Podcast Episode 10 - Charlie Dark on 'Expansions'
Here's another story from our October shows at The Tabernacle, this time featuring DJ, poet and RunDemCrew head honcho Charlie Dark. Charlie's story touches on his adolescence in deepest South London, and features an encounter with a man called 'Sweaty Tony'. What's not to like?
What I want you all to think back to now, is your childhood bedroom. Some of you may have parents who may have preserved your childhood bedroom, which is exactly the same as you left it in the vein hope that one day you may come home and actually stay permanently. But my childhood was an amazing place - one because it was so small. It was six foot by six foot, and when you put your hands out you could virtually touch the walls. I turned that bedroom into an amphitheatre, it was a stadium, it was a nightclub - it was many things in my life through my imagination. But this story starts in 1983, and it's going to jump through a couple of years.
So my mum is from Ghana in West Africa. This is very important to the story for you to understand. What this means is, your house, or indeed your bedroom, becomes both a prison and a fortress, from which you are never allowed to leave. And so when most of my friends were out gallivanting through London, I was just locked in my bedroom, basically trying to find myself. Couple this on the fact that I went to this very prestigious private school in South London - Jude Law was in the year below me - which meant I was in this mini-Africa at home, and in the daytime I was just hanging out with people who had loads more cast than I did, feeling really, really confused about life.
For my thirteenth birthday for some reason my mother decided that she wanted to invite some of these people from my school to our house in deep South London - we lived in East Dulwich, when East Dulwich was a hole. So my Mum for some reason decides I should have a party, and I'm saying to her, "No! Whatever you do we shouldn't have a party! Please don't let these people come to my house! You're going to turn up wearing a head wrap about six feet high! There's going to be food smells coming from the kitchen that these people have never experienced before. It's going to be embarrassing, and I'm never going to be able to go to school again!"
She ignored me and she had the party.
The party is significant for a couple of things, because basically the other people in my class brought their own music to my house. If you can imagine, the soundtrack to my childhood was James Brown, Fela Kuti, and various other obscure records from the 70s. And then we have this thirteenth birthday party and then one of my best friends turns up with the Iron Maiden album.
Basically what happens is, my Mum was like a studio connoisseur and she had this amazing stereo that no one was allowed to touch. I don't know if you are familiar with this but in many African houses in the 70s, they had a room called the 'best room'. This is a room that no one was allowed to enter. You just walked past and looked into the room. And everything in this room would still be covered in the plastic from the showroom...
So imagine this - we've now got thirty public school kids in my house, in deep south London. They're playing Iron Maiden records on my mum's prestigious stereo, and they're playing them backwards because they're trying to find satanic messages. This is not a good start. This thirteenth birthday party was one of those classic ones where you ask everyone to arrive at 7, and by 7:30 no one is there. 8 o'clock, no one is there... 9 o'clock no one is there... And then at half nine, you hear the knock and it seems like that school, the school next door, the other school in South London, all of the schools of South London have now descended on your house... With your African mum, to listen to Iron Maiden records, backwards to try and find Satanic messages.
The party ends very very badly indeed. My mum had asked my cousin Fenella to come and chaperone the party. My cousin Fenella was from West London. She was from Shepherd's Bush. And she was really, really, really cool. And she took great pity on me. And after the party she said to me, "Listen... you cannot listen to Iron Maiden records, backwards. There is other music out there... I know you're trying to find yourself, so what I'm going to do is I'm going to give you is a piece of paper. And on this piece of paper is the frequency of a radio station. Listen to this radio station. This radio station will make you cool."
I'd do anything, because I just wanted to find my voice and escape from the fortress. So I tune in, and this radio station is called JFM - you have to say that in the deep, 80s pirate radio voice - "You are now listening to J... F... M...". So imagine that.
(For many years I was convinced that my Maths teacher was actually the person that was pretending to be the pirate radio man. Because he had the very deep voice... )
Anyway... I take the piece of paper. My cousin leaves, everyone leaves... The party is deemed a kind of mini-success. Surprisingly a lot of the kids I went to school with enjoyed eating Joloff Rice, pounded yam and fufu, because they'd never had it before.
So I start listening to this pirate radio station JFM, and this is a very short story about the record that I discovered that changed my life.
Pirate radio - illegal radio - broadcasting through your stereo.
Stations sandwiched between stations on the far right hand side of your FM dial. And a boy, in a bedroom, in South London, with his head glued to the speaker.
I'm learning about all this amazing new music. I'm hearing about jazz, and blues, and things called rare grooves, and weird hip hop obscure from the Bronx, a place I'd never been to before... And all my days are filled with filling my head with music.
Now, I also find out about this amazing club in a place called North London. A place called Camden. It's a place I've never been to before. It's the furthest North in England I've ever been. And the club is called Dingwalls...
Now, the only reason why I'm interested in going to this club is that this club is on a Sunday. Between 12 and 4pm. And what that means, my friends, is that I can tell my Mum that I'm studying at Danny Stringer's house... Danny Stringer is going to tell his mum that he's studying at my house... and as long as I'm back by 6 to do my Latin homework, we are all cool...
Sunday arrives and I make my way up to Camden. I remember walking out of Camden station being like "...whoah! This is one of the most amazing places I've ever been to in my life".
I walk my way up Camden High Street and finally get into the courtyard, and there's a queue for this club called Dingwalls. And I'm like "Man this is going to be so cool". I position myself in the queue, and I'm looking around, and finally I get to the bouncer. And he starts to pat my down. And I'm like, this is the most amazing feeling in my life.
He lifts up the velvet rope and he ushers myself and Danny Stringer into the dance. It's dark, it's really, really smelly, it's stinky - it smells of beer - and the music is really really loud. And for once in my life, I just feel like I'm home.
Now, the problem is, I have never actually been to a club before, so I don't actually know what you're supposed to do. So, like any self-respecting B-boy - and at that time, probably around the age of 16, I was obsessed with American Hip-Hop records. I changed the way I spoke. I wore the most extremely baggy trousers I could find. And I basically walked around with my arms permanently crossed, with a scowl on my face.
I walk in, and I make my way towards the dance floor. And when I get there, I'm seeing all of the dancers that I've heard about on the radio - because at that time, every dancer had a nickname. So I'm seeing I D J Boys. And then I see Trevor Shakes. And then I see Paul 'Trouble' Anderson. And then, I see him - Sweaty Tony! Woah!
Imagine this scenario. Sweaty Tony is six foot six. His skin is as dark as charcoal and he has rocks for muscles. In fact he has muscles in places that you've never ever seen before in your life. His arms are just like Pow! Pow Pow Pow! And his stomach is pow pow pow p-p-p-p pow! He is six foot six, dark as night, and he's wearing dungarees.
And I'm like this is so cool! And Sweaty Tony is in the middle of the dance floor circle and he is spinning and he is sweating. He is spinning around, and he's sweating. And the sweat is flying off Sweaty Tony's body, into the eyes and ears of all the people who are gathered around the circle. And for some strange reason, I do not know why, I suddenly think to myself - "I want to be in the circle! I want to walk into the circle, and I want to battle Sweaty Tony!".
So I walk my way in, and I start to drop my best B-Boy moves.
Uh! Uh! Uh!
I'm really getting down. I'm getting so into it I do a little spin... Uh! And then I start getting down some more. I get so carried away by the situation, I decide to break out my special move. Now this move is known as the skip. I shall demonstrate this move for you now.
The first thing you do, is you take your left hand, and you wave it in the sky like so. And then, you wait for your right foot to wake up, and then you bring your right foot up to your left hand - Huh!
And then, you get yourself ready to do the skip...
Now, the skip is like an introductory, "I'm here, and I'm about to get down. Clear some space for me". So people start to clear some space.
And one guy goes to me, "What's your name?".
And I'm like, I don't really have a name just yet... "My name is Chucky D".
"Yeah, that'll do".
And the crowd starts shouting Chucky D, Chucky D, Chucky D...
And I'm moving around, and I'm in the skip, and I bring my left arm up, and I go... Argh!
And I will say that your reaction is definitely more positive to the reaction I received at the time. Because basically what happens is I get kind of tangled up, and when I lift my eyes from the ground, most of the people are laughing at me. And as I wake up, and I dust my clothes down, and walk out the circle, slightly in shame...
But when I get out, I'm like, that was amazing! People were clapping for me, and saying my name! You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to go home, to my bedroom in South London, practice some more moves, and I'm coming back next week to take out Sweaty Tony!!!
So I bounce my way out of the club. And the first thing I do on Monday is I go to Oxfam after school, and I buy myself some jazz clothes. I get myself a waistcoat, some baggy trousers with pleats at the bottom, some black and white shoes known as spats, and, to top my outfit off, my friends, I get myself a beret!
Six days later I am ready. I've been in my bedroom, and I've been going for it. I've been jumping around in my bedroom, practicing new moves. And all I can hear is my African mum on the phone back to Ghana saying,
"Hey, I don't know what is wrong with the boy... He is bashing himself around in his bedroom. My ornaments are flying from the walls. I don't know what to do with this boy!!!".
Six days later I go back. When I get back in the queue, believe me when I say the bouncer doesn't even bother to pat me down. He just picks up the rope and he waves me through. And I walk my way in, and I wait to find Sweaty Tony.
My friends, you can feel the anticipation in the club. People know that something is about to really go down.
I see Sweaty Tony spinning and sweating in the middle of the circle. And I walk my way up and I look him dead in the eye, and I say...
Which is the international signal of 'it's about to go down'. So the crowd parts as I make my way through. IDJ are in the corner. Trevor Shakes is getting down. Paul 'Trouble' Anderson is doing up his shoe lace. Sweaty Tony is ready, and we start going at it...
"Uh! Uh! Uh!"
I get so excited I don't even bother - I go straight into my move! Get my arm up! Grab on to my foot! Move myself around, and basically I bang my best move - "Duh!"
I stand in my best B-Boy freeze. Waiting for the applause.
Unfortunately for me, Sweaty Tony takes one look at me, and he does a back flip in my face. And he basically ushers me off the dance floor.
As I find myself walking back into the crowd, I think to myself, this is it. This is what life is always going to be like. I'm never going to find my voice. I'm never going to find a place I can call home. I'm never going to be accepted...
But as I'm walking out of the club, my eye is caught by a structure high above the dancefloor. And it's the first time that I see the DJ Box. And then it dawns on me. The thing about the DJ box is - you can't see the DJ's feet!
And it's at that exact moment, that the DJ, with a flick of his wrist brings the next tune in, that I suddenly realise my destiny. It's at that moment that I decided that I was going to become a DJ.
Because I realised, I got two left feet...