HAD KEB Darge not picked a fight with a kid in school he would never have discovered taikwando, which means he possibly would never have heard Northern soul, never searched out for the records, and never got a chance to DJ them.
Keb’s journey from growing up in the Scottish Highlands to his position as one of the worlds’ leading DJs is a long strange trip, but a fascinating one as well.
Keb Darge is coming to Galway to treat the city’s music fans to a night of the best Northern Soul, Rock’n’Roll, R’n’B, Funk, Rockabilly, and Jump Blues, at The Cellar Bar, Eglinton Street, on Sunday June 6 from 11.30pm.
He has DJed Galway before and appreciates the way audiences approach and react to the music he plays.“I like the Irish,” Keb tells me during our Tuesday morning interview. “They come along and enjoy themselves and dance away like crazy, dancy things. It’s not like in England where it’s all about ‘Oh I have a bigger record collection than you, ‘Oh yes, I’ve got that record too’, and all this nerdy-boy, one-upmanship. In Ireland it’s a lively, friendly show.”
Keb was born in Elgin, Morayshire, in northern Scotland. Although he has spent most of his life in England, and is planning to move out to the Philippines with his wife, in his heart and soul he will always be a Highlander.
“I’m a Highlander from the hills,” he says proudly. “The Highlands is a very simple, honest way of life. People there, when they ask you what’s your name, it’s not to get anything from you, they really do want to know your name and how you are. In London if someone wants to be your friends it’s to get something off you.”
Keb was obsessed with music from a young age but there was no indication it was to be his chosen path in life. So how did he get into DJing? “Through Taikwando,” replies Keb. “I got a good kicking in school one day. There was blood running out of my nose and I had to go into hospital for three or four days. I vowed that wouldn’t happen again. So when I came back, I did what you do, by picking on the only English kid in the school.”
“I went for him but then he did these amazing moves and I was flat on my back. ‘What was that?’ I said. ‘Taikwando’ he told me. I wanted to learn how to do it so he took me down to an old RAF base where there was taikwando classes and that’s where I began to learn. At the classes they’d play all this sixties soul stuff and I really liked it.”
“I went to university in Aberdeen thinking I was going to become a history teacher,” he says. “I was going down to Wigan each week buying Northern soul records and playing them for myself. There was only one disco around and the DJ Jonathan Scott played disco records. He liked the soul music I was buying though and he’d play a few of them each night, just for me to dance to.
“I was buying more and more records but he didn’t know any of them so in 1975 he said to me ‘You’ll have to play them if you want to hear them’. That’s how I got sucked into DJing. I played the records and the crowd went ‘Wow!’ “A lot of the crowd wanted to hear new and obscure records and I also thought ‘I can be a hero and get a shag out of this!’ And that’s what happened. I did get a few shags.”
Although he has achieved fame and renown as a Northern soul DJ, in recent times, Keb has expanded his sets to include rock’n’roll, rockabilly, and blues. Why?
“It’s more a case of I can,” says Keb. “In 1982/3 I first heard some rockabilly and loved it. I’ve been buying those kinds of records since 1985 but it never crossed over into my DJ sets as there was no audience for it. Then Amy Winehouse came along and the Johnny Cash movie Walk The Line was released so I felt it was OK to play some of that stuff and people liked it.
“When I started DJing in London in 1979 nobody was into Northern soul. Folk today are more open to retro sounds, rather than just what’s released today. It’s like fashion. Once the magazines told you what to wear, now it really doesn’t matter. Music is going the same way. You choose what you want and you listen to who you like.”
Vinyl is, for some, a cult, a religion. Some DJs recoil in horror from those who use CDs or MP3s. For others, DJing using extremely expensive, rare, and original vinyl is bizarre when there are cheaply available re-issues and bootleg 45s popping up for next to nothing. What is Keb’s take on these DJing disputes?
“I play vinyl as I find there is a better and crisper sound,” he says, “but it doesn’t matter to me whether people play on vinyl, CD, or MP3. I remember DJing in Japan once with DJ Jazzy Jeff and Lou Vega. They were both DJing on computers and me on vinyl. Jazzy Jeff’s computer crashed after 25 minutes and Lou’s wouldn’t even start so they couldn’t DJ. Lou was saying ‘But they must be able to give us computers! This is Japan!’ ‘It’s two o’clock in the morning they can’t get you a computer now!’ I told him.
“I’ve found that if an MP3 is damaged it’s unplayable and if a CD is scratched it can’t be repaired. If a record is scratched though, you just put your finger gently on the stylus and the needle skips past the scratch and the song plays on.”
Doors @ 10pm. Admission is €7. Support on the night comes from DJ Dave Barry spinning R&B, Soul & 50s R&R.