If, over the last 20 years or so, you’ve spent any time near a discotheque, radio, TV or one of those spangly new pieces of kit designed to listen to music digitally, you will have been privy to some of the quite marvellous sounds touched, in one way or another, by Kelvin Andrews and his younger sibling Danny Spencer.
Now, if those names aren’t instantly recognisable and feelings of sonic inadequacy have set in, don’t fret, Kelvin and Danny might not be household names, but rest assured, having written a number one single with one Robbie Williams Esquire, remixed the likes of Sister Sledge, The Doobie Brothers and Aretha Franklin and been lauded as acid house heroes (Kelvin was one of the first DJs pushing the incendiary sounds back in the late 80s, while Danny gurned his way onto Top of the Pops and the cover of Smash Hits thanks to his brief flirtation with proper high street fame as a member of Candy Flip), they have helped soundtrack some of the last two decade’s most symphonic moments. Not bad for a couple of lads from Stoke-on-Trent, who like a cracking bottle of red wine, Keith Richards or Steven Gerrard, just seem to get effortlessly better with age.
As well as being their first love, music was always going to be their saving grace. Their dad was a former singer and guitarist, who, having issued records on such iconic labels as Pye, Decca and Parlophone, released his last album in 1964 – coincidentally enough, also the year of Kelvin’s birth. Records of every hue crowded the house.
“Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, funk and jazz,” recalls Kelvin, noting the music which resonated through their Stoke home.
“Even the odd Kraftwerk album would be knocking around,” remembers Danny. “He dealt in quality.”
And when their dad began working behind the scenes – primarily for a company that specialised in bringing black American artists over for performances in the UK – he became fast friends with the likes of Ben E King and Junior Walker.
“My dad’s got lots of fantastic stories from that time,” says Kelvin. “It was a bit strange us being from Stoke. It soon became apparent that we were a bit different from the rest of the kids at school.”
“Yeah,” sniggers Danny. “For ages we thought everyone had soul singers staying in their living room.”
It was to take a cheeky incident with a can of blue paint, his father’s record collection and his own inquisitive mind to cement Kelvin’s passion. Having daubed half his dad’s records blue, in some proto modern art experiment, when he was still young enough not to know better, it was demonstrated to Kelvin what the circular pieces of shellac were really for. In typical youthful fashion, ‘that was it’.
By the early 80s, Kelvin was DJing in an underground club called, curiously enough, The Basement and soaking up the vast array of musical revolutions that seemed to be occurring on a weekly basis: hip hop, post punk, electro and early house were all up for grabs and Kelvin was devouring them religiously, as well as schooling his younger brother. For his part, Danny won awards for his breakdancing.
House music was their real year zero though. Kelvin got his hands on an early copy of the seminal primer The House Sound of Chicago and the pair were hooked. “Everything else was irrelevant,” they both proclaim. Indeed Danny went straight into the studio as an ebullient teen and fashioned Ride The Rhythm under his evocative This Ain’t Chicago moniker. It shot to number 41 with a bullet.
Both became disciples of Manchester’s famed Hacienda nightclub, and it was after one particularly messy night down there that Danny hit upon the idea that would precipitate his first brush with fame and notoriety. Buzzing off DJ Graeme Park playing Fresh Four’s cover of Rose Royce’s blissful Wishing On A Star as the last tune of the night, he and his studio partner Ric Peet decided to try and emulate such a scenario. In a moment of serendipity, The Beatles Strawberry Fields Forever was the only song they could listen to on the radio while driving home. The temporary monster that was Candy Flip was thus conceived. A number three hit ensued, as did the aforementioned visit to Top of the Pops and that Smash Hits cover.
For their next project, the boys, typically, went underground once more (one defining feature of their careers, whether individually or collectively, has been their capacity to equally exist in the full glare of the mainstream or bury themselves in the dusty crevices of the leftfield). Having been one of the original residents at Stoke’s infamous den of iniquity, Golden, Kelvin was adept at reading his dancefloor and alongside Danny he transplanted these skills into the Sure Is Pure production team. Remixing the likes of Aretha Franklin, The Doobie Brothers, Sister Sledge, Lulu and Dave Stewart into dancefloor gold, it appeared the boys could do no wrong.
“We felt we could remix anything,” remembers Danny with a hint of mischief in his eye. “Then we got given Bucks Fizz’s Land of Make Believe. Our reworking was awful and it taught us a lesson – namely, that we couldn’t remix everything!”
During this time – the mid 90s – the brothers also initiated their Pharm imprint, in the process displaying another glimpse of their enduring ying and yang dynamism by sending the magical Remember Me by Blueboy from the nation’s dancefloors to the toppermost reaches of the poppermost hit parade.
It’s an ethos that in the heady days of acid house was termed Balearic – a strident belief that music should not be dictated by genres, rather the almost quaint notion that there exists only two types of music: good and bad. And that within this framework anything goes.
And so it went that the pair’s next project was arguably their most Balearic outing to date. Sound 5 were an experimental pop band attempting to locate the missing ground between the Pet Shop Boys and the Beach Boys. Although their ambitious undertaking never got the attention it so patently deserved – bruised egos and record industry machinations came into play – listening to the likes of Future’s Bright and Heavy Transit from their sparkling No Illicit Dancing longplayer today confirms the idea that their hotch potch musical quilt was just unfortunately ahead of its time.
From despair though came their greatest success. Robbie Williams had long been a fan of Danny and Kelvin’s due to their shared birthplace, so when the erstwhile ‘fat dancer from Take That’ (thanks, Noel Gallagher) suggested they get together with him in the studio, Danny and Kelvin could finally put all their stored wonky leftfield pop nous to good use. The resulting Rock DJ single gave them a number one single and even an Ivor Novello nomination.
Latterly, the brothers worked on Robbie’s Rudebox album, giving the title track in particular an added electro authenticity. Indeed such is Robbie’s admiration for Danny and Kelvin (they continue to work together – most recently on Robbie’s Inner Sanctum fan club releases), he has compared the duo to one of contemporary music’s most garrulous characters. “It’s like finding two Pharrell Williams in Stoke-on-Trent,” he has proclaimed.
This collaboration has continued with their role as ‘Central Midfield’ on Robbie’s new album, ‘Reality Killed the Video Star’. They spent the best part of the last three years camped out with Rob in LA and occasionally in Stoke, writing huge numbers of songs – some way too weird to make it on to a Robbie record as he himself has recently pointed out. However, the backbone of the latest album comes from those sessions with their guiding hand behind all but 3 of the album’s tracks. It has seen them truly extend themselves away from their house music roots to include 50’s Doo-Wop, Pet Shop Boys influenced 80’s pop as well as the Robbie staples of anthemic string laden balladry and puff-chested rock.
That’s not to say that they have left the house music underground for good though. Soul Mekanik is Danny and Kelvin’s latest missive from the dancefloor. Their most recent 81 album was charming leftfield house at its very best, doffing its cap to its myriad influences (seemingly every electronic movement since the titular year in question has been sifted into the mix), yet never beholden to one style or aesthetic. Very Balearic you might say.
Their involvement in the shadowy dealings of the Creative Use re-edits and bootlegs continues to inspire and Kelvin can still be found at the DJ coalface indulging his passion for all things cosmic.
Now that they have a little time to think of things outside their Robbie Williams role, they are working on finishing a slew of club tracks that they have had under construction during that period. 2010 sees them back as Soul Mekanik, showing the new kids how it’s done.
Make no mistake then, the history of all forward-thinking music, whether it be pop or underground, or both, over the last two decades is shot through with traces of Kelvin Andrews and Danny Spencer. Rest assured the future will be too.