DJ - CLAIRE RUSSELL
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Suit Yourself have pulled out all the stops to interview one of the queens of the turntables, Claire Russell!, it took a while but we managed to track her down to her beautiful countryside retreat in Norfolk, this DJ/Designer/Mod Ikon is a true face of modern modernism, her taste for good music slightly pipped by her sense of style Claire is an inspiration to female Mods everywhere, from Norfolk to London to Italy this woman has it all and we welcome her to the hallowed pages of our web site. Ladies and gents.......give it up......
Hi Claire can you tell us a bit about yourself - How long have you been part of the mod scene, where do you live and what or who were your early influences musically.
I was a bit of a late bloomer to the Mod scene, I embraced it 14 years ago, left work on Friday in my civvies, then back to work Monday with a complete overhaul in Mod! I had always loved the look and the music, but had moved about so much over the years that I was never anywhere long enough to stay part of anything. Finding Mod and Northern Soul was the closest thing I have had to a religious experience in all my life – I knew in my very being this was finally home, and the people, my family. I recently moved to the Norfolk countryside after 17 years in London, packed up my 1210’s and burgeoning record collection, and despite moving and starting again, this time, I was part of something that lived everywhere.
I am named after a song, so it’s no surprise that music is my life. My parents loved their music and dancing, so my early influences were varied to say the least. Mum loved Elvis and The Beatles with a 60s screaming girl passion and Dad was cool and laid back to the tunes of The Animals, The Lovin’ Spoonful, whilst they both came together with a love for country music. Since I have started playing mod music around my parents it’s lovey to see the songs bring back so many memories.
What draws you to the scene, where do you like to hang out, favourite nights and favourite rally destinations.
My love for the music draws me to the scene, the togetherness it instils, the sharp looks, the dancing. I couldn’t be without it. Back when I lived and loved Indie I would dance a certain way, but since finding Mod and Soul, I can only dance to that – but, believe me, the moves can work anywhere! When living in London, my Mecca was the 6T’s night at the 100 Club and The New Untouchables do’s, a favourite being Mousetrap. As the years passed I found myself more and more out of London, travelling to various do’s around the world and lucky enough to DJ at a few. I love the August Bank Holiday Weekender in Brighton, and particularly being part of the growing Dorset pub weekender – I am affectionately called their Sunday Girl and will DJ there every year til I drop. I love Dreamsville, and since the move, I am only now 25 miles away, so can’t wait for that short journey!
What is your current ride of choice?
I have a Vespa GL, but she’s currently off the road and was being looked after by my Dad. He has sadly passed away so the scooter is coming back to me, and I will hopefully get a lot of miles in over the summer. She is resplendent in the colours of the Saltire Cross, navy and white.
Who or what got you into the DJ culture of the scene?
When I started my Mod journey, I made the decision to spend what little money I had on clothes and travelling to do’s. I couldn’t afford the tunes then – but oh how I wish I could have now! What I wouldn’t give to own a time machine and go right back to when the records I love first came out. I think I literally got to the point where I had all the clothes I needed, so turned my attention to buying records. I bought from a dancer’s point of view, I’m not really one for all the nerdy stuff. My friend, a dance DJ let me cut my teeth on the decks at his friends 40th birthday party, and the bug was definitely caught – even though I was drastically different to anyone else that played that night! My first ever gig, which I remain ever thankful for, was at The Alley Club in Cambridge a few years back.
How long have you been DJ’ing, what is your style, what are your favourite sounds, labels and artists.
I’ve been DJing about 4 years now, when I can, around my busy job. I particularly love the older, gritty R&B sounds, like Peppermint Harris and Jimmy Ricks and I love Bobby Bland and what he can do with his voice – it’s an instrument in itself. Lyrics mean a lot to me, I love playing songs that pull the heart strings, but that give a kick after a sassy build up. So many songs are great to dance to and I like mixing everything up – R&B, soul, popcorn, jazz – and whatever else gives me that hit. So many favourite labels and artists, it’s really hard for me to pin anything down. And the beauty of it all is that I am still discovering.
Tell us about your first gig, where was it and how did you feel. Tell us about a funny/awful moment you’ve had behind the decks and then tell us about your biggest gig and how that made you feel.
My first proper gig at The Alley Club was ace! I was nervous as hell, petrified I wouldn’t cue properly and that no one would dance. It was a fairly quiet night as I think there was something else on, but the moment I started there were dancers. That alone made me happy and determined to keep them on the floor. It was such great fun. I DJed up in Aberdeen a couple of years back and they encouraged you to speak on the mic but I had lost my voice. I tried to say, “I’ve lost my voice and that’s all you’ll be hearing from me”, but it just came out sounding like a Gremlin and I got a hoard of funny looks. Feck it, let’s just dance eh! I think my best gig to date was at The Dorset in Brighton last year. I was at a low ebb in life, I’d just spent two days DJing at The Isle of Wight and had been sober as a judge all weekend. I was pretty exhausted but the buzz from the punters blew my second wind! There was so much love in the room and I was so happy to be a part of it. A totally uplifting night. Music really heals
In the days of downloadable music and represses are you a vinyl purist?
As far as my DJing goes yes – but I do listen to a lot of other stuff, particularly on Spotify. My CDs haven’t had an airing in a while! And my tape cassettes are boxed up in the garage!
Can you tell us more about the Claire outside your DJ career and the scene, we hear you are a bit of a designer……..
Indeed I am. I was Lead Designer / Design Manager at Dr.Martens for 10 years, DJed a few times for them too, store openings and parties – best gig was in Tokyo! The whole place bowed to me afterwards, which was a sight to behold! I’m now Head of Design at Start-rite Shoes in Norwich, live in a lovely thatched cottage near the Broads and once settled, I might see if I can start an R&B and Soul night. Watch this space ☺
Being a creative person do you like to push boundaries musically whilst DJ’ing?
What I wouldn’t give to mix in some old indie stuff like Blur’s There’s no other Way! Or even the Wu-Tang Clan hahaha. But best not – a place for everything and everything in its place. I’ve had some very long gigs here and there, so find it fun to merge different genres and see how that flows. I had a great night at The Dorset a few New Year’s ago when I was double decking with rockabilly and t totally worked!
Do you have any favourite current DJ’s/Bands?
I LOVE Myron & E, beautiful soulful voices and really lovely gents. I had the pleasure of Myron Glasper singing Happy Birthday to me at their gig in the Jazz café – they saw me dancing my Mod moves and just had to say hello mid-set – I was blown away!
What’s it like being the Claire of today? are there exciting times ahead? Where can we catch you behind the decks?
Claire of today has had a fresh start at life after a period of illness, so is looking forward to getting back in the game – Southampton Long John Baldry all-dayer at the end of July and Cattolica in September. Might look to start something up in Norwich once more settled.
lastly, what is you view on the current mod scene, has it changed whilst you have been part of it and where would you like to see yourself in 5 years time?
I love the scene, the music and the people, and there are lots of exciting new do’s, so we really are spoilt for choice. There’s lots of cool new young faces on the scene and it’s really full of life. Silly politics are still there, but that’s human nature. If I could change anything it would be the price of records! But I am sure everyone has that same grump. 5 years time? Well I just hope I am still dancing and DJing ☺