Eddie Piller

Posted: April 19, 2012 in DJ
Tags: , , , ,

Norman Jay passed me onto Eddie Piller, the boss of Acid Jazz records.  He runs the label from the back of an antiques shop in the East End, in a room that is plastered with a million things to tantalise your eyes. On the walls are vintage gig posters, pictures of mods old and new, snapshots of Eddie out DJing, often pictured with famous faces who’ve come to see what gems he’s going to educate their ears with.  Talking to him, I got a sense that he’s kind of an Encyclopedia Pilleria about a certain kind of music, as he says ‘black or black influenced music from America up until 1985’ but it was also clear his tastes are very broad.  Metalheadz ran Sunday nights at his club the Blue Note and if you have a listen to his latest signing The Janice Graham Band, who he is wildly enthusiastic about – they seem a long way on the musical spectrum from Jamiroquai, who he discovered.  I promised him I wouldn’t but I almost wanted to post this as an audio interview as he’s a great teller of stories in a wonderful East End gravelly tone.  In any case you can hear him (and expose yourself to some musical treasures) on his Modcast.

PMO – So how do you know Norman Jay?

EP – Before I set up the Acid Jazz label with Gilles Peterson, Norman Jay was one of the pioneering UK warehouse party DJs. He mixed soul and funk and jazz in a way that directly led to the rare groove explosion (he even coined the term) – I was initially a fan, then a friend and eventually a contemporary.

PMO – Introduce yourself.

EP – I’m 48 yrs old and I’m a broadcaster, writer and record producer.

PMO – What are you first and foremost?

EP – It goes in waves.  I was a record producer until the mid 90s and I found that life was very hard, 18 hour days, then I discovered a slight talent for broadcasting.  Since then I’ve broadcasted on stations like 6Music, Q Radio, Jazz FM and currently I do a podcast which is a chat show.  I also DJ all over the world.

PMO – Is there one of those things that you prefer over the others?

EP- No I like writing; I’ve written an eight part series on youth culture for ITV.  I suppose what I enjoy most is broadcasting, working as a presenter.

PMO – Have you got a family?

EP – Yep, I’m married with two children.

PMO – So, how do you fit it all in?

EP – It’s very difficult.  I’ve got an understanding partner.  I’ve always done this for a job, since I was 16 years old, my wife is more than used to that fact.   She’s heard me DJ before so she doesn’t particularly want to come every time! Occasionally she comes.  This is what I do for a job and it’s what I’ve always done and she knows that.  Is that a bad thing?

PMO – Not at all.  I think if you meet someone and they’ve got a passion for something, that can be quite attractive.  Do you have to spend a lot of time away?  You mentioned travelling with the DJing.

EP – I’m winding it down now.  For the last 15 years, I DJ’ed all over Europe most weekends but I’ve found the travelling hard.

PMO – Do you end up doing a six day week then, what with running the label during the week?

EP – It depends.  When I get bookings I want to do, for example, I did Pele’s birthday party in February, I’m not going to turn that down!  On the other hand I don’t want to DJ in North Germany on a Friday night, I can’t be arsed.

PMO – To rewind a bit, you were born into, as you describe it, an East End mod family.  Your Mum ran the Small Faces fan club.  Given that, do you think you would ever have done anything else but work in the music business?

EP – No, although I don’t know how much it had to do with my Mum and her job. I grew up in a family that liked music but just like everyone else’s parents, my parents gave up on youth culture early and got a proper job.  So I didn’t necessarily develop my love of music from that.  I think I got it from John Peel, from listening to the radio as a kid, and then getting into punk as a 15 year old. Then moving from punk into Mod, 1978, 1979, The Jam, all that kind of stuff.

PMO – How does that connect up?  What I know of punk is it’s all quite fast, angry music and you could argue the black soul the Mods were into is almost all about love in a way.

EP – Yeah but Mod has been going since 1958.  My path into Mod was the Mod revival, bands like The Jam, The Chords, Secret Affair.  That way of life, going to see bands all the time.  Gradually the mod scene developed, R&B, Jazz, Soul music.  DJs on the radio like Peter Young, who was on Capital, he made us listen to different kinds of music and you grow and you evolve and you realise that the best music that’s ever been made is from black America or black influenced music from 1959 to about 1985.

PMO – It’s interesting that you came full circle then from your Mum being with a mod band, you heading away from that into punk and then coming back to Mod.

EP – But what were the Faces doing?  They were doing Marvin Gaye covers. The whole Mod thing is a constant…it’s a part of British culture, it’s been through five or six generations, from when the Mods were into jazz, people like Tubby Hayes in 1958 at the Flamingo (a Soho club 1950s/1960s) or The Jam in 1979 or Oasis in 1994.   It’s constantly evolving.

PMO – So can you define it then?  What is Mod?

EP – There’s a much better person than me who gave the answer.  Peter Meaden, who was the first manager of The Who, he was pretty much the only person to distill the Mod ethos – expressionism as art as commercialism as youth culture as money.  Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever was rumoured to be based on Peter Meaden because Nik Cohn’s story (which became SNF) drew on memories of going out in Shepherd’s Bush, where Meaden was a ‘face’.  Jimmy in Quadrophenia is also supposed to be him.   So, two of the most important films about youth culture featured Peter Meaden as the hero.  Meaden said, when interviewed by the NME, that ‘Mod living is an aphorism for clean living under difficult circumstances’.  Now that means nothing on one level, but it’s also the totality of Mod.  You can’t define it, but you what it is if you know what it is.

The Who do Mod.

PMO – How did you make your first wage?

EP – I started a fanzine in 1980 when I was still at school and by 1982, issue 10, we were selling 10000 copies at 30p each.  I’d negotiated with a friend of my Dad’s for an office in Dagenham on an industrial estate and I used to drive there every day on my Lambretta with a bloke called Terry Rawlings who became an author.  We ran the fanzine together for a few years until I got spotted by Stiff Records.  Stiff wanted me for my ideas and they were the holy grail of indie labels at the time.  (Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and Madness were some of the artists on Stiff back then).

PMO – Have you never been in the position where you’ve had to consider a regular 9 to 5?

EP- My first 9 to 5 was for a record label in the West End for a year and a half in 1980. I was a motorcycle messenger and finished as head of promotions and that taught me everything I needed to know about music.  That was the only real job I’ve ever had. I’ve consulted for labels; I did work for MCA for a month but I didn’t like the ‘major’ structure so I left straight away.  They gave me my own label at Stiff and I worked for them until they closed.

PMO – Acid Jazz had it’s zenith in the mid 90s. From that are you now financially secure?  Do you have to work?

EP – I made money, but I didn’t make  a lot of money.  A lot of other people made a lot more money than me!  But I live in a nice house and everything’s fine.

PMO – You want to keep working or you need to keep working?

EP – I need to keep working.  It’s very difficult for an independent record label to make any money in a time when 75% of music is stolen from the internet.  I have a label thats been going 25 years with a catalogue of 6000 songs which is a fantastic UK indie label but it’s very difficult to make money.  I will work as a DJ or a consultant or whatever because it promotes the brand and the label that is Acid Jazz.  We’ve had our best year for 15 years!  I don’t know why…there’s a focus on British things at the moment in retail and in quality terms and we are one of the few British indies thats never done a deal with a major.   Maybe people are realising that they value things that are genuine and I feel that we  do that, whether  people get the music off the internet for nothing or not.

PMO – How do you feel about people stealing your stuff from the net?

EP – What can you feel?  There’s nothing I can do about it. All I can do if offer quality product – heavyweight vinyl, nice packaging, 16 page booklets and hope that people will want the real thing.  I can’t stop someone in Russia selling my product for 10 cents.  I don’t earn that way, the band don’t earn and 75% of the industry doesn’t earn that way.  In three years time if this continues there might not be an industry…if there is it’ll be a cottage industry. The sad thing is that EMI, the last great British record label is just about to be bought by a French company so we will have no British majors anymore.  The Beatles record label!

PMO – Why do you think they’ve all been sold?

EP – Everyone wants to cash in!  You’ve got shares, you’ve got ownership, you want to sell it, get your money, get out.

PMO – Do you think record labels were too slow to get with download culture?

EP – Yeah!  Not the indies, the corporates.  They could have done a deal with Napster which could have saved the industry at the time but instead they prosecuted and stopped it.  You’ll have to check this but I think that Napster were  prepared to work with this business model but the industry turned their backs on it  and the next thing we know is if you can’t buy it online from EMI, you’re going to get it from Russia and then everyone’s doing it!  It’s a generational thing.  My son is 19.  He listens to music on Youtube and then buys it.  My daughter is 16.  She listens to music and sees no reason why she shouldn’t just download it for free.  She doesn’t see why she has to pay for it even with the job I do.

PMO – She must have met people that depend on that money.

EP – Yes but she doesn’t see it.  Click here, get that is what she sees.  My son is like, ‘I’ll look at that, I like that, I’ll buy it’.  It must have happened in that gap between 19 and 16.   When was that?  Eight years ago?  I don’t know.   It’s tough.  Anyway, I’m ranting now…

PMO – Acid Jazz was most on my radar during the mid 90s.  Are those bands still with you now?

EP – We still have the catalogue of some of them but with all bands you have a window.  That window can be one record or it can be five records; five records takes six or seven years. The period you’re talking about is 20 years ago so we have  a constant turnover of bands.  We have a fantastic band at the moment called The Janice Graham Band, they’re like The Specials meets The Happy Mondays, the biggest thing I’ve signed since Jamiroquai, they’re going to be enormous.  I love it, all their songs are about murder, growing up on a council estate, going to prison.  They’re all 18 years old and there’s no one called Janice Graham in the name , it’s an anti fame name.

PMO – What I was going to ask you about the older bands is, when they’ve had their moment in the sun, is that a kick in the teeth for them?  How do they cope when their fame dwindles, when their record sales dwindle?

EP – We’re in the ego business.  I’ve had to put up with ten years of the most insane unfashionability but we like what we do and when you become massive worldwide, which Acid Jazz was, there’s a period when you’re untouchable.  Over the last ten years I’ve seen things build up again as people are becoming bored of (A) manufactured pop, which is dominating the charts at the moment and (B) the inaccessible nature of British urban music which to the fan base of kids who like Acid Jazz, black and white kids who are into funk and soul, they’re finding it difficult to get into. So gradually the pendulum has swung back in favour of what we do, which is a mixture of jazz, funk, soul and mod stuff.   It’s been a long time for us, but it’s the same for bands.  The Brand New Heavies – they’re still going, they still get X amount of money for a gig.  It’s terrible when everyone goes ‘You’re shit’ but that’s life!

PMO – A lot of people would have given up.  What kept you going?

EP –  Why would I give up?  I had a successful business.  I’m in the business of selling copyright, exploiting copyright in any way possible which means adverts, it means music on the radio, it means selling records…whatever.   We’ve had a very steady business to our core market.  Every several years there is an increase in the core market when it becomes fashionable.    The core market has never fallen to the point where it’s a waste of time.  We cater to those people who are into us and five years later we do something that’s really big and everyone goes ‘Fuck me! I forgot about them.’

PMO – To change tack, it could be said that when you opened your club The Blue Note in 1993, you changed a part of London.  At that time in Hoxton you could have got a one bedroom flat for £50K…

EP – No you could have got it for £30K!  My parents are from Bethnal Green Road.  When I phoned my Dad in 1992 and said, ‘I’m going to buy a club in Hoxton’ he told me not to do it.  He thought it the most dangerous area of London.  He said ‘It’s bomb sites, it’s fucked, do not go there’.

PMO – Because people were getting mugged?

EP – It was a horrible nasty racist area. The last white working class ghetto like (mentions another part of London).  We bought the club, spent a million pounds on it and it brought in black, white and Asian all together for the first time, it was very successful.  There was no trouble, but there was trouble with the residents.  Almost immediately the council wanted us to close because they preferred emptiness, nothing, whereas we’d bought this art thing in and then people started to move into the area and then gradually the whole square got gentrified.  The council were terrified about people coming in at night.  We had the first 5am licence in London, were massively successful, playing non house music to people who wanted to go out.  It was a ground breaking thing that won ‘Best Club of the Millennium’ in the Time Out Awards.  It was the best thing I ever did, but the council didn’t like it.  As the area got more gentrified, the new gentry started to complain about the people queueing up.  Now look!  They got rid of us. They took us to court and lost but changed the by-law in the square which put the Blue Note in a residential area.  The 333 survived because it was outside the square.

PMO – I asked Norman Jay this question: do you ever want a day off from listening to music?

EP – Yeah, I have many.  I don’t listen to music in my spare time.  I listen to Talk Radio…

PMO – But you’re still listening to something.  You don’t ever have a day off where you don’t want to hear anything?

EP – I read a lot, about two books a week.  I have a bit of a fetish with a particular type of book.  I read historical military fiction…not necessarily military but y’know, Flashman was my big introduction to reading and I try and read things in the style of George MacDonald Fraser or C S Forester (who wrote ‘The African Queen’).  It’s massive escapism from my life.  The floating world of the captain who is the dictator on his ship, I find it fascinating.  And archaeology.  

PMO – Doing that yourself?

EP – I have tried to be an archaeologist.  I haven’t got ‘A’ levels and the foundation course I did wasn’t sufficient enough for me to be able to do archaeology so I didn’t do it.  But I’m fascinated by ancient history and comparative religion.

PMO – Would you say you’re happier now, running Acid Jazz at the level it is now, or when it was at it’s zenith?

EP – Fucking now! Yeah, come on…

PMO – Because?

EP – My life was insane back then.  I was producing five or six days a week for 16 hours a day which was next to my office.  I had 60 staff, four premises, a nightclub, two studios, a magazine…it was insane.  We were turning over six or seven million pounds a year but I had no time for myself and it probably made me ill towards the end.  I got to the stage in 1998 when The Blue Note closed when I said ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’. I stopped it all, continued with the label in a much smaller way, got focused and started doing other things like consulting for other people, doing radio.  I did 6Music for three years, which was really enjoyable.   I enjoyed presenting, did a bit for TV.

PMO – What kind of illness did you get?

EP – I had a type of pneumonia called mycoplasma pneumonia which is infectious.  I caught it because I moved to a very old house and I was doing renovations and a load of bird shit fell onto me and I nearly died through that but it was alright in the end.

PMO – Were you scared?

EP – I never thought for one moment I was going to die!  You always woke up thinking ‘Oh I’ll be alright….ooh,hang on, it’s hard breathing.’

PMO – This brings me nicely to my last question – what would you want written on your gravestone?

EP – I have a Latin motto.  Recently I have decided that I am East End aristocracy…no, not really.  I wanted a latin motto I could stick on the top of headed paper.  The one I’ve chosen is In Adversis Puritas, which  means purity through adversity.  A friend of mine from school is now a professor of Latin and I wrote to him asking him to translate ‘clean living under difficult circumstances’.

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Comments
  1. Sandra says:

    Hey just like the eddie I remember, how on earth did I find this, glad your ok xxx

  2. Georgie says:

    MOD

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