four and just doing some incredible beats and rhymes, live, for about half an hour. Ed Stratton, was my studio technician that night and its thanks to him that it went out on air and was so well balanced – I’m sure he has a copy of it and ‘NO’ I don’t know where he lives now – but thanks again, Ed.

Q: You interviewed the following artists on your show, Doug E Fresh, Tom Silverman (Tommy Boy Records), LL Cool J & Cut Creator, Run DMC, Word of Mouth & DJ Cheese, Davy DMX, Thrashpack, Real Roxanne & Hitman Howie Tee, James Brown, Hardrock Soul Movement, Kurtis Blow, Master OC & Great Peso and Mantronix, quite a list, are there any others that are worth a mention?

MA: This is a tough question. Let’s try. In addition to the names you have listed I must also include: Public Enemy, Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince, Salt & Pepper, Ice T, Afrika Bambaataa, Russell Simmonds and Rick Rubin, Dave Stein (Double D & Steinski), Beastie Boys, Derek B, Chad Jackson.

James Brown appeared on LBC and National Fresh. I also went to Lyor and EK Cohen’s wedding with the entire Def Jam Posse, a great opportunity to hang out. It was just before Public Enemy’s second album was released and we spent days in the pool listening to it being played off a tape through a pair of speakers hung out of a bedroom window – all this – in the Dominican Republic. I know I will remember around another dozen or so names after I have written this.

Q: Who gave the best interview, who was the worst? Any comments on any of these interviews, and anybody you really wanted to get on the show but never succeeded?

MA: Everyone had their story to tell and how they told it was up to them – so, no one was greater or lesser - simply different. The content was invariably raw – often uncut, with beats that would return glass to sand. If someone said fuck a few times it could be edited out – unless it was live of course, that was a problem in the 80’s.

Maybe the oddest LL Cool J interview – and there were a few, was in my car, as I was driving. He kept telling me about his own car, an Audi, and how much he would like to have my car – only the steering wheel was on the wrong side – really weird interview, we ended up going for a curry – he loves it.

I had a great time whenever I talked to Mantronix, I admired his creativity and the innate ability he consistently demonstrated to produce commercially appealing and still credible albums. There was one Mantronix interview that turned into a saga. We recorded it at his hotel – it was very long and full of interesting stuff – with quite a lot on his attitude to being a white Jamaican. It wasn’t until I got back to the studio to edit it that I discovered the mic socket on the mobile recorder was crackling all over the interview – it didn’t show up on cans during the recording. I did as much as I could to clean it up before going on air – in the end I managed to get a tech ‘op’ to finish the job for £25 – he knew I had promised the interview to you and had me up against a wall, so I said, ‘yes’, to the mugger and hoped that he would do a decent job – thinking at first that I might be forced to run it dry, as in not mixing down the relevant music behind the words on a multitrack – taking a chance, I played some of their music beneath it live – it worked. The tech op got his car towed away a few days later, I think it cost about £25 to retrieve it.

The most outrageous interview was with the Beastie Boys – in its original form it ran two hours – I extracted two fifteen minute pieces from it – as to the off – cuts; don’t mention it, ever again; there were so many mentions of mothers having sex, I lost count. To be fair it was their Sunday morning they had given up, right in the middle of a tour – a hugh crowd was waiting for them as they arrived, in their tour bus, at Capital – they stayed until the boys left – but oh mumma – what a bitch Sunday morning: great interview though, very funny – even if it was mostly illegal; in it’s original form.

Russell Simmons was very interesting to talk to – most times I was in New York I would meet up with him – he visited Capital a few times and once with Rick Rubin. It may not be your view but I believe Hip Hop owes something to Rubin. He has an energy, a verve. I understand what he means when he talks about hearing it in his head before he records it – truly creative guy.

One of the first interviews I recorded in New York was at Chuck Chill’s apartment, talking to Doug E. Fresh. E told me he wrote most of his rhymes at night – because God wasn’t as busy then and had more time to help him. He came across as a very gentle man and possibly the first to introduce the cartoon element into his production technique.

Tom Silverman is the guru – he is a thinking man, he respects people, listens to them and moves Heaven and Earth for his artists. He surely has a futuristic ear, always a great interview and also, a big curry fan.

I was looking forward to meeting Run DMC. I had seen them in London and New York. Without doubt they set an on-stage standard which few, before ’85, matched. When they eventually turned up, we had a great time. They came across as soft spoken, aware and keen to meet their UK fans. I thought at first that it was an act – too good to be true – but after the Dominican Republic trip I know it to be their way. Just for the record they were/are brilliant at throw downs – awesome.

The first album from Public Enemy was stunning. That doesn’t imply that subsequent albums weren’t – simply, for a new comers effort, it was staggeringly good – full of social commentary, observant and totally addictive. Their plane was late for our first interview – despite that, they were keen to know they had a huge fan base here and were determined to win more. Private conversations with Chuck, at other times, proved he was a well read man who used his education and natural abilities to tell a story in his rhymes. A great talent.

These are a few, that immediately come to mind, you must have your own favourites and copies of some of them. They were ground breaking people, setting a standard in an emerging art form…

Q: One thing I particularly liked about your show was that you played all styles of the music, east coast, west coast, Miami, UK, whatever was fresh. Did you purposely do this or was it just a case of playing what sounded good to you?

You mentioned on your show that the UK audience seemed to be ahead of the USA audience even though that’s where most of the music was from, why do you think that was, do you think it was to do with what you played?

MA: It is true to say that Hip Hop in the UK in the 80’s, on my shows, was a complete reflection of the music, of the moment, on the planet, as was humanly possible to showcase. There is a good argument that because there wasn’t a National Hip Hop show across the states, that could spread the word and increase awareness of the music, over here in the UK, we were in an advantageous position to explore this music form and experience the difference between LA and New York, even the fast changing Miami crews, it was strangely unique to us. Around late 86/87 Texas was starting to release worthwhile records and Dr Dre in LA was producing some very tough tracks – I had a policy of playing anything that was relevant, interesting and most of all exciting. And, sadly, because of the Groove Sales Chart, I must have bought over twenty ‘Roxanne’ records. No, I don’t have them any longer, honest. Personally, I liked the New York sounds a little more than the others, although what truly happened was New York started to influence the rest of North America and the UK. So, by 86/87 we were arguably getting the best of it from that decade.

Q: Did you ever imagine that the music that you were playing was going to develop into the commercial monster that it is today?

MA: No. And because it is, largely, a corporate product now it will probably lack the raw spontaneous appeal of the originating small indie record companies. Let’s remember we were onto records fast, in this country, records that had charted here because of listener calls – sales and airplay. These tracks were huge in the UK, on import, and sometimes we were in front of the record’s home market, so much so that a record could have peaked here, and on some occasions dropped out before it had appeared across America.

Q: What do you think of the Hip Hop scene now compared with what it was like back then?

MA: Thank you for asking the question. Maybe that preceding question and response answers this. But for snap reaction – it appears to be less political, less dangerous – less edgy than it once was. In other words: a razor sharp, direct voice of the people.

Q: What was the best and dare I say worst track of electro you ever listened to?

MA: Impossible to answer honestly. If it was that bad I probably didn’t listen to all of it. As to the best? It’s a subjective thing; taste – it also depends on your mood – at the time. If pushed it would probably be a New York track.

Q: Did you have a close relationship with Morgan Khan and the Streetsounds label? Did you have any input on what tracks made it onto the Streetsounds Electro albums, it mentions on the back of ‘New York v LA Beats’ that you put the idea of that album forward to Morgan Khan.

MA: I had no ongoing financial or business arrangement with Morgan other than our co-operation over UK Fresh ’86. If I mentioned to him, in passing however, that I considered a particular track very tough, then he was open to use the suggestion or not – that probably applied to ‘New York v LA Beats’ – we often talked about stuff and ideas came out of it. I suspect the openness, that existed between us, was very similar to the conversations between any other two fans of a music form. I sought nothing other than the success of the music – sounds altruistic – but it’s true.

Morgan Khan of Street Sounds

Q: How did you get all the records you played on the show, did you have some kind of deal with Groove Records?

MA: I dealt with Groove because they had the music and Chris Palmer, who owned the shop, and me, have some history; we played in the same band for a while – a long time ago. Chris’s mother; Jean, handled the shop most days and was as fresh eared as anyone else when it came to finding exciting new tracks. They didn’t supply all of my music, most of it was either direct import or handled by two other shippers, who organised express customs clearance and delivery from Heathrow to Euston Tower. The, then, home of Capital Radio 95.8fm. The Boss in London.

Q: You mentioned you got rid of your record collection because it took up to much room in the garage! Do you know how big it was, and did it include just what you played on the show or other styles of music? And where did the famous collection end up?

MA: Yes, it’s true. It had to go – there was over a ton in weight, of vinyl. As to who own’s it, I suspect it’s scattered to the winds – maybe you own some cuts yourself?

Q: I remember sometimes you wouldn’t host the show as you were in New York. What was the scene like over there in the 80’s? Did you go to any good events, radio stations, record shops etc? Or meet any famous artists?

MA: I don’t recall not hosting the programme – are you confusing me with someone else? I did go to America frequently, my usual schedule was to return for a Friday broadcast. What would be the point of getting someone else to do it – a music show is as personal as handwriting. As to meeting people – sure, you heard the interviews. And the record shops? As I’ve revealed elsewhere in this interview, we in the UK were usually, not always, a little in front of America – as a whole, and sometimes slightly in front of New York in our acceptance of new crews.

Q: You have a friendship with Tom Silverman (Tommy Boy Records), was this very useful in getting promo tracks, inside information etc?

MA: Tom Silverman is a friend – I wouldn’t dream of exploiting a friendship to get a few freebies. It is true to say that as the UK programmes grew and expanded there were American and British record companies who asked me for input on what they might and might not sign. What they were truly doing was asking me what you the audience liked. I told them all; the same answer; to listen to the programme because even minutes before transmission I might have delivery of a new track that would alter the shape of our attitude from that moment on. There was no magic formula – it was simply based on the artist’s ability to be creative and to be as fresh a DJ as humanly possible.

Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records

Q: What do you think of the interest still shown in your broadcasts from the mid-eighties? Are you surprised? Have you received any other requests for interviews about your shows?

MA: I don’t have any off airs of those programmes. I regarded the music as ‘of its time’ and to spend too much attention on retrospectives, detrimental to the chances of the new, as in; this week’s music, being heard. All music evolves and if it hadn’t we wouldn’t have Hip Hop, would we? So, now that these copies are around – that must be good news. In many ways I’m talking to yet another generation, a sort of Homey J.R.R. Tolkein figure. I can live with that – if you can?

Q: As someone who was older than most of your listeners at the time, how would you describe the buzz back then surrounding the emerging Hip Hop scene? Did it compare with the emergence of Punk, for example?

MA: Good question. 80’s Hip Hop, was strangely multicultural/multiethnic as a music form in the UK, and to a slightly lesser extent in Holland and France, where also worked. Far more so than in America. Punk was a more immediate success, in the media, probably because of the look; spiky hair and the clothing, for example, appealed to the TV and magazines where picture led stories were needed. Hip Hop retained its underground appeal though and on reflection that was a good thing – maybe the media stayed away from it, by comparison, because; generally speaking, they didn’t understand it.

Q: It has been acknowledged be several US artists that Europe and the UK in particular caught onto and understood what Hip Hop was about very quickly. Did you find some of the artists you interviewed/met were surprised by the popularity of the genre over here?

MA: Yes, good point. They were amazed and a little shocked, I think. Good, it kept them from bullshitting us, too much.

Q: For a fairly mainstream commercial station, Capital had one of the best and most comprehensive Hip Hop play lists, often getting hold of exclusive tunes and remixes. Did you listen to any of the competition? If so, what did you think of them? (e.g. Dave Pearce, Tim Westwood on LWR, Solar Radio, JFM, etc.)

MA: As to the Hip Hop played on Capital. The station didn’t have a rap list, nor did they organise any interviews, supply records or pre-production staff. Hands up – until June ’87, it was all me. There: I’ve named the guilty. I have to thank my immediate boss, at the time; Tony Hale – Capital’s Head of Music. He trusted me when I opened up the doorway to Hip Hop – if he had said ‘No’ – this retrospective of that time wouldn’t be happening, would it? They certainly enjoyed getting the audience ratings in, and it wasn’t until they had arrived that they stopped sitting on the edge of their chairs. As to the other players on the dial during that period. I did hear them and learnt from them, as they – no doubt, did by listening to me. In any market place the more people playing a particular music form suggests the greater danger it is in of becoming successful. Competition is a good thing – stops us getting complacent, slack and lazy.

Q: Were you ever aware of a DJ up in Manchester called ‘Stu Allan’, who on his Hip Hop show used to diss you, calling your show ‘ National Wash’? He seemed to have some sort of grudge or it may have been plain jealousy?

MA: Stu Allan? I don’t recall meeting him. ‘National Wash’, is funny. It was a national show and I was hanging out fresh washing each week. I don’t find that offensive.

Q: Did you have any connection with any of the New York radio shows of the time, for example Mr Magic’s Rap Attack on WBLS?

MA: Any connection with New York, in radio terms was difficult as their time zones didn’t marry ours (5 hours, differential) therefore, when we were cuttin’ ‘em up – they were still playing afternoon soft soul. Remember though, we had Chuck Chill each week – our own exclusive US reporter on the air; revealing the inside stories first.

Q: UK Fresh 86 was an awesome event, what are you memories of it?

MA: UK Fresh 86. My memories of it are so varied. The seemingly endless trans-Atlantic air travel, car journeys, meetings with artist management companies, rejigging the schedule, a thousand things – but if we weren’t having fun we wouldn’t have done it. The rigging for the event, installing custom built stages, flying the lighting and the audio rigs took three days alone, I recall Mantronix, running over time – and costing us a chunk of money, in penalty charges with Wembley management. But damn – he was good. The incredible kindness, support and up-lifting presence of people, fans and rappers, on the day. There is one man I must mention, he turned, what at one time was speculative thought, in Capital’s studio B late one Friday night, into a reality, hi name; Morgan Khan. Without him, UK Fresh 86 would not have happened. He put the entire weight of his operation behind it. Perhaps now is a good time to confirm that I did not take a personal fee for the two gigs, although it was my sound and lighting company that covered the event. And if you’re into sound, it was a Martin audio four-way system; 40,000 watts and enough lighting to burn the skin on your shoulders and back, as you stood beneath it (approx; 250k). It was also thanks to Capital Radio for inviting us to include the event as a part of their music festival that year. The association with them helped us spread the word.

Q: Was there any artist you wanted for UK Fresh 86 but couldn’t get? Run DMC come to mind, anyone else? Was there any artist that was a real pain, and was there anybody you particularly got on with?

MA: As far as I am aware, you are correct. Run DMC and, I could be wrong here, L.L. Cool J, were pre-booked to appear at Madison Square Gardens, that evening. We spent sometime looking into the possibility of using Concorde, but the tight time schedule meant any delay, at all, would screw both projects up.

That apart, everyone else was fantastic, we had over 80 US citizens on the show and approximately 15 UK people, some of them were dancers. They didn’t all appear in both shows so the transportation boss had a few problems getting people from their hotel to Wembley, on time. Not to mention the socialising that was going on backstage and in the dressing rooms. The strongest memory, on reflection, was the few seconds of silence before each show as the house lights dimmed, the crowd fell silent and then the theme music kicked in – the whole place erupted, stood, cheered and generally got as close to losing it as you can, without getting arrested. If there was ‘a moment’ – it was then.

Q: Did Hashim and Aleem play at UK Fresh 86, as they were not on the play list when the show was broadcast?

MA: Hashim, had a problem with his audio computers the very morning we opened (they weren’t as reliable then – as now), so he was off the list. The other artist who was unable to attend, due to a health problem, was Roxanne Shante. I seem to recall Aleem appearing, though they may not have made it onto the radio transmission of the concert. The broadcast mix and edit of that was undertaken by Paul Pink for Capital Radio, he now runs X-FM.

Q: Was Hashim’s record ‘UK Fresh 86 The Anthem’ the only record to come out to celebrate the event?

MA: As far as I’m aware, yes.

Q: What is your own taste in music? Are there any tunes you used to play on your shows that you still have a fondness for? Do you still listen to the stuff you used to play us?

MA: What do I like? You know some of it. Hardcore Hip Hop. Jazz. R&B. Blues. I used to run a late night Jazz Funk show – that was great to do. Now, most of the time I seem to spend in front of a PC, either writing or being a DJ. The rarest things to see in a radio station in the past five or so years, are turntables.

Q: Would you be able to list a Top Ten of your favourite electro/hip hop tracks from that era?

MA: Honestly? No. Could you?

Q: How would you feel about sound clips of your shows and the surviving play lists/charts/jingles being on the internet?

MA: I must go and have a listen.

Q: Do you think Capital Radio would have any of your recordings in their archives?

MA: I don’t believe so. Radio stations are only expected to retain ‘off-air’, or transmission records, for six months from the original date of broadcast – maybe it was longer then – but sixteen years – I’m sorry to disappoint you.

Q: What was the name of the background music you used to play when reading out the Allen’s Army Frontline Chart on a Saturday night? (It was the instrumental that went “Street music – hurgh!”). Was it a specially commissioned piece just for the show?

MA: You’re not the first to ask that. I think it was a 12”. It was a B-Side. I recall it being a two-tone blue label, US import, possibly Jive records. That’s all I can tell you.

Q: Also what about the music you talked over at the start of each show, and the music you talked over when speaking about ‘UK Fresh 86’ (There was a shout of ‘UK Fresh’ and ‘Cuttin and scratchin’), was that also specially commissioned just for the show?

MA: Yes it was. It was put together by Sonic Graffiti.

Q: What are you up to now?

MA: I work as a voice over. I write for some people, funny stuff (hopefully), product launches and videos, there are two books waiting to be edited; and on Saturday evenings, I run a four-hour talk show on LBC Radio, in London –still asking questions. There is a new project on the horizon which you might hear about soon. In addition, I sometimes, cover stuff fro friends of mine who run other radio stations – I recently guested on Jazz FM, with Greg Edwards, we’ve a long standing friendship. In addition, I broadcast a further seven shows a week – soon to be eight, four hours each, on digital radio. None of them have blistering beats, though; the management schedule the music. Sometimes, I’m tempted to pump it up and splatter some Schoolly D on their day. I probably will.

Q: I recall you saying on one of your shows that you hail from Southwest London. Which part I particular?

MA: I was born in London.

Q: Would you ever consider going back to doing a Electro/Hip Hop show, or is that long in the past now?

MA: No, I don’t think I would. In many ways, my peers and me, opened the door for another generation. It’s your turn now; to drop the bomb.

Q: Would you ever consider doing a compilation album of your favourite tracks played on the show? The music from that era is very sought after now, and there are many Old School Hip Hop compilations out there now.

MA: If someone asked me to, I would think about it – but, as you pointed out, there are already plenty available. Probably, I shall continue to do the one thing I’ve always tried to – and that, as you know, is practise being a little different, in some way. Therefore, if everyone else id doing it – invariably, I won’t. Anyway, what about bringing on the new players – let’s look for them.

Q: Mike Allen. Thanks very much for the time you have spent in answering these questions, is there any message you would like to pass on to the listeners of your show back then?

MA: Finally, four thousand words later, thank you to Jon Simmonds for giving me the opportunity to talk to you. His patience in waiting for me to write the answers was incredible – thanks, Jon. Thank you for following your heart, the ‘beats ‘n’ rhymes’ and believing in the music. For all my time as a DJ, I can promise you ’84 – ’88 was an experience the like of which you should have – a total blast.

We march – to the beat of a different drum.

Hold it … Now, hit it!

It’s like that – and that’s the way it is …

Yo Chuck!

Take it to the bridge. Take it to the bridge …

And the motorcade – sped on.

2002. Mike Allen. Different Drum Productions.