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James Hamilton

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b. 25 December 1942, England, d. 17 June 1996, Blyth, Nottinghamshire, England. While many music journalists have built substantial literary or media reputations, James Hamilton was an entirely different breed to other celebrated music writers such as Nick Kent or Lester Bangs. While better-publicised writers embraced the energy and lifestyle of the rock breed, Hamilton made his name within soul and dance music through his meticulous attention to detail and the unmatched accuracy of his writing. A large, imposing man whose knowledge of food was as awe-inspiring as his affinity with his subject area, his love affair with music and his subsequent career path were in sharp relief to his privately-educated, almost aristocratic origins. He began working as a disc jockey in 1962, and among his first jobs was a spell as the resident disc jockey in the Kray Twins’ Knightsbridge, London venue. By 1965 he had moved on to the Scene Club in Soho, which became the mecca for the emerging mod scene with its famed Saturday all-nighters. He also appeared regularly abroad, befriending the Beatles on their first US tour and helping to arrange James Brown’s first UK shows. After over 10 years of work as one of the pioneering ‘mobile DJ’s’ he took a 1979 residency at Gulliver’s Club in the capital’s West End. He also began to appear regularly on the radio, working with mix partner Les Adams (of LA Mix) on Capital Radio’s New Year’s Eve Mix shows. The duo used these shows to combine together a wide variety of musical styles into one seamless, continuous mix. Tapes of these shows continue to proliferate as bootlegs. They also served notice of Hamilton’s personal innovation in dance and soul music - the BPM (beats per minute). As a disc jockey of several years standing he had noted the possibility of mixing differing styles of music in the same set as long as the rhythmic tempos were compatible. These counts, minutely detailed to include fractions of bpms, became the basis for his famed Record Mirror columns. His journalistic career had begun in 1964 when he first wrote for that music paper under the sobriquet Dr. Soul (covering US soul and R&B records). James Hamilton’s Disco Page followed in 1976. This was the first weekly dance music column to include ‘club return’ charts - a more accurate, sophisticated response system which allowed disc jockeys to assess how well a particular record was received at his/her venue. Such charts have become the staple taste barometer of every subsequent dance music publication. He began presenting BPM counts in 1979, interspersing factual information which relied on his own peculiar review language. Over a period of time, his disciplined, economic appraisal of dance music inculcated a distinct but highly informative language that allowed disc jockeys and record shop owners to purchase new releases unheard, knowing they would suit their audiences. For example, one of his latter day reviews cited Pro Active’s ‘Culthouse’ release as ‘galloping progressive bounder with a ‘clap your hands’ breakdown in terrific acidically building Wink-ish twittery percussive scampering 134.8 bpm Cult House T.I.M Remix, chunkier lurching 129.8 bpm Cult House Original Mix, long eerily started swirly pulsing 0-130 bpm Tevendale & McCreery Remix.’ The density of information communicated in just a few words gave some indication of the concise, disciplined nature of Hamilton. What some have described as his ‘pedantry’ in going so far as to bpm to fractions was also a clue to his obsessive perfectionism. Hamilton only married late in life and it is easy to understand why - many anecdotes after his death described bizarre instances of Hamilton not sleeping for three days in order to review the latest batch of 12-inch records. As well as his writing, Hamilton continued to work as a disc jockey at one-off events and his knowledge of 60s and 70s music was so encyclopedic that Bruce Springsteen invited him to Oslo to be disc jockey at his end of tour party in 1995. However, by now Hamilton had publicly acknowledged that he suspected his fight with cancer of the colon was drawing to a close. He died on 17 June 1996, leaving behind his new wife and a collection of over a quarter of a million records.

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