Persian was the principal DJ at The Reno in Moss Side from 1967-1983.
Having recently DJ’d some Reno Revival Nights, he agreed to talk to me about his time at The Reno.
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How did you first become interested in DJing?
I’m from an R&B background, from Jamaica. I love music so much that by rights I should have been a musician. But my mother, father and aunts were all teachers.
One of my aunts especially was into music; she wanted to teach me music.. to play the organ. But if I made a wrong note she would rap my knuckles with a ruler. A 12-year-old lad don’t like that and it put me off. So I kept away. I’m sorry that I did because I should have learned to play the keyboards, but I was too young to appreciate what she was trying to do.
I would listen to music from the States on the radio. And then I started playing at parties… teenage parties and proms in Kingston.
I was 18 when I came to London but it was too vast for me. I had an uncle there but we fell out because he was very restrictive. I wanted to go out and do my own thing, so I came north.
First I went to Liverpool but then one day, I got on the train to Manchester. I found the people were very friendly, so I decided to settle down here.
This was 1962. I was playing league cricket in the Saddleworth League for Staley in the summer, and in the winter I was playing football for Mossley, and I was working for Calico Printers Association, which was up in that area as well. I was in the print shop learning engraving. Then one day I came to Moss Side for a haircut and I gave up my job because I wanted to get involved in the music scene. That’s how I started at The Reno.
So was that effectively a full-time job at The Reno?
Yes, it was seven nights a week.
So it was a weekly wage?
Yeh, but it wasn’t t a living wage as such, so there was a problem, financially. But I wanted to play music. I was so keen and I got great satisfaction from seeing people enjoying themselves. It was a passion of mine – it wasn’t about money.
But when I started at The Reno it was only reggae in the black community and pop in the white community – there was no soul playing anywhere. I wanted to play soul. It was a struggle to convince Phil Magbotiwan the owner but I’ve got to give him credit: he realised that what I was doing was bringing in customers. Because before I went there they were struggling.
Were they competing with The Nile at that point, which was also playing reggae?
Yes The Nile was playing reggae.
So was The Reno an African club?
Yes the owner was African, but because of the music that I was playing – the soul music and the R&B – it became a cosmopolitan place.
And was nowhere in town playing that sort of stuff?
No. I was the one who started the whole R&B soul thing in Manchester.
But what about the Northern Soul scene?
It started around the same time as I was at The Reno but the type of music they were playing was what we would call ‘Beat Standard’. If you listen to Northern Soul , it’s what we call ˜White Soul’.
Even though the artists were black?
The music they were presenting wasn’t proper R&B soul – it was watered down.
And what would be the qualities of it that made you realise it was watered down? Would it be the voice, the type of lyric? The type of beat?
The type of beat and the production. When I started playing my brand of soul R&B, people were coming from all over. All of a sudden The Reno became popular. Seven nights a week, The Reno would be busy.
And how did Phil Magbotiwan get that license to be open seven nights a week, really late? Late licenses were hard to get, weren’t they?
It was a privately owned club; Phil was the sole owner. Like anywhere else, the license was until 2 o’clock. In those days the police allowed it to happen… I don’t know if Phil was paying them anything or what… but we used to open until we decided to close, which was 4-5 o’clock in the morning. So people were leaving town at 2 o’clock and coming to The Reno.
Even in the late ˜60s that was happening?
Yeh – Right through until I left in 1983.
So your music policy made The Reno take off?
Yes.. Not only that, other DJs were coming to find out what was happening…
And where were you buying your records from?
There used to be a record shop on Cross Street called Spin Inn; Gary Lane was the owner and proprietor. We eventually became very close. When I first went into the shop there was just a small box of 45s, imported records, and no-one was buying out of that little box.
So was it all 45s in the sixties?
Can you remember any artists that you were buying around then?
The Meters, who were a funk band… I’d say they were the first funk band. It was a four piece outfit. And Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions.
Then, this merchant seaman friend of mine from Jamaica… he used to do a round trip to South America and then the States and then back to England, to Manchester. I used to give him money and he used to go through Philadelphia and he would buy records for me…
So I started getting music direct from the States. Stuff like Al Green and James Brown that nobody else knew here then. But then in the early 70s, he stopped coming back to Manchester.
Then I found a little record shop in Birmingham called The Diskery. It was two guys who were jazz enthusiasts… because I love jazz as well. And they were importing American soul… so I started going there once a month.
So through the seventies, you were playing imports.. was it always current music that you were playing?
According to me because that’s what I liked! Earth, Wind & Fire, Roy Ayers.. People were going into Spin Inn and asking for certain records. When Gary Lane said ‘Where did you hear that?’ they said ‘The Reno’. So then he started importing in a big way.
He used to allow me to choose what I wanted. I was the only DJ at that time who was allowed behind his counter. And I would select and play what I wanted to play. If I came late, he would lock the shop and we would stay in there until I had decided what to buy.
So in the mid-seventies, were you still going through the Birmingham record shop?
Not when Gary started importing in a big way, and wholesaling as well. He became the main distributor of the music here. He developed a wholesale business supplying other record shops all over. So he made a fortune from what I started with him.
Did you ever look into contacting record companies directly in America yourself?
No. I’m a very quiet, shy, laid-back sort of person. I don’t want to be pushy.
Is that why you never moved into radio?
I used to guest on Piccadilly when The Soul Train was on.
Before that, when Piccadilly Radio started in 1974, Vanessa Redgrave had some in-put through the Nello James Centre.. and she told them to come to Moss Side to find out what was going on. So they sent Phil Griffin and he was directed to me. He came to The Reno, heard what I was doing and he invited me down to the radio station because they were thinking of giving us a slot on Piccadilly. But, in the end, they wanted a reggae programme, which I wasn’t interested in. So that was the end of that.
What a disappointment!
Months later, Blues & Soul Magazine heard about me and sent Frank Elson, their roving reporter who used to go round the clubs and do reviews. When he heard the music at The Reno he was bowled over. So he did an article in the Blues & Soul about me and what I was doing.
When was this?
Late seventies. So when Phil Griffin read the article, he invited me to do the Soul Train, which used to go out on the Friday and the Sunday night. At that time I was doing an all-nighter at the first non-alcoholic club in Manchester called Sobers on the corner of Great Cheetham Street and Bury New Road. A guy called Norman Sykes started the club, an ex-professional footballer. Phil Griffin came down to tell me that he wanted me on the Soul Train on the Sunday night, which I did. And the feedback was incredible. So the following week, as soon as the programme started and the phone line opened, everybody wanted to know when I was coming back on. But the guy that was running the Soul Train didn’t want me back. (Andy Peebles.)
So you didn’t do any more guest appearances?
What a shame.
But I knew all that beforehand because in that world it’s all egos. And I wasn’t part of that; I was quite happy with what I was doing. When I’d look out and see the people enjoying themselves to the maximum, that was fulfilling for me. I liked dealing with the audience and seeing people relaxing.
There was always a message in the music and my theme was love. A love song can have a religious or spiritual meaning. Anything to do with love, you can interpret it the way you want. And my interpretation was not love for somebody, but love for life. You can use it.
Because with all the pressures around at the time, there was no support in the Moss Side area and mental health issues played a very big part in the lives of people in that environment because of the struggle of life. And people had problems, big problems.
But when they came to The Reno, for those hours, they would forget all their problems. And that was what I was interested in. You’re putting some joy back in their life for that moment of time, which helps them to overcome their problems. So it was more like a religious experience for me, personally, to see people getting some form of escapism from their problems.
And it did work. And people who’ve been through The Reno experience will tell you the same. That’s why it’s still spoken about until today.
Why did it finish in 86?
The building was unsafe. And the council had already ear-marked changes for Princess Road; they wanted to clean up the route into Manchester from the south.
But you’d already left.
Yes I left in 83.
Why did you leave? Were you not enjoying it as much anymore? You’d been doing it for over fifteen years by then.
Well Phil Magbotiwan wasn’t supportive financially to me. And sure I was doing it for the community but there comes a time when enough is enough. But not only that, I noticed that the drug scene started to increase – the heavy drugs started to come on the scene – and I didn’t want to be associated with that. I wanted to be away from that.
So during that time had you lived local?
No, when I finished work, I liked to get away and live my own life. The best time was when I lived up in Little Lever. I used to travel in every night.
So what do you think about The Reno Revival nights then?
The first Reno Revival night we had was in October 2007 at Relish in town. It was massive, really massive. And then the following Christmas we did The Mint Lounge.
I’ve read about this on a website which seems to be no longer in use.
It was mine.
So why did you stop doing that website then?
The people who I was running it with wanted to take over the business and cut me out because I wasn’t running it how they wanted. But it was my website, which I paid for in advance.
So that’s why that’s not been updated?
Everything on there was written by me at first, but then they changed it all, so it has just been left.
Have you still got your vinyl?
Almost a room-full!
Do you have any momentos of your time in The Reno? Any photographs?
No – not really because I wasn’t that type of person.
One thing I knew, when I used to be playing the music in The Reno, and seeing how it went down with the people that came in, I used to say to myself You people don’t realise what’s happening here.
They didn’t realise the importance of what I was doing. But I knew – when this is over, they’re going to miss it immensely – and they did.
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Here’s a sample of the kind of music which Persian played at The Reno through the seventies; tracks picked by Persian…
1. B.T. Express – Do It Till Your Satisfied (1974)
2. Doc Severinson – I Wanna Be With You (1976)
3. Brother To Brother – Chance With You (1976)
4. People’s Choice – Do It Anyway You Wanna (1975)
5. T-Connection – Saturday Night (1978)
6. George Soule – Get Involved (1973)
7. Sun – Conscience (1977)
8. The Crusaders – Stomp & Buck Dance (1974)
9. Fatback Band – Girls On My Mind (1985)
10. Bill Summers – Summer Fun (1981)
11. Bobbi Humphrey – Chicago, Damn (1973)
12. The Whispers – Make It With You (1977)
13. Morning, Noon & Night – The Thought Of Love (1977)
14. Freddie Hubbard – Dream Weaver (1976)
15. Caldera – Coastin (1976)
16. Unlimited Touch – Private Party (1981)
17. Chico Hamilton – Mysterious Maiden (1980)
18. The Young-Holt Unlimited – Soulful Strut (1968)
19. LTG Exchange – My Love (1974)
20. Unlimited Touch – Happy Ever After (1981)
21. Noel Pointer – All The Reasons Why (1981)
22. Quiet Elegance – You Been Making Out OK?
23. Ohio Players – Sweet Sticky Thing (1975)
24. MFSB – My One And Only Love (1974)
25. Unlimited Touch – Searching To Find The One (1981)
26. Earth, Wind & Fire – Reasons (1975)
27. Caldera – Out Of The Blue (1976)
28. Brass Construction – Don’t Try To Change Me (1980)
29. TS Monk – Bon Bon Vie (1980)
30. Faze O – Riding High (1977)