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1981 - 2014

Walking in a Whirly wonderland
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Guardian Review
Whirl-Y-Gig 21st Birthday

WOMAD 2001
Monkey Pilot

Review by ABBG

Review from:  Rhian Helina Jones  

They say itís probably the most visionary club in the world... I say, without a doubt. Wonder and excitement fill your senses as the swirling incense entices you through the door and into a world that oozes with psychedelia and begs to be explored; much like discovering Aladdinís cave.
The transformation of this London club is incredible and an artwork in itself. Beautiful, multi-coloured saris cascade over the walls and ceiling, while the mesmerising light show of Zeeman Zap keeps your eyes more than occupied, and serves as a very photogenic backdrop for the photographers in the room. Stand on the stage, and immerse yourself in euphoria as you look out in to the hazy tunnels of technicolour and glance upon the projected earth as it turns on its axis... is this really still in London?
The music at Whirl-y-gig isnít just a DJ set; itís a magical journey, navigated by DJ Monkey Pilot- the musical guru and co-organiser of whirl-y-gig, along with his spiritual counterpart, Mary the Fairy. The whirl-y-mix takes influences from around the globe, mixing the unlikeliest of genres and producing a unique sound that will get even the most reserved up and dancing. Drum Ďní Bass, Electro Swing, Dubstep, Trance and house can all be found and infused with essences of Celtic, African, Arabic and Asian sounds... and thatís just to name a few! The most impressive trait of Monkey Pilotís set, it would seem, is his intuitive ability to play what you want to hear, when you want to hear it; even if that means diverting to completely a new genre. It just works! And, it really is a wonderful sight to behold when the night gets in to full swing, with the crowd looking every bit as fabulous as the decor and content to keep on dancing into the small hours.
The atmosphere of this club is second to none with a strong sense of community and a welcoming feel from the moment you walk through the door. Virgin Whirliers are embraced by the patrons and the more you visit, the more you feel part of the ever expanding Whirl-y-family. Even the stewards have a friendly, caring approach; which is refreshing in comparison to bolshie attitudes of the staff in some of todayís clubs.
Youíll make plenty of friends over the duration of the night, getting a chance to chat when the parachute comes down... thatís right, a parachute. At 5:30am the crowd take their seats on the floor as the Ďparachute pullersí shroud them in white material, creating a sense of calm and tranquillity. This is an experience like no other, with a rippling wave of colour and serenity above your head you cannot help but feel at peace with the world.
Whirl-y-gig was first created by the Association for Humanistic Psychology in 1981, and 31 years later itís still as popular as ever and the ethos is still the same; an event for ďpeople of all ages and placesĒ. Aside from the cold streets of London at 6am, there isnít a bad word to say about this monthly event. It must be seen to be believed, so pre-order a ticket or get there early to avoid missing out on possibly the most transcendent night of your life.

Review by ABBG

ABBG meets co-promoters of Whirl-y-gig Mary and Richard who live in a quiet rural-looking corner of Harrow in a small house, which, despite the occasional tripped-out wall painting, has decoration reminiscent of a country farmhouse.

Outside is a small church window embedded in their garden wall, which overlooks a large field.

This is the base from which they run Whirl-y-gig, one of Londonís longest-running regular parties, and a pioneering club for showcasing world dance music in London. They also run a record label called Whirl-y-Music.

Some people believe in having tight security and strict rules but despite being one of the capital s most relaxing nights out, its also widely acclaimed to be London s safest club and is in fact the only legal party in London where children are allowed. Mary summed it up as It s about respecting all people including children. Weíve frequently been pressurised to have a bar but you can t legally sell alcohol at night and have kids around This is also one reason why, curiously, they always choose town halls as venues, where, unlike normal nightclubs, children are allowed. Another reason is having more autonomy, as Richard explains:

They allow us to run all aspects of events ourselves, we donít have to have conventional security, and, as we are into humanistic ideals, we feel town halls are much more in the spirit of the community.

Whirl-y-gig began 20 years ago as a party run by a voluntary organisation called the Association of Humanistic Psychology.

Richard attended the very first Whirl-y-Gig, and was so impressed by it that he decided to get involved, and, after a year he was running the whole show. It was just a place to dance that was a million miles away from clubland . Mary, who he met later, also got into it, and being the more extrovert partner, is the Whirly hostess, while Richard - aka DJ Monkey Pilot - supplies the sounds.

His DJ career began soon after taking over the running of Whirly. For the past 15 years, he has been the only DJ playing there, and spins whatís best described as world music with a trance flavour, but Richard is dismissive of genre labels, and would rather not be pigeonholed. Iíve never really understood clubs who segregate different genres of music, Iíve always played as wide a range of music as possible: were into raising energy, and every track should be like another step on a journey.

Like most DJs, Monkey Pilot used to select whatever tunes he felt fitted any given moment in the party, but now, he actually plans his whole set in advance I found I could get better results that way, and I could guard against falling into habits he said.

Although Whirly is his only residency , he sometimes plays at other parties, such as RTTS, Pendragon, and even at Ministry of Sound.

When they heard that my musical style and general approach was different to the club norm they were a bit worried, but to everyone s surprise it turned out to be a very successful night ! He has also played in the dance tent and in the tipi field at Glastonbury, at the Guildford festival, and in places as far flung as Las Palmas and New Zealand.

Although Whirl-y-gig itself has never taken its party beyond British shores, it has been a feature of quite a few UK festivals, such as regular appearances at WOMAD, and at the first Phoenix Festival where they were the only haven of peace in this otherwise troubled event: They gave us a big top and the cost of hiring a truck, but nothing else and said get on with it. That was our first festival and it was a huge success says Richard.

At the end of every Whirly, a huge silk parachute descends over the crowd: some people sit underneath, while others wave the thing around, bouncing countless balloons off it. The light show is pretty impressive too, with TimeOut magazine commenting: God knows what it would be like if your tripping.

At one time ambient music producers were invited along to do special parachute sets . They still occasionally put on such musicians, normally in conjunction with other live bands, on special occasions such as New Years Eve. I asked them why they donít put on bands more often: The main focus of Whirl-y-gig is the people, the music and the environment. When a band comes on, everyone stops talking to each other and looks toward the stage, and you start to lose the very thing people tell us they like so much about Whirl-y-gig says Richard. Mary adds: It feels good to put on bands as a special treat for everyone.

Another thing that distinguished Whirly was its unusual opening hours: the club began at 8pm and ended at midnight.

Although this was popular with many at the time, especially families with children, it seemed in the spirit of the party to push for later licensing. The closing time was extended at first to 2am, and now to 4am (opening at 10pm) in response to repeated requests from Whirly regulars. As Richard puts it We got fed up with being seen as a pre-club club.


Whirl-y-Gig have so far released two world dance music compilation albums on their label, Whirly Music. I asked them how they chose the artists for their albums.

They are all people we know or feel connected with and who are in touch with the whirly sound said Mary. Richard adds: It doesnít seem appropriate to be approaching the big record labels, or for that matter to pursue rare European vinyl cuts: We use artists that from our point of view are effectively emerging.

These emerging artists featured on the Whirly compilations are often the same people playing in the bands they occasionally put on, or the producers of the records in Monkey Pilots bag.

There are many things they enjoy about running Whirl-y-Gig, especially seeing regulars becoming inspired by the music and eventually producing their own tunes. Mary comments: Thereís a crowd whoíve spent the best part of their teenage years at Whirly and now theyíre making music and sending Richard tracks; they are good tracks and that is inspiring.

Yeah, and it's growing and it is out of our control, thank God! laughs Richard.

Whirl-y-Gig has long had the reputation for being Londonís safest club. I asked Mary, who is an ex-nurse and a registered First aider, whether they had any safety tips for promoters to consider.

Donít take any chances! Youíve got to do risk assessments on every single activity from the moment people enter the building: from unloading the truck to hanging backdrops.

A lot of what we do might seem invisible but the gangways donít get blocked like in a lot of clubs. You canít just do lip-service to safety; you cant just have stewards going around asking people if they are alright when they are clearly looking unwell; they really need to be qualified First aiders.

Incidentally, Mary now works for the mental health charity Mind during office hours, as well as doing her bit for Whirl-y-Gig, but Richard works full time for Whirly, doing everything from the accounts to the emails to organising the crew, as well as DJ-ing.

I wondered, apart from safety, what other advice she had for would-be promoters: If you really want to do it, go for it!

But you need money: weíve kept Whirly going for 20 years on massive debts through hell. I had to go back to my job because we simply couldnít afford to live otherwise. Itís all a big financial struggle, but were still lucky to be doing it, and if we can do it, anybody can.

Did Mary ever work as a DJ? I used to play records in the crew room, and I actually do requests. I did manage to convert a few people to Doris Day - but I am more interested in making live music That live music is playing the fiddle, which she enjoys in her spare time. Final question: what would make the world a better place? Mary answers on behalf of both of them In light of all the stuff thatís been going on recently, the sooner we wake up to the fact that we are one planet and we stop discrimination, prejudice and fear of each other, and start living more as a community, the better.

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