January – March

The Madchester / baggy / dance scene had truly exploded and more bands were starting to appear (or reinvent themselves). The Indie Top Ten from the January 1990 Chart Show is dominated by Manchester.

Glasgow begins its year as European Capital of Culture, the first designated in the British Isles.

At Mayking Records, Danny was the production planner for a 12″ called ‘Indian Rope‘ by a band called The Charlatans. We were playing it at home, before it was released, and loving it. I called their agent, Alex Nightingale (Annie’s son) and booked them to be the first Buzz Club of the new decade. I had read The Stone Roses were fans, so put that on the posters.

I gave the support slot to our friends, from Fleet, Vinegar Blossom. This is Dave, the man responsible for so many live Buzz Club recordings, including The Charlatans.

Gary and Paul, Vinegar Blossom.
When Tim Burgess saw this photo on social media recently, he said ‘what a lot of denim’.
Jon Baker
Recorded live at The Buzz Club, ‘The Only One I Know’

The venue was packed, our usual indie kids were now wearing flares and had longer hair – how had this happen in a few months?! It was Vinegar Blossom‘s second ever gig. Paul, Gary and Dave from the band had gone to see The Stone Roses at the Ally Pally with Danny and I a couple of months before. They were nervous going on stage and you could feel it for the first couple of songs. Then, with the crowd behind them, they hit a groove and stayed on it for the rest of their set. Paul was in flares, singing, no guitar, then Dave and Gary each on guitar with bass and drums. They had swagger and were very current. Back slapping and congratulations as they came off stage laughing, relieved. The band had asked Danny to manage them earlier on in the evening, so we were all in a celebratory mood anyway!

The Charlatans then came on and blew the roof off. A really fantastic night. Red faces, now stretched long sleeved tee shirts, beaming from the crowd. Dancing. It hadn’t quite sold out but was very close.

The Charlatans had really enjoyed the Vinegar Blossom set and asked if they would support them on a few dates they had coming up later in the year. All in all a fabulous night.

Back at work at the Rock Garden on the Monday, Alex Nightingale phoned me. He was angry as he didn’t like me putting ‘The Stone Roses favourite band’ on the posters. He was kind of yelling at me down the phone. I shared an office with my boss Sean, who had asked me to stop doing the Buzz Club and thought I had. It was obvious I was trying to placate whoever it was I was talking to, so he was mouthing, ‘who is it?’ to me. I was shaking my head in a ‘it doesn’t matter’ fashion, but Alex kept going on and Sean kept wondering who it was, advising me to tell them to ‘F**k off’. It was all very uncomfortable. While talking I was desperately trying to think what I could say to Sean when the call was over.

It was very nerve-wracking but I got away with it.


18 January – The first MORI poll of the decade shows that Labour have a 12-point lead over the Conservatives with 48% of the vote. Liberal support is at its lowest for more than a decade as the Liberal Democrats gain just 5% of the vote.

19th January – The Fatima Mansions / The Prayer Boat / The Milltown Brothers – The Mean Fiddler

Our friend Tim Paton not only took some wonderful photos for us over the years, he also managed a few bands, including The Milltown Brothers, who we really liked. We went along to the Mean Fiddler to see them support The Fatima Mansions.

‘London’s answer to the Happy Mondays’ – Flowered Up were starting to get people into a frenzied state. They had only formed a few months earlier and hadn’t released anything yet, but their gig at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden in January was totally over subscribed and I failed to get in.

Alex Nightingale and I were back on speaking terms and he invited me to The Powerhaus in Islington for The Charlatans gig there on 27th January. Liverpool band The Chairs were supporting and incredibly, once the bands had played, the d.j. was The Orb. Alex came over to me and said ‘I really like the way you dance. I’m organising a party in Manchester in March, do you want a couple of tickets? There’ll be a coach to get us up there.’ I said ‘yes please’.

We had a local band night at The Buzz Club on 1st February

The following evening it was back down to The Powerhaus, for another great night. Northside had recently signed to Factory Records and were the band to check out. I enjoyed the gig very much, it was a packed night again and everyone seemed very happy. Not long after, they had a launch party for their debut single in a warehouse in East London. It was full of all the usual faces, (now, starting to include mine) and was a slightly shambolic night. They had an early version of VR machines there – everyone wanted a go. I queued up behind Annie Nightingale for ages and remember thinking it was pretty cool.

Shall We Take A Trip‘, Northside‘s debut single was banned from Radio 1 .

I loved working in Covent Garden. Slap bang in the middle of London and walking distance from Denmark Street, Soho, Leicester Square and China Town. Our office was in Bedford Chambers, a few flights above the venue and restaurant (now the Apple Store). There was an old lift, room enough for a couple of people, with an iron grill door you used to have to close properly before it would work. It often broke down leaving people either stuck in it or having to climb the stairs and arrive breathless. Incredibly, I booked about 30 bands a week. We even had weekend lunch-time gigs. Monday and Tuesday nights had 5 bands per night. Going on stage from 8pm until 1am.

The late slots were tricky to fill. The deal was, they would get 500 tickets to hand out to their crowd. These tickets got you into the venue for £2.50 (instead of £5). At the end of the night they were counted up and the band would receive a split. This often meant the bands would hang around the tube station on the evening of their gig and hand them out to tourists. Each morning, my first job was to check how everyone had done the night before, how many tickets had they brought in? The manager, tech guys and bar staff would all give the acts marks out of ten and write a little review, ‘bad singer’, ‘enjoyed them’ type stuff. 

Towards the weekend the nights were themed – funk on Thursday, party bands Friday and Saturday, with bands and d.j.s getting paid a proper fee. Most of the crowd clattering down the winding stairs into the basement on these nights were either tourists or on Fridays local office workers, often pretty drunk by the time the live music went on.

The Rock Garden had a rich history and Sean would keep me entertained with some very funny stories. Originally a banana warehouse, the club was situated below the restaurant and opened in 1978. U2 played their first London gig there, and it was firmly on the London live music circuit in the ’70s and ’80s. During the ’80s, when Sean was the venue manager, the restaurant upstairs was a hang out for New Romantics who would meet there for post clubbing coffees and drama. The Rock Garden club and restaurant were both open until 3am.

Sean’s friends would often call up to the office, stay for a while before grabbing him to go out for a drinks. They might get a table outside the restaurant or head over to The Nag’s Head. I’d sometimes hear my name being called as I headed up to the tube station, see Sean and his mates waving at me. This is how I was lucky enough to meet the photographer Justin Thomas whose fabulous photos run through this blog.

The Smiths, A Certain Ratio, Josef K, The Associates and many more great bands had played The Rock Garden.

Josef K at The Rock Garden photo Harry Papadopoulos
A Certain Ratio photo Justin Thomas
The Associates play The Rock Garden 1/10/1980 Photo Justin Thomas

By 1990, the venue was no longer getting taken seriously as a gig for bands in the ‘N.M.E.’ to play. As Covent Garden re gentrified, the space became known as a tourist trap. I had been offered the job as they were trying to make The Rock Garden cool again and with my great Buzz Club bookings, I was taken on. It was my first job in London, and I was thrilled to be working there. Booking the bands for a central London venue! I loved the smell of the basement in the day, mopped floor, stale beer and smoke. Talking the the sound guys and passing on any messages on my way home. As I was leaving, the shifts were changing in the restaurant with lots of coming and going in the downstairs office. Plenty of ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’, and a quick bit of banter on the way out.

I was based in the upstairs offices along with Michelle, Lisa, Piers, Mia, Henry, the owner Arthur and Sean. There were bands in to collect tickets, kitchen staff, venue staff and restaurant staff always calling in to discuss something. It was a beautiful old building with large windows over looking the piazza.

I used to make compilation tapes and got paid £5 for each one. It always put a smile on my face, hearing the music I had selected, seeing the customers eating and chatting, enjoying the vibe.

Sean gave me Wednesdays as my indie night and I was able to book a few good bands although it was tricky persuading agents to let their bands perform there. I booked both The Manic Street Preachers and Suede, early on in their careers, plus The Farm, The Televison Personalities, The Jazz Butcher, 1,000 Violins and more. We had a launch party for Saint EtienneOnly Love Can Break Your Heart‘, organised through Heavenly Records and the band’s manager, Fiona Clarke. One of the band was unable to make it as there had been an incident on the tube and even though the venue was full, there was no live set, which was a shame.

Being so central, I would often get people coming up to see me. My cousin Marks and other family members would call in unexpectedly and take me to lunch. I had known Andy Winters since my days of playing Dan Treacy‘s club, The Room at the Top in my Go! Service days, during 1985. He popped in to see me one day and played me some music by a band he was managing called The Honey Smugglers. I gave them a gig at The Rock Garden for February 15th.

Lloyd Cole had now split from The Commotions and had released his first (wonderful) solo album. I loved his new look too, long hair, unshaven face.

I got tickets for a few dates on the tour. The first was in Edinburgh at the Usher Hall on February 17th. I was in charge of the travel arrangements. To save money I booked us on to an over night journey on Bruce’s Coaches from Kings Cross to Glasgow. We were on the back seat. A fellow clad in double denim with 4 cans of Tennents sat next to us and pretty much as soon as the engine started, he fell asleep on Danny’s shoulder. No amount of jiggling shifted him as he happily snored away. We got to Glasgow at 4am. The first train to Edinburgh was a couple of hours away, so we found an all night cafe to wait in. It was full of cigarette smoke and drunk people sobering up, shouting and laughing.

The train to Edinburgh was a very slow one, calling in at a stop every five minutes. Towns I had never heard of. We arrived at last, at about 7am and had to kill a bit more time before heading over to my brother Tom’s flat. I had on my black leather Chelsea boots which had evidently got a hole in the sole. It was raining and my feet were cold and wet. We were completely shattered when we arrived at Tom’s place and it was decided I would never look after our travel arrangements again.

See See Rider supported and we managed to stay awake and enjoy the show.

22nd February Basingstoke band, signed to Medium Cool and Buzz Club regulars, The Rain at The Rock Garden.

24th February – up to Staffordshire for a really weird Ruby Tuesdays gig. Part of a night of varied entertainment in a seated arts centre. My main memory is an acapella group singing  ‘The Lake Titicaca Song’.

26 February – Fourteen people are killed as storms hit Britain. One of the worst-hit areas is Towyn in North Wales, where approximately 2,000 people are evacuated from their homes after huge waves smash a 200-yard hole in the sea wall and cause a major flood.

27th February Lloyd Cole at the Hammersmith Odeon. Danny had a night off, I went with Clare P.

28th February U.L.U. Bar – my first time seeing the fabulous 5:30, blew my mind.

The party in Manchester that Alex had invited me to was drawing near. I met him in Soho to get the tickets. Then on a cold Saturday afternoon at the end of February we boarded a coach bound for Manchester, full of party people. The journey up was fairly quiet, some laughter and snoozing. We arrived at the club Alex had hired (next door to the Hacienda) and no one was there. Acid house music was playing, there was dry ice and a dj who would say ‘Ombiance in the area‘ every now and again. Bernard Summer put his head round the door with a couple of mates and stayed about 3 minutes. Alex looked nervous. Then word went round that we were off to a rave! There was one going on in Blackburn they’d found out about, everyone was up for it, the driver was given some extra money and we were off.

It was a big warehouse rave, in the middle of a muddy field. We got there at about 2am and it was in full swing. Lights beaming out through the gaps in the walls and roof, music booming, people with whistles. It was ok, interesting and fun to have gone to, but not 100% my thing. I like smaller venues, with toilets! We got back to London after noon. Danny and I were expecting family up from Surrey for lunch and were much later getting back than anticipated. Once off the coach, we ran down the New North Road as fast as we could. Got in, got changed, got the food on, and welcomed them at the door about twenty minutes later!

In between all this mayhem, we had to find a new place to live. Our landlord’s daughter was returning from Egypt and we were in her flat. So we started the search and we soon found a great basement flat at the back of the Angel. Duncan Terrace, N1. It was beautiful. Our landlady and landlord lived upstairs with their family in the rest of the five storey house. We were now literally across the road from The Powerhaus and loads of great bars, shops and restaurants.

In March I went to see French and Saunders at the Shaftesbury Theatre with a couple of my Rock Garden friends. Very funny.

The Shamen had been going for a while, through line up and musical changes they had gradually transformed into a rave band. I knew Sean Johnson, their agent and went along to their Synergy club night at the T&C2 on the Holloway Road. It was a Sunday so we didn’t make a night of it.

5th March The next night we travelled down to Brighton see Lloyd Cole at the Dome in Brighton.

9 March – 37 people are arrested and 10 police officers injured in Brixton, London, during rioting against the new Community Charge.

The Ruby Tuesdays came down South for a few more gigs. Chris King had booked them to play The Cube in Kentish Town on 7th March, they supported The T.V. Personalities at The Rock Garden on the 8th and on Friday 9th March, we had The Buzz Club Rave.

Sally Agarwal designed the fliers, I got them printed at a place on the Holloway Road.

We hired in a special light called a Spiral Flower and lots of dry ice. Jem Barnes at the West End Centre had sorted out a 2am licence. Rob and Steve (who had played at my party in December ’89) d.j.ed.

We were a little worried as it was slightly off what we usually did and it was a Friday rather than a Saturday. About 120 people turned up though. Rob and Steve started the night, The Ruby Tuesdays played at 11pm and then the djs finished off. The light looked amazing, perfect. When we turned it off we noticed a sticker saying ‘only use in bursts of 15 minutes, leaving to cool in between’. Ooops. That could have ruined the night!

March 10th We had one more gig for The Ruby Tuesdays to play, supporting another of Andy Winters‘ bands, The Prudes at The White Horse in Hampstead. The most interesting thing about this night is, that Suede were first on – it was their debut gig. Justine Frischmann was in the band and they had a drum machine and no drummer.

14th March The Charlatans at the Boston Arms in Tufnell Park. ‘Indian Rope’ was a big indie hit by now.

15th March 5:30 and The Honey Smugglers – The Falcon, Camden.

The iconic Falcon pub. My first visit and a cracker. The back room was jammed and sweaty. Both bands were on top form, psychedelic and glorious.

Just look at this amazing selection of gigs! Friday 30th is particularly interesting….

21st March I booked Manchester band Rig to play the Rock Garden

  • 31 March – 200,000 protesters in Poll Tax Riots in London in the week preceding official introduction of the Community Charge.