Five things you (maybe) didn't know about Andrew Weatherall
You're more than aware he's one of the best in the business, but did you know this?
Last updated: 1st Feb 2019. Originally published: 28th Jan 2019
Image Credit: Alex Zalewska
Conversations in nightclubs aren’t well known for being restrained. When the bass hums and the kick drums pulse, voices get raised to a shout and words are kept to a minimum. Even there though there are certain names which are so revered that they still only get invoked with a whisper that’s barely audible on the dancefloor. The men and women who started it, who evangelised it, whom it wouldn’t exist without; listen carefully and you’ll hear the names of Levan and Mancuso, Alfredo and Knuckles.
Many of them have a specific time, place and role they’re synonymous with. Some were DJs, some producers, but rarely do you find a figure who managed not only to infiltrate all the different realms and make an equally respected contribution, but who also managed to stay relevant over the decades by touching a bunch of different scenes and then moving forward to something new. Maybe you’d call out Harvey or Francois K, but these few are the high priests who managed to do it all and to be as exciting to hear today as they were twenty years ago. There aren’t that many of them, but Andrew Weatherall is one of the best we have.
There from the start, he was one of the DJs at original acid house night Shoom, while also co-founding the Boys Own fanzine that was the mouthpiece for the new dance culture. He was the producer of Primal Scream’s massive crossover document Screamadelica, a champion remixer of the Happy Mondays, New Order, My Bloody Valentine and a dazzling array of other massive artists. He leads his own electro groups, sings in bands and has his hands on production for a dizzying number of contemporary producers.
When he’s not doing all that or DJing to great acclaim around the world, he puts on nights for the cosmically-minded like ALFOS (A Love From Outer Space) and festivals like Convenanza. He’s an erudite writer and gives entertaining interviews where he rambles about history and wears the hell out of a beret. It’s no surprise that his fans call him the Guv’nor.
Whether you’re gearing up for Terminal V or heading to Todmorden to check out the Weatherall Weekender where he’s appearing dually as The Double Gone Chapel and as DJ alongside his ALFOS partner Sean Johnston, here are the facts you probably don’t really need to know, but which illustrate something of the character you’ll be dealing with.
His career has never been a straight line
Though we know him now primarily for his music, Weatherall’s early working life was as colourful as his tattoos. After leaving home at 18 he found himself working variously as a furniture porter, a building site labourer and, as Terry Farley remembers, a chippies mate. At one point he even got into the rag trade and has spoken of taking trips from his childhood home in Berkshire to London in order to buy clothes made by the performance artist and designer, Leigh Bowery. The clothes may have been difficult to sell in conservative Windsor, but it gave him a sense of style that endures.
His DJing wasn’t always so adored
At one of his first gigs in 1984 the club promoter got so irate with Weatherall that he threw him off the decks before he even got to the end of his first record. It was just before acid house and so presumably the music choices were wide ranging enough to cover a lot of material outside of house music. What the club probably didn’t expect though was that he’d start his set with the theme tune to a ‘60s film about World War II fighter pilots. The crowd didn’t seem to mind though and were happy to join in and run about with outstretched arms like a load of excitable toddlers.
He’s been known to go to extraordinary lengths to bring something different to the dancefloor
In the days before Shazam and Soundcloud it was necessary to actually ask DJs what they were playing. Not one to give away his trade secrets, there’s a well-known story about Weatherall deterring pesky onlookers with a handmade sticker which he stuck over the label of one of his records. Not content with just a blank faced record, Weatherall’s was emblazoned with “FUCK OFF NOSY”. What’s less well-known is that the sticker was covering up the official release details of a single by EastEnders ‘Dirty Den’ actor, Leslie Grantham. Thankfully no one smashed him on the head with a doorstop or buried him in the cellar of the Queen Vic.
He’s partly responsible for The Chemical Brothers’ career
As students at Manchester University, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons started life as a DJ duo calling themselves The Dust Brothers. When they eventually began producing in their own right it was to Weatherall they turned. According to Terry Farley, Weatherall had recently played in Manchester and it was at that night that the twosome had given him a cassette of their next single. As a result they were signed to Junior Boys Own records and subsequently released their first album, Exit Planet Dust, propelling them to future stardom.
He lives by the sword
Heavily tattooed as he is, two of the most noticeable pieces are the prominent dagger and ship designs on each forearm. Get up close to the DJ booth and you’ll notice the legends “Fail we may” and “Sail we must”, which he also used for a song title on his 2009 album “A Pox on Pioneers”. Although he laughs it off, he’s revealed that the phrase was originally told to him by a fisherman who found himself responsible at a young age for piloting a boat through a force 10 storm. He now uses it as a reminder that even when creativity feels difficult it’s something to be pursued.