Tall Paul is an undisputed legend of the dance music scene, having rocked the biggest dancefloors over a 30-year career – including Godskitchen, Cream, Golden, Clockwork Orange, Ministry of Sound, Gatecrasher and the legendary Trade, where he cut his teeth back in the early 90s.
He’s also equally renowned for his production work, with tracks such as Rock da House, Freebase and Precious Heart in his catalogue, not to mention his chart-storming work as Camisra – whose track Let Me Show You reached number 5 in the UK charts back in 1998.
He’s still dishing out belters to this day, with recent releases Welcome to the Party and No One Knows followed up with Holding On, released under his Rathbone Place guise, on his own Phree D Recordings imprint.
909originals caught up with him.
Hi Paul, thanks for chatting to us. Greetings from Ireland – it’s been a while since you’ve been here, from what we can see. We remember a particularly infamous gig at The Ormond Multimedia Centre on St Patrick’s Eve, alongside Tony de Vit….
There was a period that Tony and I were in Ireland a lot. There were a lot of venues, and we were traveling north, south, all over. It was such an amazing vibe. It was like the Scottish crowd, you know, it just had something. It’s difficult really to sort of define what it was, just a release of energy.
Around the mid- to late-90s, you were one of the most sought-after DJs in the UK. What was the secret to your success – was it a case of the ‘right man with the right tunes at the right time’?
I must give credit to what happened was when I was playing at Trade. That atmosphere, the vibe of that place, it just caught me, and was very influential in the music that I was making and and remixing as well.
It was like a perfect storm, when I was making tracks, it was with that club in mind. As long as I could play at Trade I was happy. And then you had places like Cream, Hard Times and other venues – some of them maybe got a bit too nuts. I remember telling them, ‘look, I can play other types of sets you know’ – I love this stuff, and I make this stuff, but it was getting a bit too crazy!
But yeah, in answer to the question, it was a great time and I was lucky that I had a sound that was seemed to be going down very well in a lot of of the clubs that were starting to emerge.
When researching for this interview, we put out a call for questions on social media, and one question came in about the track Deeper, that you recorded as Escrima. Is it true that the original edit of that is lost – that all that exists are the remixes?
I’ve got a big box of DATs that I recently found and it’s in there actually! But I haven’t got a DAT player, so I can’t see what else is in there.
We didn’t know where music was going back then – we recorded things onto DAT and then they became obsolete, you know? You put it away, and say ‘I’m going to transfer it later, at some stage’, but that never happens.
When we moved Duty Free Recordings from Turnmills, lots of things got misplaced and mishandled. A lot of the stuff has gone for good.
Having said that, I recently found the discs of Rock da House – the original floppy disks – a few months ago. There’s only seven or eight seconds of the track on each disc, from what I remember.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of arguably your biggest hit, Camisra’s Let Me Show You. It’s one of those tracks that just captured the Zeitgeist – it appeared in the show Spaced, it was played at Fatboy Slim’s Big Beach Boutique, a video showed up recently of Solomun playing it in Pula. Have you ever thought about revisiting it, releasing an updated version?
It’s one of those tracks. We have tried to figure out a way to try and reintroduce it, you know, but it just keeps reverting back to that version. About five years ago, I started getting sent messages about it, and I told myself ‘I’ll have a look at it’, but it has just carried on with a life of its own.
That track baffles me. It baffles everyone to to what we do with it. You can’t put a vocal over it. I tried to do that with the Virgin release and it was awful. People have tried to send me mixes of it but it has just never gone well.
Also, it was one of those tracks that just came together. It was a total fluke, to be honest. It took a couple of hours to make.
With other tracks I might spend weeks on them, and I would be banging my head against a wall. And then other tracks come along that just crash together in a complete trainwreck, but just work. It got to number five in the charts or something. I mean, that’s something for quite an underground track.
We were supposed to be on Top of the Pops, but they had Capella on the week before, and they did such an awful job with the live PA, the producer at the time said they were ‘never going to have a dance track on the show again’.
I did sort of get on Top of the Pops a few years later, when they showed the video for Precious Heart, so I got to tick that box. With Camisra, I don’t know what I would have done on the show – I probably would have looked back at it as a sort of cringe moment. But for me, Top of the Pops was such a big deal, especially when I was growing up.
You’ve been working a lot with Seb Fontaine in recent years – how did that come together?
It started a few years ago – someone put us on the same line-up and said ‘do you want to play together‘? I much prefer to do my own set up, but with Seb, it works. He knows what I’m going to do, and I can bounce off the track he’s playing. We read the crowd in very similar ways, and we have very similar tastes.
Having said that, sometimes it doesn’t work that well – there was one festival where they toploaded the bill so we ended up playing 55 minutes between us. We had travelled a long way to be there, and had spent some time editing some tracks, so that was a bit frustrating.
You’ve also been quite prolific on the release front recently, with tracks like Welcome to the Party, a 90s-style banger, and No One Knows, which has more of a two-step sound.
Some of these tracks came out of lockdown. I might be listening to something, start putting a drum beat down, and then it starts to build. Nine times out of ten it doesn’t go anywhere, but with these ones it worked.
Making music is when I’m most most happy. I’m buzzing, I’m creative and time just flies. I like taking on these little projects, putting these tracks out, just to see where they go.
You mentioned earlier about how Let Me Show You came together in a couple of hours. We would imagine you’re probably spending a bit more time on tracks now?
Yeah, but sometimes you never you’ll never get it 100% where you want it be. You’ve got to try and finish it off. Draw a line under it and hand it over, otherwise you’ll never get it right? And sometimes – most of the time to be honest – you end up spoiling it. You know, losing that vibe.
You go back to it, tell yourself ‘it could be better’, then change, fiddle, change, fiddle, and then ‘oh f**k’. That’s happened so many times, I tell you.
For someone who has been producing for nearly 30 years now, are you still dedicated to the old analogue equipment or is it all digital?
My little home setup is all digital, and I love it. I’ve been there and done that, and and it’s great to have racks of gear and all that, but with a lot of the stuff I’ve had over the years, it was so bloody temperamental. It’s like having an antique car that doesn’t work half the time. And lot of the plugin these days are just as good.
Do you make tracks mainly to play out? Or are there also tracks that are more for at-home listening – I suppose the latter was a factor during the pandemic?
I like to make tracks that I can play out – that’s a key factor in most of them, but not all. For example, some of the Simma Black stuff I’ve made, I’m not going to have an opportunity to play it out. I’d like to, but I can’t have my cake and eat it too.
Plus, I hear stuff all the time – producers that are pushing things forward. My nephew John works at a very high class studio in Crouch End and he’s always listening to the producers that come in, studying their technique and how they get certain vocalists to perform. Every time he sends me a little snippet I hear a technique in there that just blows me away. I’m always learning.
You mentioned earlier how influential Trade was on your career. What was so special about it, and is there anything like that around these days?
That club had a very unique licence, in that it could go for 24 hours. So, at seven in the morning, it created this sort of madness, that you get when people have been going that long.
For me, the music programming was what made Trade. You could have Smokin’ Jo on at the beginning, with a real Todd Terry vibe, DJ Sneak vibe. And then it would build and build and Trevor [Rockliffe] would come on and thump it, and then Tony [de Vit] would come on and do his thing. It was a proper storyline.
I wish clubs these days could be more like that. At the same time, I suppose the night does start like that in a lot of places and I’m just not there to see it. Because Trade started at three or four in the morning, there was a queue outside when it started, so within an hour it would be full, and off and running.
Of course you have some amazing venues now, like Printworks or Tobacco Dock, but with their licensing, they’ve all got to happen early. Early doors, and it has to be over by 12 or 1am at the latest. So I don’t know if you’re going to get that underground vibe like Trade.
Having said that, I don’t want to get caught saying ‘it was better in my day‘ or anything like that. If there was a demand for more underground type stuff, I’m sure someone would create it.
Your career and that of Tony de Vit were closely aligned for many years before Tony’s untimely passing in 1998. You were recently at the unveiling of a blue plaque in Birmingham to celebrate Tony’s life, how did that go?
It was great to see such a big crowd turn up for the unveiling. The mayor showed up and gave a speech, and he kept referring to Tony as ‘Tony de Vito’.
Do you think Tony is still an influential figure today for producers? Particularly up and coming producers, those that are discovering that sound for the first time?
From what I can see now with the likes of Patrick Topping and Ewan McVicar – the stuff they are playing is fast, the tempo is right up there. Someone showed me a set from ADE, which was pretty much a Tony tempo set, it was thumping away.
Back then, some of it got a bit too fast and too hard toward the end, but it was a proper night out, a good workout. It’s starting to go that way again. It’s a bit more like a housey skip-type beat these days, but a lot quicker, whereas Tony was a real pounding beat, with a big kick drum.
But yeah, there’s a lot of crossover, there’s a lot of influence that I can hear in music these days. There’s a big fascination with that late 90s vibe.