Stone Roses DJ Dave Booth Sets the Record Straight
Punk & Post-Punk co-editor Dr Philip Kiszely interviews Dave Booth about ‘Madchester’ clubbing, the Roses, and why he’s been written out of the history he helped make”
portrait of the DJ as a young man- DJ Dave Booth[/caption]
What the hell does Dave Booth need with an introduction from me? He was the Stone Roses’ DJ, working Spike Island, Blackpool, Alexandra Palace, all the great Roses gigs that have now become the stuff of pop culture legend. All well and good, you might say, but does that make him important? Good question. I would suggest to you that his Roses connection makes him interesting. What makes him important is the fact that it’s coupled with other stuff ”â lots and lots of other stuff. The problem is that, for one reason or another, his influence has been so thoroughly marginalised that very few people know what that other stuff is. Hence the introduction¦
Dave Booth has worked the beat as a name DJ for some 30 years. Remarkably enough, the last eighteen of those have revolved around a residency at Liverpool’s Garlands. When, in this day and age of the rolling newsfeed and inbuilt obsolescence, do you ever see that kind of commitment to one another from either a club or a DJ? It says something about the calibre of his work. Then of course there have been (and still are) the stints in Ibiza, London, Brighton , all over the place. But it’s the curious nature of his pivotal yet un-sung contribution to the Manchester indie and ”Madchester’ scenes that fascinates me.
We’ve batted that one back and forth in some interesting conversations over the last few months, Dave and me. And he’s worth listening to, it has to be said. It was Dave, after all, who put on most of the great nights in every single one of the important Manchester venues. You could say he was the touchstone for the city’s extensive alternative club network during the halcyon days of the 80s and early 90s. And he’s as passionate now about the music, the scene and the people as he was back then.
Books that tell Manchester’s classic-era clubbing tale tend to refer to Dave Booth only in passing, despite the fact that it’s his story as much as it’s anyone else’s. Yes, we all know about the Hacienda and its attendant cast of amazing characters, but contrary to received wisdom, Manchester club life of the late-80s and early-90s didn’t begin and end at the doors of the fabled Fac 51. Dave worked the Hacienda too, of course, The Temperance Club night and his own ”The Mix’ night ” yet he maintains the heart and soul of the Manchester scene lies elsewhere.
As much as anything, the interview that follows marks the first tentative step in setting the record straight.
Philip Kiszely: When and where did your interest in clubbing take off?
Dave Booth: Openshaw Technical College, of all places. 1979. A student friend knew I was a big Bowie fan, and he thought I’d love Pips nightclub, which was thee place for Bowie and Roxy Music. And he was right: I went down to Pips the next Friday and it changed my life.
PK: What was it like?
DB: Its selling-point was the fact it had four rooms, which was not at all the norm at the time, although there was a club called Placemate 7, which, as the name would suggest, had seven rooms. But there’s no comparison between the two. Pips was something else, an incredible place. I used to go religiously on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I missed three nights in three years, all in one week when I was on holiday. And ironically, that was the week Bowie got to Number 1 with ”ËAshes to Ashes’.
PK: So, if there was a playlist of the 5 top acts”?
DB: Well, let’s just get it clear from the start. You’d only go to one room at Pips, the legendary Roxy Room. That tells you all you need to know. Bowie, Roxy, Iggy, Human League and Kraftwerk ”â they were massive at the time. And I’d also put the Cramps in there as an important band. The hilarious thing was you had to walk through the other three rooms to get to the Roxy Room. They were full of Perry Boys. You’d have to run that gauntlet, dressed in foppish clothes and make-up. Nightmare! The first glimpse of Manchester’s ‘alternative’, then, placed precariously within a hostile mainstream.
PK: Who used to go to the Roxy Room at Pips?
DB: You’ve got to remember that this was right at the beginning, so I didn’t necessarily know all the faces back then. But Morrissey used to go. I think Johnny Marr was a regular; Bernard Sumner went too, and Hooky loved it there. In fact, Joy Division, then billed as Warsaw.actually played their first ever gig at Pips.
It was a club for people who wanted something different, and although it started very early ”â ’74, I think , it ran until 82, and it marked the beginnings of the punk and post-punk or indie clubbing that would define the Manchester scene for the next decade or more.
PK: And you started your career as a DJ there?
DB: Yes. I’m so proud that I can say I DJ-ed in the Roxy Room. Like I say, that place started it all. Not many people can say they worked there, whereas every man and his dog can say they DJ-ed at the Hacienda. It was resident Roxy Room DJ Alan Maskell who first asked me to play records there, so I owe him my life. We went on to work together for years afterwards in all the important clubs in town. Alan is still a key figure in Manchester club life, by the way, owning as he does 42nd St and the Venue.
PK: How did it mushroom out from Pips, in terms of the development of a scene?
DB: There was a natural progression in the early 80s, and you can map it: Devilles, Berlin, Cloud 9 and Legends.I did nights in all of them. By 1982, you’ve got a definite sense of network.ÃÂ Steve Bracewell, the first DJ I ever heard in the Roxy Room, took over Berlin, and I started working there. Then Alan Maskell and myself did all the others in very quick succession. So, with the both of us doing all these new nights in these new clubs, it developed from the humble beginnings of the Roxy Room at Pips. Without Pips, you certainly wouldn’t have had those places, nor would you have had the ”Madchester’- associated clubs like the Playpen/42nd St, the Hangout, or the Hacienda.
PK: People tend to think of the Manchester club scene as the Hacienda, full stop. But it’s actually a much bigger and far more complex story than that, isn’t it?
DB: It certainly is. You’ve only got to mention the bands that formed in and frequented the clubs to realise that that is the case. If there were no Hacienda, the Stone Roses still would have happened, the Smiths would have happened, the Fall would have happened, the Charlatans, the Inspiral Carpets And other important bands, too, World of Twist, Interstella, Mock Turtles as well as a whole host of second and third rung names you’ve never heard of. These bands were both famous and obscure were very much the fabric of it all. But they WEREN’T the Hacienda. The Hacienda was New Order, the Happy Mondays, James, A Certain Ratio and Northside, just the Factory Records acts, really.
PK: Talking about bands, How did you get to be involved with the Stone Roses?
DB:On Tuesday nights Ian and Reni used to go to my club, the Playpen.I ran it with a guy called Paul Clements, who was also involved with the Hangout. That Tuesday is still running to this day, incidentally. I knew of Ian vaguely from the wider clubbing scene – Devilles on a Friday night, in particular, because he was always there. But I got to know him properly through the Playpen, and also through a close friend of mine called Janice, who used to go out with his brother, Dave. Janice used to work in the Paperchase shop in town, and she also introduced me to a guy who sold records there called Pete Garner. Pete was mad about the New York Dolls, and he was the fifth member of the Stone Roses.
The myth about the early Stone Roses was that they were a Goth band. They were never a Goth band! Pete had long black hair, that’s all and he wore paisley shirts ala 60s garage punk. A very striking-looking and stylish guy. He was into rock ‘n’ roll, the Dolls, Richard Hell, Johnny Thunders, etc. In fact, I remember in the early days that the Roses use to cover ‘Open My Eyes’, by the Nazz, as well as other 60s tunes. Anyway, Pete knew Morrissey – the Dolls connection, of course and he was a key figure in the fledgling Manchester music scene at that time.
PK: And so you started DJ-ing for them
DB: The story of my becoming their DJ is an interesting one. It begins proper at a show that was just before my time as their DJ, and it needs to be documented here because it’s important. It was 1985, and this particular gig was at Manchester’s International club before ‘Sally Cinnamon’ came out, if I remember correctly. Anyway, it was the five-piece Stone Roses, the Pete Garner line-up. There were about 250 people at the International that night, I’d say , certainly no more. I stayed at the bar, at the edge of the dancefloor, a good 25 yards or so from the stage. And I’ll always remember Ian getting off the stage and coming across to the dancefloor towards me; it seemed like he was singing to me, all that way from the stage. Amazing stuff! It was one of those gigs I felt excitement, I felt arrogance, balls and rock ‘n’ roll. Something special was happening. It felt like it was the future.
I was bowled over by it, as you can probably tell. So, I went straight up to their manager after the show and I said, Listen, I’m a DJ at Legends and other places, and I’d love to put your boys on.’ He told me to fuck off! Ha! That’s the story.
But straight away after that, the band themselves approached me and I started from there, doing every gig in and around Manchester.
PK: So you could see it burgeoning right from the beginning?
DB: Oh, yeah. Definitely. And this is ages before the album came out. Everyone says that it was an amazing debut album, rightly so, but what they don’t realise is that it was years in the making. That first experience of the Stone Roses changed my outlook completely as regards to music and DJ-ing, I heard something completely fresh, and it was something I wanted to be involved with.
PK: Which brings me back to your work as a DJ in the clubs, and the development of the Manchester scene at this time. That mid- to late 80s thing was primarily an Indie-jangly sound, wasn’t it? What was interesting was that you not only mixed 60s music with it, but you played a particular kind of 60s music. For me, it’s a mix that is quintessentially Manchester or ”ËMadchester’. How did that come about?
DB: Me and two guys called Paul Clements and Derek Goodwin used to go to the Ritz on a Monday- Manchester’s big alternative night. And we eventually decided that we didn’t like it. We thought it was stale and we wanted something fresh and different. One or more of us had recently bought the Nuggets and Pebbles back catalogues, and we loved the tunes. Listening to that stuff, I knew it was better than what was being played at the time. So Paul and I started the Playpen. We shunned the standard alternative club music; instead, we mixed that 60s garage stuff with the cooler indie music of the day. REM were a big part of that, actually ”â no one played them in those days. So we played REM and a variety of other new American bands, all the emergent Manchester and ‘Madchester’ sounds, and mixed them with the Stooges, Sonics, Chocolate Watch Band, Love, the Seeds, etc.
PK: So, the key ‘Madchester’ clubs were…?
DB: The Playpen/42nd St and the Hangout. They were massively important, but of course all you ever hear about these days is the Hacienda. The thing is that the people who were on the scene knew how important these clubs were, but nobody else has ever really had the chance to read about them. The Tuesday night at the Playpen, which we called ‘Psychedelic Jungle’ in the early days, and then ‘The Scene with the Built-In Trip’ later on, was a driving force. It was definitive, and I loved doing it. I also enjoyed doing the Friday at 42st, which was called ‘Freaky Dancin” – that got big, too.The Hangout, which opened at Isadora’s in Hanging Ditch in 1989, was a combination of the two, and has since been described as the ultimate’ Madchester’ club.
PK: So what about the Hangout then? There’s been a reunion and there’s another one in the pipeline. The people that went there, myself included ”â absolutely adored it. For you as DJ, what was so special about the place?
DB: It was actually more than the ultimate ‘Madchester’ club, if I really think about it. It was ‘Madchester’ but better. If any one club occupies a special place in my heart, it’s the Hangout.
I ran it with an incredible guy called Gino Brandilani, who’s worth a biography in his own right, he’s another key figure who made so much happen. He’s doing the reunions now, along with myself, and Paul Clements and Derek Goodwin. We were very 60s-centric at the Hangout but I thought it was a kind of progression, mixing past and present. It was radical. The beauty of it was finding gems, playing them, and people thinking that they were new records.
The thing I really noticed was that you mixed records together like no other DJ on the scene. And what it did for me was to completely re-contextualise the music what you did, in effect, was have two different eras playing simultaneously. Can you talk about that?
Well, I’ll give you an example: my mixing, say, the Rolling Stones and the Stone Roses into each other two eras of music side by side. It was more than that, though; it was two incredible eras of music bleeding into one another THAT was the excitement of the place, that’s what made it different. And that’s what you reacted to when you told me you’d never heard anyone do that before or since. I wanted to give the music a unique dynamic. And judging from your reaction all these years later, it seemed to have the desired effect!
There was also the fact that the Hangout was the first club, courtesy of Paul and Derek, to have a psychedelic light show that really made you feel you were stepping into another time. It was the sexiest club I’ve ever been part of; and it certainly wasn’t Baggy. But then again, you see, everything ‘Madchester’ ”â including the style element ”â gets lumped in with the Hacienda and its various connotations.
PK: So why has your obviously important contribution to the Manchester scene been marginalised?
DB: The people who’ve written the histories have their own agendas, of course. I don’t mind that so much because I can’t do anything about it. But I DO want the truth to be told. It’s crucial to know about the context ”â the scene from which the great Manchester bands emerged. This is because it was a two way thing, symbiotic, if you like ”â they influenced the scene, and the scene influenced them. Profoundly. This is especially important, of course, with the up and coming Stone Roses reunion.
The truth is I happened to be the DJ playing this music at this time. I’ve got a lot of stories to tell, and this part of a wider narrative on this subject that we’re looking at developing, isn’t it, Phil?
Isadora’s the Hangout Facebook Group Page:
Isadora’s the Hangout Reunion Facebook Event Page: