Graeme Park is a guest on BBC 6 Music on Sunday 29th January from 1pm as part of a panel discussing “Lost Clubs” and the history and influence of UK club culture. This is an area Graeme lectures in as part of the Creative Media Technology department here in the School of Creative Arts. Gemma Cairney is the presenter and is joined by cultural commentator Princess Julia and former NME editor Krisi Murison.
The story of DJ Graeme Park really mirrors the story of the evolution of dance music and club culture itself. Graeme found himself working in a Nottingham record shop called Selectadisc in the early 1980s, when the very first house records began to filter through from Chicago, Detroit and New York. When the shop’s owner opened a nightclub, it was only natural he should turn to Graeme to select the discs. Determined to showcase this new style of music, his reputation as a house pioneer soon brought him to the attention of Mike Pickering at the Haçienda in Manchester, who asked him to cover for him while he went on holiday in 1988. Simply put, there was no-one else in the country who could do the job. The Summer of Love followed, and Parky quickly became one of the biggest names on the emerging dance scene. Aside from his nine year residency at The Haç, he was one of the first British DJs to play places like Australia, South America, the USA, Asia and beyond as well as producing and remixing tracks for the dancefloor, including The Brand New Heavies, Inner City, Eric B & Rakim, New Order, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and more.
The Haçienda was a club without a purpose until house music filled its cathedral-sized dimensions. It undeniably defined Graeme as a DJ, but after more than three decades as a DJ, that can only be seen as one chapter in an on-going tale: ‘Yeah it was a very big chapter,’ says Graeme. ‘I guess the first was when I realised I could DJ and discovered house music from the US. The Haçienda was chapter 2, then chapter 3 was when it re-opened after closing for a couple of months in 1992. Chapter 4 was when it closed not long after I left and I played all around the world. I suppose Chapter 5 was the turn of the century and continuing my journey. Chapter 6 is where I am right now, with more variety to my gigs and music selection than ever before.’
As far as Graeme’s concerned, things are as fab as ever. But where is dance music and club culture headed? Well, who better to ask directions than the man who wrote the disco A-Z? ‘I started doing it purely by accident,’ he details. ‘And then realised I was actually pretty good at it. But I never thought I’d end up doing it for over 30 years. And I see no need to stop at the moment. I still love playing fantastic tunes in a variety of different clubs all over the place and people still want me to do it too.’
And where we are now is a very interesting place to be with regular gigs around the UK, Europe and beyond playing a selection of classic house cuts as well as new and current tunes to audiences made up of die-hard regulars and new clubbers too. There’s also a variety of occasional productions, remixes and collaborations under various guises with people such as legendary Ten City vocalist Byron Stingily, Juan Kidd and his ongoing Yellow & Black project. Although keen not to be bracketed as purely a ‘classics’ DJ, Graeme regularly delves into the thousands upon thousands of tunes he has collected on vinyl over the years: “House music has made people channel their tastes, so I went back to my roots and pulled out some forgotten classics,” he grins, still in love with process of mining those rich seams of vinyl. “I love seeing a crowd go wild to a tune they haven’t heard for years or playing something really obscure from 20 years ago that people think is new.”
In the past couple of years, Graeme has reunited with original Haçienda Friday Nude Night partner Mike Pickering for a variety of FAC51 The Haçienda club nights playing a selection of contemporary tunes alongside a variety of forgotten classics. “We want to try and recreate the excitement of the original Nude nights when nobody knew what we were playing from one week to the next. We’re also both massive fans of the current crop of young house and dance producers who are making scores of huge club tunes that take their references from over 20 years ago. Response to our occasional sets has been massive from both young and older clubbers alike.”
Alongside Mike, Graeme has been a major part of this year’s Haçienda Classical shows which have performed in Manchester and London to rapturous response. They’ve both been DJing live alongside the Manchester Camerata Orchestra, Peter Hook, Rowetta and special guests to a set of classic house tunes from 1988 to 1992. This euphoric show is currently on tour throughout the UK and gives you the chance to hear classic tunes like you’ve never heard them before with a 70 piece orchestra, live percussionists and a choir.
Celebrating over 20 years on the radio with shows on Kiss, Galaxy, Key 103, Radio City, Juice FM, Forth One and more, Graeme’s years of experience help him understand the specialist skills required by a radio DJ: ‘A lot of radio shows or DJs just play the same big tunes. You can’t simply pretend you’re in a club, you have to talk to the audience and put your personality and knowledge across without sounding like an idiot.’ His weekly Graeme Park Radio Show airs on scores of radio stations both in the UK and overseas and brings in a big audience with his mix of new and older tunes mixed together like only he knows how.
Whether through his sets, his radio shows, his productions and remixes or simply by getting to know his audience, Graeme has spent over 30 years getting his jocular personality across. He was there before it all started, he was at the forefront of the dance scene when it was at its zenith and he’s still there, still rocking it, years later – longer than some of the people on the dancefloor have been on the planet! And the best thing is he still loves it, still loves the music and still loves to play it for people to dance to.
‘Yeah, for my entire career I’ve been finding good tunes that I want other people to hear. The reason I keep doing it is simple: it’s my mission in life to let people hear good music.’
The Haçienda is now an apartment building (the developers asked Parky to DJ at the launch; he politely declined). At the back of the building there is a time-line, carved into steel, detailing the history of the club from Madonna‘s early performance to its closure. And there’s Graeme’s name not once, but twice, carved into the metal for time immemorial. What other DJs (what other venues?) have had that significance in clubland?