You'd never guess it from my performance with any kind of writing implement, but these hands have given pleasure to hundreds. I could develop that thought, but the New Statesman is a signatory to the PEN charter on double entendres. So I'll stick to saying that, at the drop of a needle or the twitch of a slipmat, I've raised the temperature at social gatherings, from chilly all the way up to lukewarm. I'm a DJ. This is an honorary title nowadays. I've been appearing on the decks about as frequently as that former RMT man John Prescott has mounted the Connex footplate. But once a DJ, always a DJ. I only have to go near a turntable and it's like falling off a bicycle.
Having been asked to spin the platters at a party, I was delighted to come across Radio 1's Gilles Peterson when I was on a last-minute music-buying spree. Peterson (pictured) was plugging his new compilation of eclectic jazz, Worldwide Volume 2 (Talkin' Loud). Here was a chance for me to listen and learn.
Due to a low-key promotion by the record store, Peterson was only lightly mobbed. A relative novelty to him, this was a poignant refresher for me. The only time I can recall being mobbed at all was by a drunken headbanger who wanted a request. "Lynyrd Skynyrd or death!" he said. I wish I'd been brave enough to tell him I'd have to think about it.
The unassuming Peterson didn't play his new release. At least, not before I'd asked him if that's what we were listening to in the store's DJ booth, which looked like the place where they take the shoplifters. "No!" said Peterson. "Perhaps I should stick it on." Here we had something in common because I didn't spin his record, either, much as I'd have liked to. It wouldn't have worked in my venue, a room over a pub. I did play a couple of the tracks, but they don't count because the guests were eating at the time. Not only that, but I talked over the music, announcing that there was plenty of hotpot left. This is what it would have been like if Alan Bennett had ridden the wheels of steel.
They've mucked about with DJ kit since I last used it. Not only can you mix between decks, but you can flick a lever to "pre-assign" which one you're cueing next, though as it turned out, I couldn't. I took records off while they were still playing. If this had been jockeying of the horsy variety, my whinnying nag would have been shot from under me, and me with it. I claimed earlier that these old hands of mine had livened up the odd gathering, at which I played unhip but evergreen tracks by artists like the Bee Gees and Abba. This brings me to a philosophical conundrum, inspired by the familiar poser about a tree falling in a lonely wood. What noise does a DJ make without his records?