Andrew Weatherall remembered by David Holmes

6 April 1963 – 17 February 2020

The composer pays tribute to a brilliant polymath with singular musical vision, who was also a warm and wise friend

I’ll start by saying that DJing, remixing and producing were just something that Andrew did. I always looked at him as a much bigger presence. Spending a day with Andrew with a spliff and a cup of tea was an educational experience. I used to leave those meetings with fire in my belly, raring to go. He couldn’t wait to tell you about the new record he had just heard, or the new film he had just watched, or the new book he had just read, because he wanted you to taste what he had just experienced. He wasn’t precious or pretentious. He wanted to share the love.

In 1990, I saw him play at a club in London. He was already this mythical, brilliant DJ. I remember getting up the courage to say: “Hi, my name’s David. I live in Belfast. Will you come and play at my club Sugar Sweet?” He said: “I’d absolutely love to come to Belfast. I’ve read so many books about it.” He arrived with his corkscrew curly hair, motorbike boots, leather trousers and Breton top. He looked amazing. Back then, a lot of DJs wouldn’t come to Belfast, and rightly so! I get it. But Andrew was fascinated by it. He liked to go to the weird, off-kilter, dangerous places. He loved outsiders.

Andrew was respected around the world. He’d play everything from film scores to dub to post-punk to obscure disco. Nobody could put that together like he did. He was the master of placement: what you play next. He was constantly searching for that feeling you get from hearing something brilliant for the first time and he used to take great joy in watching people on the dancefloor because he knew they were hearing it for the first time. I remember him saying that when he was young and he’d bought five or six records, he wanted to go home and listen to them all at the same time. I knew exactly what he meant.

He made so many albums with so many people under so many names, from the Asphodells to the Sabres of Paradise, but it always sounded like Weatherall. He was the master of space and minimalism. He let everything breathe. He decided that production wasn’t the path – he hated the word career – that he wanted to go down. The thought of being in a room with a bunch of musicians and not having his own way just didn’t appeal. Remixing was the perfect platform for him. When he did Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, they’d just give him the parts, so he was left to sculpt that record in a way that he felt worked on a dancefloor. Andrew was never good at taking orders. The first sign of having to compromise and he would just walk away.

Andrew was on half a dozen flights every weekend, so I would see him three or four times a year if I was lucky, but when he was there, his generosity of spirit was second to none. If you needed a bit of advice, you knew you could go to Andrew. I would call him up and he would very quickly make everything right. Very early on, he taught me not to be the derivative of the derivative – forge your own path. Andrew’s the reason I went down the road of film-scoring. He’s the reason I sang on my album The Holy Pictures. He said: “The worst thing anyone can say is they don’t like it. If the words mean something, get them out.” That was such a valuable, comforting thing to say. He was like that with so many people. There are so many moments when I think: “I’ll ring Andrew,” and then I realise he’s no longer around.

DJing in London, 1994.
Weatherall DJing in London, 1994. Photograph: Mick Hutson/Redferns

Andrew was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known: naturally very bright but also very curious. He was always reading because he spent so much time on planes. He would devour information so quickly and remember it all. He was also a great wordsmith. I tried to encourage him to write a novel. The last book he turned me on to was Kevin Barry’s Night Boat to Tangier. Three days later, a friend of mine, a film producer, said: “We just bought the rights.” I said: “Look, it would be a dream if the two of us worked on the music together.” I’m still going to try and compile the soundtrack from his record collection. Even though Andrew’s not with us, I really want to capture his spirit in this film.

This sums up his friendship: I sent him a text last New Year’s Eve and he got back to me with two quotes. One from Anthony Wilson: “Rarely there when you want me, always there when you need me.” And one from Jim Dickinson: “Take reassurance in the glory of the moment and the forever promise of tomorrow.” Then he said: “Proud to count you as a friend. Happy new year to you and yours.”

David Holmes

The GuardianTramp

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