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Stafford,

Top Of The World.

The Tim Ashibende Interview, conducted by John Pugh

T.A.  At the time of Stafford I was a student, doing a three year degree.  I was there from the first 'Niter onwards, tho' I spent a month living in Israel early / mid Stafford, I'd imagine that apart from trips to the States and holidays I missed very few Stafford's as did Butch, we were definitely there for the first one, and we always went together and left together.  

J.P.  Do you have any specific memories of  Top Of The World in particular, especially the last night ?  

T.A.  One thing that sticks in my mind was that some of us used to get in early with Dave Thorley, Dim Dave, etc in a lift at the back of the club outside - I wonder if anyone remembers that ? On the subject of the last night, I must have gone to the last night but for whatever reason It doesn't stick in mind. I've talked this thru' with Butch and we both seem to think that it was a case of someone saying " Did you go to Stafford last week, and by the way did you know it was the last one ? " not like the last night at Wigan for instance, which I've got very clear memories of.  

J.P.  What about the Stafford DJ’s ?  

T.A.  I used to like some of the upstairs room guys, - Adey Pountains spot I always enjoyed pretty much, always good stuff. And in the main room Pat Brady's spot I always enjoyed, with things like The Out-a-Sights  " My Womans Love ", Jim Wensiora as well. Keb and Guy sporadically, I say that ( laughs ) 'cause both of them played some very dodgy tunes here and there. I 'll qualify that and say that they both played some great, great tunes and things actually which post Stafford I've come to love even more, tho' they certainly did play some shite. I view the D.J.'ing as a  mixed bag, which is how as I've said to you before John, is how I view Stafford Niters.   

J.P.  Were there any records they played which you wished you'd had ?  

T.A.  I'd love the Groovettes, which I still don't have. Naughty Boy, The Cairo's.  

J.P. On the subject of anthems, what records, when you hear them now make you think of Stafford ?

T.A. There's Johnny Rogers " Make a Change " which was one of Pat's, Donald Jenkins " Somebody Help Me " which was Guy's as I recall. The Limelight's " Don't Leave Me Baby on Uncle, which was covered up as Otis Pollard, which was originally played by Dave Withers, and later by Keb which I think was on an emidisc. The " Room full of Tears ", George Pepp, " Use it before you lose it ", Naughty Boy, Clyde McPhatter " Lonely People Can't Afford To Cry "  and many many more.  

J.P. On the subject of distinctly Stafford sounding records, and although I want to cover this in depth later, the who found what side of things, were there any specific factors which contributed to the amount of rarities that got played ?  

T.A. There were two big record collections which played a big part in what was played at Stafford. The first was Ian Levines collection, which had ended up at Bernie Goldings. It had been well and truly gone through for Traditional Northern by several people, John Manship and I had gone through it at Levines house, where the deal was if you bought so many they were a quid or two each. I got tons as did John. A few years later, as I said, it ended up with Bernie. Of course the style of Northern Soul had changed by then, so people were able to pull yet more stuff, as did Keb and Co . The second collection was Simon Sousanns. Again Ian Clark and I went through it at ` Colin Bee's ' ( Les McCutcheon ) when he had them all at his house, selling them for Simon. Again we raped it for Traditional Northern. I got stuff like Danny Monday for 5, Lillie Bryant for 12, Little Joe Roman for 25, etc. as someone had mis-priced them ! Again the same thing happened, styles change and later others found things in there to pull out and later D.J. with. These two were significant " loads " for Stafford and what was played there.  

J.P.  Several of the Top Of The World D.J.'s ain't around anymore, are they missed ?  

T.A. I would say the scene has lost out with the loss of some of the Stafford D.J.'s, and I'll tell you why. Adey Pountain for instance, he had some good records and he was what I'd call an intelligent collector. I actually think the scene is short on intelligent collectors and intelligent D.J.'s. He played a thinking mans spot. Also the scene has lost out losing Gary Rushbrooke. Actually Gary, I believe, has never been replaced, because he played a mixture of Newies and intelligent oldies. By and large that's not the case these days, you've got Butch who's THE Newies D.J. these days and then the oldies D.J.'s and then who else is there. You've got your D.J.'s in between like the Bob Hinsley's of this world and Pete Lowrie, they tend to play intelligent Oldies or Big records, Big Oldies, they don't actually play new records so I think Butch is out there on his own. And that's why I think Gary was kind of unique, I've often thought his shoes are worth filling, it's just a shame that no-one has ( yet ).I was fairly close to Gary record wise, a fair proportion of Gary's Newies came from me and Butch, we did feed him quite a lot of new records.  

J.P. Other venues around the same time ?  

T.A.  After Wigan my whole time frame seems to get confused, I remember I went to Rotherham, Stafford and
Warrington after Wigan shut, but I can't remember how that sat together time wise.  

J.P. How about really bad, or Just Not Northern records, that stick in your mind ?  

T.A. Far too many, I have to say, and I'm sorry to say, too many records played at Stafford were garbage. I'll qualify that with my biggest pet hate, because it's one I used to moan to Guy about at Stafford and that's Romance Watson. I'll give you my rationale on Romance Watson, basically as we all know, music's one of those things where if you play something enough, you can get them into anything. We've seen that previously in Northern Soul's history, as per Footsee and things like that. There's no doubt about it there's a lot of psychology involved in records going big, persuading a crowd to accept a record, which obviously good D.J.'s know only too well. And the way I view Romance Watson is it's the kind of record I'd have kicked across the warehouse floor forever and a day as being just a middle of the road Tony Bennett sounding, big orchestration, New York rubbish. I'll be honest for the Northern Soul tag to be applied to that record, I don't think it says a lot for the scene in some respects. It sort of reminds me of  ` The Kings New Clothes ' scenario ( laughs )  aren't these lovely clothes / isn't this a good record ! it's terrible, if you analyse that record by any criteria, I say any criteria, I mean other than the Stafford criteria, It's not Northern, It's questionable whether it's even Soulful. I suppose some people would say it has Soulful elements, but that's not a Soul record. Because what it is, is a ballad, and what became known in the Stafford era as a beat ballad. And as I said to you the other day, Stafford was the catalyst for the birth, and the acceptance of, the beat ballad, and for that I'll never forgive it ! - because by and large I can't stand them. Northern Soul as we used to know it spawned the odd beat ballad, but they were played intelligently, in their place as ending records, and they were well known, The Drifter, Walk With A Winner, you never heard those records except at the end of the spot, and that was the place for them, the only place that they ever had any context, and they were seen as records that kinda stood outside the general pattern of things. That all changed at Stafford, and it changed because of records like Romance Watson. All of a sudden you had a generation of kids that would start going to Niters, like Stafford, hear that sound and think that was the norm for Northern Soul. You can imagine when you play for them something like Gwen Owens, where does that put everything, it's like well that's not Northern, 'cause this is Northern, Romance Watson's Northern. I felt Stafford was guilty of that. I felt Stafford got people far too accustomed to the Romance Watson's of this world, sound, pace, beat, and everything else. I'd say the scene has never recovered from that. With a few exceptions things have slowed up. I don't mind things slowing up when they are mid tempo and quality, but to me records like Romance Watson were a joke, and I've never changed my view on records like that, I've never come round on Romance Watson, and I've never been afraid to say I think they're garbage, and I think in any critical assessment of anything, whether it's a group of paintings, sculptures, anything you have to be prepared to separate the wood from the trees. You have to be able to pick out the good from the bad, instead of just saying, “We liked this thing or this place, so we have to say everything about it was great " The fact is it wasn't, there was some shit played at Stafford. Another one was Chuck Wells ` The Love Knot ', now that's a terrible, terrible record. There were others that I really hated, that had that Romance Watson sound. Of course we both know, in fact we all know if you'd have played anybody Romance Watson a few years earlier you'd have got laughed out of the room. They'd have just said " Do us a favour, that's Tony Bennett, What's that got to do with this scene ? But when you get a prestigious D.J. like Guy saying " This is great, this is the next big record "  you can make the record big, and that's what he did. All credit to him for making a piece of shit, big. 'Cause that's what it was. And I say that, knowing Guy's a good friend of mine, I know his contribution to Stafford and the scene in general is a huge one, and these are not things I haven't said to Guy's face many many times, both during and since Stafford. And that's how I view those sort of sounds, okay !  

J.P. Any stories about records you sold or bought at Stafford, did you ever get caught out ? And are there any you regret selling, 'cause they've become really difficult to replace, or too expensive ?  

T.A. I had an absolutely knackered ‘Fascinating Girl’ which I gave to Rob Marriott, for the princely sum of, you wanna guess ?? - seven pounds, yep seven pounds. Almost everything's rocketed in price, so everything decent I sold at Stafford has gone up and up.  

J.P. Cover ups were part and parcel of most 'Niters, a few Stafford ones have good stories attached, any you recall ?  

T.A. They always used to make me laugh Stafford Cover up's, because they got to be so exotic, Guy and I used to have this standing joke. I used to say to him, what's this, is it Little Eddie Somebody. His cover up's always seemed to be so flamboyant. Little Eddie Something and the Fabulous Somebody's, featuring So- and So. We used to wind each other up over it, have a laugh over it. I know Guy's got a funny story about The Albanians, you know The Masquaders, that's Guy's story you need to ask him about that, he tells it so well. I always liked that one. Also I remember Keb had a good one " The Experienced Heartmenders " , which turned out to be Donald Jenkins ‘Lucky Day’" , which actually got re-released later as ‘My Lucky Day’ which I thought was quite inventive, as I'm sure you know, it's a line from The Del-Larks' Job Opening  " I got a job opening, uhh,  for an Experienced Heartmender "  

J.P. Are there any characters from Top Of The World that you'll always associate with the place ?  

T.A. I suppose Pete Lawson stands out  

J.P.  A question I've been asking most people is, if you were to pick a Fantasy Football type of thing, only as a D.J. line up for the best  'Niter ever, would any / many of the Stafford Jocks at their height have made your selection ?  

T.A. Based on the records they had at the time, which may not be the records they have now, I'd have included Jim Wensiora, Adey Pountain, Guy's always got a contribution to make D.J. wise, and maybe even Keb  

J.P. What were the good things about Stafford ?  

T.A. A lot of interest in off the wall things, lesser known records, gave the scene a good regular focus, at a time when it didn't really have one. They placed the emphasis on New Discovery's which was a good thing because that had gone stale elsewhere, and I suppose it changed peoples concept of what a Northern Soul record could be, and that's good when you think of things like the Groovettes, bad when you think of things like Romance Watson.  

J.P. Okay then, what's the bad things from Stafford ?  

T.A. I don't really remember their being an atmosphere at Stafford. There were a lot of nights at Stafford that were very flat, and I'll tell you what it was as I recall. When things were upstairs, because there were a lot of people crammed into a small room there was a brilliant atmosphere, there was a buzz about the place. Everybody was anticipating another good night, records were changing hands, everybody was excited, people were dancing, shouting and drinking. Then you'd go downstairs and you'd got that same number of people in a much bigger space, and it seemed to go flat. And there were some strange spots, some that were great, but it never seemed to flow. There never seemed to be that atmosphere, something tangible, which you could touch. It just didn't seem to be there. People dotted about in this big room having a so-so time. I'll say I had a good time with certain people there, like Butch and Guy and friends, I didn't really get off on the night at Stafford like I did at other Niters. I have some very mixed views about Stafford. I don't particularly hold it dear, I had some good times, and I have to say I didn't miss many, and also I suppose I was a key contributor to the thing as such in a number of ways, maybe I'm to attached to Wigan as a Niter, in terms of the records played, records for sale, the atmosphere, Stafford just didn't live up to that. Perhaps I'm criticising it for something it was never meant to be, I'm sure it was never meant to be another Wigan, but it was lacking that atmosphere, though I do know other people see it differently to me and that's fine. "My overall criticism of Stafford was that it opened up peoples ears to too many different types of sounds, I don't mean that to sound purist and narrow minded I just think that the reason the Northern Scene had been so good was that a lot of shit had been rejected, I know a lot of shit was played as well, 'cause of course it went through the White Pop phase, and that was crap as well but people by and large seemed to know what to throw away and that was lost at Stafford and Post-Stafford, and it just seems that anything can be entertained as Northern nowadays, with not only beat ballads, but R & B Beat Ballads, and it's getting worse and worse, and I'm sorry I do hold Stafford responsible before that, because it definitely wasn't in the frame before that, it might have been on peoples tapes, but not at a Niter, played as dance music. I do remember it went through a really good phase when Guy, Chris King and Gilly had been to Detroit and scored all that good stuff. Material like  ‘In The Pocket’ and ‘BackStreets’, brilliant. A good time for the music around that time of the year.  

J.P. Is there a lesson to be learnt from Stafford ?  

T.A. I think with Niters, and its a lesson that the Northern Scene hasn't learnt, and this is a well known saying in life generally, that it's very difficult in life to replicate good times, any good times, and I think it's no less true with Northern. Why when a club shuts, people want to replicate, I don't know. Obviously I say that, and I know I love Wigan, my times their and the records played, but I know it's gone, and will never return. Unfortunately it's history, no Niter will be like Wigan, subsequent Niters will have their own character and their own characteristics, be they good or bad, be they pleasant and appealing or otherwise. Stafford had it's own character, it's own feel, and whatever that was It's gone. There won't be a ' Son of Stafford ' , Bretby Soul Nites were Bretby, and had it's own character, and I can distinguish the two. The Northern Scene by now should have learnt that when a club has gone, it's gone. Leave it, start another one, with it's own character, it's own music, feel and atmosphere.  

J.P. Would you include Top Of The World in your list of  top ten venues of all time ?  

T.A. Although I had some good times there, and it's always good to be around good people like the Dave Thorley's, Butch, Keb and Guy's of this world, but I'd have had a nice time with those people anywhere. For some strange reason Stafford never figures much in my thinking about the Northern Scene, sure I was there, got the tee-shirt, saw the Video, but I don't know. And actually answering these questions have made me think a lot more about Stafford. perhaps I was just too distressed at what was going on around me, I was just too critical of it all, although I knew there were some good things going on around me, some good records being played. To this day I think there was too much conning going on, too many bad records which shouldn't have been anywhere near the turntables, and I just thought that was a sad thing. It saddened me to see three and four quid records that were crap being made into thirty quid records that were still crap. I've got no problem with a three quid record that was good being made into a big record, that hasn't happened enough, but to me the opposite happened to much at Stafford. I suppose out of respect to people who hold Stafford so dear, and I suppose out of respect to Dave Thorley and Chris King who did their best to run it, and the people who contributed much to make it a good night for the people who went, something in peoples minds, that I have to put it in my top ten somewhere, but it wouldn't be my natural instinct to do so otherwise. My all time top Niter would be Wigan (obviously) Yate would be very close behind, after that I don't really know. Oddfellows was a good Niter, although it had a limited run, Hinckley was alright but a bit strange, but no stranger than Stafford. I'd have to leave it at that, but thinking about it, it'd probably make it into my Top Ten by default, 'cause there isn't ten Niters anyway that I went too, 'cause I never went to the Torch or The Wheel so they're out.  

J.P.  If  there is one record from Stafford I could give you now, what would you chose, and if you can't make it one, no more than three ?  

T.A. A nice thought, I suppose The Groovettes, or The Cairo's on Shrine, or possibly Guy's " Naughty Boy ", one of those.  

J.P. Finally could you clear up a couple of things for me. Was Little Ann, The Combinations and The C.O.D.'s genuine records / Acetates ? And who was the artist on All Of My Life, was it really The Ringleaders, or was that just a C/U name ?  

T.A. Little Ann was a genuine Ric-Tic acetate. The Combinations and C.O.D.'s were real released records. As far as I know they were file copies from the actual record company.  Dave Thorley spun All of my Life by the Ringleaders and another one from Acetates.   J.P.  Thanks Mate, You've given me some food for thought there !

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