The first weekend of July was a fairly routine affair, consisting of gigs in Bicester, Oxford and Ealing, West London. The Ealing was a last-minute booking, only coming in on the afternoon on Friday 4th. This was at The Town House, a popular bar venue close to Ealing Broadway station. Musically, it was a general-purpose, commercially-orientated session, my time made easier by the fact that my brother-in-law Shamim and his mate Aaron had come down to keep me company, serving the additional purpose of fielding some of the more patience-challenging requests. Aaron works as a chef, and I asked him to consider parallels between some of the things people say to me in my profession, and how that could be applied to his. For instance, you would never go up to the kitchen in a restaurant and say to the chef, ‘bruv, I’m a chef myself, yeah? Trust me, you should prepare this dish with cayenne pepper, not cumin. I’ve tried it myself, yeah, and it really works.’ So why do you always get the guy in the club who claims he’s a DJ himself, and if you play such-and-such a tune, he guarantees the place will go mad because he’s tried it himself? Aaron saw the point.
I’ve played a fair few under 18s events over the years, and I always appreciate the opportunity. The repressed energy levels brought about by teenagers’ frustration that they’re not allowed into proper clubs always make for a highly-charged party. On Saturday 5th, I played to a group of 16-year-olds from a public school in Oxford at The Regal, and the atmosphere was every bit as fun as I’d expected. Parveen came with me, and we both reflected on how well behaved and civilised the kids were. If the event had been for either of the schools we went to, the session would have been plagued by spiteful bitchiness, petty squabbles and clique—ish politics throughout. In reality, these values probably still rule in schools. We were just fortunate enough to be entertaining kids from a particularly well-cultured one! Upon finishing, the main club was shaping up for a DJing appearance from The Freemasons, but we were happy to take advantage of the very rare luxury of an 11pm finish on a Saturday night and headed straight home.
Despite having worked there for over 18 months, there are still many other presenters on FM107.9 that I’ve never met. Because most of the specialist shows go out late at night, the DJs often find themselves alone in the building. You see other shows and names on the schedule, but never cross paths. On Tuesday 8th, we had the first of two link-ups of the specialist jocks, mainly as a training exercise on certain studio procedures, but with an equally important social occasion down the pub afterwards. The conversation got a bit anoracky, covering the sort of subject matter that would have my wife yawning and looking at her watch, but I guess that’s unavoidable on a jocks’ night out. The following evening I went in to present that week’s ‘Just Buggin’ live, but also to pre-record the following week’s show. I love live radio and only pre-record when there’s no other option. On this occasion, I’d be in Spain the following Wednesday, so it was unavoidable.
G’s Bicester punter comments for Thursday 10th, (I know you love ’em.) 1. “Can you play that ‘Low’ by Flo Rida?” (Punter whilst ”Low’ by Flo Rida was playing in the background.) 2. “Can you play something urban?” (Punter whilst Sean Paul was playing in the background.)
I feel nothing more needs to be said.
The second radio station social gathering of the week happened on Saturday afternoon, as the FM 107.9 bosses threw a barbecue for all staff, freelancers and their partners. The weather had shown its usual British Summer characteristics by tipping down all week, but somehow, we were afforded a reprise for the event, (which was still held in a marquee for safe measure.) Later in the evening, I set off for my monthly session at The Second Bridge in Bath, which had attracted a livelier-than-usual crowd for the second month running.
A few days earlier my Apple iBook laptop had given up the ghost by refusing to go beyond the log in stage, an engineer’s best guess being that it needed a new logic board. As so much of my work gets done on the move, this screwed me up neatly for my week of Mediterranean Euro-hopping from Tuesday 15th, so the flight and airport time was spent old-school style, with magazines, books and a pen and pad. On the cards were visits to Ibiza, Barcelona and Lisbon.
On this occasion, I’d selected Easyjet’s late night flight to Ibiza from Luton. Big mistake. The plane became entirely populated with apes, Neanderthals, Cro-magnons, beasts and savages of every variety … and that was just the girls. The stewardesses, who looked more like librarians, were entirely out of their depth handling such a rowdy crowd, the lobotomised prehistoric chants of ‘Oi oiiiiiii!’, ‘’ere we go’, ‘oggy oggy oggy’ and ‘get your tits out for the lads’ filling the air as we took off. Doesn’t it make you proud to be British?
I was seated behind a group of meatheads who were already pissed before boarding, and pushing each other around playfully. A few Jack Daniels’ later and the playfulness had turned to proper aggression, and it looked like a full-scale fight would break out. Then, the smell of smoke filled the cabin and it became clear that some complete cock had locked themselves in the toilet to have a cigarette. At this point, the cabin crew threatened that we would have to divert and land so the police could board and arrest the fool. Mercifully, we didn’t, and we eventually arrived into Ibiza at 1.30am. As I disembarked, I vowed never again to take the same flight. Next time it has to be BA from Gatwick. Surely a better class of clientele? Thank f*ck Ryanair doesn’t do flights to Ibiza!
Soul City, located right in the heart of San Antonio’s garish West End, remains the only venue on the island to deal with R&B, hip hop, dancehall and garage seven nights a week, and has long been the venue of choice for urban music fans visiting the island. I recounted the flight tales to Julian, Soul City’s owner/ proprietor as we drove across to San An, passing the giant Amnesia and Privilege venues on the way. I also queried why it is that all direct flights from the UK to Ibiza either depart at the crack of dawn, or very late at night. His view was that the civilised slot times are all occupied by the Spanish and German airlines, who pay the airport authorities considerably more than the likes of Easyjet, Monarch and the rest to secure them. Sounds plausible.
After checking briefly into my apartment accommodation, I arrived at a heaving Simple, home of Soul City, shortly after 2am. The atmosphere has never disappointed on any of my six visits, and the almost-entirely-English crowd was on top form as I thrashed out tunes for two hours and the vodka flowed, (and Spanish measures are large, trust me!) It was worth bearing the appalling flight conditions for such a stunning gig. I filmed a few bits from the night, including an East London crew losing their minds to Lethal Bizzle’s ‘Pow’, as dropped by resident Master I. The videos, along with the pics, are all available to view now via my Myspace page – www.myspace.com/therealmarkdevlin
I’d discovered the previous year that the hours from 6 to 10am are probably the best opportunity to grab any kind of sleep in an apartment complex in the middle of San An. By this time even the most insane caner is just about dropping, and I heard the shouting and hollering from reception diminish around this time allowing me to get a small amount of rest. By lunchtime I was back at the airport, having spent only 11 hours on the island. People who save up all year for their cherished two weeks would doubtless consider this insane, but when it comes to ‘beefa’, a straight-in-do-the-job-straight-out-again approach is the one that works for me!
Next on the agenda was Barcelona for my first ever gig in mainland Spain. My Air Europa flight was delayed by an hour, but in Spain, in the middle of the Summer season, this is nothing to get concerned about! Transferring to the nicely air-conditioned Spa Senator business hotel, I grabbed a few more hours of rest before venturing out into the hot Spanish night.
Prior to the gig I hooked up with Daniella, aka Spaniella, who was the work experience girl at the Blues & Soul office in London before the mag went tits-up a year ago. She’s now resident in Barc, and her fluent Spanish helped me get past the bouncers on the door of Bikini with no hassle.
The Spanish party late, and by 1am, the venue was still quiet. Then, all of a sudden, a mass influx of clubbers turned the dancefloor into a heaving mass of bodies. Bikini is the the city’s number one spot for urban music, with DJ Muly’s Wednesday Black Box session the key night of the week. I alternated sets with Muly, and the place was on fire throughout. Another top night, and possibly the liveliest midweek night I’ve ever played. The only downer came when a clodhopping clubber on the stage above kicked a drink all over my CD wallet, soaking the sleeves. To add insult to injury, it was my drink! Earlier in the day, I’d managed to put the same wallet down on to a lump of stringy discarded chewing gum. All part of the occupational hazards, I guess.
My Easyjet return to Luton on Thursday morning was a far more civilised affair without an ape in sight. It was on time, too.
The third instalment in the week’s Euro-hopping trilogy involved another country debut. Although I’d visited as a kid with my folks a scary 26 years earlier, Saturday 19th marked the first time I’d DJ-ed in Lisbon, Portugal. The BBC and Yahoo weather sites revealed the city was sweltering in 91-degree heat, a far cry from the Autumn-like weather back in Blighty. On this occasion I flew BMI Baby from Birmingham, and, aside from a couple of Welsh football hooligans boasting about the many happy times that they’d kicked the police’s heads in at terraces over the years, the flight was a fairly civilised affair.
If the Spanish party late, the Portuguese make an art form of it. Promoter Yen Sung, whose Chocolate City event I was playing at, informed me that the venue only opened its doors at 1am, and it was often 4 before the club had reached its peak. The venue, Lux Fragil, is world class, and impeccably well run. It’s situated on a dockside, well away from any residential neighbours. The downstairs room, very reminiscent of the main room at London’s Ministry Of Sound, was dealing with deep house. Up above was a large loungy area with plentiful dancing space and an overhead DJ booth, an open-air terrace completing the layout. My set was thoroughly enjoyable as I took the music in many different directions, complementing Yen’s more funky, disco-infused approach. As with Spain, Portugal has yet to receive the ban on smoking in public places. It’s now a year since this hit the UK, and I’m so used to it that it’s a real shock the system to see people sparking up in clubs. Thankfully the Lux air conditioning is very efficient. Another top night, and a fitting end to a stunning week.
Portuguese clubbing times being what they are, it was 7am before I was installed back in my industrial-strength-air-conditioned hotel room, but there was no rush to be up again as the only available return flight didn’t leave til 8.25pm. I used the time to do some extensive Lisbon sightseeing. It’s a large, imposing city, very colonial in feel, and with a small stretch of the imagination, the many monuments and palm trees could make you believe you were somewhere in South America. Meal-wise, I probably should have sampled some Portuguese cuisine. I was very predictable and ate in an Italian instead.
On Monday 21st, I got the opportunity to meet and interview a true legend and a personal musical hero. RZA, founder member and prolific producer for the Wu Tang Clan was in London for one night, at the tail end of Wu’s recent European tour. Linking at his Covent Garden hotel, I chatted to the dude about the legacy of the Wu, his secondary musical role in scoring Hollywood movies such as the ‘Kill Bill’ films, his move into acting, (he was most recently seen in ‘American Gangster’), and his new musical project, the revival of his Bobby Digital alter-ego for the new ‘Digisnax’ album this Summer. RZA was the model interviewee – incisive, witty, friendly, and seeming like he genuinely wanted to be there. I’d managed to find my Wu Tang T-shirt with the distinctive yellow W, which went down well – RZA himself was wearing one almost exactly the same. Plus he gave me a stunning Wu Wear padded jacket that makes me look at least five stone heavier, and which I’ll be rocking big time in the Winter months. I’ll be broadcasting the interview on my ‘Just Buggin’ show next week. In the meantime, I just posted a couple of clips of our chat in my Myspace videos section and on Youtube.
A couple of nights later, I welcomed that week’s live guest on to the show. Breis is a South London MC with a refreshingly different, conscious style, (check out myspace.com/breisuk for more info.) I first came across him in 1999 when he came into Joints & Jams, the radio show I used to co-present with Kid Fury, alongside fellow MCs Ty and Cyrus The Virus. The resulting three-way freestyle was classic material, and it was the first time Breis had heard it in nine years when I played it to him live on the radio on Wednesday night to a priceless reaction. More spontaneous lyrics followed.
As I’d discovered a while back, DJing to a roomful of 18-year-olds for an entire night is no easy task. I took a late booking on Friday 25th at Mosaic in Sutton, Surrey. What I only found out when I got there was that it was for a private 18th birthday, playing to an almost exclusively black crowd. It certainly looked like being a fun gig – but I’d under-estimated the wilfulness of teenage girls, as gradually the approaches to the DJ booth came, along with classic attempted strategies such as telling me that a particular crowd wanted to hear bashment right now, or they’d be leaving. So I’d play a couple of bashment tunes only to have another crew approach and ask ‘how long’s this bashment sh*t going on? Everyone wants to hear bassline. They’re starting to leave because you’re not playing it.’ Despite the duplicity I did my level best to keep everyone happy, and there were some great moments, such as during the Lil Wayne/ Rick Ross Southern roller sequence where the guys in the room lost their minds. I don’t remember being this fussy about my music when I was 18, though.
There was a classic moment in the street after the party. One particular girl had taken off her shoes because they were hurting – you know, the way girls do – and drunkenly staggered barefoot right into a pool of sick. Absolutely disgusting, but hilarious at the same time. If you walk the streets barefoot at 2am, that’s what you can expect!
The weekend finished with The Bridge in Oxford on Saturday night. After seven years of doing the gig, I’m running very short on new things to say about it. Suffice to say it was an entirely routine night.
… and that was July.