Keeping It Unreal: We talk perfect club night ingredients, well positioned tea and not getting lazy with music main-stay Mr Scruff
He’s a perfectionist with a penchant for tea, a key influencer in shaping the foundations of the Manchester music scene and he keeps it unreal. We’re talking about Andy McCarthy aka. Mr Scruff. Fusing disco, funk, jazz, soul and a plethora of other sounds, Mr Scuff’s music is the epitome of unique. And with his eclectic artwork and his ongoing love affair with tea, he’s fronting off-beat vibes making him all the more endearing as an artist. Having recently released his long awaited album Friendly Bacteria and celebrated the 15th anniversary of his long-standing Manchester born club night Keep It Unreal, we catch up with the man himself ahead of his gig at Sunscape Festival, Malta this month.
So, first off, how did you inherit the name Mr. Scruff?
Mr Scruff: I had just finished my first record and I didn’t have a name. I had to think of something really quickly and that’s how I got it.
What about your transition into music, where did it stem from?
Mr Scruff: Just as a kid listening to radio, I listened to a lot of John Peel and a lot of my parents music. My mom was into soul and my dad was into blues and bits of ska and stuff like that. I think the thing that got me into DJing was going to my friends house when I was 11 in 1983 or 1984 and hearing some of his uncles electro-mix compilations, I just started to copy and mix and that’s the first time I ever heard a DJ mix. I went from there really.
Obviously in your music you’ve got like elements of jazz, soul, funk, disco, when you’re producing music how do you go about combining all of these elements?
Mr Scruff: Well, all the factors come from the same place really. A lot of the stylistic differences that you hear in different genres are quite cosmetic really or relatively simple. The step from rock to disco isn’t very far you know, they’re all members of the same family and I think a lot of people listen to all different kinds of music. I think genres are convenient when you’re describing music, but I don’t think they’re that important when you’re enjoying it, or when you’re working it.
Agreed. Obviously with the 15th anniversary of Keep It Unreal, you’ve retained this unfaltering position. Everyone’s still loving it! How do you think that you’ve done that?
Mr Scruff: By not getting lazy. With the club nights it was nice to play all night and do my own thing and be very fussy about the sound and the environment. Basically when I go on a night out, if something’s not right then I have a right old moan and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be right! For me the ingredients for a decent club and night out are very simple. Switch all the lights off, have a good, loud, very clear sound system, someone who knows how to play records in the right order, a really nice crowd, not too many people, decent ale on the bar, nice security and that’s about it really. I just think from going out myself a lot and knowing what I really do like and really don’t like about a night enables me to do the right thing really. Creatively, I don’t repeat myself, I keep pushing the music that I play. I get a lot of regulars who come to a lot of my gigs, so I can’t just play the same for them because they’ll pull me up about it.
Friendly Bacteria has a tougher side and is more vocal-led than some of your older music and you’ve worked with Denis Jones a lot this time, how did that relationship start?
Mr Scruff: Well I saw him at a gig about four or five years ago, I met up with him at the interval and I told him I really liked his stuff. It turned out he lives less than a mile down the road from me. We’ve got loads of friends in common so we kept in touch. Once I got the time to do this album I started to ring some of these people that I said I’d work with for the last two or three years, like Dennis along with other friends that I’ve just never got round to working with. It’s always good to fulfill those beer-fuelled promises. Denis is great, he’s very different to me, which I think is what gave my latest album a bit of a darker mood but we worked together ridiculously well. It’s an odd combination that is very fresh for us both. Every time we get together, there’s some great spark and we’re never stuck for ideas.
I really love ‘Thought To The Feeling’, that’s my favourite….
Mr Scruff: Yeah, that’s lovely. There’s sort of a cheeky remix to that too.
Obviously you’ve got such a visual identity with your music, when did your illustrations first come to life?
Mr Scruff: I was doing those as a teenager, so like 25 years ago and they looked exactly like they do now, it’s nice to have a visual identity that’s consistent, I don’t particularly have to think about developing in or putting a lot of work into it, it is what it is, it’s very simple but that’s the appeal. Some of the artwork I’ve done in collaboration with other people or worked with designers, but generally all the ar work is done by me.
I’ve got to ask you about your love of tea! I went to Mr Scruff’s Tea Tent at Big Chill a few years ago, where did that all start?
Mr Scruff: It’s the same as what I was saying about about what I like. I took what I liked from other events and put them together. On the odd occasion like fifteen, twenty years ago when you’d go clubbing and could get a brew, that stuck with me. So I did my own night in this little foyer and it wasn’t big enough for a second room, so we sold tea in there. Fifteen years later we’re still doing it. I was going to say it’s not everyone’s cup of tea… no pun intended! There’s a significant percentage of people in the venue who will have a brew or just appreciate the fact that its there and will smile and say: ‘oh there’s tea in here, that’s weird’. I think a bit of humour or confusion on a night out does people the world of good.
We couldn’t agree more.
See Mr Scuff at Sunscape in Gozo 3rd – 10th September. For more information please visit sunscapefestival.eu/.
Words: Brooke McCord