In Part 1 I shared recollections of my days as a DJ. I’m delighted so many of you enjoyed my intrepid sojourn into unfamiliar waters.
Writing my memoirs catapults me out of my comfort zone; they are relics of a life that almost was. The culmination of years spent on the threshold of a dream. It almost was. And to this day, it feels like harbouring an angry fugitive within me that gnaws at the nib of every joy and every accomplishment. The hurt is ever present, ever persistent, no matter how successful I am in other areas of my life. Anyway, the Electric Ballroom. This is where I left off.
Camden is filled with rock and roll dropouts, rejects and wannabes. Very few make a success of it, and I can’t tell you how many times I saw a great band play live and wondered why the hell they hadn’t been snapped up by a major label yet. The publish-your-own trend was in its infancy and bands were still trying to make it the old fashioned way – through A&R, those denizens of the devil who at this point were sucking the life out of the music industry by signing poncy, overly sentimental bed-wetting indie. Rock ‘n’ roll was dead. The real stuff. The gutsy, hip-gyrating, soul-soaring, fist-in-the-air happy to be alive deal. And when I say dead, I mean the hunger for new blood and the drive to invest time and capital in plugging raw talent was dead. People will always love Led Zeppelin and Hendrix but there hasn’t been a worthy champion for the genre since the 1990s. And not for a want of talent – I’m sure there are plenty of Jaggers and Lynotts out there but the industry is shot to hell. And so were we, the last generation of bands who held on to the dream. I sometimes overhear bright young things chatting about trying to make it in the music business and it’s like they are a different species. They are shrewd and cynical and promoting themselves, whereas we were bright-eyed and gullible, waiting for Andrew Loog Oldham. But the sad thing is that in spite of all their initiative, they are never going to really make it. This bird has flown.
It was clear to me that in twelve months I would not be with this man, or live in our home, or hold my current job, or have any of these friends
Indeed that bird was the only thing that Izzy, club manager at the Electric Ballroom, and I had in common. We were both old school rockers that had dropped out of the game. He was about fifteen years older though, and it showed in his bitterness. I remember watching him from a corner barstool one evening; I was there with my boyfriend and Izzy was chatting up my boyfriend’s best friend’s girlfriend. It was all very incestuous. They were talking about work and music and I remember saying to my man, “Izzy’s dead. Look in his eyes, they’re like big black boreholes.” My boyfriend thought it was funny and tried to say ‘big black boreholes’ really fast and in unison with the cutthroat, deep-root basslines of whatever thrash metal was blaring in the background. I looked at my boyfriend, and at Izzy, and at my boyfriend’s best friend’s girlfriend. Everything was changing. I’d hit one of those rare moments where time stops and for a split second you can see your life swerving into an unfamiliar path before it actually happens. It was clear to me that in twelve months I would not be with this man, or live in our home, or hold my current job, or have any of these friends. I was seeing the death of a life that had stopped living. The dream had expired. It was time to wake up to a new one. So I did what any sensible, well-adjusted person would do.
I got shitfaced drunk. Unfortunately, that was the night of my big gig at the Electric Ballroom.
Two hours later, mid-set, I was kneading a record while studying the studs on the nether region of Izzy’s leather slacks. He mistook my gape as an invitation, which to be fair to the chap wasn’t totally unreasonable. As soon as he approached me I started fiddling with a pointy toggle on the mixing console. It could have been the launch pad of a napalm bomb for all I knew. He handed me a drink. I nodded and waved it in the general direction of two other drinks that were waiting for me by the deck. I fiddled with the toggle some more. Izzy grinned.
– Heh, that’s quite a statement honey.
– (shouting) I said that’s quite a statement, giving Het more treble like that.
– Giving head to a tribble?
– (laughing) The control you’re tweaking, the high frequency? Metallica?
I had no idea what I was doing, let alone tweaking.
– Oh yeah, it’s just something I’m trying…
– It’s working out for ya! Drink?
– No thanks I’ve just had one.
– Geez Iz, what’s next? Rohypnol?
– (chuckling) Not my style honey.
– No, you’re too vain for that. You’d want me to remember.
– Damn straight. Why would you want to forget the best night of your life?
– Cause it’ll be the night I get the clap.
We ended up kissing in the cloakroom.
I was having it off with my boyfriend’s best friend’s girlfriend’s shag. Not my finest hour. Eventually I tore myself away and walked out of the club. I haven’t set foot in the Electric Ballroom since. This was the only gig I never got paid for. Izzy left me several messages suggesting we meet up so that he could pay me, but the last thing I wanted was to hook up with the sultan of sleaze and “get paid”. I was happy to write this one off.
It was late 2006, the days were growing darker and I was growing restless. I stopped eating around November. I remember it clearly; it was my company’s Christmas lunch (typically weeks before Christmas) and everyone around me was eating, imbibing and stuffing their faces. I looked at the pieces of steak on my colleague’s plate and the bright, broken capillaries on his ruddy cheeks and decided to opt out. I could live off soup, it was no biggy. But then I lost too much weight and was signed off work. I remember my friend picking me up at the airport that December, all agape, “Wow! You look fab!”. I was at the darkest point in my life but as long as my self-destruction was making me fabulous it was all good. I took a hiatus from DJing after that. The novelty had worn off and I needed some time to evaluate shit.
2007 dawned with a promise of a new beginning and it was a momentous year in my life, for four reasons. First, I ended my relationship. After 5 years together we grew apart and it was time to move on. The second reason is that I moved into my own place. I was the only one among my friends who lived alone and this was not an obvious choice. I know people in their thirties who are still house-sharing. The financial implications were significant and I had to learn how to budget. I remember sitting on a cushion in the lounge – MY lounge – listening to the Rolling Stones and tallying bills and receipts on a piece of paper. Mick Jagger, a former economics student, would have been proud. The third reason was a life-changing visit to the States that summer. I spent some time with the Pueblos and Navajo, took in the incredible sights of the Rocky Mountain National Park. It was an incredible trip that that fuelled a lifelong passion for all things Americana. The fourth reason for the momentousness of that year is because I went back to university.
The bonds you develop with your bandmates can be just as epic and intimate as romantic relationships, and the jealousy just as bitter
By the autumn of 2007 I was the happiest I’d been in years and felt a familiar hankering for the decks. So I called an old contact, who was only too happy to hear that I was back on the market and looking for some action (that sounds wrong). I’ll call this promoter Gill. He was a suited blond beanpole and happened to play in a band with my ex-bandmate’s ex-bandmate. I didn’t know Gill very well but I heard a lot about his bandmate, the mythological ex-bandmate of my ex-bandmate, David. You’ve got to laugh about it. The bonds you develop with your bandmates can be just as epic and intimate as romantic relationships, and the jealousy just as bitter. Gill offered me a slot at his legendary club night, where his band was due to play. I invited David along. I’m not sure whether he realised that his ex-bandmate’s new band were playing or if I even made the connection at that point. David and I had recently picked up where we left off in 2005 after we quit the same band and went our separate ways. We hadn’t seen each other in 18 months and the first time we hooked up after that we got trashed on absinthe. Not much has changed since. He remains the rock to my roll.
I can’t explain it, but entering the club that night, I knew it was going to be my last DJ gig. And with this knowledge any ghost of a flame I still nurtured about going back to the music business was extinguished. Back on the podium, I played my usual mélange of obscure garage rock peppered with the odd familiar turn by Hendrix and the Stones, and with each song my steadfastness towards a new life born out of the ashes of adolescence became more resolute. One of the bands commenced their set; the singer was a washed-out thirtysomething Iggy Pop imitator who served to cement the motion I had made in my heart. “I will never be as pathetic as that,” I thought, and the relief coursed through my limbs. I looked around for David and couldn’t see him anywhere. But as I edged a corner into the second bar I spotted Gill, who motioned me over. He shoved something into my hand and told me to lick it. A white tab flashed in the gloom. And why not, acid seemed like the appropriate send off. I was about to pop it into my mouth, when a dust of white crystals powdered onto my bra and down my cleavage. Gill shrieked like a girl.
– What are you doing!?
– Wait, this is coke? You told me to lick it!
– I told you to HIT IT!
I left the club at 3am and emerged into the streets of Bloomsbury, the place of my birth. I squinted at the shadowy figures around me, night people about their nightly business. It was the advent of new life. My own. Then I found myself on Rugby Street, where I grew up. I sat on the metal bench at the entrance to French’s Dairy, the place I had known so well as a child, and took a deep breath. I was comforted to learn it was still there. And just like that, I knew I was going to be okay.