Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Warehouse

Having just blogged about the Phono, inevitably the next stop on my peregrenations about Leeds in the Autumn of 1982 was the Warehouse. If the Phono was the scuzzy black sheep of the Leeds musical family, the Warehouse was the upwardly mobile cousin ever anxious to flaunt its pretentious veneer. Whereas the Phono was at the student end of the city centre, the Warehouse was on the opposite side and keen to attract the cash of a better-heeled clientele. Basing itself on legendary US clubs like Studio 54, it fancied itself as a dance club but realised that indie was what was current at the time, and that gigs and indie discos were the best way to pay the rent midweek. Whereas le Phono would play The Gun Club's Sex Beat or The Cramps The Crusher, the Warehouse would prefer the androgynous charm of Gina X's No GDM or even The Time Warp from Rocky Horror. In a non-descript road (Somers St) surrounded by small businesses and financial advisors which was otherwise dead after dark, The Warehouse aspired but failed to be hip and cool in a way that Tony Wilson's Warehouse-inspired Ha├žienda somehow managed to be. Bare brick walls, stripped metal staircases, wire mesh grills and steel conical pillars gave it a brutalist appearance whcih was hardly the most evocative for gigs, yet I saw some amazing shows here over the years. I vividly remember queuing outside in a lengthy line in the falling snow (and not the poncey Southern variety, proper Northern snow) for a last-minute Killing Joke show in December '82 (Jaz had recently returned from Iceland and the band were keen to showcase new material), but the first half of 1983 was dominated by The Sisters. The Girls played the posh end of town no fewer than three times by the end of the Easter break, with the setlist changing to include more of the slower, more hypnotic songs which would form The Reptile House. The January gig was around the time of the release of Anaconda, which at the time seemed more of a riff than a song and was a mild disappointment after the sheer brilliance of Alice/Floorshow, but despite not benefitting from John Ashton's professional sheen, Eldritch's own production seems to have stood the test of time. The second, in early April, served as a warm-up for the band's biggest series of dates yet, the tour in support of The Gun Club, and playing without support the Girls turned in a tour de force performance in front of a home crowd, displaying both confidence and intimacy at a stage of their career where they seemed on the cusp of greatness, the 12" reissue of Alice propelling them back up the indie charts once more. The third gig (with the Gun Club) was necessarily a more muted affair, and it is the middle show which I remember fondly as the best show I saw that line-up play in Leeds. My own visits to the Warehouse were increasingly restricted to gigs, with Danse Society and Xmal Deutschland standing out in particular. The club of course has gone from strength to strength, although I would imagine that it is now some time since Doktor Avalanche's automated beat last reveberated around the its cavernous interior.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Le Phonographique

Within a fortnight of seeing the Sisters for the first time, I had become a regular at Le Phonographique,the now legendary club of that era credited these days with being the Northern outpost of gothdom.
At the time, it was the main option for those seeking a club playing an alternative music, and free admission and cheap drinks for students on a Monday night out seemed too good a deal to miss. Initially, a night out there would not seem too promising,a non-descript doorway in a bland 70s shopping centre leading directly to a flight of stairs down to a small, airless dungeon, with the cloakroom and till at the bottom of the stairs, the toilets and bar away to the left, the dancefloor, DJ booth and plush seating away to the right, with mirrored pillars dividing up the relatively small space. Back in Autumn 1982 it seemed to attract a motley crew who had come for the music and the vibe,  with a barely changing set list, featuring Bowie's Queen Bitch, the Velvets' Venus in Furs, Killing Joke's Pssyche,  Virgin Prunes' Baby Turns Blue, and most of the recorded output of Theatre of Hate/Spear of Destiny. By 1983, the Meteors' Wreckin' Crew and Violent Femmes' Add It Up and Gone Daddy Gone would be added to the mix, but even by mid-October '82 both Alice and in particular  Floorshow filled the dancefloor more than any of the others, and it was clear that the Sisters were onto something. Within a few months any club night, chart, indie, metal or whatever, would be playing both sides of the breakthrough single early in the evening or risk having the DJ beseiged with requests.
As for Le Phono, I kept going for the next few years, but never witnessed any of the lively shenanigans alleged to have happened back then, and the club came to an end in 1992, struggling on as Bar Phono for another decade and now boarded up. Back in Autumn '82, Si Denbigh and Ben Gunn were regular visitors, but sitings of the other Sisters there were rare.But for me, like for most patrons, the music was the real attraction.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Music for The Masses

Apart from getting to see the Sisters and The Furs for free, the other musical highlight of Freshers' Week at Leeds University in October 1982 was the Societies Fair, where all the different interest groups tout for business in an event in the Students Union, from the Star Wars Appreciation Society to the Mechanical Engineering Soc (a Venn diagram of those two groupings would make interesting reading).  In those days of student democracy, any undergraduate who get get fifty others to sign up could get funding from the Union, and back in 1980 an enterprising group of music fans had got together to from a co-operative that would help with equipment, rehearsal rooms etc, but also put on gigs and generally support the community of student musicians. I had aspirations of getting involved in a posi-punk band myself, so paid my £2 to a kindly-spoken grizzled gentleman at the Music for the Masses stall whom I was astonished to discover later in the term was Si Denbigh, lead singer with the ultra-hip March Violets. With his slightly stocky physique, Robert Smith hairstyle and full beard he certainly stood out amongst the indie crowd, and his unusual style may have put some punters off at the Societies Fair. Despite my good intentions, I never formed my band, and the society ground to a halt during the year, although it was resurrected in 1984 by a few Merciful Release fans who put out a half-decent fanzine with the society's name as its title, full of the obligatory interviews with Billy Bragg, reviews of NMA, and quirky adverts for everyone's favourite punk hairdressing salon, Snipperfield's Circus.

Friday, 23 December 2011

This is where I came in ... Leeds Uni, Tues 5th October 1982

Little did I realise when I left home for the first time, to go to Leeds Uni in the autumn of 1982, that within 48 hours I would be under the spell of a band who would be a huge influence on the next thirty years (and counting) of my life. As a new first year undergraduate, I was entitled to attend all the events of the legendary Fresher's Week free of charge, and one of the little tear-off sections on the A4 perforated green card sheet granted access to the second and final Fresher's gig. The first the night before had been 70's legends Mud (now reduced to the Student Ball and Variety Club circuit) supported by a capella troupe The Flying Pickets, and being an indie kid I had given that a wide berth. But Tuesday October 5th paired The Psychedelic Furs, certainly in my top ten bands at the time, with up and coming youngsters The Sisters of Mercy. I was aware of the latter from the John Peel show, and had been a fan of their second single, Body Electric/Adrenochrome, which had a driving drum machine beat with the jagged, slightly rasping guitars so many of the Northern bands favoured at the time. Much to my surprise, most of those around myself and my new flat mates in the queue for the Leeds University Union Riley Smith Hall were not students but local teenagers who had got their tickets of enterprising freshers outside. So the trip to the bar was postponed and we stood towards the back of the hall to see what had encouraged such an enthusiastic local following.
As soon as the band took the stage, it became clear. The juddering metronomic backbeat courtesy of Doktor Avalanche provided a hypnotic backing for the duelling guitars and buzzing bass, but the undeniable focus was the serpentine presence of  the skinny long-haired frontman, chain-smoking, bedecked in black and wearing shades despite the near darkness all around. Despite being only 18 at the time, I ahd laready seen some legendary performers, from Lemmy to Iggy, but this cocky young singer seemed to exert more of a hold over his followers than any of them. All too soon, their set came to an end with a second stab at The Stooges' 1969, with Andrew Eldritch announcing that it would be the last time we'd hear them play it, a threat which mercifully turned out to be premature. As his final yelp and the feedback suqall faded, a new band had squeezed into my top ten favourites. My companions did not all agree. but despite a decent show from The Furs, it was beer fuelled screams of "'Teen Sixty-Nine" which echoed around the empty university precinct on our way back to the flat - the Sisters had made a real first impression.