Norman the Duke: A Tribute
Ever since Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse’s spot-on parody ‘Smashy and Nicey’, it’s been open season on pre-1990's Old School DJs.
So I’d like to take this opportunity to remind the ‘kids’ of today what the last days of disco were really like.
Before there were ‘Dedicated 24–7 Party People Pepsi Max Gore-Tex Gap Wearing Global Village Traversing Middle Class MDMA Gubbing Hedonists’, there was the DJ & the local town discotheque.
A lone guy perched on the corner of the stage with twin ‘Citronic Hawaii Disco Decks’, a dodgy WEM Amplifier and twin speakers — the cloth hanging off, six flashing lights balanced precariously on top, the speakers vibrating in time to the bassline of Diana Ross’ Love Hangover — the DJ playing an assortment of records to please the crowd. Yes. he played to please the crowd.
He was a warrior in the wasteland of rubbish music and hostile ugly factional demanding crowds.
In praise of old school DJs
By DJs I don’t mean fucking ‘turntablists’ or any of that drum-and-bass piss, I mean blokes putting on records in working men’s clubs and pubs; blokes who usually worked in ordinary blue collar jobs during the day, but, after hours, undercover of darkness, led a nomadic life DJing — traversing towns, villages, cities and housing estates in Ford Transits earning a bare living, pleasing the crowds.
“Hang the DJ” sang Morrissey, “because the music that they constantly play says nothing to me about my life.” Did he mean club/pub DJs, or radio disc jockeys, or both?
The song was in part a response to that post Punk desire for cultural ‘relevance’ and was a reaction to the musical escapism of disc jockeys. “Burn down the disco,” Morrissey droned, seeing himself as a sensitive fey poet amongst the cattle market night-club full of sweating hairy chested macho medallion men. But Morrissey left Britain for America because of the low-brow inception of Channel Five. Channel Five? What’s he on?
Disc Jockeys on the Radio
The ‘DJ as fat out of touch twat’ phenomenon came to it’s fruition in the mid eighties as Radio One acted like Thatcher’s BritainTM and Punk Rock didn’t exist.
The radio DJs always had a tremulous quivering laugh in their voice, threatening to burst forth into a full blown guffaw at any moment to detract from the Miners’ Strike, the dilapidated housing estates and the decimation of public services. ‘It’s not happening’ was the radio script subtext, as they played Hall and Oates, The Alessi Brothers, Sutherland Brother and Quiver, Bachman Turner Overdrive and 10cc. Jesus! No wonder Punk was such a breath of fresh air. (Shouldn’t that be a ‘waft of bad breath’?)
So, it’s interesting to see Top Of The Pops 2 on Saturdays, presented by Steve ‘Sex God’ Wright taking the piss out of the fashions, music, dancing and hairstyles of the early seventies and eighties.
Interesting indeed, as it was the censorial BBC who blanked and ignored the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen, and scrubbed their ‘classic’ Jimi Hendrix tapes, and are now acting all post-modern and sarcastic, checking out the ‘irony’ and ‘pathos’ of earlier trends in music. Hypocritical bloody tossing toff cowards, have they no memory. You OWN THE FUCKING CHARTS you media mafia scum. Steve Wright lauging at some dafty with a wedge haircut? Have you seen Steve Wright? Fucking Poisonous GNOME FUCK.
Yes, we’ve had pay-per-view for years in this country — it’s called the bloody BBC.
Disc Jockeys on the Road
Originally, the best the mobile disc jockey could hope for to was try and please some of the people some of the time. The dancefloor was a war zones of conflicting musical tastes; the crowds were fickle and factional. A couple of Hell’s Angels over by the bogs, three Teds standing at the bar, Boot Boys in the corner and four Punks vandalising the fag machine. Born To Be Wild for the Angels, Stray Cat Strut for the Teds, Gary Gilmore’s Eyes for the Punks, Bela Lugosi’s Dead for the Post New Romantic emergent Goth types — and you’d have to squeeze a few slow dance smooches in before lights-up at ten-to-eleven for the lads to cop a snog or a feel. Work that room! That’s DJing.
Are today’s supposedly ‘sophisticated’ club crowd too cool for slow dances and bouts of spazz dancing to their favourite B-sides? Are they a homogenous bunch of same-taste consumers, listening to a mulch of cut, pasted and sampled 190 BPM aural drone, neatly laced together seamlessly ad infinitum, with the audience all tuned into the same ‘learnt behaviour’ muzak? Well, nowadays the DJ is the star and the crowds turn up to be turned onto his taste, style and eye-to-hand co-ordination — as opposed to someone who just plays records off the charts.
Long before there were serious sociological studies of youth groups there was the Disc Jockey. The DJ had to be a diplomat of idioms, a moderator of unstudied sub cultural groupings, a surfer of styles. And they were all loosely packed into a church hall, social club or local football club.
And the dancing was as varied as the music: pogoing, jiving, freaking out… (at my local disco, Stuart Willis would contort himself like a Welsh Iggy Pop to the fast bit from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird on a rapidly emptying dance floor, but no one laughed at him, or got in his way, because he was such a hard little bastard).
This was back in the days when the New Musical Express had an Alternative Chart as opposed to today’s Indie Chart. The Alternative Chart bands and musicians tried to be as varied and eclectic as possible. Bands like The Fall, The Pop Group, Mark Perry’s Alternative Television, were always confounding critics and fans alike with their dogged insistence on pushing the envelope. But the Alternative Chart had plenty of variety: white boy Soul Jazz and Funk bands, Blue Rondo a La Turk, Prefab Sprout, Microdisney — it was all a fan could do to keep up with the rampant eclecticism that permeated the Alternative Charts.
Today all the various musical genres are catered for by a variety of clubs tailored to the specific music scene: dance clubs, indie clubs, loungecore, the new metal/rap scene. The music is specifically targeted to a certain audience demograph; record company executives sit in committee meetings and shove pseudo rebellion bands like Limp Bizkit down teenagers throats.
Okay, so I might be overly romanticising Disc Jockeys in the light of their current kitsch status, and on a broader note perhaps my spleen vented toward the retrospective nature of us Twenty-first Century dwellers as we’re constantly harking back to halcyon days of imagined innocence, when jobs were nine-to-five and gender and class roles were much more rigidly demarcated.
Norman The Duke
Norman The Duke was his disco name and he’d been a DJ for an amazing twenty-eight years! Longer than most people hold down day-jobs. He started off in his local club, the RAFA club in Treorchy, and soon built up a collection of records. After a while he bought some decks and speakers and a van off the local baker, Gwyn Collins. It smelled at first of bread and cakes, but after a couple of months smelled of stale bear and fags as the scent of the clubs soaked into the equipment.
Norman The Duke was my father. I had an apprenticeship in amplifiers, speakers and wires by the time I was fifteen-years-old.
Norman held the residency in Treorchy Rugby Football Club for about twenty-odd years, earning around £35 a night every Saturday. He bailed that fucking rugby club out of the financial shite week-in week-out.
He started in the sixties playing the Beatles and finished in the late nineties playing Nine Inch fucking fucking Nails.
During the mid eighties, when I played in a post-Punk band — The Peruvian Hipsters — my father would tell me how lonely DJing can be, as it wasn’t like turning up at a gig with the rest of the band. United. If the gig was crap at least there was the rest of the band with whom you could commiserate. But a disc jockey is more than usually on his own and has no-one to buddy up to when things get a bit shit.
Sometimes the DJ did have a little helper to carry the speaker cabinets, who was usually a weird ‘Billy-No-Mates-Never-Had-a-Girlfriend’ type. Yes, that was I — but I soon grew out of it.
After the eighties’ era of Jive Bunny, DJing was appropriated by the middle-class post lad generation who ‘elevated’ DJing to an art — or so they thought.
Fatboy Slim is nothing more than a post millennial Jive Bunny, and today’s DJs are like pop stars or footballers with the attendant crew of brown nosing lackeys and ego baggage. Yes, they take it very seriously indeed.
Don’t get me wrong — there is some skill involved, but not much! I’d imagine that if anyone has a modicum of timing, they could quickly learn to segue pieces of music together seamlessly… How hard can it be? All you need to be a modern disc jockey is an inflated sense of self-importance and no sense of humour! I’ve just got to re-invent myself with some bizarre cross accent pollination between estuary cockney, Jamaican patois and Nu York Cool — I’m Tim Westwood, and I’m a complete Cunt!
So, don’t call me Nigel. My name is DJ "Terrible Agony" — have you got a beef with that?