Abi Clarke talks Campo Sancho, Soul Jazz, Super Natural Thing radio show, residencies and career moves


An interview with the Insider

Abi Clarke started Djing in the mid-90s as a weekly resident in London’s West End at ‘Do Me A Favour’. She followed on from this securing residencies at Tongue & Groove Brixton, The Café De Paris and The Met Bar.

Abi kicked around with a ton of music faces back in the day including Gilles Peterson, Ross Allen, and Ashley Beedle, and she has worked as part of the Soul Jazz Records team at Sounds of The Universe in Soho for many years.

In July Abi plays at Camp Sancho festival alongside a whole host of starry talent, that includes Laurent Garnier, Rahaan, Faith and many more, where she will bring her vast knowledge and her jazz funk, rare groove, soulful sounds to a field just an hour from London.

Here we sit down with this interesting lady to get to know a little more about her musical journey.

You can check the Campo Sancho line-up below and grab tickets HERE

Campo Sancho Line-up

Hi Abi, good to speak to you today!

Where are you at the moment? How are you planning on spending the rest of the day?

I’m at home, I live in Boughton Monchelsea, a village in the middle of Kent, in a tiny cottage. Last year I started a morning routine which I have more or less stuck to. Morning cold bath, 10 mins meditation, 10 mins yoga, lots of coffee then straight out to walk my dog.

My parents live next door and my Dad’s studio adjoins my cottage. He is an artist (he is 83 and sadly unable to produce new work due to ill health) and our family life has always been bound up with his work… today I delivered etchings to the framers for him and had a visit from a couple who came to see and buy some of his work. I use the studio for painting and screen printing my own work now too. It’s a lovely space and great to be surrounded by so much of Dad’s work.

Where were you born? Can you paint a picture of where you grew up?

I was born in Farnborough in Kent, my parents lived in Bromley and moved to their current home in 1968 when I was a few months old. It is a big and rambling old house… Dad had students staying often, Mum and Dad had lots of parties…the house was always full.

I left home when I was 18 and studied Theatre and Film at Kent University. Shortly after I moved to London until about 15 years ago when I moved into the cottage next door to Mum and Dad. It had previously been occupied by an old lady called Myrtle who lived here with no electricity, no inside lavatory and ate mainly pigeons shot by her son. We all thought she was a witch when we were kids. She was apparently an absolute laugh and has become the stuff of legend.

Some of my friends lived on farms in the nearby villages, we spent all day out on bikes, roaming through the woods, climbing on the back of older siblings motorbikes… getting into all sorts of scrapes. I loved being outdoors and still do.

You’ve been Djing since the 90s, but I’d love to know what made you start on the journey.

My parents record collection ranged from Music from The Greek Islands to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee via Not The Nine O’clock News and Lindisfarne. Mainly folk and blues was played at home.

Dad played guitar and piano, harmonica and melodion and always played with various friends throughout the years including the late Rod Hull and artist Ralph Steadman who lived nearby. Their house is full of musical instruments and anyone willing to play them (however badly) was always encouraged to do so!

My elder brother bought me albums when I was a kid, Steely Dan and Doctor John I loved them, the Led Zeppelin album I was less keen on when I was ten but can appreciate it now 🙂

I started DJ ing quite by accident. I was at a house party back in 1996 hosted by some friends that ran The Double Six Club and later The Regency Rooms. The CD player broke mid rave and they asked if anyone had any cassettes… I always taped all my most recent record purchases and made a compilation for the car… so I brought my latest tape in to play. The first track was by Webster Lewis called Do You Believe… it was an album released on Counterpoint Records at the time (RIP Jake).. the track is about 17 minutes long! A live jazz recording from a club in Oslo… Most of the ravers drifted off wondering what the hell had happened to the house music … But there was one bloke there called Tim Boogaloo… he was blown away by the Webster Lewis track and had some sort of epiphany … he asked me if I’d DJ at his club in the West End. I laughingly agreed not taking him seriously.

The following week my friend Claire called me to say my name was on 5000 flyers and I was playing at Tim’s club. I phoned a friend Jo McDowell, she was a DJ and I knew she had record decks. I went round to her Mum’s house in Rochester and she showed me how to cue up a record. The following week I played my first set and from that got my second booking at The Spot in Covent Garden.

Have you got any of your mum and dads records in your collection today?

I still have the records and cassettes my brother gave me. In my early teens I was into Sister Sledge, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, SOS Band, Lionel Ritchie,  Diana Ross… stuff that was in the Charts at the time.

When did you start buying records? Where did you buy them from?

When we were kids we first bought sweets and comics but by the time you were nine or ten you started getting into records and shortly after that clothes and shoes. The very first records I owned would have been bought at the local petrol station when I was with my Dad..Top of The Pops albums featuring bikini clad girls on the cover. I remember one from 1977 that had Uptown Top Ranking by Althea and Donna on it. Dad used to get me to play that track over and over again. Years later when I started work at Soul Jazz Records (Sounds of The Universe) they had just released their compilation 300 percent Dynamite. The Track is on that album. That made me smile. I still play it. Its a great track.

I think the first record shop I went to in Soho was Soul Jazz (Sounds of The Universe) where years later I would work behind the counter. I used to spend a day going round all the shops, Mr Bongo, Release The Groove, Black Market, Uptown Records, Reckless and many more. Beggars Banquet in Kingston and Soul Brother in Putney too and Crazybeat in Upminster as well as record fairs whenever I could.

What were you playing your records on at home in the early days?

A Sony midi system with a drawer at the bottom that came out to put a record on…it was tiny and compact because I had a very small bedroom!

My Mum and Dad’s Sound System was in their kitchen I remember buying The Sugarhill Gang album and listening to Rappers Delight very loudly on it one night. My Mum came down in her nightie to see what the noise was and said ‘Oh what lovely keep fit music’.

Was radio important to you?

Radio was very important and it was always Sunday nights on Kiss FM. Norman Jay, Gilles Peterson, Patrick Forge. I taped the shows religiously. Ross Allen on BBC London too.

Where you out and about in London much in your early twenties?

Monday That’s How it Is at Bar Rumba (Gilles Peterson, Ben Wilcox, Ross Allen)
Wednesday Paul Trouble Anderson at The Loft
Thursday – various nights there was always something good on. Scratch at The Cross Bar was a Thursday I think?
Friday – a bit like Thursdays – loads on
Saturday Far East at The Blue Note  (Paul Bradshaw, Demus, Gilles and crew) / Club Yoyos at Villa Stefano (Ronnie Herel, Trevor Nelson, JP)
Sunday – Metalheadz at The Blue Note/ Get Loose at The Fridge Bar

Abi Clarke

Do you remember the point when your Djing really kicked off?

I had a friend called Little Andy – he got me gigs all over The West End. I played at The Cafe de Paris VIP rooms every Friday and Saturday in about 1998, then The O Bar, The Met Bar, lots of places that don’t exist anymore!

I also got bookings from great djs that had become friends by then, Ross Allen (Destination Out at Cargo) Ashley Beedle (War Box), Kevin Beedle (Mind Fluid) and the Faith Mansion Party (via Dave Jarvis).

Once I started working at Sounds of the Universe in 1999 I started to tour the world as part of their reggae sound system. We would travel somewhere different most weekends and fit my London gigs somehow around this. We had some really eventful funny times travelling together to all sorts of random places from Dundee to a tiny village in deepest Germany to Sydney and Wellington.

More recently I’ve worked on events through my monthly radio show ‘Super Natural Thing’ on Mi Soul Radio –  the Margate Soul Festival, Suncebeat, Croatia, Southport Weekender amongst others!

I’ve never asked to play anywhere and never had an agent but have been lucky enough to be consistently busy since 1996.  It’s been quite relentless and I really do appreciate it.

Who were you mates back then and are they still mates today?

Music has definitely been the catalyst for some of my most enduring friendships, I count some of my most influential musical heroes as friends… and get to hang out with them too. Its nice to spend time with them away from noisy clubs … I started walking with Ross Allen and Rocky (X-Press 2) a few years back. The lovely thing about playing at Festivals or longer events is that you get to spend down time with fellow djs and that’s always lovely. Eating, hanging out and finding out a bit more about people and their story. Chance meetings too. I was playing at Southport recently and shared a minibus from the hotel to the venue with The Pharcyde …they were lovely.

You went to work at Soul Jazz in ‘99. How did you get the job?

I used to go to a wonderful boogie and soul night called Get Loose on a Sunday night at The Fridge Bar in Brixton, my friends and I would go every week. I heard a Roy Ayers Track there one night ‘Don’t Stop The Feeling’, I wanted it badly so called Soul Jazz the next day. I drove up to the West End (easy to park back then and no congestion charge) from where I lived in South London at the time. While I was there I got chatting to Hayley and Ethan. I was working in film production at the time. Soul Jazz were looking for part time staff for one day a week, so I left there that day with a job. I gradually worked there full time with lots of dj tours and residencies thrown in … I worked there in total for about 15 years I think?

I gradually cut my time down as I became busy with my own small film production company. It became difficult to juggle the two. I miss my work mates there. We did have a laugh.

Customers ranged from Prince, QTip, Quest Love to Valerie Singleton and Steve Davis. Oh and Jim from Campo Sancho! 🙂

What were some of the gigs and residencies you have had over the years?

I had a residency every Friday night at Tongue and Groove in Brixton many years ago. Every Friday from 10pm to 5am, just me.… I used to take 5 bags of records with me. It was tiny and packed out every week. To play for seven hours straight was great. It was so smoky in there I couldn’t see by the end of the night. They were great nights. I met Cyndi and Chris there (Man vs. Wife/Handson Family) They helped me out by playing from 8pm until I got there at 10pm. I will always be grateful for their support.

It was a long night!

My residency at The Met Bar was very entertaining but more from a people watching perspective… all sorts went on in there.

Margate Soul Festival is always a lovely weekend. Great memories of playing there after Paul Trouble Anderson (by then very poorly) and the love and support he showed me for my musical selections was very touching and I will never forget it.

During my time at Soul Jazz I was booked to play New Years Eve in Sydney, by coincidence I had friends and my cousin over there at the time so had a lovely time so far from home playing to my mates… a lovely hotel and two weeks exploring the beaches of Sydney wasn’t bad!

Tell us about your current residencies at The Horse & Groom and The Royal Standard.

Soul on Wax at The Horse and Groom is with my good mate JP ( we met at Club Yoyos back in the 90s where he was a resident with Ronnie Herel and Trevor Nelson. We kept in touch over the years and both have quite wide ranging collections and taste. The idea was to set up a night where we could play pretty much what we wanted… straddling genres … it’s a bit like a house party, we just play our favourite records from lovers rock, boogie, hip hop, 2 step soul, and a few curve balls..  and are very lucky to have a very loyal group of regular people who come and dance from when we open at 5pm until we close at 11pm.  We are there on the second Saturday of each month.

It Takes Two is at The Royal Standard in Blackheath with another dear friend Terry Jones (who has been doing for 55 years this year!). I first heard Terry play at Southport many many years ago. We both have shows on Mi Soul Radio and work on various events together. Terry lives nearby and the pub asked him to play there and he asked me to join him. Again we take our favourite records along and just have fun. Mark and Caroline who run the pub have a great local following, its a very welcoming pub with great food. They clear the tables on one side of the pub to make a dance floor. We’ve had some great nights there. We are there most months, on a Saturday depending on other bookings.

Festival season is upon us soon. How are you at spending a few days in a tent?

I’m better since I invested in a Duvalay (a kind of memory foam mattress/duvet/sleeping bag hybrid) …it’s game changing 🙂 I’m not good at sleeping at the best of times but this is warm and cosy.

You are playing at Campo Sancho in July. Have you played it before?

I haven’t played at Campo Sancho before but have heard nothing but good things about it! And remember great times at Carnival and big warehouse parties in the far reaches of West London listening to Sancho Panza.

It’s a great line up! There’s friends of mine on the line up Terry Farley, Stuart Patterson, Norman Jay. A few years back I was the guest on Roy the Roach and Eren’s radio show. I was very much looking forward to seeing and hearing Eren and was very sad to hear of his passing. Such a lovely humble soul.

What would be a great track to watch the sun go down and Campo in your opinion?

Ooooh good question … I’ll have to think about that one. One of my favourite sundown moments was listening to Luke Una a couple of years back in Margate. He played C’ set Le Vent Betty by Gabriel Yared (Betty Blue Soundtrack) I hadn’t heard it in years and years. It sounded wonderful.

What’s your top tip for festival survival?

Find out where the best coffee is. Go wild swimming if available … it might be better than the showers 🙂

For more info on Abi Clarke & Campo Sancho please check:

Abi Clarke Website
Abi Clarke Facebook
Abi Clarke Instagram
Campo Sancho Facebook
Campo Sancho Instagram
Campo Sancho Website
Campo Sancho Tickets

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