Island Connection started in dances at Essex University with Donald Mack , DJ Skev and myself, Haji Mike, forming a core team of DJ’s who held their own campus events playing Soul, Reggae and Rare Grooves. There were of course many other people involved on campus DJ wise, the legendary Count Claude, Derek Robinson, Jah Andy and one Dotun Adebayo who has of course gone on to much bigger things at the BBC. Many of these DJ’s were involved with student based groups like the Afro-Caribbean Society, Black Music Appreciation Society (B.M.A.S), Reggae Appreciation Society (R.A.S) ,University Radio Essex (U.R.E) and the more mainstream Entertainment Society. Essex raves, back then didn’t happen in fields with thumping banal house beats. They occurred usually in the events room behind the Student Union Bar or in the tower block flats where we lived as students. Most time the towers based parties were private free events, like a birthday, and these sessions, neighbours permitting could go on til any time, event 6 or 7 am when the sun came up. The events room was a bit different. That’s where we did our own sessions, with a minimal door fee which usually ended by 3 am (although some times we did close the doors and let the bass rumble on an hour or two more). Its where I first picked up the microphone to MC in the early 1980’s with Donald coming into the DJ booth in total shock saying ‘did you just chat on the microphone!!!’
The event for the poster above shows just how DiY everything was. We would take an image, photocopy it, then use letraset transfers for the lettering, which had to be placed meticulously, letter by letter and this would make a master template which would be photocopied. As you can see this one was coloured in by hand with Ital Rasta Colours, and it took me a good few hours to do those 100 posters by hand. We played records back then, this was pre-CD, pre-Mp3, used our own decks or if it was a bigger event, hired some from the town of Colchester. DJ’ing was a pricey business. Buying vinyls every week burned holes in our students and renting equipment was also expensive. Back then we never did any events in the town. It was a very hostile and racist place and no local clubs or pubs, as far as I know, hosted any student events. I recently saw a crowd funding site for a student society event which looked like a huge banquet. None of them 5 course meals in our day we was much more humble. I spent 5 years as a student at Essex, doing a BA and MA. In that time radio was something I did for years, some times 5 nights a week on URE, and each week there were usually several parties to go to. We never really made money out of DJ’ing back then. Private events you did them for friends, at the end of the night they’d give you a few bottles of wine and you’d walk home happy at sunrise, humming the melody of the latest Gregory Isaacs tune. Our own events usually cost just as much to do in renting equipment and buying vinyls. So there was a real love for the music, money was not the motive, no egos. Every one had their set, their half hour, their hour. No one bossed any one around and we would just party. We’ve kept in touch over the decades, Skev, Donald and me. We had a great session for Skev’s 50th in his back garden in London. A couple of years back we played in Nicosia at the old Maple Leaf, and the place was packed to the rafters. We used vinyls that night. Some people had never seen a record, let alone heard one play.
We made ourselves a promise, whether her or there, when the occasion arises, to get together and DJ again. We are bit older of course. Donald Mack was always wicked on the mic with his banter, and now he’s turned that into Standup Comedy. Skev has worked in local authority management for a few decades and music, DJ’ing and sweet soul music is still his escape.And I went on to become Haji Mike based in Cyprus, teaching, making music, DJ’ing and hosting radio shows. I always look forward to these Island Connection Re-Unions because the tunes just flow, like back in the day, the decks, the mic and the music. Our events will be at Brickyard, Nicosia Sat 12th March and Lithos, Oroklini Sun 13th March – join us 🙂