January – March
John Major is Prime Minister and Britain is in deep recession.
In January 1991, Danny and I had to move from our basement flat in the Angel, Islington to sharing a council flat in Stoke Newington, North London, with Shelley Boswell and her boyfriend Andy. I knew Shelley from the Rock Garden in London’s Covent Garden, she was one of the venue managers, and I was the band booker.
Duncan Terrace, Islington.
The venue’s owner, Arthur, had decided to grow the company and had bought the premisses next door – an old students’ club in a dark basement. It had been stylishly renovated and opened as The Gardening Club in October the previous year. Shelley was invited to manage it. Now though, the Rock Garden was financially overstretched as an attempt to float the company hadn’t worked. I was made redundant on my first day back in the office, New Year 1991. Danny and I needed to move somewhere cheaper to live and Shelley very kindly offered their place for us to share.
Heatherley Court, Stoke Newington.
To attempt to get an income, I started to book lots of little gigs around London. I asked one of my friends at the Rock Garden to photocopy me all of the year before’s booking diary so I had loads of bands’ phone numbers. I made contact with the various pubs and venues on the circuit – The Bull and Gate in Kentish Town, Haven’s Stables in Ealing, pubs in Islington and Lewisham. I was collecting fliers I had made for some of the gigs from Prontaprint on Islington Green, when I bumped into Andy Winters. I knew Andy as he had been a regular at the gigs my band Go! Service had played at The Room at the Top in Chalk Farm a few years earlier, at Dan Treacy’s (The Television Personalities) club night. Andy told me about a label he had just started and asked if I would be interested in helping out with press and radio. He invited me to come for a chat with himself and his business partner, Maurice Bacon. Together they had recently started Ultimate Records.
Danny and I had already been going to the Yellow Book Club, run by Frank Perkins on Friday nights at the Rock Garden. Rocky & Diesel plus Terry Farley were the resident djs, with Andrew Weatherall and Paul Oakenfold sometimes playing guest slots.
Myself and Sean McDonnell had offered Frank the Saturday night at the Gardening Club while the building work was still taking place. His night Ophelia started when the brand new club opened in October 1990 and we were regulars from the off. Shelley would put us on the guest list and the bouncers soon knew our names and greeted us when we went in through the doors.
Once again, Rocky & Diesel were the resident d.j.s, with Paul Oakenfold, Justin Robertson and Jeremy Healey all regularly playing. These nights were wonderful and a moment in London clubbing history.
We were starting to make lots of new friends. At this time the licence was until 3am.
We were also still running the Buzz Club in Aldershot. This involved organising the dates in advance with the venue, booking the bands, making the fliers and posting them, organising the posters and putting them up, contacting the local press and finally getting there on the night of the gig. It was about one and a half hours from Stoke Newington to Aldershot. We also went down mid-week a couple of weeks up front to put the posters up. Driving around in our VW Golf and usually getting the ceiling covered in wall paper paste. We got stopped by the police and asked to take the freshly pasted posters down a couple of times.
We had a local band night on Saturday 12 January. Local band nights were the chance to make a bit of cash. We used to book one whenever we needed a little financial boost and not much risk.
7th February – The I.R.A. launched a mortar attack against 10 Downing Street, blowing in all the windows of the Cabinet room. There were no injuries.
8th February – Heavy snow disrupts the country for a second time this winter.
On 16th February, The Manic Street Preachers played. I loved ‘Motown Junk’ which I had on 12″, released by Heavenly Records. I had actually booked them a couple of times for the Rock Garden, just on a normal Tuesday night paid on a ticket deal. I had phoned the number on the cassette and it was Richey’s mum who would answer. She would call upstairs to let him know it was me on the phone for him.
This Buzz Club was completely rammed. People had been hanging around the venue already before we even arrived at 5ish. Fans had driven from London and further a field for this one.
A fifteen minute film of that Manics Buzz Club gig was found in an attic in 2013, unseen for twenty years. You can’t hear James Dean Bradfield‘s vocals at the start as Ben (the camera man) is standing to the side of the stage. However this is where Richey is playing and so it makes it all the more poignant. Ben moves to the front of the stage at 4:45 and the rest of the clip has great sound. Watch for fight in the crowd at 6:52.
The Manic Street Preachers live at The Buzz Club, Aldershot. 16th February 1991.
Thanks to Dave Driscoll for the live recordings on this page, made on his Sony Walkman.
17th February – Ed Sheeran, singer, songwriter born.
February was pretty full on. I had my interview for and started work at Ultimate Records, plus all the London gigs I had booked in January were taking place in February. I was working all day and then, on most nights, heading off to pubs in Ealing or Kentish Town or Camden or Islington to watch three or four very average bands. I paid them via a ticket deal and I made anything from £10 to £70 on a night. Danny was working at Cherry Red Records in Fulham. He would usually join me and we would head home together, across London at about 11pm. I had also asked the West End Centre where we held the Buzz Club, if we could have a few more dates, as I had been wondering about trying to promote gigs full time, so I had those to work on.
‘The Chart Show’ on Saturday mornings was compulsive viewing, crossing your fingers they featured the Indie or Dance Charts and crossing everything it wasn’t the Heavy Metal one.
The weekends were also all about clubbing.
London’s Definition of Sound and the brilliant ‘Wear Your Love Like Heaven’
We had gone to a couple of Boys Own events the year before and when we heard about a weekender at Butlins in Bognor they were organising, we were straight in there to get tickets.
Phil Mison’s flier found on the TestPressing blog site.
This was an absolute floor filler – Francessco Zappala & DJ Professor ‘We Gotta Do It’
One of the things I loved about clubbing was when the d.j. had you in the palm of their hands. They could create real moments, everyone dancing, in on the collective vibe. We were all out at Ophelia couple of days after the end of the Gulf War and this got played as the last tune of the night. We all smiled at each other and nodded to the d.j.. We clapped and cheered, stamped our feet and called for more as the lights came up and the night was over. Soggy clothes, happy faces, bracing ourselves for the cold night air.
I had bought the 7″ of John Otway’s ‘Really Free’ from Elephant Records in Aldershot, when I was 11 and knew every word. Seeing John come into the kitchen and make a cup of tea by my desk was always a bit of a thrill. If he was on tour he would usually have a bruise in the middle of his forehead from head butting his microphone during an other of his 7″s I had and loved, ‘Headbutts‘
Maurice had rented out the top floor to Snub TV. My desk was pretty much in the shared kitchen so I would chat to them whenever they came downstairs to get the kettle on. I really enjoyed chatting to those guys, Lesley, Brenda and Pinko. I was a fan of Snub TV so this was all very exciting for me.
Andy Winters managed The Honey Smugglers, this was the first release on Ultimate Records, cat. no. Topp001T. A cracking tune. We got a few radio plays and the video shown on MTV’s 120 Minutes.
Through Dylan, the plugger, Andy had managed to organise a play for P.U.M.P. on Radio 1’s Roundtable. Maurice, Andy and I all stayed late at work to listen. We were joined by the band, who lived in Camden. Suggs was one of the guests and it got nice reviews. We headed off to The Underworld afterwards to check out a band.
We got ‘Barabajagal‘ remixed by Steve Procter and I heard it get played at Ophelia that Saturday night. Nice.
Andy and Maurice knew Ian Wilson at Atlantic Records. Ian was managing an American band, The Belltower, and they had just signed to Ultimate.
Part of my job was to get the records to radio, especially Radio 1. The Evening Session and other night time shows were big champions of the independent and alternative scene. I used to catch the bus from Camden to Oxford Circus and walk down to the BBC. The week ahead’s playlist would get pinned to a board in the foyer by Claire, the receptionist. It was vital to get to know Claire, she would let you know when certain producers were in and let you up to see them.
For me, the Evening Session with Mark Goodyear , John Peel and Annie Nightingale were all shows I was trying to get our records played on. I got let up to see Jeff Smith, the Evening Session producer and legendary Annie Nightingale producer, Pete Ritzema regularly.
Annie’s show was very supportive of The Belltower‘s debut release ‘Outshine The Sun‘
I would also head over to MTV 120 Minutes which was based in Camden. Taking a betamax version of a newly shot video over to drop off and chat to the two women who organised which videos to show. I got on well with them and we were usually successful getting stuff shown, including a few plays for The Bellower.
Andy Winters called a meeting to let us know that he was in talks with Terry Bickers, the ex House of Love guitarist about releasing his new band, Levitation‘s records. Terry’s split from The House of Love was huge news and this was a very important moment for us.
On March 9 it was back down to Aldershot as we had a ‘noise special’ at the Buzz Club. Roger from the Falcon managed Milk, so we booked them. Under 100 in but costs weren’t high, so came home with about £50.
10th March – The U.K. has the fastest rising unemployment rate in the European Union.
14th March – The Birmingham Six are released from prison.
Things moved quickly at Ultimate, the recordings were already done, so the debut Levitation e.p. was given an April release date. I had to walk to the printers in Primrose Hill to collect proofs of the sleeve.I walked along the Camden canal, past London Zoo and on to Primrose Hill. So pretty. I fell in love with the place instantly and would love trips to collect art work. Houses painted in soft pastel pink, blue and yellow. Looking down into their wonderful kitchens and wine racks as I walked past.
On my way back, a lad on Camden High Street saw it said Levitation on the sleeve and gasped, I let him have one of the proofs to keep and went back to the office with one too few.
We had fliers for the next Buzz Club printed and would spend evenings in our room in Stoke Newington, taping up bundles of them together to send to the local Our Price (where I had previously worked) shops and other record shops to ask them to display them on the counters. Promises of guest list places in return. We also had a Buzz Club mailing list. We would write all 200 names and addresses on envelopes, put stamps on and post out the fliers. It was handy to get a few booked up in advance so they could all go on one flier or poster and save on printing and postage costs.
On 22 Friday March The Ruthless Rap Assassins and the Krispy 3, two hip hop acts from the Manchester area, played the Buzz Club. (Kermit from the Ruthless Rap Assassins would later form Black Grape with Shaun Ryder.) A bit of a step outside our normal band booking, we were experimenting a bit. The night did ok, nearly a couple of hundred in and was a great night. It was also a Friday, one of the few we did that wasn’t on a Saturday. Lots of our crowd had Saturday jobs, so Friday didn’t do as well.
Support came from Krispy 3 ‘…this is the sound of the suburbs!’
We had another Buzz Club the next night – another local band night.
My own music was pretty much put to one side during this hectic time. I played bass in a band called Neverland and Danny was playing bass in Graham from The Charlottes new band. We did a few gigs each and recorded some demos. I wasn’t actually writing any music though.