The veteran DJ's loss comes as a blow to the people of Bristol, and to reggae lovers everywhere
It's with heavy heart that we have to confirm what we posted on the iDJ Facebook page earlier today: Avon & Somerset Police have said that badly decomposed human remains found near the Cribbs Causeway shopping centre in north Bristol are almost certainly those of missing reggae DJ Derek Serpell-Morris, better known as DJ Derek.
The much-loved 73-year-old had been missing since July. He was last seen boarding a bus in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, but a 'Find DJ Derek' campaign in the press and on social media failed to turn up any further information. Now, Avon & Somerset Police say that, due to personal items found at the scene, while they cannot confirm the remains to be Derek's they "strongly believe this to be the case".
The cause of Derek's death remains unclear, but an inquest will be carried out in due course.
Originally an accountant by profession, Derek began playing ska and rocksteady in West Indian clubs in the 1970s. As a white DJ playing black music, he at first faced occasional hostility, particularly once he started getting bookings outside of Bristol, and his famous patois chatter on the mic was his way of countermanding this. As he told iDJ in 2009, he used to play the first half of his set with the DJ booth's then-standard windows closed; only once the crowd was dancing would he open them and reveal his true identity.
In later years, Derek became far more widely known and would appear at numerous festivals each summer - though, always very much a city boy, he detested the mud and would leave as soon as his set was finished. Unusually, he was known for playing off MiniDisc: having converted his entire collection of precious 7-inches to the format during its late-90s heyday, he said, he simply couldn't be bothered transferring it all again!
His home city recognised his achievements in 2012, when he was awarded the city's highest civic honour, the Lord Mayor's Medal. To this day, Bristolians also speak of the period following the St Paul's riots of 1980, when Derek was in the forefront of efforts to restore troubled community relations in the area. A familiar sight in the pubs of Montpelier and St Paul's, Derek was also known for having visited every Wetherspoon's in the country.
His loss will be felt keenly by the world of music generally, but nowhere more so than in Bristol, as local news website Bristol 24/7's moving obituary shows.
Our thoughts are with Derek's family, his many friends and his countless fans worldwide.
Pic: DJ Derek at The Great Wide Open, 2009. Copyright Maarten van Maanen/Creative Commons