Interview with David Gresham – The Gruesome Gresh!
I bet not many people can get to say that they’ve walked into DAVID GRESHAM RECORDS and interviewed David himself?
It’s hard to Keep Your Feet on the Ground and Reach for The Stars when you’re in the same room as the iconic South African radio DJ, a childhood hero – who brought the world of music to me in my house every day and counted down the hitparade with such alacrity every week.
David started his radio career on LM Radio in the mid 60s. He then went on present his own radio show on Springbok Radio – the 4.30 Special which became the David Gresham Show which aired daily each afternoon. A few years later he took over the SA Top 20 on Friday nights and SA Hits Of The Week. David presented the variety show Sunshine 30 on test TV in 1975 and in 1976 was the first ever DJ with a Pop TV show “POP SHOP”
David was the longest running presenter of the official SA Top 20 Hits and in 1972 he set up his own record company – David Gresham Records, a company which is now the longest running independent record company in the country.
Hi guys, so I’m coming to you as a fan as you probably know, with an interest in pop from 80s and a website reflecting my interest. Somewhere I still have a recording of David dedicating a song to me on the Radio Orion Top 20 which always used to air on a Thursday night and mentioning my school – the song was Heart by Pet Shop Boys! I was stoked for weeks.
Our first star was a lady by the name of Jessica Jones. She was huge in 1972. She had a huge song called “Sunday, Monday, Tuesday.”
And we also had had Sean Rennie, who had a huge hit with “I’ll Walk With You”. All those things are available on iTunes. I worked with a great guy called Mutt Lange and he went on to produce artists like Def Leppard, and Bryan Adams and in those days it wasn’t cool to listen to local music. We helped make local music acceptable. We made our own laws. The saying “Local is Lekker” was conjured by a journalist called Peter Feldman who was the presenter of Pop News on The David Gresham Show.
At that point the Beatles were banned in South Africa. They’d been called irreligious because of a remark they’d made in early 1966 about the Beatles being bigger than Jesus Christ.
It was at this time Gary Osborne called me and said that John Lennon wanted to talk. And I met with John – and Yoko Ono – and in that interview John Lennon apologised to me for the “Beatles are greater than Jesus Christ remark”. He apologised about any offence it may have caused and said that it was supposed to indicate that it was shocking that kids filled dance halls and knew more about the Beatles than they did about churches and Jesus. He said he’s a fan of Christ. John Lennon spoke, Yoko Ono was in the room but she didn’t say much. And Paul McCartney was in and out as well. And there was a restriction on that interview. It wasn’t aired at that time. I knew if I played it I’d be banned as a DJ. But it has been broadcast – it was broadcast on Radio 5 about 20 years ago by Peter de Nobrego, when the ban on the Beatles was lifted. It’s been played by John Robbie.
I’ve interviewed a lot of interesting people. I’ve interviewed Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb, of the Bee Gees when he wasn’t a part of the band.
International acts that have been licensed to The David Gresham Record Company include: Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Ace of Base, Moby, Garbage and Nickelback – the list goes on. I love all of Pete Waterman’s stuff and I want to talk about that – as I came up the stairs to your office, I saw a record on your wall featuring Jason Donovan’s album 10 Good Reasons….
Pete Waterman was a conduit for Stock Aitken and Waterman. He was a very tough businessman. But how it came about was I came across the guys who came before Kylie and Jason – you must remember a song called Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley (do I!!!) He was unfortunately already scooped up by RCA, but we realised then we didn’t want to miss any more of the Stock Aitken and Waterman guys, and we got Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue on board!
If ever I say the name “David Gresham” to someone, the immediate response is “Keep your feet on the ground and reach for the stars”. I love that. I think it was one of the things that helped keep me motivated through some quite torrid high school years. Where does the saying come from?
Yes that saying has become synonymous with me. It was inspired by a US DJ Casey Kasem and a baseball radio commentator. Casey’s signature sign off was “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars”. I was looking for something to motivate and inspire people and help them keep grounded as well and I modified it to “Keep your feet on the ground and reach for the stars”. And it was quite funny because during one show John Robbie, who I hadn’t had a lot of contact with and who in in my broadcast years was not living in SA, argued with listeners who told him it was synonymous with me. It was heard on the South African favourites such as TV’s Pop Shop, the Top Twenty Hit Parade, the Daily Drive Show on Springbok Radio and the breakfast shows on 5FM (then Radio Five). I also had a Thursday evening rock show
How have you had to adapt to changing technologies such as the internet, and how do you counteract the ever threatening presence of illegal downloads and other forms of piracy? There must have been some immense changes since you first opened the door in 1972 until today.
Many people talk of their love of music and their passion to be involved in it. What made you get involved in the music production side of things?
I started radio on LM in January 1965. In May 1967 I started freelancing for Springbok Radio where i presented the the Top 20. I stopped broadcasting in 1991. It was a great time of my life. Charts were so successful because of singles sales, and when 7″ singles stopped, the success of charts dwindled, they became more based around votes than around sales.
South African broadcasting has been very kind to me. It was a great era of music. Because the one thing about radio is that you’re not broadcasting to any specific colour group and my shows were never political. In fact my listener base was across all ethnic groups. As a matter of fact my programme was the very first programme to play Paradise Road and many years later that song was used for the first South African Idols.
It’s actually a very simple process, we may hear someone perform or they send in a demo, and we like it, we go for it. We’ve got some great local and international stars at the moment – Connell Cruise who received 2 nominations for the 2014 SAMA awards, Faith Evans, Ashanti. We go for dance / pop and Afrikaans. We’ve got guys like Andre Schwartz, country award winning duo Heuning, Amor Vittone and Armand Hofmeyer – Steve’s son.
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