newcastle clubs

SIMON McKAY writes about the alternative club scene in 1980s Newcastle that revolved around Tiffanys, Rockshots, The Mayfair, The Delby and The Red House.

Rathaus, Newcastle Alternative Clubs in the 1980s, Rockshots, Tiffanys
Click to listen to a corresponding one hour radio show:
Newcastle's Alternative Club Scene in the 1980s
Casablanca (Haymarket) circa 1978-82
 

The Casablanca was a gay club occupying the first floor above the Tatler Cinema (more recently the site of Old Orleans Restaurant) and was active circa 1978-1982.

Casablanca, late 1970s

The Casablanca didn't have an alternative night as such but merits a special mention because, as a regular on the 80s alternative club scene Tony Raven says, "It was somewhere that we would get in for a late drink, most 'trendy' nightclubs would not let us in...... The gays accepted the alternatives and vice versa so there was never any hassle in there."

During 1981-82, the Soul Kitchen promoted a number of gigs in the Casablanca featuring bands from the emerging Scottish scene:Fire Engines, Jazzateers, Bluebells and Aztec Camera. The last night was on 30 March 1982 and featured Sophisticated Boom Boom. (The Soul Kitchen then moved to other venues and with the profits from promoting New Order at a packed Mayfair in 1982, they launched Kitchenware Records.) Soul Kitchen nights boasted 'The Best Disco in Town'. The DJ was Phil Mitchell who moved to Newcastle from Manchester and brought the soul influences of his home town's club scene mixing the Four Tops and Temptations with current alternative releases. The records weren't always danceable (particularly when I remember hearing Everything But The Girl - Night and Day) but I agree that they were the best sounds around.

To see a collection of flyers for the Soul Kitchen nights at the Casablanca and other Newcastle clubs click here.

'Maze' (Delby, Low Friar Street):
Saturdays 1980-1981
 

Music included Human League - Sound of The Crowd / Being Boiled, Joy Division - Transmission, David Bowie - Heroes, Siouxsie & The Banshees - Happy House / Christine / Monitor, The Slits - New Town, Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead / Kick In The Eye, Cure - A Forest, Kraftwerk - The Model, Fad Gadget - Ricky's Hand, Simple Minds - I Travel, Cabaret Voltaire - Nag Nag Nag, Velvet Underground - Venus In Furs and Visage - Fade To Grey.

The Delby had two rooms used for the alternative nights and you could move from one to the other. One room was run by Big Mick (Robinson) (a major player on the scene and way ahead of the pack both in taste and taking initiative) and the other by Brendan Doherty and Shaun Wilson (who would also continue with other ventures, mainly in Tiffanys). There was probably no expectation of making money on these nights, just to be involved in something; this being very much the DIY approach that emerged during punk. Big Mick would continue to be an important and respected local influence for most of the decade although he would have short periods when something came to an end when he would disappear and you'd think it was all over for him but he'd be back. In 2011, Mick agrees that it wasn't about the money. It was to 'create somewhere to go... almost all the money was would be used on advertising and new records'.

 

Mike Affaz Atherfold remembers the Delby well: "It was so exciting to be part of this amazing new scene, where Punk met New Romantic. The place itself was a bit of a dive, but what a fabulous dive it was, full of weird and interesting people…. Shaun [who ran it] was mad into Visage and we all thought he was having us on, but he really did love them."

Julian Varley recalls that The Delby was previously the old Dolce Vita and went on to be renovated and become Walkers: "It was obviously on its last legs and so presumably was given over for an alternative night on a weekend and open until 2am!  (This was a big deal when most places closed at midnight.)  The toilets for example were totally kicked in and the place was generally sleazy and filthy.  But of course the music was great - same as Balmbras."

Tony Raven describes the environment vividly: "There used to be broken glasses and drinks spilt all over the floor. You used to "crunch" your way along - falling over drunk was very hazardous!!! The toilets were "foul" and all the guys used the "ladies" as it had a mirror and they could re-do their makeup!"

Balmbra's (Bigg Market):
Saturdays 1980-1982
 

Playing new romantic music, pretty much what was being played at the Delby. Memorable songs included: Cabaret Voltaire - Nag Nag Nag, David Bowie - Heroes and B52s - Give Me Back My Man, Soft Cell - Sex Dwarf & Memorabilia, Pete Shelley - Homosapien, Fad Gadget - Ricky's Hand, Simple Minds - I Travel, John Foxx - Underpass.

Big Mick, Big Fringe

Saturday night at Balmbra's was run by Big Mick Robinson, who would then rush off to DJ at the Delby. Balmbara's, once a Victorian dance hall, was a pub and in keeping with licensing laws at the time stopped serving at 10:30pm although the music went on till 11pm. This restriction and the lack of an obvious dance floor meant there was very little, if any, dancing. Regardless, music was central to the night and set the mood. It was essential that the music was brand new although Bowie was exempt from this - he was always regarded as modern.

A most memorable night was in 1980 when the new romantic movement was at its height in Newcastle (maybe there were 25 or so obvious converts in the region!): there was a girl, probably about 19 years old, strutting about in a long dress white dress, she was heavily made up and had long blonde hair heavily backcombed and pinned up on her head. The word got around that she had brought her pet mouse with her and was 'wearing it' in her hair.

On week nights, there were occasional appearances by local bands such as Prayer Before Birth and Adventures of Twizzle.

Click to hear radio show about Newcastle's Alternative Club Scene in the 80s

 
'A Packet of Cornflakes' The Leaf Room, Tiffanys (Newbridge Street):
Wednesdays 1982-1984

Playing a wide range of soul, alternative, dance music including such as B-52s - Give Me Back My Man, Johnny Jones & The Casuals - Purple Haze, Bauhaus - Kick in the Eye, Valentine Brothers - Money's Too Tight to Mention, Night Nurse, Louis Jordan - Choo Choo Ch'Boogie, Marilyn Monroe - I Wanna Be Loved By You, Magazine - About The Weather, Dennis Brown - Love Has Found Its Way, Grandmaster Flash - The Message, Curtis Mayfield - Move On Up, Coati Mundi - Me No Pop I, Grace Jones - Pull Up To The Bumper.

Packet of Cornflakes DJ:
Paul Anderson

A Packet of Cornflakes was run by Shaun Wilson, Ray Callan, Paul Anderson and later Colin Anderson. This was where the scene really got going. Paul was the main force behind the music although Shaun and Ray's interest in northern soul was also a factor. These guys put together the three or four most important boxes of records in Newcastle: their contents dominated the town for the first half of the decade servicing Tiffanys on a Wednesday, subsequently a Friday and also the North Eastern Hotel on a Friday and Saturday. Initially, the music was very diverse and there seemed to be lots of factions within the scene; each faction 'owned' various sounds and bands. Although reggae and soul weren't the most popular of the genres they were hugely important in making the nights distinctive and more challenging than they would have otherwise been. You might not like a type of music being played but the fact that it was played there immediately gave the record some credibility and it was accepted. For example, we didn't expect to hear Louis Jordan or Marilyn Monroe but it went down well enough. Music no longer had to be brand new. A historical element was allowed particularly, I suspect, if it had been featured in the expensive monthly fashion magazines like ID or The Face.

Two regular attendees come to mind: the 'B-52 Girls' (a reference to their favourite band of course). They might have been sisters, both blonde, and were carefully co-ordinated and both very controlled in their movements particularly on the dance-floor where they were almost static: they would look down to one side and move little more than their forearms. They were just as economical in their speech (friendly, but far from verbose). It occurs to me now that they were probably very shy but at the time they just seemed so cool.

The clientele was predominantly locals topped up with students, most likely from the Polytechnic. This was the first of the nights that appealed to students but it certainly wasn't aimed at them: they were incidental and not yet the target market.

 

To see flyers of Kitchenware bands that played Tiffanys and other Newcastle clubs click here.

'Downbeat Club' Collingwood Pub (High Bridge Street):
Sundays 1981-1983
 

Playing reggae, mainly new & recent releases often bought mail order from Dub Vendor in Portobello. Tunes played included Al Campbell Late Night Blues

Downbeat Club: membership card

Downbeat was run by Manus Doherty, Paul Anderson, and later Mick McCoy, Rick Glanvill and Colin Simpson. Taking place on a Sunday night this was always going to be low-key as you had to be dedicated to go out that night - even if the price of admission was only 50p. Musically, it was challenging and didn't relate to anything in mainstream popular culture. The DJs had great musical knowledge and came up with rare and, no doubt, expensive reggae releases. This night wasn't about pleasing the punters and was probably the coolest, most challenging least parochial Newcastle club of the decade.

Collingwood Pub (on High Bridge,through no entry signs)
Photo pre-dates the Downbeat Club but gives you a feel for it.

The Downbeat took its name partly because of the Reggae connotations but also in homage to the original Downbeat Club near Manors Station in the early 60s that played skiffle and rock and roll. The 1980s Downbeat was initially given a home in Balmbra's but had to vacate when the pub underwent a change of management: Downbeat relocated to the backroom of the Collingwood. Colin joined but left after 6 months because of the amount of hassle they used to get on the door. Rick came in towards the end and the music got louder because he had access to the PA of Fenham based band, the Insecure.

Downbeat (last night): Manus, Mick and Rick (photo David Rigg)

To establish a successful reggae club in Newcastle in the early 1980s was a remarkable achievement. That's an observation that really sinks in when I've recently looked through soul magazines of the period and practically none of the soul or reggae singers who toured this country played Newcastle. The Collingwood was part of the Royal Hotel. When the hotel and bar closed temporarily for refurbishment, the Downbeat didn't return.

Click to hear radio show about Newcastle's Alternative Club Scene in the 80s

Speakeasy, The Junction (Northumberland Street):
Fridays & Saturdays 1981-1982
 

Music included Simple Minds & Joy Division, Clash - Rock The Casbah, Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead.

Entrance to The Junction was just to left of this pic.
This photo pre-dates the Speakeasy, but gives you a feel for it.

As part of their licensing obligations the venue supplied a buffet within the ticket price, which allowed them to serve drinks till midnight.

Junction DJ Graham with Barbara Blair
(photo courtesy of Barbara)

The Speakeasy was run by Brendan Doherty, Graham and Shaun Doherty.  I don't recall any of the music in particular, so it was probably similar to the other alternative nights in town.  It was a popular night, particularly on a Saturday, and handy that it was a short walk from the Senate Bar. It was in a club up the stairs next to Callers Pegasus. The room was oblong with a low ceiling; the sort of place you might go to for a wedding reception. It became a pool club shortly afterwards.

 
'A Tin of Fruit' North Eastern Hotel (Carliol Square):
Fridays & Saturdays 1982

Music included Clash - Rock the Casbah, Blue Rondo A La Turk - Heaven's Are Crying, Associates - Party Fears. The close relation to 'A Packet of Cornflakes' meant there was little musically to distinguish the two nights.

Above, walking from right to left and down the hill was part
of the route from the Senate Bar to the North Eastern Hotel

A Tin of Fruit was run by Shaun Wilson, Ray Callan and Paul Anderson. The venue was a bit dark and dingy overall. As part of their licensing obligations the venue supplied a buffet within the ticket price, which allowed them to serve drinks till midnight.

 

There were two rooms; the bar (which was brighter) and the main hall where the music was. Being the weekend, it had a different feel to Wednesdays at Tiffanys - less exclusive, less cosy. There were regulars there every week, but it also drew a wider crowd of passing trade who were less interested in the scene; they just wanted a late bar at the weekend.

North Eastern Hotel Oct 1982: Mark Lambton,
Richard Heraghty & Terry Knox (Nicola Karren Valentine behind)

One Saturday night the police burst in and stopped the music and went round to everybody in turn - it wasn't clear why they were doing it or what came of it. They didn't search people and they didn't check ID (I was under age but wasn't asked to prove my age). After being spoken to, you were given a small piece of paper to show you'd 'been done' (right). They were still in the room when the music resumed. Paul made the perfect choice: Clash - Know Your Rights.

Note issued by the police to show you'd 'been done'
'Monday Club' Leaf Room, Tiffanys (New Bridge Street):
Mondays 1983-1985
 

Music included Spear of Destiny - Liberator, Shockheaded Peters - Blood Brothers Be, Frankie Goes to Hollywood - Relax, Monochrome Set - Jet Set Junta, Smiths - What Difference Does It Make, Bronski Beat - Ain't Necessarily So, Killing Joke - Eighties, Iggy Pop - Lust For Life, Sisters of Mercy - Alice, Cramps - Faster Pussycat

Tiffany's Leaf Room
Smiths 'What Difference Does It Make' playing

The Monday Club was run by Tony Fiddes and Stuart in a venue well known within the alternative scene due to Wednesday and Friday night clubs. Rightly, they went more left-field to get their night off the ground. It was rarely busy but of course the potential audience of people in the city available to come out till 2am at the beginning of the week was limited but the club did find a small dedicated crowd who enjoyed the repetition of each week being very similar in terms of attendees and music. This crowd were really into their music and the DJs were very much in tune with what was required and were prepared to keep moving forward. They had a lot of dialogue with the regulars and they accepted that they could dictate music choices less than the DJs on the more popular nights in town.

Monday nights were already special in Newcastle of course…if you had long hair! The Monday air guitar heavy metal disco in Tiffanys was a big deal and it somehow dovetailed beautifully with the Monday Club. There was a two way leakage - visitors from one room curious to observe the other, but it seemed, with an almost grudging respect. Lee Conlan epitomised a kind of hybrid of the punters from both rooms. His performance on the dance floor to 'Lust For Life' was unforgettable as he slid across the floor on his knees throwing his head back to emphasise his long slick pony tail. Magic in the Mecca!

See flyers of Kitchenware bands at Tiffanys & other Newcastle clubs click here

 
'Mr Ms' Leaf Room, Tiffanys (New Bridge Street):
Fridays 1983-1985

Music included Philip Japp - Save Us, Tom Tom Club - Wordy Rappinghood, James Brown - Sex Machine, Gang of Four - I Love A Man in Uniform, Orange Juice - Rip It Up, Prince Charles - Cash (Cash Money), Animal Nightlife - Love Is Just The Great Pretender, Helen & The Horns - Freight Train, Special AKA - Free Nelson Mandela, Was Not Was - Out Come The Freaks, Gil Scott Heron - The Bottle, Wham! - Club Tropicana, Weather Girls - It's Raining Men

Mr Ms: Ray and Shaun on the door 1985

Mr Ms was run by Shaun, Ray and Paul. It succeeded Saturday nights at the North Eastern Hotel and was in addition to Packet of Cornflakes, which it would outlast. Entry was more expensive than Wednesdays (£1.50 instead of £1). Every week, the place was absolutely packed and for the first time, it became obvious that there was money and not just kudos to be gained from running alternative nights. The music became more mainstream and the unexpected moments of diversity disappeared. The clientele were flooding down from the art buildings of the Polytechnic. They weren't unwelcome but they brought a new standard of cool that was alienating for the locals that had nurtured the scene. Behind the scenes, rifts emerged: Paul, the main musical force up till now, was valued less by Shaun. One night, tensions escalated between the two and Paul made an announcement on the microphone to clarify just was making all the money before playing Prince Charles - Cash (Money). Shaun rather mischievously paid Paul's wages in very small change that night! We didn't see Paul much after that. Rumour has it he moved to London. (Update: in 2020, I was delighted when Paul got in touch via the website and confirmed he's living in the south east and is still a DJ!)

A memorable Ray moment? Dressed in dungarees, with his hair very long and very big - after leaving the Senate Bar in the early afternoon - he went down the escalator at the Haymarket Metro.  A man passing by called him 'Andy Pandy'. Ray didn't say a word; just turned around and stuck one on him. Not what the heckler was expecting…​

I don't remember how Mr M's ended. I don't even remember it losing popularity. Perhaps the Tiffanys management decided they could run it themselves. Shaun and Ray had been unusual as club promoters. They had visions of big time and ran a company called Foundry, complete with an office on the quayside. It might have seemed like they just wanted somewhere to hang out in the daytime but actually, these boys were very sharp. My understanding is that they diversified into property in the mid-1980s and snapped up the leases on a number of shops on High Bridge just before the rise of expensive, branded (predominantly) men's clothing became very popular. They did well on the rentals and also had their own shop, Foundry, on Pilgrim Street. I don't remember seeing them in clubs again - perhaps going out in the more mainstream places, but I remember sometimes seeing them driving around town in an open back Suzuki 4x4!

'Echoes' Rockshots (Waterloo Street):
Thursdays 1983-1987
 

Playing African, reggae and jazz . Lots of stuff that nobody knew, but enjoyed anyway!

Still a cinema when this pic was taken, but it shows the
stairs up to what would become the Rockshots entrance

I have a recollection that the night began as 'Black Echoes' but with the posters to refer to below, I'm going to be cautious and say 'Echoes'.  The night was run by Mick McCoy and Rick Glanvill. Later Rick left to pursue a career in media and John teamed up with Mick. The music policy seemed to pick up from where they'd been with the Downbeat Club, but then added world music that, by then, was gaining popularity nationally. The commercial reach of this night took people by surprise. Very much in its favour was the venue itself. For the first time, here was an alternative club that wasn't in a crappy side room to a main hall. It was a recently opened gay club, all brand new; state of the art with an amazing sound system and light-show. There was no more wondering why the DJ had an old telephone pressed up to his ear to queue up a record: Mick had proper headphones!

Echoes flyers (photo David Rigg)

Mick had a good run but with mounting competition but by 1987 the attendance wasn't as strong as it had been a year before. There was however, considerable shock when he was ousted and the night was suddenly taken over by Determination Inc (see below).

 
'Redhaus' Upstairs, Red House (Quayside):
Saturdays 1983-1984

Music included Wah! - Somesay, Fall - Totally Wired, New Order - Ceremony, Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart, A Certain Ration - Shack Up, Au Pairs Inconvenience, Bauhaus - Telegram Sam, Pink Industry - Walk Away, Sisters of Mercy - Temple of Love, Mekons - Where Were You, Smiths - Hand in Glove, Echo & The Bunnymen - Rescue, Gang of Four - Outside The Trains Don't Run On Time, Killing Joke - Wardance, Misty In Roots - Love and Peace, Cure - Primary.

As part of the venue's licensing obligation, they supplied a buffet within the ticket price. This allowed them to serve drinks till midnight.

Redhaus: Deb & Nick
Redhaus DJ: Paul Watson

The Redhaus was run by Nick Thompson, Deborah Storey and Paul Watson.

The bar was licensed till midnight drinks. This was at a time when all of the pubs stopped serving at 10:30pm. The condition was food had to be provided. Nick recounts, "We had to pay for the Berni Inn ‘buffet’ leftovers so we could get a late license. The food was shit but there was always a stampede and an empty dance floor when it was announced as open!"

This was very much an enthusiasts' night both behind the decks and in front of them. Nick and Paul weren't buying records to please the crowd. Every record they played was from their collection and was something they cherished. They had very little competition on Saturday nights so they could afford to be a little elitist. The dance floor was small, which made it all the more suitable for records of minimal appeal. The darkness stretching to the back of the room, all cluttered up with big clumsy old fashioned furniture, was very much in keeping with the low key and non-commercial approach of the night. Based on attitude and the fact that the night was presented by a couple of guys not known on the local scene, this one ranks as a special jewel in the crown of Newcastle's indie heritage. Speaking in 2010, Paul says, "I think it reflected the DIY ethos of the time. We were disillusioned with what was available so thought why don't we do it ourselves?  We just had a go with nothing to lose really."

 
'Rathaus' Rockshots (Waterloo Street) & Reflexions (Bigg Market):
Tuesdays 1983-1987

Music included Associates - Party Fears 2, Violent Femmes - Gone Daddy Gone, Farley Jackmaster Funk - Love Can't Turn Around, Staple Singers - Slippery People, Grace Jones - La Vie En Rose, REM - Can't Get There From Here, Talking Heads - Road to Nowhere, Heavy D & The Boys - Mr Big Stuff, The The - Heartland, Echo & The Bunnymen - Crocodiles (live), Nina Simone - My Baby Just Cares For Me, Sly & The Family Stone - Family Affair, Gang of Four - To Hell With Poverty

Rathaus Dancefloor June 1987

The Rathaus came in two phases. Originally it was run by Mark Armstrong, John Rennie, Tony Doherty and Paul Anderson. Later, it was run by Stuart Brattley, Big Mick Robinson and Simon McKay.

In the early 1980s, based on a love of Stax and Atlantic soul, Mark Armstrong and John Rennie set up a mod/soul night called the Jump Club in the Red House. After a bit of a 'domestic' amongst the clientele they had to quit the venue. Mark was looking for a new venue and walked into Rockshots one Tuesday night. Seeing only 10 punters there, he sensed an opportunity. He convinced the manager to let him set up a night that he called Rathaus (the name of a German town hall). Tony Doherty and Paul Anderson joined up. Between them, they played a mix of indie (Sisters of Mercy, Cramps, Pigbag) and dance/soul. On a good night, attendance was a respectable 200 or 300. There was another change of venue after a fallout with the management (probably about money) and they moved to Reflexions. During this time, Mark and Tony both relocated to London (I think Paul did too) and passed the night on to Mark's friend, Stuart Brattley. Mark summarises the era by saying, "It was all about doing your own thing back then and making clubs that you'd want to go to yourself."

Rathaus Dancefloor January 1985:
Ali (left), Lucy (centre), Anne (right)

In 1984, the Rathaus was taken over by Stuart Brattley, Big Mick Robinson and Simon McKay. Despite Mick's remarkable track record he had been away from the scene for a couple of years. Quite infamously, he had sold off his records but he was ready to return for one last hurrah. It's not clear how he came to partner up with Stuart the Hairdresser - presumably Stuart sought him out. Mick's previous experience obviously was obviously an asset. (The Delby and Balmbaras nights are mentioned above but he'd been playing records as early as 1978/79 at punk nights upstairs in the Bridge Hotel and early 1980s in the Gosforth hotel for gigs run by Anti Pop. Speaking in 2011. Other places Mick remembers playing include Wallsend Miners' Hall, Spectro Arts Centre, Belle Vue, The Rex, Stirling House and Footlights - where he ran a Factory Records night.) Stuart, perhaps spontaneously, on Rathaus' last night in Reflexions, invited Simon to join when they reopened the following week at Rockshots (where Reggae Mick had Echoes on a Thursday). There was a history of clubs having teams of DJs rather than one working all night. Perhaps in another great club tradition the conversation between Stuart and Simon took place in the toilets!

Rathaus DJ: Simon McKay

The Rathaus would be Big Mick's longest running success. In terms of music and its low key approach, the night pretty much picked up where the Redhaus boys left off. In the same way; it wasn't trying to be big but there was a growing market for what they were doing. They might have been surprised by how popular it becamse. Being so different to Black Echoes was very much to their advantage and for a while they cornered the market for indie and student crossover music. Predictably, as the crowds got bigger the music did become more mainstream. Popularity with students was a mixed blessing. Out of term time, their absence was very noticeable and an obvious cause for the dip in attendance.

Rathaus flyer based on a dancefloor photo taken June 1987

One of my memories of the Rathaus and clubs in general is the intensity of the moment when something unexpected came over the speakers and the dancers would leave the floor in droves and you wonder what will happen next. This is generally seen to be a cardinal sin for a DJ but I often felt, whether I was on the decks or in the crowd, it was what was needed. I remember clearly a night in 1986 when this happened. It was still quite early in the evening and I had finished my first set and Stuart had taken over. I'd left quite a few people dancing - then he played 'Mr Big Stuff' by Heavy D and The Boys and the dancers nervously melted away to the sides. The record was pounding when, from different directions, 8-10 young men converged on the dancefloor: the energy as they stomped, jerked and gesticulated to this new sounding record was awesome. People stood around gaping and I found myself wondering what this new hip hop thing was all about and why I didn't already know about it when there were already such passionate converts in the room.  It was such a buzz. 

Despite there never being a decline in attendance the end would come very suddenly in the summer of 1987 when, having just taken over Thursdays at Rockshots, Determination Inc also took Tuesdays (see below). And it was 'goodnight' Rathaus. 

 
'Gear Box' Back Room, Mayfair (Newgate Street):
Saturdays 1984-1986

Music included Clash, New Model Army, Sisters of Mercy, Cramps, Arrow - Hot, Hot, Hot, Style Council - Shout To The Top, Sivuca - Ain't No Sunshine, Booker T & The MGs - Soul Limbo.

Wakey and Nosey at the Gearbox

The Gear Box was run by Tony Fiddes and Stuart in the back room of the Mayfair. The actual room was always the downside of every club night that took place in the venue - its other use was as a dressing room for bands that played the main hall. The room was small with an oppressively low ceiling that flooded too much light from overhead fluorescents, which at least gave you a sporting chance of seeing the angled chair legs just as you tripped over. Fortunately, there wasn't enough light to clearly see the state of the carpets that nurtured the smell of accumulated cigarette smoke and stale watery beer.

This was a more mainstream version of the Monday Club - less indulgent of factions of the crowd and playing tunes of a broader appeal.

'Fusion Factory' Back Room, Mayfair (Newgate Street):
Fridays 1984-1986
 

Mixture of music including UK punk, gothic, Spear of Destiny - Liberator, Sisters of Mercy - Alice, Birthday Party - Release the Bats

The Fusion Factory was run by Marek Norvid, Andy and Simon McKay on a Friday night. Gearbox were well established in the venue. Offering this additional night was an attempt to capitalise on the popularity of that. The music played more to the goths and a younger crowd that you didn't see during the week. There were regulars, but I wouldn't say this night had a dedicated following. It was pretty much the place you went because it was Friday night and there was nowhere else to go - again, this reflected the room more than anything else.

'Determination Inc' Rockshots (Waterloo Street):
Tuesdays, Thursdays 1987-1990s
 

Tuesdays included David Bowie - Sound & Vision, James, Wonderstuff, the Primitives, Primal Scream.

Thursdays included Rufus & Chaka Khan - Ain't Nobody, Maceo and The Macks - Cross The Tracks, Joe Quatermain - So Much Trouble In My Mind, Ce Ce Rogers - Someday, A Guy Called Gerald - Voodoo Ray

Rockshots admission ticket 1989

Determination Inc. was run by Tommy Caulker who began with Thursdays before adding Tuesdays. Both nights were acquired by a 'hostile take-over' after he went to the owners of the venue and convinced them that he could bring in more customers if he ran the nights. Such a move was unheard of at the time. Club nights usually ran their course and faded away. The move marked a significant change in the times. Tommy recognised there was now big money to be made in the alternative scene. He was already established as manager of the Trent House pub and was making his move into clubs. Whereas the Rathaus boys (who had run Tuesdays at Rockshots till then) were satisfied with a regular attendance of 200, in 1987, Tommy told me that he wanted to hit the 400 capacity every week. Speaking about this again in 2010, Tommy confirmed this by saying, "My aim was simply to broaden the appeal of each night, make them kick up large quantities of money for myself and the Club owners and start something that could make me a permanent living." It seems an obvious goal now but in 1987, I was taken aback by his thinking. It was so blatantly commercial and the antithesis of what I perceived to be the 'we're into the music and we're just like you' roots of the alternative scene. That sounds naïve now but in the long aftermath of punk, that is how a lot of people though.

Rockshots membership card for Tuesdays and Thursdays

Tommy did love his music though and over time his own philosophy of 'unity' would emerge. He says, "Compared to all other clubs in town, although more commercially minded than the nights I'd replaced, both nights remained niche in their own way and certainly stood the test of time…. Thursdays were predominately black music and there was proper outcry and uproar when I started to integrate white records in there too. It grew and moved into house and dance just as Es landed and handed me a monopoly on that whole scene in its most important years."

Tommy did what he set out to do and packed Rockshots out for years to come. (His success there even led to spin off nights in Durham, Carlisle and Sunderland). Not surprisingly, he is the only figure still active in Newcastle's club scene. To read more about his current activities at World Headquarters click here.

'Fever' Manhattans (Bigg Market):
Wednesdays 1987-1988
 

The music mixed rare groove with early house like Todd Terry stuff on Sleeping Bag Records. Tunes included Temptations - Ball of Confusion, Chakk - Out of the Flesh.

Fever DJ: Big Shaun

Fever was run by Matt (from Brighton) and Matt Higgs (from London). Big Shaun and Mos had guest spots. They were all really into their music. I remember them at the turntables with their heads down just enjoying what they playing; not being too concerned about what was happening on the dance floor. They drew a small but devoted following equally passionate about the music. The venue was good (aka Reflexions) - not too big. It was one of the few times that an alternative night took place in the main area of a dedicated night club rather than the second room of a larger club.

'Cut Out Club' Back Room, Mayfair (Newgate Street):
Fridays 1988-1989
 

Music included Jean Knight - Mr Big Stuff, Temptations - Get Ready, Prince - Sign O' The Times, James Brown - She's The One, Beginning of The End - Funky Nassau, Funkadelic - One Nation Under a Groove, S Express - Theme From S Express, Jackson Sisters - I Believe In Miracles, Womack & Womack - Teardrops, War - Low Rider, J Walter Negro - Shoot The Pump, Gil Scott Heron - Bottle (very long live version)

The Cut Out Club was initially run by Simon McKay, Tom and Sue.  Later it was Simon, Big Shaun and Elaine Capper.

Simon and Tom's previous attempt to launch their own club had run into inevitable problems. Their venue had been an absolutely surreal DIY build of a club called RJR that was actually the basement of an Afro Caribbean hairdresser. The place was totally unlicensed so the bar was raffle ticket driven i.e. if you bought a ticket for £1 and miraculously always won a can of Red Stripe. However, after a few amazing nights, the club became a little too well known and was raided on a Sunday night by police with Alsatians.

'RJR', briefly, Secret Location (off-Waterloo Street):
Fridays 1988

Meanwhile, back in the less surreal world, after watching the Fusion Factory die a slow and painful death, Marek had given up on Fridays in the Mayfair's back room. Cursed as the room was, it wasn't empty for long before being re-launched by Simon and Tom McMurdo as the 'Cut Out Club' with a new music policy and some very determined publicity that didn't just focus on the town centre but got into the areas where the target audience actually lived like Heaton, Jesmond and Fenham. The first few weeks were very massively attended and the music was popular with the dancers, but that grotty cramped room was always going to be a problem; particularly as so many of the attendees also went to Rockshots each week and had that as a much more upmarket point of reference. Attendances dropped off dramatically and then stayed at a plateau for about a year. At times it seemed to be dying but was then revived with more publicity and a name change to 'Groove Block'. Life was finally extinguished in early 1989 when new competition from 'Roots' (taking place in the Red House) proved too much. Ironically, the Cut Out Club did return for what was billed as a 'one night stand' on a Saturday in May 1989 when it packed out the Red House!

The Mayfair entrance on a Friday night
(Clearly the Rock Club clientele pictured)

At some point later, probably 1990, the back room of the Mayfair made a comeback with the anti-mainstream, left-field and very cool night called 'The Drop'. They somehow made the best of the room by shrouding the lights and turning up the bass till everything rumbled. It worked brilliantly.

'Roots' Upstairs Red House (Quayside):
Fridays 1988-1989
 

Roots played lots of contemporary / recent reggae including Tenor Saw - Ring the Alarm and various Gregory Isaacs and Freddy McGreggor. I didn't recognise much else and don't know anything about who was doing it. It was a great night though and very popular.

Cluny Warehouse (Underneath Byker Bridge):
Occasional Friday and Saturday nights circa 1984-1986
 
Cluny Warehouse ticket: 17 May 1985

The DJ for many of these all nighters was 'Reggae' Mick McCoy.

These were unlicensed all nighters upstairs in the Cluny Warehouse, which at the time, was a death trap with holes in the walls and piles of rubble around the edges of the rooms. This came before the tabloids were interested in what would become known as 'raves' but despite the uncontrolled nature of these nights, they seemed to pass without any dramas. Ju Ju Pell Mell played at one using their amazing square structure of angled mesh drapes. The two band members, Chris and Mick, were accompanied by dense backing tapes and appeared in an almost ghostly form with lights and distorted photographic slide images cast upon them.

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Newcastle's Alternative Clubs in the 1980s piece is based upon my recollections and notes made at the time. If you are aware of any inaccuracies or would like to add something of your own, please contact me via the site feedback form click here.

SIMON McKAY

Other Newcastle pages on this site:

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Eccentric Sleeve Notes, Home Page Logo, Simon McKay, Said Liquidator, Newcastle Upon Tyne, punk, post-punk
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