It’s going to be a very different Christmas this year. A while ago, we learned that Parveen is expecting our first baby, with an estimated delivery date of 17th December. To say I’m over the moon is the understatement of the millennium!
A few people we’ve mentioned it to have commented on how difficult it’s going to be juggling a DJ lifestyle with looking after a young baby. I’d argue completely to the contrary. Baby will already be in bed by the time I leave for gigs. My sleep ‘patterns’ are already all over the place, so there won’t be any difference there. And the fact that I work at night means that I can be at home during the day to share nappy changing (great) and all the rest of it with Mrs. D. As a result, I’m having to limit my travel for the rest of this year to quick Europe hops only, putting my annual visit to Australia on ice. But it’s a small price to pay for such great news. The best Christmas present yet!
There’s a highly entertaining chat group on Facebook called ‘Things You Should Never Say To A DJ’, which reads very much like an extension of the DJ requests chapter in my book. It’s grown prodigiously with regular posts from jocks all over the world, and many nights after coming in from an exasperating gig, I’ve drawn great inspiration, calming vodka in hand, from perusing the comments and realising that this sh*t really does happen to everyone and not just me! I recommend doing a search for it and joining. I was inspired to make a contribution by my latest experience at G’s in Bicester, which went as follows:
Chav girl: Oi DJ, sort it out. Play some decent tunes.
Me: Such as…?
Chav girl: Well, I don’t know. You’re the DJ!
Me: Die. Immediately.
On to more sane matters… I love the buzz of doing my weekly radio show live, and only pre-record when there’s no other option. On Wednesday 6th August there wasn’t, as Parveen and myself headed up to The Lake District for a short break, tagged on to my latest Block Party gig in Windermere. The show was the one containing my interview feature on RZA, aka Bobby Digital, which will go down as one of the most memorable in my career.
We spent Wednesday and Thursday around Windermere, Grasmere and Keswick, many of the locals joking that the region would be more suitably named The Rain District. The roadsides were lined with ramblers and campers resiliently looking like they were bloody well going to have a good time whatever the weather.
Parveen’s not in heavy party mode right now, so she stayed at our guest house on Thursday night as I headed down to The Wheelhouse on the shores of Lake Windermere for the August instalment of The Block Party, loyally hosted by DJ Bligeness and MC Master P. This gig is one of my most consistent, and the atmosphere never disappoints. As ever, many of the off-duty Jamaican hotel workers were in attendance, ensuring things stayed lively. There’s a great set of pictures that go some way to capturing the atmosphere, posted now in the Pics section of my Myspace. Do check them out.
It’s frustrating that I always score DJ bookings on nights directly after holidays, making for a mad dash back, when the diary remains empty on other nights where a gig could have been easily accommodated. That’s the way it goes though, so on Friday 8th, we ploughed through heavy traffic for the five-hour drive home, before setting off for the evening at Que Pasa in Watford. We took advantage of the kind offer of a feed before I settled down to the night’s DJing. The combination of mid-month, rain, the holiday season and the credit crunch led to a less-busy-than-usual Friday, but we made the best of it. The following night, I found myself in the rare situation of spinning at G’s on a Saturday, having swapped that week with Cecil, the usual Saturday resident. The night drew an entirely different profile of crowd to my Thursday sessions … and I didn’t mind at all.
Normally I avoid TV programmes like ‘Wife Swap’ like the plague. But on Sunday 10th, Mrs. D just happened to be watching the latest celeb version of the show featuring none other than the dude Alexander O’ Neal. There was one section where he was getting vexed because he was late for a magazine interview and photo session with … Blues & Soul. Shows how long ago they filmed it, as the mag’s now been out of business for over a year. It was an entertaining glimpse into what the Big Man’s up to these days, and I couldn’t help feeling a painful pang of nostalgia when they showed a B&S front cover. A few hours later came the sad news that soul legend Isaac Hayes had passed away, only 48 hours after we lost the comedy genius of Bernie Mac. What a tragic weekend for the entertainment world.
They say you don’t know what you got til it’s gone. In the case of my Apple iBook, that’s certainly the case. Until a few weeks ago, I’d developed some highly efficient ways of working that would have made any time management guru proud, by taking as much work as possible away with me on flights. Earlier in the Summer, the machine suddenly failed to go beyond the login stage, and consultation of a few geeky on-line forums revealed that this has become a common problem with the entire batch of iBooks that Apple put out in 2005/ 06, all to do with a connection beneath the keypad working itself loose. Until I can find a permanent fix, I’m now back to the prehistoric days of passing airport time by nothing more comprehensive than reading. I’ve polished off a few good books, however, the latest being Dave Haslam’s ‘Not Abba’, the real story of the harshness of British life in the 1970s, and highly recommended for anyone that grew up in that decade.
I got stuck into it while travelling to my latest Summer hotspot gig on Monday 11th. The destination was Zadar, an increasingly popular resort on Croatia’s Adriatic Coast, but served by a small airport with very few international flights. The restrictions made it necessary to travel with three separate airlines and spend only 11 hours on Croatian soil, one of my more insane schedules. The outward leg was straightforward – Ryanair from Stansted, and thankfully there were no nightmare experiences this time.
No club could ever operate on a permanently open-air basis in Britain. In Southern Europe, there are no such worries, and Croatia had been basking in intense heat for many weeks. As such, two thirds of Maraschino Bar, overlooking Zadar’s estuary and flanked by boats, is outside, with a covered part for those that prefer to stay indoors. The venue attracts mainly Italians – Zadar’s just across the sea from towns like Rimini and Ancona. I played from midnight til closing at 4, and it was 2 before cats showed themselves to be in the mood for dancing. But from there on it was kicking, and I doubt I’ll enjoy a more lively Monday night for a very long time.
I felt less lively at 7am. After only two hours’ sleep at an apartment, I was driven, red-eyed, straight back to the airport. The only way to make it home had been to take an early Sky Europe flight to Prague, spend six and a half hours there, then return to Stansted with Easyjet at 5pm. I had no desire to stay in the airport that long, so I used the time to head into town. Prague’s one of my favourite and most visited European cities so this was no hardship. Although the stifling muggy heat was.
First port of call was the legendary club/ bar/ restaurant Radost FX, where I linked with Rico, long-standing promoter and DJ at Soul Train for a spot of lunch and a catch-up chat. Next, I was on a weary mission to track down a witch marionnette for Mrs. D. Prague specialises in creepy-ass macabre puppets of the Chucky variety, and Parveen has adorned our living room with a couple. I find them deeply unsettling. The b*stards look they’re about to come alive any second. By my return flight, I’d dispensed with the book and was on to the crossword and the Sun Dial in the back of The Sun to pass the time. Now that’s boredom!
The carbon footprint of the three Oxford heads who travelled to The Second Bridge in Bath on Saturday 16th wouldn’t have impressed Al Gore. The club is a sister venue to the main Bridge in Oxford, and Saturday night saw DJ James Ussher (in the main room), myself (playing in The Vaults), and manager Simon Marshall all travelling separately. To be fair, a car share on my part wouldn’t have worked on this occasion, as I first called in on some old family friends who live in nearby Calne. Once in session, the Bath gig was as reliably buzzing as it always is. The journey home was spent catching up on some promo CD listening. 4am motorway blasts are so often the only time I get for what’s still an essential task in any DJ’s schedule.
A few nights later the Bank Holiday weekend was upon us, and first stop for me on Friday 22nd was the latest social gathering of the former Blues & Soul mag staff, appropriately enough at The Social in London. The magazine ceased publication a year ago, but the initial bitterness gave away long ago to good natured acceptance, and our drinks session had a jovial tone as a result.
I can well remember the days when, as wide-eyed teenagers, my mate Damien Mendis and myself gazed towards London as a Mecca of musical education, revering the key clubs and the DJs that played there with religious status. As far as urban music goes, virtually all of the West End clubs went from niche to commercial/ tourist-style status a long time ago. The one notable exception is Bar Rumba, deep in the heart of things in Shaftesbury Avenue, which sticks true to its musical guns with nights like Bubblin’ Over, Movement and Barrio Latino running weekly. Friday night’s offering is Front 2 Back, (previously known as Get Down,) which sees on-point resident Sharma, and rotational guests Mista Jam, Manny Norte and others mix everything from standard urban styles, to DnB, UKG, funky house, Afrobeat, soca, Miami bass and all the rest. After The Social, I headed there for my latest guest spot, which also doubled as a warm-up for the weekend’s Notting Hill Carnival. Spirits were high, and the place was hot – in more ways than one. Bar Rumba is one of those joints where the ceiling sweats and drips – not too glamorous, perhaps, but every bit the dramatic atmosphere a proper club night should have.
Saturday’s outing was to Que Pasa in Watford, where I held down the spot all night.
And so to Bank Holiday Sunday. I reached Carnival every year from 1992 to 2000, but have only been twice since then. Each year I consider re-visiting, as memories of the roar of the crowd when a heavy bassline comes rumbling in wash over me … but then the thought of squeezing through tens of thousands of people, stepping on discarded corn cobs, chicken bones and crushed Red Stripe cans puts me off again.
On the cards for that night was the ten-year reunion jam for Late Nite Flava, the legendary allnighter that ran at The Forum in Cardiff for two years. The genre known as R&B merged with the pop market many years ago, and the watered-down hybrid can now be heard in any High Street venue. But in 1998, the music was still fresh and new as a clubbing soundtrack, and The Forum was one of the first clubs outside London to fully embrace it. As a result, we managed to get 1,500 to 2,000 heads in the place every week, with big-name guests most Saturdays, and the session running all the way to 6am. The first time Trevor Nelson’s MTV Lick night visited, the queue snaked the whole way up Queen Street to the walls of the castle as early as 10pm. Truly incredible times that will never be repeated.
I’d had the idea of a reunion session for a while. It was clear that nothing remotely on the scale of The Forum would work, so I’d liaised with Mista Bibs of Urban Fusion to put on a night at the intimate No. 10’s that was partly a Cult Couture jam, and partly the Forum gig. I drove up from Oxford with Kid Fury, just the way we used to ten years previous, along with his girl, and we joined Urban Fusion and DJ Silver to drop old-school tunes of the variety that used to rock Late Nite Flava. I’d started a Facebook group a few weeks previous to try and track down all the old heads. Sadly, virtually none of the people who’d promised they’d turn up actually did, (no great surprise there,) but a whole load of other clubbers did, and the night ended up being busy and great fun as a result. We eventually got back at 6am – a reminder of the long, late nights we used to endure every single week. How the hell did we do it?! The pics from the night are now in my Myspace and Facebook Photo sections, and there’s a recording of part of my set available via the following download link:
More nostalgic vibes on Bank Holiday Monday, as I presented a one-off radio special entitled Urban Anthems from 8 to 10.30pm, dealing with nothing but hip hop, R&B, New Jack Swing, jungle and UKG classics, with mixes from London’s DJ Chippie, and a specially-commissioned one from New York City’s DJ Drastic. I really enjoyed myself, and the resulting show, packed full of quality throwbacks, is available to listen to using the following links.
(Includes London’s DJ Chippie in the mix)
(Includes New York City’s DJ Drastic in the mix)
Maintaining a balance between an active DJ schedule and holding down a relationship is a tricky one. Most weekends, I manage to juggle things effectively, but by Monday I’d worked six nights on the trot, (with four of the next five nights on duty as well,) and Mrs. D was not impressed, coming into the radio station as the only way of spending some time with me. Many DJ relationships have faltered as a result of the demands of the job, and the weekend was a reminder of how important it is to avoid the two coming into conflict!
Oxford’s own GTA are one of the most under-rated rap crews in the UK, consistently putting out material that’s far superior to much of the stuff I receive from London. On Wednesday 27th, I was happy to be a part of an event organised in association with Oxford Arts Management, which also doubled as a video shoot for GTA’s latest single. A host of Oxford’s hottest DJs were lined up to drop sets, including Kid Fury, Spex, Lolo and Uncle Paulie, and I used my quick half-hour to drop bangers like Roots Manuva’s ‘Witness’ and Skinnyman’s ‘I’ll Be Surprised’. It was hugely satisfying to be able to drop such bona fide slammers to a proper hip hop crowd and watch them get the jump-up reaction they deserved. Sadly, I had to jet immediately after my set for my radio show. Whether my ugly mug makes the final video cut remains to be seen.
Friday 29th marked the opening of an impressive new two-roomed club in Banbury which, all going well, will house my residency on Fridays for the foreseeable future. St. James’ is a sister venue to the club of the same name in Aylesbury. During the week, it hosts ‘exotic dancing’ (aka pole dancing,) but at weekends, becomes a general-purpose club, pitching itself at a higher calibre of clientele than the town’s other mass-market venues. Friday night was a VIP opening, and the dancers had been brought in for a special introductory show. With the clientele consisting mainly of middle-aged businessmen, it was hardly surprising that the room housing the dancers retained the most interest. But I’m sure the balance will shift when the venue opens its doors properly to the public from next week. (I’ve Djed in a pole-dancing club only once, and I’m not particularly keen on a repeat performance. All night, the girls demanded I play ‘their’ tunes, the ones they’d rehearsed routines to, and I ended up being reduced to nothing more than a jukebox with no freedom of creativity – not what I became a DJ for!) Either way, it’s an undeniably cool venue with an impressive sound system, and clearly, a generous investment into the interiors.
Clubland being as volatile as it is, it’s a very rare thing to have held a spot at the same venue for seven years, as I’ve managed at The Bridge in Oxford. It’s easy to get complacent with such a long-lasting residency, but I reflected on what a good situation this has been as I span there for my monthly session on Saturday 30th. It’s good to have a base in your home city.
… and that, pretty much, was August!