➤ Meet the jacks and jokers who
front the capital’s nightclubs
By the summer of ’83, a new pop establishment ruled the mainstream music charts while a new executive ruled London’s burgeoning clubbing scene after dark. For better or worse, the people had voted them there. So who were the faces behind the hit clubs? What had they got and could it be cured?
❚ LONDON CLUBBERS ARE NOT ONLY SPOILT FOR CHOICE but the money-go-round has refloated an institution that’s been submerged for a decade . . . the long, lost weekend. And whether you reckon nightlife is about as compelling as Limahl’s smile or an essential engine of subcultural evolution, the New London Weekend signals the next chapter in the recessionary saga.
Not since the Swinging Sixties, say the glossy society magazines, has London nightlife reverberated to such a boom. Then as now, New York, Paris and Tokyo looked to us for the lead in music and fashion. Surfing in the wake of the glamour industries of the Sixties, the clubland fatcats grew fatter still. For the Ad Lib and The Scotch, today read Tramp and Stringfellow. John Crosby, the American commentator who introduced that “Swinging” label for the Sixties, wrote twenty years ago: “The nightlife is just a symptom, the outer and visible froth of an inner, far deeper turbulence . . . Suddenly the young own the town.”
If today’s froth smells similar, it belies some other turbulence. The legendary “Boom” issue of Queen magazine in December 1959, which heralded the spending spree of the Sixties, burbled: “Nearly two thousand million pounds is pouring out of pockets and wallets and handbags . . .” An Eighties equivalent would read instead: “Nearly seventeen thousand million pounds is pouring into pockets by way of the dole.” If today’s young also own the town, it’s the State playing sugar-daddy. The dole regularly funds nights out at the Camden Palace or at Heaven (said incidentally, to claim the greatest consumption of lager of all venues in the UK capital.)
The enforced new “leisure” class has developed a supplementary repertoire of survival tactics. In young London clubs it’s rare to meet anyone who doesn’t bunk bus and tube fares and there’s more than one 18-year-old driver charging his mates for lifts home to the suburbs. You can be sure the unemployed electrician who blows his £27 dole in a night has other means to see him through the week.
It’s fairly obvious that it needs a population the size of London’s to sustain such fringe economies. Beyond the capital, people’s spending power shrinks. Gossips in Soho reckon someone might shell out £15-20 in a night there, though Flicks in Kent say you’re doing well to spend £6-8 there, while at the Liverpool State you might only average a fiver. In clubs from Manchester to Leicester and Newcastle I meet school-leavers who know their drinking has increased since the dole fuelled their habit but it’s only really in London’s busiest clubs that managers feel flush enough to spell out the truth: There’s more money about than there was two years ago.
The big difference in clubland between that maniacally trendy winter of ’81 and now is numbers. Then, there were only two clubs that lent the night an electric charge; this summer, there’s a frontline first division, plus an energetic second tier. Strange and Egan set the pace at the Palace, now gone mainstream. One Carlsberg philosopher accounted for the Camden effect thus: “The Palace represents the loss of innocence. It’s good that kids can meet five out of the top 20 bands there, but this scene has shown that anyone can bunk into the charts for a hit or two. It’s made kids very cynical, very young.”
And after a year of mass-market clubbing, it’s hard to distinguish true from false spirits as the West End crawls with stone-washed rockabillies and Miss Crimplene-Goes-African. Not unnaturally, instinctive rebel clubmen slipped underground to regroup. Cellars like the Batcave, Gold Coast, Movements and the Garage returned to forcing the pace in their respective camps.
The now sizeable leisure class have the means and, with their possibly growing weekday commitments, a preference to live for the weekend. Result: Sensible Soul, The Circus and a menagerie of warehouse parties greeting dawn from the gutter . . . Plus the Hot Four which for very varied reasons are jamming them in: Mud, White Trash, the Dirtbox and the Wag – especially the Wag where the old Beat Route team trod down, down past Chinatown to repaint the walls of the legendary old Whisky a Gogo and create Kandinsky’s nightmare.
Ironically, since we’re now supposed to be in Swinging London, the four key clubs all play black American sounds. Jay Strongman, who deejays for three out of four of them, dissects their tastes. “The Dirtbox,” he says, “want back-to-the-Fifties R&B and cajun. They’re younger now, less trendy and just out to dance to anything. The Wag on Thursdays want commercial Seventies disco, probably because they’re an older crowd, like Steve Strange, who hear the new music everywhere else and want to remember the days before they ran the clubs.
“The Mud downstairs want hard funk but they know their music. They’re not posing. A year ago they might have been into Heaven 17 and they’ve just discovered funk so they want the brand-new imports. There’s a lot of good tension like the Beat Route used to have and I suppose a lot of people end up at the Wag on Saturday as well. I’m told the Mud is a good place for pulling, but of course I don’t get the chance.”
THE FACE GRILLS THE PIONEERS
AND PARODISTS WHO RULE THE
FOUR HOTTEST CLUBS IN THE CAPITAL
❚ THE WAG 33 Wardour Street, W1: Thur, Fri, Sat £3
HOSTS Chris Sullivan, Ollie O’Donnell
Relentlessly trendy duo with peerless club record: St Moritz, Hell, Le Kilt, Beat Route Fridays and now the dazzlingly refurbished, onetime Whisky a Gogo. Part-time crimper O’Donnell once said: “The wind-up is the supreme art – it’s the one form of expression I’m any good at.” Take no notice when he says at the door, “Go walk round the block.” Or rather, do exactly that. Then come back and he’ll let you in. That’s the wind-up. Sullivan crammed at the St Martin’s and Blitz Schools of Ironic Stance and is credited with the New Romantics’ maxim “One look lasts a day”. An immensely versatile Leonardo for the Eighties, he invented Cubism two minutes ago and zoot-suits last Thursday week. Variety will report: “The Wag decor looks like Blue Rondo’s music sounds.”
DOORCHECK “Full wallet and a nice jacket required.”
SOUNDTRACKS Ohio Players “Fire” (Jay, Thurs); Vandross “Fascination” (Hector, Sat).
SALES PITCH “The Wag is a painted pavilion. Other clubs use lights, we’re using the walls to disorientate and amuse. We’d like people to come in with a sense of beano and to leave with hangovers and blisters on the feet.”
RIVAL’S VIEW “No way do you get in without knowing a cousin of a pop-star.”
❚ MUD CLUB 28 Leicester Square, W1: Fri £3
HOSTS Philip Sallon, Tasty Tim
Twin-level venue schizophrenically split between deejays Tim upstairs and Jay downstairs. Dollis Hill-born Sallon is a National Treasure, listed Grade Two. Professionally youthful and effortlessly charming, he is affectionately known as Mr Punch, Baby Jack and Captain Hook according to tonight’s rig-out. He was expelled from Mrs O’Dowd’s Charm School, briefly joined the Royal Opera (wardrobe) and made his first million hosting Planet’s in 1981. Irresistibly lovely Tim exists as an art object. He is an original star of Stingray and played a season at the Dolphinarium, Perihaines.
DOORCHECK Body-search. “Nobody gets turned away, only dead straights.”
SOUNDTRACKS Bucks Fizz “Making Your Mind Up” (Tasty Tim); Slim “In The Mix” (Jay).
DRINK Pils, usually as a shower.
SALES PITCH “I think the Mud has the best reputation of all these weirdo haunts don’t you?” says Sallon. “We’re doing aerobics now – a lot of World’s End people are into it. You can’t ask 600 members what they do but this is not a secretary’s club – you felt that about the Beat Route didn’t you? Of course I don’t want to muck up Fridays for the Wag because they mean well. Steve Strange, I think, has sold out, though I’m not knocking him for that. Club people are so false don’t you think?”
RIVAL’S VIEW “They’re all fat queens and girls with big tits.”
❚ WHITE TRASH 52 Piccadilly, W1: Sats £3
HOSTS Paul Bernstock, Dencil Williams
Exquisitely fashionable playboy aesthete Dencil of Troy is St Martin’s only fashion student never known to have made a garment. Visibly talented in other fields, he played Paris for Binnie Beaux Arts and cloned Grace Jones for Julien Temple’s video epic. Shares the Toilet That Time Forgot in Camden with three others. Uncannily modest Bernstock leads an impossibly blameless life though is said to wear ties by Simpson in secret places. His accessory company Tinker Tailors numbers Jasper Conran and Bruce Oldfield among its customers.
DOORCHECK Body-search “which everybody seems to like … We turn away coachloads of Swedish schoolkids.”
SOUNDTRACK George Clinton “Atomic Dog”.
DRINK Dark rum and lime.
SALES PITCH “We automatically thought people would assume it was gay here but we’ve attracted really straight people, designers, musicians. There are no restrictions, except no sitting around. We want people to let loose … nice boys, nice girls, white and trashy, dark and rich like a fruitcake.”
RIVAL’S VIEW “You have to at least be doing Graphics at Kingston to get in.”
❚ DIRTBOX No fixed abode: 1-6 am Sat (ie, Sun), £2.50
HOSTS Phil X, Rob Y
Ceaselessly inebriated duo who instinctively steer their riotous party-night just ahead of the law, via Earl’s Court, Tooley Street, Baker Street and Angel. Both emigrated from Wales after reading Butchery and Interior Design at Lymeswold Poly and have recently acquired carpentry and plumbing skills during Morning After sandwich courses. The Beat Route Method Studio equipped them with the Rockabilly Awareness Theory which they feel committed to pass down to a new generation. Strongly tipped to be plotting the October Revolution of ’83 while practising Thatcherite monetarism as a door policy.
DOORCHECK “Wasted people only – not the load of hippies who arrived after a City Limits write-up.”
SOUNDTRACK Sundown Playboy “Saturday Night Special” (Jay).
DRINK DIY snakebite: can of Pils, can of Strongbow.
SALES PITCH “It’s not a club. It’s the best party of the week to rely on, security guaranteed. It’s an adventure playground for the over-16s. We try to stay on the same level as our members, floor level, and ripped jeans aren’t a trend, just practical. You can fall anywhere in them. Everyone here will be dead within five years.”
RIVAL’S VIEW “They’re just a load of rockabillies playing parlour games and singing Dixie.”
❚ All text © Shapersofthe80s