We are currently living in lockdown with a worldwide pandemic sadly underway. So with many music fans of all genres at home, I’ve decided to rerun some of the first interviews I did when I first began Northern Exposure, starting with Eddie Piller.
I have also added Eddie’s top 3 tracks to listen to in lockdown which he kindly gave me this morning and are at the bottom of the interview.
I hope you enjoy and wish anyone reading this good health and an abundance of positive energy.
Rachel Brown X
INTERIEW EDDIE PILLER (Rachel brown at Acid Jazz Records 26/02/16)
Four years ago, I had the honour of going down to Shoreditch to meet the highly respected mod Eddie Piller at the legendary record label Acid Jazz, based in East London. In 1987, Eddie set up the label with fellow DJ Gilles Peterson. It gave rise to Britain’s newest musical movement, the acid jazz scene, which included bands such as the James Taylor Quartet, Corduroy, Brand New Heavies, Mother Earth and Jamiroquai. The label has been signing artists for over 25 years and Eddie has been credited with breaking and discovering many of these bands and artists.
Image: Tobias Stahel
Eddie Piller’s career started young and his mother was famous for running the Small Faces fan club. He is still very influential on the ‘Mod Scene’ and has been a regular at most of the British festivals over the years. He continues to run Acid Jazz Records, as well as djing at some pretty impressive birthday parties, Paul Weller’s 50th, Pele’s birthday and for Paul McCartney. He has written documentaries for ITV and the BBC on ‘Mod Culture’ and is also a regular on the radio. His show the Modcast was highly successful and featured new music, film, sport, fashion.
We start at the beginning, growing up…
Hi Eddie, so tell me a little about growing up. It’s well known that your mum ran the Small Faces fan club?
Well, I didn’t remember anything about the Small Faces apart from three little things, I remember one, Steve Marriott pushing me in a swing in my garden, the second Marriott also giving me an air rifle, as you do. It didn’t fire anything, it had a pull-down thing like that and that filled it with air and then it went poof like that when you shot it, it was metal and it looked like a submachine gun. The third thing was we had two stuffed alligators which my mum said were used by the Small Faces in a photo session in Leeds. We had them in the house until about 1978 then they threw them away. However, she got sacked by Don Arden in probably 67 so she’d only been doing it about 18 months.
Was there a reason she got sacked?
It was quite a lot of work and she wasn’t getting paid for it and it was mounting up. She was getting hundreds of letters a week and she just couldn’t be bothered to do it anymore. She asked for a bit of money from Don Arden and he said no, they had a bit of a row and she got sacked. So all that was nothing to do with me being a mod. I grew up in Essex on the outskirts of London, my dad was a bookmaker in the East End in Bethnal Green and I had a happy, normal kind of upbringing.
Did your mum carry on doing stuff in music?
No, it wasn’t because she was in the music industry that she got that job, it was more because my Dad’s shop was next door to the Ruskin Arms which is the place where the Small Faces used to play. After all, it was owned by the original keyboard players Mum and Dad. My Dad’s shop was next door and they said ‘Oh Ed (that was my Dad’s name as well as mine). Would your wife like to help out with the band?’ At the time they’d only just started so it seemed like quite a good idea. Almost immediately it got quite busy and quite big. Kenny Jones and Marriott and much to a lesser extent Ronnie Lane kept in touch with my family through the seventies. I got to know Marriott quite well in the end and Kenny Jones as well.
What was Marriott like?
He was funny, very funny. He gave the impression of not taking anything seriously at all, but maybe he was sad underneath. I don’t know, I didn’t get to know him that well. I hung around, I went out drinking with him quite often, he lived quite near me. Ironically the original Small Faces keyboard player, Jimmy Langwith, lived in the same road as me in Woodford. I don’t think he ever really got over being kicked out the Small Faces. I didn’t know Ian McLagan at all until I met him about ten years ago and he only died last year. My mum was friends with the band because of the one he replaced, Jimmy Winston.
You mentioned earlier your Mums history with the Small Faces didn’t really have anything to do with you becoming a mod, so what did?
I became a mod because I got into punk and I saw the Buzzcocks and The Jam. The punk thing was already quite old by then. It was like 78, late 1978 so punk had been around a couple of years and I didn’t like the clothes. I just liked the music and then when I saw The Jam and The Buzzcocks around the autumn of 1978 when I was 15, I noticed that there were kids that didn’t dress like punks and I got talking to some mods who was later in a band called 007. So, after a Stiff Little Fingers gig in Camden in probably October 78, they said ‘Yeah, we’re mods’ and I was like wow. I’d see these guys at football ‘cause I used to go to West Ham United a lot then and a lot of the early mod’s in London were out of West Ham. There were all these kids wearing parkers at football and they were a bit younger than the punks and they didn’t have stupid haircuts and all that. So I immediately sort of thought I want to be like them and so I became a mod from that point on.
Do you think there’s a big connection with football and mod culture?
There was, there isn’t now. I think I don’t know about the ’60s, I can’t comment really, I mean George Best if he wasn’t a mod he certainly gave a very good impression of being one but there was a lot of people like him in the sixties. During the mod revival, it was a very, very working-class movement, like the skinhead movement at the same time. It’s quite ironic that the mod’s and skinheads started fighting in late 1979 because at the beginning of ’79 there was almost the same thing. It was almost interchangeable. Mods were skinheads, skinheads could become mod’s and mods could become skinheads without too much difference. After the bank holiday of 1979, August, South End, mod’s and skinheads just, the whole, it was a war for the next five or six years you know, I got in a lot of trouble from fighting.
I was going to say did you get involved in any of that?
I was arrested several times for fighting skinheads. And I got a bad kicking on a couple of occasions as well. But it’s all part of growing up. I wouldn’t dare fight now because kids have got knives and they kill each other. What the fuck.
It’s not like it used to be, is it?
Well, you can get over a kicking. I know it sounds stupid today to say you can get over a kicking but you could get over a kicking. I mean I saw people get badly beaten and also slashed up and as soon as knives came out it’s like I wasn’t interested in fighting anymore. No, I’ll walk away from that thanks.
What music influenced you then around that time? I know you said about The Jam…
Yeah, The Jam, The Buzzcocks, the Australian band The Saints were one of my favourite bands. The second wave of punk music came quite quick and was like Gang of Four, from Manchester, The Mekons, 999. I liked Television, the American kind of punky kind of arty school band, but quite quickly I just got into the mod thing.
You went to Australia didn’t you on your own? How was that lifestyle and scene?
Yep, I went to see a band called The Saints that I just mentioned, which were the band that changed my musical taste, they got me into punk in the first place. Ironically the base player had already left for England where he set up a mod band called Small Hours who are one of the most soulful and best mod revival bands. The mod scene in Australia was fantastic and I went back several times in three or four years and stayed over there for a long time. I had my own scooter there, they had a different take on mod and it was much more like a James Bond lifestyle. They used to wear dinner jackets and go to the most expensive hotel and drink champagne cocktails before they went to an all-nighter and things like that, it was just a different world cause they’d interpreted it as they wanted to. They had a very strong leader of the mod scene called Don Hosey who said no if we’re going to be mod’s we’re going to do it like this and pretty much most people in Australia followed him. It was just a brilliant scene, I had the best time of my life over there then.
Can you tell me about the fanzine that you had? Extraordinary Sensations? How did that come about?
I was at school and in 1979 most of the mod’s found out about what was going on through fanzines. They were essential. There were three or four big fan scenes called Maximum Speed, that was the biggest one which used to be sold at football, also Shake and Direction Reaction Creation. They were the big three or four others and I noticed that in the winter of 79 Maximum Speed were kind of stopping. They weren’t doing it any more so I thought I know what I’ll do a fanzine, so I did. I did it at school and I sold thirty copies, twenty copies of the first one, hundred and fifty copies of the second one, three hundred of the third. A thousand, fifteen hundred and by the end of it we were selling thirteen, fourteen thousand copies which I had to hand stamp manually with a stapler and it just got too much.
I was doing it full time with Terry Rawlings in an office, in an office in Dagenham. A friend of my dads gave us an office on an industrial estate and it just got too much work. So, Stiff Records rung up and said hey do you want to come and run a record label for us? So I said ‘Yeah, where do I sign?’ So that was the rise and rise of Extraordinary Sensations and it was really good to go out at the top because it was without a doubt one of the best, there were a couple of other good mod fanzines, Roadrunner and In The Crowd, I think at the time. Patriotic was good as well but mine was taken very seriously and was very successful and was read all over the world. It also helped when I set up Acid Jazz probably two years later, I had these contacts all over the world and most of the mod’s that I hung around with internationally, in Australia, in Germany and Sweden, in France and Italy, they completely got into Acid Jazz. Everyone kind of discovered it at the same time, it wasn’t called Acid Jazz at the time, journalists started calling it that. It was just a kind of a jazz scene with a new angle on it, Jazz dance I think it was probably called and all these mod’s were getting in to it as well as various other people. Because the mod scene had died and we kind of, we gave it a new lease of life without really telling mod’s what we were doing and the cooler mod’s kind of followed us and got with it and the ones who weren’t into it carried on doing there, got more and more into psych. We used to call them Swirlies, I don’t know what they call them now but the kids that kind of dance like that. Which is great, I love that thing but I was only into that for six months in 1981. I couldn’t base a lifestyle with that.
What do you think makes Mod Culture so appealing because it’s spanned like five generations, hasn’t it?
Well, for me it appealed to me ‘cause it was so different from punk. That was the thing that was around for kids like me at the time was punk. So being a mod we kind of adopted the whole mod look as a way of being differentiated from the punks, ‘cause early mod revival music was pretty much the same as late punk it’s just that we didn’t look like them. When you dig deeper there are so many strands to it from jazz almost to the Acid Jazz period which was all like old school hip hop and things like that. Which if you think about what mod is it’s about continually moving forward and taking things and adapting them. It’s quite ironic the great dichotomy inherent in mod is it’s stuck in the past whereas it should always be moving forward.
Do you think that’s the same with the music industry these days?
Got to say I’ve got no interest in the music industry. I watched the Brits for twenty minutes the other night. I used to go to the Brits for my job and I just thought it was shocking. The music, the people, I’m old so I’m not supposed to like it but Christ I wouldn’t have liked it if I was young either, it’s just shit.
So I’ve got no time for the music industry at all and I don’t like pop music. I just like old music.
In your opinion what do you think needs to change?
I don’t think it will change. Nothing will change. You can’t go back, suddenly click your fingers and be back in 1965. You can’t do that or even in 1979, society changes and everyone’s influences change with it and I don’t think we can do anything to change anything. I mean even the kind of new mod bands that come out now are always kind of copying something from the past. There was a great article in the Guardian written by a bloke called Martin Horesfield about four years ago which said mods, there’s a lot of mods out there and there’s so much great mod music but mod bands are stuck in a ghetto somewhere between The Jam and Oasis and he’s right. Because we started by going to see mod bands and then gradually we just appreciated music be it blues, soul, jazz, funk, whatever. We took the music we liked and we made that mod music, whereas the trouble with a lot of mod bands are they all want to be The Jam. There was only ever one The Jam although The Chords came quite close.
Are these the artists that you like, definitely no current artists?
I haven’t got any current artists that I like, I’m not bothered. I don’t have to be, there are some great young bands around but I don’t have to chase after new signings ‘cause I don’t do that anymore.
I went to see the Bluetones the other day, they were fantastic. I went to see Kitty Days in Lewis who are kind of bluesy R n B band.
You started your record label quite young, didn’t you?
The first one yeah, I was eighteen probably. I once saw an advert which said make your own record, so I phoned up and said how do I do that and they said to get a tape and send us some artwork. I made a front cover, got someone to draw a cartoon of a harmonica in a burger bun, what an awful logo that was and that was the single. It sold out in a month and then I did some more. I suddenly thought well that’s alright then, so that was how I got started in the music industry. I went to work at a record company called Avatar, a little independent label and within three weeks they’d given me a car and said right you’re driving Edwin Starr on this tour of northern soul clubs in about 1982, 81 maybe? At the same time I was setting up my own label and I’m driving Edwin Starr on a fucking northern soul tour of like ten all-nighters. So I got to see the northern scene quite early when it was still remnants of the seventies, I think Wigan was still going at the time but I never went there. Yeah and suddenly I thought yeah this is the life for me. So that’s basically why I did what I did I suppose. The influences of soul music and being a mod.
What about Acid Jazz? How did that come about?
Again, I was bored with the mod revival, I think it had pretty much faded away. There was a whole second phase of mod’s around 1984. Kids, really young kids, fourteen, fifteen years old which I was excited by and it was fantastic but I felt that the mod scene in London by 85, 86 was finished and I was bored with it. I heard a radio show on Pirate Radio and it was a DJ called Giles Peterson and I thought I really like what he’s playing. It’s kind of modern, he played Boogie Lou record, Subway Joe I think by Joe Bataan and he played Young-Holt Trio by Wack Wack and I thought I like what this DJ’s playing. So I went to see him DJ at a club, he used to do the Saturday night of a club that I did the Friday night on. So I went to see him and he was fantastic. So I just started, I left the mod scene almost completely, I started hanging around on this new jazz scene which I thought was cool. Gradually I got to know all the people and then because I’d had the experience of running my record label Giles Peterson said to me shall we start a record label? And I said yeah alright, so we did and it was only a bit of a joke. We were only going to release three singles and it all became successful quickly so we just kept going. After a year and a half, Giles had had enough of it. He got offered a lot of money to go and run Talking Loud for Phonogram Records and so we parted, we split the label in half and I carried on going and I carried on until I bought the Blue Note Club when I took a back seat in the record label. That was very successful during the early ’90s. It was very part of that making Hoxton a famous, Shoreditch a famous scene but the council closed it down in 1998. So I went back to doing Acid Jazz after that. I’d had three or four years away from the label.
What’s happening now with Acid Jazz?
Well, we’re just waiting for our distribution deal to end actually. We’ve got a jazz thing and an Israeli kind of solely mod band called Men of North Country. Jazz band of the Filthy Six. Men of North Country are a kind of ten-piece band that plays soul. We’ve got those two records coming out and then nothing until we get a new distribution deal. We’ve kind of just been bumping along with a company for two years and we’re just waiting for that to end and then we’ll probably re-launch the label again.
One of the highly successful acts you had on the label was Jamiroquai. How did you get involved with him and did you go and see him and think he’s great?
No, he’d never done a gig. He did his first gig after we’d been working with him for about four months but basically, I’d done very well with the Brand New Heavies. The Brand New Heavies had a manager, the manager came from Ealing where the Heavies came from and JK came from and he phoned me up one day and said I want you to hear something? He brought it into the office, played me a cassette of what I’ve described many times as what I thought was a black woman singing over a Brand New Heavies instrumental from the Blue album, from the first Brand New Heavies album. And I said immediately this is fantastic and he said well look out the window. I looked out the window and there’s this scrawny little twelve year old wearing a fucking poncho, a pair of pony skin trousers and a fucking hat and I go this can’t be for real. I refused to believe that that little boy could sing, so he came up to the office. He goes put on the Brand New Heavies, I put on the instrumental and he just did the little dance. Fucking hell I was like this is the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Please sign here. So we signed him that day and it took about, he was fucking hard to work with. He was hard. He wanted everything, I want to work with James Brown’s brass section. They’re not going to want to work with you, you’re a fucking unknown. I want to work with everyone, get me on stage with so and so. Mate no one is going to give a fuck about you, but he fundamentally was proved right ‘cause he sold forty million records. He was really hard work but stars are you know.
Did you feel like you had to rein him in in the beginning?
I tried but he wouldn’t compromise about music in any way shape or form. Which is so frustrating if you’re a producer or if you’re trying to make a record and you’ve got someone just being a fucking nuisance. Do that again, oh there’s nothing wrong with it. Do it again. I want to do it again somewhere else. I want to spend more money and do it again. No, that’s good enough. No, it isn’t. And this went on. So that’s, you know I knew, I co-produced with him the first two singles probably and I knew that I couldn’t carry on because it was costing, the first single, Brand New Heavies album cost seven thousand pounds. Jamiroquai’s first single cost thirty-eight thousand pounds. So I knew that we had to do a deal with a manager and get him on a major record label for my peace of mind. We did a deal with Sony in the end but it could have been any of them, none of them found him. Sony dared to say that they found him and gave him to me to develop which I found quite interesting but major companies are like that. It’s all about getting the market share and the headline and all that whereas I don’t care.
Are you still in touch with him?
I was but I haven’t heard from him for a couple of years. I was round his house a couple of years ago. It’s surreal. Sitting on his bed with Ronnie Wood right with J going and now watch this and he presses this thing and this cinema screen comes down in his fucking bedroom like that. And he goes and this is me on stage with Diana Ross. Ronnie Wood’s looking at me going is he alright in the head? So J is mad and it was just one of those surreal moments in my life. Sitting on J’s bed with Ronnie Wood. So no I haven’t seen him for a while, I mean we’re still mates we never fell out or anything. It’s just he’s a multi-millionaire. I don’t tend to have many multi-millionaire friends. Well, I’ve got a few. I’ve got a few…
What about scooters now? Have you still got a scooter?
Yeah, I’ve got, well I’ve got a couple, my son’s got a couple. I’ve got a 1976 Raleigh with an auto lube which is quite interesting because people don’t know that they made them for six months in America before they introduced the P range over here to see if this kind of auto oil thing worked and it did, so they introduced the P range which is kind of an updated Raleigh. Yeah, I’ve also got a P200E and my son’s got a 50 and a Starstream Lambretta.
What does your son do? Is he in the music industry?
He’s at music university in Brighton. Brighton Institute of Music. He puts on gigs, but he’s not a mod.
What about mod clothing? What’s your staple? What would you say?
Fred Perry’s. Yeah, I used to wear Levi’s 501 Big E’s which you used to be able to buy in Japan for three hundred and fifty quid ‘cause they had the looms there to still make them. But I’ve found since Levi’s introduced Levi Classic’s which is their retro brand I think the quality went down so I don’t bother. I wore Levi’s for thirty years. I don’t bother wearing Levi’s anymore which is quite interesting.
What about suits? Who does your suits? Do you have a tailor?
I do have a tailor. Well if I’ve got a lot of money I would use Mark Powell. I think he makes fantastic suits in Soho. For the more mundane trousers, I have a trouser obsession where I collect and have made tartan trousers, trews, in various colours, I’ve got about six pairs now with little step-down bottoms. They’re all the same. I don’t get measured up every time I go. I just go I’ll have them in that material. That’s a tailor in Epping called Roy Caine. Epping’s where I used to live and he’s really good and very well priced. You can buy a pair of tailored trousers less than you can buy a pair of jeans. A hundred and twenty quid I think they are. So yeah I used to collect and wear silk scarves a lot. I’m wearing one today but I don’t usually. It’s a bit cold this morning. I’m less interested in clothes than I used to be I have to be honest.
To finish off tell me a little about the Mod Cast you’ve had some great guests?
The Mod Cast, has become much more irregular because to be honest we’ve done forty-three of them I think and we’ve run out of fantastic guests. A lot of the people we’d like to have died, but we’re still doing it. We just did one with Rhoda Dakar from the Body Snatchers and the Special AKA and also PP Arnold, (Pat Arnold) who’s lovely. The Mod Cast does a boat three times a year up and down the Thames which is amazing where we try and re-educate mod’s and play the music that they wouldn’t normally hear. Like I played Stereo MC’s on the last boat, I started with playing Promised Land which is one of the finest house records ever which Paul Weller did a cover of. It’s a soul record and I played it on the mod boat about three or four years ago and people were coming over going what’s this shit? And then the next time someone came over and gone have you got that Promised Land? So I played it and people were a bit. Then the third time they’re all fucking hands in the air cheering and singing the fucking chorus, I think we got away with it because Weller did a cover of it in the Style Council. We’ve then gradually introduced more and more hip hop, if you’d had said three or four years ago, five years ago that mods would be dancing to house and hip hop in their best clothes, all suited up, you would have been laughed out the room. Yeah, so I do that. I know Dean and Smiler Anderson both kind of agree with me with that kind of trying to re-educate mod’s a little bit. I know they might think it’s patronising but I actually do like hip hop and house so fuck it and we can get away with it. So we say what is mod and Dean’s response was ‘It’s whatever we say it is’ and that’s the attitude we’ve had for the last twenty years and it works…