Many of my friends and family are aware of my unfocused obsession with cosmic coincidence. Indeed, most would roll their eyes at the mere mention of it and tell you I am an idiot. They’re not wrong, but I want to make clear that this post isn’t about the cosmos trying to tell me something I can’t understand. Rather it is about a message I think I’ve read loud and clear. It’s not weird, don’t worry.
This summer, along with some friends and well wishers, I helped to make Coffee and Turntables – a weekly weekend DJing event of which I’ve become rather proud. It’s finished now, so don’t look for it, you won’t find it.
A point of order: Though many people collectively made Coffee and Turntables happen, it was Ivan Hell, a Brazilian musician and bubbling pot of ideas, who did a huge amount of the legwork and it would be remiss of me not to get his name in early.
C&T, as the cool kids didn’t call it (the cool kids didn’t call it anything cos the cool kids didn’t go), took place at a pop-up cafe in the Baltic Triangle in Liverpool, a renovated former industrial district which last year was voted one of the 20 coolest places to live in the country. So in theory there should have been a lot of cool kids about. Anyway, their loss.
The event was nothing more than playing vinyl records in the street outside the cafe to punters and passersby, but it brought good vibes to Saturday afternoons before real boozing started and it also brought people together who perhaps might not have met otherwise. It made no money (for us at least, not directly anyway) and many who enjoyed our weekly parties didn’t even come in to buy a delicious sandwich or fresh coffee (also their loss). But it was a lot of fun and many people told us that they thought what we were doing was great.
I don’t want to make out that there was no benefit to the cafe, I can’t speak for their owners, but lots of people did stop for a bite to eat or something to drink because of the music that was attracting everyone’s attention. Sometimes it was obvious (especially couples on bikes, we pulled in a lot of them) and sometimes they told us directly that they came in because of the music. We also brought lots of our friends, who in turn brought their friends and sometimes their kids or dogs.
There were loads of characters who came and went and we saw them all from our vantage point on the steps overlooking the street.
There was Francesco, the Italian who came to Liverpool as a kid who told me tales of going to London with Pete Burns to go clothes shopping. Martin who regaled me with his exploits in bands during the 70s and 80s touring America. The other Martin who danced all the time in his big black boots, the life and soul of every C&T he attended. The guy with the dog who would coo over the vinyl and tell us to display the sleeves so people knew what they were hearing. The chap who used to sit on the wall and read his book but never came in “I just like to come and read and listen to the music”. Richie who would usually roll up at some point, snapping photos and having a natter – “Hey, that’s my bass amp you’re using!” he’d remind us every week. The chap who was having his bike MOTed over the road who recognised me from somewhere or other. The more mature lady who danced like she was 21. The stag and hen dos who bounced past every week. The bride in her gown. The firefighters boogying in their engine. The post-Pride revellers like Caitlyn, Emma, Rosie and Pete. Ste from Plastique Fantastique (next year mate!). Cuz Rachel. Various Valencian Spaniards including Inma. The Swiss Clara and Arthur. Iris for some Spanish flair. Ivana to add another shot of Italian love. Joey, Charlotte and their newborn baby. The lovely, welcoming Tristan and Delia at Hobo Kiosk where we would go afterwards for our ‘after party’ and a well earned pint, to plot and be inspired. And countless more who came and enjoyed the music and the company.
The music that made so many people smile had one policy – the intentionally vague: ‘sunny outside tunes’. By and large we stuck to that, even though we had a range of guests (ten at the last count) with different tastes. People danced and sang, pedestrians did hops and skips in time to the funky rhythms, others whistled along, gave us thumbs up or came over to ask who a track was by. I’d say I probably enjoyed these interactions more than DJing to a busy dance floor (at those times you are usually worrying about keeping people dancing and nosy enquiries about the songs you’re playing, or requests for tracks you don’t have, just get in the way of cuing up the next record).
The whole idea of Coffee and Turntables was born from one song. On Saturday the 5th May I was pottering around my bedroom with my ipod classic on shuffle. There are about 14,500 songs on there so I’m always going to get something I haven’t heard for a bit. (Side note: I once lived with a Swiss man in Argentina who would refer to Peter’s Perpetual Playlist, essentially the fact that I always used the shuffle function and never seemed to actively chose an album or song.)
The ipod threw up its next choice and I started to dance as I folded clothes. I’d heard the song before but never thought about it much and definitely hadn’t heard it in years. The sun was streaming through the open blinds and it all seemed to gel perfectly. The music shouted SUN and GOOD TIMES, even though this was at odds with its ‘cloudy day’ lyrics. The track was What Do I Wish For by The Chi-Lites and if you haven’t heard it you should get it on now before you continue reading and you’ll see what I mean. In fact I’ll embed it here and you can listen as you continue reading. He’s gonna say “oooooooh” any second now.
After a quick look on Discogs I realised it was cheap, so I bought it there and then. I skipped the ipod back and listened again and a thought started to gestate in my head. This song was gonna take its place in my record box for sure but it really belonged in the open air, free to float on the breeze.
Who could help me set it loose? I needed some Brazilian magic, a little touch of Rio de Janeiro. I called Ivan who had recently been a guest on my podcast, Hefty Tomatoes. “Ivan I’ve bought a record and I wanna play it outside in the sun this summer”. “That’s a brilliant idea, Peter leave it with me!”
I can’t remember all the details but beer and plotting were involved – usually at what we came to call the C&T office, the Botanical (Gin) Garden. Ivan sorted the venue and Coffee and Turntables gradually came to life. There was a setback when the cafe he found went bankrupt seemingly overnight but within seven weeks of me dancing in my bedroom whilst doing laundry, I placed that 7″ disc on the turntable, with the uncharacteristic British sun beating down on me, set the needle in the groove and fulfilled my wish. #lifegoals.
Coffee and Turntables ran for eleven weeks with ten events (we had to cancel one thanks to England’s unlikely progression to the quarter finals of the World Cup). It finished on Saturday with our biggest and, arguably, best one. We held it for eight hours rather than the usual four and concurrently with a record fair with local traders, which seemed fitting. Loads of people came down and gave us a great send off and it felt like a lovely way to round off the summer. We’ve been lucky in the UK this year and the usual dreary grey rain gave way to a blistering heat wave for much of it. Had we wanted to DJ outside any other year it would have been a different kettle of fish and people would have openly laughed at the suggestion, let alone come. Despite now being September 1st, the sun (or at least lack of rain) worked in our favour one final time, something we always attributed to our ‘patron saint’, Brazilian soul funk legend Tim Maia smiling down on us from his ‘world of rational energy‘.
I’d like to thank the guest DJs who helped us: Clara, Jimmy, Martin, Marty, Lula, Essa, Danny, Will, Syd and Issy. I’d like to thank the staff at The Baltic Roastery for being so accommodating, helpful and friendly. Shout outs to Joe, James, Lizzy and Josie. After all, they were working when we were having fun. Thanks to the staff at the garage over the road for putting up with the noise. Thanks to all who came and danced, chatted and made us laugh. Thanks to Ivan for being the perfect partner in crime.
It would be disingenuous and dramatic to say it felt like a community, it was just some songs outside a cafe. But it felt like we were doing something, participating rather than passively consuming. As we chatted long into the night in our self-styled Hobo Kiosk ‘after parties’, we would always return to the same mantra: Make your own culture. The very fact that you are doing something at all gives it value, even if it has limited appeal.
I’ve been thinking more about that Chi-Lites song. I had the honour of closing the event with my third set of the day on Saturday and it seemed the only song I could end with. It kicked us off at the first event and it played us out. I don’t want to be deterministic or fatalistic or anything, but if the ipod hadn’t thrown up that track, of all the almost fifteen thousand it had to choose from, none of the above would have happened. I wouldn’t have had my chance to play outside in the sun. I wouldn’t have cemented my friendship with Ivan. I wouldn’t have met all those people. I wouldn’t have got the ‘sun tan’ I unbelievably have on my arms (legs still as white as snow, mind). I wouldn’t have had one of the best summers since childhood.
So, my takeaway is this: The next time my ipod – or anything else randomly generated in life – tosses me something and it gives me an idea, I should run and run with that idea. Run as far as I can with it. Try and make it happen. Because it could lead to something marvellous and it would have been a crying shame if C&T (seriously, it’ll catch on with the cool kids eventually when they talk of us retrospectively and pretend they used to come) had never happened.
So thanks cosmic vibrations! This time I got the message and it only took a combined seventeen weeks from start to finish. The thing is, I just heard a song about rockets on my ipod and now I wanna DJ in space. So see you next summer for Cosmonauts and Turntables baby!
Listen to a retrospective episode of my Hefty Tomatoes podcast here, with some of the guest DJs who appeared at Coffee and Turntables.