Following a couple of dry home-based months in February and March, the schedule for April was looking distinctly more exciting, with a trip to Singapore/ Australia/ Hong Kong as the clear highlight. 1st of the month was a Wednesday, which meant the regular two-hour excursion into heavy tune territory with ‘Just Buggin’. I find this weekly rinse-out to be truly cathartic, allowing me to drop incredible tunes old and new that I just can’t get away with in clubs. Whenever I get the feeling I’ve sold my soul to the devil with some of the garbage I have to drop at weekends, I feel I’ve exorcised the musical demons by the next Wednesday night. Catch the next one if you can – you can listen from anywhere on www.fm1079.com from 10.30pm GMT every Wednesday.
While on the URL plugging front, a quick word about my presence on twitter.com. You can find me on there now as @djmarkdevlin. I was initially reticent about taking on yet another website to keep updated, but the appeal has quickly caught on, and it’s clear that Twitter is fast putting both Myspace and Facebook to bed in the popularity stakes. Shout to all my Followers. Hit me up with those new requests.
Thursday 2nd marked my first long-distance excursion of the month, a return to the awesome Block Party held at The Wheelhouse, on the shore of Lake Windermere, Cumbria. This has long been one of my favourite UK gigs, and on this occasion, we packed young Zaina off to her grandparents so Parveen could come for a rare night away. I rarely get up North these days, so we took advantage of the occasion to veer off the M6 into Preston for a social hook-up with my good DJ mate Rick Star. We sat in a busy beer garden while we chewed the fat, succeeding in talking about subjects other than music so as not to put Parveen to sleep. Rick’s been getting on his marketing game strong lately. Check out his new website at www.rickstar.co.uk. The stop-off served as a welcome break from what would otherwise have been a straight four-hour drive.
On our last trip we’d found a Lakeside pub that did carvery meals for an incredible £3.50, so we got our eat on before retiring for a disco nap at the guest house. Block Party is promoted monthly by Clyde, aka DJ Bligeness, the key player in his part of the world, and succeeds to a large degree down to number of Jamaicans who work in the area’s hotels and come down to party on a night off. The variety of playing different types of DJ gigs is something that keeps me sharp; six nights earlier I’d been dropping 80s soul and funk to big people in Swindon; in Windermere, I was able to play a set heavy with bashment and dancehall. The night was a whole load of fun, as Block Party assignments always are. Roll on the next one in August.
After a generous breakfast and far too little time away, we headed South on Friday morning. A gig at Que Pasa in Watford was on the agenda. I set off at my usual time and all was going well until I hit the slip road on to the M25. Only then did a sign inform me that the motorway was completely closed for two junctions due to an ‘incident’. The sea of brake lights snaking into the horizon told me instantly I was going to be late. My only salvation was a ‘police-only’ slip road off the M’way on to a quiet country lane which I had no problem with using. Every other route was clogged as I weaved my way through at least 20 towns and villages I’d never heard of to arrive in Watford an hour and 20 minutes late, which was as good as it was ever going to get. I hate being late for gigs, (and it only happens once every couple of years or so,) but sometimes there’s just nothing you can do. A de-stressing vodka nightcap awaited back at home.
Saturday night’s DJ outing was to the Second Bridge in Bath. It’s a 200-mile round trip with a four-hour set in between which, when I think about it, is a fairly hefty schedule for one night, but I’ve now been doing it so long I barely notice it. The 4am arrival home coincided neatly with Zaina’s night feed.
While I remember, a couple of ragga-flavoured dumb DJ requests from the night. I know you love ‘em.
Punter: ‘Can you play that tune ‘Headslide’ by Mr. Vegas?’
Me: You mean ‘Heads High’.
Punter: No, the one I want’s called ‘Headslide’
Punter: Have you got anything by John Paul?
(She (have you noticed how it’s always girls?) clearly meant Sean Paul, but I would love to have played a solemn Catholic hymn in deference to Pope John Paul to keep her happy.)
I could have done with more sleep the following morning, but that’s par for the course on a Sunday. The date was a long-awaited one as Wifey and myself headed to our favourite luxury hotel/ health spa, Alexander House in Sussex, for a long-awaited (and very expensive, hence the rarity,) pampering break. My Indian head massage set me straight for a session in the pool, sauna and steam room. Five lengths of the pool destroyed me, so I guess I’m not as built for it as I thought. The vegetarian menu was banging – twice-baked goat’s cheese soufflé with rocket and parmesan salad, followed by poached duck eggs on a toasted muffin with spinach and béarnaise sauce. I’m not much of a foodie, but that was enough to get even me excited.
We returned home on Monday feeling healthy and rejuvenated but, curiously, completely knackered. According to staff, the combination of detox, exercise and heavy feeds has a similar effect on most guests. Alex House is not cheap, so it was straight back out to work in Watford on Monday night, this time thankfully arriving with plenty of time to spare. For the second time in four nights the slip road from the M25 on to the M40 was closed for my return home, forcing a long detour. We should truly be able to apply for a percentage refund on our road tax in such cases, but somehow, I don’t think I’ll be holding my breath.
I’ve always found Easter weekend to be difficult to predict in terms of crowd attendance. The Thursday this year found me at the trendy bar/ club spot Izi in Witney, and it turned out to be absolutely mental, the crowd clearly taking advantage of the no-work Friday. I juggled and chopped the sounds for five hours straight.
Good Friday was all set to involve a spot in Oxford, in a venue that’s long specialised in mainstream/ student-friendly R&B. So I was surprised to arrive and find FM107.9 station-mate Spex already positioned in the DJ booth. When our first question to each other was ‘what are you doing here?’ it was clear there had been a double-booking. After 45 minutes of phone calls to sort it out, I ended up being sent away while Spex played. But as I got fully paid up for the night without playing a single tune, I’d call that a bit of a result. I wasn’t ready to go home, so instead headed on to The Bridge to hang out with DJs James Ussher, Bob G and Danny Smith.
I was surprised to find the venue at less than half its usual crowd capacity, with other clubs in town apparently experiencing the same. Ussherman’s electronica set was being broadcast live on FM107.9, and joining him on percussion was Dean Oram, whose drum and bongo game was mesmerising to watch. This guy is world class, and has justly been signed up by Hed Kandi, and is appearing at this year’s Creamfields as a result.
Saturday involved my regular spot in Watford, Que Pasa, which was similarly lacking in massive punter turnout. Parveen and Zaina had been house-sitting for her brother in Aylesbury, so I headed there after the gig and crept into bed after a quick beer. Zaina’s become very vocal lately and after a couple of hours I’d been woken by her babbling. So I headed back to ours at the crack of dawn, went to bed for three or fours, then went straight back to spend the day with the other two. I had Sunday night off, and despite the large number of raves on offer, went to bed early. Not particularly rock ‘n’ roll, but early sleeps on nights off are the only way to survive.
On August Bank Holiday last year I put together an Urban Anthems special for FM107.9, and I persuaded the station to let me do the same for Easter Monday this year. I was in my element ripping through three hours of throwbacks, spanning 90s hip hop, R&B, ragga, garage and jungle. Dropping the tunes made me realise how much sounds and production styles in the ‘urban’ music genre have changed in just a few years. The show’s now available to download and listen to again on the following links:
Part 3 (DJ Chippie 90s Revival Mix):
Part 5 (MD live in Norway Mix):
Part 6 (Untouchable DJ Drastic Reggae Dancehall Mix):
A long overdue Scottish double-bill followed for the weekend of Friday 17th/ Saturday 18th, the components of which were hastily juggled when the scheduled gig at Byblos in Glasgow got cancelled, (business as usual then!) With some swift negotiating, I managed to replace this with a place at the Trevor Nelson jam at Lourenzo’s in Dunfermline. My flight was still booked to Glasgow, however, necessitating a case of Trains, Planes and Automobiles – a bus into the city centre, then a 50-minute train ride over to Edinburgh. From there, I was picked up by Paul Atherton, aka DJ P45, who’s kindly offered to put me up at his crib for the night.
We crossed the Forth Road Bridge to arrive into Dunfermline for early doors. Lourenzo’s is a large and plush venue with a spacious main floor, and a bar/ lounge area, which was designated as our old school room. Friday nights are apparently a challenge, and when the venue was still only partially full by 12.30, the decision was taken to close the main area and put Trevor on in our room instead. Admirably, Trev resisted the urge to drop commercial crowd-pleasers like Flo Rida and Akon, instead flitting through revivals ranging from DJ Luck and MC Neat to Marvin Gaye. The night finished with Paul undertaking a flyering session outside Shanghai, Edinburgh’s big R&B spot for a Friday night. Never make the mistake of assuming a promoter’s life to be all glitz and glamour!
Having crashed the night at Paul’s, He dropped me into the city on Saturday morning, and I spent some time walking around a very messed-up Princes Street. A major new cross-city tramline is in the process of being installed. Edinburgh ditched its trams decades ago in favour of traffic-friendly routes. Now, congestion has forced it to go right back where it started.
Saturday night was another old-school affair. DJ Fabulous and P45 hold their monthly Urban sessions at Berlin, a bar/club that’s been fashioned out of some of the city’s many catacombs. The jam is the market-leader on the urban/ black music front; this month’s affair had Luton’s King Alfred guesting alongside Fabulous for dancehall and Afrobeats in one room, Paul and myself dropping 80s and 90s revivals in another, and Nick G with upfront hip hop and R&B in the third. It was a great, well-attended night, and reassuring proof that it’s still possible to rock peak-time Saturday night with heavyweight serious tunes. I recorded mine and P45’s revival sets, and they’ll be available to listen to via links on the homepage sooner rather than later. I also took an extensive set of pictures which sum up the wild atmosphere of the night well.
Flying home far too early on Sunday morning, I had just one night at home with Parveen and Zaina before setting off on my marathon trip, so we made the most of it by heading out for a Thai meal, and I took every opportunity to fuss over Z in between a packing session that called for military precision in making sure I had all my key items packed – everything from assorted leads and cables to earplugs and aspirins.
I was more than surprised to get an upgrade on the BA/ Qantas codeshare to Singapore. Nothing to get too excited about – it was only Economy Plus. But the extra legroom made for a slightly more comfortable 13 hours. After hotel check-in I headed into the sticky and humid Singapore night, first of all to the cool and upmarket Supperclub. The Belvedere IX vodka brand were hosting a private party there, in league with local promoter John Bosco Lopez. Vodka is my regular tipple, but this stuff, at near 50 per cent proof, is far too lethal for me. Spinning as I arrived was DJ Ko Flow, the region’s most prominent hip hop turntablist, and for good reason. His skills are tight.
From there, it was on to Le Noir, an open-air bar spot on bustling Clarke Quay, for a reunion with DJ Titus, who I span with at Attica on my last visit in ’07. Back at the hotel, I was bemused to find my legs hanging a clear six inches off the end of the bed. At 5’10” I’m far from a giant, but found myself towering over most Singaporians, who the bed was clearly made for.
No upgrade on the Singapore to Sydney leg, sadly, but the seven hours zipped by after the previous day’s slog. Having a body clock that was shot to pieces years ago and grabbing pockets of sleep at all times of the day has one clear advantage; jet-lag rarely affects me. This set me up well for Thursday, and a social link with my good buddy DJ D. It was gloriously sunny as we headed to a tea and cake shop on Bondi Beach. While chatting, our conversation was overheard by one of the waiters, who revealed himself to be a turntablist going by the straightforward name of Mr. DJ. It seems our breed are lurking everywhere. Later that day I set off on my first domestic flight, to Hobart, Tasmania, the furthest point South I’ve ever been, (and unless I ever go to the Falklands or New Zealand’s South island, it’s likely to stay that way.)
Hobart put me in mind of Wellington, New Zealand. In short, it felt remote and quiet with not much to do. The rest of Tasmania is reportedly very beautiful, but I had a mere 24 hours in the capital. Whatever drama was lacking on Thursday night was made up for the following morning when the fire alarm in our hotel went off at 7am, and all guests were briskly evacuated into the cold, many looking bewildered in their dressing gowns. It turned out to be a false alarm but I could have done without the rude awakening. Friday’s flight was the hour’s crossing to Melbourne, busy and bustling as I arrived into the city, in massive contrast to Hobart’s genteelness. Shortly after midnight it was time to head down to Syn Bar, one of the Friday night hotspots for party-style hip hop and R&B. Although not rammed, the place was still bumping nicely with a happy, mixed crowd. Promoter Chris had me down a couple of shots of Wet Pussy – vodka, schnaps and peach juice. Not bad as it goes.
Each day at a different airport involved the same ritual – a search for a seat near to a power point, in order to keep the laptop battery and phone fully charged up. I sampled all three of Australia’s budget airlines; Tiger Airways from Hobart had been the closest to the Ryanair experience. Virginblue back to Sydney was more enjoyable. My Saturday night gig was at The Pumphouse, which helpfully formed part of the Novotel Rockford Darling Harbour, the best of the various hotels on my trip. The Pumphouse’s upper level houses the DJ booth, from which you look down on the assembled throng below. Aussie clubs tend to feature several DJs on the bill, with the result that each only gets to play an hour. It’s a good strategy in that each jock piles all their best tricks into their short playing time, resulting in consistent excitement for the clubbers, but I play so many all-night sets that my 1-2am slot was a real shock to the system. Great fun, and over all too quick.
Gigs done, on Sunday, I embarked on my eighth flight in nine days, this one to Brisbane, from where I was picked up for the drive to Nerang, Queensland, to stay with some family friends who’d emigrated to Aus from England in the 1970s and never looked back. Barry built the house they now live in himself, and his back garden puts ours to shame. It’s proper ‘I’m A Celebrity’ country, teeming with birds and insects that chirped through the night outside my window. Nice to get a couple of days to chill.
The last leg of the trip involved a 24-hour stopover in Hong Kong, somewhere I’d never visited before. I flew from Brisbane with Qantas on Tuesday 28th, on a nine-hour slog. On arrival at HK’s vast international airport, I noticed virtually all the staff and quite a few passengers wearing medical-style face masks. It seems a certain paranoia had set in following the worrying announcement of the swine flu epidemic in the news that week.
I was very impressed with Hong Kong. I found it to be clean, buzzing, friendly, well-signed, and a pleasant temperature at around 26 degrees with a good breeze. What surprised me was the locals’ tendency to dawdle along at a snail’s pace, not what I expected from such a crowded metropolis. HK’s mainland neighbour Kowloon, where I was staying, was slightly more hectic, but full of great atmosphere. After freshening up at my hotel, I took the MRT train across the harbour to Hong Kong Central, and the plush niterie Dragon-I, all low-level ambient lighting and ornamental chandeliers. It wasn’t rammed, but then Tuesday’s never the most banging night of the week in any city. Like Dragon, virtually every bar in thriving Wyndham Street was equipped with a DJ booth containing a pair of Pioneer CDJ1000s.
After a long day of sightseeing, at 11pm on Wednesday I took my final flight, the cruel 13-hour BA drudge back to Heathrow. By this point I was missing my girls like crazy, and it was great to have Parveen and Zaina meet me off the coach from Heathrow ready to take me home. It was even better to have a cup of tea, a bowl of cereal, and finally sink into bed for a slumber. There was no opportunity to get too comfortable though; it was straight back on the DJ grind later that night at Izi in Witney for the start of the Bank Holiday weekend.
… and that was April. A far more exciting month than most!