Eddie Piller: My Life’s Playlist

Eddie Piller was somehow destined to be a mod: his mum ran the Small Faces Fan Club back in the sixties.

After early experiences at Stiff Records, Piller became a central figure in the London jazz scene – before launching influential label Acid Jazz with fellow musical polymath Gilles Peterson.

After Peterson departed in 1989, Piller steered Acid Jazz through one of the UK’s richest recent pop culture explosion – signing the likes of Jamiroquai, the Brand New Heavies, Snowboy, Corduroy and Mother Earth.

He also signed soul legend Terry Callier, reviving a career long-thought forgotten. More on that in a while.

Outside of Acid Jazz, Piller has made his name as a broadcaster on the likes of Jazz FM and BBC 6Music, and is a regular DJ at the likes of Glastonbury, Isle Of Wight and Bestival.

The Independent Echo set Eddie our familiar challenge: create a selection of tracks which have had a major impact on his life, from childhood through to right now, in a playlist – which you can listen to below.

Then, we asked Piller to discuss five of these songs in extra detail. Enjoy…

the small faces – the autumn stone (1969)

My mother Fran ran the Small Faces fan club in the mid 1960s and I grew up knowing the band.

They were a massive influence on me throughout my career and were criminally overlooked by almost everyone until Steve Marriott died tragically young in a house fire. Then people seemed to wake up to just how bloody good they were.

Ronnie Lane was and is a hero and his songwriting partnership with Marriott was one of the absolute best, not just of the sixties but ever!

It’s heartbreaking that they are nearly all dead now. Just Kenney Jones left. Their legacy is often and rather unsurprisingly overshadowed by that of The Faces but for me, they were simply the best, most complete band that ever were.

I have to admit that Andrew Loog Oldham remembers working with them as a real pain in the arse – and I can imagine that too. I knew Marriott well in later life and he was constantly taking the piss out of everything… which might reveal why he didn’t become as rich as Rod Stewart!!!

the saints – i’m stranded (1977)

This record literally changed my life. I was off school with chicken pox at the beginning of 1978 when my mum’s mate, who worked at EMI, dropped off a box of promos off to cheer me up.

It was the usual pop fayre – Floyd, Queen etc – but in amongst it was a copy of The Saints’ debut 45, I’m Stranded on their Harvest subsidiary.

Compared to all the other records in the box it jumped out and hit me over the head with a hammer. Aggressive, angry and so so different.

This was my Damascene moment; I greedily hoovered up all I could about punk and especially The Saints. I had a Saturday job and worked in the holidays but spent more and more time and all of my money in Small Wonder Records in Walthamstow. It was so different from Rough Trade, where a young teenager could be made to feel such an inadequate; Small Wonder made you feel part of something.

By the time I was 18 I had saved enough money to travel to Australia and follow the band around on tour. Ed Keupper had recently stomped off while bassplayer Kim Bradshaw had been replaced by Algy Ward from the Damned but Bailey was awesome. Another totally underrated band.

the jam – down in the tube station at midnight (1978)

Ironically, my life long passion for mod culture hadn’t started with the Small Faces but much later – mid-1978 – when I really discovered the Jam.

Up to that time I had been broadly into punk culture but after the All Around The World single I totally fell in love with what Weller was trying to do. Lyrically I felt he was speaking for me and my generation (ie. the later or post-punk wave) in a way that nobody else was.

With the exception of the art-school bands like Gang Of Four, Mekons and Wire I thought punk disappeared up its own backside pretty quickly (although I did like local heroes Crass).

I was too young for the first wave and by the time The Clash were singing about Rocking The Casbah, our man was pointing out that “kidney machines, pay for rockets guns” (Going Underground). Social realism for the post-punk generation.

Tube Station was a story we could all relate to with the wave of late night violence we all experienced from the skinheads who went round trashing gigs (especially 2Tone ones) and blighted most of 79-83!!!

Terry Callier – Ordinary Joe (1972)

Like most mods, my passion for the Jam quickly mutated into a love for soul music – initially northern soul but eventually all types.

Terry Callier was one of our heroes. From his early northern singles on Chess – like Look At Me Now and this one, Ordinary Joe right through to his gospel-tinged disco classic I Don’t Wanna See Myself (Without You).

My personal involvement with Terry started after Gilles Peterson left Acid Jazz in 89. I was obsessed by Callier’s material and wanted to license the latter single (which was on the independent Erect label), but the stumbling block was that Callier had disappeared in ’84. Literally.

So began a quest. I first tried Jerry Butler (his former mentor) who suggested I search in LA. In those pre-internet days the US directory enquiries system was organised in a very convoluted way (telephone company-by-company and then city/state), and you couldn’t just search a number – for a couple of weeks I spent an hour or so after work each night calling the individual companies, first in LA and eventually in Chicago (Terry’s birthplace).

Finally an operator said, “I have located a number for a Terence Orlando Callier, sir.” Tentatively I called it.

A teenage girl answered but when I asked for Terry immediately hung up. The next day, the same thing, except she told me that “no one with that name lives here”. This went on for a week and a half until eventually a man answered in softly spoken silken tones: “My daughter tells me that I might as well take this call as you won’t stop phoning. Now what is it that you want?”

I now realise that Jerry Butler had given me misleading information, as in that call Terry revealed exactly why he hadn’t wanted to be found (personal family reasons that I won’t relate here). But he was adamant that he wasn’t interested in re-entering the music industry.

Over a month I built up a (rather one-sided) relationship with him and eventually he relented. I told him that we would bring him and his daughter to London for a holiday, arrange a gig at the 100 Club, sort out the band – but that he was a legend in England and that there were literally thousands of people here who loved him.

The proviso was that if he enjoyed the trip, Acid Jazz could license I Don’t Want to See Myself; if he didn’t, well they had had a lovely holiday and he could go back to his job in Chicago and forget it had ever happened.

He obviously didn’t believe me about the strength of feeling for him on the underground soul scene, but they both came over and were met at the airport by a rather over-awed 20 year old Acid Jazz A&R man by the name of Dean Rudland (now, 27 years later, my partner at the label).

The gig was an enormous success, sold out in a day and a nervous Callier took the stage. During Ordinary Joe he had a mental block and forgot the words. When the 600 strong sweaty crowd lustily filled the gaps at the top of their voices, Terry broke down in tears.

We released the single three months later, his career restarted and a year later he won a Mercury prize – one of the most emotional nights of my life.

All Because Of You – Leroy Hutson (1975) / The Needle’s Eye – Gill Scot Heron (1971)

When I started producing music, I had two main influences: Leroy for his sounds and arrangements (and songs) with Gill for his emotion and lyrical genius (and songs).

You could choose virtually any song from either and I would be just as happy – Cool Out, Think I’m Falling In Love, Lucky Fellow, Love The Feeling, Get To This… from Leroy and I Think I’ll Call It Morning, Home Is Where The Hatred Is, Did You Hear What They Said, or just about anything from Gill.

I had the privilege of working with both of them in my career and without a doubt they are the two artists that have influenced me most in my life and work.