What do get if you combine 29 DJs and record collectors, 3 venues, 8 record decks, 31 hours of music and around 800 records? The answer, the Catch My Drift R&B weekender held on 20 and 21 October in the heart of Bristol. To review an event like that is a literal impossibility – you just can’t be everywhere and hear everything, but a gathering like that deserves at least an attempt to capture the atmosphere and the effort that goes into making it happen.

Bryan ‘Rusty’ Rookes’ Catch My Drift sessions have been around for a few years now, building up from individual gigs to last year’s first all-dayer, but this year’s event definitely scaled new heights. At its heart was the Saturday 10 hour marathon, held across the two music rooms of the Basement 45 club in Frogmore Street – formerly The Mandrake and one of Bristol’s oldest night club venues. This year, however, and recognizing the popularity of last year’s informal Friday night pub spin-up, Rusty decided to spread the event over two evenings and secured the Louisiana club, close to Bristol’s riverside. Within days, the Louisiana had sold out, sending the faithful Rusty out searching for another suitable location to meet the demand, resulting in his adding the Forge, tucked back on the hillside above the city. With venues secured, and a ready audience drawn by the inviting roster of top R&B DJs from across the UK and Europe, his attention turned to filling the schedules, with each of the Saturday night DJs limited to two half-hour sets and with the intention of featuring as many additional talents as his little black book could turn up – which was how we came to join the esteemed company with the honour of kicking things off at the Forge.

For many promoters, that would be enough. A capacity crowd drawn in by the Catch My Drift reputation and some early PR, venues and DJs secured – surely all that’s needed is for one lot to turn up and play records and the other to be there to enjoy them? Not for the Catch My Drift brand! The cool graphics of the flyers had to be translated into limited edition T-shirts; the CMD logo printed onto backscreens which in turn needed hanging racks; each DJ was to be invited, cajoled and nudged to produce a bio, photo and top five to give the audience an idea of the treats to come; the sound system at every venue had to be tested to discover how to get the best sound for R&B 45s, then decks, cartridges, styli and mixers checked, serviced, and brought ready, with spares on hand in every location; MP3 recorders prepared to capture the musical lightning in the MixCloud bottle; photographers enlisted; venue locations clarified – particularly for a cool post-industrial setting like the Forge set back from the main drag, necessitating a video loop on line to make sure no-one missed it.

Finally, and most complex, the running order for each room and venue. Whilst all would be playing R&B at some point in the spectrum the term encompasses, the beauty of a Catch My Drift event is in the variety that brings, which means mixing the sessions with an expert hand to ensure that no one space got into a musical rut, nor ended up with a concentration of audience from one particular scene when the aim is to create a fluid, ever changing crowd digging all that the DJs could lay before them. Add to that the logistic complications of DJs flying, training and driving in from Glasgow, Germany, Spain and all points in between and the task becomes immense – frankly, I’d have given up, thrown all the names in the air and just written them down in the order I retrieved them from behind the bookcase. Not so Rusty, who not only put it all in order but also had the confidence to advertise the whole thing on line weeks in advance.

And then it rained, and rained, and kept raining until railway lines and roads across the country ground to a halt, disrupting DJs and audience alike who’d set off early on the Friday morning eager to get started. Rusty’s careful plan sent him burning around Bristol, ULEZ bookings fluttering in his wake, collecting weary travellers, distributing sound equipment, wristbands, booking lists, and display material, ably supported by wife, Ali, sacrificing her birthday celebrations to make sure everyone else had a good time! The plan worked: the needles dropped on the records dead on time, and the music flowed – even if more than one DJ ended up walking through the door after a mammoth cross-country trek and going straight to the decks to begin their session. Fortunately, Saturday brought an improvement in the weather, allowing stranded stragglers to arrive and the Basement 45 sessions to kick off without a hitch.

So much for the preparation – what of the feast? The hardest bit is to describe what was played (though if you really want to know, most of the playlists are up on social media). On the R&B scene, you’ll hear a huge spectrum of sounds from the late 40s to the 60s, from late jumping big bands, through screaming black rock’n’roll, through to garage, ska and a touch of reggae and gritty soul. It brings together the best of multiple scenes, including mods, scooter boys, soul and rockin’ folk, all of whom value the originality of the music above what haircut you had when you had hair or how big your turnups should be. That said, they’re a stylish bunch, but above all the atmosphere is super-friendly – the kind of place where you can talk to anyone and where each event sparks a raft of new friendships. The dancing is equally eclectic, reflecting the breadth of scenes represented, but without the restrictions found in some quarters which invite Paddington Bear stares for anyone with the temerity to do the ‘wrong’ dance to a particular record. At CMD the only rule is to dance like you’re enjoying the music. As the eloquent Bill Kealy put it, ‘No fashions, just passion’. This is the kind of club where you can go confident you’ll only recognize a small percentage of the tracks played, but that you’ll love all of them, whether the record is a four-figure holy grail for collectors, or one you could pick up on Discogs tomorrow and still have change for a pint (and on that note, drinks at all the CMD venues were fairly priced and served by friendly and welcoming staff who were quick to take care of the occasional accidental spillage).

I wouldn’t be crass enough to try to tell you who my favourite DJs of the night were – the ones I knew I’d enjoy, I did; the ones I didn’t know added themselves to the list of people I’d go out of my way to hear again, and even the ones playing sounds at the edge of my tastes filled me with respect for their knowledge and passion. If I’d started to make a list of the tracks I’d like to add to my own collection, I’d have been scribbling all night – and would guarantee that I’d be working to a hundred to have a chance of buying them. But what does it matter when there are events like Catch My Drift where you can be firehosed with great stuff, in a great venue, surrounded by great people.

Mr & Mrs MidCentury Chap relax at the Louisiana

And as I write, so Rusty has announced Catch My Drift No 3 for 18 and 19 October 2024 (having hopefully told Ali first!). Watch out for details and we’ll see you there…

Photos by Tony Bruce and Owen Davies who captured the whole event and whose stunning photos appear on the CMD Facebook page.