Andrew Weatherall’s death was a truly jolting moment, the saddest of losses. This post is my personal tribute to this musical maverick, this genius gentleman raconteur. I am also honoured to host Tim Scott’s tribute to Lord Sabre.
Gentle reader: What was the first death of a famous person that truly shocked you?* For me, it was the passing of John Peel**, on 25 October 2004. A cold, jolting shock. The abrupt snuffing of an eternal, comforting yet radically transformative light. The most tragic loss.
The news of Andrew Weatherall’s death this week (on Monday 17 February 2020, from a pulmonary embolism) was just as shocking. The passing of Lord Sabre brought exactly the same feelings.
I’d gone to the Guardian homepage that afternoon in search of the latest in the sickening eugenics story. I immediately clicked on the top story, my mind only registering as the page opened that the story in joint top place featured a picture of Andrew Weatherall. Only one reason why such a comparatively underground figure might ever make headlines. A sharp, deeply emotional intake of breath. It can’t be true. Click back. It was true. It is true. Lord Sabre really has passed from this world.
Andrew Weatherall – as with Peel – was an influence so formative that you can’t imagine a world without them. You don’t even realise how deeply ingrained that influence is on how you view and interact with the world. As with Peel, I loved Andrew Weatherall for the incredible music he shared***, for his warmth and wit, and for his fearless spirit.
So many other people felt and will always feel the same way about Weatherall. A huge, emotional outpouring of touching tributes came via social media. Strikingly diverse in terms of who posted them and of the nature of their relationships to Mr Weatherall. Unified by affection and appreciation for all that he gave. ****
A dub symphony
I first became aware of Andrew Weatherall in my late teens. As I suspect was the case for many others, his work with Primal Scream (exemplified by Higher Than The Sun (A Dub Symphony In Two Parts)). was a gateway to an extraordinary, colourful and endless world of music that I might otherwise never have known existed.
I never got to meet Mr Weatherall. But I must have seen him DJ at least half a dozen times, and I had the immense privilege of getting to witness a rare live set from his group The Sabres of Paradise, performing as a full live band. His music was so alive in the moment.
Genius gentleman raconteur
Perhaps even more than for his music, I always loved and admired Andrew Weatherall as a fiercely independent and extremely witty interviewee.***** In every interview, he came across as a genius gentleman raconteur with an extraordinary turn of phrase. As Lee Brackstone notes in a beautiful tribute for The Quietus, one reason why Weatherall’s passing is so tragic is that we will never get to read the wonderful autobiography that he might one day have written.
Fail we may, sail we must
The life and career of Andrew Weatherall is a shining example of the virtues of allowing curiosity and inspiration to guide you where they will. Joy in the journey. Joy in the process. Joy in discovery. He memorably described his music and his music career as “a series of beautiful, totally futile gestures.”
Rather than capitalising on early success and taking the easy route as a big-name producer and superstar DJ, Weatherall opted for a life spent in the margins – or “swimming not skimming“, if you will. In an interview with Wil Troup, he discussed why some might view his career as having unfolded in reverse:
“I got to the top of the hill and I thought the valley’s quite interesting, I’ll go back and live there out the way where no-one can disturb me.”
The guiding ethos of Andrew Weatherall’s career is perfectly captured by the words tattooed on his forearms: “Fail we may, sail we must.” Tim Burgess shared a tweet with Weatherall’s own telling of the story behind these tattoos.
“That was handily capsulated by a fisherman I met in County Cork. This young lad picked me up for the gig and he was 21 and was a trawlerman. He wanted to know about the glamourous world of DJing, to which I said, It’s bollocks, it’s disco’s, tell me about tales of the sea. He told me about being 18 in a force nine gale, his father, the captain, broke his leg so he had to captain the ship. I was thinking, I couldn’t even look after myself at that age let alone a trawler boat in a force 9 gale. I asked him, Are there times when you get up in the morning and you can’t be arsed? And he said, fail we may, sail we must. Which led to me spending hundreds of pounds and a lot of pain having it tattooed up the sides of my arms. I’ve got a pretty good work ethic and sometimes you have a heavy night and want to phone in poorly but if this guy can captain a ship in a force 9 gale I’m sure I can get up and spend two hours in a disco.”
Weatherall’s questing spirit is still out there, still fighting.
Above all pushing boundaries
Andrew Weatherall’s beloved memory and spirit will shine a light eternally for me and for so many thousands of others. Lee Brackstone puts it perfectly:
“His legacy will grow because he was a truth-seeker, a man of unquantifiable intelligence, taste, integrity, knowledge and compassion.”
The greatest tribute that we can pay to Andrew Weatherall is to ensure that the light he sparked in so many of us continues always to guide us. A statement from Weatherall’s family says:
“Please do what he would have wanted… creating, listening, dancing, but above all pushing boundaries.”
Or, as Mic Wright put it in a beautiful tweeted poem:******
a beautiful futile gesture
don’t be afraid to make
a beautiful futile gesture
each one leaves a trace
Tim Scott on Andrew Weatherall: The strangest noises I had ever heard
Knowing my friend Tim Scott‘s past as a DJ and his enduring love of music, I asked him for a few words about Andrew Weatherall. Here is what Tim has to say:
Music has been a passion of mine for almost as long as I can remember. It has shaped friendships and influenced where and how I spend my time (and money!). Certain musicians hold a status for me which is hard for anyone else to attain. I don’t quite have the’DJ memory’ I once had – the ability to look at the cover of a record and know when, where and how to play that track. But there are still some pieces of music that I can precisely pin to the moment in time that I first heard them. One of those is Primal Scream’s Screamadelica album, the producer behind which we lost a few days ago, producer Andrew Weatherall.
I was 15 and on a school trip to Yorkshire. After a failed attempt to locate “op Withens” – said to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights – my group eventually made it back to the shelter of the school coach to find another team had taken over the stereo and were listening to one of the strangest noises I had ever heard. As I listened and recovered from the thoroughly Brontë-esque weather, I got hooked on the spacey, dubby, largely synthesised sounds of Weatherall’s production.
That was one of the first times that electronic music made sense to me, having been brought up on straight-ahead rock. It sparked an interest in more diverse sounds that led me to The Orb and Underworld and then on to another (short-lived) Weatherall project, The Sabres of Paradise, whose two albums still get regular airings for me. When I moved to Liverpool, Weatherall was a regular DJ at Cream. Whenever his name appeared on the Cream flyer, I’d head along and spend the night on the dancefloor lost in his selections. Other DJs were more influential on my own style, but in terms of simple enjoyment of a master of his craft, Weatherall was the man for me.
George Martin aside, for many years the music producer largely went under the radar whilst the bands gained the attention. If you listen to Primal Scream’s work either side of Screamadelica, the influence of Weatherall is crystal clear. The heavens aligned, he was in the right place with the right tools and he did something different and – I don’t think this is overstating it – paradigm-changing. There are some people whose unwitting contribution to your life is so sizeable, you imagine they’ll be around forever. Sadly, of course, no one ever is – but at least I’ll be able to remember and celebrate the talent of Andrew Weatherall through his lasting musical legacy.
* I’m old enough that I can recall the day John Lennon died, but I was way too young to have any appreciation of what he meant. Kurt Cobain’s passing was sadly all too inevitable (following on from a suicide attempt just weeks before). The night the news of Cobain’s passing broke, I saw Primal Scream live at Brixton Academy, so it seems more than probable that Weatherall would have DJ’d at that very gig (Kris Needs definitely did).
** A few years back, I wrote a post in tribute to John Peel, entitled #7songs: John Peel, King Tubby, sharing & whingeing.
*** Although, unlike Peel, Weatherall also created or was involved in the creation of an immense wealth of outstanding music. Weatherall’s output stretches to 61 pages on Discogs.com.
**** One Facebook tribute that I saw described him as “the John Peel of underground dance music.” It was posted by a commenter on Kris Needs’ Facebook page. If I can track down this needle in a haystack, I will add a link to it!
***** One tiny example (or tiny reminder): I can remember being reduced to tears of laughter reading Andrew Weatherall’s bizarre ramble about dry stone walling techniques in an interview with Jockey Slut magazine. If I ever manage to find this interview online, I will update this post with a link to it.
****** I quote this poem with the author’s generous permission.
- Andrew Weatherall image at top of page from a collection of images created and generously shared via Facebook (on Monday 17 February 2020) by Purposemaker Art. They say: “Weatherall and co artwork from over the years. Download and do as you please within reason. Link will be valid for 7 days and is free. Hopefully it’s a good gesture that AW would appreciate xx.”
- Andrew Weatherall in 2009, via Wikimedia Commons.
- Andrew Weatherall live at Turmills in London, 2001, via Wikimedia Commons.