by emma last modified Jun 08, 2016 04:19 PM

Sweet Memory Sounds

by emma last modified Jun 08, 2016 04:19 PM
Sweet Memory Sounds

Derek's DJ career spanned over 40 years

DJ Derek: Bristol Legend

Few people embody the spirit of our quirky city better than DJ Derek - the ale loving English man who spoke a deep 'Jamaican.' In a DJ career that spanned over 40 years, Derek was known for playing a blend of 60s rocksteady, reggae, ska, dancehall and soul.

Born in 1941 Derek, grew up in the rock n roll era. A promising musician he played the washboard in a skiffle then the drums in a rock a roll band but, he says; “I always preferred listening to the Black music it wasn't just three guitars and a drummer...'it came from the heart and the soul.”

Initially, Derek’s love of black music was directed to American RnB, but Derek became “enamoured of the West Indian people...[out of] a mutual love of music and cricket.”

Bereavement and divorce brought Derek to a crossroads, which saw him find sanctuary within the community that he had come to love. Known for his vast knowledge of reggae, Derek was invited by the owners of the Star and Club to Deejay. He was so respected by its regulars that when the owner began a new venture the Turntable Club. He insisted that Derek join him, “because you play for everybody including the big people.”

Not just playing, Derek studiously learnt the idioms, accents and rhythms of Caribbean speech from hanging out in the local barbershop Beddoe's and of course from friends, and pub regulars. Derek used his 'performance' voice to win over the more cynical crowds who questioned whether a 'white man could play black people's music.' On seeing the man connected to voice behind the microphone, one visitor to Bristol exclaimed, “Jesus Christ it's a white man!”

It was perhaps because he played for the ‘big people' - playing the songs from the Golden era of reggae, the reggae, ska rocksteady that the first generation of West Indians recognized - that he developed a relationship with Trinity, where many of its management committee members were members of West Indian Parents and Friends and related organisations during its earlier incarnations as a community music venue.

Former Trinity Centre Manager Derrick Sterling has a wealth of fond memories of his encounters in and outside the venue with DJ Derek.

I've known him from early 20s, when I would see him walking through St.Pauls with both hands loaded with record boxes.

We frequently met at Mr P's Record Shop on Picton St throughout the 80s, where all the Sound System men would queue to buy the newest 12 inch reggae tunes fresh from Jamaica. Derek was the DJ of choice for the Caribbean elders and a regular at The Star & Garter for eons.

I frequently jested with him about the amount of times people would ask me if I was DJ DEREK, as they obviously assumed he had to be a black guy. I was always pleasantly amused to see people's faces, when they heard his broad Jamaican accent over the microphone.”

The 2004 BBC documentary catapulted Derek to legendary status. He noted with irony his success in late years epitomised by playing the major national and international festivals- Glastonbury and The Big Chill, Las Palmas (Gran Canaria) – was based on playing the same music he had played in the small clubs and pubs in Bristol.

As well as a regular feature in Bristol venues, Derek played DJ sets at many major music festivals, including Glastonbury and The Big Chill, and places like Las Palmas (Gran Canaria); as well as regular DJ sets in London and across the UK.

Derek was revered by the musicians who's music he played. He became a legend among his peers and among a new generation of musicians including Daddy G who explained to Derek that he was one of his idols during his youth spent listening to songs outside the Star and Garter.

Don Letts and Grant Marshall were in the process of completing a documentary on DJ Derek when the news emerged that he was missing. Earlier this year BBC6Music Festival, film-maker and 6 Music DJ Don Letts sat and discussed the incredible life and tragic disappearance of DJ Derek.

Speaking to the Guardian – who published an obituary for Derek in March 2016, Don Letts said; “He was a reggae encyclopedia. He taught me about the importance of culture in bringing people together. He was an English treasure."

The optimism at the event that Derek would be found alive was not to be. Sadly, in March the same year, Derek’s remains were found, marking the end of the eight-month search and the end of a music career spanning over 40 years. He was literally, as they say, ‘Bigger than the sum of his parts’ Derrick Sterling recalls, “A genuinely very nice man. A gem of fellow. A true Bristol City Legend. The city showed that at his funeral.”

Sweet Memory Sounds

To keep Derek’s musical legacy going, Derek’s family and friends have set up Sweet Memory Sounds, to raise funds for projects and organisations that Derek would have supported such as the Trinity Centre, where Derek previously played.

The group are donating funds raised to the Trinity charity to help with young people get back into learning through making music.

Speaking about the support of Sweet Memory Sounds for Trinity's youth work in Derek’s memory, Derrick Sterling said; “I believe energy never dies, it simply changes form. Trinity has been a benefactor of that energy. Heartfelt gratitude to Derek and his family for their appreciation of the Trinity Centre's contribution to Bristol.

Read more about how Sweet Memory Sounds are supporting Trinity here.

Please get in touch with edson@3ca.org.uk if you have any stories or images you would like to share with us for this memorial page. You can also visit the Sweet Memory Sounds Facebook page and share your memories of Derek.

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