Remembering Andrew Weatherall: generous genius and guardian angel

Outside Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, May 18, 2014

Andrew Weatherall soundtracked my entire adult life. The first so-called indie record I ever bought was the remix 12” of Happy Mondays’ Madchester Rave On EP and the Club Mix of ‘Hallelujah’ – credited to Paul Oakenfold and Andy Wetherall (sic) – changed everything. Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’ followed in February 1990; a couple months later I bought my first My Bloody Valentine record, the Glider EP remix 12” featuring Weatherall’s reworking of ‘Soon’.

There have been so many others since, I wouldn’t know where to start. Here are some favourites off the top of my head: Saint Etienne’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ (A Mix Of Two Halves), Big Hard Excellent Fish’s ‘Imperfect List’ (Rimming Elvis The Andy Weatherall Way), ‘Weatherall’s Weekender’, One Dove’s Morning Dove White, both Sabres Of Paradise albums, Two Lone Swordsmen (especially The Fifth Mission, Tiny Reminders and A Virus With Shoes) the Sabres Slow ’n’ Lo remix of New Order’s ‘Regret’ (not to mention the more recent rework of ‘Restless’), The Bullet Catcher’s Apprentice, The Asphodells and remixes of ‘Jam J’ by James, ‘Come Together’ by Spiritualized, ‘Prodigal Son’ by Electronic, ‘The Drum’ by The Impossibles, Future Sound Of London’s ‘Papua New Guinea’, Fuck Buttons’ ‘Sweet Love For Planet Earth’, The Horrors, Wooden Shjips… This is a good proportion of my record collection, and a large amount of the rest of it is probably inspired by hearing him play something or other over the years.

Since the awful news of his death on February 17 so much has been written and said about Screamadelica, but it’s impossible to underestimate that record’s importance – it was the gateway drug to so much music, all of which has shaped my life since. It came out September 23, 1991, which was my first day at university (as soon as I could, I rushed off to Volume Records in Sunderland to buy it), but it gave me more of an education than three years of Communication Studies ever did. I got married in Las Vegas as his mix of ‘Come Together’ played, a story that I bored him with years later at a launch party for Primal Scream’s Riot City Blues that I arranged at The Social, before forcing him to play my original 12”, as purchased in Up Front records in Barnstaple in the summer of 1990.

My teenage self would never have believed it, much as it wouldn’t have when the great man turned up to the first ever Sonic Cathedral night at The Legion on Old Street on October 23, 2004. Despite being responsible for that MBV remix, he wasn’t there because he was a secret shoegazer, but because a friend of his had (I think) designed the venue’s logo. I saw him at the bar, plucked up the courage to speak to him and bought him a drink. I was in awe and a little bit frightened of him, but he was funny and friendly and even gave me his phone number for future DJing duties. As I was excitedly recounting all of this to a friend in the toilets a short while later, imagine my horror as one of the cubicle doors creaked open and the one lone swordsman shuffled out.

He didn’t mind, though. He was humble, kind and gracious and he kept his promise to DJ at Sonic Cathedral, not only once, but on numerous occasions over the years – both of our 10th anniversary shows at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen and the 100 Club spring to mind, several Ambience Chasers nights down at The Social, a Spectrum gig at the Shacklewell Arms that was hotter than the sun, that short-lived venue by Old Street roundabout I can’t even remember the name of. Each and every time he provided a musical education, but he never, ever asked for money. I only ever paid him in brandy (no ice) and Coke (with ice).

He was completely unaware of this, but over the years he had a habit of calling or texting me just at the right time, when things were getting me down and I’d started to question everything. So much so that I genuinely thought of him as some kind of benevolent guardian angel. Just one brief interaction and my psychic weaponry would be re-armed for the battles ahead. He was one of those all too rare people who valued what truly matters, hence his refusal to climb the greasy pole and embrace the showbiz life he could have had. But, despite his healthy cynicism, he was never jaded. He never lost that desire for discovery because, first and foremost, he was a music fan who was happy to share and eager to learn. His taste was impeccable (as just a casual listen to any of his NTS shows will attest) and his knowledge was incredible – stretching way beyond music to literature, culture, history and fashion. When he DJed at the Halloween Ambience Chasers a few years ago, I asked if he was going to wear fancy dress. “When am I not in fancy dress, dear boy,” came the reply.

DJing at Ambience Chasers at The Social, October 31, 2017

The one thing that always eluded me, however, was that most precious of things – an Andrew Weatherall remix. This was to change early in 2008. I’d been talking to The Warlocks about putting out a 7” single, with an unreleased song alongside a remix of ‘Zombie Like Lovers’ from their then recent album, Heavy Deavy Skull Lover. He was up for doing it and I got all the parts together and sent them off. The call came to say the remix was ready and did I want to come round to listen to it. I nervously made my way to the Rotters Golf Club studio in Scrutton Street, where he made me a cup of tea and I sat down as this almighty drone filled the room, twisting and turning somewhere between Kevin Shields and a short-circuiting extractor fan. I waited for the beat to kick in, convinced that this was going to be the new ‘Soon’… but three minutes and forty seconds later it faded out, and that was that. It was hard to mask my disappointment and complete and utter bewilderment. “That was… challenging,” I mumbled, as Kevin had definitely not said when Andrew had finished welding his otherwordliness to Westbam’s ‘Alarm Clock’.

To this day, I’m not sure what happened. I assume some files were missing or had become corrupted on the disc that the band had snail-mailed over in those pre-Dropbox days. Regardless, all he’d had to work with were an assortment of guitar drones – no melody, no bass, no drums, no vocals, nothing. Andrew joked that it should be called ‘Zombie Drone Lovers’, but despite the John Caginess of it all, the remix was rejected, the single was scrapped and it was never mentioned again.

Eight years later, he had to pull out of DJing duties at a gig by The Early Years gig at MOTH Club because a studio session was overrunning. He called up to apologise and asked how he could make it up to me. I coughed and said “remix” and, to my delight and disbelief, he agreed. A few weeks later, I had two new versions of ‘Hall Of Mirrors’ from The Early Years’ second album II for the price of one (£0) and the dream was finally, belatedly realised. They were as perfect as his description of them: “Like taking Steve Reich down the disco with a bit of acid thrown in.”

I last bumped into him at Ride’s gig at the Barbican before Christmas and, just a few weeks ago, we spoke about him working his magic on a song from the forthcoming debut album by bdrmm. I told him that, in his hands, this particular song could take flight and make me feel like the person I was when I first bought that Happy Mondays 12” and Screamadelica all those years ago. “It is with a heavy heart that I have to inform you that I am unable to help you with the desire to feel 18 again,” he replied, “as I’m not doing any remixes for the foreseeable future.” Oh, little did we know.

Andrew Weatherall will be missed so much, by so many, but the world of imagination is the world of eternity and his legacy will shine like stars, forever. Rest well, good sir, and thanks for everything.

The Social, May 30, 2017