Paul Wellings: Top 10 clubs that changed my lifePaul Wellings AKA Paul T/DJ Madhatter (NME) was one of the original rebel pioneers of underground black music on the iconic LWR pirate radio station in the late 80s. He is also an acclaimed author, broadcaster, journalist and spoken word artist. Here he talks about the clubs, DJs and records that shaped his life.

1. The Four Aces, Dalston, London I was never one to go to those mainly white clubs that the suburban househeads went to. I was partly raised in the East End and went to roughneck black clubs where I could learn about innovative street music from innovative street people. This was my first visit into club culture and what a baptism of fire.

There were very few white people in the club in the early 80s when I went and you had to know a local black reggaehead to get in. I went in with a local face, worryingly called Horace the Chiv, as I was mates with his cousin. The club was in Dalston Lane and in the 60s was one of the first clubs to promote black music in the UK. It progressed over the years from ska, to rocksteady, to dub, to dancehall and then to Jungle. Its sound systems included Jah Shaka and Sir Coxsone. Musicians like Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Steve Wonder were visitors to the club.

In the 90s I went off it as it turned into Club Labyrinth playing acid house and hardcore and all the suburban rebels came out and started their usual cultural appropriation. The club is sadly now a block of flats. This was the tune that carried the swing when I went there and was also one of the late great Radio One pioneer John Peel’s favourite tunes.

2. Electric Ballroom, Camden, London Formerly an Irish ballroom, it was a roller disco in the late 70s and then turned into an on point club with George Power and Tosca dropping soul downstairs in the 80s. But I preferred going upstairs to hear DJ Gilles Peterson’s jazz fusion with my mixed race spar Kendrick, who was one of the finest jazz dancers in London at the time competing against the other Lit dancers in there. Because of family circumstances we were both living in a hostel in the East End together with sex workers, drug dealers, criminals, homeless people, and mental health patients who we befriended. But going to the Ballroom was our escape from the madness of our lives. This tune reminds me of that time.

3. Raw, Tottenham Court Road, London My fellow writer from the NME David Dorell (of Marrs’ Pump Up The Volume fame) used to take me here and let me select and drop two tunes during his set . Again it was a very diverse crowd and the slogan was ‘funk until you’re raw’ on the flyers. This was the goddam funky sound of RAW in 1988.

4. Blue Note, Hoxton, London Situated in the heart of Hoxton Square, a stone’s throw from my flat, was this gem, formerly the Bass Clef. In the 80s and 90s this was a key club for both the acid jazz and drum n bass scenes. My favourite DJ ever, Norman Jay, had a night there and I’m not sure if he played this there or on his Good Times sound system at Notting Hill Carnival at the same time, but this tune takes me back to those heady days.

5. Africa Centre, Covent Garden, London From 1985-1989 I used to see Jazzie B and his Soul II Soul Sound System (and Jasper’s ‘Funkin Pussy’ nights) here on those legendary nights. I shared a drawer with soundman Aitch Bee and did my own two-step skanking out to the happy face, the thumping bass for a loving race. It acquired legendary status for police raids and innovative music. I was proud to be one of the first DJs to get a white label copy of their debut single Fairplay, which I played on my LWR show at the time. I also came across Trevor ‘Madhatter’ Nelson here and drove up to Prestatyn soul weekender with him and when he dropped the Madhatter from his name I inherited it as my DJ name. I have 100 hats indoors and I do think a titfer finishes off an outfit squire. This was the tune from The Centre Of The Universe which they later took to Brixton Fridge.

6. Space, Ibiza A superclub with an underground vibe although the club round the corner Sankeys was dirtier, and nastier. I used to go to see Carl Cox as resident for his ‘Music Is Revolution’ nights. When the owner stepped down , Carl decided to move on finishing with a nine hour set in September 2016 for the closing parties which I was lucky to be part of. This was the final tune. The club has since become ‘Hi’ which I visited and is a bit more commercial.

7. Gossips, Soho, London I went with rare groove connoisseur Dez Parkes and he let me spin two tunes in this basement of this legendary soul club. I also interviewed him for Black Echoes and his house in Forest Gate, East London had the biggest vinyl collection I’d ever seen. It was a crowd of serious soulheads (no gurning right-wing hooligans in smiley T shirts) and this was the track that triggers memories of those nights.

8. Trends, Hackney, London This was the residency for our LWR pirate station – black-owned and the biggest pioneers of underground black music in the country. It was a very heavy club (i got a gun put to my head which luckily turned out to be fake) but you saw some of the best street fashions, dancers and heard the slickest talk – a very influential club for me that I was lucky enough to play a couple of tunes and chat on the mic at. We pioneered our own sound ‘Speng Groove’ mid-tempo and heavy on the bassline rare beats and lovers rock. We also played some militant message music. We later went to Pacha backroom in Ibiza with our LWR sound. This tune transports me back to those days with DJs like Jigs, Zak, Ron Tom and DJ Elayne.

9. Hacienda, Manchester I had to work in Manchester for a couple of days so I went into this club during its acid house years around 1988 with a night called ‘Hot’ with DJ Mike Pickering. It looked shady in there, full of football hooligans, dealers and gangsters . I was wary to talk in case the Mancs heard my cockney accent. It had security problems – I saw a serious assault outside the club and there was a major drug problems in that club. That was probably why it went under, because everyone was off their nut on Es and didn’t spend any money on booze. But the music was my first introduction to house music in a club. This tune was first heard here and remains one of my favourite tunes to this day.

10. Fabric, Smithfields Market, London I remember coming out of Fabric in the week, around sunrise, grabbing a bacon sandwich and going straight to work totally mashed. What I loved about this club it had three separate rooms with separate dance floors, including the vibrating one. It was dedicated to mainly bass music genres such as drum and bass, dubstep, grime, breakbeat and bassline with DJs like Grooverider which I loved, as I liked the bass ridiculously heavy having grown up on sound systems. Plus there was house, techno and disco on Saturdays with Craig Richards. Sadly due to drug-related deaths in the club it closed for a while but it did re-open for a bit before Covid struck. This is my favourite tune from that time.

About Paul Wellings

Paul attended the famous free Anna Scher Drama School in Islington, North London (where Kathy Burke, Spandau Ballet’s Gary and Martin Kemp, Phil Daniels and Oscar-winner Daniel Kaluuya went). He was named after the civil rights singer Paul Robeson (his mum’s favourite). He was born in the London overspill and raised in the East End and is the grandson of a famously philanthropic Miner and son of Public Sector workers.

In 1985 Paul was lucky to land a prestigious freelance job on the music press with the New Musical Express (NME), thanks to Editor Neil Spencer and also on Black Echoes. He was one of the first to write about the Rare Groove/Rap scene and its links with the soccer casual movement. He hates name droppers (as he told The Pope recently) but has interviewed hundreds of diverse musicians including James Brown, Public Enemy, Lady Leshurr, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols, the Specials, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, Yellowman, Paul Weller, Jazzie B, Natalie Cole, Barry White, Ian Dury, Norman Jay, the Wailers, Gregory Isaacs, John Martyn, Ronnie Scott, and random oddities like Hollywood actor Christian Slater, activist Tony Benn and the notorious Reggie Kray.

Paul also worked on Mojo, the Daily Mirror and London’s Evening Standard, writing about sport, music and showbiz. He’s appeared on numerous TV shows discussing football, black music, youth culture, soccer casuals, and pirate radio. He was interviewed for the major ITV music series S.O.U.L. about underground music.

In the early 1980s as a teenager his punk-reggae group the Anti Social Workers released the LP Positive Style, produced by the legendary reggae producer the Mad Professor (of Massive Attack fame) spitting lyrics over his dub tunes, to rave reviews. The group was championed by legendary Radio 1 DJ John Peel and supported reggae royalty Peter Tosh (Bob Marley’s partner) and Eek A Mouse on tour and did well in the Japanese reggae charts. In early 2022 he will release a follow-up album under the name Anti Social Worker on which contains new material and one unreleased Anti Social Workers lyric not used on the first album.

He has performed poetry with the likes of John Cooper Clarke, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Benjamin Zephaniah. He has had five books published: This Is The Modern Word (his poetry collection); I’m A Journalist…Get Me Out Of Here (about life on the NME and Mirror); Spend It Like Beckham (about the greed in football); Sex, Lines And Videotape (about cult movies); The Divine Comedians (about Radical Stand Up Comedy) and the screenplay Thieves (for BBC Play For Today). But his expertise was as a rare grooves DJ with underground radio station LWR (the station that launched Radio 1’s Pete Tong, Carl Cox, Mr C, Westwood, Derek B and Maxi Jazz from Faithless).

He inherited the name ‘DJ Madhatter Paul’ after driving to soul weekenders with Trevor ‘Madhatter’ Nelson who went to Radio One and dropped the ‘Madhatter’ tag. He has DJ’d at Festivals, Weekenders, One dayers and Ministry Of Sound in London and Pacha in Ibiza.

In 2021 he launched the ‘DJs Against Bigotry’ pressure group to try and stop DJs with hate crime views playing at major venues. He was one of the first DJs to play Public Enemy and Soul II Soul on air anywhere in the world and was a B-Boy DJ as a teenager. Now he just DJs, performs spoken word and writes when he can.

He is married to the niece of the late great reggae superstar Sugar Minott. He is fuelled by socialism, the love of a good woman and West Ham United…You can see more of his work on You Tube or Google by searching ‘Paul Wellings NME’.

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