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Chris Gill: Spreading soul, love and opportunities!

Words by Alex Watts
Photography by Anne Moffat

To anyone who is at all familiar with Melbourne’s funk/soul community, the afro-headed figure of Chris Gill – live DJ, radio announcer on Triple R’s Get Down and owner of the city’s foremost emporium of funk-associated discs Northside Records – is sure to be a familiar sight.

Having held down his spot on Gertrude Street since 2002, Gill has dedicated his time to not only spreading the word about the music that he loves but also to aid the musical community around him however he can.

“Basically my role is to spread soul and the umbrella of love and to help facilitate music in town. I just use different platforms for that,” muses Gill.

“One of the good things about Northside is its great relationship with musicians. It’s a symbiotic relationship where I will do whatever I can to help promote good music — whether it’s having them play in the store, having them on the radio or selling their records.”

This willingness to help is exemplified by his relationship with local soul champions Saskwatch, for whom Gill started a record label — beginning with debut Leave It All Behind in 2012 and continuing on to their third album, due this month.

“That’s just a very open and happy relationship — there’s no paperwork involved…well, there’s a contract on the wall that just says ‘keep it real.’ So as long as that’s happening that’s all cool.”

It becomes apparent from sitting with Gill outside the shop just what a fixture he is on Gertrude Street and the friendly vibe he omits seems to have a genuinely warming effect on the people who stop to chat, clutching newly purchased jazz obscurities.

“You know what it is — it’s you: the people getting out and participating,” he says to one customer.

“Without people participating…I mean you look at the music in Melbourne and the culture — it’s good because people support it. As soon as people stop supporting something it’s a frightening alarm clock.

“It’s a smart way for retail to go,” Gill says of running a genre-specific store.

“I’ve had the shop for 13 years and worked in Fitzroy in the video shop and before that the pizza shop so I’ve been here since the 80s, but I’ve never bought a record from Polyester because they’ve always had that indie focus — there’s no soul music. It’s good that people have kept identities like that.”

Besides excellently stocked shelves and Gill’s encyclopaedic musical knowledge, part of what ensures that Northside is a hub for groove-based music is the storeowner’s tireless interaction with the broader musical community. When touring acts such as George Clinton, Kurtis Blow or Charles Bradley come through Melbourne – if they do not already know to make contact – Gill will reach out to them, a practice that has resulted in some legendary in-store performances and events.

“To showcase stuff it’s important to push the culture of the music. A lot of the time musicians will come to town and they don’t know what to do and you just open the door for them. Musicians want to play for people who want to hear their music, especially in the funky-soul scene there’s that desire to want to play.”

One recent example of this was when the Cut Chemist/DJ Shadow tour passed through town in March and Gill invited the Jurassic 5 DJ to a sound clash night he was putting on at Ferdyduke, the theme being James Brown vs. Fela Kuti.

“I went up to him at the bar and had 15 James Brown records, doubles of ‘Funky Drummer’, doubles of ‘Give It Up, Turn it Loose’ and I’m like ‘you’re on in three minutes; you’ve got to do a 20 minute set, here’s 15 records — you OK?’ and he’s like ‘yep, yep.’

“He went up and performed one of the most amazing Olympic-level scratchin’ James Brown sets. People were loving it and then he hung around afterwards and played about an hour and a half of music he’d bought in Melbourne.

“Being supportive really comes back when you give people opportunities –especially when bands do in-stores – it’s so good because there’s been a long culture between musicians and record stores. It’s important because if you’re just selling old records you’re kind of missing the point of record stores. We have to push each other forward and that relationship’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.”

Northside Records is located at 236 Gertrude St. Fitzroy. Head to www.northsiderecords.com.au and join the mailing list to be the first to know about new discs and in-store happenings.

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