When you reach an advancing age, the prospect of an almighty night out leaves you feeling as nauseous as if you’d actually had an almighty night out. If you’ve got young kids, humdinger evenings are pretty much off the agenda anyway, and if you’re a writer, like what I am, it’s best to keep your head in some form of working order; as Bobby Byrd said, “If you don’t work, you can’t eaaaat”!
This doesn’t mean I shy away from alcohol. Far from it. Nothing cuts through a day’s devilment like a large glass of red when the kids have climbed the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire. Saying that, we live in a flat, so it’s more like Lincolnshire. This year, I’m a huge fan of Casa Luis Caranena Joven, a Spanish plonk that’s spearheading Asda’s courageous three-for-£10 range. At £3.33, you’d expect it to be a dog wine but it glides down the oesophagus on silken wings. The bottle comes in gold netting, and as we all know, if a bottle of wine has got netting round it, it tastes better.
I’m not saying I don’t like big nights out – I like them very much, but on my terms. Occasionally – twice a year – planets, stars and comets converge in a straight line, meaning that me and the wife have the opportunity of an almighty night out but with no kids the next day. We can hide in bed till 3pm and slowly come to terms with how mercifully ill we feel. And cos you don’t feel like eating much the following day, you lose 4lbs. Weight Watchers could learn much from this novel approach to slimming. Big nights out are essential for recalibrating the soul; you have to get them out of your system.
It’s better to put your own nights on so you don’t have your bi-annual boozathon ruined by a dubstep DJ who’s live-streaming mixes through Soundcloud on his HTC One. We plan these nights well in advance. New Year’s Eve was the last one, and a resounding hit, even though one of the revellers approached the decks and poured a full pint of lager directly into one of the CD players. We’ve had a few sparsely attended get-togethers in the past, but we’ve got high hopes for this Friday, especially because its location couldn’t be any more central if we’d tried – New Oxford Street, W1. Even so, if the partygoers don’t spend £1,000 at the bar, I lose my deposit. So if eight people turn up, they’ll each have to drink £125 of ale or five bottles of rough champagne.
The exotic mix of dance, indie, soul, disco, 80s, 90s and modern leftfield pop is supplied by an in-group of DJ wannabes, masters of the merge rather than mixing, whose ages range from 37-52. We’re all media slags: writers, sub-editors, designers. None of us are Skrillex, but we’ve trained ourselves to be able to press play at the correct time in seriously sozzled states. John Peel-like mistakes naturally occur but as these events are often private get-togethers, you won’t be fined for playing “The Liquidator” by Harry J Allstars twice in ten minutes.
When you arrive at a fresh venue, the equipment will be totally different to any place you’ve DJ’ed before. Manning the decks is like flying a spaceship, what with all the flashing lights and shiny readouts. You may as well do that hammered as sober. At least you’ve got an excuse for a poor performance. I once did a day’s DJ course to try and grasp the basics but didn’t learn a damn thing other than the need to count through records in fours and eights. I’d rather just enjoy the track on its own merits and make the odd cock-up than put myself through a maths exam. I’ve enough counting to do when I’m totting up my outgoings every month.
The major problem with playing to the public is that they approach and ask the most inane questions. I used to DJ monthly at a soul night in London and lost track of the number of times I was asked to play Take That. One time, a woman staggered towards me and said, slurring, “Got any Take That?” I replied, “We’re not running that sort of operation.” She said, “Right, I’m getting my boyfriend.” You’re then faced with the prospect of getting your teeth knocked down your throat for not owning any tracks by British pop’s Walter The Softies – although there’s a clear link between northern soul and Take That. Ian Levine, a DJ at the Blackpool Mecca in the Seventies, was co-producer on the ice-cream headache Take That debut LP Take That & Party, from 1992.
Hopefully we’ll remain free of violence and Take That this Friday. There’s a theme: Factory/Disney. This reverts back to a text conversation I had with a friend prior to a wedding – my wedding – last month. “What’s the theme of the afterparty?” he wondered. I tapped back, “Factory/Disney”. There wasn’t a theme at my wedding – a wedding is theme enough – although the idea carried on when a female co-organiser suggested a dress code for our upcoming shindig. At a committee meeting, in a pub, I suggested – in jest – Factory/Disney, and before I could explain myself, the motion was carried.
It’s a tough look to pull off… what do you go as, Mickey (Stephen) Morris? Bez Lightyear? Minnie Moscrop? I’m going as Bernard Sumner in the narrow hinterland between Ian Curtis’ death and the birth of New Order – maybe the eve of New Order’s first gig at the Comanche Student Union in Manchester on Wednesday, 6 February 1981, with support from Stockholm Monsters and Foreign Press. I’ll probably wear a Dumbo badge on my navy tie to keep folk happy. It’ll be a big night, even with eight people in attendance.
I once asked Ian McCulloch, the singer from Echo & The Bunnymen, what was the wildest night out he’d ever had. You’ll notice that I namedrop a lot here – I do that in real life, too. “I nearly died in Cincinatti,” Macca revealed. “Early tour, 1983. We flew to Cincinatti and it was like, ‘Can we get some of the old doodah?’ I’m sharing a room with the tour manager – those were the days! Mick disappears to meet this dude who looked like an elongated Harrison Ford, with red-leather jacket and diplomatic immunity, from South America. He’s got this briefcase full and we’re doing, easily, gram lines. Like, swoosh, ahhhhh. Bangin’! It makes you go mad. And it hurts. And the back of your neck, in one, it’s like, ‘And tonight Matthew, I’m gonna be Stephen Hawking.’
“Seven of these lines later, still felt a little bit moreish, ha-ha-ha-ha! I was in for a long haul, here. It was scary and then you realise... aaa-aaahhh-aahhhhhh, I’m swallowing me own tongue here. I should have done more in the right nostril. It was a bit lob-sided. So I go back to the hotel and carry on. It’s like, I don’t know how many grams I did that night, but it was easy ten. I was bongoed. So anyway, I went to me room that night, and the tour manager wasn’t there. So I’m lying in bed, and I’m like, ‘This is it, the big woooo.’ So I phone up me mate, and I said, ‘I think I’m gonna dieeee. Could you bring a wet flannel?’ And he just mopped me brow, me feverish brow, for hours. And it’s like... it’s fair enough having one or two, but ten! And the following night, back on it!”
That interview was well over ten years ago now. In 2012, when I was writing a career retrospective about the aforementioned Sumner for GQ, I asked him the same question, and realised that my almighty nights out are piddling in comparison. “There was a party in America,” Sumner recalled. “I think we did a festival with De La Soul. Some special friend from Texas turned up with some special gear, and I remember being so off my face that I was dancing and I was convinced the devil was on my back, with his arms wrapped around me and his legs wrapped around me, and if I stopped dancing he was going to devour me. So I was terrified of stopping dancing. And then when I eventually did, I had the most horrible night. Of course, I had a gig the next day. That was pretty hard core. I eventually realised I was being paranoid.”
Alt.pop stars – just pace yourself! Well, that’s enough reminiscing for one week. My long-term intention is to make the last paragraph of Morning Warship a bit like the end of Open All Hours, where shopkeeper Arkwright, played by Ronnie Barker, looks up into the Doncaster sky and speaks to God. What a classy production that show was – I loved it. Best comedy ever? We’ll come to that next week. Fer-fetch me cloth, G-G-Granville. Cue credits in traditional FTY Skorzhen typeface and playful brass-band theme.