Monday, 13 August 2012

California Soul


I must be the exception. While the rest of the country enthused about the merits of competition and hard work, representing your country, and 'achieving', I was left cold. The pressures of 'achieving' had lead me to a place which, in the 'achievement' textbook, was the opposite of where I was supposed to be. The first time I got drunk was at university. The first time I went to a nightclub in my local town was after I started university. Eighteen years old. That's not normal. The sacrifice of trying to be a good athlete put me a position where excess was forbidden. Nobody forced it on me- but it was there.

Being a twin is competitive. I was better at sport. He was brainier. While normal people were having normal lifes, we were competing. In Christmas holidays before O and A levels, we'd take one day off- Christmas Day. The rest of the time we revised. 'Healthy competition?' I think not. It may be that, or it may not be, but the result for me is a striving to live life with as little pressure as possible. I don't want a career- too stressful, a mortgage or car- too stressful. I just want to drift along, just kinda happy.

So this Olympic thing had me perplexed. The celebration of our 'heroes'. The legacy. Cameron on about the increase in competitive sports for kids. The way I saw it was that Cameron and the rest of the politicians were doing ok. The economy was fucked. People were struggling. Couldn't afford petrol. The number of people cycling was at an all time high. But this wasn't because of Wiggo and won't be because of golds in the velodrome. It was because cycling was cheap. Implementing the fuel duty rise at the last budget would have had a bigger effect on mass participation cycling than any amount of money given to Dave Brailsford. ........ But I digress.

The closing ceremony cheered me up. Only a little. But a little is better than none. We'd had two weeks of  'achievement' and 'sacrifice'. Our 'heroes'. Up at two o'clock in the morning from the age of 10 to swim / run / row/ dressage, for miles. Missing out on youth to 'achieve'. Now we had our other heroes, from music and fashion, who doubtless never  went to bed before 2, and usually in a state of alcoholic and drug induced intoxication. They had created another 'Legacy', no less worthwhile than our Olympians, but in a totally different way.

As Fat Boy Slim rose out of the stage it took me back . .... Way back.

It was 1995 and a new ' Superclub' was opening in Nottingham, underneath The Theatre Royal, called 'Essence'. The resident was Alasteir Whitehead, notts boy come good, and the guests were the normal suspects floating around the house scene at the time. People like Danny Rampling, Graeme Park etc, etc. My brother was down for the weekend and I was glad because he liked to get wasted, but also knew abit about music. We were on a normal night on the town and had gravitated to this place, but the queue was putting people off. I wanted to go in because in the basement was another club night. One which I had read alot about. One which I knew I'd remember.....The Heavenly Social.

The Heavenly Social started in 1994 on a Sunday night in The Albany Pub in Central London. It was the height of the Britpop year, and the crowd comprised alot of the characters at the time. Frequent visitors were the likes of Oasis, Primal Scream, the Manics and The Charlatans. The night, however, was initially formed to showcase the talents of a recent Heavenly records signing, The Dust Brothers, soon to become The Chemical Brothers. The soundtrack was random, house classics, mixing with indie classics from the likes of The Clash. However a new club genre was about to be born. Mixing ragga and hip hop, the new sound played by The Chemicals and regular partner in crime, Jon Carter, became ' Big Beat'.

I divulged the monthlies, The Face, I.D. and Mixmag , and the weeklies, NME and Melody Maker. Mention  after mention. A Sunday night becoming the biggest clubbing night in London. Things were different. The previous couple of years had seen the rise of  'Progressive House', designer clothes and Cocaine. The social was back to somewhere that club culture hadn't been for a while- drinking. It was a lager fuelled frenzy of good people, good music and pogoing.

After waiting a while we eventually got in and made our way downstairs. The guest of the night at The Social was Fat Boy Slim, another star of the 'Big Beat' phenomena. It was empty. We made our way up stairs to the house area, looking for the toilets. Drunk. From the early days of 1990 I'd been on a similar journey as alot of people my age with an interest in dance music. Marijuana turned to Acid, Acid turned to Speed, Speed turned to E's, E's turned to Coke. I didn't go the Coke route- too expensive. Preferred a wrap of speed and 2 E's. But it was getting boring. Going clubbing and just drinking seemed exciting. Something we'd not done for a while.

As we made our way to the toilets we came across a sort of chill out area, before the main dance room. My ears pricked up. My favourite song at the time was ' California Soul'. I'd picked up the 'Easy' album at a carboot a few weeks previous, and in my small West Bridgeford bedsit had played nothing else. This wasn't the Marvin and Tammi version, but the Marlena Shaw version. Still beautiful. I turned to Chris.

 'Who the fuck is that?' I asked, pointing to the middle aged D.J.

'Not got a clue,' replied Chris. ' Go and ask him.'

I walked up to him , waited until he started his next tune, held out my hand.

' That is my favourite song,' I gushed. 'Who are you?' I asked.

'Jeff,' he repiled. ' Jeff Barrett.'

'Not The Jeff Barrett?' I asked.

' Yes' he smiled.

Jeff Barrett owned Heavenly Records, home to some of my favourite artists, Flowered Up, St Etienne, Beth Orton and Dot Allison. What really enamoured me to him was a recent Heavenly off shoot, Heavenly Books. I was in the middle of a particularly vicious obsession with Paul Weller. That night I was dressed in a new John Smedley jumper, some dog tooth check Farahs (worn an inch above my ankle), red silk socks and Patrick Cox loafers. Combined with the obligatory Weller crop, I thought I looked the bollocks. Now Weller's best mate at the time was a guy called Paolo Hewitt, another mod from Slough. He was a music journalist who had just written a book called ' Heavens Promise.' I'd loved it. Very influenced by Colin MacInnes mod epic 'Absolute Beginners',  it was nonetheless, in my eyes, great. I loved Heavenly.

We eventually made it downstairs. The night was rocking. I remember being tapped on the shoulder on the dancefloor. I looked over. It was Jeff.

' You having a goodnight mate?',

'Yeah. Shit Hot.' I replied.

I remember stood at the D.J box talking to Norman Cook, Fat Boy Slim. The day before I'd read an article about Norman where he recollected a night in Brighton, snorting Ketamine off of some train tracks. I mentioned this to him . He laughed. I remember asking him to play The HouseMartins.

The next morning I was supposed to be up for work at 5, to set up my market stall on Snienton Market, my busiest day of the week by far. We got in at 4. I overlaid. Me and Chris vowed to go to the next social a month later. I'd have the next day off. The Social didn't occur at Nottingham again.


A month later me and Chris are in Hunstanton .He's bought a Volkswagon van and we're testing it out for a few days.  We are stood in a newsagents browsing magazines. Suddenly Chris pipes up.

'Fucking Hell Den. Look at this!'

He thrusts a copy of D.J magazine in my face. As I look down, its the club review section at the back.

Its the first time for the Social outside the capital, but the scenes are no less crazy.
A typical scene.
As Fat Boy Slim is midway in his set, a pissed up clubber, turned comic, walks up to the D.J booth.
'Ere mate. You got any Housemartins?' he says.
'No . Piss off and dance.' he replies, to which he does, both laughing.

That was me- pissed up clubber, turned comic.

That's Legacy. A story I've told a million (and now one) times.

Till next time  ;)


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