WORDS: MIKE ROBBO
Tim Yeomans should have the respect he deserves. That comes directly from me. He’s been instrumental in shaping, not only club culture here in Hull, but also DJ culture. When he first took to the decks in Juliets, he was a hip-hop DJ, but not just any old hip-hop DJ; he was a technically proficient turntablist in the days when house music wasn’t really mixed together to any degree of competence. If you listen to any early Sasha tapes, even he, the DJ possibly most closely associated with amazing mixing skills, was a bit shambolic in those early days. Tim came into the rave scene with already well-honed skills and was instrumental in creating memories and establishing house music culture in the city in those heady days of 1989-91. To the uninitiated, Juliets, along with Quigleys a few years later is what he’s best remembered for.
But it didn’t start there. Let’s go back…
As I said in the beginning, he should get more respect in the city. For someone of his stature, he has a complete lack of ego. I’d be strutting around like a fucking peacock if I had even a tenth of the skills he has, but he’s softly spoken, unassuming and approachable. I mention this to him. He laughs.
‘That’s funny you say that because everyone thinks I’ve got a massive ego because of the DMC stuff, where you’ve got to have a front about you when you’re facing down a hostile crowd in Manchester or London or wherever. People have seen those videos and think I’m arrogant, but it was pure nerves.’
Having known Tim since the Juliets days, I assure him that’s not how he comes across to me.
When Tim was a kid, he listened to a lot of Rock ‘n’roll. His dad was a guitar player and he was brought up on a diet of Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, The Who and The Eagles. He used to wake up to that and hate it. As a kid, it’s really uncool to be into what your parents were into. At least it was when we were growing up. But as you get older, you start to appreciate it, and Tim’s come around to the charms of Cream and Hendrix. His dad’s vast records collection meant that some of his early listenings must have seeped in somehow, but he remains impervious to the appeal of Hotel California, which was on a constant loop when he was a kid.
His dad bought him a drum kit when he was 8 years old, possibly expecting him to go down the classic rock road. Unlucky. What the drums did was tap into his innate sense of rhythm. He played in a band at Kelvin school, with such luminaries as Pete Robinson and Jason Fawcett, who still ply their trade to this day. With them, he switched to being a DJ for the band Power Jam X, and the drums were left behind in favour of the turntables. But his dad had inadvertently set him out on his path, as the drums laid the foundations for what would be his lifelong passion: Hip-hop. It was a logical progression. Drums led to the towering beats, which led to scratching and breakdancing.
In 1986, when he was 16 years old, his dad bought him a big disco unit. This was the turning point.
‘I learned how to scratch in my bedroom. I’d mess around with the faders and stuff, just taught myself. Breakdancing was everything though. It was all we did. We’d all go to school with our trackie tops on, our badges of breakdancing, and we’d come home and practice. Saturday mornings in Queens Gardens, everyone was at it. Friday nights in Wyke Youth Club was amazing. There was about 200 of us. You wouldn’t see that nowadays. It was like a nightclub. It was rammed. I was only breakdancing for two or three years, but it always seems longer. It was a huge part of my life. We travelled up and down the country to dance competitions. We’d just jump on a bus on a Sunday and go to Sunderland, Stoke, Darlington, all over. We got about. We always crossed paths with Jason Orange, later of Take That; he was fantastic! But then it just went out in 1987, and I concentrated more on DJing.’
So, when the breakdancing thing went out, it freed up more time for DJing?
‘’Yeah, I used to set myself little goals. I practised in my bedroom and we used to go to Wyke Youth Club, and I thought, I’d really like to take it out and DJ there, and I did eventually in 1987. Then I moved on to Romeo’s. Mike Mckay, who was the main DJ in Romeo’s, saw me and took me under his wing, and asked me to do a set. I did one at Tower, a DMC-style scratching set, and he was the one that got me the job at Juliet’s. Ricky Jay was the main man at Juliet’s, and when he left, Mike called and asked if I fancied it. I was still mainly hip-hop DJ then, I wasn’t really aware of the different scenes, so it was a learning curve. I didn’t really want to do it at first, but I went from playing electro stuff to Big Daddy Kane, and more uptempo stuff til I found my feet with the house stuff, through hip-house. It was a seamless transition over a few weeks. I didn’t really think, ‘well I’m a hip-hop DJ, now I’m a house DJ.’ It just seemed to blend together without me noticing.’
I mention that, in Hull, Juliet’s and Quigleys and being a house DJ is what he’s most celebrated for. Those nights in Juliet’s especially were the stuff of legend. Ramming out a club on a Thursday night, every week would be unheard of now, outside of student nights. It was definitely a momentous time. I often think that we didn’t realise at the time, just what a special time in history it was, and, looking back, what a privilege it was to live through those times. I ask Tim if, from his side, there was a sense that something was afoot, culturally.
‘Well, when I first started, it wasn’t all house or rave, we’d be playing stuff like Eric B and Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, White Lines, a bit of indie with The Farm, the Mondays and the Roses, with a little bit of house, stuff like Get Busy, which was more hip-house, and gradually it crept in. We were playing all sorts at first, it was all over the shop, and then in 1989, it just blew up, but we’d still build the sets, starting off with slower, ambient stuff, and hip-hop, through indie, then at the top of the night move into the ravey stuff. Obviously, ecstasy changed everything. People wanted to walk in and be bang at it, straight into Total Confusion or whatever, but we stuck to our guns, and nobody really questioned it.’
Those nights were pretty special. Memories made. Lifetime friendships forged. Partners met. How did you dictate the music policy?
‘This is where Phil Hailstone came in. He used to come, and he was a massive clubber; really knew his tunes. Mike Beckett was going to join me, he wasn’t that keen, but he was happy to lend Phil his records. Before he started DJing, Phil would stand next to me, and say ‘put that on next’ and it’d work. He was a massive tune-head. I had the more obvious stuff, but he was into the more obscure stuff, he’d go to the Haçienda on a Friday night, pick up what they were playing there, come back and we’d play them on a Saturday. So, we started pooling our records, he joined me as a DJ, and then we started buying records together. That’s when it really took off.’
Are there any stand-out tunes from that era that really stick in your mind?
‘Everyone went mental to Last Rhythm, which I thought was strange at the time because it’s quite slow, and more ambient. The same with Go by Moby. That was massive too. Crystal Waters’ Gypsy Woman, the first time I heard it, I was, like, ‘what the fuck?’ but it was massive. ASHA J.J. Tribute, Kym Sims Too Blind to See it, Collapse My Love. Too many to mention. It used to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end when you dropped them, and cause such a reaction. Nobody really cared about mixing then, but I definitely caught the house bug.’
There’s a big emphasis on mixing now, and there would be shortly after that initial spurt, but listening back to some of the early rave tapes, the mixing was a bit shoddy, to say the least. For someone such as yourself, who was more of a turntablist primarily, did this irk you?
‘No, not at all. It made the job easier. No-one noticed if you pulled off a top mix anyway, haha. It was all about the tunes, not how you presented them, which was fine.’
What sets Tim apart, though, is his supreme technical ability. Something that has seen him perform at the UK DMC events over the years. The DMC Championship is an annual DJ competition hosted by Disco Mix Club (DMC) which began in 1985. It’s basically a DJ mixing battle, where DJs are allowed a period of six minutes to perform. What got you into the DMC events?
‘It started when I got my first decks really. I’d practise scratching in my bedroom with electro and hip-hop records and watch DMC videos on VHS. People like Chad Jackson and CJ Mackintosh, way before CJ became a house DJ. He was a hip-hop DJ first, and did the scratching on Pump Up The Volume. I watched those videos and decided I wanted to have a go, so I entered the first heat at Leeds Warehouse in ’88. You’d have heats during the day, and eventually, the winners would go through to the night heats and onto the regional and national competitions. But the first time I entered, everything went wrong. I fucked up big time. I didn’t even get through to the night. There were about 30/35 DJs, and it was terrifying playing to a room full of DJs. I’d done it in my bedroom and to a crowd of punters, but now I was playing to Chad Jackson and CJ Mackintosh, who were judges, and all those other DJs, who were judging. The pressure was unbelievable. We did 3-minute sets, and I had to wait all afternoon, until every DJ finished, then 6 or 7 names were called out to go through to the night. Mine wasn’t one of them.’
Obviously, you didn’t let this experience dampen your spirits.
‘Well, I went home devastated, but I went home more determined. I practised for a full year, locked away in my bedroom. I went back to Leeds in 1990 and won. Then, I went on to the Haçienda and won that heat; then it was onto London for the UK final. The Haç was quite intimidating, everyone from the Manchester music scene was there, and I was really nervous. I didn’t practise all day; I was too nervous. But when all my mates turned up, I relaxed a bit and smashed it.’
So, your confidence must have been sky high. How did you get on in the final in London?
‘It was a fantastic experience, but a London DJ won it. They only place the winner. It was obvious that lad was going to win it. He had the whole room willing him on. It was a great time. DMC was massive at the time. It was all over the radio and TV; it was great to be a part of it all. Rebel MC and Norman Cook were judges and it was held in Leicester Square. It was good to get it out of the way though, because you practise with the same records all year for your few minutes up there. The same set for a year. You get sick of hearing those records, but that set is new to everyone else, so you just have to keep at it, get it out of the way so you don’t have to listen to those records, in that sequence ever again (laughs). You think ‘I never want to hear this again.’ You know exactly where the break is and where the needle goes, so it was good to finally finish that journey.’
When did you go back?
‘I took a couple of years off after that. I entered again in 1992 and got to the UK finals again. I didn’t enter again until 1996/7, when I made it to the UK finals again. After that, I just entered for fun. I encouraged other people to enter, and I’d go along with them for the ride. We’d all get through the heats, and we’d be nudging each other, trying to make each other nervous. It was just a really good laugh, and we had some great experiences.’
As well as Juliet’s, Tim is well-respected for his and Pete Lawford’s celebrated nights in Quigleys, above Oasis Wine Lodge. He started there in 1994 and went on for 5 years as he breathed new life into Hull’s club scene, along with Terry Spamer’s legendary Déjà Vu nights. Between them, they have created some amazing nights in Hull, and put Hull firmly on the map, as far as clubbing is concerned. Quigley’s was famed for its fantastic atmosphere, and at one point, you’d go to Déjà Vu at Room on a Friday, power on through, hit Quigleys on a Saturday night and make it back home some time on a Monday morning. In the days before Facebook and the ‘Missing Persons’ statuses, this was quite normal and no real cause for alarm. In the mid-90s we were spoilt for choice, and there was little need to traipse across the country searching for a 4/4 beat and a room to go crazy in. Although a lot of us did sporadically, but more for a change of scenery than anything else. And Tim can go down in Hull history as being one of the main orchestrators of that whole period.
As we wrap up, I ask Tim what he makes of the current crop of DJs and the scene in general. Has he succumbed to the current digital trend?
‘I’d much rather it be 2 turntables and a mixer, vinyl just sounds better. I don’t know if it’s just the old tunes, but they just sound warmer on vinyl. But I do have a laptop and a controller, it’s more practical, as you have more music at your disposal, and it’s much lighter to carry (laughs). You’ve got to embrace technology. People think because I’m older and associated with turntables and vinyl, that I only use vinyl, but that’s not the case at all. I do draw the line at using Spotify for DJing though. I guess if you’re using vinyl, you’ve got your set and you don’t deviate from that too much; with digital you’ve got more scope, but sometimes it’s too much scope. With vinyl, you have a clear idea of where you’re going. As for DJs today, I think some of the art form is lost now. People want a fast-track to the top rather than put the graft in, so a lot of current DJs are just selectors, which is fine too. A lot of DJs nowadays are all about the show. I’d rather be out of the way. Room was perfect when the DJ booth was under the stairs (laughs).’
And with that, we bid each other farewell. It’s been an illuminating conversation, and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve followed Tim since his days at Juliet’s, through Quigleys, onto Rewind and beyond, to the hip-hop nights he still regularly plays at, but it’s been fascinating listening to his story and the progression of his DJ career. He mentions that he’s only just started to say ‘yes’ to some of the numerous requests he gets for DJing classes, but stresses that he only acquiesces to the ones who have real hunger for it, which shows remarkable integrity. I’m reminiscing about those days, and it’s always a great conversation topic for people of a certain age. At the time, we probably didn’t appreciate the work done by those who brought us those nights, which’ll remain etched in our memories forever (or not in some cases). Now is the chance to show your appreciation for a true Hull maverick.
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