Working With The Chairman: Andrew Weatherall Remembered By Lee Brackstone

The music of Andrew Weatherall changed Lee Brackstone's life, and would lead in later years to a collaboration at Faber Social. Here, Lee pays tribute to the DJ, producer, guru, and his friend. Photo: Weatherall, Irmin Schmidt, Lee Brackstone

mystic /mistic/ (noun): a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity of the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.

Sitting down to write this tribute, four hours after hearing the news of Andrew Weatherall’s sudden death (from his friend and long-time collaborator, Jeff Barrett), I feel a knot of grief and loss I have rarely, if ever, encountered. I was due to see Andrew play (an act of communion if ever there was) at his irregular club night, A Love From Outer Space on Friday at Phonox in Brixton.

The idea, indeed the reality, that we will never experience those joyful dancefloor epiphanies in what he half-jokingly referred to as the "Temple of Gnostic Sonics”, is sickening and barely believable, and I know I speak for thousands of Weatherall disciples across the world in that respect.

Like many who would become devoted followers of the man variously, always affectionately, known as ‘The Chairman’ and ‘The Guv’nor’, I first encountered Andrew Weatherall’s name on the back of a record in 1989. It was the remix of ‘Hallelujah’ by Happy Mondays, and there his name sat on the sleeve, in prosaic font and misspelt (in true amateur Factory Records style) as Andy Wetherall, alongside Paul Oakenfold.

The remix itself felt like an act of white magic, like so much of what Weatherall did. He had an uncanny sonic sixth sense and for the next three years his work in the studio with so many artists, and under various aliases, defined the zeitgeist.  Right then, age 16, I started a three-decade relationship with a DJ, musician, producer, artist, writer and raconteur who would eventually become a visionary collaborator in my life as a publisher at Faber and a future relationship we will now never realise, at White Rabbit Books, where he will remain a constant if invisible companion to me in everything I do.

When Andrew accepted my invitation to become ‘Artist in Residence’ at Faber Social in 2011, neither of us had a clue what we were doing. But this was not likely to be intimidating for someone who described himself as being full of the ‘confidence of ignorance’ (copyright Orson Welles) when asked about his work on Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’.  We had just met for the first time at the inaugural Festival Number 6 where he would play annual sets to a crowd of ravers of a certain northwest vintage, most of whom were old enough (or young enough at the time) to see him DJ at Shoom, the Hacienda and Back to Basics all those years before.

The fact he accepted my commission (which he immortalised in the short fiction reproduced below after a genuinely intimidating encounter with a Jacob Epstein bust of Ezra Pound shrouded in a Tesco carrier-bag which was then in the Faber Archive – what an Andrew Weatherall anecdote that is) is testament to a spirit that was always hungry for literature, art and stimulation. As we attempted to grow new cultures from the collision of music and books, there was quite simply no better qualified individual on the planet than Andrew Weatherall to lead the experiment. And man, what fun we had; what discoveries we made.

He was always the first person I would reach out to for inspiration when I felt a literary project had the potential to become more than just a book and take on new dimensions. We worked together with Julian Cope on his ‘gnostic hooligan road’ novel One Three One and he remixed a track called Dayglo Maradona by a fictional baggy band called Rock Section. When I sent him David Keenan’s now classic debut This Is Memorial Device he responded rapturously a day later and we set about inviting peers and friends like Ivan Smagghe, Richard Youngs, Chris & Cosey, Finitribe and Justin Robertson to record tracks as Steel Teeth, Chinese Bathroom, Dark Bathroom, Glass Sarcophagus, Disabled Adults and other mythical Airdrie bands from the text. Having assembled a stellar cast and created what was unquestionably a magnificent shadow soundtrack to the novel we both, in the great tradition of "intuitive non-career movers” (copyright J Cope), failed to deliver a finished product to the world in any way shape or form.  But this is how Andrew worked: delighting in process and collaboration on the wildest frontiers of creativity. He was truly avant-garde. "If you’re not on the margins you’re taking up too much room”, he would say to me.

The love, grief and sheer adulation for Andrew on social media yesterday afternoon was overwhelming; my favourite post described him as "the uncrowned King of the British underground, of the outsiders, of the freaks.” A five minute tribute from Radio 4 and Newsnight obituary which enshrine him in the Establishment narrative would have tickled him but only serves as a raw reminder of how colossal our collective loss is. His legacy will grow because he was a truth-seeker, a man of unquantifiable intelligence, taste, integrity, knowledge and compassion. He helped me through hard times and he christened me "the Psychic Shepherd”. (I nearly called my new imprint at Orion that until he counselled against – "Dear boy, I love you like a younger sister but people will think you are even more ridiculous than you already are if you do that.”)

In my sadness I’m left with a bitter resentment that a man so infectiously charismatic should be taken from us so suddenly age 56. But perhaps Andrew was just too magic for this world. Now he’s checked in for the ultimate cosmic disco the reckoning of his achievements will begin. His legacy as an architect of sound puts him in the company of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, even Brian Eno; while as a tastemaker he is best compared to John Peel – his monthly Music’s Not for Everyone shows for NTS had started to take on that significance. As a DJ he will be revered, in Britain at least, as an intuitive artist of the turntable on a par with true legends like Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan.

For many, Andrew Weatherall was the living embodiment of acid house as a sacrament. We have also lost a visual artist of immense gifts and the world is now starved of his memoirs which he was forever procrastinating and teasing me about. His love for literature and knowledge of books was capacious. He never stopped reading and evangelising. Literature was oxygen to him. No one has had more influence on me as a reader, listener, or watcher, than Andrew Weatherall. But what I will miss most is the quickness and warmth of his humour and company. Just being in his company was intoxicating and life-affirming.

It was unusual for me to miss Andrew Weatherall playing live in London. I would feel these moments as an aberration and text him my apologies. He would always respond by saying, "There will always be more discos, dear boy.” I knew the day would arrive when that statement would ring hollow, but I didn’t expect it to come so soon. Godspeed You Conductor of Rave Rites, Sonic Explorer, Sartorial Adventurer, Psychedelic Polymath, Comic Interlocutor, Connector of Worlds, Friend, Collaborator & Inspiration…

Jah Bless xxxxx

The below is a short story that Andrew Weatherall wrote for Lee

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