Subculture Lost & Found: Newcastle

Newcastle's lost past and newly found musical places

Tuesday 14th May 2019

Mark Lanegan performing at Boiler Shop, Newcastle. Photo: Thomas Jackson.

Like a lot of Northern industrial cities, Newcastle had a thriving nightlife from the middle of the 20th Century onwards giving rise to such exotic sounding nightspots as Casablanca (which was owned by Bob Monkhouse), La Dolce Vita (with its stage graced by Cilla Black and Lionel Blair) and The 69 Club (with its bunny girl waitresses). Times have changed and counterculture of Newcastle thrives on the billings such as those of Hit The North Festival.

We look at some of the places that Newcastle's music scene has lost over the years and look at some of the subcultural landmarks of today's Newcastle landscape.


Lost

Tuxedo Junction
Possibly the greatest name for a club in nightlife history? Although it wasn't the sort of place where punk found its Newcastle niche Tuxedo Junction did provide the sort of hedonistic habitat that allowed disco to find its feet. With its interconnected red plastic telephones on each table allowing clubbers to chat each other up without leaving their seats, the club was a favourite haunt of Kevin Keagan and was once even blessed with a visit from Princess Margaret. The Junction was superseded by The Tuxedo Princess and Tuxedo Royale, a pair of converted ferries repurposed as floating clubs and inspiring Maxïmo Park's lyric about a "revolving dancefloor in the middle of the river" in their song 'In Another World'. Both boats were replaced by modern commercial developments.

The Mayfair
Beginning life as a dance hall, The Mayfair became the longest-lived rock club in Europe, The Mayfair was the site of Led Zeppelin's first proper gig in '68 and saw The Who, Queen, The Police, The Clash, Faith No More, Tin Machine, Nirvana and even Kylie Minogue take to the stage before it was demolished in 1999 to make way for a leisure complex. The farewell event was attended by over 5000 fans.

"I had a paper round and all my money went to buying records and going to gigs.  I even stopped going to see Newcastle play. Early gigs included Black Sabbath, Curved Air, The Doors (minus Jim Morrison), Bowie, Free, Deep Purple and Queen (who we met backstage) supporting Vinegar Joe - oh and The Stones Goats Head Soup tour. Most tickets were around 50p - it was £5.00 for the stones but me and my school friends didn't pay to get in for that one. By 77 I was photographing bands and co started the fanzine, Deviation Street" - Brian Gibson

A review of The Jam at The Mayfair from 17th November 1977 that appeared in Brian Gibson's Deviation Street zine.

Tiffany's 
AKA Ritzy, The Oxford, Ikon and finally Liquid. A venue that has gone under various identities, Tiffany's featured in the peerless gangster film Get Carter as The Oxford, and then as Tiffany's was a favoured hangout for B-boys and breakdance in the city. It's other less memorable incarnations included Ikon (opened in 1997 by Frank Bruno) and Liquid which was demolished to make way for apartments in 2015.

Club a'Gogo
Housed in Percy Street's Handyside Arcade, Club a'Gogo was the home of Newcastle's swinging sixties scene. The Animals were the club's resident band for a period early on inspiring their song 'Club-A-Go-Go'. The club opened in 1962, driven by the thriving modern jazz scene in the city. Club a'Gogo had two stages, one which served alcohol at the bar for the over 18s, and another that was alcohol-free for younger jazz fans. Bands were required to cater to both audiences playing two sets each night - one set in each room. The venue was replete with a casino and late drinks licence, both of which attracted the attention of the police and led to the club losing its licence temporarily and putting a halt to the musical programme. Aside from such setbacks the club hosted big names until its closure in 1968 including The Who, Cream and Captain Beefheart.

Listen Ear Records
Many Newcastle punks and post-punks will have fond memories of hanging out at Listen Ear Records. The sort of late '70s independent record shop that teenage dreams were made of, the owners also promoted gigs at Newcastle Guildhall, with alumni that included Warsaw (who later became Joy Division), Sex Pistols and The Adverts. Perhaps the victim of its own non-commercial ethos, The shop shunned any top 20 releases, stocking specialist jazz, blues and new-wave instead, and even started its own record label.


Found

Think Tank?
Despite the contemporary political connotations conjured up by the name, Think Tank? is nothing to be worried about. Far from it, the venue started life as a pop-up aiming to provide an outlet for local artists and emerging touring artists. The initiative found a permanent home under the wing of Newcastle's superclub, Digital. While Digital itself has been the venue of some strong live bands, It's Think Tank where you'll catch artists such as Girli, Nilüfer Yanya, Self Esteem, Dylan Cartlidge and Murkage Dave.

Think Tank? Underground
Like Russian dolls, such was the success of Think Tank? that it spawned its own offshoot in the form of Think Tank? Underground. The smaller underground venue focuses on Newcastle's grassroots talent in line with Think Tanks?'s original remit.

Riverside
Not to be confused with the Newcastle cooperative club of the same name that operated in the city between 1985 and 1999, the current Riverside was founded in 2014 in Newcastle Quayside and has fitted into the scene where its namesake left. Recent gigs have included Pete Doherty, Kate Nash, Steve Mason, Crossfaith and Sleeper.

The Little Buildings
As the name suggests, The Small Buildings is, or was, a small rehearsal space and venue catering to the local DIY arts scene. The future of the project came under threat of gentrification recently, when the landlords upped the rent in order to get a bar or restaurant in situ, but thankfully The Little Buildings' operators have already found a new home in the form of a disused mini-market - hopefully opening soon.

The Cluny
Sited alongside The River Tyne's tributary in the Ouseburn Valley, The Cluny started its life as a flax spinning mill, before becoming a flour mill and eventually a whisky bottling plant - named The Cluny. It was the name of the latter business that stuck with the building when it became a bar and independent venue, originally adopted by a theatre company in the early '80s when more conventional industries were in decline. Changing hands a couple of times through the following decades, The Cluny is now one of the best regarded small venues in the North.

Boiler Shop
Another excellent example of an industrial space repurposed for music and arts, Boiler Shop was, in a former life, the place where Robert Stephenson perfected his steam engines. The venue launched in 2017 with a fitting industrial tribute in the form of German industrial outfit Einstürzende Neubauten.

The Fall performing at Boiler Shop in 2017. Photo: Thomas Jackson.

Later memorable gigs included one of The Fall's final shows and DJ sets at their Great Northern Soul Food events have included the like of Terry Hall, Don Letts and Kevin Rowland.


With thanks to Brian Gibson at deviationstreetmagazine.com

The Deviation Street zine was relaunched in 2017 as an online venture and printed broadsheet with the aim of aim providing a space for a creative community of readers, writers, visual artists and musicians. Issue 3 of the magazine will be launched on 24th May (2019).

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