WORDS BY PHIL KING.
Al Kent was born Ewan Kelly in late '60s Glasgow where his introduction to music came early with gifts of kids' albums from his record loving dad. He helped himself to piles of his dad's records too, which were probably rubbish, but to his young ears they were ace. It was the vinyl as much as the music he loved. Soon he was taping stuff off the radio, making little compilations, and buying his own records. The weekly shopping trip to Tesco's always meant a cheeky half hour in the record department while the rest of the family stocked up on washing powder and cat food.
On one such trip he found an album called "20 Mod Classics" on a label he didn't know called "Tamla Motown". It took a couple of listens, but he was soon in love with songs by the likes of Marvin Gaye, The Miracles, The Temptations and The Marvelettes. The fact that the coolest guy in school, the guy with the best records, asked to see it and gave it his seal of approval only made it more of a discovery. And so, his love affair with "black music" began.
A few years later he began meeting other people who loved this music too, except they called it northern soul. And it wasn't just Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, it was Steve Mancha, Al Kent, Linda Griner, Darrell Banks - people he'd never heard of in his life. And these guys could dance!!
Around the age of fifteen, for some unknown reason, he and some friends hired a local community hall and a set of turntables and put on a party. Not surprisingly, it wasn't well attended, but the few people who did show up actually danced to the records he was playing. So he was a DJ now! The occasional community centre parties continued over the next few years while Ewan made his way around the country attending all nighters and spending way too much money on records and stuff.
At the age of eighteen he actually got asked to play in a real club. And got paid! Amazing. More money for records then. And the community centre parties turned into occasional all nighters, with guest DJs and everything.
At some point he discovered that soul music didn't end in 1969 and got a taste for 1970s releases, including things like Rare Pleasure, Bileo and Four Below Zero, the latter of which he had to buy on 12 inch as he couldn't find it on 45. It was very big, and had a bright sleeve with the word "Disco" on it. Hmmmm. Disco eh? So more of that stuff was bought and names like Walter Gibbons and Tee Scott started to become familiar. Soon he was obsessively collecting disco 12 inches - an obsession that continues to this day.
Fast forward a few years to the late '80s at a soul event put on by Yogi Haughton in Edinburgh with two rooms - one northern soul and the other house. Ewan ventured into the house room at some point and was totally blown away. This was another world altogether and he was soon adding some of these records to his collection. Around this time a local club was looking for a DJ to play this type of music, and since he was probably the only person with any records that they knew of, Ewan was called in for an audition. Having never mixed before, other than with a cassette and pause button, he had to bluff his way through, but, much to the annoyance of the resident DJ, he got the gig, and played every Friday. And got paid! Yay. More records.
Over the coming years he kept up the deejaying, moving up from the local club, to slightly bigger clubs in the city and beyond. And then, like most DJs, he got the urge to make music. His first attempts were rubbish, until he heard things like Azuli's Chocolate Fudge EP and Disco Elements and realised that those old disco records could actually be sampled and put on top of house drums. And people would buy these records. And so, Million Dollar Disco was born as an offshoot of Glasgow's Solemusic.
One of the early releases contained a really obvious sample, so to avoid legal issues, Ewan stole a name from one of those old northern soul records - Al Kent, and it kind of stuck. The label had some minor successes, including tracks being licensed to Azuli, Defected, Z Records and Hed Kandi. After a few years it got a bit boring though. There's only so much you can do with a disco sample, and the records he was playing as a DJ weren't really doing it for him any more. So, he dug out those old disco records again, and started playing some of them in his sets, then playing a few more, and more, until he realised that his heart wasn't really in this house music thing and that disco was the way forward.
Over the years he'd been mucking about re-editing the disco stuff, and some of this was added to his DJ sets. And he did some more, and did some more. Which is great because records weigh a ton and CDs don't. Since then the DJing's picked up quite a bit, seeing Al guesting all over the UK and beyond, always sticking to the music he loves, pleasing the purists with plenty of obscurities, while keeping Mr and Mrs Average happy with some classics, and always surprising the uninitiated who suddenly realise they DO actually like disco!
Al was honoured to be asked by Dave Lee to play at Z Records' first (and only) party in London, even more honoured to be invited by Dimitri From Paris to play at Respect's Ete d'Amour afloat on the Seine, and in 2006 was proud to play at Southport Weekender, which kind of took him full circle, playing to the soul crowd he was once part of. In between he's made regular appearances at London's Soul City, Edinburgh's Ultragroove, Bam Bam in Birmingham, Society in Sheffield, Loose Joints in Aberdeen amongst many more, as well as running his own parties from time to time in Glasgow venues such as the Sub Club, Mas, The Buff, and the amazing Big Joint.
Al's also released some of the edits he spends so much time making - three volumes of Brown Brothers releases on the Real Thing label and two on Jisco Music. He's compiled three volumes of Disco Demands, released on Million Dollar Disco. And in 2005 he embarked on an ambitious project, using session musicians to record songs in the style he knows and loves. From humble beginnings in his spare room, the project soon grew wings and became the Million Dollar Orchestra, involving more than twenty musicians. The songs have been signed to BBE and will be released in early 2008.
On top of all this he's managed to squeeze in writing reviews and a couple of articles for Keep On and Faith magazines, provided guest mixes for the likes of Six Million Steps, DJ History, Ministry of Sound, D-I-R-T-Y, Galaxy Radio, SSRadio and Inhale, and of course single handedly running the Million Dollar Disco site. There are plans for more Glasgow based parties in 2007, with a new club opening very very soon for black music lovers - something Glasgow has been lacking for quite some time, as well as plans to take the MDO on the road.
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