At the end of January 2012, BBE release the first compilation of disco and re-edits from Al Kent’s Disco Demands series. The compilation takes the form of two double-vinyl albums, digital downloads and a five-CD box set.
The sleeve notes to the compilation have been written by Southport Weekender attendee Lee Shankland and describe his first encounter with DJ Al Kent at the event in 2006.
To mark the release of this special project, and to celebrate our event’s involvement in the story, we asked Lee to pose some questions to Al Kent exclusively for the website.
In addition, the kinds folks at BBE have teamed up with us for a competition, the winning entry receiving a 5 x CD copy of Best Of Disco Demands, plus a copy of every other BBE release that Al Kent has been involved in. There is also a very generous runners up prize of a 5 x CD copy of the new Best Of Disco Demands release.
To enter the competition, please answer the question at the bottom of this article.
Al Kent explains the compilation:
“The Disco Demands series started sometime in the early 2000s – I couldn’t give you an exact year because it didn’t feel like a big deal, so I never noted it. I simply wanted to put out a compilation of some records I really liked and maybe make a little of the money back I was spending on them. Buy some food and stuff.
There’s always been disco comps around of course but there was rarely anything that strayed too far from the standards.. the same songs kept appearing over and over again, or the comps would feature records you could pick up anywhere for little money. I’ve never seen the point in that. I gave up judging a record on its value or rarity a long time ago but surely there’s more to disco than Exodus, Martin Circus, Mass Production and all those Salsoul, West End and bloody Prelude records. So it was a nice surprise to find that there were other people out there who thought the same way.
‘Volume 1′ was pretty straightforward – just some nice records, with the only edit being an instrumental of ‘Disco Socks'; a strange, thinly veiled reference to the disco sucks movement. Then on Volume 2 I included a few of my edits and introduced the cover up concept to the disco world. That caused a bit of controversy, which of course I loved. And so it continued for five volumes.
What we have here then is the full series, give or take one or two cuts, all remastered, many re-re-edited, with lots of nice naked pictures to boot. For those who’ve asked since day one “will there be vinyl?” I can finally say yes!”
Here are the album sleeve notes, written by Southport Weekender attendee Lee Shankland:
“Imagine for one moment a wet, windy November in Southport, England. 2006 to be precise. The Southport Weekender to be even more precise. 3.15 on a Sunday morning to be exact.
About to call it a day with aching feet but a smiling face, having danced for hours to the likes of Humphries and Negro, I headed back to my chalet. I was all set to call it a night when a friend, knowing my love of the genre, asked had I noticed the “pure disco set” in the programme which was about to begin in The Connoisseurs Corner. The read-up looked interesting. “Southport Weekender’s first disco set” and a new guest – one “Al Kent” from Glasgow. I’d never heard of him. He could be shit, I thought. He probably will be..
But fuck it – it was disco.. it was the Southport Weekender and I still had a clean T shirt and some bounce in me. So I freshened up and headed back into the venue and hustled through the doors of the Connoisseurs Corner just in time for the first tune.
And I was blown away. I recognised the tune – Independent Movement’s phenomenal disco soul classic ‘Slipping Away’. I thought (smugly) only I really knew that tune..
Only it wasn’t ‘Slipping Away’. It was, kinda, ‘Slipping Away’, but better… an edit… a clever edit that fucked around with a few breathy gasps from Helen Curry in an extended intro that had been lifted from a microsecond of the breakdown, seemed to loop the fuck out of the good bits before finally bringing in the power of the mighty tune. It was fast, pitched up a little and it sounded better than all the house music I’d heard all weekend. Without a programmed drum beat in ear shot. I remember miming to my mates on the dancefloor, gesturing towards the box, “who the fuck is he?”. Behind the decks a tall Paul Weller look-a-like in a Retro Adidas tracky top was just mixing, and I mean impeccably mixing, ‘Slipping Away’ into Chaka’s ‘Any Love’… Another edit. But wait a minute… not the Dimitri from Paris edit that everyone else had been playing all Weekend.. This one was different. No house drums. The vocal sounded richer. The loops were cleverer. This was (sorry Dim!) just better.
Gasps of “wow” were now being mimed a plenty every time the lights hit someone’s face on that packed dancefloor. Before I knew it we’d been moved effortlessly into Kimiko Kasai’s just perfect retake of Herbie Hancock’s ‘I Thought It Was You’. Looped to fuck for the dancefloor like the previous tunes, and with snippets of Herbie’s version dropped in just to tease us more.
I was hooked. I was blown away.. At the age of 32 I was witnessing the best DJ set I’d ever heard.
After Kimiko the disco got darker and deeper. This guy knew he had the crowd, so he was going to take them into disco music they, I, knew fuck all about.. We were about to hear what I now know were what he terms and comps Disco Demands…
I’d be lying if I said I remembered any other tunes. I don’t. I do remember that I danced constantly. I also remember my clothes being wringing wet after the set and I even have hazy recollections of winking at a fifty something blonde woman with a Farah Fawcett hair do and a shoulder bag who was dancing near me at 130bpm. I thought it was Farah for that moment in time.
Determined to find out more about this Al Kent I googled him after the event and found out he had DJ’d in my home town a few months earlier. I ordered his Disco Demands compilations. Tracked down some of his then released edits on The Real Thing label and invested in some of his earlier house productions on other labels.
And I waited. I waited for details of him playing near me. After about five months, and no sign of a Manchester booking, I emailed him. “Are you playing in Manchester anytime soon?” I asked. “No, sorry.” After a bit of banter, he challenged me to put a party on and he’d come down and play.. So I did.
And that started a 5 year journey of putting on the best disco parties in small dark rooms in England and Scotland, packed with a thousand balloons, a sound system that would impress Richard Long, vintage mixers and top of the range isolators and plenty of smiles, as people of all ages dance, whistle, holler and sing along to the big tunes, edited like crazy, alongside the rare as hens teeth, deep disco.
Gradually we built a strong friendship. Gradually I realised that I, a thirty something gay English bloke that is obsessed with disco and soul, had met my musical soulmate in a forty something straight guy with two kids from Glasgow.
We’re both getting older. We live hundreds of miles apart. We both have families, day jobs, commitments. We debate, often “healthily”, tunes, edits, riffs, sounds. But somehow I can’t see us ever stopping.. If there’s a bank holiday, you can bet we’ll be housed up somewhere trying to make better balloon combinations than what Mancuso or Siano had. Working out the best place to position the speakers to really catch the powerful highs of Gladys’s ‘Better Than A Good Time’ or Loleatta’s reprise from ‘Hit and Run’…
I’ve had the pleasure of booking, hearing and working with some fantastic DJs over the years: Kon & Amir, Rick Wilhite, Theo Parrish, Dimitri from Paris, Rahaan… all of whom I hold in the highest esteem. But Al Kent is something different, as a recent review of his Disco Love album tour in Australia demonstrates:
“Originally booked for four hours, Kent played for a full five-and-a-half, with the organizers literally having to pull the plug on the DJ equipment and turn the lights on to bring the set to a close. Although there was a piercing moment of stark reality when the lights came up, it seemed everyone left the warehouse with a sense that they’d experienced something quite special from one of disco’s true connoisseurs..”
I really do believe that, at his best, Al Kent is a musical genius. When BBE’s Kings of Disco, Dimitri from Paris and Joey Negro, both independently rate you as their favourite disco DJ. When you plough your life savings into recording a fully orchestrated Disco album using vintage equipment to produce a set that BHY would weep at.. When your edits leave Theo Parrish speechless, or can make Rahaan cry with joy when you play. You can, in my view, step forward and take up your position as the world’s true King of Disco.
Ladies and Gentlemen… The Best of Al Kent’s Disco Demands. Enjoy.”
Lee Shankland interviews Al Kent exclusively for Southport Weekender:
A lot of the music you put on your compilations doesn’t really sound the same as the music you play in your sets. Why?
Quite a bit of the music I buy is pretty obscure and often quite badly produced (in a good way) – there are times when I will play those records but it’s not something I do very often. I just don’t think they work in the places I play. People who go to clubs are out to enjoy themselves, they want to dance, not listen to “interesting” music.
But the music you play is still pretty obscure, no?
Mostly, yes. I have this in-built snobbery I think, probably comes from being raised on northern soul. I try to avoid the obvious, the big tunes everyone knows, as much as possible. I do play some classics, but in general I want what I play to be pretty unique.
Hence the edits?
Hence the edits. It’s nice to give things a twist or make a better known record sound fresh. Or even make a bad record sound good.
You don’t edit everything though? Alan Harris for example.
Not everything can be edited, or needs to be edited. ‘Get Ready’ is a pretty perfect record as it is and it doesn’t really have enough variation to do anything with it. I like a record with breaks and instrumental sections to get my editing teeth into.
How would you describe your music? Soul? Disco? House?
It’s all disco but I guess I play it in a more house style. A lot of my edits are heavily looped which maybe makes them verge on house music, in the traditional sense.
But you don’t play any contemporary stuff?
No, nothing. I used to, but I lost interest and found my DJing suffered because I couldn’t get excited by the music I was playing. Plus there were 18 year old kids on the dancefloor who knew more about that stuff than I did, which isn’t a good situation.
So, Southport. you excited?
Totally! It’s a real honour to be asked. And it’s a great place to play.. very receptive crowd who know their music and are out to party. I used to come in my soul boy days and would spend the weekend in what has become the Connoisseurs Corner so it’s really cool to be playing to that room now.
Any new productions on the cards?
Yes. I’ll hopefully be finishing an album early in the new year. It’s a collaboration with my friend who’s a jazz keyboard wizard.
Silly question, but will it be disco?
It will, but it’s different to something like the Million Dollar Orchestra as there’s quite a big jazz influence in there. A lot of Latin touches too. We’ve also recorded it without a full band so there’s bits of programming in there which makes it feel a little more contemporary.
Them too. I’m looking at a venue in Glasgow just now that could be perfect for what we do. A really small loft in a totally run down street. We always have great nights in those places but this one has the added bonus of being very central.
Tell me about those nights. What’s been the best one?
It’s hard to choose because there’s been quite a few really special ones, last May bank holiday was crazy, so was the warehouse party we did in February. My personal favourite was when we did an afterparty with Theo Parrish (he played a disco set for us which he’d never done before and don’t think he has done since, that was quite a coup in itself). I thought I knew how to DJ until I watched him at work! The lights broke down halfway through the night and we all just danced in the dark. When they eventually came back on everybody booed and we switched them back off again for the rest of the party!
Competition question – What was the first album that Al Kent released on BBE and under what ‘artist’ name was it released?
Please send correct answers to firstname.lastname@example.org by Tuesday 31st January. Competition winners will be informed within 7 days of the competition closing. Your prizes will be posted to you shortly afterwards.