Oldie but goldie: Meet DJ Derek

WHEELS OF STEEL: DJ Derek in action. PIC: Dave Swindells
WHEELS OF STEEL: DJ Derek in action. PIC: Dave Swindells
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DEREK Morris flicks through his diary. “I haven’t got a Friday or Saturday off until Christmas,” he says, thumbing the pages. “I’m literally all over the country.

DEREK Morris flicks through his diary. “I haven’t got a Friday or Saturday off until Christmas,” he says, thumbing the pages. “I’m literally all over the country.

“When I turned 65 I thought I’d wind things down a bit. But I’m 71 in a couple of months and I’m busier than ever.”

As his alter ego DJ Derek, this mild-mannered former accountant from Bristol is currently one of the biggest – and most surprising – draws in clubland.

Having started DJing for ‘beer money’, the cardigan-wearing septuagenarian now spends his days crisscrossing the country performing in front of adoring crowds.

He has had a starring role in a Dizzee Rascal video, released his own compilation CD and this week makes his latest appearance in Leeds, with a DJing set at the third birthday party of city centre bar and club Distrikt.

“I always get a great reception in Leeds,” he says. “Everywhere I go there is this queue of people at the door and I think, who else is playing here tonight? Then I realise they’re here for me. It’s amazing.”

Derek first started DJing in the 1970s, having developed a love of reggae and ska music.

“When the West Indians started coming over in the 1950s and 60s, the first opportunity I had I went and listened to the music they brought over, which was proper R ’n’ B, not what they call R ’n’ B these days.

“I was playing in a skiffle group at the time, but when it came to music the black originals always impressed me more than the white copies.

“I ended up quitting my job working as an accountant for Cadbury’s – I’d been there for 18 years but never liked the nine to five because I was more of a night owl – and went on the dole.

“Then a West Indian friend of mine took over the pub round the corner and asked me to play some music for a bit of beer money. From there people started booking me for parties and things.

“I learned patois because I was playing in a Jamaican club and I needed it in order to be accepted. I learned it from the customers at a local West Indian barber’s shop.

“At the club where I played they would keep the shutters over the DJ booth as everyone came in and I’d greet the punters in patois, let them get a drink and then put on the most popular record of the time.

“Then they would sling back the shutters and by the time they realised I was white it was too late, they were already dancing.”

Derek’s popularity spread after he was featured in a BBC documentary in 1994, which followed ordinary people doing unlikely things.

“That was the real turning point. After that the festivals came calling. I’ve played at things like the Big Chill and Glastonbury, although I hated Glastonbury because it was far too big. I made sure they picked me up from my front door and dropped me back there straight after.”

In Leeds he has played at the Faversham and also at Nation of Shopkeepers on Cookridge Street. This Friday will see him make his second appearance at Distrikt, on Duncan Street, as part of its third birthday celebrations.

However, his lack of a computer or mobile phone means Derek can only be booked via a call to his landline, with written confirmation to follow. His requests are rather different to other superstar DJs too – just a train ticket, a hotel near to a Wetherspoons pub, and four non-refrigerated bottles of ale.

“I like Wetherspoons because they do a good range of beers and I like the food,” he says. “My favourite tipple is a good pint of London Pride.

“I like to travel on the local bus routes as well because you get to see places you wouldn’t normally visit. In fact, I’m planning to come up to Leeds a couple of days early and stay around Pontefract or Brighouse. I’m just looking at the bus routes now.”

Despite playing to punters young enough to be his grandchildren, Derek says he has never felt out of place.

“I’m surprised I haven’t had a bit more aggro to be honest, particularly from young people. But after being in a Dizzee Rascal video they seem to think I’m alright and they like my music.

“The DJing pays for everything, which is useful because I’ve been self-employed so I’ll only get the basic state pension. I’m still determined to take some time off next year, but as long as I have my health and still enjoy myself I’ll carry on doing it.”

* DJ Derek will be at the first leg of Distrikt’s third birthday, which takes place at the Duncan Street venue from 8pm-2am this Friday. (Oct 12)

Entry is free. For information visit: www.distrikt.co.uk

Harry Gration.

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