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Digging Deeper: An interview with Elite Records' Jerry Pike

Jerry Pike may not be a name that you are instantly familiar with, but if you study the credits of some of the genre-defining Brit funk records that were released during the genre's golden period you will see his name coming up time and time again. Jerry was an original member of Atmosfear and alongside Andy Sojka, his partner at Elite Records, he produced many of that label’s biggest hits. His production credits include Level 42’s first recorded album 'Strategy', Powerline’s breakout disco hit ‘Double Journey', as well as Atmosfear’s phenomenal run of dance floor classics. His work sits at the pinnacle of the underground UK dance scene that went on to have a global influence. For this edition of ‘Digging Deeper’ we were lucky to have Jerry talk to us about his musical beginnings, his career, the formation of Atmosfear, and the making of 'Dancing In Outerspace'

Tell us a bit about your musical background please? 

My mum and dad both sang opera in a local Acton choral society, Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, etc. That's where they met. My mum also played piano before my dad cut it up with an axe. I still have the hammers as he'd throw nothing away. Mum's brother Bernard played trombone and then became the Swinging Blue Jeans manager. My sister Angela was a skinhead and would overheat her small single deck every night with distorted James Brown, reggae and soul 45s. I had little chance other than to like music really....luckily. A lifelong collector of just about anything, once I had the music kick I wanted their first single, that scarce album, I wanted all the tracks that so and so had written, each recording that xxx played bass on, every record on that pink label, every British reggae single, all Pama's recordings, that's it… I wanted everything. Luckily I never got it all or I'd live in an aircraft hangar, and that's without even breathing of recording studios and other loves :+).  

If I jump a few miles ahead, after eventually convincing my Dad I needed a stereo, there it was, Wye International; a flat desktop do it all with the familiar hard plastic smoked cover and SLIDERS, wow! Well, it was a great music centre, at least for three weeks before it went into melt-down and smoke emitted from those sexy sliders. It went back pronto and was changed for...er...er...lord knows, but it didn't smoke. The thing about new stereos is you need new records and as I knew a bit of Angie's reggae and James Brown I also knew sod all about other music. At school in Ealing; Harlequin, Music Land, or Lullaby of Broadway (in West Ealing) record shops became main stays for that musical curve that a smooth needed to be holding by the side of his Crombie. Pocket-money and a Saturday job just about spared seven shillings and sixpence a week for one tune (I think).

How did your career in music start?

During 1972 I'm sure I spent a lot of time skiving off and going in to my sister's job with her at Sound Scene records, a shop in Shepherds Centre owned by Jim Collyer, who later was the guy who dragged me into a studio near Marble Arch to give him a hand with a track he was recording called 'Trip To Your Mind' by The Hudson People on his new label 'Hithouse’. If you see the yellow label 01743 7558 is the shop number on it, and NO it was not recorded by Chris Hill and Robbie Vincent. They asked for the rights to in fact remix it and 'shortened it’. The band (just because few know a lot about them) were American and over here on a short break. Their main man was Reggie Hudson and there was an Earth, Wind and Fire connection in the horn department, but enough of that…

At the back of the shop was a jukebox record department where I worked packing hit singles for music venues across the country. Ok, they went to distributors who filled jukes in pubs, but it all counts! From Maggie May to Steve Harley to Bachman Turner Overdrive, they each have a musical spot in the corner of my head. Between the two Sound Scene records shops in the Bush I crossed the green past the drunks and vagrants to run the shop on the Uxbridge Rd. It was like an original 1950s musical emporium with wooden listening booths that four people could jam into to hear the latest from EMI or Polydor. 

When and how did you meet Andy Sojka? 

Jim Collyer had another record shop in the 70’s at 3 Library Parade, Harlesden, and offered the choice of where to work. I plumped for the Craven Park shop. It was far more up my street, being a seller of reggae and some soul. Must have been somewhere around 1973 I'd guess and I joined up with the guys who ran the shop - Andy Sojka and Rick DeJongh. At the time the shop had a pretty broad choice of music with lots of pop, country, Irish, rock, classical etc. Indie being Andy's favourite at the time, though not really called indie then, closer I'd say to rock with folk influences. Andy's favourite artists were Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, and he would also drift off into diddley diddley jazz (old-time stuff). He was never really a soul, reggae or jazz-funk fan; in the shop that was my job. I was in my element as the shop was virtually a stones throw from Trojan and soon we started taking in 'pre's'. They were pre-release reggae, basically, Jamaican imports and they went very well.

In 1974 I was visited by Andy Stinton, head of promotions at Creole records in Harlesden High St. He told me Bruce White and Tony Cousins would like to see me. Bruce and Tony recorded as production company Bruce Anthony and ran Creole and Cactus labels, producing Desmond Decker (Dacres) and the Checkers, along with bucket loads of other stuff. Here I met Richard Johnson. He ran the reggae department and I ran the dance end of the counter. From time to time the bosses would drag down some master tape sent from Jamaica to see if we reckoned it would sell.  

So in 1974, I was working for Cactus selling John Holt, U Roy, The Inn Crowd, Dennis Brown etc, when Bruce and Tony came down into the shop with a new tune Rupie Edwards had sent them from Jamaica. We gave it 2 spins (of the tape machine) and laughed a lot, we both hated it so Bruce and Tony decided not to release it. Three weeks later, Rupie (who we all knew, he was a great guy) phoned up from Jamaica to tell us the island was going crazy for it. Kids were going to school saying skanga all day and driving the teachers mad. The track was gonna be huge! Ok...it had to come out then. The rest here is history. Hell of a thing to turn down though. Interestingly (but fairly unknown), SKANGA (Ire Feelings) was meant to be the sound of the reggae guitar....so there. I was at Creole pretty much one year exactly (1974) before Andy and Rick re-employed me to run their new Harlesden shop - All Ears (previously Sound Scene - Jim had sold it to them).

You were an original member of the band Atmosfear, can you give us more details on how the band came together?


Around 1974 I had started clubbing ‘big time', beginning at local (Eastcote / Ruislip) do's in school halls with Deejays Chalkie White and The Judge (Geoff Chinnery). Both played a fair smattering of funk alongside the weekly ‘Rock Around the Clock' for visiting teddy boys, and ‘Bay City Rollers' tunes to cover their clientele bases. It was at one of these 'Clubs' that I met Ray Johnson (RJ) - Atmosfear's drummer, a good dancer, and fellow reggae lover. Ray and I hit it off straight away. RJ only lived in South Harrow so many Sunday afternoons he would pop round mine and we'd jam over Augustus Pablo, some new dub we'd found, or perhaps a hot funk tune. My Dad was not a lover of the walls shaking, but hey, we were kids. Ray was always miles better than me at instruments and as I had a huge selection (Bongos and a Melodica) we shared the limelight in a 7' x 8’ bedroom that already housed my Viscount Jay sound system. Occasionally we'd end up at his house jamming again in the front room joined by his Dad on Congas, cousin Louie on Keyboards, and his mate Jeffrey on Electric guitar. I think early on in the Atmosfear progression we shared bass duties, fairly often playing a dirge along with Willie Lindo's version of George Benson's ‘Breezing' and 'Samba Pati' (from his 'Far and Distant' album). Occasional Sunday jams started to become more regular. People swapped places with other band members beyond all recognition. Lester Batchelor (being a mate of Louies) stepped in on bass. Lester had been a shop regular, wandering in, listening and chatting more than actually buying anything. Probably a wise move - the Brothers Johnson being his soft spot - a constant source of mockery as I was a huge Cameo fan. Another few months in Ray's front room and a certain Andy Sojka appeared and pretty quickly Jeffrey vanished. Soon after this we started rehearsals in the back of the record shop Sunday afternoons. If I was doing anything by now I was probably attempting to play the bongos still, if at all. We also converted a standard garage (in the car park) into a soundproof one. Lester supplied polystyrene plant pot bases from his part-time job in M&S's garden department - and it did work.

From the previous paragraph, you could see a semblance of the band. There was much 'who knew who' or lived close that decided the bulk of the members. For example; Lester was from Kensal Rise but was a regular in Harlesden. Ray knew me, and Andy owned the shop with Rick (an excellent singer in his own right). Peter Hinds lived about 300 yards from the shop and would drift in occasionally. We soon realised he was Light Of The World's keyboard player and he was pressed into doing his brilliance on much of the Atmosfear stuff. A mild-mannered likeable guy who could do seemingly anything on synth or piano (thank heavens). Leroy Williams was another who lived not that far off. He was a proper percussionist with feel and a good sense of humour, and luckily Hi Tension didn't mind us nicking him on our recording sessions. Andy strummed that old guitar, picking his way through chords and looking every bit the stage star (which makes me wonder why he refused to play live, but there you go). Lester could slap bass for England, and did, never short of new lines and a smile or inquiring why to many things both musical and otherwise. Much of the pre-studio arrangements were made in my bedroom in South Harrow this time (jeez, bedrooms are handy things).

From time to time (like maybe weekly) we would have the record shop equivalent of a lock-in. favoured customers were invited to imbibe of usually Carlsberg, Special Brew or Tennents 'Super T' as swinger Jack would say. One such customer (and there were many) was Kevin from the bank over the road. A regular lover of Special Brew and well known for drinking half a teacup of Encona hot pepper sauce for a bet. Silly boy Kevin, I can still see your scarlet red face to this day. Kevin's brother Dave Allen we soon found out was a grade 8 trumpet player - top of the tree. We dragged him in too as part of our horn section along with the mysterious yet charming Stewart Cawthorne on sax; our lead line maker and trusty arranger. An accountant from Surrey, married with two children, and no TVs allowed anywhere in his house. Stewart was a big influence, maybe more than most realise. For example, if you ask anyone to recall 'Dancing In Outer Space' they will always 'kazoo' Stewart's horn line - speaks loads of truth that.

The Elite label has an iconic sleeve and centre sticker design - how did it come about?

Somewhere around this time, we had started a football team as we were all interested and it made the weekends shorter. Our team, Stanley Accrington, was a reversal of the great northern team that sank years back, Accrington Stanley. Dennis and I (Dennis Ashbourne lived three roads away and was always helping in the shop) decided we were going to steal that year's Brazil kit, yellow shirts, green shorts, yellow socks, or was it Blue (thinks). Wicked - a great kit, and a successful team made from staff, customers and friends (and always ending up in a decent pub). Life could get no better. Among the other team members was Leance Teretulien, an ex-para, jazz-funk crazy customer, and brick s**t house of a player who happened to be the main Deejay 'Smokey' that played regularly at the Palmer brothers (oh they who owned the Pama reggae label) Willesden Apollo club. Also his brother Vic, a great drummer and a true mate to me, with goal-scoring ability too. Also worth a mental nudge, we had Trevor Wyatt, our Island records sales rep, who was Bob Marley's right-hand man whenever he stepped foot in the UK.

Anyway, bored witless behind a record shop counter I would often design record labels, very much along the lines of Trojan reggae type ones. They were always bright and stood out from the Motowns of this world. When it was decided we were going in the studios to record Andy came up with Elite, and all I had to do was design it. It was loosely based on an Apollo spacecraft from a PG tips card set. The colours were that years Brazil football kit yellow/blue/green, hence the first label was those colours followed by a quick change after a few months to the 'New' Brazil kit colours, the better known blue/yellow Elite. The first Atmosfear 12" had U.S.A printed on them. The idea was to make people think it was American, as at the time brit-funk (the word did not exist back then) was not a type that stole money out of the UK dance buyer's hand. We made up a meaning to the words (Andy and I), and it meant, Unspecified Source of Acoustics... So There! Later copies have those letters Blocked Out in Blue. 

PG Tips Card


What other bands were you listening to at the time, and which clubs did you frequent? 

I think by now you have a vague clue as to our favourite music. I mean if you looked at British bands you can hear bits of EWF in Hi Tension's work, us, well I reckon we were all lovers of Slave.

I was clubbing every week to various top clubs. Most I suppose were really at street level - small clubs like Merry Makers in Slough, probably six different Birds Nest clubs around London, the ones where we knew they'd play the latest and best tunes from the States. A surprise to me even at the time was how far behind America was with its music. Killer tracks like 'Expansions' Lonnie Liston Smith, 'Say You Will' Eddie Henderson, 'Running Away' Roy Ayers, 'Moving On' and ‘Changing' by Brass Construction, really created a buzz in London but they were mostly dead as door mice in America. Slave blew the doors off in Britain but scarcely made their money back in the USA. The States didn't seem to have a club life that accepted jazz-funk, that type of music appeared as late-night home stuff - I still shake my head. London has led the way with many cults and music styles. Jazz-funk was yet another brilliant styling, and one you didn't realise while you were in it until 40 years odd later you rave about tracks that mere mortals have never heard of. I can remember tracks till the cows come home. I just hope future egos treat this grassroots dance generation with the respect they deserve.

What can you tell us about the recording of 'Dancing In Outerspace’?

Economy was never really the main plan when hunting for a recording studio, but somehow we happened upon Dave Ward, owner of Gateway studios just off the south circular by Wandsworth common. It was a happy, relaxed place, but as newbies we scarcely cared. It was an 8 track when 'Dancing in Outerspace' was recorded, after which it became a 16, the best part of which to me was the fantastic effects rack, doublers, dopplers, phases, echoes, everything for the toying about dub based nutcase - me. Lots of practising went on at the beginning, mainly Ray and Lester syncopating the drum and bass to make things tight. I remember sitting in the control room listening, (they were jamming 'Outerspace', the original intended A-side), when suddenly Lester changed the bass line, not much, but enough to bring a new groove out of Ray - a fantastic drum line. I must have liked it because I jumped up and ran into the main soundproof room and asked what the track was. There was in fact, no more to it, just D & B, but soon Andy grabbed a part and picked his well-known guitar line into the mixture, and a groove was jumping out at us. 

By the time we returned to Gateway, Abi was getting used to us, and we him. The most helpful and friendly engineer we ever had (cheers Abi). Next session and all the main instruments were added; horns, sax, congas, Pete's synths and piano solos, and me playing clave solos and clapping. Now the track, half-built was liked by us all, but at three minutes long, any dance floor would empty, through lack of breaks, breakdowns and the ever-popular jazz-funk instrumental solos. I remember sitting behind the mixing desk plotting suicidal edits and crazy effects, like the underwater bass break, Lester freaked on that one, but Ray had a big smile "Yeah!" (Ray was also a good dancer which helped). As they watched and listened, I extended the track with Abi's dextrous fingers (a blade and a splicing block), 3 minutes to 6 minutes, to 9 minutes, with each section adding and removing the next mad effect.

Had a great echo sound (but monotonous to play) on the 'space', after each clave (like two short wooden broom handles that make a bright clonk sound) and clap, made a slight space invaders twang sound that disappears in the mix. There were more effects on 'Dancing in Outerspace' than the entire following album. One of the best effects was a phase on the hi-hats that I added that switched speed drastically with each splice of the master tape - a dodgy but fun practice brought helicopter rotor blades, spinning very fast and getting faster with each of the three tape chops. Amazing, even though I say so myself.

By this time ‘Dancing In Outer Space’ had definitely become the 'A@ side, with Stewart's repetitive sax hook, doubled on Dave's trumpet, Peter's keyboards answering Lester's bass, and the whole thing congealing into a mixed monster that became Elite's first 12 Disco 45 track (DAZZ 1). DAZZ standing for disco jazz.

Atmosfear Recording Studio

How did people initially react to ‘Dancing In Outerspace’?

OK...your mates wander into the shop have a listen from a pile of 100 x Atmosfear 12's (behind our heads, on a high shelf) and each would say it was 'Good', with all the belief of a funk atheist, BUT, each bought a copy and of course the nine-minute 12" was pushed on our 2 weekly dance chart that we mailed out. This was no fast mover, to a point where we wondered where the first 300 yellow label Elites would go? Was probably 5 months before 'anything' showed signs.

When did you start to realise you had a hit on your hands?

Martin Starr and Mike Bernard (both Bristol DJs) had bought it, and were telling us via phone and their dance charts that the track was popular… as a lead weight in the Harlesden shop, frankly we were very sceptical, but Martin would send us his chart every week. A top 50 for their local dancers and we moved up every week, 48, 37, 26, Hut, Hut... sorry carried away there. Then his top ten and he called to rave about the track. The next week it was number 1! We thanked him and accepted a nights suggested trip to Bristol (5 people in my Mini) to promote it. Arriving Saturday evening at his club we walked in and the place went N U T S!! Suddenly, we had a seller, but only in Bristol. After that the London van guys started to push the track; Tony Monson then running his own import company, Disc Empire, out of Chelsea (still a good friend and lover of good soul and dance), these days a SOLAR radio DJ and promoter of the funk. The other van guy of note was Ron Boulding, from Record Corner Balham, a major player in London. 2 months later it was signed to big wigs MCA records, and the world of 1979 shook- kind of lol...

Many thanks to Jerry for taking the time to answer our questions.

You can buy Elite records from us here.