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My wild and groovy career as a wizard of the wedding dancefloor

My wild and groovy career as a wizard of the wedding dancefloor

Memories are made of melodies, and they don’t come sweeter or louder than the wedding DJ’s carefully chosen platters.

I discovered that at a wedding, people are primed to let go. All they ask is that you give them the soundtrack to do so.

If my life was measured in music, perhaps as a stack of well-thumbed and slightly scratched LP records, then my brief career as a wedding DJ would last just a few fantastic tracks. But oh, what a set it would be! 

I’d taken a leap of faith by offering to play music at a friend’s wedding as my gift. Egged on by my then-wife who testified on my behalf, as she used to in those days, they accepted.

In preparation, I envisioned proud parents and their parents too, dancing amongst their various family members, flower girls and little dudes in smart clothes, and the happy couple soaking up all the love being passed around.

I discovered that at a wedding, people are primed to let go. All they ask is that you give them the soundtrack to do so. 

Being an old-fashioned bloke, my choice to lead with my record collection proved astute.

I remember some sallow-skinned youth gaping in disbelief at the rotating ebony discs on the turntable, then staring at the speakers, unable to comprehend that the sound was emanating from a diamond tipped needle riding though the grooves on a piece of moulded plastic.

I realised that I was a sort of shaman, I had magic powers at my command. 

Then another friend who was tying the knot asked if I might do the same. Soon I was getting contacted by strangers, referred by wedding photographers and caterers.

I never planned or chased these opportunities, and in the end, they let me go as easily as I found them after I decided to play one last gig and hang up my headphones for good.

That last gig! The bride changed her choice of ‘wedding song’ on the morning of the big day, her umpteenth change. I wanted to say to the groom, are you sure about this? But it was something he clearly loved about her.     

Expectations are high. My clients expected something phenomenal, and it wasn’t always easy to deliver.

At one gig, for absolute strangers, I didn’t have a song the bride had mentioned in our briefing conversation, something called ‘Baby Chocolates.’

My own life was chaotic at the time, my own marriage unravelling as I played these gigs, with bittersweet inner knowledge and memories of my own wedding day.

When she asked me to play it, late on the night of their reception, I remember her disappointment.

I found solace in the fact that her father had the time of his life on the dancefloor and thanked me effusively. Why didn’t I take her request seriously? 

On my way home from that one I stopped off at a dodgy pub at the back of a railway station in the small town the wedding was at.

They played ‘Baby Chocolates.’ I understood why the bride had wanted it.

I resolved to go out of my way to satisfy any bride’s whim from that day on, which helped in that last gig of mine. 

One of my signature tunes was a record my late ex-mother-in-law gave me, which I have not seen anywhere else, and thus had plenty of novelty value.

‘Skokiaan,’ a Louis Armstrong recording with Sy Oliver and his Orchestra from 1954, was an inter-generational belter, after the lengthy intro and Satchmo’s distinctively gravelly voice came into play.

Here again, people could hardly believe their ears. Later in the evening I would play from my collection of 45rpm maxi versions of 80’s hits, Soft Cell’s dubbed out Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go, Close to Me by The Cure, and one that never failed to unleash primal euphoria, Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin.

With songs like that, at decibels pushing acceptability amongst older generations, smiles abounded. Sometimes, a healthy bit of hedonistic mayhem too. 

I discovered that playing music at other people’s weddings is one of the greatest DJ assignments I could dream of, because this ceremony is all about love – love for each other and for ourselves. Witnessing the cavorting and craziness on a wedding dancefloor showed me that music is life itself.  

When people sang out loud they were so alive, their bodies responding to the beat of a drum or strum of a string in an echo of their own internal rhythms, their beating hearts and the stories they carry in their blood.   

I look back on all these gigs, the inspired requests, the stars of the dancefloor that made me smile, the madcap antics and instant human connection in those elemental moments, a smile from the gorgeous sister of the bride, an embarrassing uncle packing up in laughter, and I realise how swift life is, how fleeting that celebration of love.

The images are so strong. The music swells, then fades. 

The wedding party has left, the mood changes. And then, we start closing into the last song, many, many hours after that early afternoon set.

Now it’s always a Miles Davis track, probably from Kind of Blue. Packing up my gear, putting all the records back into their sleeves, I must get safely home. 

I leave, indelibly affected by my time at the heart of this ceremony, but strangely invisible, less visible than a guest.

I am carrying tunes in my head and my heart, and in these melodies are coded memories and emotion. 

Perhaps one day I’ll pick up my headphones again, as a Funeral DJ.

I would love to play the songs people loved, playing homage to them with music that celebrates life that has now faded but brought us together again, there one moment, like a heartbeat, then gone.

Sean O'Connor

Change expert, Sean O'Connor, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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