Want to know where Madchester really started? Legendary DJ Dave Booth talks to Northern Soul
If you spent your youth dancing at indie clubs in Manchester during the 80s and 90s, it’s possible some of your most cherished nights out came courtesy of Dave Booth without you even knowing it. As a pioneering local DJ, his eclectic tastes influenced a generation of local music fans, including the major players in several key bands. He’s still working today and is about to bring his distinctive style to the Manchester suburb of Chorlton.
Booth’s own adventures in clubland began in 1979. A huge music fan, he had just completed a City & Guilds qualification in Building Services Engineering at Openshaw Technical College when a different pathway opened up. Out for a celebratory drink, he put an hour’s worth of David Bowie songs on the pub jukebox. Booth says: “One of my mates said ‘You’re a Bowie nut, you need to go to Pips. It’s brilliant in there, they play loads of Bowie.’ So, the next Friday I went there.”
Tucked away by Manchester Cathedral, Pips was a subterranean nightclub beneath what is now Manchester’s Corn Exchange. Open since 1972, it offered to cover all the bases with four different rooms catering to a variety of tastes. As the name suggests, Pips’ Roxy room was a space in which Roxy Music and David Bowie featured heavily – album tracks for preference, rather than singles. Some observers reckon it’s the birthplace of the UK indie/alternative music scene, way before The Hacienda or The Blitz club.
Booth had found his spiritual home. He says: “After that I didn’t stop going for three years non-stop – Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Eventually Alan Maskell, the DJ in the Roxy room, said ‘We’re looking for a new DJ, how do you fancy it, Dave? I know you’ve got the records’. I said ‘yeah, cool, I’ll give it a go.’ So that’s where it came from. I’m really a glorified record collector.”
Pips closed in 1982 so Booth’s stint in the Roxy room didn’t last long. “For the last three quarters of the year of Pips, I became the DJ and that’s still my all-time biggest achievement. I’ve done virtually every club that you need to know about – in Manchester, Liverpool, Ibiza, Dubai – and that’s always the one that’s closest to my heart.”
The turntables might have stopped spinning but the influence of Pips was far-reaching. Throughout the 80s, the independent music scene flourished, and clubs devoted to it began to spring up all over Manchester city centre, in many cases with Pips alumni involved. Fondly-remembered clubs like Devilles, Legends, Isadora’s, Annabelle’s, Berlin, Paradise Factory, The Venue and Cloud 9, every one of which employed Booth as DJ at one time or another. He even became the first after-hours DJ in the city’s Canal Street, at the seminal Manto bar.
Booth’s success wasn’t just a matter of ubiquity, though. He developed an idiosyncratic DJing style born of a deep love of music and an encyclopaedic knowledge of it. Passing mention of The La’s classic There She Goes inspires Booth to explain his technique.
“You may not think this is important, but doing an indie set, how would you get into playing that? It’s a chain. I’d play Mersey Paradise by the Stone Roses to get into There She Goes. Sometimes I get accused of over-thinking, but at all those nights during the 80s, I was the only indie and alternative DJ who would mix records. I’d make a connection. I’d play Primal Scream’s Loaded and mix How Soon Is Now out of it. I used to connect the Happy Mondays with Superstition by Stevie Wonder because I saw no difference. I’d play the Rolling Stones together with The Stone Roses or Jimi Hendrix with Public Enemy or the Stooges with Spacemen 3 or Blur. I’m always looking to get into different genres, but it’s got to flow. It’s no use just playing chunks of different things. There’s got to be that link.”
One of Booth’s regular gigs was at the Playpen, just off Manchester’s Deansgate. In a former incarnation it was the Slack Alice club, co-owned by George Best. Before long it changed again, rebranded 42nd Street, under which name it’s still going strong today. One of its most popular fixtures is the regular Tuesday indie night, a Manchester institution first launched by Booth in the Playpen days back in 1983.
Of course, a certain other Manchester club opened at around the same time: the now-legendary Hacienda. But as the film 24 Hour Party People depicted, it took around five years to become a hotspot. Initially, it was chiefly known as a live venue with underwhelming acoustics and a weird layout. The club nights were sparsely attended, with many of the punters getting in for free on the guest list. Booth says: “I can remember going to the Hacienda to see what it was all about because we had a night off. Chad Jackson was DJing to about 25 people. On a Friday night!”. Even later, when the Hacienda started hitting the headlines, it was never Booth’s favourite club. “Locally, for every Hacienda there’s always that special, secret place that all the ‘in’ kids go to. At that time, it was Isadora’s. The kids left the Hacienda to the people who were coming in from London, Birmingham and Scotland.”
In fact, Booth ended up doing a stint at the Hacienda in 1990.
“On the same week, both the Academy and the Hacienda came in offering me three times as much money to do a Tuesday and a Friday night and I left 42nd Street within a week to do them. To tell you the truth, the Hacienda was probably the worst DJ move I ever made. Within four months it had shut because of the violence.”
Booth feels that the Hacienda has come to dominate the history of the Manchester club scene at the expense of less well-known yet more influential venues. “I’d say that Pips was more important to Manchester than the Hacienda, because of the clientele who used to go there. Everyone used to go to Pips. It was like a collective for artistic people. If you went out on a Saturday night in Manchester in ’79, you’d be hard pushed to find somewhere that would play alternative or indie music. Everywhere played disco and commercial. It’s not a coincidence that all the major players in the Manchester music scene went to Pips.”
Pressed to name names, Booth says: “Well, it was like a Who’s Who of Manchester. Ian Brown, John Squire and Simon Wolstencroft used to go straight from Altrincham Boys’ Grammar to Pips – in their school uniform. Morrissey, Johnny Marr and Mike Joyce used to go. Billy Duffy, too. A Certain Ratio used to go and bug the DJs to play their records. Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris used to go. So did Peter Saville. It was like a collective for people of an artistic bent who wanted to go out and hear the kind of music they liked.”
Later, it was venues like The Playpen that used to draw local musicians as punters. “Someone on Facebook was saying to me last night, ‘I remember talking to Brix and Mark E Smith in the Playpen on a Tuesday night while you were talking to Hooky in the DJ box. It was a kind of spiritual moment for me’.” Booth’s taste in late 60s psych classics appealed to Mark E. “Mr Pharmacist, There’s a Ghost in My House and Victoria were all played at the Playpen before The Fall versions. Now, I’m not saying that it was my idea in to cover those records, but there must have been some time when he heard them.”
When The Stone Roses became successful, they would play live gigs without a support act and with a DJ set instead. They knew Booth from attending his club nights, so he became their live DJ of choice. He was there at legendary Roses gigs at Manchester’s International I, Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom and the now-legendary Spike Island show.
“Ian was very much into psych as well, so I played stuff like The Misunderstood’s Children of the Sun. Brilliant, fucking brilliant. People still come up to me and say, ‘I remember when you played Love’s Alone Again Or at Spike Island – thank you’. It’s amazing that people can still remember one record from the day.”
In the years since, Booth has stayed busy DJing everywhere from Liverpool to Ibiza, taking in summer festivals such as Shiiine On!, the current ‘kiddie rave’ boom and official after parties for The Stone Roses reunion shows. Not long ago he participated in a Bowie-themed pub quiz in Sale (“Didn’t win, though,” he laughs). It was there that he met Sean Connors, a local promoter who has launched several suburban club nights including Pretty in Pink and Dancing in the Dark. Connors’ original venture, the indie/dance night Temptation 2000, had been put on the back-burner, but he couldn’t resist the idea of reviving it at Chorlton Irish Centre with Booth at the helm.
Connors says: “When we first started a few years ago, the premise was ‘do you remember the nights we used to go to that Dave Booth did, where everything went, musically?’. Back then we didn’t have Shazam or YouTube. I loved that. It was like a history lesson, but a fun one. So that was kind of the starting point. With Dave we can play northern soul next to indie next to funk next to motown next to disco. It’ll be 50 or 60 years’ worth of music, but all the good stuff.”
(Main Image: Dave Booth)
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Supported by funding from @HeritageFundUK, Betty’s Back! will explore James’s life and works in the context of the 1920s, when the portrait was painted, and will also reveal artwork by Betty Durden Green for the first time.