Knowler's Dj CV
year: 1990. The city: Liverpool. The hottest club in town was Quadrant
Park. Mike Knowler was the DJ, and this is his story.
career started in 1969 in the Starlight Room at Southport’s
Kingsway Casino. Resident DJ Baby Bob Stewart, about to start at
Radio Luxembourg, had offered Mike his job out of the blue. Music
policy at the Kingsway was rare soul and R ‘n’ B, which
suited Mike’s record collection just fine. He was only 17,
and he shared the spot with Ormskirk DJ Phil Sawyer.
years later, music policy at the Kingsway became more mainstream.
Mike moved to a more intimate Southport venue, the Nest Club, owned
by local bookie Alec Morris. At the time Mike had changed his musical
allegiance to street funk. He was the first Southport DJ to play
James Brown, Bobby Byrd and the JBs. Mike only lasted a few months
at the Nest. Wages were meagre and he now had a wife to support.
In 1970 Mike met Dave Kay who, along with Jeff Hartley, ran a successful
mobile disco road show. It was called “Radio Doom Good Guys”,
and Mike wanted a piece of the action. Mike and Phil Sawyer started
off at Radio Doom as Northern Soul dancers! Then Jeff quit, and
Mike took over as DJ in 1972. The job at Radio Doom lasted six years.
1978 Mike joined Open Eye, a community communications and media
project. He designed and built an eight-track recording studio,
and established two record labels: Zoo Records and Open Eye Records.
He was a pioneer of the new Merseybeat, working with bands like
Big in Japan, Dead or Alive, OMD, the Teardrop Explodes and Echo
& the Bunnymen. Both the studio and the record labels were a
great hit locally. While at Open Eye Mike was studying for an HNC
at Preston Poly. He became social secretary for the Students’
Union, and spent three years as a student DJ and events organiser.
In 1981, with the HNC finished, Mike left Open Eye to study full-time
at Liverpool University. Leaving Open Eye was a wrench, but he hadn’t
had a hit record!
leaving Preston Mike carried on as a DJ at the Poly. At a Theatre
of Hate gig he met Andy Carroll, a Southport DJ. Andy invited Mike
to join him as a DJ at a club in Southport called Sandbaggers. They
worked together from 1982 to 84, playing stuff like the Cure, New
Order, Southern Death Cult, Kraftwerk, the Clash and A Certain Ratio.
Mike also played one gig for the Liverpool Uni Guild of Students:
the 1984 Summer Ball with Curtis Mayfield.
graduated in July 1984. He then took up residency at the Cavern
– an exact replica of the club where the Beatles made their
name. He did lunchtime sessions six days a week, with fresh local
talent, just as Bob Wooler did in the early sixties. The sessions
were a runaway success. Then, later in 1984, Mike became resident
DJ at the State Ballroom. Mike and his old mate Andy Carroll played
music such as Talking Heads, Simple Minds, U2, Frankie Goes to Hollywood
and New Order.
saw the second Summer of Love. At that time Mike and Andy met up
with James Barton, later of Cream fame. James wanted them to DJ
at Liverpool’s first regular acid house event. Luckily Mike
and Andy had been turned on to house after separate trips to New
York’s New Music Seminar. Monday nights (styled “Daisy”)
were such a hit that the State moved over to house music exclusively,
every night, until it was forced to close in 1989. The indie kids
had been ousted!
a brief stint at the Twilight Zone in Duke Street, the stage was
set for Quadrant Park in Bootle. Mike first played at the Quad at
a Christmas dance for the students of Hugh Baird College. In 1990
he became resident DJ for the three main nights at the Quad, with
Andy Carroll sharing on Saturdays. The end of the year saw the start
of the legendary Allnighters, when James Barton and John Kelly joined
the team. The Quad Allnighter is fondly remembered by Scouse clubbers
as the biggest thing to happen on their scene. And it was legal!
The music was proper house, as opposed to techno or hardcore. A
young man tragically died at the Quad, but that wasn’t why
the club closed. Door prices went up, security went down and the
venue needed a makeover. Punters voted with their feet and the house
scene moved elsewhere. By 1992 the Quad was no more.
in 1990 Mike had been contacted by Dave Graham, resident DJ at the
Drome in Birkenhead. Dave wanted to change the music policy to house,
so he asked Mike to help out on Friday nights. For part of 1991
Mike took a break from the Quad and did his stuff at the Drome on
Fridays. The night was called “Life” and it moved on
to Bowlers at Trafford Park.
1991 Mike was approached by club promoters Nicki Dee and Billy Gillbank.
They wanted him to play Friday nights at a new venue, the Hard Dock
Café. At the time the Quad was feeling the heat from other
places like Club 051 and the Academy. So Mike started at the Hard
Dock playing alongside Alan James. Following the demise of the Quad,
Mike became main resident DJ at the Hard Dock on Fridays and Saturdays.
Music policy was techno and hardcore, with guest appearances from
artists like Carl Cox and Groove Rider. Feeling that such music
had had its day, Mike left the Hard Dock in 1994.
was also appearing as a guest DJ at a number of venues. The most
noteworthy was the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool, at concerts
promoted by James Barton and Andy Carroll. These concerts featured
artists such as Adamski, Katherine E, K Klass, the Prodigy, N Joi
and Quadrophonia. Mike also played at Cleo’s in Wolverhampton,
alongside Laurent Garnier; the Inn on the Park on Jersey with Robbie
Edwards and Eric Powell; and Sheffield Poly with John Peel.
important part of Mike’s career was regular guest appearances
at Old Skool / Anthem / Retro nights across the North West. The
first was Anthem City, in 1993, at Club 051. Other appearances included:
“Ultimate Revival” at Life in Trafford Park; “Passion”
at Maximes in Wigan; “Best of British” at the Buzz Club
in Liverpool; “Anthem Mania” at the Drome; and the “Anthem
City Tour” at Calistos in Huddersfield. Recent retro appearances,
in 2003-05, have been for “HayzyDays” nights at Club
Zanzibar in Liverpool.
1995 Mike moved into the pre-club bar scene. He started an 18-month
residency at the Gallery Bar in Liverpool’s Concert Square.
The bar was owned by Peter Lee of Metro Bar fame. Mike now had an
excellent chance to play upfront American-import house: the kind
of stuff played at Back to Basics in Leeds and Ministry of Sound
in London. For the first time he was playing for an audience who
were listening, not dancing! Without the need to drive the dance
floor, Mike could be more experimental. At the time new house music
was breaking through built upon themes from soul, funk, disco and
jazz. Mike left the Gallery when he heard rumours that the bar was
to be sold.
moved to Southport to work for Craig Carloss at a new bar called
the Glasshouse. He was working four or five nights a week. Thursday
was 1970s funk and disco; Friday and Saturday were upfront US-import
house; and Sunday was “Back to the Old Skool” house
anthems. After a dispute with the owner Mike moved to Bar None,
Southport’s newest trendy bar. Fridays featured US house;
Thursdays featured soul, funk, disco and jazz.
1999 Mike Knowler retired as a full-time DJ, after a career spanning
30 years. He can truly be called “the godfather of Liverpool
Nick Ivell 2006