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Telling Tales

Here’s a special feature that Brian Belle-Fortune wrote for Kmag’s last ever paper issue in 2009.

Colin, Knowledge’s C.E.O. swerves to a halt in the company BMW, with an offer I can’t refuse: “You’ve got a slot in Knowledge’s last print edition. Just talk about yer memories and feelings about the scene. Whatever’s goin’ on. It’s up to you.” Colin disappears in tyre smoke and beats of bassbinage.

It’s vinyl vs. CDs / mp3s in the world of words. I accept the honour, fearing I’ve nothing to say; nothing to write. And don’t know what say or how to write it. Weeks, days, hours, count down. Deadline creeps up. I hide in The Wire box set with the excuse that it’s homework. Well, it is some serious writing.

‘How do you tell a story… mister story teller?’ people ask. It’s like music… with a touch of three deck mixing. You build a structure of interweaving strands: just like in All Crews – seeing, feeling, speaking through the mind of journalist, insider, raver… with me on level one, seeing the overall structure, weaving together all the threads. ‘So why is it hard to write the next line? ‘Cos I want the truth to be said…’ Eee-jittt. That’s Spandau bloody Ballet. Just be yourself man. Be yourself. Tell the story like you did in All Crews when you spoke with the voices: Journalist. Insider. Raver. And bring back DJ Veritas. He really got you talking.’

***

Texts, e-mails and posts swirl ’round: “Reach Cargo – Tuesday night. Ten years since Kemistry died.” Remember Kemistry.

Text Miss Pink: “What time u goin?”

No reply. Hit the road. Get lost in the warren of roads criss-crossing Shoreditch and Hoxton. End up facing the building which once was Metalheadz. Here reigned mayhem each and every Sunday night. British Heritage should place a blue plaque on the brickwork. ‘Cept instead of one name, you’d have the line-up: Goldie, Grooverider, Bailey, Doc Scott, Cleveland Watkiss, plus the iconic, inspirational Kemistry & Storm. I’d stand by the DJ box watching Kemi and Jane mix their long entangled mixes; each other’s vinyl complimenting the others.’ They’d rinse the groove till the last beat.

Theirs was one of All Crews’ most memorable interview sessions recorded; with them talking the dream of one day being big DJs; flying the world. I wasn’t a big DJ but I did hear their voices in my head when I first sat in the departure lounge cradling my record box and my name on the flyer. Joy. Joy became pain when Kemi was killed in a freak car accident – untimely deleted from our world. I was down DJ Ron’s office when the truth came. Frost, 5ive and GQ were there; all disbelieving the truth, not knowing how to send Love to Storm. For tonight’s event, attendance is mandatory. Time to represent. Spread Love.

***

Storm’s words on the flyer say, ‘This event is being held in memory of my DJ partner and Soul Sista Kemistry, who sadly left this mortal coil April 1999. From her protégés DJ Flight & Alley Cat, to Reinforced, our original family, through to our dream and reality with Goldie and the Metalheadz Crew.

Alongside some of her closest friends and drum & bass compadres we bring a night to remember what Kemistry, an amazing DJ, unique individual and shining light in our scene meant to all of us…
Kemistry in our hearts forever.’

***

My car inches along a side street towards Cargo. Park up. A text buzzes in. I expect Miss Pink. It’s Kate: “We’ve got Michael Jackson tickets!!” Outside the car faces flow past. Kool FM’s Eastman and Funky Flirt search for a parking space. The warm night’s air’s charged with emotion and beats echoing street-wise. A crowd gathers around the club’s entrance, cut into the side of a railway arch. Tonight, everyone’s a VIP. A girl, walking stick in hand, leans on the wall, taking the weight off her legs.

MS dictates that my legs won’t carry me, so I float down the road on my electric blue scooter – registration, M1 GO5H. Jo – Groove Connection waves a welcome. Inside the club, each meter gives way to another of the scene’s characters; another character living in the pages of All Crews. Shy, Tali, Chickaboo, Flight, Bailey, shout and hug greetings. Goldie slaps me on the shoulder with, “Who says you can bring your motor in ‘ere?” swagger. Miss Pink shouts, “What d’ya wanna drink?” And Storm’s inside; enfolded by a crowd of Love. Spread Love.

The place is packed. No way to scooter in. And… I ain’t goin’ home. Back on the walking stick. Legs don’t fail me now. The crowd’s punctuated by people meeting; peppered with, ” ‘Aven’t seen you in ages!!!” The legendary Inta Natty Crew are in the place. It’s rammo in the main room. Murder on the dance floor. The massive get strafed by beats blasted from decks.

They dance and there’s no room to dance and scream for the rewind. Dance. And there’s no room to dance. The DJ drops a tune and it all goes off again. The screaming, sweat-drenched throng rebounds… Fists pound the air. Inching, squeezing, finally reaching deck-side; I’m home with the alchemists. Goldie, Bailey and Doc Scott – The Holy Trinity are back-2-back-2-back.

Terminator rasps out the bass bins. An Arm ricochets out the crowd. Hand slams down on black vinyl. Stylus dances across disc. I’m crushed by Krust jumping wildly against the DJ box. Hoarse voices yell, “REEE-WIINDDD!!” “Blap! Blap!! Blap!!!” “Oh Miiii Gosssh!!!” chats Moose, shaking his head over the mic. And above all our heads through ecstatic air, flicker memories of Kemistry. Metalheadz is truly in session.

***

A guy called James, snapping pics, in league with digi cam wielding Greg, is vox-popping slices of tonight’s history for Storm. James shouts in my ear, “My mate Greg’s making the D&B doc. Can he interview you?” Outside in the wooden smokers area, I sit as James chats. He’s hit me up on Facebook. Turns out he used All Crews to write his dissertation and… “Yeah man, got my highest mark ever.”

Camera ready to roll, Greg runs through the prelimins.

“Right. Now when I ask a question, can you…”

“…Include your question in my answer.”

“Done this before?”

“A few times.”

Filming done we exchange numbers to sort a date for a longer interview. Greg wants to make the new version of that classic documentary All Junglists. All Junglists. What a show. Thank god it’s out there on YouTube.

Funny to think that way back then, I didn’t know any of the artists or clubs in the scene. Now I’ve met them all. Greg disappears with, “Yeah. Gotta film the man who wrote The Book.”

***

Standing to head back inside, I scope DJ Veritas on the edge of the crowd. Haven’t seen him since he did that Knowledge interview with me way back then.

“Long time!” He does the whole hand-claspin’ body-huggin’-hip-hop-greetin’ thing. “How’s Kate ‘n’ Zyon? Didn’t think you’d make it on those dodgy legs.”

“EZ bruv!”

I plonk myself back down.

“Tonight’s special. A dubplate special. Remember Kemistry.”

“What you been up to?”

“Settling into fatherhood. So my raves come through radio waves nowadays. But I’m always switching between Rude, Kool, Origin, Wax and 1Xtra. Little Zyon loves jungle. He’s only two and a half, but I caught him rockin’ to Pendulum, head in the speakers, face all-screwed-up jungle stylee goin,’ “Make more louda!”.”

“Wonder where he gets that from? You were saying… ’bout your listening habits…”

“Yeah, I’m glad 1Xtra have given Bailey and Crissy more hours after that drastic cull last year. My heart goes out to Flight and L Double.”

“Funny how the BBC’s now more in touch with the street. Never would’ve believed it. Can’t tell you how bad things were back in the day. But this summer you had Radio 1’s ‘Big Weekend’ event featuring Moyles vs. Westwood in a sound clash. And shock bloody horror; beer belly-breakfast-show-blokey-Chris Moylesy spinning Pendulum and skankin’ in the box, leaves Westwood standing. Even Rider had to big up Moyles.

“When I think of where Radio One was before they embraced dance music – in all it’s forms; you never would’ve believed our nation’s youth station would ever be fully relevant to the nation’s youth. I have to hand it to station chief Andy Parfitt. Over the years, he’s done the business. OK, Fabio & Groove’s award winning show still deserves a better slot than a 1am Saturday show. …But let no one forget, Andy played the game well enough to get Groove back on the BBC – or, “Rider Radio should I say.”

“Heard you wrote to him in prison?”

“Well, the whole thing hit me as if there was a death in the family. One of the original Pied Pipers banged up abroad. That felt wrong.”

“What d’you say?”

“Heartfelt personal stuff and sent a copy of All Crews. I figured he’d actually have time to read it. Though I wasn’t sure if it’d ever reach him. Then I saw him at the D&B awards and he’s like, “I read your book man…” Wicked it reached him, cos I sent two packages – to different addresses, hoping one might reach him. Both did. He’s left one copy in the prison library. So if you’re ever in a Dubai jail, ask the screws for a copy of All Crews.”

“Are you surprised at how well your book’s done?”

“Constantly. When you think All Crews started life as a angry / passionate e-mail to my MTV bosses who didn’t who didn’t want to know the score… It’s a bit mental. And I keep hearing mad stories.”

“Like?”

“My nothing-at-all-to-do-with-jungle mates are sitting on a beach in Melbourne. They overhear these guys whose postman didn’t knock with their copies of All Crews goin,’ “I want my damn book.” Closer to home there’s a girl called ‘Kelly from Harlow.’ She’s in the ‘Pirates’ chapter as a regular caller to pirates. Anyway, on the main jungle stations, you’d always hear shouts from, ‘Kelly from Harlow.’ Now she’s ‘Kelly ‘The Book’ as people are always asking her, “Are you Kelly from Harlow who’s in The Book?”

“You seen the stuff on the Net?”

“No. Yes. Well YES ‘n’ NO. Look there’s a ‘thing’.”

“A thing?”

“A ‘thing’. It works this way. You can have hundreds of positive posts and reviews. I even get ‘fan mail’ through Facebook. But you get that one negative entry and it’s crushing. Gutting. Silly but that’s the way it can drop. I’ve heard Pendulum’s manager banned them from logging on to sites like Dogs on Acid. I mean. There you are exposing your most vulnerable parts to the world and you get dissed.

When the 2004 version came out, this guy from Harvard posted a sneering message on Dogs saying, ‘No one is likely to learn anything from this book.’ Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. But it hurts. Irony is, as well as loads of punters and artists loving All Crews, loads of students are using it.”

“And there are people on MySpace who’ve got it down as their favourite book. You know they’ve used a chunk of yours in that book Last Night A DJ Saved My Life?”

“That’s all wicked. Makes my dyslexic head spin. Couldn’t have hoped for it. Just kept writing… composing… making a tune. Do what you do. And if people love it, it’s a bonus.”

“Any jungle memories you haven’t shared?”

“Not many. You’ve had loads in around 170,000 words. And there’s some shit I just can’t share.”

“Oh come on B. You love stories. Tell us something about the old jungle days.”

“Wouldn’t be much good as a spy would I?”

“Maybe you would?”

“Alright… One of the most memorable things happened away from the studio and clubs. Sometime summer ’95 when I was doin’ One in the Jungle at Radio 1, I bunked off work and rocked up at Kool FM. I was sitting in Jungle Fever’s back office, when Kool had their record shop off Lea Bridge road roundabout. Anyway, sunny mid-week afternoon. The place’s smelling herbal and packed with Kool’s finest: Ragga Twins, Cogee, 5ive 0, Funky Flirt, Brockie, Det, Smurf, Eastman. And they’re all spinning one side-splitting war-story after another. In comes Navigator – well pissed off.

Navi’s a jeweller by day job. He’d spent time and money making a special ring which the customer weren’t gonna collect. But the more vexed Navi gets, the more everyone in the office takes the piss. So Navi sits down; goes quiet for a bit. A few minutes later he’s pushing this ring box in up peoples faces goin’, “Oi. Anyone wanna buy this ring? Let me show ya-Look at the craftsmanship on that. It’s wicked…” Everyone’s just creasing up.

But every time I write about pirates or make a TV program about them – mention any names, they get raided. Course all the raids aren’t down to me. But my ‘media’ attention can cause problems.”

“You love them pirates don’t you?”

“Yeah, maybe too much.

Goes back to those days when you’d have to tape a wire coat hanger on to your aerial to get decent reception – to catch underground music. Pirates are where I learnt most about music. From John Peel, the original Kiss FM, Centre Force to all the jungle stations.”

“Peel was BBC.”

“Yes. But he was always a pirate at heart with a heavy selection.”

“Weren’t you saying the Beeb were pretty shitty to him before he died – giving him horrible shifts and stuff?”

“Next question.”

“Bu…”

“Next.”

Noise explodes outside from inside. Randall’s on the decks.

“I’ll say something about the pirates…”

“Please.”

“Every time the authorities have a clamp down and they announce it on the BBC, always using the same words.

You’ll hear something about, ‘a danger to aircraft landing systems and to the emergency services.’ Look. The professional pirates – the technicians who keep the stations on air – the last thing – the last thing with all the cost and effort it takes to get a station on air; the very last thing they want to do is cause trouble for the authorities. Even though the whole thing’s undercover, there are systems and procedures.”

“You’re still really passionate about pirates.”

“Ever since Invicta in the early 80s, when you knew that’s where the real Underground Music was. You know, thinking of the underground, the best pirates always remind me of that film The Great Escape. It’s actually closely based on a true story. Even though they were in prison, those captive allies used all their skills, innovation, obsessive hard work and professionalism to gain freedom. Free runnin’ on the airwaves, our pirates gift us musical freedom. For me, from learning new music, to street skating to them, finding raves through them, to writing about them, to DJing on them, I can definitely say pirate radio changed my life.”

“Any untold stories from those pirate days?”

“Funny yeah. There’s something I wanna come clean about. It is a bit naughty.”

“Naughty?!”

“When I was working for BBC TV, I made a program called Radio Renegades; the story of London’s pirate wars.

To this day I can’t believe they allowed me to make it. Anyway, filming is going well. Brockie’s in the frame. Hackney’s Nightingale estate’s towers loom over his shoulder as he’s doing his piece to camera.

While the crew’s setting up for the next shot, I’m waiting in the car with Brockie and Det smoking reefer.”

“Puffing at the BBC? Hardly news.”

“Wait for it mate.”

“OK.”

“The editor wouldn’t let the program go ahead unless we could film inside Kool’s studio. Kool’s studio was out-of-bounds. I felt sick. Gutted. This story had to be told. I agonised, stressed, then a light bulb switched on in my head. I was gonna turn a bedroom in my house into Kool FM’s studio. I’d directed plays in college so knew how to build a set. And to be fair, Radio One made us do One in the Jungle as if it were live. I didn’t let any of the BBC crew know the score. The Kool mob did. It was crucial the artists arrived before the film crew, so they’d arrive with the ‘broadcast’ in full flow. I have to say, for junglists they arrived at the appointed hour. So can you believe it?

There’s Brockie, Det and the Kool crew all sitting chatting in my lounge. Even Shy showed up. One the hour – they trot upstairs. When Det goes in the room he’s stunned. The window’s blocked with an old mattress. There are flyers on the floor and by the decks. The ashtray is overflowing with smoker’s stuff. The decks are on a door, resting on a couple of milk crate towers. Brockie’s on my decks, spinning my copy of It’s A New Dawn. Det plugs his mic into my mixer. The film crew arrives. ‘Action’. The Kool FM / Jungle Fever dons let loose pure murderation in my yard. Crazy. Cogee sporting a serious flat top arrives with Deman of the Ragga Twins. The sound man’s levels are overloaded. The camera man weaves through the scene. And the producer can’t believe the action he’s getting…”

“And you got away with it?”

“The pirate story had to be told. There you go – a scoop. That story’s not in All Crews.”

“You tell a good story.”

“Just gotta find a way – a vehicle to tell it… Like yo…”

“What …? What d’you say?”

“Nothing man. Nothing.”

“Fuck you. Fuckin’ with my head. Suppose you’re gonna say we aren’t really having this conversation?”

“Yeah right. Me Tyrell. You Blade Runner. Look mate. Everything we’ve talked about is true. Isn’t that what your name means Veritas? Truth. Listen man. I’m goin’ back inside.”

“How can I believe anything you say?”

“It’s all true. Just different voices – all in the mix. Well OK. Look, I have told a white lie.”

“Yeah. What? What?”

“Knowledge doesn’t have a company BMW.”

“Think you know it all smug git? Those front row Michael Jackson tickets you got… You ain’t goin’.”

“What!?! Oi… Mate… Veritas.”

***

Inside Cargo’s hold I’m sucked back into the vibe. Nod recognition to Red One. Salute Rob Playford. Kiss Laurence on each cheek.

Bang fists with Skibadee. Promise again to send Cleveland Watkiss a book. “Sorry man, I know it’s been ten years.” Then I’m captured in a bear hug by… He’s serious, talking deeply, he’s got a job for me, says it earnestly. “It’s gotta be you bruv.”

He’s not happy when I decline, ever so politely.

***

The lights go up. And I see all the people I’ve missed, like Sally from Wood Green. Might of known she’d be here. She’s here with her son. Last time I saw him he was ten. Now there’s six foot of him. And there’s Alix Perez who got into DnB after finding his mum’s copy of Metropolis. The next generation is in it.

Clock Miss Pink for the first time since arriving. “You’ll never guess who just asked me to write his life story. He wants it telling, everything; warts ‘n’ all.”

“Blimey. Jungle royalty. What d’ya say?”

“Said I couldn’t.”

“Why?”

“I’m supposed to be writing my Hospital Stories book. I’m not supposed to write about jungle anymore.”

“Like I said, “Why?” Coming to the after party?”

“Off home. Legs have had it. Don’t know how they lasted this long. Proves it was one of those special nights.”

As the after party crew coalesces and digresses; senses overloaded – I flop down on my abandoned scooter and roll back to the car. I’m dismantling my wheels, placing the parts jigsaw-like into the boot against three streamlined, dangerous bass bins. Get the feeling: someone’s watching me.

I look up as the girl with the walking steps near. I recognise the walk before she speaks.

“Hope you don’t mind. I’ve heard about you. You’ve… I’ve got MS. My mates told me about this guy who’d written The Book and had MS and was still going out. And I thought, ‘So that’s how he’s carrying on is it?!’ Had to meet you. You’re an inspiration.”

We hug and exchange numbers. “Please call, any time.” Driving away I see Rico from SRD at the bus stop. Pull a U-turn and pick him up. We chat jungle all the way to Tottenham.

***

…It’s nearly 8am. Been writing all night. Gotta meet Knowledge’s last print deadline. Cos after that, they’ll be online. And their new version’s gonna be bigger, better, forever up-dated. So here’s wishing Colin and Rachel the same success as they’ve had for over ten years. And me? No more jungle drum & bass words.

It’s All Crews signing off. But writing that particular life story? He’s got a cracking story. Maybe I’ll give him a call…

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