Interview with Mr. Benn! (Nice Up! Records)

Sound the alarm! Sound the alarm! It’s time to catch up and interview the one and only Mr Benn! The Bristol-based boogie master is fresh from releasing his debut album on Nice Up! Records and is ready to tackle any dance floor that’s laid out in front of him. Being a big fan of his blends, tracks, remixes and mashups I was honoured that the man himself took some time out to discuss his past, present and future plans with me.

The Cool Beans Getogethers #4 – Mr Benn (Nice Up! Records) by The Cool Beans Radio Show on Mixcloud

Chris Arnold: Let’s start with the classic interview questions, when did you first
want to become a producer and a DJ? Did both desires come at the same
time or was one preceded by the other?

Mr Benn: I don’t think I ever thought of it as something I wanted to be, just
something I naturally fell into having always been involved in making
music (I played cello, then bass guitar before discovering midi
programming on the Atari ST) and buying records from an early age. I
got more serious about it when I got an Akai S2000 sampler and found
by using other people’s music I could make something a lot more
palatable than my early attempts at programming Amen style drums on a
Korg M1.

CA: Did you take to DJing like a duck to water or did it take a while for
you to hone in your skills?

MB: More like a kitten in a sack to water I’d say… I’m still learning to
be honest – when I first started I wanted to be a Jungle DJ so I
learnt to beat mix pretty quickly. Then I wanted to be a DMC type
scratch DJ, but soon realised I was far too lazy to learn to scratch
properly, so settled for just playing records I like one after the
other without any fancy stuff, and I’ve been happy doing that ever
since, and no one’s seemed to mind.

CA: Your smashing debut album Shake A Leg features a plethora of talented
vocalists, which ones were you particularly excited at the prospect of
working with?

MB: It was amazing to work with some of the artists I’d grown up listening
to such as Top Cat, The Ragga Twins and Tenor Fly – all absolute
legends in the game, so when they all agreed to do vocals for me it
was a bit like a boyhood dream come true! I used to ride around
country lanes on my bike listening to ‘Reggae owes me money’ by the
Ragga Twins on my headphones when I was about 12, I never could have
imagined I’d be working with them one day. I wanted to be Flavor Flav
then too – I don’t suppose you’ve got his number have you?

CA: You’ve DJ’d all over the place, any gigs you remember being
particularly mental? For the right or the wrong reasons!

MB: I think one of my favourite gigs ever has to be playing the Kamikaze
tent at Shambala Festival a few years back – the vibe, crowd and
response was absolutely awesome. You can’t really beat playing your
own music to a massive packed tent of people all fully going for it!
Also, playing at the old crown courts in Bristol this past NYE I
literally brought the roof down – while I was playing, a large chunk
of plaster about a meter across fell from the ceiling and landed
inches away from the decks – I nearly got plastered in the most
un-desirable way. I recently did a gig in Narbeth over in
Pembrokeshire where they had made a load of fake legs on sticks to
shake at me while I was playing which was a nice touch – I might start
demanding that at all my gigs!

CA: You’ve recently become DJ Daddy Benn, as in you are now with child.
Firstly, congratulations! Secondly, has fatherhood changed the way you
work?

MB: Thanks – yeah being a Dad is amazing, one thing it does teach you is
time is extremely precious. I definitely have to be a lot more
efficient and productive when I work. I’m really lucky that doing the
work I do has enabled me to spend a lot more time with my daughter
than I would have if I was working a 9–5! You may also hear me playing
the Gregory Isaacs version of ‘Puff the magic dragon’ in my sets, and
if you hear me playing ‘Cherry oh baby’ by Eric Donaldson, that’s
always a dedication to my daughter, Cherry.

CA: You’re going to be performing a special 2 hour set at Quality Control
at The Harley in Sheffield on the 9th May, can you give us any insight
into some of the tunes you’re going to be spinning?

MB: It’s great to be given 2 hours because it really gives you the chance
to go through a lot of the styles I like playing. Expect reggaecentric
party music in all it’s forms from roots and dancehall to boom bap
skank to bashment boogie to soca, ska and jungle and everything in
between. I’ve got some super nice unreleased remixes of some of my
tunes too, plus some new stuff I’ve been working on with Eva Lazarus
and a heap more rump shaking niceness!

CA: Have you ever had any outrageous requests whilst Djing?

MB: A recent favourite was:
“Can you play ‘Cotton Eye Joe?”
“no”
“here, I’ve got it on my phone on youtube – can I plug it in and play it?”
“no, go away”
COTTON EYE FUCKING JOE – CHRIST!
A magazine in Singapore once asked me if I’d ever DJ naked for some
reason – I really don’t think anyone would want to see that.

CA: You hold the proud achievement or releasing the very first album on
Nice Up Records. Tell us, how did you first get involved with Shepdog
and Nice Up?

MB: Me and Shep hooked up because we were both releasing mash up reggae 7s
– he invited me to play at his night in London, and to join him at the
Big Chill festival, and we hit it off right away. I think we bonded
over a shared love of reggae, rap, rum, raving and, um, raclette…
In all seriousness though, Nice Up! Was always gonna be the right
label for me as the style and ethos of it fits perfectly with what I
do – A foundation in Reggae and Hip Hop, but drawing inspiration from
all over the shop. Lively vibes to Nice Up any session!

CA: Your DJ sets have a proper “sunny festival” vibe about them, is there
a festival you enjoy playing at? Or simply just enjoy attending in
fact?

MB: See my previous answer – Shambala! Definitely my favourite festival.
Great people, not too big, great music, and always a great atmosphere.
The attention to detail and décor is fantastic too, and it’s all about
finding the hidden gems not listed in the programme, of which there
are many!

CA: Finally, what does the future hold for Mr Benn? Are there plans for
album number 2?

MB: There’s no sign of album number 2 at the moment, but ‘Stand Up’
featuring the excellent Nanci Correia is gonna be the next single from
‘Shake A Leg’, plus we’re gonna be releasing all the instrumentals of
the album very soon. A busy summer of Festival appearances ahead too,
plenty of shows with Eva Lazarus showcasing our new material. More
remixes. Probably more kids birthday parties and hopefully a nice
holiday somewhere warm and relaxing!

CA: Mr Benn, thanks for your time, you’re a gent and a scholar and I’m looking forward to catching your 2 hour spesh on Friday night!

You can catch Mr Benn chatting more in depth about his influences as well as spinning a few tracks live on Sheffield Live 93.2FM on Friday the 9th May at 5PM. Later that night he plays a 2 hour set for Quality Control at The Harley.

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The Cool Beans Takeover @ Y Not Festival!

Extra extra, read all about it! Cool Beans take over the Tribe of Xanadu Tent AKA the Flaming Goat Tent at Y Not Festival this Sunday! That’s right festival fans, on Sunday the 4th August, in between the hours of 2PM & 11PM we shall be laying the Cool Beans smackdown upon the Y Not Festival goers.

It could be great, it could be awful, it shall most definitely be soaked in alcohol, mud and loose inhibitions.

Why the loose inhibitions we hear you ask? Well for one Dom Kidson is on the line up. That’s right, Lonesome Dom AKA Dom the Killer Kidson AKA THE DOMINATRIX shall be opening up the show at 2PM with a DJ set of such mastery that DJ Yoda, A.Skillz, Krafty Kuts et al shall all be quacking in their sneakers!

Later on throughout the day we’ll have acoustic sets from the BROKEN SAINTS & PRO-VERB as well as full band sets from SPIT N STRINGS & THE MOODY MUTTERINGS, SMILING IVY & those local scamps ROFLCOPTRZ.

Finishing off the night with a classic Cool Beans party we have DJs Jimmy The Gent, Ocelus & Arnivore!

Y Not is pretty much sold out, there are around 100 tickets left we believe, so if you want in now that you’ve found out about the super special Cool Beans party check out the Y Not website here!

At last year’s Y-Not escapade, only Arnivore made it down to DJ, and this is the sight that greeted him.

We know Y Not likes a good old knees up, we’re sure this year shall be no different!

Cool Beans. Xx

DJ Derek – “This shall be my last ever gig in Sheffield”

Derek Morris AKA DJ Derek is the Bristol born and bred reggae DJ famed for his love of Weatherspoons pubs, National Express coach journeys and of course music of Jamaican origin. A man whose career in DJing only really begun well into his 30s, yet he’s gone on to accomplish some stupendous achievements. Derek began by hosting his sets in a deep voiced, patois dialect which he picked up from the local pubs and barber shops in the St Pauls area of Bristol. Those of you who know little of the man may recognise him as the OAP throwing a disco for pensioners in the Dizzee track Dirtee Disco, those of you who know much of the man will be aware of his ability to sincerely captivate any audience and take them on a charming musical journey like no other. As the city prepares for his visit to the Harley on Friday for Quality Control‘s 2nd show, I called him up on a hot & sticky evening to ask him a few questions about his lengthy musical career and discover a fair few things I didn’t know about this 71 year old.

*Ring Ring* *Ring Ring* – that’s me setting the scene there.

Chris Arnold: Hey Derek! No time for chatter, we have an interview to do! Tell me, with an extremely impressive career spanning multiple decades in which you’ve played hundreds of different venues, you must have a few places you count as favourites?
Derek Morris: Well the main venue that I’ve stuck with over the years is the Notting Hill Arts Club, it’s my current and last residency. I decided to stop all the others as they started to restrict my ability to travel up and down the country. This NYE will be last gig I do there and will also be my last ever gig.

CA: Your last ever gig?! I heard rumours but I wasn’t aware it was confirmed!
DM: Well yes, in fact I was away travelling and gigging last weekend and when I returned I saw the story plastered over the Bristol evening post, someone had let the cat out of the bag! I then headlined St Paul’s Carnival which is where I live, and it was a very emotional evening. I have Harbour Festival coming up as well, that will be my last ever open air show and I’ll be playing at a home crowd in front of loads of people. I’m pretty sure that will choke me up, I’ve always opened it and I’ve seen so many artists come by, even James Brown did back in the day.

CA: Wow, so this gig on Friday in Sheffield will be your last ever performance in the city?
DM: Yes, I may do a show in Leeds and perhaps one in Nottingham before NYE. I will be 72 the fortnight before I do my last ever gig, and while I’m reasonably healthy it’ll be nice to do some travelling without carting my gear around!

CA: There’s certainly nothing wrong with that! You’ve had a great career Derek, are there any highlights that stick out right now?
DM: Oh, too many highlights to mention, playing Jamaican Independence Dance is one, it was the first year Bristol had a black mayor and the first year Jamaican Independence had a white DJ! Touring across the World with Womad is certainly another. Around the year 2000 I played Singapore, Australia, Prague, Paris, Gran Canaria, Ireland. It was back after I just changed to minidisc, I could have never done that with all my vinyl. I remember playing at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in front of 50 000 people, it was at a free festival on this Spanish island and nobody comes out until midnight. Well they only went and stuck me on at midnight! I had no idea what to open up with until I thought “well they are Spanish so I’ll open with Ole Ole Ole!, it was brilliant!

CA: Fantastic!
DM: I remember years later at Rob de Bank’s festival, Bestival, they had put me up in the Afterburner stage, it’s a real ramshackle stage, looks like a rock has just hit it. They put me on just as it was getting dark and I decided that I would open with Ole Ole Ole again, and as I played it all these fireworks going off and the brilliant thing was that they kept them in time with the music. At the time all these things just seem so surreal, it’s a job to take it in. It’s only when you look back you think “I can’t believe I did that”.

CA: Over the years you’ve played alongside some of the biggest names in reggae, you must have met plenty of the artists whose music you’ve played?
DM: That’s the wonderful thing you see, I used to watch people like Toots, Desmond Dekker when I was younger. Over the years and certainly from the 80s onwards, I’ve actually met all of my heroes as well as supporting them. When I met Toots he said “Yeah man, everybody know you. You’re the white man that talk the people’s talk and play the people’s music”, it was a reputation that I had garnered through word of mouth wihout realising. Had I known I might have worn a bigger sized hat back then! It’s been a wonderful, wonderful 2nd part of my life. As a younger man spending most of time of the dole to then be invited to play the music that I love is extremely humbling. Back then a lot of black people thought that white people had been using black music, they’ve been conscious of the fact that I’ve been promoting black music. I was playing music that would never have been played on the BBC for example.

CA: Naturally, you’ve proven yourself as a worthy DJ.
DM: Yes, I feel so now, as I mentioned before playing for Jamaican Independence Dance, after that then I was invited to do a few more, including the Dominican Independance Dance. This was a big opportunity for me to play to an audience of which the vast majority were black. Back then I had a big reputation in the West Country as white DJ so everyone knew about me in that area, but there were a huge amount of the black community travelling down from the midlands, Birmingham and such. When they got there they were asking “why have you got a white DJ?“. Well I got them all dancing and a steel band were supposed to be playing after me but they called up to say that they had broken down en route and couldn’t come. I had to keep these 500 people dancing for about 4 hours! It was brilliant though, I got them into a frame of mind where I was selecting that was just magic. I was selecting tunes and people were coming up and asking me for a tune and it was the next one that I was going to play. This happened quite a few times that night – I was literally getting goosebumps. It was the first time that I realised I could play for a 100% black crowd, I really thought that was the pinnacle of my career.

CA: It certainly appears that you do more then just play music, you have a deep-rooted, emotional bond with your audience. How exactly are you going to mentally prepare for your last show?
DM: You know, NYE might be very hectic, when I play there it’s usually 1 in 1 out right up until 30 minutes before I finish, but it certainly will be emotional. I’m a very busy man up until NYE, the whole summer is booked right through apart from a couple of weekends which I’ve purposely kept free. The last few years I’ve only 1 weekend a year off, by the time I’ve gone through with everything that I shall be content hanging not my headphones but my minidiscs.

CA: Derek, it’s been an absolute pleasure, thank you so much for this insight into your career!
DM: Thank you, and see you all on Friday.

An extremely fascinating and humbling man. He sucked me into his tales with his fantastic story-telling as soon as we started talking. He also mentioned such things as interviews with ITV as well as a potential documentary with Don Letts on the way so watch out for them, his final 6 months as a DJ are undoubtedly going to be a very busy time for the soon-to-be 72 year old.

Right now he’ll be headlining Quality Control at The Harley this Friday night. Free before 11, £2 before midnight and £4 afterwards. Also on the bill are Walker, Clipboard, Stoaty & The Quality Controllers. Facebook event here.

DJ Derek – we salute you!