We meet in town, in one of the pubs. Way back when, before gastropubs and chains, before pubs got remodelled to look like living rooms. Back in the 90s, when floors were sticky, decor was dingy and ashtrays overflowing (we smoked indoors, copiously, little realising what a luxury combination nicotine and warmth would become…) I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that I am wearing a little black dress and black trainers, my mate is wearing leather trousers and a fluffy fake-fur coat, because that is what we usually went for and this was going to be a great night out. The outer reaches of my memory suggest that it was midweek, a school night, but there can’t have been school because we never would have got away with it, both being in possession of the kind of mothers who could occasionally be distracted but who certainly noticed things like that. So it is a weeknight, probably in the holidays, maybe it had rained but stopped, so the Brighton pavements were greasy with a kind of black sludge that always seemed to appear from nowhere after a shower, making them treacherous for those in heels – even block-heeled 70s-style boots like my mate usually wore – and making my trainers screech as I went round corners.
I suppose we spent a few weeks doing that, working every Friday night; and Goldie was on the phone every other night with new ideas for different bits. If we were working solidly, we might have had it done in one or two weeks, but I think it was good that we didn’t, because we had the time to work on all the different ideas we had for the song.
– Rob Playford
I probably bought the album the day it came out, more or less. Waiting for it, with the release date marked on my calendar. I would have gone to the music store on my way to work, bought the CD and played it over and over and over again, showing no mercy to the parent downstairs trying to watch the telly. Learning all the songs, the words and the stories behind them.
Kemistry would have been one of my favourites, because of the adoration Kemistry & Storm inspired as two female DJs that made the stupid boys that said girls couldn’t DJ shut right up, as well as knowing that Goldie had written it for her when they were together. The voice that haunted the album’s intro and weaved and played through the bass before gaining strength: this is how it is going to be because ‘I need to be in your love/Living free’. That voice sounded like something heard in dreams, probably due to listening to it on low volume into the night and it being the last thing heard before going under. Pre-internet and Google hive mind, I probably didn’t put it together that it was the same voice as on The Key, The Secret, a song that in my family we always sang back at people when they asked us ‘have you got your keys?’ As I knew about the album release, getting the tickets would have been down to me too, probably buying them at one of the record stores in town that you had to go into and pay cash when you wanted to go to something that was happening in a month or so. I usually stuck all the tickets around my mirror so they wouldn’t be forgotten as I was leaving then checked they were in my pocket 799 times on my way to meet my friend.
I was living in Stevenage at the time and would give Goldie a ride back to London when we’d finished; we just kept rewinding the string section on the trip back, it was so gorgeous. After a few weeks, we thought that it would be great if this was a really long track; I suggested that we should make it go up to the 40-minute limit for a single. Then I realised that on Notator, our sequencer, at the tempo we were using, the maximum length was 32 minutes! I was gutted… (RP)
When it is time to go, running a bit late as we usually do, we don’t head in our usual direction – down to the seafront where the best clubs are – instead it is up to the main street with all the cheesy places, the massive nightclubs that usually have queues stretching around the block into freezing gale winds. The ones that don’t let you in with trainers and where we have both run the gauntlet of fake IDs and spoilsport bouncers. Although we did our apprenticeships in these cheesy dives, we have both since graduated into the house and garage clubs – out of a shared love of better music, cooler DJs and trying to avoid the more meat-head variety of the beery rugby lads we went to school with. These have not yet reached a comfortable level of metrosexuality where they can venture into a club with a drag queen in nine-inch heels on the door and a chance of their arse getting grabbed as they dance, nor will they for another decade. Tonight though, it is no meat-market, there will be no chart remixes playing, no local radio DJs shouting over the top pretending they have fame. Tonight it is a real S H O W with true S T A R S. The Muse alone knows how, who booked it, by what random act of madness this has conspired. But Goldie is on at the Paradox, doing songs from recently-released Timeless, with all the Metalheadz in support: Kemistry & Storm, Fabio & Grooverider and ohmygoodgoshyesyes: we have tickets. I checked, they are still in my pocket.
Later, after the show, when Fab & Groove are on the decks and we are all going nuts, in this venue that we shouldn’t be in, especially us because at weekends it is over 21s only. No way our shoddy fakes would get us in on a normal night, even if we wanted to. Although we wouldn’t anyway, but here we are now and our favourite songs are blaring because, wow, this cheese-palace has quite a decent sound system, who would have known, with proper lasers all across the dance-floor which is going right off like it has suddenly been beamed into our seaside town from South London. Then, over my shoulder there is a gleam from a lad asking my friend for a light and he holds a ciggie making it clear it isn’t just a ploy to talk to her so she is digging in her pocket. A flash of light reflected from the links around his neck and oh look, it is Goldie, come down from the stage. He dances with us for a bit, my face must be marked with shock and surprise, my mate is trying not to laugh at me, as he sticks both thumbs up with the cigarette pointing out of his fist and yells, ‘This is great, yeah!’ and we both agree ‘Yeah!’ as we dance and then he is off out into the crowd. Hands slap his back or grab his hand, no smartphones, no selfies, just a fleeting moment. He looks around the room like he is hosting the best party of his life before he dances off into Bjork-dating, acting, national treasure status LEGEND.
I think it’s still very experimental. Timeless was a blueprint for ideas for the future. It was about a kid having a dream about something he wanted to do in his head.
He was 30 that year. The owner of the most haunting, powerful voice in drum ‘n’ bass, Diane Charlemagne, was a year older. I would turn 18 a few months later. Time passes, we grow older, swap dancing for other pastimes perhaps. Think of other things. I hadn’t listened to Timeless in a little while as my CDs were packed up in a box in storage back in the UK. My MP3 player has so much on it it takes a while for the old favourites to shuffle round. There are YouTube playlists, Soundcloud mixes and more new music than anyone could know what to do with. So much to listen to passively now, you liked that so we think you will like this, people who bought that also bought this. The positive action of choosing, of deciding what mood you are in and what you need to listen to. Then taking the CD out of the box, or the record from the sleeve before pressing play or putting down the needle, it is – like the turning of a gramophone handle – something the youth know about in abstract, but can’t believe really happened.
I don’t know when the vocals idea came into Goldie’s plans, but he certainly didn’t tell me about it until we’d done the whole track. In my head, I’d constructed it to have all the pieces come out and develop; I couldn’t see where the vocals would fit in. Diane Charlemagne came over and did the vocals, and we put them onto DAT and sampled the parts we wanted. I also reprocessed them; I think I put them through a [BBE] Sonic Maximiser, to get that airiness in there. But it wasn’t actually until I put them into the song that I thought, ‘no, brilliant, they work perfectly.’ (RP)
Do musicians really die – not for their friends and family, of course, who miss them physically, but for the fans who knew them mostly in the space between the ears? I never met Diane Charlemagne in a club, but her voice made that night and many others possible. That amazing voice lifted me as I danced, relaxed or studied at home, walked around town or took train journeys with my headphones on. For years, the first thing I unpacked in a new place was the stereo and Timeless. It wouldn’t feel like home until that ritual had been performed. When the news came that she had died, far too young of cancer, my heart was heavy.
Thank you, Diane, for all the moments your beautiful voice soundtracked and for taking me right back to that time when I was 18, living by the sea with a head full of music, every time I press play.