This week’s report deals with all the gigs I did over the Christmas and New Year’s period, incorporating lots of one off events, so I’ll briefly gloss over the first weekend covered, as that itinerary included three nights I do regularly and have described in detail before. On Friday Dec 20th I played Sugar Shack at the Empire in Middlesborough, the following night took me to Slinky Bristol and Serious at the Cross. All three were very busy (as always) with an equally rampant atmosphere. This Christmas has seen clubs busier than previous festive spells, which is very encouraging. Other than making this point, the only other fact to mention is how uncharacteristically well I paced myself at the Cross, despite playing a 3.30- 6am slot. It’s difficult to get the balance right between being merry and allowing yourself to get far too drunk when dj’ing very late. Any dj will tell you that alcohol can put you in the perfect party mood or spoil your set if you’re not careful. If I’ve not performed to the best of my ability, I’d be the first to be self-critical, there’s no point deluding yourself. When this has happened, it’s almost always very late sets with too much to drink. This has occasionally spoiled my gigs at the Cross, where I usually play til the 6am curfew, but not on this occasion, which is a blessing as it’s a fantastic night. The whole area round the venue is being ripped to shreds to make way for the new St Pancras Eurostar terminal, and there was a time when the plans threatened the existence of the Cross. It seems that the work won’t now affect it, thank heavens.
The following night (Sun 22nd) marked the beginning of a series of one-off events over the Christmas period. Accompanied by Amanda, I flew to Ireland’s second city Limerick via Shannon airport. The flight was packed with people going home to see their families for Christmas and Amanda and I were sat in the front row of the Aer Lingus Airbus. Moments before the doors shut, four men of Middle Eastern appearance boarded the flight and walked right to the far end of the plane before coming all the way back down the aisle to the Business class area at the front. Despite boarding together, they then sat in totally different seats, all in the first four rows closest to the cockpit. Make no mistake, I’m no racist (in fact I abhor racism) and I certainly don’t bat an eyelid every time someone of Middle Eastern appearance travels close by on a flight, but this was highly irregular. The men had foreign passports I’ve never seen before and looked nervous and confused throughout the one hour journey. The flight took off, and it was clear that the passengers around me were quite jittery. Despite a complete lack of choppy air or turbulence, the seat belt signs were kept on by the pilot for the entire flight, which suggests that the cockpit crew felt that something didn’t seem quite right. We arrived in Shannon, and clearly we’d all been overreacting, as we disembarked without a hitch, but as someone who makes over two hundred flights per year, this was the first time I’d felt truly nervous post-September 11th. In the end, despite the irregularity of the situation, I felt very guilty for typecasting these guys. I’ve subsequently spoken to Arab friends who get very pissed off with the extra security grilling and nervous glances they get every time they board a flight. In truth, I suspect that Al Queida won’t use the same method when they strike again, but the whole episode served to remind me of the changed world we live in post 9/11. The gig itself was the first of many I was to play alongside Eddie Halliwell over the next few days. He’s the biggest name to come through the ranks over the past twelve months, and we’re handled by the same manager. Eddie’s energy behind the decks is extraordinary, his taste in music similar to mine, and the scratching he embellishes his sets with, out of this world. The Limerick gig was excellent, and Eddie, Amanda, Good Greef promoter Ben and I had an after-party in our hotel room, in the festive spirit (I collapsed on the bed after half an hour, but I believe they were still going strong as the sun came up.)
I’ve dj’d at the Escape Swansea’s Christmas party four out of the last five years, 2001 being the only exception, as I played in nearby Cardiff on New Year’s Eve that year, and it was felt that the two would conflict. Most of the UK nights I play at take place in owner-operated venues, rather than the dull monolithic leisure Corp owned clubs where every venue looks the bland same. The Escape’s typical of an independent operator, with a lot of loving attention paid to its unique decor and set up. I really like the management- they’re always ready to have a drink and a laugh, and in Big Al and Danny Slade they’ve got two of the best resident dj’s in the business. Big Al lives up to his name, but on the night Danny had lost an incredible seven stone since I last saw him, which is mighty difficult in the late night drinking and kebab environment of the club world. Although he wasn’t wearing a ‘lose weight now, ask me how’ badge, I posed the question all the same. He’d cut out alcohol, which is a sacrifice I’ve never managed to make (I come from a long blood line of broken-veined drinkers.) The atmosphere was typically superb, and I played an extra 40 minutes beyond my allotted set. This was partly because I’d let standards slip at my last Welsh performance (Cream’s huge Cardiff International Arena event the previous month) and felt extremely guilty. At that event I played the last set (4.30-6) and was very drunk- apparently I committed the cardinal sin of playing the same record twice. So I was determined to make amends in Swansea, and kept playing til I’d eaten dramatically into Danny Slade’s playing time.
I took the night off on Christmas Eve to be with Amanda and Jake. At three, this was the first Christmas he was conscious of, and he asked me ‘how will Father Christmas deliver my presents when we don’t have a chimney?’. A good question. I told him we’d left a key outside. Even before Jake was born, I’ve rarely dj’d on Xmas Eve. It’s never been a big clubbing night- people usually spend it with their families, and gigs on December 24th have generally been disappointing. The big night at Christmas is Boxing Day, on which I had two gigs, God’s kitchen in Belfast and my debut set at Good Greef in Manchester.
It was only a week beforehand that I found out how early my set in Belfast was (4.30pm) enabling me to catch the last flight back to Manchester the same day. I had to leave home at 11.30am on Boxing Day morning for Heathrow, which didn’t go down very well with Amanda and the rest of the family members who were staying over. I arrived in Belfast with my belt still loosened to accommodate the slowly-digesting turkey. The event was a 10,000 sell-out, hardly surprising considering the magnitude of the dj line-up… Tiesto, Ferry Corsten, Armin Van Buuren, Fergie, Mauro Picotto, Tall Paul and myself. The crowd were still coming in as I hit the decks, which provided me with the challenge of making a very large percentage of those inside dance within minutes of putting their coats in the cloakroom. The Northern Irish need little persuasion, and by the end of my set almost all the crowd were inside and the atmosphere incredible. I don’t normally consume any caffeine, I’m hyper enough as it is, but the bar had a choice of Vodka Red Bull or Vodka Coke. Some choice- if you don’t touch caffeine, just one Coke makes you feel so wired it’s as if you’ve taken crack (not that I ever have!) By the end of my set my eyes were bulging like a Goldfish, and it wasn’t til I knocked back a few glasses of wine on the flight to Manchester that I started to calm down. Most of the ‘superclub’ promoters have focused increasing attention on large stadium events. It has to be said that as a dj you’re forced to play a safer musical selection and take less chances at these sort of gigs, but playing to crowds that can be measured in their tens of thousands is an incredible buzz. My real love remains clubs, with a more intimate ‘whites of their eyes’ atmosphere. This was exactly what I was looking forward to at Good Greef in Manchester.
Mixmag recently dubbed Good Greef ‘the UK’s best club’, so playing a good set was mighty important to me on my first visit. I was drunker than I would have ideally liked when I hit the decks, but on Boxing Day I’m sure the same could be said for the crowd. The clubbers reminded me of Gatecrasher in its early days, with a huge range of ages and dress styles. The night was a sell-out with hundreds turned away, and I can easily see why everyone talks so highly of Good Greef- a dressy crowd who love their music really banging, with an excellent funky house room thrown in for good measure elsewhere in the club. I was straight on the phone to my manager Charlie the following morning to ensure that I’ll be back as soon as possible.
My Dad lives 20 miles from Manchester, so I stayed there alongside Amanda and Jake who’d arrived from London the previous evening. On Dec 27th we spent the day with John Kelly and family in Liverpool, where they live in a palatial house that eclipses anything a mere mortal would own in London. I’ve got lots of dj friends and you’d be surprised how little time we spend discussing work when we’re socialising. However, I did ask the inevitable ‘what are you doing on New Year’s Eve’ question. He replied that part of his itinerary involved travelling by helicopter from Blackpool to Skegness. Rather John than me – although my NYE schedule involved a private jet, helicopters in wintry weather sound just too scary. After enjoying a huge meal in Liverpool’s impressively refurbished Albert Dock, we headed nearly 300 miles south to Winchester, dropping Jake at his Grandmother’s in Bognor en route. This was a great sleeping opportunity and I woke outside the gig, which was taking place in a grand old Government building. Norman Jay played funky house in the other room, whilst I was in the main arena, which was very enjoyable. I’ve played just about every major town and city in the UK- Winchester probably completes the set.
By the time Saturday 28th December came along, I’d lost count of how many times I’d visited London Heathrow airport in the previous few weeks. In the Christmas period you lose track of days of the week, and it was only my radio show that kept me in touch with the fact it was Saturday. My last show of the year concentrates on a review of the biggest tunes of the past twelve months. I combined this with interviews and guest mixes from the likes of Paul Van Dyk, Anne Savage, Tiesto, Eddie Halliwell and others. Then it was back to Heathrow with Amanda, headed for the Temple Theatre in Dublin. The period in between Boxing day and New Year’s Eve is difficult to predict attendance-wise. I shouldn’t have worried where the Temple was concerned. Not only was it packed, but the venue’s recent refurbishment has made a huge difference. The dj booth is now perfectly situated for maximum atmosphere. I’ve rambled on at length in this column about the importance of where the booth is placed, so you’ll get my drift. It’s become a familiar routine to wake up in Dublin’s Morrisson Hotel feeling dehydrated and hung over, the morning after the night before. The previous night was outstanding, making the pain of the following day seem more bearable.
The following night in Scotland (Dec 29th) was my last gig before New Years Eve. The most sensible routing would have been to fly direct from Dublin to Edinburgh, 40 miles away from my gig in Perth. However, it’s very important to me not to spend unnecessary time away from Jake. It’s difficult balancing family life with a dj career, and there are many occasions where I’ll go home for a few hours from the airport, only to return for another flight later that day- this was such an occasion. The irony is that sometimes the little fella can be very grumpy and uncommunicative when you’ve made such an effort to spend time with him, but that’s the way kids are. The event in Perth at the Ice Factory was one of our Judgement Sundays nights. Throughout the winter period, we’re staging a number of JS soirees to maintain the vibe of our Ibiza weekly summer event. My Eden co-resident Eddie Halliwell played with me for the third time that week, and set the scene fantastically. The night built to a screaming crescendo, and I’m pleased to say I resisted Eddie’s pleas for a hotel after-party. Sadly my willpower isn’t always so cast-iron.
So along came the big day, New Year’s Eve 2002/3. This year was notable for the fact that there were far fewer large arena-based NYE events, no doubt because there were many more stadium do’s throughout the rest of the year than ever before. My gigs were probably the UK’s two biggest on the night- Belfast’s Donegal Square, followed by the Millennium Dome in London. The midnight record is a crucial decision- it’s important to gauge the mood of the party and choose the track that sends people into a frenzy of hugging and cheering when the midnight bell tolls. In recent years I’ve played the largest current record around Christmas time, whereas I used to play the year’s biggest track. On this occasion, there was only one candidate ‘Loneliness’ by Tomcraft. Although it hasn’t yet seen a UK release, I’ve received scores of emails requesting it at Radio 1, and people go wild the minute it’s played. The Belfast event was free and open air, staged and broadcast by Radio 1. Amanda and I spent the day in Belfast with R1’s head of dance Matt Priest and two R1 prizewinners who’d won the dubious privilege of accompanying me throughout the day to both gigs. Although it was barely 2 degrees (30f) at least 20,000 people turned up to Belfast city centre. We then headed for a private jet back to London, being whisked from Stansted airport to the Dome just in time for my 2.30am set. I played the same event last year, but didn’t fully absorb the awesome scale of the Dome. You could comfortably fit half a million people inside, although the NYE event had something in the region of 50,000, with crowd as far as the eye could see from the main stage. I recognised clubbers from all over the UK, who’d made the pilgrimage to London for what may well be the last Dome event before the venue gets refurbished. I finished the night visiting Serious’ party at the Cross (in a social capacity) finally getting to bed at 7am.
I’m now en route to Asia for a brief tour combined with a holiday. More in my next report.