Legendary Bristolian Derek Morris, more popularly known as DJ Derek, has decided it’s time to call it quits after rocking dancehalls and festivals up and down the country for more than 30 years.
After decades on the reggae and dub circuit the former Cadbury’s accountant, who turns 72 next week, is set to play his final ever show on New Year’s Eve.
Despite the many myths surrounding Derek, the carpenter's son from inner city Bristol started out on his musical journey in the mid-1950s playing washboard in a skiffle group and then as a drummer in rock bands including Dale Rivers and the Ramrods.
According to a 2009 feature in the Bristol Post, at the same time he was doing well in his day job in the accounts department of Fry's chocolate works at Keynsham, when suddenly it was make-your-mind-up time for him – music or accounting.
But when faced with an opportunity to be in the backing band for Bristol duo Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, Derek fell ill with appendicitis. The lure of a steady accounting job won the day and he continued as an avid listener and frequenter of Bristol’s ‘blues’ clubs.
By the 1960s reggae was infiltrating British airwaves via Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline, but it was in the Bamboo Club in St Pauls where Derek first got hooked on the likes of Desmond Dekker, Toots and the Maytals and Bob Marley.
Following five years of “domestic hell”, including two marriages and the loss of his parents, Derek finally jacked in his job at Fry's in 1977.
He was now on the dole, but when a Jamaican bus driver he knew took over the Star and Garter in Montpelier, he was asked to bring along his records to play for beer money. That’s when his rise to superstar DJ really got going.
It was around this time that he started using Jamaican patois, on the phone in particular, as the only realistic way of communicating in the black reggae music industry. He had also picked up the accent from a West Indian barber in Bristol. Despite never having visited Jamaica, Derek incorporated this deep patois toasting into his set.
There’s clearly a novelty factor of a white Jamaican-speaking pensioner being king of the dancehall and adored by a new generation of dubstepping teenagers, but it’s Derek’s encyclopaedic knowledge and passion for Jamaican music that will be his legacy.
Derek’s star has risen as he's got older, but it now seems like the right time to hang up his headphones. In his own words: “While I’m reasonably healthy it’ll be nice to do some travelling without carting my gear around!”
Whisper it discreetly, but he's already being tipped for a Born Dull?! lifetime achievement award... Keep an eye on the Born Dull?! discussion group for further announcements.