Am I the oldest swinger in town?

Still spinning the discs: John Nurden as JR King

Still spinning the discs: John Nurden as JR King

Is your DJ the oldest swinger in town?
Have you noticed something strange happening with mobile discos?
Remember when a spotty teenager would turn up with some gear out of his dad’s car?
Well, now the DJ for your wedding, birthday party or club awards night is more likely to be an OLD MAN.
The teenagers have grown up and, despite their best intentions to quit, are still spinning the discs in their 60s.
Who would have thought DJs would still be entertaining the crowds as they approach their old age pensions?
Veteran jock Tony Blackburn, 72, has proved that age is the new youth as his BBC Radio Two Pick of the Pops show goes from strength to strength, boasting more than two million listeners.
After more than 50 years in broadcasting he admitted: “I can’t do anything else, and I do really love radio. I’ve loved it from when I was a child. I still get a lovely warm feeling going into Radio 2 on a Saturday and a sense of excitement. I love studios. I’d like to live in a studio.”
Perhaps that’s why so many DJs just carry on until that ultimate fade.
This week Adrian Farrow set the cat among the pigeons with a seemingly harmless post on the timeline of the Disco and DJ Help, Set ups, info, playlist Facebook page.
He innocently asked: “I have just turned 50 and have been DJ-ing for more than 30 years. At what age should you hang up your headphones and call it a day?”
He received an avalanche of replies, all telling him to keep going. He even received one from me. I am 61 and still taking bookings for my disco – JR King’s Juggernaut Roadshow – on the sun-kissed Isle of Sheppey in Kent.
Fifty? It is true that when I began DJ-ing in my teens with my mate Steve Fowler we thought we’d be lucky to get three years of work out of this new craze. Before that, people had the choice of a band or a Dansette record-player for their village hall party.
In those days there was no off-the-shelf disco equipment to buy. It was so new we had to build our own amplifiers and convert two Garrard gramophone (lovely old word) SP25 record decks into a twin-deck system using bits of plywood.
Old wooden beer bottle crates were used to transport a collection of 45rpm singles – they fitted perfectly. Three-channel sound-to-light systems with coloured bulbs were also very basic.
The thought of DJs still playing shows in their 30s was laughable.

Early days: John Nurden and Steve Fowler's Juggernaut Roadshow

Early days: John Nurden and Steve Fowler’s Juggernaut Roadshow

But when I reached 30 and was still DJ-ing it no longer seemed weird. In fact, the more experienced I became at ‘reading’ an audience and knowing how to MC a night, be it a wedding, birthday party, village fete or school disco, the more work I was asked to do.
Now I am busier, although the discs are CDs augmented by MP3 files on a laptop. The lights are all automatic. I confess I have no idea how they actually work anymore. Lighting controllers are a bit like modern cars. You no longer need a motor mechanic to carry out a service, you need a computer boffin.

On stage: Juggernaut Roadshow at Sheerness East Club

On stage: Juggernaut Roadshow at Sheerness East Club

I was quietly confident that I was, indeed, the oldest swinger in town. But that was before Adrian’s post. Alas, I now know that I am not. Thanks to his missive, many other not-so-doddering DJs have come out of the woodwork.
Adrian admitted: “I am still getting the work but I am finding the early morning finishes harder than they were 20 years ago.”
Quite. Ian Vincent, 57, chimed in: “I still enjoy DJ-ing but, yeah, the very late nights are a killer.”
Birmingham’s Richard Smith added: “Welcome to the nifty-fifties club. I am 57 and have been doing this for more than 35 years. And I’m still enjoying it. I have my son with me now with the full intention of him taking over the business and disco name to keep it going for years to come.”
Yikes. It makes cool disco sound like a high street greengrocers. But, yes, many sons and daughters are now following in their dad’s (and it is still mainly dads) footsteps.
Peter Garbett, 63, a retired fireman from Coventry who goes by the name of the Disco Doc, advised: “Keep going as long as you can. I now have my grandson DJ-ing with me. And I have bought a stair-climber truck so I don’t have to carry heavy equipment up and down stairs anymore. I still love it.”
John Taghill Wright from Heanor, near Derby, quipped: “I’m 63 and hope to be the DJ at my own wake! Seriously, if you can keep doing it, then keep doing it. Music is the lifeblood of life itself.”
Although he added: “I no longer take upstairs bookings.”
Keiron Woodhouse from Blackpool added this advice: “You are never too old, as long as you keep up to date with the music. Don’t assume that what worked 30 years ago still works today. Also, keep up to date with techniques and be able to mix for jobs which require it.”
Mix for jobs? That’s like teaching your grandma how to suck eggs. Our generation pioneered the use of mixing. I recall at one stage having THREE decks after watching a genius German DJ demonstrate the black art at the now defunct Stage Three night club in Leysdown on the sun-kissed Isle of Sheppey.
The system did, however, require two copies of each single to create a weird but effective echo effect. The fad died out when the cost of records doubled during an oil crisis which hit the price of vinyl.
Simon Elias from Bridgend, Wales, runs Carnival Disco and is 48. He has been club DJ-ing for 30 years. He confirmed: “Oldies are best.”
And Stephen Meffen from Barton-upon-Humber, confessed: “I am 61 and have just started again. I retired after 40-odd years three years ago but started back to help a mate out. Then I got the bug again. If I’m honest I am enjoying the bit I do too much!”
Sheffield disco-daddy Andy Myers is also back on the decks. He said: “I started in 1980. I will be 50 in August and came out of retirement a year ago. I am more choosey about the type of gigs I do now. And my son does most of the gigs now.”
He joked, or I think he joked: “Keep going until you get a slipped disc.”
Brighton bus driver John Day has launched a Blast From The Past Mobile Disco Facebook page. The Northern Soul fan said: “I am 61 and still going.”
So what is it about disco which keeps old men from their slippers and makes them turn out on cold, wet winter nights to entertain crowds young enough to be their grandchildren?
The simple truth is that it keeps us young. First, there is the physical exercise. Anyone who has unloaded a van full of sound and lighting equipment, hauled it onto a stage, and then done the whole thing in reverse at the end of the night when sane people are tucked up in bed will tell you the effort is equivalent to a week’s work-out in a gym.
Some of us are now employing roadies for that part.

Setting up: Juggernaut Roadshow

Setting up: Juggernaut Roadshow

Second, there is the sheer joy of making a party a success and watching everyone have a great time.
But it is not easy. With age comes experience. It teaches you to ‘read’ a crowd and know when to switch to a slow section. Any DJ will tell you of that awful feeling when you slip in the ‘wrong’ record and watch helplessly as the dance floor empties. It has happened to us all at some time.
The ‘punters’ also seem to enjoy having someone ‘mature’ in control of the proceedings; someone who will introduce people; have a joke and remind you when to cut the cake so it is not left uneaten on the table at the end of the night.
Some of us have even dabbled in becoming ‘rock gods’ and joining a band. But that’s another story. Meanwhile, the long-suffering Mrs Nurden is still waiting for me to get a ‘proper’ job…
• JR King’s Juggernaut Roadshow will be at the Sheppey Pirates Festival this Saturday (1 August) at Barton’s Point Coastal Park, Sheerness, for the pirates’ landing and water-bomb fight at 2pm.

Sheppey Pirates: Landing and giant water-bomb fight

Sheppey Pirates: Landing and giant water-bomb fight

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1 Response to Am I the oldest swinger in town?

  1. Theo Loyla says:

    Agree entirely. 65 with 49 years experience and still in demand although like others have said I don’t like gigs which finish after midnight these days.

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