How do you commemorate a character like ‘Cosmic Keith’ Marples, taken from us at the start of the COVID lockdown? Only one way – put several hundred lovers of the big beat in a venue with which he’ll forever be associated and ply them with eight hours of the finest music on vinyl, topped off by a couple of hot bands. And that’s what Dave Crozier and Little Carl set out to do when they booked the Dome club at the Boston Arms for what would have been Keith’s 56th birthday. Others quickly weighed in to offer their services for free, with enough DJs to create two rooms reflecting Keith’s broad tastes developed over a too-short lifetime collecting, curating and playing rare records. Thus, upstairs in the main room we had Dave and Carl themselves, along with Tall Mark Greenaway, delivering sets crammed full of hard core wild rockabilly and rock’n’roll, whilst the intimate downstairs space offered a wide spectrum of early 60s sounds, featuring gritty rhythm and blues, garage and surf. A rolling roster of DJs there ranged from rock’n’roll stalwarts in Bill Smoker, Martin Heaphy and Johnny Hoodoo alongside top names from the wider scene including Keb Darge, Rob Bailey, Jawa Jones, Mr A (Andy Bennett), and Miss A (Alexandra Cools). Upstairs also featured sets by the Nick Gilroy Combo and, from Canada, Bloodshot Bill, both with top notch backing, and representing the kind of live music Keith had promoted in the gigs he’d organized (and in doing so treading on the same stage graced by Royce Porter in one of Keith’s last events at the Boston).

Despite arriving as early as we could beat a path from the wilds, there just wasn’t enough time to take it all in. So many old friends to catch up with and the sense that, whichever room you were in, for every great record you heard, you were missing an equally great one in the other room. We flitted up and down, scratching our R&B itch and fascinated by what the DJs downstairs were bringing to the party, then legging it back to drink at the firehose of rock’n’roll floor fillers flying off the decks upstairs. Nor was it simply a gathering of the clans from Keith’s heyday on the scene. The number of young faces from across the scenes proved that Keith’s deliberate broadening of his playlist during his time behind the decks proved that, to enjoy ‘our kind’ of music, you don’t gotta have a ducktail.

Though for those that knew him well, the sense of commemorating a loss underpinned the atmosphere, this was no evening for mawkish sentimentality. We celebrated Cosmic the way he’d have wanted it, with pounding rhythms and searing guitar breaks at the Boston Rockabilly Club he loved so much. If he could have beamed down from Planet Bop to join us, he’d have had a great time. Thanks go to Dave Crozier, Little Carl and everyone who gave their time and effort behind the scenes to make this such a storming night, and along the way raise some dosh for the Campaign Against Living Miserably and, in honour of Keith’s beloved Stan, the Boston Terrier Rescue Society.

And the Keith I knew? We grew up in the same dormitory town, and cut our teeth at the same local Houndogs rock’n’roll club, but with sufficient difference in age that I was leaving London at just the time he was becoming a regular at the clubs. Occasionally our worlds overlapped, and he’d grab a lift home when I was visiting my folks before life took me away from London. I knew he’d started DJing, but it wasn’t until I returned to the London scene years later that I started to realize just how influential he’d become as a DJ, promoter and compiler of the Planet Bop LPs, nor how many fantastic records he’d found and popularized. I was looking forward to catching him for a proper catch up, then COVID happened, and then he was gone. I can’t listen to the Reekers’ ‘Don’t Call Me Flyface’ without wishing we’d had the chance to have that chat…