Every so often I go down to the lock-up and pull the covers off the All Crewsmobile. Rolling through this land of Jungle Drum & Bass Culture, I never quite know where the road will take me, or who or what I’ll discover along the way.
Navigator’s at the controls in his East London studio.
“OK Cleveland, recording in… 3… 2… 1… Cue music and…”
Piano keys tinkle, notes percolate through speakers; melody flows. We hear, ‘All the crew muss big up…’ Fade music. Slide up the mic and go Cleveland…” Produced by Navigator MC and DJ Bailey. Narrated by Cleveland Watkiss MBE.” “…Thanks Cleveland. Perfect.” nods Navi, tapping the laptop’s well worn space bar, pausing the recording. There’s pure goosebumps inside the ride.
June 2019. It’s taken months to get to this point and we’re massively behind schedule. But this has been a massive undertaking. My wife Kate and I are addicted to audiobooks. They’re the best thing to have happened to publishing since the invention of the printing press. Audiobooks are the essential go-to choice for people in today’s hectic world, who have neither the time, patience or inclination to sit down and read a good book.
In 2016, 5.5 million Brits rinsed audiobooks and numbers are growing year on year, especially amongst us chaps. According to The Guardian and the Publishing Association, sales of actual physical books are falling, superseded by audio. Well, they do say in your time of dying, (provided you haven’t been deafened by decades of DnB)… hearing is the last sense to go, and it’s also our most powerful. Bring on All Crews Audio!
Some time in January 2019, probably during a TV ad break, Kate suggests, “You should release All Crews as an audiobook.”
Blapp! “Excellent idea. I’m on it.” But if ever there was a case of, ‘Easier said than done.’ this was it.
What exactly does it involve? How difficult can it be? Well easy if you get one Ac-Tor reading from a book held aloft on his outstretched arm, enunciating stanzas. But it was immediately clear that All Crews could never work that way. Sorry but although I’ve been accused of ‘lovin’ the sound of my own voice.’ (Moi! Kate how could you say such a thing…) it was immediately clear that that wouldn’t work. All Crews is a factual tome quoting around 80 people’s words. Yes 80 different people! Some saying as little as, “REWIND!!!” or “What you on?” Then you have Rob Playford describing how Timeless came about. Or Dr John Henry describing the inner workings of your brain and kidneys after yet another cheeky half, and what causes chest pain after snorting that phat line of charlie.
I basically had to deconstruct the whole book… All 167,000 words. Yep One-Hundred-And-Sixty-Seven-Thousand-Words… Sorry. I just need you to feel my pain… Whenever there are “Speech marks” in the text, I had to identify who said what and to whom.
When people ask, “Have you got any kids?” I say, “Yeah three. Zyon aged 12, Rosa 9 and All Crews aged 20. Nadine our invaluable designer is the only other person, who’s been with All Crews since the beginning. That makes All Crews our Love Child. And its come a long way since its original conception as an email to my ‘Rassclatt – Jungle’s only a black male thing – Bumbaclatt MTV boss.’
The World’s favourite don’t-fuck-about punk John Lydon sings, shouts, “Anger is an energy.” Instead of bricking the Exec Producer’s glass-walled office, I remembered, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ and got busy writing. Although I can bathe in the delicious fantasy of dashing that brick through those glass walls, it’s probably best for all concerned that I wrote All Crews instead. #Positivity.
But still, how was I going to transform All Crews which was written to be read, into a script to be spoken?
Enter Theatre Director and Junglist, Stef O’Driscoll. January 2019. I’m welcomed at the Barbican’s stage doors, rolling through the innards of London’s sophisticated cultural palace. In a rehearsal room, Stef’s facilitating an improvisational gathering of actors, musicians and playwright Omar El-Khairy’s lyrics.
Their goal? To produce a theatre piece breathing life into raver’s memories and stories of Fabric, where music meets the multitudes. When originally conceived, Fabric had been under imminent threat of closure. Remember how, in that dreadful hiatus of shock and mourning, we all exchanged our memories of Fabric, as if we were at its wake. People posted memories online or glued posted memories on the boards sealing Fabric’s doors. Thankfully London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan didn’t, like a doctor, have to call ‘time of death’ on this clubland institution.
Stef O’Driscoll’s gathering breathed life into those memories, reproducing that feeling of walking into a DnB club where beats n bass resound and it’s all goin’ off. Immersed in thoughts of limelight, make-up, scripts, mics with headsets, technical language, technitions and pure group creativity… I’d forgotten how much I loved this world.
I was one of those kids in school and college, always getting involved in drama. Not dramas from campus security closing down our Sussex Uni raves after the Summer of Love. No the stage variety. Acting wasn’t my thing. Producing and directing was. I staged 12 Angry Men, Sidney Lumet’s classic courtroom drama. But I/we transported the action from white patriarchal 50s America, to 80s Thatcherite Britain, re-introduced death by hanging and made half the jurors women. The performances sold out with ‘cues around the block’ type thing. We even had to stage extra shows. Same thing with Macbeth which we also remixed. It sold out. By luck and intuition we got it right.
Turning All Crews into a script took about three months. As the author, all that work was down to me, which was fine. Besides, returning to the parent child analogy, it’s the kind of thing only a parent would do for their child. Encroaching Multiple Sclerosis forced my early retirement from the world of ICU Nursing. Call me strange but I loved working hard. Loved it when the unit was mental, and by the end of the shift our team of Nurses and Doctors were fully rinsed, having given our all to our patients and their families. I loved being challenged. Converting the book to a script was just another challenge. Living life in a wheelchair has its challenges. And sometimes I just love rockin’ up unexpectedly and seeing the look on people’s faces and hearing, “You’ve come here from where – On That?!”
As a creative type, there’s that magical moment when things evolve from being random thoughts, to scribbled notes, to a working title, to words collectively flowing from other people’s mouths, seeing them in print, hearing them coming through the radio. That’s how it was with the name One in the Jungle. I thought of it at home, wrote those title words on a proposal, met Radio One managers and months later, it’s coming out the radio as jingles and presenter’s words. The first time that happens is sick! That’s the score when other people breathe life into your words. Just like with All Crews which has become a book and collective. The word, ‘Exciting’ doesn’t even come close.
But stay locked for the next episode ~ and see what happens when the scene gets involved, stepping up to the microphone. Knowing this scene for 25 years, one thing’s for sure, things will get well controversial.