Robin Turner pays tribute to a dearly departed Friend of the River
Andrew, Port Eliot, summer 2017, by Wendy Barrett
I spent a bit of time yesterday trying to remember when I first heard Andrew Weatherall DJ. I thought maybe that it was at Woody’s in Westbourne Grove the night before Notting Hill Carnival, at a Blue Source party. I’d got the train up from Wales specifically to hear him play and had gone along wearing a baker boy hat, like the kid in Boy’s Own logo. By the time Weatherall played, the heat was like the tropics and the ceiling rained sweat on my inappropriate head attire. In the first of life’s dancefloor epiphany moments, the righteous boom of Jah Wobble’s bass on Andrew’s mix of his track ‘Bomba’ cut through everything. I can still feel it in my guts today like a subsonic siren’s call; the kind of sound one hopes large satellite arrays end up picking up from far off celestial intelligences. I realised later on that the actual first time I heard him play was when he supported a pre-‘Infinity’ Guru Josh at the Town and Country Club, which adds something of a ludicrous note to this piece, something I think Andrew might have chuckled at.
Andrew Weatherall was the first DJ I followed the same way I’d previously followed bands, and his productions quickly shifted my musical direction of travel. More than that, his music formed the core of many friendships I made, both with mates in college when I moved to London and with the people I worked and partied with later on. Because Andrew was part of the connective tissue that’s linked every job I’ve ever had, whether that was at Heavenly, as a record business nomad or as one of the founders of Caught by the River (or a stint at Junior Boy’s Own, the evolved version of what he and his mates had set up as a magazine a decade before). His guiding hand helped shape each of those institutions in very different ways.
At Heavenly, I was a naïve kid who ended up as his press officer, albeit just for the Sabres of Paradise album Haunted Dancehall. Although I was terrified of him (he was fucking Andrew Weatherall for fuck’s sake!), I got to know an extremely amenable chap with a rapier wit that might occasionally take a slice out of you if you were talking utter cobblers, as I’m sure I had a tendency to do often. After calling up his office and announcing myself as Robin…Heavenly, he said it sounded like a porn star name, and that was that for the next fifteen years. More likely it would be directed back on himself in a wonderfully self-deprecating way designed to deflate the ego. When we booked Andrew to play the fifth week of the Heavenly Sunday Social, he turned the room into a secular church — a quaking house, one where Radio Clash broadcast next to Kung Fu Man. The following week was a frantic rush to London’s specialist shops in order to find the records he’d played, though I’m not sure any of us got very far. Then next time we booked him, salivating about hearing those records again, he played two hours of punishing drum’n’bass that left a load of us scratching our heads. As always, he was two steps ahead and one to the side.
Years later, Andrew was a constant, reassuring presence at Caught by the River events. He’d turn up to readings with the kind of warm respect that me and my mates had been paying to his DJ sets (OK, our respect might have been paid under the influence of whatever we’d turned up with) and he’d play our stage at Port Eliot year in year out for no fee, just a hotel for a couple of nights. He came to the River as a fan, and his sets there turned the weekend upside down. It was where I first heard him refer to the music he was playing as “120bpm drug chug” — a line that I later realised represented my idea of perfect sound forever. Each time he played, the decks were set up at the back of the stage. He removed himself from the spotlight, and lost himself in the music. When Jeff first suggested putting Andrew on in a field in Cornwall, I wondered how it might work. Seven years later, when Andrew played back to back with Justin Robertson, banging the arse out of it in a tent so full it appeared to be buckling, I realised it had worked very, very well. I’m still gutted he couldn’t play last year’s festival, the last one on that site.
One of my fondest memories of working with Andrew wasn’t as a PR, or a CBTR, but as a representative of Manic Street Preachers when working on a remix project for their 2009 album Journal For Plague Lovers. I’d been tasked with finding remixers for each track on the record. Andrew was the perfect choice for album opener ‘Peeled Apples’ – a chaos polemic by Richey Edwards that ripped holes in the church of Noam Chomsky. The band paid Andrew in cash stuffed in a brown envelope; in turn he delivered a piece of music that took the low-slung, brooding original and moulded it into something akin to PiL on pills. I first heard it in Andrew’s company when I went to pick up a CD from his studio in Scrutton Street (we both used to find that name endlessly funny). There, he turned it up to punishment volume, skinned up and stood, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet as I’d seen him do while DJing for the last twenty years or so. As Richard Fearless posted on Facebook, there were points where the carpet in that studio was worn bald, where the perfect standing and listening spot had been created, where magick was channelled through the man himself.
Andrew’s death feels like a theft, because we’ve been robbed of a figure who represented and shaped the counter culture. Not the ’60s hippie one, or the punk one, but our counter culture — the place where all roads meet and it makes total sense for a book reading to happen on the same stage as an acid house party. As such, he’s irreplaceable — the future version of him will come from a different generation, a different scene and will come with different reference points that we’ll endeavour to follow but will struggle to keep up with. But that’s just the nature of things isn’t it? God we are going to miss him. But as the great man said, fail we may, sail we must.
Shine like Stars, Andrew. Always.
Andrew Weatherall, 6 April 1963 — 17 February 2020