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Icons & Influencers: Rachel Yarwood

The Mod Closet has been in hibernation for a couple of months, enjoying some serious duvet time …actually, getting on with the business of real life (boo!). But, we’re back and ready for the new year! It may not be warm enough to wake up the scooters just yet but, it is definitely time to shake off the winter blues with some serious soulful sounds and talc-dusted dance floors!

February’s Icon & Influencer will be no stranger to the Oxford (and surrounding counties) soulies, mods, scooterists & skinheads: Rachel Yarwood is the co-founder/organiser of Oxford’s Let’s Dance that, until very recently was hosted in Cowley, Oxford.  Thanks to Rachel, I get to enjoy some great nights, amazing sounds and an opportunity to catch up with friends on the dance floor in my very own home town. I also get to enrich my woefully inadequate music collection (and knowledge) because, at every event, included in the minimal entrance fee is a CD (subject to availability). The CD contains a compilation of the night’s playlist from the guest DJs.

For more information on Let’s Dance, click on the picture to go to the Facebook Page

Our scene is driven by music and social events. Our scene needs Rachel (and people like Rachel) to keep it alive. And, our scene needs YOU to turn up and support your local events. So, if you haven’t done so already, connect with scene related groups on social media, connect with people, find out what’s going on near you and turn up.

Rachel and I met a year or two ago; her direct nature and dry sense of humour had me at “get up and dance!”. Including her in this series was an absolute no brainer. And so, with the appropriate fanfare and party poppers I give you, the sensational Rachel Yarwood…

Rachel Yarwood

Rachel Yarwood

Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you live?

I was born in Lincolnshire, in the heart of the Fens. We were surrounded by fields of potatoes, sugar beet and beautiful tulips, which helped to add a bit of colour to what could be a very bleak, flat landscape. The nearest town was about 15 miles away and there was no real bus service as such, so I had to be taken everywhere.

About 28 years ago I met Paul (AKA Porky) and a couple of years later I moved to Oxfordshire. 28 years! …you get less for murder! (I know, old joke). I found living in a city difficult to begin with. Having grown up in a small community where people said hello or good morning to each other; I found city-living very different. I now live in Brackley, which sits on the borders of Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and have been here for the last 13 years. It’s a sleepy market town, with not a lot happening, but is well positioned for commuting and travelling.

Paul & Rachel, then and now…

I work as an in-house Graphic designer for a company, handling mainly printed materials, but turn my hand to many other things; exhibitions, photography and events. I sometimes feel like an octopus, but on the whole I like my job. I often describe myself as a failed artist; I would love to spend more time being artistic and creative. Perhaps when I retire I can set up a little studio in my garden.

I’m a qualified SCUBA diver and have been a first-aider at work for a number of years. I passed my bike test in the mid 90s, although I haven’t ridden a scooter since Paul and I crashed a few years ago. Luckily we escaped with minor injuries. It certainly could have been a lot worse.

“l’m here for a good time, not a long time”

I’m fairly outspoken, as most people will tell you, and I seem to get myself into bother in one way or another. But, the older I get the less I worry about what others think; my motto is ” l’m here for a good time, not a long time”.  I have a friend of 25 years (my surrogate mum), who told me many years ago that life is too short and precious, so I shouldn’t waste time on people who I don’t like or who don’t like me.

I don’t regret anything in life; life’s too short for regrets. It would be nice if some things had been different, but I think things happen for a reason, and you have to do the best you can with everything life has to offer. I believe in Karma! I’m a very stoic, stiff upper lip kind of person and deal with what life throws at me. I believe that things that are left and not dealt with will eventually come back to bite you twice as hard!

Rachel & Paul (far right) with friends in the 80s

Rachel & Paul (far right) with friends in the 80s

What are your passions?

I have a real passion for music, particularly sounds that relay feelings, emotions and passions. I have been going to Soul, RnB, Mod, Skinhead nights and all-nighters since the early 80s up and down the country and abroad.

“when I dance I forget everything and concentrate on the music and the feeling that it’s giving me”

Music for me is a very personal thing and when I dance I forget everything and concentrate on the music and the feeling that it’s giving me. Having said that, music has also been a very social thing for me and I love catching up with friends, old and new. I was approached at a weekender a while ago by a lady who said that she loved the way I danced as I looked like I was feeling the music and not just going through the motions, doing the same old mechanical moves. It was such a lovely compliment.

Many songs remind me of a time and a place in my life and bring back great memories. I’m often reminded of great friends, many of who remain friends today, 30 years on. I won’t name names as they will feel very old, but they know who they are!

I love art and creative things in general. Nice cars, particularly classic cars but, as I travel many miles a classic car is not particularly practical at the moment …a vintage E-Type, when I have more time to enjoy it, maybe. I love to travel and I love art, so I try to collect a piece of artwork wherever I am in the world. I enjoy time away, but I’m always pleased to get home to my own space.

“My life may have been full of ups and downs, but it’s never been boring!”

I consider myself very lucky to have been involved in a soul/mod/skinhead environment since the early 80s, even though I’m not a skinhead anymore. I look back on my life knowing that I have done and experienced a lot of things that so many people haven’t been able to. My life may have been full of ups and downs, but it’s never been boring!

How did you first become involved in the scene and why is it important?

The scene is important to me, firstly and most importantly because of the great and unique people who I have met along the way. Most of my friends have been friends for many years, some almost 30 years. (I sound old saying that. …Oh, I forgot, I am old!).

Secondly, the music is vital to an active scene, and has been a very important part of my life since I was a rebellious and troubled teenager. It links people and gives a common focus. As a teenager living in a small community I felt cut off; the scene gave me freedom with a band of like-minded rebels. I had found my tribe!

“My friend Colin gave me my first skinhead when I was about 16/17; needless to say my mum wasn’t best pleased!”

My friend Colin (a skinhead) gave me my first skinhead when I was about 16/17; needless to say my mum wasn’t best pleased! It was first cut very short on top with feathered fringes; I soon began to grow my hair out though. Soon it became a long, feathered, suedehead type feather cut, which I always felt was a little bit more sophisticated and stylish. I kept my feather cut for many years, and would spend hours straightening my hair until it was just right. My hairdresser at the time was a barber who used to cut my hair just as I liked it, and I continued to go back to him even when I moved away from the area. He was allergic to hair, which always amused me, but must have been a nightmare for him.

I started going on scooter rallies in the early 80s. The Rallies opened up a whole new world to me, in terms of MOD and soul nights and I’ve never looked back. London and Manchester became places that I visited a lot, and when I wasn’t working I was usually in one or the other with friends or, at all-nighters, which were taking place all over the country. A particular all-nighter that stands out in my memory is the Unicorn Club in Leighton Buzzard; the place I first met Paul …although I didn’t like him much at the time! Needless to say we did hit it off eventually, a few weeks later at another all-nighter in Dunstable. Paul and I spent most weekends travelling around the country to a rally, a mod or skinhead night, soul night or all-nighter. I was very lucky to have some very smart and stylish people to hang around with, which inspired me to become a very smart skinhead.

I met lots of skinheads and mods on the soul scene, and soon started going to mod rallies. The mod rallies catered more for my musical tastes at the time; the very smart skinheads fitted into that scene far more than the bonehead-skinhead scene, which was becoming very political.

“My first memory of an all-nighter was The Fleet in Peterborough. I remember watching all the Soulies arrive in their baggy trousers, carrying their bags that contained everything they would need for the night.”

My first memory of an all-nighter was The Fleet in Peterborough. I remember watching all the Soulies arrive in their baggy trousers, carrying their bags that contained everything they would need for the night. I soon became a skinhead with a bag, carrying spare shirts, deodorant and a toothbrush & paste to freshen up after dancing. I used to look at the mod girls, who still looked pristine at the end of the evening (because they never danced!); their hair was always immaculate! My hair is naturally curly so, my painstakingly straightened feathers rarely survived. But, I refused to waste time in the toilets sorting out my hair; I would rather enjoy my night on the dance floor!

Click on the picture to go to the 100 Club website

Click on the picture to go to the 100 Club website

The 100 Club in London also became a regular place for us (and still holds soul all-nighters); it would be packed with very cool people all trying to look smarter than everyone else. When the place was packed it got so hot, moisture could be seen dripping down the walls.

I’ve seen you DJ at a number of events, how did you get started?

I started out of necessity really. I’ve always wanted to collect vinyl but, in the 80s I was more interested in buying clothes and having suits tailor-made; I didn’t start collecting vinyl in a big way until more recently. I started to collect as a consequence of running Let’s Dance and wanting to get up there and spin some of my sounds.

I love to dance, so I tend to only buy tunes that I like and would dance too. I think, if I like it then there is a good chance that someone else will like it too. I love to see people enjoying my tunes and having a good time. It fills me with immense pleasure.

I have many friends who have DJ’d since the 80s and they have always introduced me to new or different tunes so I have a fairly broad knowledge. I am always finding new tunes on an, almost daily basis, and I’m constantly scouring the Internet for vinyl that might interest me.

“I love to see people enjoying my tunes and having a good time. It fills me with immense pleasure.”

I tend to get a bit carried away with my interests so I set myself a budget for each record, which I’ve only gone over a couple of times; if it was a record I really wanted then I would buy it, within reason. My friends Alan and Tim always laugh at my limit, and always tease me that I’ll overspend. I think, maybe they’re right but, setting a budget makes me feel better about spending money on vinyl. I keep telling myself it’s my retirement fund, although I hope I’m still enjoying the music when I’m a little old lady who can’t dance!

I love to DJ. Soulful RnB is where I think my taste in music is, but I enjoy lots of different types of music; variety is the spice of life and all that!

To stay up to date, click on the picture above to join the Let's Dance Facebook Group

To stay up to date, click on the picture above to join the Let’s Dance Facebook Group

You’re involved in running Let’s Dance in Oxford, how do you attract new audiences to keep them successful?

I’m involved in running Let’s Dance with Paul, and Gary & Debbie Chamberlain. We’ve been going for three years so it’s still in its infancy; we’re still learning as we go. We started it as a club that’s slightly different to others in the area; we play 50s and 60s RnB & Soul; Popcorn, Latin and MOD sounds.

“We started Let’s Dance in Oxford as a club that’s slightly different to others in the area …we play 50s and 60s RnB & Soul; Popcorn, Latin and MOD sounds.”

We try to attract people by having great guest DJs, and we have had MANY over the last three years. Our venue has a great wooden dance floor; a great sound system helps too, with quality music obviously! We try to play different sounds to those that you would normally hear at a Northern Soul Night, and it’s all played on original vinyl.

Our music policy is that the music has to be ‘danceable’; hence the name ‘Let’s Dance’! The final night in our current venue was December 19th, featuring the fabulous Ted Massey and the wonderful Andrea Mattioni who were assisted by Paul Shipston (Shippy), Gary Chamberlain and me! Both of our guest DJs have amazing record collections, so our ears and feet had a real treat!

Guest DJs, Let's Dance December 2015

Guest DJs, Let’s Dance December 2015

Unfortunately our current venue is being bulldozed to make way for student flats and accommodation, which is a real shame. It may have been a bit tatty and rough around the edges but it was a great venue for dance events.

Guest DJs, Let’s Dance December 2015

Will the Oxford Let’s Dance nights continue in 2016 

YES! We’re already looking at new venues to host Let’s Dance.

We love what we do and it’s important to have something in the Oxford area that caters for our musical tastes, so keep an eye on the Let’s Dance Facebook page for news of future events and new venues in 2016!

Dead or alive who would be your dream dinner party guests (and why)?

A difficult question, there are so many people I’d like to invite. I think really it would need to be my wonderful, mad and very colourful friends who I’ve met along the way, and my family.

If I were going for a famous line-up it would have to be a group filled with laughter and good conversation. Diversity would be the order of the day I think …musicians, artists, creative and funny people. Ruth Brown, Tiny Topsy, Jackie Wilson, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holliday. Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh, Annie Leibervitz and Dorothea Lange. Jason Statham (just because), Audrey Hepburn, Violet Szabo; and perhaps Ant & Dec because they make me laugh. It’s impossible to pick, the line up would change depending on how I feel on the day.

What would be on your playlist?
Another difficult question, my top ten playlist changes on a daily basis. How about:

Esther Phillips – just say goodbye
The Rays – love another girl
Tiny Topsy – just a little bit
Jo Ann Henderson – baby please don’t go
Sandra Stephens – if you really love me
Troy Dodds – try my love
The list is endless……………
Roy Hamilton – The Panic Is On
Dinah Washington – September in the rain
Jo Jo Bennett – Leaving Rome
Brook Benton & Dinah Washington – You’ve got what it takes

How would you describe your style?

Clothes are, relatively speaking unimportant to me; I am far more interested in the person who is actually wearing the clothes. Having said that I can look at something and appreciate its beauty and style, and how gorgeous a certain dress is. I’m more a functional type of person. I buy what I like and what I want but I don’t tend to have a favourite shop as such.

I love the 50s and 60s for style and fashion. I’m not a very frilly person; I’m not keen on really bold patterns or flowers (in any shape or form!). Beautiful colours are important, because of the job I do. I love rich vibrant reds, purples and blues. I’m not keen on pale colours.

I was a huge collector of vintage clothes and would source clothes from second-hand shops and markets; in those days you could be assured of finding a few each week. I had several hundred button down shirts of one variety or another.

I used to colour code my shirts (sounds sad when I say it now). I had an open hanging space in my flat at the time, and I liked to see all my shirts of the same colour together. OCD maybe? I still do that for Paul’s shirts when I sort the wardrobe out.

As a skinhead I would wear, pretty much what the skinhead lads would be wearing: Levi 501 jeans or tailored suits and trousers with a button down shirt (Ben Sherman’s, Brutus, Jaytex) and brogues or loafers. I only occasionally wore a skirt but wouldn’t have been seen dead in a dress or anything frilly or flowery!

What is your favourite thing in your closet?

Rachel's custom made Tonic suit

Rachel’s custom made Tonic suit

I had a wonderful purple tonic suit, tailor-made by Charlie, who was in a small workshop up several flights of stairs in a building in Carnaby Street (before it became too commercial). I still own this suit today! I bought the fabric from Textile King and Charlie made me a three-quarter length jacket, with a matching skirt and trousers for £250, a lot of money at the time. It has ticket pockets, beautiful covered buttons and a gorgeous purple lining. I just love this suit and I can’t quite let it go at the moment, although it would buy me a few records…

The suit!

The suit!

What do you splurge on?

I splurge on good shoes and vinyl!

I like nice holidays, nice furniture and nice cars.

What do you scrimp on?

Absolutely nothing!

Thank you Rachel x

And finally… some snaps from Let’s Dance, December 2015…

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