For those of you who don't know, Bill Brewster is a DJ, Author and is partly responsible for the infinitely superior website djhistory.com
Bill also wrote "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life", which is possibly the most comprehensive account of the history of the DJ available (as well as simply being a great read) and he's currently set to release his next book (penned alongside Frank Broughton) "The Record Players", which (to quote the man himself) "is a collection of some of the best interviews with DJs we've done over the years (nearly 50 in total), all bound together in a lovely book, with loads of charts, discographies and groovy shizzle".
Bill has kindly put together an offer for readers of this blog to get two quid off the price of the book if you buy it from http://www.djhistory.com/.
All you need to do is put WEATHERALL into the coupon box when you buy the book on their site (offer is valid till the end of Sept)
On top of this, Bill has also given us the opportunity to present one of the interviews from his new book, featuring Tourist Pin-Up ANDREW WEATHERALL.
and here it is...
Inspired as much by ’50s rockabilly legend Mac Curtis as the deep house of Mac Thornhill, Andrew Weatherall bequeathed us one of the finest albums of the modern era in Screamadelica. In a variety of subsequent guises he went on to produce everything from coruscating techno made for shirts-off German nutters to delicate ambient music perfect for Café Del Mar, and his DJ sets are as notoriously wide and eclectic as his productions. Weatherall started his DJing career as the bloke with weird records booked to play in second rooms or late on in the proceedings. After regular appearances at early acid club Shoom he found himself suddenly in demand, and at gigs where he was expected to actually make people dance. Working in a Windsor clothes shop by day, by night he’d be either DJing or venting his spleen in the pages of Boy’s Own, the fanzine he started with local chums Terry Farley, Cymon Eckel and Steve Mayes.
Tell me something about growing up and your musical interests as a kid.
I was brought up in the suburbs in Windsor and my grandparents lived in Slough. It was suburban but it wasn’t too far away, so I could go on raiding parties. I’d jump on a train and in an hour I’d be in London. The great thing about that is you don’t take it for granted. You may even have a couple of months to assimilate what you’ve seen and heard and done. Sometimes when you live in London, you get blasé, it washes over you a little bit. So living in suburbia you had chance to discuss the skirmishes you’d been involved with, which is what I really liked.
So what would a typical trip be then?
I’d save up and then I’d probably go to Kensington Market to a rockabilly shop. I’d go to World’s End. I’d do any number of jobs and save up so I could go into town and buy records from the Cage in Beaufort Market in the Kings Road which was the first shop that sold post-punk records, apart from Rough Trade. It was a pop culture thing: clothes, records, haircut, and tattoos!
What did you do for jobs when you left school?
First job I had was a furniture porter for an old school shop called Pyle Brothers. They had no lifts and they had a storeroom on the third floor and they’d buy up bankrupt stock and us four had to unload articulated lorries full of Chesterfields and take them up three flights of stairs. At this time I’d just discovered amphetamine sulphate as well so I was a tad wiry and more than willing to start some sort of fracas on a Friday night. Loads of jobs. My last job was a stagehand building film sets. It was around 1988. I’d work on a film set for a couple of weeks and I was beginning to DJ a bit and there was a bit of dilemma: do I start DJing properly? And I’d been offered a job abroad with this set company and in the end I didn’t go because they let me down at the last minute. So if I’d have gone on that trip I probably wouldn’t be sitting talking to you now.
Did you see music as an escape from what you’d been doing?
Not really. It was literally, here’s a chance to make some money. I like to have money to buy clothes. I thought I’d give the DJing a go. But even when ‘Loaded’ [by Primal Scream] came out I remember going for a job interview at London Records to be a record plugger or A&R man or something. I still thought it was the latest way to make some money. It felt like another stop-gap. It’s the same as the Rolling Stones reflecting on how they started, ‘Oh we thought it’d be over in 18 months!’ That’s how I felt. I’d plough on in my direction and things seem to turn out alright.
When did you first get interested in DJing, what made you want to become one?
It was only quite recently that I considered myself a DJ. I started collecting records when I was 12 or 13 years old and whenever there was a get-together I would be asked, ‘Bring your records,’ when everyone else was more interested in copping off and drinking party sevens. The next step was, ‘Get that bloke with the weird record collection to play some music.’ That was a couple of years before Shoom. The same happened at the birth of acid house: ‘Call that bloke with the weird records to play at six in the morning.’
I just had that sort of joy I had when I was 11 or 12. I’ve had the experience of hearing this for the first time and now it’s your turn. I was just playing records, I wasn’t skilled. I was playing such varied music you couldn’t mix it.
But then because my name started to get associated with Shoom, Spectrum and things like that, people would book me without really hearing what I did. They probably booked me so they could put ‘Shoom’ in brackets. So I was getting booked to play main spots and going down like the proverbial turd in the salad because I’d be playing weird music at six in the morning. So I had to incorporate more and more house and disco tracks and learn how to mix. My first pair of record decks were bought by a record company I did a mix for. I did the sleevenotes for some Italo-disco compilation and my payment was a set of decks. It was about 1990. So it was a gradual progression until about five or six years ago I kind of realised I was a DJ.
But the thing that probably attracts you is that evangelism of finding interesting stuff and playing it to people.
Yeah, but without straying into righteous zeal territory! You know what I mean? It’s almost as good a feeling looking in someone’s eyes and seeing their joy of discovery; it’s almost like re-living your own joy of discovery. In a way it’s a little bit selfish. Although you’re sharing stuff, a good part of it is for your own gratification. There’s a little bit of selfishness back ’cos you want that feeling back that you’ll never get again. It’s a bit desperate really! [laughs].
There’s also a certain amount of ego involved because it’s obviously quite exciting to play records to people. Was that an attractive thing?
Not to start with because a lot of times the DJ was only one step above bottle washer. It was only when people were so desperate for heroes that they thought DJs would be good ones. I’ll be honest with you, I did fall for it hook, line and sinker because being such a music fan and buying the NME and music magazines, and all of a sudden you find yourself in them, well it can turn a man’s head. I did go a bit silly for a number of years. Then you throw the obvious drug into the equation as well, which is super-duper ego-expanding powder and yeah, you do get sucked in. I don’t sympathise with people on that star trip but I can empathise with them. You’re living in lala-land and people are coming up to you every day and saying how great you are. Hold on a minute, are we so desperate for heroes that we’re going to have DJs for heroes? That’s not right, it should be something a bit more substantial than that.
How did it affect you personally?
Well without going into too much detail, it affected relationships on every level from friends to girlfriend. Just general everyday dealings with human beings. I was a bit arrogant. To be honest, some of that was a defence mechanism. I’d been told I was the best thing since sliced bread and in the back of my mind was this feeling that all these people would find me out. Someone’s gonna go, ‘Look he’s not wearing any clothes!’ So partly the arrogance was to put up a wall because of my insecurity. But it’s part of getting older, really. The artistic world is full if insecure people and I was just one of them. You get older and become more self-aware. It’s nice that people come up and say nice things about what you’ve done. But you know, sometimes I think I’d rather people think I had a shit back catalogue but thought I was a decent human being.
What were your first musical passions?
Fifties rock and roll and glam rock, without a doubt. It was about the time the film That’ll Be The Day came out. I would’ve been 11 or 12. They had these adverts on the cinema and there was ‘Poetry in Motion’ by Johnny Tillotson, ‘Runaway’ by Del Shanonn, ‘Johnny Remember Me’ [by John Leyton], all those kind of things. Look, I’m getting goose bumps talking about it! It sounded like music from another planet. Coupled with a film about blokes on bumper cars with leopard skin drape suits and David Bowie on Top Of The Pops.
It’s the classic kid in the suburbs. I had a nice upbringing but it was a bit dull. That was like a gateway to a parallel universe. Then a few years later punk came along, then post-punk business, rockabilly revival. Yeah, and I’ve been on every bandwagon since! [laughs].
How did you meet the Boy’s Own lot then?
Well I lived in Windsor and they lived in Slough and it was that classic suburban thing of people meeting at the one decent clothes shop. Can’t remember what it was called offhand but this guy Johnny Rocca worked there. I met Gary Haisman and Terry Farley there. We used to go to the same sort of discos. Cymon [Eckel] lived there as well. I was really hanging out a lot with Cymon and another guy called Phil Goss, who now lives in Italy. Every Friday, pre-acid house, we used to meet up at 9 o’clock and drop a tab of acid, which is where that post-punk compilation I did for Nuphonic got its name from [9 O’clock Drop]. Then we headed into town and went to Le Beat Route or Mud Club or something like that. I gradually got to know Terry over those years going to clubs.
When you started Boy’s Own, what was it? Was it a club or a magazine or what?
It was a magazine first. Terry was enthralled with The End. His words at the time, ‘If fuckin’ scousers can do it then I’m sure we can!’ or some such pep talk. And we did. It was Pritt sticks and cutting things out on my coffee table.
Were you aware of The End?
Yeah I’d seen it; I knew exactly what he was talking about. I wasn’t into football. [Steve] Mayesy and all that lot, they were into football and they’d get these things from football and I totally got what he was saying. So it was like, let’s give it a go.
What stuff were you reading at the time?Well I can’t remember exactly but it would probably involve Camus and Kafka and the usual kind of youthful follies. I was and still am a Joseph Conrad fan. I just saw it as a chance for expression and I’d be able to write about music. It’s a fanzine, so it doesn’t have to be particularly current, you’ve got nobody’s product to push so you can be quite abstract. I was the Outsider (his pseudonym in Boy’s Own)
Why did you call your column The Outsider?Because I was a bolshie little bastard! I always wanna be in a gang but then I don’t wanna be. I want the best of both of worlds. So I thought I’d be able to write a sarky piece deconstructing or taking the piss out of everything you’re about to read about. I wanted to have my cake and eat it I suppose.
Is that a theme that runs through your whole career?I’m totally like that. I wanna be accepted but get annoyed when I am. Groucho Marx said, ‘I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that accepted me as a member.’
How did the ideas come about for Boy’s Own?It was literally what anyone had listened to that week or read or what had happened. After acid house kicked in it became the village paper for the acid house scene. There was only two or three clubs! There were pictures of parties where only 2-300 people had been. It was very insular. After a couple of years, John Brown Publishing offered us national distribution and we were like it’s pointless, cos people’ll just think, ‘Silly Cockney cunts.’ It would have appeared too cliquey. Obviously people from up north did buy it but they were people that came to the parties. It would have been like making a parochial local newspaper and then selling it throughout the British Isles. It wouldn’t work.
How do you feel about it now? It’s still revered and a lot of it is still funny.
Yeah, but I don’t actually own a copy. There was a certain point – on too many ecstasies – that I gave away most of my possessions, you know what I mean? Most of my test pressings, acetates and everything: ‘Yeah, go on, I love you!’ [laughs] I’ve seen bits of it and I think it’s alright but there are a bits that I find a bit embarrassing and a bit un self-aware but other people might think were really funny. If you looked back at some of the stuff you wrote 20 years ago you’d probably think the same.
And throw the vernacular of acid house into the equation as well!
And the drugs.Yeah. It’s a good, unpretentious document of those times I think. It would be pretty essential in years to come for people researching the birth of acid house. I’d say it was a jolly good read for historical purposes but for entertainment purposes it would be very dated.
What bound all of you lot together?
A common love of going out and all that that entailed. The music, the clothes, what happened afterwards when you discussed things like books, art, it was the whole social scene that generations before us had had. I just wanted my scene. I was a bit too young for punk. So it was kind of my thing. Again it’s that thing I wanted to part of a scene but didn’t want nobody to understand! It was that again.
What about places like the Mud Club.Well it was good, the dressing up was fun but there didn’t seem to be any kind of scene although I suppose there was: it was new romantic, what Robert Elms called ‘The Scene With No Name’. Actually what it was like is what’s it’s like round here now [Shoreditch], a weird mish mash of rockabilly and punk. No one’s quite sure. You’d go to a gig in the mid ’80s and there’d be rockabillies, goths and there’s that kind of feel now. While they’re looking for something new they’re pillaging what’s gone on in the past.
Is it less tribal now?
As I see it, I live in London’s fashionable Shoreditch so I’d go, ‘No, it’s like one great big village!’ But if I lived on some estate in the north of England where there’s a big divide between say, casuals and goths... Some goth kid was killed by kids off an estate recently so it’s all very well for me to say it’s all fine but you can’t get any more tribal than people killing each other.
What effect do you think acid house has had?
It helped push music technology forward. Everyone said it had a great social effect, I don’t really think it did. The biggest effect it had was the push and development of music hardware, firstly, and then software. Kids were going out and hearing these records and wanting to make them themselves. I would imagine those that went to those early clubs ended up, a good proportion of them, being involved in music technology. That lit the blue touchpaper for where we are now, where we can sit here and make tracks on our laptops. That’s what acid house did. It had a few momentary social consequences, like the poll tax riots and the club laws, but it was only made political by the press.
Do you not think, unconsciously at least, it was political: the idea of reclaiming and remaking communities?
To a certain extent, but a lot of that community was fuelled by ecstasy. It was there and I don’t want to downplay it, and I don’t want come across as a curmudgeon. It was the same with the ’60s; it was a bit of false dawn. It affected people’s lives but it didn’t usher in a new Age of Aquarius! [laughs]. It really didn’t. It depends on whether you want to see breaking into a building and dancing as a political act. It was just another strand, another part of London and Manchester discos.
What effect did punk have on you when it happened? How old were you?
I was 13 in 1976. I remember the day after the Sex Pistols were on Today [with Bill Grundy], I had shoulder length hair and I remember sitting in the barbers and pointing to a picture of them in the papers and saying, ‘Chop all me hair off!’ You can’t describe it to younger people. People thought it was the end of civilisation. It was like bomb going off, especially in suburban England. It frightened my parents to death. My dad was a bit of a reprobate himself, he wasn’t totally square, but this was just ridiculous. It really put the fear in people. Anything that scares the old folk is good. That’s why I’m covered in tattoos. When I was a kid my parents were so against them they thought they were evil, so I gravitated towards them. It’s the way youth culture works.
Did you see any parallels between punk and acid house?
Briefly, when it hit the papers, but that was more to do with the fact that it was so drug fuelled. It wasn’t the politics or nihilism or against society like punk was. It was the accoutrements that they were against.
For you personally did it have any resonance?
Not really, no. I was always a bit of a confused person. I liked punk but I liked disco music, so the two were always separate. So acid house was the development of my disco side, it wasn’t a development of the more political and more abstract musical side. It was a revolution in my disco world rather than my political world.
So did you have compartmentalised little worlds that you dipped in and out of.
Well yeah really! I never got that thing that disco sucked when punk was going on, because I knew all the originals were bored soulboys who used to go to Chaguarama’s. That’s where you got dressed up. You could go to weekenders dressed like Bryan Ferry or David Bowie and you wouldn’t be hassled. It’s like that early thing John Lydon said: punk was all about selling trousers! Sorry everybody, it was primarily a London fashion thing. It was bored soulboys and people going to gay discos and wearing mohair jumpers and plastic sandals. Sorry Conflict, GBH and Crass, it was a London trouser thing! [laughs]
Do you think the superstar DJ thing was a betrayal of the whole acid house ethos?
I’ve looked at certain DJs and thought, ‘Fuck, I’m gonna give this up.’ I’m not gonna say who but I’ve been to see some high end DJs and there’s times I’ve come out and I’ve been embarrassed to say that I’m a DJ. I could’ve been that person if I’d carried on a certain route. It’s probably part of myself I don’t like, rather than them. Anything I get angry with in the music industry is often because I don’t want to be reminded of the person I was.
Do you think the scene is in a better state now the superstar thing has deflated?
It’s still there.
Well it is but it’s more fluid than it was.
I think kids have got wise to the fact that you need better heroes than DJs. Even Pete Doherty’s a better hero than Judge Jules, let’s be honest, and Pete Doherty’s a bit ropey. DJs should be heard and not seen, really. That thing where you’re playing [indicates on high] and people are looking at you… it’s not what it’s about. I like Moodymann and playing behind a screen.
That actually accentuates everything!
Yeah you’re right. You still need that contact, but you don’t need to be bathed in light, you don’t need to be the centre of attention.
I think kids have got wise to the fact that you need better heroes than DJs. Even Pete Doherty’s a better hero than Judge Jules, let’s be honest, and Pete Doherty’s a bit ropey.
How important is mystique in music?
Very important. I was always drawn to the fact I’d never seen a picture of Martin Hannett or Adrian Sherwood. It was years before I saw a picture of either. That added a little bit more substance to things. When I first started I didn’t want to use my real first name and I refused to be photographed for years. The first photo shoot I did I wore a medicine hat and a big pair of glasses and a scarf. Anton LeVay was the head of the Church of Satan in San Francisco and he used to play organ in burlesque and strip shows in the 1940s and there’d be a room full of guys watching someone almost naked, but if a woman wearing a pencil skirt walked in every head in the place would turn because they want what’s hidden. I’m with Anton on that! [laughs]
What makes a good DJ?
It can be as simple as playing good music. Good music, well programmed. Even if you’re playing wildly different music, I try and make some sort of connection or some sort of flow. I don’t like to be jarred too much. There has to be a connection, where I can see there’s some sort of thought process and not, ‘Ooh haven’t I got an eclectic record collection?’ I want to listen to something in slightly open-mouthed wonder, doesn’t matter whether it ‘s a rockabilly track or techno. Doesn’t have to be dazzlingly new. I got hooked on the idea that everything has to be new and original for while. But nothing dates quicker than a new sound. Believe it or not I’m in the Billy Childish camp. Originality is not what is important, it’s authenticity.
How did the studio work happen?
Jeff Barrett was managing me and he did Primal Scream’s press. He gave me a copy of the album. He said it was getting slated left, right and centre and I came back to him and said I loved it. So he said, ‘Why don’t you write a review for the NME?’ He wangled that so I went down to Exeter to see them play and reviewed it – the headline was ‘Sex, Lies & Gaffer Tape.’ I got on really well with them. Then I’d see them in clubs like the Future. Andrew Innes was in Spectrum one night and he said, ‘We’ve got this track and you can do what ever the fuck you like with it.’ That was ‘Loaded’. I made one attempt where I reined back a bit because I didn’t want to upset them. I played it to them and Innes said, ‘No man, fuckin’ destroy it!’ So I went back into Bart’s Studios in Walthamstow with a very talented man called Brian O’Shaughnessy who’d actually produced and engineered the original.
So you never actually worked with the band?
No, and that was pretty much how Screamadelica was made as well. I think there was only one time I got it wrong. I did a version of ‘Shine Like The Stars’ they didn’t really like and I went back in and did it again, and I’m really glad I did because it’s one of my favourite tracks on there. Obviously they’d have to do overdubs or they’d drop in to see how it was going, but I didn’t have the joy of the drummer setting up his kit or the guitarists saying, ‘I’m a bit toppy.’ Which is a working method I’ve applied: have as few musicians in for as little time as possible! Otherwise it gets very tedious.
Were they immediately happy with the results?
They might have come in and suggested things. I don’t remember really, because it was a very hazy time. It was just people hanging out and making records.
How many things had you done in the studio before?
Not a lot. Happy Mondays, East India Company, maybe St Etienne. Apparently there’s a website dedicated to this information.
What was your role?
Well, when I got the demos I knew exactly what Bob [Gillespie] had been listening to to get that song. So I would inject my approximation of that. You know, it’s weird but I was listening to ‘I’m Coming Down’ and I spoke to Bob on the phone and said, ‘For some reason I’m getting Pharaoh Sanders, the sax player, don’t ask me why.’ And he said, ‘I’ve got a Pharaoh Sanders CD in my hand at the moment!’
It was like that. Whether it was a chord progression or a vocal line, I knew exactly what the ingredients were that went into that. So I’d go into the studio and say to the engineers this is why this sounds like it does and play them Big Star or whatever and we’d build it up from that. I was the conductor, basically. ‘This is what it should sound like, I’m not sure how to do it, that’s why you’re here.’ I was learning as I was going. I knew what it wanted.
On one track I knew we needed those plastic tubes that kids swing round their heads, it was the only sound I could hear. And we did indeed have five people swinging them round in the studio! But I couldn’t have done it without Hugo Nicholson, who would hear my suggestions and say, yes but what about this? So I was open to that. So it was my blueprint even if it did get smudged. Hugo did all my early stuff till about 1994, when Sabres of Paradise started when I worked with Jagz and co.
How did Sabres come about?
Can’t remember exactly. I was looking for new people to work with and I got introduced to Jagz and Gary at Full Circle probably. And they knew of a studio in Hounslow West in this really rough council estate. It was like a room inside a room above a newsagent, so you’d never know from the outside it was a studio. There was a pub at the end of the road and the landlord had recently been put away for murdering one of his clientele! It was pretty hardcore. If anyone had known it was a studio it would have been done over in minutes.
Listening back to the music you’ve done over the years which are the tracks you’re most pleased about?
Well there are things that I’ve done and been a bit embarrassed about over the years, but then you actually hear them still being played. Often the very things that made those records work are the things I don’t like: the mistakes and the simplicity and the obviousness of them. I didn’t think about them too much when I was making them, but over the years I’ve thought about structures and so on too much. Brevity? Don’t know the meaning of the word, sir! One kitchen sink? Let’s have two or three. It’s that naivety I like but it’s that naivety that makes me go, ‘Mmm shouldn’t have had that there.’ It’s like the drum loop on ‘Loaded’, it’s ridiculous. There’s a crash on every bar! It’s a mistake but it’s one of the things that makes it.
One of the things I’ve learned about the studio is if you think about things too much it’s time to stop. I’ve had some killer tracks that I’ve noodled out of existence because you always think it’s got to have more. Last week I was going through the computer and I found 10 new tracks, basically a whole new album, really good beginnings of songs that we’d got bored with. The stuff I’m doing at the moment has a sound that’s almost similar to the early stuff. It’s closer to my vision of what I was trying to do 15 years ago. I’ve got more technical knowledge. So now I’ve got the best of both worlds, my naive approach but with a bit more technical backup. I’ve gone backwards in sound a little bit but it’s that authenticity over originality! If you do something authentically it somehow ends up sounding more original anyway.
Interviewed by Bill Brewster in London, 28.5.09
As an extra treat we've also managed to get our grubby paws on a very rare copy of one of the 50 promotional mix CD's (Nice sleeve artwork too) made by Andrew for his and Shaun Johnston's brilliant Psyche-Disco night 'A Love From Outer Space' at The Drop in Stoke Newington which continues this Thursday for it's 5th edition. Something a little bit different (as usuall) from Mr W with the mix split up into 5 different pieces. The firsty 4 being short with the 5th being almost an hour long. As ever, it's corking gear!
Alternative download link for Weatheralls 'ALFOS' mix here.
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