Richard Norris on Andrew Weatherall: “He brought possibilities and people out of themselves to a greater place through music”

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Andew Weatherall photographed at Sound City

Richard Norris remembers Andrew Weatherall in a moving reminiscence connecting Psychic TV, occult rituals, Primal Scream and The Grid.

Over the weeks since his passing, the mourning for maverick sonic genius Andrew Weatherall has continued and deepened.

There have been tributes and reminiscences aplenty, and a tribute night organised by Bernie Connor will be happening on Sunday March 15.

Producer, engineer, musician, DJ and author Richard Norris has had a long  relationship with Andrew, and we are proud to present his  moving and considered tribute here – a piece which plots subcultural ley lines between Psychic TV, acid house, Shoom and Primal Scream via magic, memory and beautiful humanity.

On the day Andrew Weatherall died, I was asked to write about him by this magazine.

The shock had sent me into an odd place, so instead of joining close friends at the Social in London, where I spent my last birthday listening to Andrew at one of his excellent Moine Dubh nights, I sat at the computer in a daze, wrote a few thousand words and went to bed with a splitting migraine.

The next morning I read what I had written, and realised it was more a sprawling monster of connections, friendships and nights out than a tribute to Andrew. So I put it to one side to gather dust.

Over the next few weeks, having read the phenomenal outpouring of personal tributes , stories, and pictures, I gradually changed my mind.

It’s the personal recollections, the personal connections that have come to light time and again in these weeks since his death that make Andrew’s life so vivid and direct. Even now, weeks later, I’m getting long messages from around the globe from people wanting to share thoughts and memories about Andrew.

People I’ve shared amazing times with, in and around dance music and beyond, but in many cases haven’t been in touch with for a long while. There are days worth of Weatherall mixes and mix tapes being unearthed, listened to, evaluated. The stories, the memories, the communal good times, and the many pictures of smiling, excited faces standing next to a hirsute gentleman in a Breton top just keep on coming. 

It turns out the lyrical dance clichés are true. Even in death, Andrew Weatherall is facilitating ways for the people to come together as one.

So I decided this could be published. A slight warning – Andrew doesn’t come in until a few paragraphs in, and the connections may seem tangential at best in places, but stick with me. It’s the tribute I made and I hope you enjoy it. To the guv’nor, RIP.”

Genesis P-Orridge is a rather slippery, divisive figure within UK alternative culture, a wo/man who has been lauded, feared and reviled in equal measure. That is a complex story, and there are many tales yet to be told, but we’ll save that for another time.

One thing Genesis did do for me, tangentially, in serendipitous moments that s/he would no doubt class as a kind of magic, was bring me directly into the orbit of the great British DJ, writer, artist and producer Andrew Weatherall, a greatly inspirational figure in my life, and the lives of many others, who died recently.

In mid 1987 I was working at the psychedelic label Bam Caruso and editing our in-house magazine Strange Things Are Happening.

I am called to Beck Road, in Hackney, to interview Genesis P.Orridge, from the band Throbbing Gristle. It was somewhat intimidating – Gen, after all, has a fearsome reputation, partly self cultivated, somewhere between William Burroughs and Aleister Crowley.

He admired our Bam Caruso psych records though, and is going through a technicolour Brian Jones worshipping fetish phase he calls ‘hyperdelic’, with his current band Psychic TV.

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I needn’t have worried. I didn’t witness anything too freaky, well not to begin with anyway.

There was Hitler’s cutlery framed next to his PRS membership certificate on the wall, also framed, but in general Genesis was a polite host.

Him making me sleep on my own in the same room as a fifteen-foot boa constrictor, the tabloid baiting incidents with the Sunday People reporter, the police chase through Hackney after Shoom one night and the shady business practices came a bit later.

For now, in 1987, Genesis is charming, witty, and enthused with great passion. About all kinds of music, some of which I didn’t think he’d be at all interested in, from the Incredible String Band to Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny, bargain bin easy listening staples who’d yet to be revived and revered as ‘Exotica’.

We talked for a few hours, and as the interview closed, Gen began enthusing about a new type of House music he’d heard of. It was Acid House. It was brand new to me, and apparently to him too, as he’d heard the phrase, but not much of the music.

House, at this point, has been around a while, having scored a top ten UK hit with Farley Jackmaster Funk’s Isaac Hayes referencing Love Can’t Turn Around the year previously. It was already a dance floor staple in the Nottingham, Manchester and other parts of the North.

There had even been a tour of US House artists, including Marshall Jefferson and Frankie Knuckles that hit Manchester and Heaven in London in early spring 1987.

The sound began to make small inroads in London, primarily at gay or mixed clubs like Pyramid, at Noel and Maurice Watson’s Delirium or at Colin Faver’s electronic sets at Camden Palace, along side the predominant culture of James Brown funky drummer rare groove, hip hop and soul that was the capital’s staple sonic diet.

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House was a more minimal, stripped down, proto-disco mutant, seemingly more about pianos and soul vocals than anything to do with the avant garde or psychedelia, which was the intersection myself and Genesis had mainly dived into.

I was very intrigued when Genesis coupled the word the word ‘acid’ with ‘house’ – the thought of a psychedelic dance music was too much to resist.

I hadn’t yet heard what would quickly become the sound of acid house, and I’m not sure Gen had had much experience of it either, although he had a direct line to Chicago via his connections with the industrial label Wax Trax.

That irresistible Roland 303 bass line squelch morphing endlessly over an 808 or 909 drum machine, stretched to infinity, wasn’t ubiquitous as yet. Not having heard this sound was a very useful thing, as it gave us a chance to dream up our own version of what a shiny new psychedelic dance music might possibly sound like.

On the spot we agreed to make a record together the next weekend, featuring a host of Genesis’ cohorts in Psychic TV, and a bunch of my psychedelic musician friends from Bam Caruso.

The result was Jack The Tab, an album recorded over a weekend in autumn 1987 by about ten people, some children and a dog in a tiny studio in Chiswick, West London.

It sounded nothing like Acid House. It featured samples from Tiny Tim, soundtracks, Bhangra records, mutant Hi NRG courtesy of Soft Cell’s Dave Ball, wolves howling and the sounds of Genesis and his wife Paula’s most intimate moments.

On the track The Loaded Angels, there’s a sample from the film The Wild Angels, specifically the scene at a biker funeral where Frank Maxwell says ‘Just what is it you want to do?’ and Peter Fonda replies ‘we want to be free to do what we want to do…we want to get loaded, and we want to have a good time’.

The link to Andrew Weatherall begins…

We’d finished Jack The Tab, our version of what acid house might be, before we’d been to a club that played any acid house. Word was filtering through, however, about a club called Shoom, that was playing quite trippy music. We’d heard about it through the boyfriend of Laura B.

Laura sang on the Jack The Tab album, as well being a fine sound engineer who cut up a lot of the samples. Her boyfriend was mates with Colin Faver, who we knew from his gig promotion company Final Solution, an outfit that had put on many great bands, including Joy Division, Bauhaus and  Genesis’ former band Throbbing Gristle.

We also knew of Colin from his residency with ‘Evil’ Eddie Richards at Camden Palace and from sets at Pyramid at Heaven. Colin was a great, forward thinking DJ exploring the boundaries of electronic sound, and was an early guest at Shoom, so we went to see him play.

The first few times I went to Shoom was with my friend Charles Cosh, manager of the then indie guitar band The Shamen. It was in a basement, at a tiny gym called the Fitness Centre in Southwark, South London. It was miles away, in more ways than one, from the lights and sounds of the West End.

We danced for hours with broad grins. It’s incredible, looking back, that I can’t recall that we were particularly aware of the saucer-eyed glint of pretty much every other person in the tiny, dry ice filled room. We were under the influence of nothing more than a couple of Ribenas.

Everyone seemed very happy, when you could see them through the dry ice, which was so thick you couldn’t make out anyone more than two feet away. Maybe that’s why we didn’t notice.

On a visit a few weeks later, I went down with Genesis and Paula P.Orridge. We’d mixed our record, and were armed with Jack The Tab T-Shirts to give away.

As we walked down the narrow stairs, the first person we set eyes on was a long haired, rather dishevelled looking bloke, who welcomed us in a very sociable manner and promptly showed Genesis his Psychic TV tattoo.

This person was Andrew Weatherall.

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Oddly enough, Genesis P.Orridge was also the reason why Andrew Weatherall was at Shoom in the first place.

Danny Rampling, the organiser who started off in the first few weeks of Shoom as the support DJ, booking the likes of Carl Cox and Colin Faver to headline, had heard Andrew play Chris and Cosey’s October (Love Song) at a party in Islington.

He promptly asked Andrew to play at Shoom.

Andrew’s welcome at the Fitness Centre had a great effect on Gen, who increasingly felt comfortable to weave our wonky psychedelic dance experiments into the birthing myth of UK Acid House, rather than describe it as the parallel, if very well timed, adventure that it was.

In truth, we were coming from very different backgrounds to many of the Shoom crew– avant garde electronics, performance art and psychedelia, rather than Soul Weekenders, football or Ibiza trips. But soon this wasn’t going to matter, as the alternative music fans and the soul boys and girls were coming together to create a new mix.

Alfredo and other DJs in Ibiza were mixing all kinds of tunes regardless of genre, purely for the love of the music, this was also happening in the UK, with a specific alternative twist. One of the most influential and potent of these early alchemists was the guy with the Psychic TV tattoo –  Andrew Weatherall.

Meeting Andrew almost immediately led to more creative pursuits.

We got chatting. Meeting Andrew almost immediately led to a bunch of other creative pursuits We talked music and fanzines, including the one he was putting together with three friends called Boys Own, a photocopied A4 zine that was inspired by Liverpool’s The End magazine.

Somewhere along the way I mentioned this fanzine to Jeff Barrett, who had been promoting gigs at the Falcon in Camden, as well as putting out seven-inch records on a tiny label called Head by a psych tinged band I liked called Loop.

He was also working as press officer and the first ever employee at Alan McGee’s Creation Records, and was thinking about starting a new label, called Heavenly.

You should meet Andrew’, I said. ‘You two would get on’

It was a no brainer – these were two of the most clued up music and culture obsessive’s I knew.  Of course they’d get on. And get on they did – famously.

Andrew produced the first Heavenly single, The World According To Sly and Lovechild, and did mixes on the next, Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Saint Etienne, who I’d earlier lent a 303 and encouraged to make a track in the same studio where we’d recorded Jack The Tab.

Through these two connecting threads, Andrew met Primal Scream, who Jeff was doing the press for, and that Jack the Tab Peter Fonda sample was put to even greater use in the classic Weatherall mix of Loaded. Jeff went on to manage Andrew for a decade

Around the same time, in a move that can only be attributed to a heady mix of youthful enthusiasm, a lucky contact and serendipity, I’d managed to get a record deal with Warner Brothers, home to Madonna and Prince.

Without a demo, without a single song, even. Purely on the back of this insane record I’d made with a bunch of Psychic TV freaks who by this time, allegedly, were performing rather complex overnight rituals involving various Californian potions, collages featuring Batman and gay porn stars, all tied together with the sigil magic of turn of the century mystic and painter Austin Osman Spare.

It was hardly Stock, Aitken and Waterman

The record deal was brokered, and I brought Dave Ball in from the Jack The Tab sessions, first as a producer, then as a fully-fledged co-conspirator in this newly formed band, The Grid.

We set about recording our first album, had a great time recording it, thought we had it nailed and delivered it to Warner’s. They thought we needed one more track to close it. So we sulked a bit, before realising they might have a point, and got down to writing the new track.

Dave brought two favourite chords to the table – a plaintive, black keys motif influenced by his great love, the film composer John Barry. I added a third, more major, chord.

Inspired by sessions in a tank in St John’s Wood, the opening of Amnesia in Ibiza, and the idea of making a soundtrack for the closing credits of the album, the new track was born. We called it Floatation.

It wasn’t intended as a single, but when someone suggested it should be, there was only one person in line to remix it – Andrew Weatherall.

Andrew went to Battery Studios, Willseden, with the master tapes and his engineering compadre Hugo Nicholson.  They came out with an anthemic, eleven-minute epic. ‘That’s magic, that is’, said the sample that ran through the track, and it certainly was. Pure transcendental magic.

Stitching a rolling, swinging breakbeat to our widescreen pads, my Shoom pal Polo’s congas and Julian Stringle’s clarinet solos, then throwing in mesmeric Indian sample loops and even a snatch of the Stone Roses then-new track Waterfall, it was a work of sonic genius.

Our album track was the foundation, but this brought out something else. They’d even managed to bump into Ian Brown at the studio, who’d given them his blessing for the Roses sample. A good sign.

It needed one more touch for a single, however… vocals!

About a week later, I went back into the studio with Hugo, Andrew and my friend Sacha Souter, yet another creative talent I’d met at Shoom, to add vocals and do another mix.

I marvelled as Hugo got the master tapes up and running, proceeding to play them at terrifying volume on the studio’s booming speakers, even when just editing a minor section of the track.

He’d set up all kinds of effects chains, running one piece of outboard gear into another, so a reverb cavern morphed into a swirling phaser, which, when hit by a cracking, renegade snare, sounded like the invention of a new world.

Hugo had engineered or somehow worked with On U Sound’s dub master Adrian Sherwood, and it showed. I stored his endless studio tricks in my memory bank, and have used them ever since.

Sacha set up by the mic in the main studio. I still have the tape of what happened next. Sacha and I worked on the vocals, with Andrew adding comments from behind the desk, over the studio tannoy, as the spoken word section tentatively but speedily came to life.

Hugo’s studio skills, Sacha’s vocals, Dave’s majestic chords, my memories and music relating to trips to Amnesia in Ibiza, flotation tanks and all the rest were all great elements, but the one thing that brought them together was undoubtedly the man in the centre – Andrew Weatherall.

It’s can be hard to pinpoint the role of the producer – sometimes it’s a technical role, sometimes musical, but it’s also part cheerleader, part manager, part provocateur, part shrink. If they are any good, it’s also down to vision.

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What Andrew brought to Floatation was a clarity of vision that lifted the track from end credits on our album to an all time Balearic classic. That’s how good a producer he was.

Soon I’d moved into Golborne Road in Ladbroke Grove, West London, round the corner from Kensal Road, where a lot of studios were based, including Eastcote where we’d made most of The Grid album.

An office space came up next door to Eastcote, so I took it as Grid HQ and shared it with a promotions company and Boy’s Own.

Andrew didn’t come in that much – it was more Terry Farley, Cymon Eckel and Steve Mayes on a regular basis – but his influence, writing as ‘The Outsider’ was all over the magazine.

When no one could be bothered to type it up, I’d occasionally type it for them, and also draw cartoons, notably one that said, in tribute to the punk war cry ‘Here’s a sampler, here’s a keyboard, here’s a drum machine… now go form a band’. Weatherall thanked me by insisting on calling me ‘dear, dear Dickie’ in the credits.

As I started doing a bunch of remixes, my main thought when producing them was always ‘would Andrew play this?’ Now and again he would, and that would be a very satisfied job done.

He’d also dig up obscure album cuts from my records that nobody else had remotely bothered with, and play them on Croatian beaches.

On one mix, one I did with Erol Alkan in our sonic partnership Beyond The Wizards Sleeve for Franz Ferdinand, was a particular Weatherall favourite.

Usually on Wizards’ mixes we’d use quite a lot of the original song, but this time I played guitar and keyboards on it, programmed it and used my own slowed down vocal over the top, alongside a one bar Franz Ferdinand drum loop that Erol had cut up.

Andrew told me that he’d enjoyed playing the mix in every European capital city. There was no bigger satisfaction I could imagine creatively than that.

I’ve noticed dozens of stories like this crop up in tributes to Andrew from musicians and collaborators in the past few weeks. His enthusiasm for one of your projects was priceless and life affirming, for me and many others.

As well as DJing and production, Andrew could certainly hold his own as a writer and an artist, and could have had those as parallel full time careers if he was inclined. As a laser sharp wit and raconteur he was unstoppable.

I remember my friend Ian Tregoning bringing the band Yello over to launch a recent album at Ministry of Sound, and asking Andrew to interview the band on stage.

Andrew’s gently sparring banter with Yello’s Dieter Meier was pitch perfect, with a Peter Cook level of deadpan dryness, incisive, sharp and hilarious.

It seemed to get a bit lost in translation though, as Dieter seemed somewhat put out. He shouldn’t have been, as this sardonic probing was done with much respect and it felt like that from the crowd. Between the belly laughs.

We’d bump into each other occasionally over the years. I DJed with him a few times, the last of which was warming up a while back at Andrew and Sean Johnson’s long running A Love From Outer Space party, at Rich Walker and Gig’s excellent Golden Lion pub in Todmorden.

The music Andrew and Sean played that night was bewitching – the hypnotic, never more than 122 BPM groove full of exotic promise.

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As a DJ he was remarkable. Countless sets, from wide-open spaces, to underground sweatboxes, to when he played a blistering rockabilly set for me for free at a benefit gig, are indelibly etched on my mind.

His skills, delivery and knowledge surpassed any massively paid name DJ who climbed the greasy pole in the same time frame.

And unlike those DJ’s who took the cash and headed straight for the VIP room, he remained entirely accessible.

You could chat to him if you saw him at a bar or a festival. He was someone who was able to bring out possibility and ideas in people, able to bring them out of themselves and to a greater place through music and its surrounding culture.

You can hear it in his production; just as much as you can see it in the countless personal photos and stories that have taken over my social media feeds today. I haven’t seen anything like this since the loss of Joe Strummer.

That one was very a tough loss to bear, and this feels quite similar. I’m starting to think of all of the people I know who knew, worked with or were connected in some other way with Andrew, and what this loss will mean to them. It’s numbering hundreds, from many walks of life, stretching over decades.

And that’s just the ones I know personally.

Finally, I recall a moment with my family, Andrew and his partner Lizzy a few years ago during a DJ trip to Croatia.

We had the hotel pool to ourselves, a brief moment of calm away from the relentless beats. Andrew was quietly reading a paper, myself and my wife Sarah were in the pool, alongside Lizzy, who was playing with our young daughter Ella, who was three at the time.

Andrew was in a very relaxed mood, enjoying the sunshine in his usual sartorial splendour, never knowingly seen in T Shirt and shorts, but certainly tipping a nod to the seafaring traditions of the resort, albeit in a manner you would probably think a bit formal for poolside.

Our daughter Ella noticed him, and knew he had some connection to Lizzy. ‘This is my daddy’, said Ella, proudly pointing a stubbly finger in my direction. ‘That man’, she asked Lizzie, pointing at Andrew, ‘is he your daddy?’

There was a slow, but distinct, raising of an eyebrow from the Weatherall deckchair. ‘No,’ he said, glancing up from his paper. ‘I am not her daddy. I am THE daddy.’

And that he most certainly was. God bless you Guv’nor, Rest In Peace.

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  1. Avatar
    Richard Norris on

    thanks Danny. It was your club that brought me in contact with Andrew, and much much more. Great times XXX

  2. Avatar

    A wonderful and very touching piece Richard. I was with you in Croatia that year. The place i got to know Andrew a little. What a man and what a loss, Bless Andrew

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