I was saddened to hear about the passing yesterday of UK radio legend Mike Allen, whom many were aware had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when it became public knowledge in 2012.
If you know your UK Hip-Hop history then you will already understand why this man and his 80s shows on London’s Capital Radio were so important to so many, with Allen undoubtedly influencing subsequent British radio giants such as Dave Pearce and Tim Westwood.
I was introduced to Mike Allen (aka The Boss) in the mid-80s by a childhood friend of mine, Johann, who used to ‘borrow’ his older brother’s tapes of the legendary radio show and bring them into school. I’d discovered Hip-Hop some years earlier as a wide-eyed seven-year-old, hearing Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message” in 1982, and had largely fed my Hip-Hop appetite with the early Streetsounds “Electro” compilations, but checking out Mike Allen opened up my young ears to a whole new world of music.
Growing-up in Milton Keynes, some fifty miles north of London, I had neither the finances or the freedom at the time as a Hip-Hop hungry pre-teen to make the journey into the Big Smoke to visit places like Soho’s infamous Groove Records. I was also too far away from the capital city to be able to tune into the London-based pirate stations of the time that were playing Hip-Hop. But thanks to Mike and his impeccable musical tastes, I could keep up-to-date with the latest fresh sounds simply by plugging some headphones into my dad’s stereo-system, engaging in some creative radio aerial positioning, and pressing play-
and-record on a blank cassette.
I can vividly recall hearing so many brilliant records for the first time on Mike Allen’s Friday / Saturday night shows, including personal favourites such as MC Chill’s “Bust This Rhyme”, Ice-T’s “Dog’N The Wax” and Schoolly D’s “Saturday Night”. I also remember the excitement of playing a newly recorded Mike Allen tape throughout the weekend, waiting to return to school on a Monday to either discuss the latest releases with friends or boast about what you’d heard if they hadn’t managed to catch the show for any reason.
Aside from the actual music, part of the show’s brilliance was down to Mike himself, whose warm, traditionally authoritative style of radio-hosting endeared him to listeners and guest artists alike.
Allen might have looked and sounded like your school geography teacher, but his interest in Hip-Hop and passion for the music he was playing could clearly be heard across the airwaves. At times, Mike sounded just as excited to be introducing his loyal Allen’s Army to a new record as we were to be hearing it.
80s favourite DJ Cheese of Profile Records / “Coast To Coast” fame recalled his memories of appearing on Capital Radio with Mike during an interview I did with him in 2013:
“When we were on Mike Allen’s show that was the first time someone had really given me full access to do what I wanted to do at a radio station. That was huge to me back then. Plus, it was big to me to meet Mike Allen. I mean, at the time I didn’t realise exactly how big he was in the UK until after we’d left the station and people were telling me more about him and what he was doing at the time with his radio show. But even before that, I was still excited to meet Mike because that was the first time I’d ever deejay-ed live on a radio station. So I was excited about being given that opportunity. Then when we were on air and I started to see the phonelines lighting-up and saw the amount of people that were calling in, that was another mind-blowing experience for me. Those moments on Mike Allen’s show were some of my best moments in Hip-Hop.”
Mike Allen wasn’t the first person to bring Hip-Hop to the UK. Neither was he the first person to play Hip-Hop on British radio. But what Mike Allen did do was provide a then underground musical phenomenon with a mainstream radio platform, helping Hip-Hop to spread further and faster across the country than it might have done without those important hours of exposure on London weekend radio.
I’m sure he didn’t know it at the time, but whilst Mike was tucked away in a Capital Radio studio playing the latest Just-Ice record, he was also leaving a lasting impact on a generation of listeners, helping to shape our personal Hip- Hop histories, introducing us to artists that would influence our lives and creating his own legacy that would be remembered and treasured by many years later.
Personally, I will forever be grateful for the part Mike Allen played in those early days of my own Hip-Hop journey, entertaining and educating me in equal measures.
Mr. Allen, I salute you – may you rest in peace.
1986 Mike Allen interview with DJ Cheese & Word Of Mouth.