1990: January – March

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.

Danny had done been the production planner at Mayking 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 happened 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.

348s

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. 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 midnight. The late slots were tricky to fill. These nights were for bands just starting out, traveling up from the suburbs, or London posh kids (who always had loads of friends and fans). The deal was, they would get 500 tickets to hand out to their crowd. These tickets got you in for £2.50 (instead of £5). At the end of the night they were counted up and the band would receive a split. This usually 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. If a band had brought in lots or even a decent amount of people, I would rebook them. 

There wasn’t any skill to this, it was a very basic way of promoting live music, it didn’t actually matter how good the groups were, just if they had lots of friends. They also had to pay for the use of the PA for the night, I was very uncomfortable with this ‘pay to play’ arrangement. Just before I left, I actually got the venue to stop doing it. I explained how much people disliked The Rock Garden because of it. I had been offered my job there as they were trying to make the venue cool again, but with ‘pay to play’ in place for these bands, it would never happen. It was my first job in London though, and I felt very lucky to be working there; booking the bands for a central London venue. I loved the smell of the basement, where the bands played – stale beer and cigarettes. Talking the the sound guys and passing on any messages on my way home. As I was leaving, the shifts were changing and there would be lots of coming and going in the downstairs office. Lots of ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’, and a quick bit of banter on the way out. 

I was based in the upstairs offices with a fantastic bunch of people, Michelle, Lisa and Henry along with Sean and the owner. There were kitchen staff, venue staff and restaurant staff. It had a lovely atmosphere. I used to make compilation tapes for people to hear while they ate and got paid £5 for each one. It always put a smile on my face, hearing them when I walked past the restaurant. Sean was friends with Justin Thomas, the legendary photographer, who I befriended myself and who ended up taking loads of brilliant photos for me, including the cover of the It’s Jo & Danny album, ‘Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy‘. We were allowed to eat for free in the restaurant downstairs too, which was handy.

I did end up booking a couple of great bands very early on in their careers on these nights – The Manic Street Preachers and Suede. The Manics signed to Heavenly after their second performance there. Sean had wanted me to stop doing the Buzz Club when I started at The Rock Garden as he thought it was a conflict of interest, the truth was, the main reason agents took my calls was because of The Buzz Club.

I tried my best though. I had my indie nights where I booked bands through agents and using my contacts, I was able to organise a couple of hires for launch nights. A party for Saint Etienne ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart‘ was organised through Heavenly Records and the band’s manager, Fiona Clarke. One of the band was unable to make it though (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 called in unexpectedly one day and took me out 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, The Honey Smugglers. I gave them a gig 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 Rainat 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.

Most Friday nights we would head over to the Rock Garden for The Yellow Book Club where tracks like this were getting played by Terry Farley and Andy Weatherall. The Club started after the live bands had finished and the venue had been cleared. 

There was a really cool clothes shop off Neal Street in Covent Garden. It sold Levis jeans and Hanes tee shirts. I had a couple of thin, white cotton, v neck short sleeved tee shirts and long sleeved ones in both black and white. Camden Market on a Sunday and Rokit on Camden High Street were great for second hand Levis – jackets and jeans. 

I was able to get a few people on the guest list for The Yellow Book Club and so we often went with John and Sally. Meeting new people down there. In those days the licence was until 3am.

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. 

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.

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

Read April – June 1990 here

Read 1989 here

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