This article was originally written in November 2015, and updated in April 2016.
Back in May 2013, I got married. That’s the day which a boy becomes a man, right? My best man that day was a person who’s been there for me my whole life and continues to be – namely, my dad. I had no idea whatsoever what he was going to say in his speech. Infact, I had no idea whether he was even going to give one in the first place, as public speaking was a prospect which made him feel very uneasy – much like it would for me.
In the end, he made a speech which went through my life, from the day I was born to the present day. It felt like watching an episode of This Is Your Life, although thankfully, my dad hadn’t been able to get hold of any ex-girlfriends or persons from my past that I’d rather forget about. He even managed to dig out an old note that I’d signed back in 1999 saying that I would never get married. Red faces all around for me.
One other thing he mentioned was my love of “bloody awful dance music”, which sounds even better when said with the almost lyrical Welsh accent that my dad possesses. I’m originally from North Wales and was born and bred there. I’d never compare myself to this man, but the ubiquitous Sasha comes from the city of Bangor in North Wales, and the village where I’m originally from is barely an hour away from there. I only spoke Welsh when I was born, and only knew of the English language thanks to the media. I didn’t have a single English lesson until around the age of 7, and the only reason I knew any English before that was that I needed to be able to navigate the TV listings magazine. I now live in Northern Ireland, having moved here to be with my girlfriend, who then became my wife.
What my dad doesn’t appear to realize, however, is that he’s the one who helped inspire it all. It all started one afternoon back in 1991. In my formative years, my dad was something of a mystery to me. This wasn’t always a bad thing. He used to bring home the most random items after a day’s work as a mechanic in a local garage. All I knew was that every Wednesday, our local town hosted a market in one of the council’s car parks. For some extra money, he used to help clear things away that evening. I was doing some homework one evening when he showed up with this slightly bruised-looking radio.
Exactly where it came from is unclear, but the conspicuous lack of packaging suggested it probably wasn’t straight from the shop. At the time, I was somewhat baffled. Why on earth had he got me this? After all, I had very little interest in music, although the sound of it was familiar enough in our house.
Those of you who lived in the UK or Ireland in the 1990s will probably remember an Irish radio station called Atlantic 252. For those of you that didn’t, it used to be a radio station that played a lot of music – and a good variety of it as well, come to that – didn’t have many adverts and had a fair few phone-in competitions. My mum frequently listened to this station, getting music for exercise classes which she used to go to back then. The joys of hovering the finger over the Pause button on the cassette player ready to press it before the DJ started talking was one she was well accustomed to.
Almost inevitably, I was soon to become equally familiar with this ritual, probably being part of the last generation to do so. Initially, I used to occasionally switch on this radio, and one night, I came across a show on BBC Radio 1. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was actually listening to Pete Tong’s Essential Selection, as it was called back then. I do remember being engrossed with curiousity and a slight sense of bafflement at this music he was playing. It was completely unlike anything I’d ever heard before.
One afternoon in early 1993, my mum took me out for the afternoon to our local town. I came home with a radio that had two cassette decks. It served me well for around five years, by which point I went and bought my own with birthday money, having worn the first one into oblivion.
I would come across shows from time to time playing this American house sound, although I didn’t know this at the time. The majority of my influences, musically speaking, have always been from the other side of the Atlantic. Names such as Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Roger Sanchez, Masters At Work, Todd Terry, Tony Humphries and Kerri Chandler were not ones I was familiar with at the time, but I discovered years later that it was their records I’d been listening to back in those early days.
To start with, it’s putting it politely to state that I had no idea what I was doing. I had a vague idea that DJing seemed to involve blending one record in as another one was ending, but that was about the limit. It suggested to me there were longer versions of records than the ones sometimes played on radio, but I didn’t learn for some time that these were usually only available on vinyl – a method which, for financial reasons mainly, was simply beyond my reach.
Not that this stopped me from trying other methods, of course. As I mentioned earlier, I had started taping things off the radio myself, and I had started trying to create my own “mixes” out of those. I even used to keep books filled with tracklists of what I “played”. It’s sufficient to say that, given my total dearth of knowledge about even the basic concepts of DJing, those “mixes” that I put together were filled with painful key clashes, horrendous beat matching and the occasional interspersal and interruption from radio station jingles, news bulletins, advertisements – whatever was on the station at the time of recording.
Mercifully, none of those sessions from then were recorded, due to the fact I didn’t have the technology to do so at the time. Perhaps it’s just as well for the sake of humanity’s ability to hear. However, I still remember most of the records from the time to this day. They, thankfully, stayed with me.
In 2004, I met a girl who I rather liked. I won’t say much more than that, other than to say I had feelings for her, and I never did found out if they were reciprocated. She owned some turntables – Technics 1200s, I think – and she started teaching me how to mix on vinyl. It never was a medium I quite mastered, and I never did get to finish those lessons, but it didn’t matter too much in the end. In 2007, I ended up downloading Virtual DJ and learnt to mix digitally – and I don’t mean with the sync button. During the last few years, I noticed that house music was reverting back to the 1990s in some ways, but I also thought there wasn’t enough music that I liked available to buy. I could sit back and complain, and frankly, for a while, that’s all that I did.
So, what’s the dream for me? Well, years ago, in the days when anything truly was possible, I occasionally saw myself as a jet-setting DJ going around the world playing lots and lots of records. I’m not sure I ever saw it as a dream, but there we go. I never did square how such a shy child like myself would do such a job, but the innocence of childhood meant never having to worry about such trivial details. When I realised that this simply wasn’t going to happen, for a long time, I stopped dreaming completely.
Even writing that sentence makes my heart sink. Even as a child, I didn’t really have any. Whereas everyone else wanted to be a lawyer, a doctor, an astronaut, a fireman, a policeman and so forth, I just saw nothing whatsoever. The idea of growing up depressed me as a child. I really couldn’t see much to be excited about. As a result, the years after leaving the organised world of school and slightly less organised world of the college where I did my A Levels was a bleak, bleak time, which it has taken me a long time to recover from.
But one thing I’ve always had some interest in, but never pursued for various reasons until now, was music production. During 2015, I came up with the idea of doing a tribute mix for one of my favourite artists – two American guys who produce music under the name 95 North, amongst others. I was struggling to get hold of one or two records of theirs. In desperation, I contacted the guys through their Facebook page. I was stunned to receive a reply from Richard Payton himself, who was extremely helpful and gave the series his blessing!
So I started learning about the world of DAWs, equalization, sampling etc etc... and out of that, Amateur At Play was born. I’ve listened to house music in all its varieties over the years, and though I say so myself, I’d like to think I’ve picked up a few tips along the way. I’ve listened to enough records in the nearly 25 years since I got that radio to know what I like and also to have some idea what other people might want to listen to, what might make them dance and maybe even what they might buy! I’ve got to try and reach that goal at some time in my life, so why not now?
My dream now is more modest than the one I had as a child, but no less sincerely held. I’d like to see the name “Amateur At Play” appearing on the likes of the Traxsource charts, whether it be as tracks made by myself, or as remixes of other people’s work, or even both. I’d like to see people enjoying what I release under that name, and I won’t lie, earning some money out of my efforts would be no bad thing either. And I’d absolutely LOVE to see DJs that I look up to and admire – whether it be someone like Baltimore legend DJ Spen, or a British favourite of mine, Candice McKenzie – playing my records.
After that? Anything else is a bonus for me. I’m at the stage in my life now where I’m at a crossroads. At the time of writing this, my wife is just over six months pregnant, so life is very much on the up for me. I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by pretending that I’m the next Louie Vega or whatever, nor do I proclaim myself to be technically gifted. The truth is, though, how on earth will I be able to tell my own children in the future, with a straight face, that they should aim high and try and achieve their dreams when I haven’t even attempted to do so myself?
Expect to see releases from Amateur At Play at some point. I’ll get there, I will. I know I will...