Back at the start of the year it was announced that Andrew Weatherall and Nina Walsh's Woodleigh Research Facility would be releasing a year long series of three track digital only EPs, one a month. The first one at the end of January was an EP called Into The Cosmic Hole. When it came out it was a fascinating piece of work, three sonic messages from Facility 2- the weird, shamanic title track, the robotic machine science fiction- electro of Phonox Special No 1 (Outer Space) and the homage to Stockholm Monsters and Martin Hannett of Birthday Three. Eleven more of these would be a superb way to mark the passing of the year, a year long advent calendar of the weird, the wired and the wonderful. Sadly, by the time the second release came out at the end of February he was gone.
2020 has been coloured by Andrew's passing for me, even with everything else that has happened. It's a strange thing to be moved by the death of a person you don't know and it's not anything compared to what his family and close friends felt and are feeling still. His sudden death on February 17th brought a stream of loss and grief across social media. My Facebook and Twitter timelines were almost nothing but Andrew Weatherall for days. The broadsheet newspapers and the BBC news covered his life and career (he always baulked at that word when interviewed). Then the world then shut down. Events to celebrate Andrew's life were shelved. The Flightpath Estate (a Facebook group I co- moderate with another fan, Martin Brannagan) began to grow, from three hundred fans to well over a thousand. People from Andrew's real life began to join the group, the boundaries between fans and family and friends dissolving. Part of the increasing membership came from some press interest in the Weatherdrive, an online resource of Weatherall DJ mixes spanning the period from 1990 to 2020, from the heyday of acid house to ALFOS. Mixmag picked up on it and asked The Flightpath Estate if we'd like to write an article about the 10 best of Andrew's DJ sets on the Weatherdrive.
The Woodleigh Research Facility release campaign continued, updates from Andrew's studio life, a monthly reminder that he was gone but still there. The recordings present a vast range of sounds but are clearly the work of the same people, Andrew's intuitive nature and vision along with Nina's creativity and studio production skills. As the months have ticked by I've played these EPs, some more than others admittedly, and noticed how the W.R.F. releases seem to echo music he made in the previous three decades, reverberations from the past into the present. The lengthy running times, like the remixes of the early 90s where the music has space and time to unfold at its own pace. David Harrow said that when they were in the studio making music as Blood Sugar listening to what they'd done, he'd often be ready to change the drum pattern or bring a new element in, and Andrew would say, 'let it go round again', and the track would be extended out for another pattern/ 12 bars. The trademark hissing drum machines and mechanical rhythms point back to the music he released on his three Emissions labels in the 1990s and the stranger, more abstract, one off recordings he made, such as the Glowing Trees 12" he put out as Meek. The topline melodies point to the sound of Sabres of Paradise, especially the Haunted Dancehall album, and the bass- heavy mutant electro of Two Lone Swordsmen records. The metallic hi- hats and rattling snares sound like the ones on the TLS remixes of twenty years ago. The dub influence resonates through the Woodleigh EPs and through so much of his previous work (and DJ sets). The esoteric song titles could come from any point in his back catalogue.
The monthly EPs will have given us thirty six tracks by the end of the year, a huge amount of music from someone whose creative flow was clearly in full swing. Looking back, even if you pick four songs from completely different parts of his back pages, there's clearly a line running through everything. He reinvented his sound and moved from one identity to another, zigging when others zagged, from the remixes accompanied by Hugo Nicolson to Sabres of Paradise to Two Lone Swordsmen to The Asphodells to his solo records to WRF, but it's all part of a body of work with common themes and a unifying vision. Even the stuff that is outlying and on the fringes- the secret side projects, the machine funk aliases like Rude Solo and Frisch und Munter, the panel beating techno of Lords Of Afford, the odd folk music of his Moine Dubh label, the shadowy collective Fort Beulah N.U. who made five one sided white label 12" singles- fits into the world he created. He'd often play it down, be self- deprecating and modest, saying he was just a grand amateur, but the music is endlessly inventive. Even when he seemed to have driven himself down a one way road he'd manage to pull off a deft three point turn and come back with something else, something new.
Jockey Slut, started in Manchester as a dance music fanzine and then became something much bigger, and interviewed the man many times. In the summer they announced they were going to publish a special edition book, Andrew's interviews for the magazine compiled along with some new material (including an oral history of the acid house and Sabres years and a Richard Norris article). The book began to drop through letterboxes last week. Towards the back there is a double page spread about The Flightpath Estate and the Weatherdrive and its thousand hours of DJ mixes spanning Weatherall's career, based around an interview with Martin. Towards the bottom of the page, and this was a surprise to me as I leafed through it for the first time, is my name and this blog's name.
Which, as that man on The Fast Show used to say, was nice.
It was more than nice, it was incredible. A few people have since commented on social media that they were drawn back into the orbit of Andrew's music because of this blog, which is amazing and lovely to hear. It's what music blogging is for, to share the music and the world it's created in with other people. In a way music blogs are just an updated version of the fanzines of the 1980s, but with far less photocopying and Letraset. That this blog has become a minor footnote in the story is crazy, humbling and when I think about it, a bit mind-blowing too.
In an attempt to close the year in which he left I started to put together a mix of some of Andrew's music. I wondered if I could somehow manage to summarise his vast and varied back catalogue into one handy hour long compilation but I realised almost immediately this would be an impossible task. In the end I chose a couple of Two Lone Swordsmen tracks as a starting point and then went where it took me, throwing in quite a few of the ones he sings on, some remixes, some tracks that only came out on compilations and often just went with whatever the previous track seemed to suggest as a follow up. It ended up being a little over ninety minutes long and you can find it at Mixcloud.
Audrey Witherspoon’s Blues
- Two Lone Swordsmen: Constant Reminder
- Two Lone Swordsmen: Light The Last Flare
- X- Press 2: Witchi Tai To (Two Lone Swordsmen Remix)
- Two Lone Swordsmen: Patient Saints
- Andrew Weatherall: The Confidence Man
- Woodleigh Research Facility: Birthday Three
- The Asphodells: One Minute’s Silence (Wooden Shjips Remix)
- Andrew Weatherall: Kaif
- Michael Smith and Andrew Weatherall: Water Music
- Radioactive Man: Fed- Ex To Munchen (Andrew Weatherall Remix)
- Andrew Weatherall: Youth Ozone Machine
- Andrew Weatherall: Cosmonautrix
- Andrew Weatherall: Saturday International
- Two Lone Swordsmen: Tiny Reminder No 3 (Calexico Remix)
- Two Lone Swordsmen: Sex Beat
- Andrew Weatherall: Privately Electrified
- Two Lone Swordsmen: Get Out Of My Kingdom