So why have I decided to write this story at this time?
Well 12 months ago I was very ill and I was not sure I was going to make it. I had been asked to attend an appointment at Wythenshawe hospital for an x-ray. So I turned up in good time and was asked to wait in the waiting room. On my way there I saw a woman in a wheelchair and recognised her immediately. Although I recognised her, I had no idea where from or who she was. I did not speak to her at this point and sat in the waiting room.
Slowly it all came back to me.
I did not remember her name but I knew exactly where I knew her from. It was from my time at Rafters, one of Manchester’s legendary venues.
Now regular readers of mikeshaft.com will know that although I have a fantastic memory for people’s faces, I can almost never remember names and dates are an absolute mystery to me.
I think I was around 17 or 18 (I think) when I went to Rafters for a job. I had opened the Manchester Evening News one day and there was an advert stating that they were looking for a dj for their venue. I went down to the club, but it was closed however, their adjoining venue was a cabaret club call Fagins and I went in there and presented myself.
The manager that I met was a guy called Jimmy…I’m afraid that I do not remember his surname. The owner of the venue was John Bagnall who was in overall control. Jimmy is a great guy and said they would like me to do a quick demo there and then in Fagins. I could introduce a couple of songs and play them. I think I did about 15 minutes when he came over and said that was fine.
He said that he quite liked what I had done and wanted me to come to Rafters the following Friday or was it Saturday night to do the full night. He had two other guys who would do the following nights and then they would come to a decision. I was over the moon and decided to stay in Fagins for a couple of hours to get a feel for the place.
Within about an hour Jimmy came over to me and said he didn’t want me to do the first of the demo nights, he wanted me to do the last of the three.
I didn’t think anything of it and I do not remember if I actually went down to the club to see how the other guys did. I do know that I turned up for my night with my box of records and played for the whole night. The club was about half full but I managed to keep the dance floor rocking for the whole night. The big tune was George McCrae’s Rock your baby. I don’t know how many times I played it in total but it punctuated the night and the crowd loved it.
At the end of the night Jimmy came over and said they were delighted at how the night had gone and they wanted to offer me the gig.
I think it was at the time two nights a week, Friday and Saturday.
Too put it mildly I was over the moon…my first real gig in one of Manchester’s top venues and I was going to get paid to play all my favourite tunes.
I cannot remember exactly what I got paid but the money was going to be a bonus.
Now I really was a dj.
Once everything was agreed with Jimmy he said he thought I needed a theme tune and disappeared back up into Fagins. A few minutes later he came back into Rafters and he was carrying the Isaac Hayes song Theme from Shaft.
Now Shaft if you do not know, was a character played by Richard Rowntree in a series of black films back in the day another film of the same genre and at about the same time was Superfly.
In recent times these films were described as blaxploitation films.
I cannot say I have ever understood the term but I am led to believe that it is because they created an image of black people that was far from flattering.
I have to say that back then, me and all my friends thought Shaft and Superfly were the coolest dudes on the planet.
So there I am with the theme from Shaft in my hand and an agreement from Jimmy that I was the new dj for Rafters.
Before he left he said they would advertise the nights in the Manchester Evening News in the coming weeks. He then said “I think we need a new name for you, how about Shaft?”
He continued, “We’ll call you Mike Shaft from now on” and with that the conversation was over. Everything was agreed.
Over the coming weeks I would get to know all the staff not only in Rafters but in Fagins as well.
Because it was a cabaret club, Fagins also had an in house photographer and I made great use of his services.
The nights at Rafters were truly legendary for those of us who were there to enjoy them and we were able to play some wonderful music. I think I eventually remained at Rafters for over two years and I look back on those days with fond memories.
So what has all of this got to do with my visit to Whythenshawe for my x-ray and what was it to do with the lady in the wheelchair?
Well I eventually spoke to her and told her that I recognised her face and I remember her from Rafters but I could not remember her name.
She told me her name was Joan (I think) and we reminisced about those wonderful days at Rafters.
I asked her what ever happened to Jimmy and she told me that they had been partners for the past 35+ years and they were still together.
I told her I would write the story of how Jimmy gave me my name and it was my sincere intention to write it immediately.
So why has it taken me 12 months to write this story?
Well I knew that I had some photos from those days somewhere in my collection but I could not find them.
This morning I decided that I was not going to stop looking until I located them. Eventually I found them in a box on top of a cupboard in the bedroom. Nowhere near my boxes upon boxes of other photos. So finally the story could be told with the photos to prove it.