Interview / Ashley Beedle / North Street West

DJ / producer Ashley Beedle never went away, but during last year’s lockdown he seemed to be super prolific – pushing him back into the dancing public’s eye. Teamed with Darren Morris, week after week there was something wonderful suffixed with the new tag, North Street West. Lady Blackbird, Glenn Davis, Groove Armada, Kenny Lynch, Rare Pleasure, and Ghetto Priest, all got the terrific treatment. The duo, alongside founding member Rob Mello, also resurrected the Black Science Orchestra to remix The Spaces Between`s forthcoming single, Ghosts. All of the above, to my ears, touched by genius. 

With a production career that dates back to 1990, and one DJing that stretches even further than that, Ashley might be best known as a former member of much-loved ground-breaking UK outfits, X-press2 and The Ballistic Brothers. However, he’s also run countless underground labels; Afro Art, Black Sunshine, On Delancy Street / Delancy Mass Of Black, Modern Artifacts, Out Hear Audio, Soundboy Entertainment, War Box, and most recently Heavy Disco – making and championing, blurring and blending, music from a wide range of genres. There`s a whole lot of history here. 

Where are you from?

I was born in Hemel Hempstead, and raised in Harrow.

Where are you currently based? 

By the sea on the South Coast.

How and when did you first get involved in playing and making music?

Playing music: My dad bought me a mobile disco unit at the age of 16

Making music: 1990 as co-producer on Psychic Vitamins 12”

Why did your dad buy you the set up? Was your dad big into music himself?

Without my dad, I wouldn’t be doing what I do. He was a massive music fan – from Bach to Big Youth. The DJ set up was a birthday surprise. He must’ve sensed something in me!

Did you work in record shops?

Yes. Roy the Roach and Pepe’s Quaff Records in Finsbury Park, Black Market Records in Soho, Flying Records in Kensington Market.

I thought Quaff was over West, near Ladbroke Grove?

It started in Finsbury Park. Trust me! I used to go in there as a punter when I lived in Crouch End, just up the road. Roy offered me a Saturday job.

Were you involved in local sound systems? 

I was a box boy for Stateside Sound System, who played reggae and soul, and then joined Shock Sound System, spinning soul, hip hop, and house. 

Is Stateside Sound still going?

No.

Who else was involved in Shock? Are any of them still involved in music? 

Dean and Stan Zepherin are still involved in music – as Zepherin Saint and Stan Zeff. Cecil Peters and Paul Denton have gone into management – not music though. Ricardo Da Force is upstairs – Rest In Peace. 

Where was your first DJ gig? What kind of music were you playing?

It was Rayners Lane Estate Community Hall. It was 1978, so soul, reggae, disco.

Prior to acid house, where were you going out, what clubs and parties? 

From 1976 onwards – the Royalty in Southgate, Scamps in Hemel Hempstead, Bobby McGees / Circles in South Harrow, Crackers, Global Village, Electric Ballroom, Hammersmith Palais, Dominion, Dingwalls, Wealdstone Co-op disco, blues parties….too many to mention!

Were there any particular DJs that you were into?

Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson, George Power, Paul Murphy, Norman Jay, Saxon Sound System.

Was pirate radio important? Did you ever have a show on pirate radio?

I had a brief moment with STUDIO FM. I was also on a station with Coldcut – which I can’t remember the name of – as part of Shock Sound System.

Pirate radio was hugely important because it broke the stranglehold that the BBC had on the airwaves. It promoted the then underground sounds of reggae, soul and hip hop – which never got mainstream airing apart from ‘specialist’ shows, usually late at night. Look at Radio 1Xtra now and the proliferation of dance music stations!! Without pirate radio taking on the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), you wouldn’t have the vibrant radio scene that you do now. DBC (Dread Broadcasting Corporation) was ground breaking and still very close to my heart.

Can you remember the first time you heard a house record?

I was with Paul Denton from Shock Sound System and I heard Adonis` No Way Back. I thought it was a sped up reggae record, but Paul said ‘This is house’. This coincided with the Top Of The Pops appearance of Farley Jackmaster Funk and Darryl Pandy – with the legendary Love Can’t Turn Around performance by Darryl.

When Acid House kicked off, what parties were you going to? 

I didn’t really go to parties as a punter as I was too busy DJing with Shock Sound System at house parties and gigs.

Did you DJ for RIP at The Clink? I seem to remember you telling a story about Fingers Inc`s Bring Down The Walls, or have I remembered that wrong?

As Shock Sound System we ruled the back room at Clink Street. When Fingers Inc, Robert Owens` Bring Down The Walls came on one night, someone literally hacked through the wall into the main room with a screwdriver – no mean feat!! I guess the walls were so porous with the sweat – the back room was a sweat box – that it wasn’t too difficult, but….! I’m not sure what substances were involved….

How did you meet Terry Farley, Andrew Weatherall, Rocky and Diesel, all the Boy`s Own folks?

I met everyone at Phil (Perry) and Fiona’s (Crawford) Queens Sunday Afternoon club in Windsor at the reservoir. Happy Days.

Did Ibiza play a part in your story?

I was resident with X-Press2 at Pacha, and DJ’d extensively from the `90s onwards at Space and Amnesia. They were memorable nights – and days!

When did you first start making music in earnest? What kind of equipment did you have?

After the Psychic Vitamins sessions, as a producer, in 1992 with Where Were You, and then as Black Science Orchestra with Rob Mello, Danny Arno and John Howard. I used the equipment in Danny Arno’s studio but it’s nearly 30 years ago so I don’t remember much. There was an Akai sampler involved….and lots of records and a DAT.

As well as Danny’s studio, we also used State 51, both in Bermondsey. Tracks normally took about a week to make if you went prepared with vinyl and ideas.

How did you meet the other Black Science Orchestra members – Rob Mello, Uschi Classen, and Marc Woolford?

I met Rob through his sister. Uschi was introduced via Danny, and Marc Woolford was initially one of my engineers.

For ignorant people, such as myself, those early Black Science Orchestra records were mind blowing, a revelation. I was totally unaware of disco`s culture of edits – one of the foundations that house is built on. How did you learn about this culture? Had you heard tapes of Ron Hardy for example?

I was really inspired by tapes of Ron Hardy – which I was getting when I worked in Black Market Records in 1990. I was also getting hold of Tony Humphries tapes –  recordings of his radio shows from New York. Someone brought them into the shop and that’s how we found out!

Your edits of Blue Magic’s Welcome To The Club and Isaac Hayes I Can’t Turn Around in particular seem to be tributes Hardy. 

They are complete tributes to Ron Hardy – in my own way. Saluting the Maestro.

Where were you “digging” for records and samples? What shops did you regularly visit?

Cheapo Cheapo’s in Soho, Reckless Records in Islington, all branches of Record and Tape Exchange, Rayners Lane Record and Disco Centre – and multiple record shops around the world when I was on tour with either X-Press2 or solo.

As far as DJing is concerned can you list some of your residencies?

Cream (Liverpool), Fabric, The Cross (London), Pacha (Ibiza), Clink Street (Shock Sound System), Notting Hill Carnival (Shock Sound System), Electric Chair (Manchester) and a place in Wolverhampton with the Capoeira Twins – a wicked gig but I can’t remember the name of the night (Rob – the night was called Stump Juice – big thank you to Stuart Robinson!)

From the outside it seems that you quickly focused on production. Is this true?

During the `90s and 2000s it was 50 / 50, DJing and production. In the studio all week and then DJing all weekend. Now – due to COVID – it`s all production. 

Almost immediately you seemed to get commissioned to do hundreds of remixes – all through the `90s.  For many, including me, your productions kind of defined the time. You must have been in the studio 24 / 7. Where were these remixes done – a variety of studios? Did you end up having your own studio? What does “North Street West” refer to?

I worked solidly at State 51 in the `90s, then I got my own studio in Hornsey, North London, and after that, I migrated to Hammersmith with X-Press2 – where we had a studio near the Broadway. After that, it was down to Brighton to Darren Morris’ first studio. Then Darren moved to the Old School House, then North Street in St Leonard’s. North Street has now moved West to another secret location in St Leonards – hence, North Street West.

How did you go about tackling Strings of Life?

The version I worked on was on a tape reel – a live take that Carl Craig and Derrick May had recorded. I used segments from the recording to create my own version.

What was it like to remix The Rolling Stones?

Awesome – a defining moment in my remix career. I had a couple of phone calls with Mick – a very lovely man who was enthusiastic about the project and he liked to be kept in the loop.

Why was it X-Press 2 when there were 3 of you?

Terry Farley came up with the name. It was X-Press2 because it was originally only going to be Rocky and Diesel – with me as a silent producer / partner. Terry wanted it to sound like S-Xpress (laughs). Great marketing skills.

Did the success of Lazy change your life?

Absolutely. It catapulted the group and the track into the global psyche where the tune has remained ever since. Lazy is a happy albatross.

What made you decide to leave the group?

Work commitments.

When were the Ballistic Brothers “born”?

Me, Dave Hill, Rocky, Diesel and Uschi all collaborated on the Ballistic Brothers projects  in around 1994. The first ‘incarnation’ was the Ballistic Brothers vs the Eccentric Afros – Kerry Draper, our brilliant graphic designer, spelt ‘Ballistic’ with one L on the front cover of the first release.

Balllistic Brothers Eccentric Afros

How long did it take you write those amazing London Hooligan Soul sleeve notes?

It was a stream of consciousness. One big spliff and about an hour.

london hooligan soul text

Have you done any other writing?

Song writing of course, plus some poetry, some magazine articles.

How did you meet Dave Jarvis, and when did you both start Heavy Disco? 

I’d say Queens again, but Dave might say different. We really started hanging out when he was the manager of Beggars Banquet Records in Kingston. We started ‘Heavy Disco’ in the early noughties…

How often did you throw the Heavy Disco parties? Did you have any regular venues?

The North London Tavern in Kilburn. 

The Heavy Disco play-lists are pretty eclectic, is there a “concept” behind the music played?

If it makes you happy, it gets played. Remember, Heavy Makes You Happy.

Would you be able to give me list of some Heavy Disco favourites?

No – you’d have to have been there.

You seemed to keep a low profile for a while but work like your remix of Mama`s Unmask Me made people very aware of you again.

I was busy in the studio, and still DJing, but it was thanks to Andrew Weatherall playing that tune – as the last tune of the Convenanza Festival in Carcassone – that changed everything up a gear. People still come up to me who were at the festival with a faraway look in their eyes….

I mean, you never really went away but your series of recent remixes have really put you back in the spotlight – incredible, amazing, reworks of Groove Armada, Lady Blackbird, The Spaces Between, Glenn Davis, and Ghetto Priest. 

I think lockdown has focussed everyone back onto music. Everything you’ve mentioned here was completed remotely with Darren in St Leonards, and me in the Soul Bunker….there were lots of draft versions and notes before ending up with the final versions. It’s been a learning curve!

How involved are you with your wife, Jo Wallace’s, Ramrock Records and F*CLR Records?

Jo owns and runs 5 labels – Ramrock, Ramrock Blue, Ramrock Red, Ramrock Retro and the house label, F*CLR. I become involved when she asks me and Darren for a ‘North Street’ remix, and more recently, it was Jo who suggested that Black Science Orchestra do the remixes for The Spaces Between`s Ghosts E.P. Great A&R skills.

Do you still go looking for music – new and old?

Absolutely – new music is the core of my ‘Heavy Disco Spectacular’ shows on Worldwide FM. There is so much good music out there waiting to be heard. It still gives me a buzz finding a fresh producer or track. I still actively collect reggae vinyl and because of Discogs and Bandcamp, I can crate dig from the comfort of my front room.

When does the Heavy Disco Spectacular go out? What day? What time? 

Around the 4th Tuesday of each month. 6-8pm. People can follow me on Mixcloud to catch up.

Could you give me any examples of things that you’ve recently found?

I get to hear a ton of dubplates via Jo, since people submit demos to her for the labels. Just a few names to look out for – Maxine Scott, Nicole Smit, Gratts, Substance Abuse, Darren Price, Mechanical Man, Digital Liquid, Kameelah Waheed, Andrew Sant, Movers International, Joseph Malik……the list goes on!

I heard a rumour that at one point you sold all of your vinyl. Is this true? 

No. That`s fake news.

I know that reggae is important to you. Could you give any examples of new reggae releases that you’re into?

The new Cornell Campbell cover version of Black Man Living In A White Man’s World is outstanding. And Ghetto Priest’s forthcoming Big People Music LP.

What can we look forward to from you in the near future?

A ton of production, remixes, radio shows and more from the Black Science Orchestra and my solo projects…..watch this space.

With countless aliases, collaborations, and labels – a catalogue full of dance floor classics – is there anything musically that you haven’t done that you’d like to do?

Film soundtracks – but I’m sure that will materialize at some point. And a collaboration with Kenny and Louie – a big classic MAW production.

The recent North Street West remixes of The Spaces Between and Glenn Davis are available over at F*CLR, while that great Ghetto Priest rework can be found on sister label, Ramrock. 

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