Des Mitchell just loves the music
Written by Shirley Roberts
Published in the Majorca Daily Bulletin
Sunday 18th December 2016
Photographs from Radio One Mallorca
Photographs from Radio One Mallorca
There are big names on Majorca and some of them have a world wide resonance. Des Mitchell is one of those people. He is a class act DJ with passions for Soul and Motown but his story starts as part of the invited immigration from Jamaica to the UK in the 1950’s. The people that answered the call to the motherland were those who respected their Queen and thought they were going to their home country. The call went out for Bus Drivers, Train Drivers and Nurses, these were the skills that needed a mass influx of people at that time. Of course the reality, when they got to the UK, were the words, No Irish, No Blacks and No dogs on posters on the doors the houses that were letting rooms.
This was the world that Des’s parents arrived to and they settled in Dudley in the West Midlands. Birmingham had it all and their industries needed people badly. The Mitchell family and Lenny Henry’s family were all part of the same home team and Des and Lenny were friends from school. Their show business lives took them to a whole new world than the one that was occupied by their families. They supported one another and Des was cheering for Lenny on the New Faces programme that began his career. In turn Des was able to employ Lenny’s brother Paul to be a roadie for him when he had DJ equipment to move around the country.
Des Mitchell’s dad wanted him to be a bus mechanic and join him on the transport system of Birmingham. Before this career could start Des was earning pocket money by helping a neighbour who was a music promoter and organised gigs all round Birmingham and the Midlands. He needed young strong boys to help move the equipment and it helped if they were really into the music of the moment. Weekends, for Des from the age of 17 were spent at all the music venues with long car journeys listening to every type of current music that was doing the rounds. Music got under Des’s skin and his passion for Soul is undiminished since those days. His music mentor soon started encouraging him to take on gigs of his own and within a couple of years, at the tender age of 19 he was holding an audience in the palm of his hand and mixing his music for their delight.
The BBC at Pebble Mill came knocking and asked him to do a couple of pilot programmes on Soul music. His reputation had already begun to grow and the the music people of the BBC were watching his every move. Within 6 weeks his 20-minute tester programme was changed to a live performance in front of thousands at Handsworth Park. This began a four-year career at the BBC which gave him a great grounding in being able to talk to an audience and not just be grunter through the music. Des was on a roll and thought that he had the best life, a secure job doing what he loved best – what could be better than that.
A holiday to Tenerife changed everything, when he saw the delights of a holiday island and the glorious weather. A one-night event mixing music for delighted holiday makers led to a sabbatical from the BBC and a residency in the Canary Islands. Four years there and Des was ‘the man’ and the most requested DJ in the islands. He graduated in this time into the action man that he always wanted to be. Ill health and asthma as a child had caused his mum to be particularly protective of her boy. Now he was away from family influences and in the warmth of the Mediterranean he decided to go for all the things that he had missed as a child. He swam, he dived, he played tennis and football and he survived.
Des Mitchell’s talent as one of the first DJ’s to mix sounds and produce the unique club beats gives him a mentor status of his own. So many young people learnt from him and now occupy centre stage in places that Des prepared for them. The day came for him in 1989 when BCM in Magaluf came knocking on his door and invited him to do a three-day trial for them. BCM is a very important place in the whole club music scene of the world and Des arrived and found it not to his taste. Day one of the trial was music and little chat then followed by music. A very old fashioned concept in the Des Mitchell world of mixing and originality. Day two he chucked caution to the wind and played his own sets and had the management jumping up and down in disbelief and the customers begging for more.
To say that the first year was a challenge is putting it mildly as new and old order jostled for position. At the end of the season Des said goodbye and headed for the UK and new invitations that were waiting for him. As he prepared to head off for a skiing holiday the phone rang announcing that the main players of BCM had travelled to Birmingham for an immediate conversation with him. Suffice it to say that Des Mitchell, DJ of our parish, was offered a 15-year residency to do it all his own way.
That now is history as those years were the cornerstone of what is now BCM. Des trained many DJ’s to do what he does and worked in collaboration with them all. Even to this day he still guests on the BCM stage and it is not too strong to say that he is simply an icon in that world.
To bring us right up to date in the Des Mitchells story of 2016 mention must be given to the exclusive private parties that go on in this island – especially in the Soller Valley. For instance, where were you when Spandau Ballet and Alison Moyet were flown in to appear at a private gathering? Des Mitchell was right there. The Tramuntana is full of exclusive homes where parties and gatherings are of a mega scale and style and this business gets bigger every year. Majorca is the party island for the rich and discerning with extremely good taste. Private helicopters and blacked out limousines take those who can’t hide behind their sunglasses to wonderful events right here.
Des does a winter residency every year in the Maldives and he caters for chill out crowd of a slightly older age group than at BCM in Magaluf. We managed to talk this week in-between the packing for the only way he prefers to spend his winter months.
The world that Des inhabits is centred these days in the work he does for Radio One Mallorca. This is the only English speaking radio station on the island offering a radio frequency. The other stations that work in English are internet and podcast based. This has given Des a glorious opportunity to bring Soul Kitchen and the Mitchell Project to the airways of Majorca. His daily drive time show introduces dance to the daily commute home and he just loves the combination. Radio One is a great place to be for Des and keeps him back where he started in the hallowed halls of the BBC. Granted the Radio One studio is a little smaller but the early day vibe that he felt working for Pebble Mill at the beginning of his career is right here in Majorca with the team at Radio One.
As Des jets off to the Maldives his shows for Majorca continue only with a slightly different island feel. This is a man at one with his music and the world that chose him to represent them. I don’t think Des has ever applied for a job in his life but the opportunities come to him and knock on his door. It is the music that takes him to the people and the places that want to listen. No wonder he has spent the last 27 years calling Majorca home. The people here just love and respect him and his music. Thank you Des Mitchell for talking to us and keep it Soul and Motown please..