| All who know the Pet Shop Boys and their world, whether from near or far, were devastated by the recent news of Dainton Connell’s death on the morning of October 5 in a car accident.“I got an offer to play some records at the opening of this club in Moscow,” says Chris, “I was really in two minds about whether to do it or not, but then I thought, oh|
it’s my birthday, and maybe Dainton would like to come, and it’d be a fun trip.
I knew how much Dainton liked Russia. We both liked Russia. And I didn’t have any other plans for my birthday. When you reach 48 you don’t really feel like having much of a do.
So we got there and we went out for dinner at this restaurant. Some friends of ours from St Petersburg had come to Moscow, all these people we’d met there in 1997. One of them, Anton, was involved with the club I was going to be DJ-ing at called The Roof — I think he was the manager — which I hadn’t realised.
When we arrived at the restaurant Anton was already there, waiting for us, and he seemed quite chuffed that he’d actually managed to get me over there to DJ. We had a really fantastic dinner, and Dainton and I were both in incredibly high spirits and happy. Anton was incredibly generous — he’d bought three kilos of caviar. Three massive tubs. We just had a birthday celebration. The restaurant was really nice — it was overlooking Moscow. After dinner I said, ‘What are we doing now?’, and Anton said, ‘You’re going to a club, and me and Dainton are going to this other club and we’re going to meet you afterwards.’
The rest of us got back into our people carrier and said ‘see you later’ and that was the last I saw of Dainton and Anton. We went to the next club, and I was a bit surprised they hadn’t turned up, but I was more disappointed than worried. I was wondering if something better was happening somewhere else and I wasn’t there. It was about half past three when I went to bed, but Russia’s three hours ahead, so I knew it was only half past twelve British time, and I didn’t want to be too late — I knew I had a busy day the next day because I wanted to learn how to use the DJ-ing equipment.
So I went back to the hotel and went to bed, and didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary in any way. I got a call from a woman at the British Embassy and I thought, ‘What could they possibly want?’ I wasn’t taking any calls but they said they really needed to speak to me, and that was when I said, ‘This sounds really bad.’ And she said, ‘It is really bad.’ She told me it wasn’t anyone in my family, and said that she needed to come up. Even at this point I didn’t even think it could be about Dainton. He was someone I never worried about in any way or thought anything would happen to because he seemed this huge, indestructible person. When she told me, I just couldn’t believe it.
It was a terrible
Day. Disbelief. That night, the night of the accident, it was raining heavily in Moscow, and what I learned subsequently was that Anton had been driving in his own car with Dainton as a passenger, taking him to show him The Roof. He’d obviously been driving too fast and lost control of the car — it was really raining heavily. They weren’t far from the club.”
Anton’s car hit a tree and then went through a barrier into the river; both Anton and Dainton were killed.
“Dainton had his passport on him,” says Neil, “which is how the British Embassy was able to trace Dainton’s hotel, through the immigration form. I was called by Dave Dorrell at ten o’clock in the morning on my mobile — I was on other phone to Jon Savage at the time. The reception was very bad and at first I thought he’d said that Elton had been killed in a car crash in Moscow, and then I thought, ‘Elton’s not in Moscow’. I ran it through my head, what he had said, and said, ‘Dainton…?’ Lost my breath, almost. I phoned up Chris and he was in the mortuary. I can just imagine Dainton and Anton being in very high spirits, driving this BMW through Moscow by the river…”
Chris stayed in Moscow until Wednesday so that he could accompany the body back to England and to Dainton’s family.
“Probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” says Chris. “It’s hard to come to terms with something like that. It’s such a huge loss for me. It’s a massive hole in my life, Dainton not being around, because he was a friend before he worked for us, and he was a large part of my social life outside the Pet Shop Boys.”
The funeral was held on the morning of Friday, October 19, at 1O.3Oam. Aside from his life with the Pet Shop Boys, Dainton was legendary among fans of Arsenal football club, and before the previous weekend’s game several hundred fans had marched outside the ground in his honour, chanting tributes, most often simply “Dainton, we love you”. On the day of the funeral, the Pet Shop Boys were scheduled to play a concert in Romania, but the Romanian promoters thoughtfully agreed to reschedule the concert for the following month. a concert which finished with a performance of “Being boring” in Dainton’s honour, a specially created montage of film clips and photos of Dainton being projected on the screen behind them as they played. This would not be Dainton’s only
musical tribute — on the final night of the reformed Sex Pistols’ November concerts at Brixton Academy in London, their singer John Lydon, from a keen Arsenal-supporting family, apparently changed the words of their final encore, Jonathan Richman’s “Roadrunner”, to pay tribute to Dainton and acknowledge his passing.)
On the morning of the funeral, Neil took a taxi from his home, picked up Chris, who was staying in a London hotel, and they went to Dainton’s house in Hackney where his family were gathered.
“It was an amazing scene — this little terraced street and all these big black cars outside,” says Neil.
“There was a motorcade of 12 limousines,” says Chris. One of the drivers told them that they had been used in Princess Diana’s video. “So many wreaths,” he says. “You’ve never seen so many wreaths.”
The motorcade drove past Arsenal’s old ground, Highbury, and then past Arsenal’s new stadium, The Emirates, where a fenced-off mass of floral and other tributes dominated the area at the bottom of the stadium steps, and where most of the mourners had gathered. From there the procession of thousands, led by Dainton’s widow Mandy, walked to the church.
“It looked amazing,” says Chris. “The sun was shining quite low and everyone was in silhouette, everyone in black. And the police had closed the Holloway Road — the Al — on a Friday morning, which I thought was amazing. We all walked down the Holloway Road and then right into the church where there were more people waiting.”
There were far too many people to fit inside the church so the service was also broadcast through speakers to the crowd outside. During the service Chris read a passage from The Bible, Revelation 21:1-7, coincidentally the same piece Neil once read at the funeral of a friend and which is paraphrased in the song “Your funny uncle”. Chris had thought that he was reading The Lord Is My Shepherd and it was only when Neil looked at the order of service in the car beforehand that he alerted Chris that he was actually reading this other passage, which Chris quickly read through a few times. “I didn’t want to make any mistakes and let Dainton down in any way,” he says.
“Danny Miller, a very good friend of Dalnton’s, gave a really fantastic speech that captured Dainton really well and gave you a real insight into the young Dainton,” Neil says. “Running on the bus and giving Mandy a huge kiss. It was an incredibly moving speech.”
The atmosphere within the packed church was remarkable for both the depth and spread of emotions expressed as Dainton was both mourned and remembered. At one stage a wave of people imitating some of the characteristic noises Dainton’s would make went round the church, and several times the service paused for football chants
— the kind of magical, unreal scenes that would barely seem believable if you saw them in a movie.
Afterwards, family and close friends, including Neil and Chris, went to Islington Crematorium for the committal, at which Barry White’s “Just The Way You Are” and Rose Royce’s “Always And Forever” were played, before rejoining the other mourners at the wake in Alexandra Palace. There, all through the afternoon and evening, there were more speeches and memories shared by the kind of remarkable cross section of people that only someone like Dainton could have drawn together, Arsenal football club were denounced for refusing to allow the wake to take place in the club’s hospitality rooms (due, it was presumed, to the colourful reputation Dainton earned in his earlier years as a football supporter) and DJs — Brandon Block, Judge Jules, Danny Rampling — played.
“By the end of the day I was completely drained,” says Chris. “You probably don’t realise what a state of shock you’re in.”
The day after the funeral, Neil and Chris meet for lunch in the centre of London to talk through some of their own memories:
“We knew Dainton through my friend Pete, and the Arsenal connection,” says Chris.
“I remember very clearly meeting him for the first time,” says Neil, “at Chris’s flat in Highbury in 1989. We were about to go on the first Pet Shop Boys tour, and Peter Andreas, our assistant, was a big Gooner, a big Arsenal supporter, and he had mentioned Dainton to us anyway, because I always remembered Pete coming back from a match and saying that this friend of his, this big black guy, used to sing funny things and he had this thing he used to sing that Pete thought would be a hit, but Pete could never really sing it. I think I even once asked Dainton about it but Dainton couldn’t remember what he was talking about. Anyway,
so Pete announced that he thought — as we were going to have security on the tour — that Dainton would be the person to work with him. So I went round to Chris’s flat and Dainton was there. I’d never met anyone like him, but he seemed a very engaging character, and he had the laugh — the big booming laugh. And so he became Pet Shop Boys security, just for that tour. We said they had to wear suits so that they stood apart from everyone else looking serious, which they weren’t that keen on, I seem to remember, but actually they got to quite like wearing them. They looked great, the pair of them, these two Gooners in their suits. Dainton, I later discovered, had a reputation as a sort of football hooligan, and he had a knife scar down one side of his temples.
But it was a very short tour, and after that Dainton wasn’t working for us, but then he worked on the 1991 tour and after that he was actually an employee of the Pet Shop Boys for about five years. Then he became freelance, because we weren’t touring enough, until the end of the Nightlife tour in 2000. After that of course we still carried on seeing him. The last time a lot of people in our world saw him was at the Hammersmith Apollo show in June. He had a very strong rapport with the fans from early on.
He was such a larger than life figure and had the personality, but he was very good at crowd control, so he would allow people access to you but he would control it really well. And, bearing in mind his reputation as a hard man and a football hooligan, I never saw Dainton do anything violent at all, ever, and I never saw even the potential for violence, because Dainton’s very good at defusing situations with laughter. Though I never saw it used I guess the implicit thing was that he’s so big he could punch you out, but I never saw him do that. And in fact when very occasionally we’ve been in a situation that could have been violent, you realised that Dainton would not have participated. He had a lot of love. In some ways with me and Chris on tour he was always like a mother figure, in a way. This big guy, protecting you. And he was always giving you slobbery kisses — anyone who knows Dainton would know that. Sometimes he’d give you the famous bear hug — once I did actually have a bruised rib, and I was worried he was going to break my ribs.”
“Oooh, at football,” says Chris, “of course I wanted Arsenal to score but there was this dread as well, because I knew that if we scored I was going to get grabbed and flung six feet up in the air. So part of me was going, ‘Don’t score! Don’t score!’ because I knew what was coming. I’d literally get thrown up. I could see the ball going over the line and waiting for the ‘worrrrrrrrhhhh!!
“At the funeral yesterday,” says Neil, “it was quite clear that the three facets of Dainton’s life were his family, Arsenal and the Pet Shop Boys…
“…and beyond,” says Chris.
“We gave a lot of ‘beyond’ to Dainton,” says Neil, “because Dainton never forgot meeting anyone. For instance yesterday, when we got to the family home before driving off in one of the cars for the funeral there was a doctor who Dainton had originally met on tour in Miami. And there he was, standing in Islington, a long way from Miami, just taking it all in. Another example was that, on the Discovery tour in 1994, we had this routine that we’d have a party at the back of the plane. I don’t think you’d be able to do that now. And Dainton would organise this with the crew, and we’d all be at the back of the plane, drinking champagne brought from first class.
Then the crew would turn up at the gig and he’d be, ‘It’s so and so, remember? Brisbane to Melbourne.’ He had this very large constituency around the world. Wherever you went in the world someone would go, ‘Dainton!’ You’d walk down the street in Chile and an Arsenal fan would spot Danton.”
“It was the norm,” says Chris. “It wasn’t a surprise to be in a bar in a hotel in Sydney and for a group of lads to come over and say, ‘Alright, D?’ It’s never happened to me but it happened everywhere Dainton went. Dainton could make a place a party. He liked everyone to be having a good time, and what could have been just a mundane drink in a hotel bar would become a very special occasion. Magical.”
“Especially if he made it behind the bar,” Neil points out.
“As indeed happened in Hamburg,” says Chris.
“In Hamburg, 1999, the Nightlife tour,” Neil remembers, “Sting was staying at the same hotel. He came to the bar and he and I said hello. I don’t know if it would have gone much further but Dainton said, ‘Sting? What would you like to drink?’ Sting wanted a beer — a true Geordie — and consequently Dainton got him completely rat-arsed. And at the end of the evening Dainton ended up behind the bar, just giving people drinks.”
“I don’t know anybody else who could have done that,” says Chris.
“Dainton never entirely saw the connection between the drink and the money that would pay for it,” Neil points out. “One of his famous phrases was, ‘Well, pay the man.”’
“I heard he once bought a whole pub a drink,” says Chris, “and he’d left by the time they presented the bill.”
“On tour the other famous thing he used to do,” says Neil, “especially in South America in 1994, the coaches would have microphones…”
“You can see this in the Discovery video,” says Chris, “if you’ve got a copy of it, unlike me…”
“Unlike me either,” says Neil. “Dainton was always great at talking in a sort of mock imitation of any language: Japanese, Spanish, German, Russian. He would just go into an imitation of the sound of the language, to the point sometimes where I think people would believe he could really speak the language. And he would make everyone laugh.”
Dainton’s first appearance as part of what the Pet Shop Boys do was in the “So hard” video.
“We were always very aware of Danton’s iconic potential,” says Neil. “For ‘So hard’ we had that idea that for the lip sync sections Chris and I would be flanked by these two security guys, one of which was Dainton. And then he appeared in the ‘Jealousy’ video — Eric Watson asked him to be in it. It’s a very strange video because it’s basically about why a fight breaks out, and at the end Dainton closes the door, the wind flapping his jacket. He was also in ‘Was it worth it?’ — actually he just jumped in front of the camera in a t-shirt saying BEHAVE which was our merchandise at the time. He was a natural performer. He would always start singing and dancing.”
“He was virtually onstage with us for the Savoy,” says Chris.
“The stage was so low and he was stood in front of us,’’ says Neil.
He was part of the show,” says Chris.
“He was dressed and wore dark glasses and all the rest of it,” says Neil. “He was in other things too. Sam Taylor-Wood did this series of photographs called something like Five Revolutionary Seconds, 360-degree photographs. It’s an American military camera or something. And one of them, Dalnton’s in it, right in the foreground.”
They discuss Dainton’s amazing confidence in all circumstances.
“Even if I knew something,” says Chris, “I would be hesitant to say something in the presence
of other people, just in case I’d got it wrong. Danton had no such worries.”
“One of my fondest memories of Dainton,” says Neil, “and also a slightly irritating memory of Dainton, was walking round the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, one of the great museums in the world, with Brian Eno and Dainton, and Dainton saying, ‘Oh yeah, well it’s Tudor, isn’t it?’ and Brian saying what it actually was and Dainton saying, ‘Yeah, well, that’s what I’m saying.’ It went on and on and on. I felt slightly embarrassed, but it was funny — me, Dainton and Brian Eno.”
“He was very good for increasing our confidence in ourselves,” Chris points out, “because he held us in such high esteem that nothing was too good for the boys. Sometimes it caused slightly embarrassing moments — we did this An Audience With Elton John and we had to make our ways from our seats to the backstage area, and as we were walking through Dainton was shouting, ‘Make way for the boys! Make way for the boys!”’
“He was always saying — he’d be holding a glass of Champagne and he’d have his little finger at an angle — and he’d say, ‘Darlings, we’re back!”’ Neil remembers. “Just as a routine thing to say.”
“He really did know how to make you feel good about yourself,” says Chris.
“Then he’d give you a big slobbery kiss on your forehead or something,” says Neil.
“He could really improve your day,” says Chris.
“And when we weren’t happy,” says Neil, “he’d actually be slightly distraught. I remember at the legendary Sheffield Arena concert in 1999…”
“It must be awful to have such a good memory,” says Chris.
“Don’t you remember?” Neil asks.
“No, of course I don’t,” says Chris. “I’m so glad I haven’t got a good memory.”
“You stormed off,” says Neil. “We were in a huge arena with about three and a half thousand people. And Dainton was quite upset that you were
upset. Trying to big it all up.”
“He wanted everyone to be happy,” says Chris,
“He was always fun at parties,” says Neil. “He had all these funny chants and things, because of the football, and when you went to a club Dainton would suddenly have the whole club going, and be dancing in the middle of a circle of people.” “A group of us were once up in Blackpool,” Chris remembers, “and we were suddenly, ‘Where’s Dainton?’ and we looked around and he’s on the microphone in the DJ booth, MC-ing, in this huge club.”
“He was also fabulous at fancy dress,” says Neil. “He used to come with me to parties sometimes. The first time was Elton John’s 47th birthday party in 1994 at Porchester Hall. We went in white tie and tails and we just had such fun. The last one I went to with him wasn’t very long ago — Matt Lucas’s 30th birthday. You had to come as an English archetype, and he went as Mr Pickwick. I went as a vicar. He just looked absolutely fantastic. There’s another great photo of him as a Chicago gangster. And then, after some of these events, there’d be after-parties at my house, people sitting around. After the Stonewall shows as well. I remember Dainton making toast for Michael Stipe.”
“He was incredibly loyal,” says Chris.
“Also, he used to sit at home a lot of the time and watch the television,” says Neil, “and he’d be watching the Discovery Channel or the History Channel and I would get messages on my phone saying, ‘Hello, it’s Dainton — there’s a good History Channel programme about William The Conqueror on — thought you might like it.”’
“It’s hard to imagine life without Dainton,” says Chris. “I can’t get my head around it.”
“It’s so common for me to get into a cab,” says Neil, “and for the taxi-driver to recognise me and say, ‘You know Dainton, don’t you?’ And now I’ll spend the rest of my life with people saying, ‘You knew Dainton, didn’t you?’ as he gradually becomes a sort of myth. A sort of King Arthur of North London.”
“It’s a shame there aren’t more Dainton’s around,” says Chris. “The thing is, he was a complete one-off. I’ve never really met anyone like Dainton before. I don’t think I ever will.”
On November 22, an edited version of the following piece, written by Literally, appeared in The Guardian newspaper’s Other Lives obituary
When Dainton Connell died at the age of 46, he was working in a luggage shop on Oxford Street, but his funeral drew such crowds that one half of Holloway Road had to be closed for the Friday morning procession, and at St Mary Magdalene’s church it was noted that there hadn’t been this many people since 1938 (for a service honouring Neville Chamberlain’s return from Germany). Such a turn-out was a testament both to Connell’s life and to the unforgettable impression his remarkable, ebullient personality made on all those that came across him. Amongst the thousands of mourners were ex-Arsenal players Ian Wright and Lee Dixon, boxer Frank Bruno, musicians Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys and Carl Smyth of Madness, artist Sam Taylor-Wood, broadcaster and writer Janet Street-Porter, and Little Britain comedians Matt Lucas and David Walliams. From Los Angeles, Robbie Williams sent flowers, and John Lydon played tribute on his website.
Connell was born in Brighton to parents recently arrived from Jamaica, but grew up in Wood Green and lived in North London his whole life. (For the last 31 years he was with his wife, Mandy, whom he met in a Muswell Hill youth centre, and with whom he had two daughters.) Leaving school at 16, he took up scaffolding as a trade, and worked as a scaffolder until his late twenties.
If Connell — who would become known to many as “The Bear” — was perhaps not literally, as proclaimed at his funeral, “the first black skinhead”, it was nonetheless this part of his life which first nudged him into the public eye when Janet Street-Porter interviewed him for LWT in 1977 on the King’s Road. Meanwhile he had begun to establish the reputation that would lead him to be hailed as a legendary figure on the Arsenal terraces. Escapades from his youth are remembered with grand nostalgia by many who were there and, after Connell ‘s death, Arsenal-related message boards on the internet overflowed with tributes, many alluding to long-past away-game moments of epiphany: “Everton on the Friday night, pure class”, “Bristol City away around 1980… they parted like the Red Sea”, “he led them down onto Westminster Road and not many can say that”, “how can you forget him in Brighton in 1979?” Although some of what transpired back then might not be considered too innocent by today’s standards, and during those years Connell both gathered some scars and spent periods in prison, amongst his friends it was often less what
happened than how Connell commemorated it that they cherished: “Afterwards, in the pubs, his personality was so large he’d have everyone roaring and singing and laughing about all the hairy events that had gone on in the day.”
His presence had other, unambiguously beneficial effects. At his wake, the sentiment was widely echoed that the failure of the National Front to infiltrate the Arsenal terraces in the late Seventies, as they successfully did at several other London clubs, was principally down to the strength of Connell ‘s personality and his influence. It was in his teens that he had first demonstrated the kind of idiosyncratic verve with which he saw off such nonsense: when a group of his skinhead friends agreed out of curiosity and boredom to attend a National Front march, Dainton simply went along too, striding at the front, Union Jack in hand, my surfing the organisers and defusing their message’s appeal through parody.
In 1989, when the Pet Shop Boys were planning their first concert tour, visiting Hong Kong, Japan and Britain, Connell was employed to do security through a friend and fellow Arsenal fan Peter Andreas. It was an opportunity he grasped wholeheartedly and for which he showed a marvellous aptitude. Despite his size, by now his chosen instruments were always words rather than muscles. He had a wonderfully unconventional eloquence all of his own, and on the rare occasions when some kind of intervention was required, rather than using force he preferred to charm or, more often, simply bamboozle people into order. (The only real threat he still posed was an accidental one to his friends. Chris Lowe would often accompany him to football matches: “Of course I wanted Arsenal to score but there was this dread as well, because I knew that (f we scored I was going to get grabbed and flung six feet up in the air. And so part of me was saying, ‘Don’t score! Don’t score!’, because I knew what was coming.”)
Within the world of the Pet Shop Boys, Connell’s role expanded through the Nineties:
formally he was working as their security or personal assistant, but he was both a close friend and the catalyst for many of their most memorable adventures. “Dainton could make a place a party,” reflects Chris Lowe. “What could have been just a mundane drink in a hotel bar would become a very special, magical occasion.” Connell struck up friendships wherever he went, and assumed himself comfortable in any and every situation. “One of my fondest memories of Dainton,” recalls Neil Tennant, “is wandering around the Hermitage
Museum in St Petersburg: me, Dainton and Brian Eno.”
Over this period, Connell also appeared in a number of Pet Shop Boys videos, beginning with 1990’s “So hard”. “We were always very aware of Dainton ‘s iconic potential,” Tennant notes. In the summer of 1997, Connell also became part of their Somewhere residency at the Savoy Theatre, each night taking his place at the front of the stage. (“He was a natural performer,” Tennant also observes.) It was there that Connell met Sam Taylor-Wood, who had largely conceptualised the show, and she subsequently photographed him with a 360-degree camera dominating the foreground of her 1998 artwork, Five Revolutionary Seconds XIII, reading a small book of poetry. “Looking as though,” she says, “in a sense he’s presiding over this strange story around him — I just wanted him to look soft and gentle, which is how I always saw him.”
In recent years, Connell juggled security work, including a spell at Champneys health resorts, with his Oxford Street job, while savouring family life and, this August, celebrating his 25tfl wedding anniversary. He died as a passenger in a car driven by a Russian friend, Anton Antonov, on a rainy night in Moscow, where he was accompanying Chris Lowe who was to have DJ-ed at the opening of a nightclub. As the number and diversity of Connell’s mourners attested, he had the kind of ease with people of all races, sexuality, celebrity, class, and other such circumstances of life, to which many aspire but few truly achieve, and was loved accordingly.
Dainton Connell, born February 14, 1961; died October 5, 2007