Tuesday, 3 July 2012

He played records and we danced

Last week I was in Clerkenwell – all gastro pub and the rubba dub dub as old friends discussed eventful weeks and weekends. And I fell into talking about [not] going out, about the 1210s and nights of simply turntable celebration. I have been fascinated by the spinning decks for years. Those early formative years in school discos and clubs as DJs spun 45s on mobile systems. It wasn’t like this was Kingston and we were in Tivoli Gardens skanking to DJ Coxsone and those heavy heavy sounds.

We were in Scunthorpe. We were at teenage discos.

This was playing records for steelworkers kids. We liked Wham, Adam Ant, The Sweet, Duran Duran and Tina Turner’s Nutbush City Limits. We weren’t yet grooving to our own choices. You made a request to the DJ – if he had it he might play it. If he didn’t he wouldn’t and if he thought that your taste was questionable he told you so.

But we also had the Baths Hall in Scunthorpe a sanctuary from what I considered the mainstream at the time. But this was just as mainstream in many ways except you heard The Smiths or The Fall playing. It was all escape from the grind. No different to the beer monsters at Henry Afrika’s [I kid you not - all garish fibre glass models of explorers and natives outside – we’ve come along way since the Windrush docked] We just wore more black than the sport Billies back then and got to dance to a different beat rather than the drummer’s – it was and is the same as it is then as it is now. Put your hands in the air and wave them like you do care – you care far too much – as I’ve said I was the type to dance to my tunes and slip from the polished floor when the sounds moved me no more.

But talking about wanting to go out and hear a DJ brings those moments flooding back. This post could detail countless nights getting ready for the dancefloor – waiting for the ‘jam to start pumping’ but I think I’ll make it about John Peel. John Peel was a regular visitor to the Scunthorpe Baths Hall. A veteran of Doncaster Road and all that walked up it. He would play and talk – not exactly MC – with tunes from his bag and always finish with The Undertones Teenage Kicks. The Baths Hall was like a rite of passage for all alternative teens in the Scunthorpe scene. It was where you went to be part of it all. Drink cider and sway – cadge cigarettes and be sick on the streets and steps. It was for the argy bargy with burly bone men on the door and the thrill of the getting in when you were far too young. I remember once that Paul was turned away – even though he was eighteen and they let me in when I was three years younger. It’s what you do – try and pull a fast one – because we were a generation going nowhere fast – so the antics of youth were all we had.

And every year John would appear. This familiar sound in the flesh. That voice from the radio – a real DJ – but one of us. The every man with a record collection we all wanted. You can visit his records now – not in person – you can’t turn up at Peel Acres and riffle through it – it’s virtual and photographed – it’s arrrtttt maaaaan - it isn’t meant to be a shrine – but it’s a dead man’s vinyl. Sometimes listening is not possible anymore. But you can see the dedication – the connection he had as he gently sorted the Ds from the Es. Shelia’s going to get rid of them - you can’t leave them lying round the house forever. Yet every year he would sort through the ever growing collection that rules from the centre of the ultraworld – well Great Finborough actually – to find tunes that would make teenagers rock [in Scunthorpe]. And I believe he thought about it – what new ones to bring and which Fall ones for Pete Lazenby – because you knew he was going get on the dance floor.

He would arrive without fanfare John that is – not Pete – Pete would arrive with fanfare. This was not a ‘roadshow’. It was not a show at all. It was the selection of records to make you dance – to jump about with joy and abandon and forget the morning and work ahead. Be it industrial or school. It was escape. Peel knew this – he didn’t mock us – he escaped every night with the spin of the turntables – in his studio or at home. Here in the echoing hall of the revamped municipal baths - beats would bounce of walls and bass bellow in corners as we glanced and romanced and dreamt and danced on carpet and wood to the sounds of the underground – made overground by our very own vinyl womble.

I don’t necessarily want to go out and listen to this – although the Baths was good – sensible opening and closing. The conversation in Clerkenwell was about Derrick May – he played last week – a set in a series from the innovators of Detroit – he was number one – Juan’s coming and Kevin. And there was a realisation that the sets would start late and end in the early hours. I can’t do it. I can’t do that. They should play from 5pm till 9pm – I could fit it in then and get a decent night’s sleep. Still completely stomp it – but sleep too, without losing touch with reality and being there to help in the morning.

Families not forty fives come first – I guess.

Instead I will select for the kids. My kids until their taste is foisted on me. I remember Paul and I asking my dad to play a Nick Cave live cassette on the way to Scotland – to Edinburgh. It didn’t go down too well – I don’t think it helped his concentration – what with the poor quality recording - the hiss and the malevolence inherent in Cave’s performance. Still Blind Lemon Jefferson would still make it on to my playlist.

But that pull of the DJ to select and make a crowd rejoice – to join together for whatever the length of the tune is a pleasure that I will always crave. I may not witness this again in a club setting but I can still tap into those teenage dreams – so hard to beat.

This is the recording of the single - something different - if you wan to hear the song you can look it up - it's everywhere.