THE second gig in a glittering yet ultimately spectacularly unsuccessful DJing career was in the Furnace Arms in Scunthorpe. It was one of those glamour bookings, obviously.
I don’t think I would’ve got more than a tenner for taking my tunes down there – in a cardboard box – but I might even have done it for free beer. I can’t even remember what night of the week it was. It might’ve been Sunday. Then again, in Scunthorpe every day is like Sunday. Especially if it’s a wet Sunday in East Germany before the Wall came down.
It was the kind of eclectic selection that has mystified, unnerved and alarmed punters all over the world ever since, with everything from the Velvet Underground and Killing Joke to Madonna and PiL getting an airing. Party tunes all, obviously.
All this was before I’d been raving and heard proper DJing. I was just putting one record on after another. Uncharitable souls might think I should’ve stuck to that. Everyone’s a critic, aren’t they? I’d heard stuff like The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel and I was aware of hip-hop’s culture of deck-dexterity but it didn’t interest me much. And the pub’s antique Dave Double-Decks console wasn’t exactly built for turntablism.
Even so, I was very smug about a mix I did with Im Nin Alu by Yemeni/Israeli singer Ofra Haza and Coldcut’s Seven Minutes Of Madness remix of Paid In Full by Eric B & Rakim, which – check this out! – sampled Im Nin Alu! See what I did there? Thinking out of the box with my mixes even then. Amazing!
It was a painfully obvious thing to do and would most likely have got me laughed out of the pub anywhere else – but luckily Scunthorpe had, collectively, taken one look at the first glimmers of what would eventually become the Summer of Love and did that thing where you belch and say ‘bollocks’ at the same time.
This woman, pissed up on booze, staggers up to the decks during Im Nin Alu and says – and I quote, exactly – “What are you playing this nigger music for?”
I’d like to think that I replied with a witty, precision smart-bomb of the soul which somehow persuaded her to think again about her outmoded and misguided attitude to the new multicultural landscape emerging in Britain, the endless possibilities which would open up if we managed to acknowledge and respect each other’s differences, and what could happen if there was a bit more peace, love and understanding in the world.
But I probably just told her to fuck off.
At least I’m not making it up. Ten out of ten for honesty, zero out of ten for narrative arc. I do remember a real moment of clarity: that I needed to get away from a town where such pig-ignorant bastards were roaming around without supervision. So I put Paid In Full on again, just to annoy her.
“This is a journey into sound, a journey which along the way will bring to you new colours, new dimensions, new values …” intones a BBC newsreader-type at the start of the track and who knew just how prophetic it would end up being? Not me. And probably not Scunthorpe’s answer to Myra Hindley either. But it was a journey which eventually took me away from the place, so why worry?
Punk rock showed that you needn’t necessarily be a musician to make music, but Paid In Full demonstrated that you didn’t even really need to pick up an instrument. I knew that juxtaposing records of different styles can affect the way you hear them, but still thought of each record as a distinct, separate entity with a definable start and finish. Paid In Full showed that you could take a bit of one tune and a bit of another – including, crucially, one I had myself – and put them together and come up with something new.
It sounds obvious now, but it was a bit of a revelation for me at the time.
Built around the bassline from Dennis Edwards’ Don’t Look Any Further and a break from Hot Pants by James Brown, as well as bits of Indeep and the Salsoul Orchestra plus loads more snatched vocals and sound effects – as well as the soaring hook from Im Nin Alu – Paid In Full is an inventive, superbly realised, fantastically dancefloor-friendly collage of sound (incidentally, sample-nerds should look out for A Journey Into Stereo Sound on Decca Records for the original source material of the intro). Relentlessly moving forward in clever, interesting ways, it continuously changes and builds until Rakim’s eloquent, typically direct rap bursts into full flow:
“Thinkin’ of a masterplan, Cuz ain’t nothin’ but sweat inside my hand, So I dig into my pocket, all my money’s spent, So I dig deeper but still comin’ up with lint. So I start my mission, leave my residence, Thinkin’ how could I get some dead presidents ..”
You’d think such no-nonsense sentiments would strike a chord in a town as economically on its arse as Scunthorpe, but no. It was, and remains, Rock Central. Punk, trad, indie, they don’t care – it’s all the same after a dozen pints anyway. Mrs Racist left the pub in disgust and I left Scunthorpe, in much the same state of mind, a couple of months after that.
I’ve no idea what happened to the record but it wasn’t there when I wanted it a few years later. Maybe I left it at my old place in Harehills when I moved into Southview House. It was one in a depressingly regular round of moves during my time in Leeds, usually prompted by breaking up with girlfriends, poverty and untidiness (sometimes all three at the same time), from pokey bedsit to slightly less pokey flat, and back again. My records morphed into a giant millstone that had to be slowly, painfully dragged up endless flights of stairs, time and again.
You know the script from here. I found Paid In Full in Vinyl Exchange the other week, with the original $100 bill picture sleeve, and paid a tenner for it. I know. In the absence of any big-money sponsorship from our friends on Oldham Street I should make more of an effort to get stuff elsewhere, but I’ve been busy lately. Don’t judge me.
It still sounds great, even if it is a tune which is very much of a particular time. It’s one for those seven o’clock in the morning moments – and should be closely followed by Im Nin Alu, of course.
Still thinking out of the box, you see.
[This piece first appeared on the Reject Musical Trash website in 2006]