SEAN JOHNSTON’S A LOVE FROM OUTER SPACE TRIBUTE TO ANDREW WEATHERALL
21ST FEB 2020 - PHONOX, LONDON
By Chris Sweet (Northern Soul Rave Patrol)
With the strange months of Coronavirus lockdown it feels a long long time ago, but in other ways the shock and the real sense of loss still feels so raw and so vivid and the week starting with the tragic news that Andrew Weatherall had died on Monday and the remarkable cathartic sad and ecstatic coming together for A Love From Outer Space to celebrate and pay our respects to him.
This article was written a few weeks later in March before the lockdown, when everything stopped and tries to explain his impact and also the importance of the special travelling ALFOS parties and dedication of the space cadets have for the club night and group Andrew and Sean created together.
Like so many of my friends I was stunned, shocked and numb to hear the tragic news on a dull Monday morning on the 17th February that Andrew Weatherall, my favourite DJ & producer for 3 decades, had suddenly died. The rest of the week was a daze, hard to focus, constantly thinking of the many special times he had sound tracked my life. There was such a huge and sustained outpouring of sadness and also huge amount of respect for him that I hadn’t experienced so personally before. Andrew Weatherall wasn’t a celebrity but someone real, someone funny - the merry prankster of Acid House. Andy Taylor, an ALFOS, regular so succinctly said “Andrew was unique and his musical talents knew no bounds. He was our – the Acid House Generation’s Prince or Bowie. To see and hear him “being in the moment” when he DJ-ed really lifted the crowd and unified the connection with the dancefloor”
As well as affecting us, the people who felt lucky enough to have followed his varied path of musical enlightenment and club nights, the bigger, wider society was also paying attention to the passing of this key, underground hero who they recognized helped change modern musical culture. Fitting tributes were featured on BBC Newsnight and Channel 4 News plus articles from The Times to The New York Times as well as every music magazine to his unique influence.
During these days the mutual sharing of stories and amazing music really seemed to help as we tried to come to terms with the shock. It was a real raw loss of someone too modest, intelligent and humorous to give much truck to hero worship. He has always resisted thinking of his amazing 30 +year musical legacy and his incredible DJ-ing as, god forbid, a “career” but it was obvious to everyone lucky enough to know him as Luke Unabomber said “ He was The Real Deal”. Unusually he was a truly worthy hero, even if he was a man that didn’t really like that sort of thing. He walked the walk, seemed to do exactly what he wanted and avoided kissing asses or having to climb that slippery pole. He, had a knowing happy twinkle in his eyes, dry quip at the ready and sartorial style that linked back to his old Lord Sabre swagger. He never let us down and was worthy of all the respect and love people had for him. He still had so much to enjoy and create - it was a gutting loss.
That week dragged and as each day went by during the week the outpouring continued. By sad chance “A Love From Outer Space” the club night Andrew ran with his DJ Partner of 10 Years, Sean Johnston, was planned for that Friday at Phonox in Brixton. Given the tragic circumstances people didn’t want to presume the night would still happen.
Sean, after much soul searching, bravely decided to go ahead with the night announced it to the dedicated space cadets and fans, via the ALFOS Facebook page – we were so thankful and impressed Sean was giving us the chance to celebrate Andrew’s life and influence.
Sean said “To be honest it’s all a bit of a blur for obvious reasons. I wasn’t really sure that I was going to do it, if it was appropriate even. I was encouraged by a number of Andrew’s oldest friends to press ahead and with Lizzie’s blessing we decided to go ahead with ALFOS on the day before. I didn’t really have a chance to overthink it. I just tried to pull out tracks that had been anthems at the club, tracks that I associated with Andrew over the years, some of his productions and remixes and also some bits like Pete Wylie that I knew he loved. The word emotional gets used a lot, but it really was fiercely beautiful. I shed a lot of tears whilst playing but also a lot of smiles. I hope I did him justice.”
Sean did so much more than that and during the whole night revisited so many records Andrew had played, made or loved - it was an incredible and special night - an outpouring of love and sadness. Richard Sen, DJ and producer, who was supported by and worked with and influenced by Andrew since the early 90’s described the night “ It was special and ecstatic for me for the first time in ages and very heightened the senses and helped in a cathartic, healing way. Sean was on fire and played the fiercest set I've heard him play - the music had extra emotion and the dynamics were spot on - extreme highs then down and deep. Mr Fingers 'Stars' was a moment for me and then the Paranoid London track sampling Yellow Magic Orchestra. There were so many good vibes in the place and Andrew's presence was certainly felt by many. I sound like a stupid hippy now but it was fucking spiritual, man.”
This article will talk about that night but also first the overall influence of A Love From Outer Space (ALFOS) and why so many people see it as such a very special club night. For many it stirred or re-kindled such passion and excitement that many others hadn’t seen since the heady days of the birth of Acid House in the UK which Andrew was such a big part of with his Boy’s Own crew.
ALFOS started in 2010 from a small basement, The Drop, under a pub in Stoke Newington into the Guv’nor & Brother Johnston’s travelling discotheque. Pete Gregory an old Sabres face was on the door, it was a hot sweaty basement that could fit a 100 people on a Thursday night. Andy Taylor said like many of us “2010 early ALFOS nights in the basement… school night shenanigans never felt so good and we all found our feet (again)”
Dean Thatcher, one of the DJ’s at Flying, said “Andrew was always the DJ’s DJ and had people always running to the decks to find out WTF that record was that he always had that no one else did”.
Andrew, aka “The Outsider” in Boys Own fanzine, mellowed with age. He was happy to share these obscure finds and own productions that he road tested at ALFOS nights and became firm favourites for us lucky initiates. There were lots of old school clubbers and DJ’s in attendance Disco Desi & Simon Lee, Gaynor, Phil Mison, Alan and Jim Stanton from Horse Meat Disco, James Baillie, Dave & Carole, Richard Sen, Terry Childs, Gordon, Manu, Sean, Andy T, Tina Jones, Andy, Mark Ward, Adrian came out for the monthly Thursday night so it was always a very social shindig.
The music was out of this world - a sonic immersion - playing exactly what they wanted and both obviously having fun. We all thought we had found the best party – and just the two of them back to back all night slowly building it into a slo-mo crescendo with a trusting crowd who loved their slow Chuggy electronic sound.
Richard Sen remembers “The first ones at The Drop were really special, maybe because it was intimate and only the most dedicated would come out on a Thursday night. I remember hearing Teengirl Fantasy - Cheaters (John Talabot's Classic Vocal Refix) for the first time and it really standing out against the other tracks”. Dave Jarvis also picked that record as a stand out anthem from The Drop but also on the Phonox night. He had said to Andrew it had echoes of Ce Ce Rogers Someday and is such a big piano vocal anthem even if not played widely elsewhere it didn’t matter.
Over the last decade the reputation of ALFOS grew organically and they created packed out residencies with loyal supporters like Delyth and Lloyd from Wales, Andrew Ashton who would travel to all events wearing his disco welders helmet!, and strong crews in Scotland, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester. ALFOS worked on the small scale like a little pub in Todmorden to bigger festival appearances that people were willing to travel for passionately - not seen since the early 90’s Balearic network.
The pinnacle for many was the incredible Convenanza Festival – Le Weatherall Weekender organized by kindred soul mate Bernie Fabre for 8 years in an incredibly beautiful medieval walled city and castle in Carcassonne in the South of France. The level of trust and quality led to all tickets being sold for this year within weeks of offering early bird tickets and long before they had even needed to add which Weatherall inspired acts would be supporting Andrew and Sean. It attracted a friendly, mixed International crowd and discerning old school clubbers who knew their music such as Micky Stacy and Ginger Steve all regulars who had known Andrew for years. I do hope, Coronavirus willing, or in the future this amazing festival might be able to continue to honour his memory and music.
Derek Drew and his wife Cecile are both fanatical ALFOS and Weatherall fans summed it up saying “ALFOS is as much about the people as it is the tunes. The loveliest, kindest and funny people on the planet. A reflection of Andrew surely. It has grown to feel like a family. Most of the people I know through ALFOS went to Sabresonic too, and that was 30 years ago! That's all you need to know about what Andrew meant to me and everyone else. We all kept coming back because he played incredible music. He was my social secretary… my calendar these past 30 years was just full of AW and ALFOS dates. ALFOS is guaranteed nailed on musical quality every time. AW was a master craftsman and I believe he was at the peak of his powers, those that witnessed the closing set at Carcassonne last year bear testament to that. I'm bereft that I will never see him behind the decks again.
ALFOS created a sense of community to meet people with a similar history and heritage plus newer recruits all burning with the zeal as Andrew would say his music “turned Listeners into Believer’s. Andrew always wanted to avoid the obvious with his underground no-sell out ethos inspired people. Neil Barker another dedicated acid house Weatherall regular said “ALFOS for me provided a potent elixir to 'keep on keeping on'.....distilled from 30 + years of being inspired musically and culturally by The Guv.” He attended all the Convenanza festivals and remembered another ALFOS ‘moment’ dancing in the rain to Todd Terje's Strandbar on the roof top terrace in Brixton.
Pathaan the chillout/global DJ said “My infatuation for ALFOS runs deep. Because it’s allowed me to fall back in love with dance music in the same excited vein from when I was in my 20s enjoying Weatherall at parties like Naked Lunch. That said, the awesome like minded family mass of cadets is also something to behold, for which I’m grateful to have met and shared the dancefloor with”.
Many people with long clubbing histories were excited about their parties Mark Bishop who DJed with Andrew at The Swan with Andrew Curley in the early 90’s said “My special moment from Convenanza was on the Friday night walking over the draw bridge into the event and dancing and drinking (and other things) with friends from back in the day at Queens, Full Circle, Boys Own and so on. The whole event blew my mind and it took me back to when you could meet and make new friends for life”
The thirst for new music and knowledge is a recurring theme he encouraged you to check the margins and not be boring and nostalgic. Dave Jarvis had worked with Andrew to release the Fort Beulah hand stamped limited releases via Love Vinyl records and set up an offshoot of Moton records – Pamela label specifically for Andrew’s new music. He loved his inherent skill to select records that created the ultra special wow-moment - to blow the crowds mind. He played as the last tune at Convenanza in Sete “Unmask Me” a beautiful and haunting song by Mama on Hannah Holland’s Batty Bass label remixed by Ashley Beedle. Dave said it fried people’s minds to mush(room juice) that night! And was another special record Sean played at Phonox three quarters of the way into his epic set.
Due to the loyalty of their crowd it felt like they were like old school Resident DJ’s playing to a committed loyal if not local crowd as people would travel to hear them. Sean’s work on the ALFOS FB page as the modern technical expert of the duo helped us all identify and enjoy again obscure and new tunes which Sean generously helped build up this shared knowledge and sense of community. Like the very best clubs they had and actually created their own different soundtrack and anthems. The fact that Andrew would greet people at the door or afterwards and hand out personally burnt CD’s – to share music he loved – treasured artifacts and spreading the word much as he had done over the years with tapes at Sabresonic and Bloodsugar.
Andrew never wanted to milk it or to cash in or rest on his laurels or go down the naff nostalgia rave route and this seemed to help keep his passion for music. His diverse and eclectic tastes would often teach us to listen to things we might never have discovered otherwise. He was exceptional and after all that time remained firmly at top of his /the game. Derek Drew said “I go to ALFOS to hear new music, and that's what you get, new music of the highest quality every single time.”
Both Andrew and Sean both made music specially for the club and also did the many friends and fellow producers who collectively were based in Andrew’s shared studio space on Scrutton Street – Timothy Fairplay – half of The Asphodells, Daniel Avery and Scott Frazer.
On the Phonox night Sean played all the big ALFOS tunes that the crowd had heard and learnt to love. Dave Brown mentioned the “big hitters Kolsch, Cisco Cisco and Cheaters and remembered fondly how “AW used to do a lot of his acid trance little dancing to that and my personal favourite primal scream Uptown that he played once at The Drop”. Dave also noted the perfect timing of Andrew’s perfectly titled “Masterpiece” - the 3 CD mix set from Ministry of Sound shared their key tunes they had both discovered, championed or made. It spread their sonic gnostic gospel to help ALFOS grow.
Due to their integrity they managed to make it bigger without losing any of the magic. They made special festival appearances in Croatia their legendary Argonaughty wild boat parties and Barbarellas where Andy Taylor remembers the magic moment after the last piano bars of Kolsch’s Der Alte played out “The crowd cheered and applauded and as a mark fo respect and gratitude for each other Andrew turned to Sean , shook hands and bowed to one another, job done, amen brother”.
ALFOS moved to many venues and the crowd followed from The Drop to Corsica Studios, Bloc and to Prince of Wales and finally Phonox that everybody loved as well as all around the UK.
Like many people Weatherall has been my favourite DJ for over 30 years religiously going to Sabresonic, Blood Sugar and continuing to ALFOS. I was pleasantly surprised to unexpectedly make lots of new friends due to this special club. People like Carole & Dave Brown a generation younger but also Weatherall obsessives. Showing the influence of this club night they got married 5 years ago and their wedding was a joyous party with a certain Mr Sean Johnston playing the sounds. Similarly James Baillie’s wonderful wedding to David at The Dance Tunnel in Dalston had Jim HMD Stanton warm up for the ALFOS wedding disco dream team and the Guv’nor was doing his acid dance after having a sneaky sniff of poppers behind the decks ha ha. ALFOS provided special moments and sound-tracking our lives over the last decade.
At the POW rooftop party Dave Brown remembered the “sunny day Sean finally played Depeche Mode for Simon after about seven years of pestering was brilliant.” Sean spoke to Andrew and nodded in his direction and watched Simon almost combust with disbelief and joy when finally he heard “Just Can’t Get Enough” coming out of the speakers and he swung his terrible tomato shirt round his head and sang along. … but brilliantly the whole crowd sang along too!!
Afterwards, Simon over the moon but cocky as fuck said “Yeah I’d been trying to tell those two amateurs Depeche Mode would be brilliant for years”
So on the Friday night we met friends earlier to be able to talk together about the awful weeks events, but like everyone wanted to get to Phonox as early as possible to support Sean and hear as much of the music as possible. There was a massive queue outside, even earlier than normal, and the atmosphere was slightly apprehensive. We were all happy to see friends and familiar faces but sad and slightly lost for words to express our sadness. The queuewas typically good natured. There was a lot of hugging and checking that each other was ok and how they were coping.
Phonox sound system is great and the big room with low ceiling but great lights and lasers used sparingly was a big dark room pulsating with the ALFOS sound. Sean built the vibe slowly and played lots of great listening music as the club filled up quickly. People talking together over drinks and felt the comfort of the music and friends surrounding them. Seeing Sean on his own in the big DJ both but with incense and joss sticks burning was particularly poignant. People kept a respectful distance as he stoically programmed the night perfectly. Sean played more mellow tunes to start with and lots of chuggy sounds and tracks like Scott Frazer’s song “Together More” with Louise Quinn on vocals on Andrew’s Bird Scarer label sounded hauntingly beautiful.
Walking around the club and greeting people it was also nice to see people showing their appreciation in different ways - someone put up by the entrance a large print of a painting of Andrew and encouraged guests to write a comment and tribute to him during the night.
There were so many of the people that were old friends of Andrew and all had their own personal stories of how they had been inspired and touched by Andrew. Nicki Davidson part of the Boys Own crew from the pre-Bocca Juniors days said -
“Firstly if it wasn't for Andrew I may have ended up in The White Stiletto Brigade in the '80's after passing my driving test we spread our wings to Windsor he whisked us up to London to The Wag , The Mud and Electric Ballroom. We’d go back to Andrews and even in the '80's it was full of records and books! ALFOS to me is the meeting of well curated music and like-minded people we're a tribe that I'm proud to be a part of.
People wanted to join in the dance and the whole dancefloor was packed & friendly all night. Sean played belters like Brioski and a typical special moment was when Sean mixed in “Slow” by Kylie Minogue - it was the Chemical Brothers remix. The lasers were going and lights flashing and it was great to see these underground techno fans going for it and smiling about Kylie fitting so well into this eclectic soundtrack. Sean had laughed about how Andrew had once told him “to embrace the cheese” and Sean had played it before in Corsica and elsewhere but it had gained an arched eyebrow from the Guv’nor but approval as it just worked.
Sean played the amazing Fruitness mix of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasuredome that he had played at Carcassonne to great effect. He then switched to his own robotic driving Hardway Brothers remix of “Never There” by The Asphodells sounded great and from that to the crowds joy into an alternative mix of Don’t Fight it Feel it.
Andy Thomas said "Sean playing Andrew's mix of 'Don't Fight It Feel It' felt so special. I hadn't heard it for years and not out for even longer. It sounded so good on that system with all that love and all those smiles in the room. When the piano comes in - eyes closed, tingles, taking me back to one of those many 'WHAT"S THIS?' moments at Flying, Gosh, Venus etc when Andrew was at his most primal and spiritual. I'd never heard a DJ like it - what he used to do in those sweaty and smoky loved up rooms was mind blowing. Our Ron Hardy for sure."
The night flew by and the sound track was a mix of major tunes and also obscure instrumentals that sounded amazing but didn’t know but everything with the irresistible groove.
The epic kettle drum intro of bug favourite “Boutade” by Mugwump raised the hairs on the back of your neck. From dubby tech grooves Sean would then add a refreshing dash of light that put a smile on peoples faces like when he played Paul Simon “Diamonds” the Todd Terje remix. ( One of their fave producers Ragysh,Strandbar and Pop Muzik also being big tunes).The heavy heavy bassline of one of my fave tunes Cisco Cisco “If you want me” the Jay Shepherd remix. Another brilliant record I have only heard them play at The Drop and it took me ages to track it down on vinyl as it was a b-side remix from a few years before that they championed and typically turned into ALFOS dancefloor dynamite.
Sean played their distinctive special mix of music – obscure instrumentals, Balearic, 80’S electronica, re-edits and old and new house and dubby techno building up and letting the music flow. He played seamlessly it could go from the floating beauty of Gatto Fritto - Invisible college to odd edits and remixes and then suddenly open up into Pete Wylie Story of the blues, things that would tug at your memories and make you smile and go WTF and Wow. Also lots of stone cold classics to remind you of Andrews ground breaking genius were mixed in like his remix of Papua New Guinea, but then into Belgian New Beat and early Sven Vath. From Blancmange to Basic Channel he covered all styles. He also played the Plastikman remix of “Do Da Doo” by Richie Hawtin an old friend and guest at Sabresonic (where Spastik was a huge tune) but then followed it with the incredibly beautiful spoken word soothing electronic lullaby of Tom Demac’s “Serenade” a more recent ALFOS anthem that sounded so special.
Sean then segued into the huge acid build up and breakdown the Hardfloor remix of Hard Trance Acperience got the old acid house ravers and Sabresonic crew including Paul Sinott cheering.Then an AW fave rave era tune – The KLF -What Time is Love but a new edit with added sirens and “Gonna make you sweat” samples, and Hacienda classic Voodoo Ray.
The trip continued with a nod to his strong links to Heavenly Records, The Social and Turnmills residency and helping the Chemical nee Dust Brothers when Sean played the acid soaked Leftside Wobble remix of The Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Sean also revived memories of dancing under the parachute hanging above the dancefloor in Elephant & Castle to the sounds of The Warriors asking us “Can U Dig it?” and the answer clearing coming back from the crowd was er YUP Most Excellently.
The night flew by in a whirl with a constant quality and killer tunes. It was also comforting to catch up and talk to friends outside taking a breather. I got chatting to Lee Brackstone who had worked with Andrew making him Faber’s “Artist In Residence”. How Andrew’s passion and the offer of some free books more than hard cash got him to eagerly work together on much more than expected. This showed the many sides to this “eccentric yet classic English gentleman of acid house” as HMD’s Severino described him. He was this rare thing especially amongst ravers or DJ’s – a Polymath. Lee sadly said Andrew had come up with the perfect title for his Autobiography but like the many musical ventures, ideas and projects cut short.
Andrew’s love of punk attitude and sound was shown with what I thought was a re-edit of the original but found out later was a new cover by Brooklyn singer Amy Douglas’s cover of Siouxsie “Cities of Dust” which sounded fantastic and showed the breadth and scope of the music easily covering four decades. Fiona Cartledge – who had known and booked Andrew regularly in the 90’for her excellent Sign of the Times Parties said “Andrew was a musical educator for me his taste was so wide and varied I leant a lot listening to him - he was also very supportive of promoters DJ’s and other creative people. ALFOS carried on his ethos and legacy and it has the fantastic atmosphere and vibe of a true house party where the music takes centre stage”
Fiona was still dancing on a podium till the end to her fave tune the epic and emotional - Sabres of Paradise - Smokebelch II ( David Holmes Remix) another of Andrew’s biggest records and one that obviously meant so much to everyone.
Then with joss sticks burning incense around him Sean played the truly great remix and total reconstruction that seemed to me and everyone to sum up so much about the love of music, whatever genre, and with the hopeful Jesse Jackson samples of unity, togetherness and power Andrews truly epic remix of “Come Together”. The room was filled with love for Andrew and for Sean’s bravery and helping everyone literally being together “unified as one”. There was a huge heartfelt standing ovation with people clapping, whistling and cheering for almost ten minutes, and a lot of hugging of friends on the dance floor and lots glistening eyes.
At 4am Sean played one last record and we all danced to another Andrew Weatherall masterpiece with the band he was so entwined with Primal Scream but a full 18 years after Screamadelica his hard to find brilliant dubby disco groove of “Uptown” and his aptly titled remix “Long after the disco is over”.
Then the lights finally came on six and a half hours later but Sean had covered the last 10 years of A Love From Outer Space and musically the last 30+ years of the magical music Andrew Weatherall had made, remixed or played to inspire us.
Huge thanks to Sean Johnston for his incredible strength from all the Boys Own, Sabresonic, Bloodsugar and ALFOS space cadets who he helped by letting us all come together and celebrate the life and music of the Guv’nor Mr Andrew Weatherall RIP