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Digging Deeper: An interview with Balearic Mike

When it comes to deep digging, there’s no question that Balearic Mike has more than earned his stripes. 18 years behind the counter at Vinyl Exchange (one of Manchester’s go-to record stores) and a DJ career that has spanned four decades, it’s fair to say that Mike’s mind and ears have been opened to all manner of musical discoveries.

That exposure to music started at an early age at home. Growing up across the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when popular music was rife with creativity, alongside formative years going clubbing in the heydays of the ‘90s, has all had a lasting effect on Mike’s musical outlook. A record obsessive at heart, with an insatiable appetite for the sun-soaked, eclectic, hard-to-pin-down genre of Balearic, Mike’s taste and talent are up there with the best. Alongside another legendary DJ and digger, Kelvin Andrews, the pair started their Down To The Sea & Back compilation series in 2010, compiling lost gems and unheard marvels that fall under the spirit of Balearic.

We sat down with Mike to chat about where it all began for him, from early musical memories to his love affair with Balearic music, what it was like in Manchester and Brighton in the glory days, to working at Vinyl Exchange. We also got the lowdown on the latest sublime instalment of the Down To The Sea & Back compilation that has just been released.


What are some of your most memorable early musical experiences? What sort of stuff were you listening to in your younger years?

I was very lucky that my parents were fairly young, and both really into music, so I grew up in a home where the radio was always on, or records were always being played. My granddad bought my mum and dad a set of great Goodman’s speakers called Dimension 8’s as a wedding present. Huge wooden things with 8 speakers in each cabinet. I ‘sort of inherited’ (stole) them, and they’re the speakers I still use today. As well as that, my dad painted a huge Aladdin Sane style lightning stripe across the main wall in the living room, and John Peel came to Sunday dinner at my grannie's house when I was about 6 years old. So quite a musical environment.

Growing up in the late ‘70s / early ‘80s was such an incredible time for all kinds of music. That post-punk explosion of pop music has never been matched for a period of creativity in my opinion. The charts were so diverse, and I think that variety has always been important to me. I very much loved the kind of disco records which charted, like Chic & Sister Sledge, but also loved the UK Two Tone / Ska / Mod scene, and loved all those bands like Madness, The Specials, Selector, the Jam. I also loved anything with synthesisers, from Gary Numan to Jean Michell Jarre. My dad went to work in Saudi Arabia in 1978, and would send home parcels of these really cheap bootleg Saudi cassettes on this 747 label, which meant my brother and I started to amass a huge music collection of these tapes.

It wasn’t until I saw Adam & the Ants perform Dog Eat Dog on Top Of The Pops in October 1980 that I basically fell head over heels in love with music to the point of no return. That was my ‘Bowie does Starman’ moment. The Kings Of The Wild Frontier LP was the first actual vinyl record that I bought for myself, and there was no way back after that. Hearing ‘When Doves Cry’ by Prince on the radio for the first time was another of those moments that basically shaped the rest of my life.

What brought about your love affair with Balearic music?

As I mentioned previously, the pop music scene in the UK from around 1978 to 1984 was pretty much a golden age. From post-punk to what became known as the ‘new-pop’, there were so many different types of sounds and styles, and new developments and technologies emerging in such a small window of time. You could look at the top 10, and every single record could be totally different. I think growing up with that incredible range and variety meant that I was always looking for something that continues that. To me Balearic isn’t really one sound or style, it’s more an aesthetic. It’s kind of like a musical postmodernism.

With so many genres encompassed across the Balearic spectrum, what for you makes a track Balearic?

That is pretty much the impossible question to answer! I suppose context is the most important factor, but there are also a range of stylistic and sonic factors that have come to be known as Balearic. For example: two of my favourites, and probably definitive tracks in the Balearic canon are Elkin & Nelson – Jibaro, and Linda Di Franco – TV Scene. I think most people would agree on these records Balearic credentials, and yet they sound completely different. You also have the quite unique issue that Balearic as a musical term doesn’t just cover music aimed at getting people dancing. Since the early ‘90s the term has also been used when talking about the music played by Jose Padilla at Café Del Mar, as well as that original Amnesia soundtrack, and the music subsequently being played on the UK Balearic network scene, so you are talking about a much vaster choice of musical styles than other very eclectic club playlists.

As the term came into use in the ‘80s, I suppose a major factor in the sound is the technology of the time. The ‘80s seemed to have a new drum machine, or synth or sampling device every few weeks, so I suppose some of those sounds could help to define a record as Balearic – although conversely those sounds are still used today in contemporary dance music and pop music. How can you pin down what makes a neo-classical piece by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, a hard, industrial dance record by Nitzer Ebb, a percussion heavy Latin-funk-rock record by Barrabas, a mid-80s Italian pop record by Mike Francis, and a contemporary house record like the Sunshine Jones track on DTTSAB Volume Tres Balearic?

Your formative years aligned pretty neatly with the explosion of house music in the UK and a move to Manchester, what was it like as a 20-year-old there at the time, what sort of parties were you going to?

Yes! I was a very lucky boy! House hitting the UK coincided almost perfectly with my first forays to nightclubs when I was 15 living in Warrington in the North West, equidistant to Manchester and Liverpool. By the time I had turned 18 I was headed to Brighton for the first time to study at art college, and instead I spent two years dancing and buying records. I spent all my time in the Zap Club at Chris Coco’s Coco Club, Club Shame and listening to Harvey at the Tonka parties; the Escape at either Gordon Kaye’s Sunshine Playroom or Carl Cox on a Sunday (the night was called Big Black Cox would you believe?!?!); Downbeat (now The Rialto Theatre); and listening to Josh who ran the Buzz magazine on a Friday night in the old art college student union Basement; and propping up the counter in Rounder Records.

I arrived back in Manchester in February 1991 to work in Vinyl Exchange. Manchester was still getting over its ‘Madchester’ hangover, and I was immediately right in the middle of everything. I’d read about Justin Robertson and Greg Fenton's Spice club night in the NME, but had never been. By the time I arrived they had both set up separate parties, Justin running Most Excellent at the Brick House on a Monday night, and Greg running Glitter Baby at the State on Saturdays. I was hired to work alongside Adrian LuvDup in building up the dance music side of things in VX, and Adrian had just been offered the warm-up slot at Most Excellent by Justin. We’d share a house for a year or so. It was a really small scene with lots of lovely people, and a lot of students were a big part of the scene, with Tom & Ed (Chemical Brothers) and Phil South (Golf Channel) all at Uni together in Manchester and all regulars.

Other things were also going on, the Hacienda was going through a rough patch and had just reopened, but there were DJs like the Jam MCs doing parties, and it was before the gay village had really exploded, but Tim Lennox had a great club at the Number One. Adrian and Mark put on their first LuvDup party that summer. Tom and Ed started their Naked Under Leather nights. Most Excellent moved to Thursdays, and Greg started a night called Circus after closing Glitter baby, and then started up Space funk with Jon Dasilva.

LuvDup (where I got my first ‘proper’ DJ gigs as one of the “Junior LuvDup’s”) went from strength to strength; first a weekly Wednesday at The Venue on Whitworth Street, just along from the Hac, then they ran their incredible Holidays In The Sun parties, before starting their Hell night at the Number One on Fridays. Then came Jolly Roger on Thursdays at the newly opened Paradise Factory (the old Factory Records offices on Charles Street), before taking over the running of Saturday nights at Home in Ducie House.

I suppose I was their right before any idea of gentrification had begun. The only bars in town were Dry Bar just along Oldham Street from VX and The Cornerhouse bar. It wasn’t until the following year that a bar opened in Deansgate locks and the city started to wake up. Hardly anyone lived in the city centre back then, it was so different to today.

As well as all this going on in the city, it was the height of the ‘Balearic Network’, so there were regular Most Excellent coach trips to Venus in Nottingham (we visited Venus as often as we could), occasional jaunts to Glasgow, Adrian and Mark had a residency in Liverpool at the venue that would become Cream in a few years, as well as going to Smile. We’d head to Wobble and Cream in Birmingham, and of course trips to Golden to see Kelvin. I don’t think we slept much. Just thinking about it all now makes me tired!

You worked behind the counter at Vinyl Exchange record shop in Manchester for 18 years, that must have shaped your tastes quite a bit? What were some of the best records you got tipped onto whilst being there?

The thing with working in a record shop is, you’ve got the job because you know more than most people about music / records, etc. But then you very quickly realise, probably withing the first 24 hours of working there, that you know absolutely nothing about music / records, and that if you lived to be 1000 years old you would still only have scratched the surface of any kind of musical knowledge. When I started work in Vinyl Exchange, I probably had a collection of about 500 records, which is a very reasonable amount. By the time I left almost exactly 18 ½ years later to the day, it was approximately 8000-10000, and I’d probably turned over another 5000 more during that time. I was 20 years old when I joined, and I recall in the first or second week hearing Congos ‘Heart of the Congos’ LP for the for the first time, as the owner Jo had bagged a copy for Mike Pickering, who still regularly sold us his unwanted promos at the time. Lynn Christopher ‘Take Me With You’ is another I have Si G in VX to thank for. There’s another 5 or 6 thousand, so I won’t list them all.

You’re now back living in Brighton after doing a stint here in ’88? How does it differ from then to now and what drew you to the coast?

It's a lot more bloody expensive now! :) I came here in October 1988 to go to art college (what was the old Poly at Grand Parade - now Brighton University). I had two incredible years and didn’t really want to leave if truth be told, but ended up in Manchester for over twenty years – which wasn’t half bad either. I’d thought about moving back a lot over the years, and then suddenly there was the opportunity, so we took it. Balearic Wife and I had been longing for sunshine, blue skies, and living by the sea, and this is the most beautiful city where you get all those things, as well as decent music, record shops, culture, and pubs!

Brighton was always very beautiful, and quite grand, but with a very large bohemian underbelly. I suppose that’s the main difference really. That old bohemian Brighton has pretty much disappeared, although there are still tiny pockets of it. And good luck finding somewhere affordable to live!

Photo Credit: Hannah Sherlock

The internet has massively changed how people dig for records, expanding people’s scope and range, whilst making it much easier to uncover those once hard-to-find records. Do you think it has had a beneficial effect on how people consume music? Do you still prefer digging in person?

The internet has been both good and bad for music. In terms of being able to find any record, anywhere in the world, it’s been amazing for collectors and DJs. My credit card statements from around the turn of the millennium when a lot of us began getting online would testify to that – an endless list of gemm.com and eBay transactions. I still love finding good record shops and having a proper dig, but unfortunately that becomes harder and harder as everyone move to selling online.

And obviously the advent of digital music files means that people now have access to a world of music that they wouldn’t and couldn’t possibly have had access to before. And that’s a good thing, although it makes it harder to surprise people, but that just keeps you on your toes if you’re properly dedicated – and I am!

Where the internet had been a disaster is for artists, DJs, producers and record labels, as music has slowly become devalued, to the point where most people now consume their music for free, or through nominal online subscriptions to streamers, who pass on next to nothing to the artists. Music and artists across every genre are struggling to find any way to make a living from their art, and what that means is that increasingly only those from wealthy backgrounds will be able to make music, and we can see how well things go when only wealthy people are left to get on with doing something exclusively, like running the country! Spotify can burn in hell as far as I'm concerned.

How did you come to linking up with Kelvin Andrews? 

Kelvin and I met at an inter-club 5-a-side tournament in about 92/93 and have been friends ever since, bonding over our shared obsession with records and Liverpool FC.

Was it a natural progression to start the Down To The Sea & Back series?

Those first few years of friendship invariably included many, many lost weekends spent at after-hours parties, where the two of us would invariably end up hogging the record deck, playing each other records. During one of these sessions, I played him the Jago record ‘I’m Going To Go’, and Kelvin said straight away, ”we should do a comp of some of these”. We then waited until the record industry had all but collapsed before actually getting around to doing it.

As we touched on before, the Balearic umbrella covers all manner of different genres, what was it that you wanted to get across and share through the compilation series?

That music doesn't have to be rare, or obscure, or old, or come from a certain time or place, or have been played by a certain DJ or in a specific club, to be considered Balearic. It just has to be good, and create the right atmosphere. It’s also constantly evolving. There are records on the newest volume that didn’t exist when the last one was released. It never stops, or even stands still.

The process of compiling rare obscurities for a release is no mean feat, were there any tracks that proved particularly difficult to license?

Yes! There are lots of tracks that we haven’t been able to get so far, but the final track on Volume Tres – M. Crafts wonderful version of the Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ - was something we’ve been trying to get since we started putting Volume 1 together. So, I’m not going to tell you what we couldn’t get, because you never know, we just might get it in the future.

Are there any tracks that have a really special significance to you? Could you give us a brief bit of the backstory behind them?

All of the tracks I picked have some significance, which I’ve gone into at great length in the sleeve notes, so you’ll have to buy a copy of the record if you want to read about that!


Having done two compilations in the space of four years it’s been a decade between volume 2 and 3 – why did you have such a long break between them?

We never planned it to be so long, but life does sometimes get in the way. It actually took 5 years to get this Volume together from our initial conversation with Jon and Kenneth from Music For Dreams at Love International Festival in 2019. We then did nothing until the following summer when we were all in lockdown in 2020, and even then, we initially thought it would be out last year, but some things take longer than you expect. We'll try and take less time on the next one, promise.

Are you still playing out regularly? Where can people come and see you play if so?

I’ve actually been pretty ill over the past few years, first with skin cancer (note, the most Balearic of the cancers!) and for the last two-plus years with Long Covid, so I’ve pretty much been in retirement. I’m slowly doing a few more gigs, so on Friday 14th in Brighton we’re having and album launch party on the seafront. At the end of August Balearic Burger are in town and I’m playing for them. In September I’m playing Espiritu in Southampton, I’m hopefully joining Rob from Be With Records at an instore at Mr Bongo, and I hope to squeeze in Pikes and Hostel La Torre in Ibiza in October.

The Balearic sound isn’t just confined to old records, could you point our readers to some contemporary artists / labels that you feel are doing Balearic music properly?

There are loads! Claremont 56 is still the most consistent label out there, closely followed by Music For Dreams, with your good selves (Mr Bongo), Re:Warm, Isle Of Jura, Emotional Rescue, Vicious Charm Recordings, and Jason Boardman’s Before I Die Projects all regularly releasing great music. And the Wonderfulsound Singles Club is solid gold.

In terms of artists Steve Cobby consistently releases essential music, as does Greg Foat, who manages to straddle so many different genres. If you like a well-Balearic cover version – and I do –– then Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band and Japan's Flower Records are always worth a watch. Most Balearic album of the year so far is possibly Ronnie Lion’s ‘Spanish Town’ on Isle Of Jura. Oh, and BEGIN (James Holroyd) could do with pulling his finger out – nothing but remixes for a good long while.


A massive thank you to Mike for taking the time out to speak to use for this feature. You can order the latest Down To The Sea & Back compilation from our store here. Also be sure to give Mike a follow on Instagram to be in the loop with what he's up to and keep an eye out for the upcoming Mr Bongo instore with Be With Records.