DJ - RACHEL YARWOOD
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Suit Yourself have been very lucky to interview some of the scenes biggest movers and shakers since its inception. From Promoters, Bands, scooter enthusiasts, clothes and music peddlers to DJ’s. It’s this last category we have to take our hats off to. they are pioneers of the plastic revolution, spinning greatness throughout the clubs and rallies of the land. Collecting rare dusty 7 and 12 inch pieces of perfection and playing them to the dance crazy groovers of the underground. They are the stitching that hold our clubs together sometimes spending a fortune on a non returnable passion. For them it’s all about the dance floor, the pounding beat of a bass drum, the wonderful sound of a vocal, the soaring tune in the melody. RACHEL YARWOOD is one such pioneer, a promoter come DJ Rachel has been part of the Mod fabric of life for over 30 years, Rachel and others of her ilk provide us with the soundtrack to our lives in clubs up and down the country. It is with great pleasure we bring you this interview and It gives us greater pleasure to welcome her to the Suit Yourself fold. Ladies and Gentleman…..RACHEL YARWOOD
Hi Rachel can you tell us a bit about yourself, Where you are from, how long have you been part of the mod/soul/ Skinhead scene, how you became part of it and who were your early musical influences.
I was born in Lincolnshire, in the heart of the Fens, surrounded by fields. I lived in a cottage in the middle of nowhere, and had no immediate neighbours to speak of, so noise levels were never an issue for us. I had a skinhead friend who lived a couple of miles away that I used to hang about with. We were both a bit rebellious and I’m sure we caused a lot of worry and issues along the way in one form or another.
I suppose, I got into the skinhead thing really from 16 onwards, first having a very short skinhead, until I became a bit more stylish and sophisticated and let it grow into a long feather cut. My sister and I would go and see lots of bands up and down the country and after meeting lots of different people along the way we started going to scooter rallies in the 80s. I was getting more and more influenced by the different music scene that was associated with the rallies and it was here that I found a passion for soul music.
I spent a lot of my younger years in London and Manchester with like-minded people enjoying life. In the mid 80s I started going to all-nighters and it was here that I became aware of a whole new scene and loved it. I was mixing with skinheads and mods from all over the country and had a fantastic circle of friends; many of which are still friends today, some thirty years later.
I think that being a skinhead or being part of a cult was always on the cards for me and I consider myself very lucky to be involved in a soul / mod / skinhead scene. I never felt as though I belonged in a small sleepy village, so being able to express myself was very liberating and became a massively important part of my life. It has allowed me to meet some Incredible and interesting people, who are colourful, funny, eccentric and some, are frankly barking mad! I have travelled a lot and experienced things that most people could never contemplate.
I have been with Paul (AKA Porky) for the past 30 years, moving to Oxfordshire about 28 years ago. We first met at an all-nighter in Leighton Buzzard, one of many that we used to go to. We happily spend our free time, going to soul, RnB, mod, skinhead nights, all-nighters and weekends all over the country and abroad. It helps to enjoy and stay in the scene if you have a partner who is into the same things as you. Luckily for me it has never been an issue.
I have worked as a graphic designer for the past 25 years and on the whole I enjoy my job, although I would sooner be retired, spending my days drawing and painting in a little studio somewhere. I love art and creative things in general. I have just completed a sculpting course and considering it was my first attempt I’m pleased with my efforts, so will continue with that I think.
Musically I was influenced by many different genres, not just one thing, so isolating one or two influences is neigh on impossible for me. As long as it has soul and passion then its OK with me.
What turned you on to the DJ culture of the scene?
I have many friends who have DJ’d since the 80s, Alan Handscombe being the most notorious and well respected one and I always wanted to give it a go. He taught me all I know?! As a female I decided I wanted to do what the lads were doing, firstly because I like to succeed and I’m someone that likes new challenges, and secondly because there weren’t many lady DJs out there.
I really enjoy seeing people enjoying the music and dancing at a do, it is an amazing feeling when the floor is full of happy people. You get a real buzz from people telling you that was a good set and they enjoyed the music.
Who gave you your first break, where was it and how did it feel?
I didn’t get a break as such, but it was more out of necessity really. Myself and Gary Chamberlain started running “Let’s Dance” in Oxford several years ago and I started DJing properly there. Alan Handscombe and the RnB123 gang asked me to DJ for them, which was a great honour. I loved it and it has gone from strength to strength. I’m very lucky to have been asked to DJ at some very cool clubs.
Do you have any favourite musical styles and has your style of DJ’ing changed over the years?
All different types of music have their place but at the moment its RnB and soulful 50s and 60s music, which is having the biggest influence on what I want to play, hear and dance to. Variety being the spice of life and all that!
Do you have any current favourite DJ’s / Bands? and who were your favourite bands and DJ’s backin the day?
There have been many influences and I have admired many people over the years. Obviously Alan Handscombe has always been an influence and I love his enthusiasm, knowledge and passion for the music. Bald Mark, and Bill Kealy play my style of music and again are passionate and always come up with new and interesting sounds. Andrea Mattioni and Chris Dale are pure professionals and all-round nice guys, so they needs to go on the list too, but there are lots of other DJ’s worthy of a mention. I could be here all day!
One of my favourite DJ’s back in the day, was Dawn Brown and I remember listening to a tape that she did for me in the 90s that I played over and over again, until it eventually died. Nowadays, Nicki Shaw is a lovely and funny lady with impeccable tastes in terms of the sounds she plays, so too is an influence.
I’ve been lucky to have seen many bands and groups through the years, of different genres, but they all have their place.
Can you tell us about any promotions that you are involved with.
I’m not involved with anything at the moment as we lost our venue a year ago, which was being bulldozed for student accommodation in Oxford. We are struggling to find a suitable space and the licencing issues in Oxford are giving us a problem. We are still looking and will be back, up and running as soon as we can. Let’s Dance in one guise or another will be back…….soon I hope!
Tell us about some of your favourite times behind the decks, where, when and with who?
I think one of my most favourite nights was at “Let’s Dance” when Nicki Shaw and myself double-decked. It was great to see the dance floor full, lots of happy faces and Nicki and I had a real giggle together bouncing off each other.
Can you tell us a story from your time in the scene?
Not sure about this questions. What goes on tours usually stays on tour!!!! There are many stories, some I can tell and some I definitely can’t tell ……
One that I can tell you about is:
Paul and I were at a rally in the late 80s and we both got a little drunk (‘never’ I hear you cry!). We left the venue and started to walk back to the B & B, but we were both unsure about where we were going and ended up walking around in circles for 40 minutes trying to find the B & B. We recognised a statue and knew we were close, but just couldn’t find the one we were staying at. In the end we both got so annoyed that we sat on a bench on the seafront until we sobered up a bit. I wouldn’t do that nowadays as I’m so much more mature and sensible…..
Scooters, we all love them. Can you tell us if you own one now, or have owned one in the past, what’s your favourite type and do you like any other form of classic transport.
I don’t have a scooter, or one that runs at the moment. We had a crash a while ago and its still in bits in the garage. I’m sure Paul will get around to fixing it one day. I have had both a Lambretta and a Vespa in the past but feel I like the luxury of the car these days, so not bothered about having another on the road at the moment.
Clothes, Tell us about your style, has it changed over the years. Can you give us some examples of how you looked and look today.
I was a huge collector of vintage clothes and would source clothes from second-hand shops and markets; in those days you could be assured of finding a few shirts each week. I had several hundred button-down shirts of one variety or another, but most were sold on when I stopped being a skinhead.
As a skinhead I would wear, pretty much what the skinhead lads would be wearing: Levi 501 jeans or tailored suits and trousers with a button down shirt and brogues or loafers. I occasionally wore a skirt but wouldn’t have been seen dead in a dress or anything frilly or flowery! I had several suits tailored, one of which I still own and can’t say goodbye to it yet. It’s a purple tonic suit, tailor-made by Charlie, who was in a small workshop up several flights of stairs in a building in Carnaby Street (before it became too commercial). It’s a three-quarter length jacket with trousers and a matching skirt and is gorgeous.
I love the 50s and 60s for style and fashion. I’m not a very frilly person; I’m not keen on really bold patterns or flowers (in any shape or form!). Beautiful colours are important, and I love rich vibrant reds, purples and blues. I’m not keen on pale colours.
Clothes are, relatively speaking unimportant to me; I am far more interested in the person who is actually wearing the clothes. Having said that though, I can look at something and appreciate its beauty and style, and just how gorgeous something is.
What do you think of today’s scene?
I think it’s a thriving scene at the moment, with events happening most weekends, somewhere in the UK and abroad. I would say that there is something for everyone.
The music is vital to a successful scene and to keeping it fresh and vibrant. I also think that meeting great and unique people is also vital to keeping an active scene today.
It would be nice if promoters who live in the same areas would get together and try not to clash on dates. It’s such a shame to split the people who want to attend both things, not good for them or the promoters.
We all need to support these things otherwise we will lose them.
Tell us about the scene in Oxford, where you play and some of your favourite places to play across the UK.
There isn’t much of a scene in Oxford as far as music is concerned. I play occasionally for a great club in Oxford called Hipshakin, which is based down the Cowley road in a small pub. Jan, who runs this on a monthly basis has a loyal following who are an up for it crowd and love to dance and enjoy the music. The policy is danceable black music from most eras. It’s an eclectic mix of people and music but it works and this little club has a great vibe.
RnB123 was always a club that I loved, but because of the music and the people. I’ve enjoyed Djing at the 3Keys weekend and the Jellyroll in Peterborough in the last few months.
In these days of digital DJ’s, are you a vinyl purist?
I personally don’t care what people want to do; it’s their business. If the promoter says OVO then it has to be adhered to. I play original vinyl and the joy of this is finding a great record at a good price. They are few and far between these days but occasionally one does pop up. I buy only what I like and what I would actually dance to. I think, if I like it then there is a good chance that someone else will like it too. I’m not in the market for owning a specific record because it’s the one to have, because 40 other Dj’s are playing it right now. If its good, its good.
I have a limit to my vinyl budget, mainly because I would be so upset if I’d spent £1000 on a piece of vinyl for it to be wrecked, smashed or scratched when playing it out. I get a bit carried away with my interests so I set myself a budget for each record, which I have only gone over a few times. I pay what I feel is a fair price for a piece of vinyl and if I’m comfortable with the cost then I’m happy.
What are your favourite current club nights/ events?
There are lots of great nights and weekends out there. In the UK I like the Federal Club, Somewhere down the line, For Dancers Only, The Jellyroll and I really enjoy Dreamsville in Lowestoft.
Some of the most memorable events that I have been to have been in Teramo, Italy and Barcelona. The hosts always go out of their way to make the visitors welcome, making sure everyone is happy and catered for and it's so nice to meet new people, see new places and listen to some slightly different sounds.
You have been part of the scene for a while, What advise would you give a young mod? particularly female fresh into the scene, fashion, music, attitude
I would say be yourself.
Don't get involved in bitchiness.
Be smart, but don't try and compete with others.
Make friends and many of them will be friends for the rest of your life.
Experience as much as you can, relax and enjoy the scene.
What advise would you give an aspiring DJ?
I would say don’t get into debt. It's very easy to get carried away, buying vinyl. Root out all the little gems that are still out there. Stand by your convictions and play what you love and enjoy listening to, as others will like it too.
You also need to know the people you are playing to and what type of sound will go down well at a particular event. Go along to a venue and listen to the music and see what does or doesn’t go down well.
Be on time, be professional and don’t swear over the mic.
Lastly don’t boast and brag about the cost of a record – it’s not cool
Can you tell us 10 all time favourite tracks and 10 current playlist favourites.
Music is a very personal thing, and my tastes change from day to day depending on my mood, if I've had a hard day, if I want to relax, or if I want to dance.
Esther Phillips – just say goodbye
The Rays – love another girl
Sandra Stephens – if you really love me
Jo Ann Henderson – Baby please don't go
Tiny Topsy – just a little bit
Troy Dodds – try my love
Marie Franklin – move on love
Roy Hamilton – the panic is on
Big Maybelle - oh lord what are you doing to me
The Miracles – if your mother only knew
Helen Shapiro – He knows how to love me
The list is endless…..
Tiny Topsy – just a little bit
Jo Ann Henderson – baby please don’t go
Buddy Ace – Screaming Please
Ray Baretto - soul drummer
Little Esther – wild child
Mavis Rivers – footsteps of a fool
Lillian Briggs – Come here
Fabulous Playboys – honky tonk woman
Kitty White – Gonna be a fool next Monday
Young Holt Trio – Money can’t buy
Again this changes from day to day…….
lastly, your thoughts on the future of the Scene……
I think the scene is vibrant and has a good future. There are a few younger people coming through, which is great to see. I'm sure there will always be a scene, but it may well have to change to accommodate changing tastes.
The question will be, whether we will still be doing this when we are old and having to use our Zimmer frames? Only time will tell on that one I suppose.