From Windsor To Outer Space: Andrew Weatherall Remembered
Where do you start with Andrew Weatherall, aka Wevvers, “Andy”, The Guv’nor, Lord Sabre, The Chairman, Audrey Witherspoon, Brother Weatherall?
Do you start with the well-worn, but often brilliantly told tale of how he became a disc jockey? How he was the kid with the weird records, enthusing about a long-lost B-side or telling you about some obscurity, before honing just that into a 30 year plus career? (Just using the word “career” will bring about a wry smile – it’s not a word he’d have ever used, nor would the curmudgeon in him ever have enjoyed hearing the journey he went on described as “a career”.)
Do you talk about the time he played the 633 Squadron theme to open his first ever gig as a DJ, flooding the place with dry ice and getting kicked off the decks?
Or about the time he started a fanzine with a few chums that ended up becoming the “village newspaper for acid house”?
Or his first remix, for Happy Mondays, hired for his good taste and his canny ability to know what worked on the dancefloor. Or that time he remixed Primal Scream? (Let’s not forget, that while you might have tired of the tale of Oakenfold, Rampling et al going to Ibiza, one would never be bored of hearing the master raconteur’s oft-told story about Primal Scream telling him to “just fucking destroy [I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have]”.)
Everyone will have their own starting point and first memories and their own stories and anecdotes – the pre-acid house years, the Shoom times, the, ahem, Balearic network, Sabresonic, Blood Sugar and beyond, the Wrong Meeting, The Double Gone Chapel… right through to his recent reincarnation under the A Love From Outer Space umbrella and the annual celebration that was Convenanza.
His ability for reinvention was remarkable, but never transparent. It wasn’t the kind of “I was a mod before you was a mod” school of thought, the turned-up-one-day-at-school-and-announced“I’m a rude boy now not a punk anymore” vibe.
Think of the genres and styles he’d embraced over the years in his DJing and productions – the Balearic Shoomness, the weird proto-house records that no one else owned; the Italo house piano screamers (mandatory mention of the Numero Uno altercation in Trax); the dark as fuck techno; the everything thrown in the blender approach of Screamadelica; the epic and sprawling Sabres remixes; the dubby, technoey, deep as you like house of the Blood Sugar years; the rockabilly and garage sets and guitar worship of the Double Gone Chapel; the blimey, it all makes sense when you’re there from the beginning, post-punk to banging it out of the Wrong Meeting; the dub sets throughout the years (always the dub sets, his love of reggae, (“sufferers’ music”) was unswerving); easing into a late-flowering, comfortable in his skin A Love From Outer Space years.
It’s in the past 10 years or so, the ALFOS years, that he seemed to if not exactly mellow, then at least soften around the edges, slipping if not into the status of elder statesman of the acid house, then at least away from the moody DJ tag that accompanied the first wave of post-acid house heroes. He spread himself wider, still doing the rooms above pubs and basements, playing rockabilly or dub for the hell of it; acting as a question master and host at various literary events; on the radio on NTS playing whatever the hell he liked, a genuinely eclectic show that was a bona fide musical education.
Any and many of those tales have been related over the past few days, with those involved concentrating on snapshots and elements. I’ve spoken to a dozen or more people who worked with, alongside or just down the corridor from Weatherall, from before the acid house, throughout, and after, to get a sense of what he was like.
Sure, there is much missing, partly down to shaky memories of long-forgotten night-time manoeuvres, as well as the fact that it was done in the fug hanging over his friends and fans in the days after his tragic passing.
You can almost start anywhere, but we’ll go with a young, be-quiffed lad running around town at all manner of different clubs, before bumping into soul boy Terry Farley.
“Andrew was Cymon Eckel’s flatmate,” Farley recalls. “they lived in Windsor, there was a big army barracks there, they used to get chased all around town by squaddies. We met them through Johnny Rocka, We used to see them in a pub in Windsor, the one where the alternative people went.” (There has, it must be noted, been much discussion between Terry and Cymon, among others, as to whether this was a goth pub. For the record, Eckel denies it.)
“Andrew was one of the faces in there, we ended up round his house, It was all painted dark, there were skulls everywhere. Coming where we were from, this was a bit different. He was a really nice guy, we all started going out together. There was that time at the Mud Club, we met him when it opened at Leicester Square with Afrika Bambaata playing. He was sitting on an American jeep, wearing one of those Bundeswehr vests and dog tags. ‘That’s that kid…’ Pretty soon we integrated him in our crew, we dragged him along to the Caister soul weekender, to the all-nighters at the Slough Centre. They were the only places they could go without getting beaten up. We were hanging out, then we all started putting parties on.
I remember his first ever gig, there weren’t many people there and he ended up playing the theme from 633 Squadron and just jammed on the smoke machine. Everyone was coughing up their guts, the manager came up and threw him straight off.”
I remember a few years later, being round Cymon and Andrew’s place in Battersea. He’d just been offered a Sunday night residency, he was asking all our residencies. He’d been offered £100 a night, it was incredible. I was getting £100 a week as a gas fitter. No one was being paid £100 a night. Everyone was nervous about doing stuff out of the family, but it was like one of ours had made it.”
As Farley continues: “He was just Andrew. When we were doing Boys Own, we’d ask him if he’d done his Outsider column yet, we’ve got to go to print. We’d go round his to try and get it from him. It was very laid-back, all on Andrew’s time. But when we got it, it was great.”
The original Boys Own crew may have gone in different directions, down different pathways, but the friendships remained. As he’s often noted, “he was always Andy to us. We had him play before Dixon at a Faith party. He was brilliant, so much so I was worried that Dixon was going to moan at me, he was that good. He played a reggae set at Turnmills for us at Faith too. There was a blind toaster, a gang of Japanese girls and everyone started banging the ceiling reggae-style. It was brilliant. Most people played it for the smokers. He played it for the ravers too.”
Those heady, hedonistic days of Boys Own, the Bocca Juniors, the early remixes, the Primal Scream production, have been long discussed; the post-acid house years saw him coming into contact with Jeff Barrett, for a long-standing and far-reaching friendship and working relationship. When they first met, Barrett was running indie labels and nights in Camden. “Richard Norris was the first person to tell me about Andrew,” he recalls. “He said that I’d got to go to Clink Street, that I’d really like it. And when you go, he said, there’s this guy you’re going to meet…
“He wasn’t wrong. Our eyes met across the dancefloor at Future, we got on really well straight away. It was fellow traveller shit. We both started on this kind of adventure at the same time. And his fingerprint is on everything really.”
That Heavenly is as good a label as ever, and that both Barrett and Weatherall maintained their credibility and quality threshold for 30 years is remarkable. “He’d never have imagined that he’d have maintained an artistic life in music,” says Barrett, “and he was developing in this literary world. And all on his own fucking terms.”
The friendship grew and Heavenly’s first release bore a Weatherall remix. “I told him I had this track here, Sly and Lovechild, it’s got something going for it, but it needs some work.” Weatherall told him he didn’t know what he was doing, Barrett merely told him he should fix it so it sounded good on the dancefloor at Future. “That was our first release, he did another for our second [Saint Etienne’s Only Love…] and he carried on right up until the end of last year.”
His Confidence Man remixes, notably Bubblegum, were amazing. “He absolutely loved Confidence Man, he begged me to do that remix. They could not believe it. These kids in Australia, for them, Screamadelica was the holy grail.”
The mutual support continued for many years. Barrett says: “We spurred each other on, the enthusiasm, the passion. It was ‘have you heard this, have you read this, have you seen this?’ We worked together a lot, and we encouraged the fuck out of each other.
“He really was unique.”
The late 1980s and 1990s was an incredibly productive time, with Weatherall DJing around the country, abroad, banging out the remixes, working on assorted labels… One of those who worked closely with him under the Boys Own banner was then fledgling DJ and producer Darren Price. Price says many have spoken about Weatherall’s work, but he had more to be thankful for – not least introducing him to his wife.
“He was a generous and loving man, he was so thoughtful,” he says. “He would always look after someone when they were down. He took me under his wing during some tough times in my life. He got me DJing and made me believe I was good enough to do it – even playing alongside him – which was a big pressure then. In the beginning, he would ask promoters to book me to play before him, such as James at Venus in Nottingham. We played there for over a year together, every month. Also at Space in Ibiza. He got me a residency there with him where we would stay in villas playing for two weeks at a time, I had really good times with Andrew.
“Looking back, I owe so much to this great man. he even introduced me to my gorgeous wife Timna. We went on holidays together with him and Nina Walsh, from hot sunny climes, where he would be hiding from the sun with his tattoos, to staying in castles at Christmas. The best job I ever had was spending days/weeks/months on end in the Boys Own office with him and all the Boys Own crew, playing tunes that were posted in. Basically playing records and being paid for it. A dream job, by anyones standard. He’d invite me to the studio to listen to some of his remixes while working on them. I was so so lucky to DJ with him just a few months ago at Ashley Beedle’s wedding, playing reggae seven inches and having a right old laugh, just like old times. A moment in time and an experience I will cherish forever.”
During the hectic, early days of the Sabres of Paradise, the accompanying Sabresonic club, the nascent Junior Boys Own operation, there was plenty of fevered activity. There was, of course, the famed Balearic network. This saw Weatherall and the Boys Own lot forging links around the UK, with Manchester being one of the key landing points alongside Leeds and other conurbations.
“I was working in Eastern Bloc,” says Justin Robertson, whose Spice and Most Excellent Nights had a kinship, sparking off a friendship with Weatherall that lasted for more than 30 years. “Manchester was very Chicago and Detroit, house and techno, but I was fascinated by the Balearic, esoteric end of it, it wasn’t featured quite so much in the clubs. I read Boy’s Own and tried to get hold of all those records in the playlists there. I was always interested in Andrew’s stuff and selections. After meeting him in the shop (when he turned up with Jeff Barrett, looking like some kind of “pirates in silk shirts”), a friendship was struck up.
“In those days, you just used to phone people up at home.” Weatherall guested at Most Excellent, the pair toured with Primal Scream and ran a night in Nottingham (Skank, named after and influenced by their love of dub). “We always shared a similar outlook on music, I always found him a source of great inspiration.”
Again, like many of those interviewed, Robertson kept in touch throughout the years. “We used to regularly swap lists of things we’ve read or bought. I was just preparing a fresh list. I’m not going to be able to do that any more. Every time I wrote something, every time I made a piece of music, even when I went into Clutch Cafe to buy a new beret – I’d think of Andrew. He was almost a subconscious anchor – what would Andrew think of this?
“He was a man who could be very serious but not take it seriously. He made serious art and had an impact in the world of culture, but he had a lightness of touch and was really funny. A lovely human being. I’m in tears one minute and laughing the next. But when the sadness has gone, over time, what will be left is this lingering positive feeling of creativity and a genuinely nice human being.”
Other then-Manchester residents entering Weatherall’s orbit were the Dust Brothers, soon to become the Chemical Brothers, who were, essentially, discovered by Lord Sabre.
Ed Simons remembers the excitement when Weatherall would come to Manchester to play in the halcyon days of nights such as Most Excellent. “We were huge fans. The electricity when he’d first arrive in the club,” he recalls now, “it was so exciting for us. We went down to see him play Leicester Square with Primal Scream.”
So when they started making music – just something they were messing around with in the day, filling the hours, creating tracks to play – he was one of their first ports of call.
“We’d made 10 test pressings of Song To The Siren we’d got them to people like Andrew, Justin Robertson, Darren Emerson. It was him and Justin that really picked up on it. We heard on the grapevine he was playing it, so the whole of that summer, we got in Tom [Rowlands’] car and we’d go to whatever club he was playing. We’d be skulking in the background, wondering if he was going to play it. One night, might have been Venus, he played it at the end.”
They pressed up 500 copies and tried selling them in. “I had no idea what we were doing. I’d ring up record shops on a weekday and tell them I’d heard this tune that Weatherall was playing, it’s got a big siren in it, big breakbeats. They didn’t, then a few days later I’d go in the shop, play them the record and they’d say ‘someone was asking about that the other day’.”
The next time he played at the Boardwalk he got word to Tom and Ed that he wanted a word. “We went to meet him and he told us [JBO’s] Steve Hall wanted to meet us. ‘Does this mean you’re going to remix it?’ we asked. Tom was in Ariel, we’d just made this record for us to play and get a bit of DJ work.”
Song To The Siren and then Chemical Beats came out through JBO, then the remixes, such as Lionrock, started coming in with JBO’s support. And then it was on to Sabresonic. “Sabresonic was off the hook,” says Simons. “It was so good. It was hard but fair, as Terry Farley described it. We ended up playing there. Andrew wanted us to DJ, but we weren’t good enough to play. He wanted us to be involved, so we ended up cobbling together a 20 minute live thing. We didn’t want to be on the stage, so we ended up in a cubby hole above the cloakroom. Adam Smith was doing the visuals – we’re still working with him today.”
Simons aptly describes his influence as that of a good football manager. “If he felt like you had something, he’d let you get on with it and express yourself.”
He continued that influence throughout his career. “Our paths went in different directions, but he was always there with a quip. He had that real curiosity and sensitivity too. He really touched so many people’s lives. And when he was DJing, it was like nothing else. It was magical. He used to create this incredible magic when he DJed. No one ever came close.”
These fertile 90s years saw another Heavenly signing fall under the influence of Weatherall as he worked on her debut album. Beth Orton’s first outing was sprinkled with Weatherall’s sensibilities and deft production touch, although fine work, less bombastic (or Bomba-stic) than some of his other efforts around this time, it has been shunted aside as Screamadelica and One Dove’s first (an outstanding elpee, but one perhaps offering a salutary lesson on major label interference) came to the fore.
“Each day it feels sadder and more pointless that he should have died so suddenly and so young with so much more to be done,” says the singer. “He had more to give on this earthy realm but maybe in his passing he will remind us not to waste time. To give all of what we have whilst we are here but to choose well. I believe he lived well and with a moral code. I wish I’d spent more time with him in the last few years and I wish I’d got to thank him and hug him and tell him what it meant to me for him to be up for doing the three reworkings he did on Trailer Park. It meant such a great deal for him to realise that dream of mine and for the reality to be as beautiful as it was and always will be. I always hoped we’d do more but I’m so grateful for the fact we made music together at all. I’m really hurting that he’s gone.”
Another youngster who’d been a fan as a young raver before falling into Weatherall’s orbit was Richard Sen, former graffiti writer turned DJ and producer.
“I was a fan since it all started. I don’t know what it was about Weatherall, but he attracts certain type of people, people into leftfield stuff, something a bit different, a bit weirder. He was one of my favourite DJs, a hero, there was no-one like him at the time taking the risks, with that attitude. I was a graffiti writer until 1989, then ecstasy came along it all stopped. At a club in 1992, I just started talking to him, and said if you ever want any artwork. He said he was crying out for people to come up to him and offer him artwork.” Within days, he was in the Sabres office, getting a commission for the Smokebelch sleeve. “He said it was inspired by the chimneys he saw on the way to gigs. I showed him a picture he said it was perfect and told me to go away and do it. I painted it round at my gran’s and he came there to pick it up, It was so surreal.”
Sen’s artwork was used for another sleeve, Theme, and their relationship grew from there – backdrops for Sabresonic, warm-up slots there, recording in Scrutton Street as the Bronx Dogs and under other names; Weatherall continued to play Sen-related tracks, right through to No Sameness, his recently released 12.
“I gave it to him just before Carcassonne. He played it there, I got reports back. As soon as I sent it to him he emailed back saying he would be playing it for the next couple of years. He used to call up – I remember him saying how he’d played my John Grant mix in new York, he always gave feedback. When I’m making music, I always wonder if Weatherall will like it. It’s the seal of approval he gave you, the validation. It makes you think that at least you’re doing something right. There’s no-one at his level who gives you that kind of support. And now he’s gone, It’s a big big loss. Aside from the music, as a person, he was so influential in how to conduct yourself, giving guidance and support.
“He was so supportive, he helped out as much as he could. He gave people a leg up then it was up to them what they did with it. I remember one time, I DJing in the main room and he was DJing in the backroom. He was playing to no-one. I went in and thought this can’t be real. The roles have reversed. He was just loving it though, enjoying playing records to no-one. The memories are worth more than any money or fame.”
Rick Hopkins – Rick Slick Hopkins as Weatherall dubbed him – was a regular at the 90s Sabresonic nights, before going on to become resident at his next venture.
“The first time I met him was in the queue outside Happy Jax, in the queue for Sabres,” he recalls. “He’d walk up and down in black suede creepers and combats, he was still in that techno punk kind of thing. He just got to know people’s faces and he’d say hello. ‘Weatherall’s just said hello to me’ – I thought I’d made it.”
He gave a tape to Muzik magazine and ended up becoming one of its Bedroom Bedlam winners, tapes were also passed on to the Guv’nor himself. “It was one of the times I couldn’t go and Andrew [told one of Hopkins’ mates] that he loved the tape. After Sabresonic 2 finished at EC2, Weatherall got in touch with the aspiring DJ. “I went to the Dean Street Sabres office and he said ‘I’m going to start a club, do you want to be a resident?’ It wasn’t going to be techno, deep house and quite electro. I was into the Basic Chanel stuff, I loved the music.” The club was Blood Sugar, at the Blue Note. “Blood sugar, with Slick Rick. It was me. Fucking hell, I thought, this is it. It was just as crazy as Sabresonic, but the music wasn’t as punishing. You know Andrew – he’d turn up, we’d turn up, have a cheeky livener. Initially it was all about the music, but once you got to know him, all we’d be talking about was Vic and Bob and The Fast Show.”
“We went to all the little parties he did, Circulation in Brixton, then it turned into Haywire parties and then the Haywire Sessions [at the Fortress]. Those and the Rotter’s Golf Club parties, they were just mental.
“Andrew was in the middle of it all, everything was coming from that. We were all around him. He brought people together.”
Meanwhile, Weatherall was busy in the ever-growing and constantly growing studio complex in Scrutton Street, where he’d sharpened up into the Two Lone Swordsmen alongside fellow blade botherer Keith Tenniswood.
In a long email, Tenniswood remembers their time together, from the early days through to one of Weatherall’s key eras, the TLS years.
“I used to go to the Drum Club on a Thursday night at the Soundshaft behind the Heaven club in London,” he says. “I’m sure the first night I went, it was to hear a Weatherall set. This would have been about 93-94. It was my mate Jason who’d taken me up there, I was deffo listening to Andrew on the radio by this point and really wanted to hear him play.
“I don’t think I got to meet him that night or if it was way after that, but I was in my early twenties and right up for going out all the time. That became a weekly thing and that was always the start of the weekend, ending on a Sunday at a club called Full Circle out in Colnbrooke on the A4 outside of town a bit.
“That place was wild too, run by Phil and Fiona Perry and every week there would be a big name playing in what was basically a pub that had been turned into a club. I’m really not sure to be honest, but it was one of those places where I’d have said hello. I’d met Jagz Kooner from the Sabres first…
“After much pestering from me, Jagz had offered me a job as studio boy. That involved skinning up, making tea and getting supplies. Sabres of Paradise was Jagz, Andrew and Gary Burns. They were a serious production team, each having their own talents to draw from. Then on ‘down time’ I’d get to use their amazing studio (Sabresonic) and learn how to use the machines. This was mostly at weekends when they were away on gigs. The studio itself was above a chip shop on a council estate in Hounslow.
“Then one day, Jagz said ‘right Keith, me and Gary are away this week, you’re working on a remix with Andrew for Transglobal Underground’. The track was called International Times.
“I was proper shitting it, still not up to anywhere near scratch on the samplers and computer… I remember that session, I went into meltdown and freaking out not knowing what i was doing. Andrew had immediately put me at ease and just said ‘don’t worry about it, it sounds amazing as it is and we’re gonna go with it.’
(It actually sounds pretty good that remix..)
“Then – now this is foggy – but we’d got to jam together and began doodling out ideas – Andrew was not a technical studio bod at that time to be honest, so we were both learning and keeping things simple. All of these jams became The Fifth Mission a double album on his Emissions Label. And if you listen to it now, it really is two guys getting stoned and learning how to use equipment – but its also got its charms… It’s actually one of my favourites now.”
The heady days of Scrutton Street were not only – as most say – a heck of a lot of fun but were also hugely creative. “The fun button was pushed every day, but as long as we were productive then it was cool. Initially it was Fuel records in there with Dave Tipper in one of the studios. Then we had a recording studio and Andrew had his records and decks room which you could hardly get in to. You had to step over mountains of records to get to his decks. Nathan from Wang/Electrophonic had a room for a bit, and the other couple of rooms changed with people like Battant with Tim Fairplay and Chloe Raunet; Steve Boardman; Chris Rotter and Lung; Craig Walsh banging out techno, and Richard Fearless also took a room for a bit. So it really was a constant vibe and musical bunker 24/7 – four studios plus Andrew’s room. And then there was the pub – The Griffin, or The Clubhouse as Andrew called it – five minutes away and his old friend Cymon Eckel was running it. Eventually one of the rooms was empty and we turned it into a live room with fully mic’d drum kit and guitar amps. We had one of Mani’s ridiculous Ampeg bass amps in there. The beauty of that place was that you could rinse the arse out of it 24/7 and no-one said a word. Also being in the city – at weekends it was completely dead around there. So it was basically perfect for a studio, which is tricky to find in central London.”
And as for the music, Tenniswood continues: “Andrew was a complete joy to make music with. We had a sampler on the DJ mixer and he would try out ideas on that before we actually sampled it. He was pulling out a seemingly endless supply of obscure records which we sampled. He had an amazing foresight on how things could sound an hour or two down the line. I’ve worked with other people and a lot of the time if the particular sound isn’t working its gets binned and we move on. In Andrew’s case it was ‘lets try and go with that and see how we can fuck it up/change it/twist it/detune it…’ Sometimes no words were said for hours, just the occasional nod of appreciation or maybe a screwed up face if it wasn’t working so well. Then once the main part of the tune was rolling he’d experiment with mutes on the desk for ages, seeing what worked. After a few hours of this, he would simply roll one up, close his eyes and direct me on how to program the arrangement. He’d have it all mapped out in his head how it should go. Genius.”
He concludes: “Above all, we were in such a great flow for a long time. We’d gone from making noodly electronics to making dubbed out rock n roll with him singing, over about 13 years.. and back again. But that’s another great long story…
“His attitude for experimenting with no fucks given was totally infectious. But the truth is he did give a fuck and loved his art to the core, which is why his results are unlike anyone else. Couple all of that with his amazing sharp wit and endless stories, it was a totally magic place to be. We’d recently reconnected and I’d done a remix for him and Nina Walsh. Of that I’m happy about at least, otherwise I’m as heartbroken as everyone else. The sadness comes in waves, but the amazing memories, they’ll stay forever. “
After the Haywire Sessions and Fortress activity was brought to an early halt (the “secret” venue coming under increased attention after its name was printed once or twice too often), proceedings moved to 93 Feet East.
But things were developing. Weatherall was expanding his horizons – rockabilly (an early love) was back on the agenda and he toyed with singing for Two Lone Swordsmen’s later works. Meanwhile, another new launch was on the horizon, this time at the T-Bar, teaming up with Ivan Smagghe, newly arrived from Paris, for Wrong Meeting on a Thursday night.
“Way before I met him, he was my ultimate, favourite DJ and probably even the reason I got into all this. I thought he was unapproachable, but he wasn’t” says Smagghe.
“I’d moved to London. We’d known each other for a while, and he was bored of playing techno to white males. He was looking for a new agency, I introduced him to Caroline (Spun Out). We shared similar interests in music, we had common ground. I didn’t come from the disco, the music I liked was post punk. We had a shared interest in books too. It can’t be stressed enough – Andrew wasn’t only about music. He was about clothes, about books, about everything.
“Anyway, we had these things in common, like rockabilly. He’d played it out before, but the idea was for us to play anything in a nightclub, it’s all dance music. We were lucky enough to get T-Bar. It was a lot of fun. It was a surprise he asked me, but a great honour. If you’d told me that 10 years before, I’d never have believed it.”
Playing with Weatherall meant Smagghe got to see everything he was playing – a great opportunity – but he also shaped what his contemporary played, and still does. “Almost every record I played was an attempt, not at pleasing him, but every record I played has a bit of him in it. I still think about that. He was always the reference point, it was always about him and it always will be.”
Wrong Meeting continued until the T-Bar moved, with a few revivals subsequently, and the pair remained on close terms. “I really cherish that I was able to do that. I’ve got so many memories. We were very close, but there was some distance. Even when I’d seen less of him, he was always there.”
And there were plenty of life lessons along the way. “He never turned towards the past, I never heard him saying something was better before, never heard him putting himself on a pedestal. He didn’t think the DJ was a hero or DJs were legends. He taught me to never regret things, never look back. He was the person who taught me to follow your own way. He always said, this is not a career, it’s just going down alleyways to explore, some work, some don’t. He was quite unique, and as much of a genius as he was, he was always humble.
“And he was always trying new things. It was the same with A Love From Outer Space, he never chose the easy way. There’s no-one that’s been as big of an influence as he was. He lives on in all of us.”
Another person who came into Weatherall’s orbit post-Wrong Meeting and Two Lone Swordsmen and around the time A Love From Outer Space was all kicking off was Daniel Avery, then a budding DJ and producer who was, as he says, “just cutting my teeth in the studios and really trying to make a go of it myself”.
After meeting through Richard Fearless, Avery ended up sharing studio space down the hall from the Chairman. “He’d always pop his head around the door,” recalls Avery of his early recording efforts. “He’d listen in, give encouragement. I’d burn CDs for him of stuff I was working on, for him to lay every weekend. Every Monday he’d come back in and report on the reactions, give direct feedback. It was such a rush. It was a huge turning point for me.”
Drone Logic, one of Avery’s richly deserved breakthrough tracks, was made with A Love From Outer Space in mind. “It had that slow psychedelic feel,” he notes. “He was the first person I handed it to as soon as I’d finished it. He called me on the Monday to say it was the biggest track of the night. That was the seal of approval.”
The pair often played back-to-back together. “It was always a complete masterclass standing next to him and watching him play. He was the most patient and thoughtful DJ I’ve ever seen. I’d often see him practising DJing, trying out records, seeing what worked.”
Like many others, the initial spark came “from characters like Andrew” as Avery was growing up in Bournemouth. “He had an outsider’s way, a different angle that resonated with me. I discovered his Fabric CD, and all his mixes, when I first started DJing at 18. That was it. He had that punk outsider thing. I always try and remember that.”
Mere mention of a Love From Outer Space brings us on to a pivotal part of Weatherall’s recent life. His DJ partner Sean Johnston. Like many others interviewed for this piece, Johnston started off idolising the DJ, then became a friend and compatriot, bringing their unique blend together.
“I first met him in 1990,” he recalls. “He was my hero, I fucking hero worshipped him. I was over the moon to meet him [Jeff Barrett brought them together] and we kind of hit it off over a love of Adrian Sherwood and William Orbit.” Johnston ended up putting together some of the Sabres T-shirts and other gear, eventually recording for the Sabres label. Keeping in touch over the years, Johnston ended up giving Weatherall a lift to a gig in his flash company car and ended up becoming his driver. Normally, Andrew would have his own CDs, but lacking them one night, Johnston put on all he had – a mix of his own. “We listened to it and Andrew said ‘this is amazing – we’ve got to do something’.”
Serendipity came when the room below a Stoke Newington pub, aka The Drop, became available for a midweek night. And A Love From Outer Space was born. “This was the opportunity we were looking for. It was, as Andrew would say, the alchemy of circumstance.
“Andrew must have seen some sort of potential in me, but I was shitting myself.”
Initial nervousness soon faded away to a kind of shared feeling. “We had a very similar musical background,” says Johnston. “I wasn’t interested in rare groove, it was about Throbbing Gristle, Front 242 and Belgian New Beat. And my musical education in house and techno came from Andrew.”
Moving, as he fondly describes it, from “hero worship, to apprentice, to partner”, the pair’s bond, travelling to far flung corners of the UK and way, way beyond. After experimenting with different methods – settling on four or five each, then swapping over – the pair’s friendship grew as A Love From Outer Space’s reputation mushroomed.
“He was so funny,” laughs Johnston. “We had a lot of fun. I think in recent years he felt a lot more comfortable in his own skin and he really had a lot of fun. He always had a book on the go, but we’d also have conversations about confectionery. He loved low culture as well as high culture, he had a real sense of the ridiculous and revelled in the childish. There’s that side of him people didn’t know. He was exceptionally good with our kids, he was kind and generous and couldn’t do enough for you.”
After the Two Lone Swordsmen came to an end, Weatherall remained in the studio before eventually settling with Tim (or Timothy J) Fairplay as his engineer. The duo cemented their relationship with the formation of The Asphodells (the second L, Andrew told me once, was to give it that 60s beat group vibe alongside the name of the flower).
“I met him when I was in Battant,” Fairplay says. “I’d seen him before then, I liked what he’d played. He really liked the band and we needed a rehearsal space. We moved in to Scrutton Street studios. It was a cool place to hang out, me and Andrew got on super-well. I started doing session bits and and playing guitar and bass on stuff he was doing. Andrew had this bit when he didn’t have an engineer, about 2010, he came in to the studio, asked to do this remix, did the first one. We went on to work together for six or seven years after that up until we lost Scrutton Street.”
The atmosphere there was, he recalls, both vibrant and hilarious, and yet they managed to get an awful lot of work done. “I started going in all the time, it was a great place to go. I didn’t understand the other members of the band – this is an amazing place to hang out. Why wouldn’t you want to go there? There were other interesting people coming in and out all the time.
It was just fun. It’s the most cliched thing to say, but it didn’t feel like work. He’s had a strong work ethic, but never really felt like that. He was a real laugh, we just spent ages trying to make each other laugh.”
After moves hither and thither, the pair ended up ensconced in studios alongside each other on a Tottenham industrial estate, a stroll down the corridor to hear what the other was working on. “He really gave me the confidence to do things. He really gave me a kick up the arse. Nobody supported me like him – he helped me out financially. He also taught me when to leave things alone, he’d listen to a track and say ‘no, that’s it, it’s done’. He knew when to leave it alone.
“I’m going to miss him for the rest of my life.”
In recent years, the Convenanza festival – or, as it was initially known, merely Andrew Weatherall Festival, took place in the French walled castle city of Carcassonne. The event has become the stuff of legend, with wild tales of high culture and lowbrow shenanigans emerging from the events. It has expanded and grown its horizons over the years, from an outside terrace into the castle itself – the 2019 took in guided tours and the history of the Cathar-city, the name Convenanza and talks and Q&As involving authors, while the music stretched from African rap to oompty boompty disco music.
He was first approached by French native Bernie Fabre about the event. “He was always open to suggestions, you don’t normally find that in people with such a high profile. I was this small guy from a provincial town, but he made me feel his equal.”
Initially reticent (“I don’t like having my name attached to a festival,” he’d told Fabre), he was won over by Bernie’s enthusiasm and belief in the project, deciding to embark on it because of his dedication and the fact that, as Bernie recalls, “he thought this guy sounds genuine’.”
“He just went for it. He wanted it to be varied, not just four to the floor. The Music’s Not For Everyone idea.”
There were, of course, caveats – “If any sponsors approached me, he’d always say it’s not what we do” – but aside from that, the pair grew the event organically into the festival it is today – one that sold out this year well ahead of any acts even being announced.
“He was open to suggestions, you don’t normally find that in people with such a high profile. He gave me carte blanche.”
Like everyone I’ve spoken to while pulling this together, Fabre fully appreciates the irony of the elegies and tributes being paid to someone who was essentially humble about his place within the grand scheme of things.
“His generosity and self-deprecating attitude were amazing,” he says. “if you ever started to praise him he’d show his humility. Last year I told him the closing set at Convenanza was mind-blowing [author’s note: it was]. He said thank you, but added it wasn’t anything special.”
More than the music, or just as much as it, Fabre remembers sitting in restaurants and bars in Carcassonne, with Weatherall and guests, just talking.
“He liked people. He always had this light in him. He made you and I do better. He was an interesting person, you life would be a little bit more interesting for every moment you were with him. Even every time he called me, he had something funny to make me laugh.”
What is appreciable, especially speaking to his friends and cohorts over the past week or so, is that his incredible run of creativity was far from over, Weatherall was as exciting and intriguing as ever. Dave Jarvis, a long-time pal, had worked with him in recent years on the Fort Beulah releases, and is launching an offshoot to his Moton imprint, Pamela, with its first release from the man himself.
“He came in to the shop [Jarvis was among the founders of Hoxton’s Love Vinyl shop, a recent haunt of Weatherall’s] as he wanted to listen to a remix of a Dexy’s track he’d done,” says Jarvis. “He told me he’d got hundreds of unreleased tracks, let’s just start a project.”
There were five 12”s released under the Fort Beulah banner, with a more of a “tabla meets electronica”, east meets west sound, apart from the final out. “I told Andrew ‘you’ve gone all jazz dance’, he said ‘what’s wrong that? I can be jazzy, can’t I?’” There were 150 of each, with Discogs prices now soaring, with a box set compiling all initially planned. Jarvis is now aiming to get this out, alongside the debut Pamela release. “Andrew loved our Moton label [it’s specialised in re-edits since its initial Harvey and Diesel produced take on Billy Paul’s East] and he said he had something he wanted to give us for the label.” But unlike the label’s other output, his track was “a proper, written song”, rather than a re-edit.
So the idea was born to launch a sister imprint. Pamela, as in Pamela Moton, rather than Tamla Motown, was the snappy idea. “Andrew loved it, he loved the logo. It tied in with the Reverend Jim Jones and Jonestown, one of the cult members was known as Pamela Moton. He loved that idea.” The track will be released soon, like recent releases (the Byrd Out track that came out days after Weatherall’s passing is a belter), it represents the kind of quality threshold that few, especially the more prolific producers, could even dream of.
Sadly, while there looks likely to be great swathes of unreleased and unearthed music to come in the weeks and months ahead, some of the more intriguing and tantalising prospects were unfulfilled. Over the past decade, there had been a movement outside of mere music; as Weatherall moved into circles based on his other interests, chief among them being books and literature.
“He was going to do more of it,” says Lee Brackstone, formerly at Faber, having launched the musically-inclined Faber Social imprint, and now running White Rabbit Books. “We’d already spoken about stuff we were going to do together. DJs get to their mid-50s and think ‘what the fuck am I doing in Berlin at 8am playing techno rather than writing [or reading] a book. His knowledge of literature was staggering as was his collection of books.”
The pair had forged close links over the past decade, not least when Weatherall was artist in residence for Faber Social.
“I had this idea about Faber Social,” explains Brackstone, who also had the distinction of having a Weatherall-penned song named after him (Woodleigh Research Facility’s Brackstone Abroad). “I wanted to create this list with a distinct personality, we were thinking about how you create a bigger world around it, a community. I thought let’s create an artist in residence. I’d met him at Festival No 6, he’d just done one of those mind-blowing sets.” Introductions followed, which the turned into discussions. “I asked him to be artist in residence, he asked what it entailed, I didn’t really know to be honest. ‘Does it mean I get lots of kudos and don’t have to do much?’ he asked me. I said yes, that and we’ll give you £1,000 worth of books. ‘Sure, I’m up for it,’ he said.”
Weatherall was enlisted to help with assorted projects – with the likes of Michael Smith, David Keenan and Julian Cope, tying in with Faber projects. It was crossing the streams,” says Brackstone.
More plans were in the pipeline – a limited edition private press, more collaborations with Keenan, and even the dream proposition – his autobiography. Although Weatherall protested his ability to remember the hazy days of the acid house, it had been discussed. It would not, as you might expect, be a straightforward “and then this happened, then that happened” chronological tale of wacky DJ mishaps. “He was going to do it a some point,” says Brackstone, adding it might have been a collage, partly fictionalised and not merely a narrative. “We’re robbed of that.”
He continues: “He really wanted to develop the literature side of it, that was definitely a plan as well. He was just effortlessly moving to that next stage, more broadly cultural than dance or club culture. We wanted to try and develop that, to bring together music and literature. Over the 10 years we worked together, I discovered so much. Every time I met him he’d have a different book, whether it was Nazis on drugs or classic fiction. He was a classical autodidact, self-taught. They’re always the people with the best recommendations.
“He was just an evangelist. It’s one of the many tragedies – we’ve lost a shaman, the chief evangelist.
He was spreading the word, he believed in these things. Look at things like Music’s Not For Everyone [his NTS show and associated DJ sets]. It was an incredible resource. He was taking people along with him, people who wouldn’t ordinarily find this stuff. People would follow him to these other places, thinking if Weatherall was doing it, it was worth listening to. That’s the work of a true evangelist.”
It could be argued that the vast body of work he left behind – as well as a high level of recent output, Weatherall had kept up a level of his own productions and remixes that few could match, just check The Flightpath Estate’s mammoth discography if you’re not sure, there were also hundreds of unreleased tracks – provides one of the few crumbs of comfort for those mourning. There’s loads to listen to – the 900 hours on the Weatherdrive (I promise I’ll sort out the couple of bits that aren’t up on there that I’ve got, old Haywire mixes), the hundreds of remixes, the great body of his own productions and collaborations, the unreleased gems that, carefully selected and finished, will provide new listening material for some time to come. There’s also the reading lists, the assorted recommendations, the old interviews with bons mots aplenty.
And there’s the satisfaction knowing that there was no compromise in there. This is a man who never sold out. In a world after punk – where maintaining integrity was crucial – more than most of your idols, you might not have liked everything he did, he never lost that spark, he never compromised, he never let you down.
The word that kept coming back, or one of the many, while speaking to people was that he really was unique. A bona fide one-off. Borne out of the tribal clashes of the pre-ecstasy era, a veteran of the punk wars, of the acid house wars and all that followed, he might be the last in a long line. And for all the sadness, I’ll remember someone who was always genuinely nice to me and all our lot, who always took the time, a thoroughly decent person as well as being a master craftsman. And I will always, always remember his warning about the perils of ecstasy and MDMA use – overdo it and you’ll end up dancing to Chris Rea. I will pass this on to my kids, and maybe I will, one day, get that tattoo on my wrist: WWWD. What Would Weatherall Do. Always ask yourself, at any juncture, especially when things are on the line, what would Weatherall do?
We’ll leave the final words to Luke Unabomber, who had known him for years and, latterly, the coming together of Electric Chair and Weatherall, Johnston and co at the Electric Elephant festival had been a meeting of the minds, hearts and souls, talked about in hushed, reverential tones by those who were there.
And for Luke, the best of times was sitting in a Croatian restaurant with Weatherall and assorted types just talking over a few drinks and a fish platter.
“My best memories are sitting with Andrew and the likes of Justin and Sean, an amazing collection of people and a fish platter. We never really chatted about music. Most of our conversations were about politics, culture, bizarre facts… The best of acid house was always that.
“He was like Gilbert and George. The best art he produced was himself. We’d sit and have these discussions and it was so remarkable, heartfelt and glorious. It was more than just daft hedonism, when the lasers were turned off, in the twilight, sat eating fish and talking. He was an amazing speaker and an amazing person to sit down with. He was a king among men and women.”
Luke, eloquent as ever, further notes the outpouring over the past week and believes Weatherall’s legacy will grow.
“It’s been quite incredible, this outpouring of grief by people who knew him very well as well as people who didn’t know him at all. His character was so authentic, so real and not fake. In a tsunami of DJ brands, there aren’t many people like Andrew who touched so many people. He never took the cash, he preferred the basement, he preferred the underground. In 30 years, people will write about this week. We’re not just mourning the death of Andrew, it’s everything around it.
“He was the real deal.’”