Mr Scruff - Keep It Unreal

A lot of things have happened since a young Andy Carthy started answering to the name Mr Scruff - making a name for himself under the shadow of Manchester's mid 90s club scene. Not only has he released four critically acclaimed albums, selling over half a million records worldwide, with countless tours and club events he has cemented his now legendary DJ status. This is a DJ that can sell out the 1600 capacity London KoKo armed only with his records, some turntables and a few spare packets of teabags.

 

More than that, Scruff has established himself as a general guarantor of quirkiness and quality so that when his range of speciality teas were launched they became the 5th best selling grocery product in the long and illustrious history of Selfridge’s Food Hall (see www.makeusabrew.com for more tea shenanigans). His ‘Teacup’ tea shop in Manchester packs in the punters and the now legendary travelling tea stall is a firm favourite at Scruff gigs & festivals all over the UK. Meanwhile, his wobbly potato people adorn t-shirts, brollies and even people’s bodies (Ninja Tune has been sent documentary evidence of this phenomenon…).

 

But who are we to tell you the full-story? Over to you Andy…

 

Greetings! I am Mr. Scruff, DJ, Producer, Cartoonist & Tea Drinker.

As a DJ, I play across the board, including Soul, Funk, Hip Hop, Jazz, Reggae, Dubstep, Latin, African, Ska, Disco, House, Funk, Breaks, Soundtracks & loads more. As a producer I make music that draws on these influences, with a large dose of cheek & good humour. My cartoon drawings illustrate my website, gig flyers & record/cd covers. I also have a tea company (more info at www.makeusabrew.com). Here follows a rambling overview of what I’ve been up to for the last 20-odd years.

 

The early days

The event that first sparked my curiosity about music was in the early 1980's when, as a young 2 Tone fan, I discovered a stack of my father's original Blue Beat 7"s, including several Prince Buster songs that had been covered by my then favourite band, Madness. I suddenly realised that the new music I had been listening to had roots that reached far back, and this knowledge inspired me to explore the wider musical world which had just been revealed to me.

 

1984-1985

My first encounter with mixing was as a 12 year old in late 1984, when a friend of mine played me some of his uncle's electro records, notably the Streetsounds LP "Crucial Electro Volume 2". At first, I assumed that the reason for there being no gaps between the songs was to fit more on the vinyl-it did not occur to me that the mixing was a creative part of the presentation, and had been carefully thought out utilising the experience and skills of a DJ. Fortunately, further listens revealed the sophistication of the DJ in question, Herbie Laidley from London's Mastermind crew. Soon after I was constructing my own crude pause-button mixtapes, inspired by the Electro compilations and various radio shows on stations such as Piccadilly, Radio Lancashire & Southside.

 

1985-1988

Throughout the 1980's, local specialist shows exposed me to a wide range of dance music. At the time that was a blanket term to cover anything from electro and hip hop to soul, reggae and early house music. Back then there were far fewer records being released each week, so DJs had to be versatile and play across the board. Some of the radio DJs who i listened to regularly were John Peel (of course), Robbie Vincent, Richard Searling, Stu Allan, Lee Brown, Rankin Miss P, Scotty, Tony the Greek, Steve Barker, Gary Hickson, Sam Brown & Waxmaster.

 

As an enthusiastic young music fiend in Stockport, these stations were a lifeline to quality new releases, and exposed me to a lot of older music that I had missed. Little by little I was building a collection fuelled by this knowledge, all the while improving my DJ skills. By 1987 I was proficient at turntable mixing and editing, although I was still using primitive home hi-fi gear. In the summer of 1988 I had my first mix played on Waxmaster's show on the Manchester pirate station WBLS.

 

1988-1994

In 1988 I took a part time job at Kwik Save and ploughed all my earnings into vinyl. By this time I had a good knowledge of electro, hip hop, house, & 80's soul, and was busy expanding my knowledge of blues, disco, funk, soul, reggae, jazz, african and latin music. More pause-button mix tapes followed, as did demo tapes of my own early productions. My first break came in 1994, when I met Barney Doodlebug, a DJ/Doodler who was originally from Bristol, and who now runs the international Doodlebug events. He gave me my first Manchester gig, in Dry bar on a Sunday night, and he also passed a demo tape of mine to local label Rob's Records, which resulted in them releasing my first 12" single. It is at this time when i got the name Mr. Scruff. Prior to this, I had been using the name 'Funky Scruff'. When I had recorded my first single, Liam, the engineer, asked me what i was going to call myself, as he had to wrte the session details on the DAT tape. I thought for a minute & then said 'Mr Scruff'.

 

1994-1995

From 1994 onwards, I got regular bar gigs, as well as a short stint at Manumission alongside fellow Stockport lad Treva Whateva. Following on from this, I became a frequent guest at Headfunk, alongside residents Chubby Grooves & Tom Simba (who went on to form Groove Armada with Andy Cato). This night mutated into Eardrum, a DJ/jam night that I was resident at alongside Chubby, Mark One and Andy Votel. Other Manchester residencies included One Tree Island with Stefano, Guy Morley, Jah Conguero and Funk Boutique; and Dubism, with Guy Morley and Dom from Blood and Fire.

 

Another logical step for me was radio. It was such a vital part of my own musical education that I jumped at the opportunity to guest on shows such as First Priority’s late night function on Kiss 102 in the mid 1990’s, as well as the many RSL stations that had one month licences. It was on these that I joined forces with Treva Whateva to present the ‘Hot Pot’ show. The show then progressed to the national Student Broadcast Network for a few years, and then onto Manchester’s Key 103 in 2002 for an 18-month run, as well as a year long stint on the Virgin Trains onboard radio channel.. we stopped the radio shows about 5 years ago.

 

1995-1997

Between 1995 and 1997, I released further singles for Rob's Records subsidiary Pleasure, as well as sides for Echo Drop, Grand Central & Cup of Tea. My work for Grand Central with Mark Rae inspired some 4 deck club performances, including friendly 'battles' with DJ Food, which introduced me to the Ninja Tune fold. My first remix was a DJ Food megamix for their 'Refried Food' box set in 1996.

 

The release of more of my productions resulted in increased offers for DJ gigs. As well as playing regularly at the Electric Chair & Fat City nights in Manchester, and with Tru Thoughts in Brighton, I also accepted a four year residency at Off-Centre in London with Ross Clarke & Patrick Forge, as well as guest spots around the country.

 

1997-1998

Some of my first DJ gigs abroad were with Grand Central in 1997, and, following my signing to Ninja Tune in 1998, I did several European tours with the likes of Roots Manuva, The Herbaliser, Dynamic Syncopation & Mixmaster Morris. The release of my Ninja album 'Keep it Unreal' also kick-started my Manchester club night of the same name, borne of a desire to play exactly what I wanted, rather than having to fit in with the music policies of other club nights. After a short stint at Planet K, the night moved to the Music Box, where it remains to this day. The success of this night inspired me to take the idea on tour, so that instead of turning up with my records and playing the standard 2 hour guest DJ slot, I would recreate 'Keep it Unreal' in different venues, and play for the whole night.

 

1999-2007

Releases during this period

1999 'Keep It Unreal' album

2002 'Trouser Jazz album

2004 'Keep It Solid Steel' mix cd.

2007 'Mrs Cruff' LP re-release

 

After the launch of my 'Keep It Unreal' residency in June 1999, we continued both the residency & touring, while having a whale of a time!

 

I am now in a position where I can play a lot of esoteric and unusual music, as playing for the duration of the night enables me to create a very relaxed atmosphere, before increasing the energy levels at my own pace, taking in many kinds of music along the way. Over the course of a night the music can include blues, jazz, soul, funk, 60's R&B, disco, boogie, deep house, reggae, ska, rocksteady, dancehall, electronica, electro, hip hop, african, latin, drum & bass, breakbeat, and any combination of the above. The only real criteria is that the music has to have soul!

 

Although I am a fairly technical DJ, it is vital to remember that the most important skill for a DJ is to play great records in the right order. Each record must complement the one before, and introduce the one that follows. Beatmatching is an obvious way of linking records, but there are other common factors, such as lyrical themes & complimentary keys that a DJ can use to aid the transition. Each piece of music has a mood and an energy level, and orchestrated carefully, you can create an atmosphere where every record that comes in is precisely right for that moment.

One very important aspect of my gigs is the control i have over the club environment, especially the sound system, visuals & lighting. The sound system is especially important, and we spend many hours setting up & soundchecking for each gig. You can find full details of my DJ set up etc in the FAQ section of this site,

 

2008-9

Having been holed up in the studio for the last two years, i am finally ready to unleash some new music! The new 13 track album ‘Ninja Tuna’ featuring collaborations with Quantic, Danny Breaks, Alice Russell, Andreya Triana, Pete Simpson, Kaidi Tatham & Roots Manuva is out on CD & the special reusable 2Gb USB fish stick (which contains both WAVs & 320 kbps mp3s, plus digital artwork), and last but not least, the North American issue of the CD/download, which was released in February 2009, with an extra 10 tracks of 'Bonus bait' The Bonus bait CD is available separately form this website, for people who already have the 'Ninja Tuna' CD. The album has not been released on vinyl, however, there has been a total of 8 separate 12" releases containing most of the album tracks, as well as bonus tracks.

 

Next up, on June 29th 2009, we released the special 10th Anniversary edition of Keep It Unreal, commemorating both the album, and the club night of the same name. The whole album has been remastered, and will be released on 2cds, with the second cd containing 6 unreleased tracks, 2 b sides, and an instrumental of 'jusjus'. In addition to this, there will be 2 12" singles released on the same day, the first with jusjus (including instrumental & accapella), cheeky & blackpool roll, and the second with 3 of the unreleased tracks.

 

October 2009.. after 10 years at the Music Box, my 'Keep It Unreal' residency moves to the newly refurbished Band on the Wall venue, which sports a rather spanking sound system, ace security, lovely staff & a wooden dance floor.

 

2010

A mix of studio & touring this year, including recording tracks for & playing gigs celebrating the release of the Mighty Ninja Tunes XX box set, celebrating 20 years of the Ninjas! Over the summer, Ninja releases the Mr. Scruff Vs Kirsty Almeida 12" 'Pickled Spider'. I also recorded a collaboration with Maddslinky, called 'Dub Is For Real', which was released on Tru Thoughts records.

 

We had a great time at the Big Chill festival this year, with the Make Us A Brew tea tent hosting a selection of fine DJs. You can hear some of the Big Chill Sessions on the Scruff SoundCloud page.

 

In addition to the musical shenanigans, our Manchester cafe, Teacup on Thomas Street is going from strength to strength. Pop in for a brew!

 

2011 to 2013

2011 & 2012 saw more touring and studio time, with new singles and remixes released.

Singles:

 

‘Wobble Control’ (Ninja Tune, 2011)

‘Feel It / Bounce’ (Ninja Tune, 2011)

‘Be The Music’ (Ninja Tune, 2012)

 

Remixes: 
Andreya Triana 'Far Closer' (Ninja Tune)
Hizatron 'Von Glooperstein' (Fat City)

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble 'Fire' (Choice Cuts)

 

And, after receiving a mighty nudge by the giant elbow of Ninja, the majority of 2013 was spent in the studio.

 

2014

About time for a new album! Lots of collaborators on this one, including Denis Jones, Matthew Halsall, Phil France, Vanessa Freeman & Robert Owens.

 

Agent
Sandy Marris
Assisted by: Chloe Abrahams Chloe.Abrahams@CodaAgency.com T: +44 (0)20 70172500 F: +44 (0)20 70172555