Even by his own high-achieving, high-rolling, hi-NRG standards, DJSpoony wasn’t expecting his Garage Classical live spectacular to go quite as well as that. But, well, it did.
Premiering at the Liverpool International Music Festival in 2017, the show was put together by the “godfather of garage” and composer/conductor Katie Chatburn to mark the 20thanniversary of the music that swept Britain – the clubs, the airwaves, the charts, the parks, the streets – in the mid- to late-Nineties. Mindful of the musical playground being offered by the 36-piece IgnitionOrchestra, Spoony handpicked 20 classics from the genre and gave Chatburn one brief: don’t be afraid.“Katie didn’t want to disrespect the tracks but I told her we could push it– we wanted to test ourselves and to demonstrate these tunes can be done another way,” explains the Hackney-born DJ, broadcaster, artist and producer. “For example, when we did A Little Bit Of Luck, two-thirds of it doesn’t even sound like that tune!” he laughs. “We wanted to pay respect to what DJ Luck and MC Neat did, but also take it somewhere new. And I loved it.
”It’s a mark of the songs’ compositional strengths, and of the genre’s timeless appeal, that they could not only survive the translation into anew sound. They could bloom into something wholly new.“I put together an hour’s worth of music that I thought would make the journey into classical but also represent UK garage. Some were more obvious than others. But because I’ve been in and around music for so long,” continues a music obsessive who’s been a club, radio, TV, and Ibiza fixture since 1997, “I know anything’s possible. And, actually, the fact that it is a different interpretation means you do have a license to give it its own feel.”Constructing the set, some tracks were cornerstone cuts, such as CrazyLove and Sincere by MJ Cole. “MJ was classically trained and you canhear that in his music. So that was easy – those tunes had to be there, and they translated well.”
Some, he admits, was more of a test, like Richie Dan’s Call It Fate.“There’s a lot more drum and bass and kick in that one. Richie came into the scene as a reggae MC, so that was already a juxtaposition.“Also, with My Desire, the Dreem Team record,” he notes of his own classic cut from 1997, made with old friends Mikee B and Timmi Magic, “I was curious to hear how our tune would sound. And part of including that was about saying thanks to Timmi, who was our exec producer and really led the way in the studio.”With Spoony’s song selection and Chatburn taking the lead on arrangements, the show with the Ignition Orchestra was a smash in Liverpool. “Normally I’m on the decks, playing the music. But there I was presenting, curating, getting on the mic, and explaining what was coming up. It went off in Liverpool, and I just thought: if we do this in London, we’ll take the roof off.”Cue last summer’s Garage Classical show at the Barbican. A word-of-mouth and social media sell-out in only 48 hours, the guest vocalists included So Solid Crew’s Megaman and Harvey, as well as Britain’s GotTalent breakout star Lifford.
It was another smash, and the only way was up, again. In December Spoony took Garage Classical across the capital, to the Eventim Apollo, twice the capacity of the Barbican. This time the guest vocalists were Megaman, Harvey, Lisa Maffia, and Romeo, “the core members” of So Solid – and, on top of that, The Streets’ Mike Skinner and Ms. Dynamite. “He was amazing and she hadn’t performed in two years. We didn’t announce anyone. We just played the intro and they came out – and people went mad. I’m getting goosebumps now eventhinking about it!” grins this irrepressibly enthusiastic music man. “People like Mike and Ms. Dynamite transcended UK garage, but that was the scene that helped form them.“There’s a whole new generation now listening to the garage,” he expands.“There’s a second wave for us, which is so great for the scene, and for me – it gives me something fresh to get my teeth into. It’s like going back to school in more ways than one. I’m even playing my trombone again! That’s how much it’s inspired me.”For DJ Spoony, Garage Classical is the latest chapter in a remarkable life in music, and evidence of his ongoing appetite for new adventures.
It’s also one part of an incredible portfolio of interests and activities for the pioneer. He began his broadcasting career on pirate station LondonUnderground, then joined Kiss, and then Galaxy, a gig which helped him take garage outside London. “We went all over the Midlands, the North, Wales. We saw the music going properly nationwide.”The nation’s favorite came calling in 2000, with Spoony, Mikee, and Timmi joining Radio 1 as UK garage hit its creative and commercial peak. The trio won a prestigious Sony award in their first year on the channel. By nights, Spoony was smashing it too, as one of the resident DJs at legendary London garage night Twice As Nice. That BBC work bounced into another passion, football. As a lifelong Liverpool fan(atic), and a decent player himself, Spoony could talk tactics, as well as out-bantz his Arsenal-supporting Dream Team colleagues (he claims).
“And off the back of that, I got a call-in show, 606. So I was doing music on Radio 1, sport on 5 Live…”It’s a twin-track career Spoony continues to this day, with a regular,season-round show as a presenter for Global Premier League TV. Say it again: living the dream. And all that without mentioning the time he won Celebrity Mastermind: specialist subject, Ray Charles…And now, for his next trick, DJ Spoony is taking the next inspired step with Garage Classical: an album, to be released this summer on the newSony imprint Since ’93. Confirmed vocalists working alongside KatieChatburn and the Ignition Orchestra include So Solid Crew, Ms.Dynamite, Craig David, Lifford, and Elizabeth Troy.
“This album has to represent garage,” states Spoony firmly – a crucial mission statement which means that he is, for now, keeping his cards close to his chest as to the full line-up and running order. “That’s been my main focus from the first meetings with the label: it has to go right across the board, from So Solid to Artful Dodger.”What this album, and this sound, also represent, are the roots of modern British music. Before there was grime, there was a garage. And in the summer that Stormzy headlines Glastonbury when Skepta releases the follow up to the Mercury-winning Konnichiwa and Dave continues to smash it with his astonishing debut, it’s fitting that garage and its don are back in the middle of things, mixing it up with a new-old sound and anew-old attitude. In the months ahead, catch DJ Spoony if you can. At his weekly residency in Ibiza, at his bi-monthly club night in Omeara, in his studio- office plotting the Garage Classical album and the next, ultra-special show: next stop, the Royal Albert Hall. Or you’ll find him at Anfield, or a commentary box somewhere, or on the golf course, trying to drive his handicap down from a very impressive eight (he claims).To quote one of those garage classics: he’s moving too fast.
And DJSpoony wouldn’t have it any other way. But don’t blame him. Blame the music.“Garage has an undeniable energy,” he says. “And if you go in with an open mind and open ears, you can’t help dancing.”