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Interview: Reverend Car Bootleg

22 April 08 interview: Al Needham

"I get punters asking "Have you got Over & Over?" and I'll go “By who?”, and they walk away shaking their heads thinking 'And he calls himself a DJ?'"

Think you’re a proper DJ because you’ve got a couple of crates of vinyl and they let you play a monthly set at the Chain and Brand Name? Think again, sucker – in this here town, the bar has been set by a 49 year-old crate-digger extraordinaire called Martin Nesbitt, AKA the Reverend Car Bootleg, who’s been blessing the decks and dishing out a musical education since the days of the legendary Garage, whilst still remaining the nicest bloke on the Nottingham music scene…

When did you start DJing?
In 1978, at Loughborough Art College. When the DJ didn’t turn up I kind of got the job by default, because I was the one with the most records.

You’ve been at the Bodega Social Club since day one. What was it like in the beginning?
We used to have this thing called Skiver which would run from 5 till 8 on a Friday, and the concept was to slope off work early. Originally it may have even started at 4pm, but we might have been a bit over-enthusiastic there. The ethos was ‘the weekend starts here - be in the pub from five and stay till the end’. And it would get really full in there bang on five, so by the time you hit 8pm the upstairs would be standing room only, all seats taken and punters dancing. This would then just mutate into a full-blown club night, like the back room of The Bomb. We played all sorts of things.

You’re renowned for the expanse, depth and variety of your music collection…
I wouldn’t really call myself a collector - I’ve just acquired lots of different types of music. I remember a time when my wife Sue used to dread certain record catalogues dropping through the letterbox, because I had to have everything in there. There was a time when I was coming back with lot of records from car boot sales – sometimes I’d buy everything on the table. It was a case of ‘what’s not been collected?’ and then collecting that sort of stuff. Basically it’s about finding that record or bit of music that you’ve never heard before.  

Come on, then – how much vinyl do you have?
When we moved house there were about 220 boxes of records, and they had about 50 records in each box. They’re all over the house. I listen to a record about once every three days, just a case of picking something out. Sometimes I pick something out and I haven’t heard it for five or ten years.

Is your wife into music too?
We’ve been together for 30 years. She’s always had the same love of music and she’s always been really supportive of what I do. At art college in Loughborough we'd have regular trips to London, and we’d use it as an excuse to trawl the record shops - Daddy Cool's for old ska and reggae, Rough Trade for all the latest DIY releases, Vinyl Solution/Rock On for garage, Punk, old rock n’ roll, country - and round off the day with a visit to Stiff Records. We spent most of our honeymoon crate-digging in Paris and Amsterdam.

What was it like when you started DJing at The Bomb?
I remember feeling quite nervous and out of my depth. I just thought of myself as some old out-of-touch chancer, working alongside proper DJ's. But Kelvin Andrews was the other resident and just great to work alongside, a real inspiration - he would be mates with all the guests we'd have coming through and every night was a blast. Lads talking about records, what they'd picked up that week, etc. I would often do the back room of The Bomb with Kelvin Andrews and we would play lots of weird shit I would pick up at car boots. Shirley Bassey’s Spinning Wheel was a big one down there.

And before that you were at The Garage…
Graeme Park and I were the residents at The Garage (now the Lizard Lounge) from around 1983-1987, when Graeme Park was there. He was dong dance stuff and I would be putting on gigs and playing downstairs in the rockier end of the club. I was playing The Clash, Joy Division, quite a lot of reggae, Killing Joke, Human League, sixties garage punk…heavier stuff. But there were the occasional cross-over tunes that you'd find on both floors - Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Daryl Pandy, Madonna, New Order. I was there when I found out my first daughter was born. Todd Terry was playing that night.

Who’s the best DJ you’ve played with?
Probably Andy Smith from Portishead. He played all over the shop, worked the crowd into an absolute frenzy, and was just a genuinely friendly, no ego kinda guy. Same goes for Weatherall, Harvey and Mr Scruff... all lovely blokes. 

You’ve also worked with local bands in Nottingham
I started working with Dave Parsons who started a label called Ron Johnson Records from ’86 to ‘88. Gary Clail was a DJ at some special Ron Johnson nights. We had bands like Big Flame, A Witness, Stump. I then worked at Earache when it was just me and Dig (Digby Pearson), out of his bedroom between 1989 and 1991. We had Carcass, Fudge Tunnel, Napalm Death, and Morbid Angel. I loved the hardcore scene. After that I managed Echoboy, who were originally a Mansfield band called The HyBirds, who eventually signed to Heavenly.

And now?
Currently I do Electric Banana every Wednesday and Pop Confessional on the first Friday of the month, both at The Bodega Social, as well as the Rescue Rooms on alternate Saturdays, and a new night at The Market Bar called Catnip - which I suppose is just a continuation of two previous nights I used to do at The Social, basically more of me playing what I want, and less indie carrots. Electric Banana is easily my most popular night; originally it was me just playing from the bar downstairs, now we're getting 500 people through the door - although it's gotta be said, it does take a serious drop in numbers over the summer. But it's still always a good, relaxed atmosphere.

What makes you enjoy DJing so much?
The reason I think I am still a DJ is because I am constantly changing. I get bored, and move onto other things. Like all fans of music, what I'm really after is hearing something I've never heard before. But I don’t think I’m any good - let's face it, if I was, I wouldn't be playing bars in Nottingham. I’m just very fortunate to be able to make a living out of playing records.  

Is it easier to find music now with the internet?
There are many things that I did not find at the time, but then found later. I think things weren’t as readily available then, though. I love looking through blogs and seeing just what’s out there. There’s this hip-hop video where they’ve gone into this area of Angola, and they’re doing break-dancing and body-popping and it’s not gangster lyrics or anything like that, and it’s fucking great.

Do you get better as a DJ with age?
On one level I think it actually gets easier the older you get, because you’re carrying around all this knowledge. I've seen Roxy Music, the Sex Pistols, Joy Division, Nirvana, and the White Stripes in their original live environments, and bought London Calling or Blue Monday the day they were released. To me, it's real and I don't have to read up on it. In fact I actually feel sorry for the younger generation of music fans - the sheer volume of how much stuff there is out there, what they’re expected to know, and how the hell they get their heads around it all. The downside to getting older is your memory and the physical aspect of playing til’ 3am. Sometimes the most obvious names or titles just escape me. I get punters asking "Have you got Over & Over?" and I'll go “By who?”, and they walk away shaking their heads thinking “And he calls himself a DJ?”


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