Excellent Photos c/o Andy Roe. View all Here
The Introduction and backstory
At my school, it was a bit different. From what I can gather from friends I’ve made in my 20s, 30s and, er 40s, the cool kids at school were all soulboys and soulgirls, into 80s Soul, Hip-hop, Northern Soul and 60s R’n’B, and that was the trajectory that ultimately led them into the rave/club scene. At my school, the cool kids were listening to John Peel every night under their bed-sheets with small transistor radios. I guess these kind of kids would be viewed as uber-nerds at most schools. But no, the rugby team, the Mickey Rourke and Beatrice Dalle lookalikes, the rebels and the scoundrels were all the ones making the weekly pilgrimages to Off-Beat Records every Saturday to buy the latest Wedding Present 12” or the debut Pale Saints LP. We didn’t know any different, we thought we were cool as fuck and the ‘townies’ were the pitiful nerds.
We used to gather every Saturday afternoon in Studio 10 ½ , a long-gone upstairs coffee house, where we would plot our evening’s shenanigans. Who would ‘get off’ with who, whether we would drink Pink Pugsleys or Pangalactic Gargleblasters, whether Chris the DJ would play the new single by The Fall, and the important stuff like how we would get the money to get there and how we would get home, and whose home.
This would be 1988, you see, and we would be 15 or 16, so it had to be planned with military precision. I remember a time we went begging in Queen’s Gardens to raise funds to go one night. We stopped at £10 because that’s all we really needed. We’d get a lift into town in the early days, run the gauntlet through the dreaded town centre, (no sweet or tender hooligans there, the threat was real), meet on the corner of Cleveland Street, and virtually skip down the old industrial pathway, barely able to contain our excitement. Until that time, our £10s were intact.
It was a wake-up call, walking through town dressed as we were. In our cool-school bubble, we were the untouchables, the admired, the ones who had the swots offering to do our homework, the ones the people wanted either to be or to be with. We weren’t that outlandish, we favoured second-hand raincoats, suede jackets, plaid coats, ripped 501s and Doc Martens from Beasley’s, in fact we were probably the most conservatively dressed people in Spiders. But the shit we got walking through town on a Friday or Saturday night, it was like a scene from The Outsiders, where we were most definitely the ‘greasers’, even though we went to a private school. It was like a scene from our cherished Quadrophenia. It was fucking terrifying. And exciting. The dawning that we were getting up the ‘townies’ noses. After the inevitable chases, we would piss ourselves laughing and eventually come to the stark realization that it was us who were different. The weirdos. And that only served us to get even further up their snotty little noses. So, knowing we could outrun them, most of us being in the rugby team, the clothes and hair got more preposterous, as we deliberately set out to provoke these chino-ed numnbskulls who gave chase purely because we wore eccentric clothes.
We used to wear all the townie gear anyway; before we discovered The Bunnymen, The Mary Chain and the Cure, aged 11 to about 13, we had to have the latest labels that were only fashionable because Liverpool fans were always playing in Europe, and always on the rob. Hence, Lacoste, Sergio Tacchini, Ellesse, Fila, Kappa previously only the preserve of uncool European tennis players, flooded our shores along with Adidas, Puma, Diadora and Nike trainers, and garish cords, stonewashed jeans and Farah trousers. If you had an Adidas Colrado or New Yorker tracksuit top, you were kings. It amuses me that all these items go on eBay for insane prices nowadays as ‘collectors’ items’ when, essentially, they were purely the result of what the travelling Scouse football boys could fit in their (Head) bags, so labels such as Leo Gemelli, Gabicci and Pierre Cardin became desirable purely because shop owners had cottoned on to the dwindling stock of the good stuff, so crap like Le Shark, Ennesse and other low-cost copies appeared on the market. So, for a time in the 80s, when we were at school, everyone was strutting around like they’d just walked off Centre Court. This was no good, Ian McCulloch, the über-scouser wouldn’t be seen dead in that sporty shit, that was for Wham! And we wanted to distance ourselves from those fuckers as much as possible,(even though we probably bought Fantastic in ’83).
So, we flirted with the sports gear for a couple of years because we were 11, and needed to belong, otherwise be walking targets for the school bullies. There came a time when we didn’t want to look like Björn Borg with electric blue jumbo cords and sheepskin mittens though, so those of us who wanted to go our own way started looking further afield for our obligatory lifestyle changes. The first port of call was, if we’re honest, Smash Hits, in which I was mesmerized by Ian McCulloch from Echo and the Bunnymen. You sensed the music had a bit more depth than the rest of the charts, but I’m sad to say, in the beginning, the music was secondary. He looked fucking amazing and his interviews were basically rambling diatribes against all other bands (especially U2), who were shite compared to his band, he had attitude, and this is exactly what we were looking for as we looked to move left of centre. He was hilarious in his disdain for mainstream culture, and so we had our new figurehead. Out with the tracksuits and trainers, in with long Macs, black jeans, flowing, patterned untucked shirts and black boots, usually Doc Martens, sometimes winkle-pickers or Chelsea Boots with heels. We had the look, now we had to talk with authority about the music, so that came last when we all came to choose our first style guru.
We progressed onto The Face, Sounds, NME and Melody Maker. Once we had the look, we became serious about the music, in many of our cases, obsessive. Personally, I became obsessed with Scritti Politti, David Bowie, Aztec Camera, The Housemartins (from my home town!), The Police, Bronski Beat, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, The Style Council, ABC and Rod Stewart, basically picked what I thought was cool and unique from the charts, which I taped every week.
No one could compare to my beloved Bunnymen though, and as I progressed onto the ‘rock/indie’ weeklies, (when my friend first mentioned ‘indie’. I was half-expecting Indian Sitar music), I discovered the look of Mac, coupled with weird, but compelling music, and more and more interesting characters, saying the stuff that I daren’t say. It was an army of Macs and I was hooked. We’re talking mid-80s here, and this was the time to step up a gear, musically for me. I discovered The Cure. We went on a school trip and about five of us bought Standing on a Beach, their singles collection from 1986. Of course, we all had either a Walkman or ghetto blasters, so this weird music, yelped by a man with mental hair and badly-applied lipstick, soundtracked our week in Spain. It was a glorious awakening. We were all smitten, we’d seen his pictures in our hallowed mags, heard maybe The Love Cats before on the charts, but we weren’t prepared for this. As we now know, they are legendary experts at flitting between delicious bubblegum pop songs, with lyrics and melodies as sweet as the perfume of roses, and dark, brooding, funereal hymns to an imaginary apocalypse. This dual-personality nature of The Cure made them all the more appealing. We’d never forget Mac, but here we had a unique freak who was one minute, extolling the virtues of pure Love with childlike naivety, the next he was condensing an existential Camus novel into just over two minutes, and the next, he was recalling a nightmare of being lost in a forest, in an atmospheric gothic rock piece which has a threateningly menacing quality, maintained until its sudden end. And we bought the cassette, which contained all the B-Sides, which were even odder than the first side with the singles on. They were the full package.
It’s hard to imagine now, but back-catalogue culture wasn’t much of a thing in the 80s, records sold, and were then often deleted, making it virtually impossible to track down. And also, at that time, it the uncoolest thing you could possibly do was go back in time and listen to your parents’ records. Heaven forbid! Why would we listen to that obsolete crap from years ago, when we’ve got all the music we could possibly need right now in the mid-80s? Most families had The Beatles Red and Blue albums, I had a mate into Blondie, another into The Clash and I had a few Rod Stewart albums and Bowie compilations. That was all I really knew or cared about music’s past at that time, but I was going to hunt out all those six or seven albums that The Cure if it killed me.
And hunt them down I did, all on cassette, a veritable treasure trove of exactly what I was looking for: a uniformed school-kid looking for some non-conformist action. The private school, rigid homogeneity, making us look elsewhere for inspiration. And, after The Cure, it came in spades. John Peel was our god now, we discovered Dinosaur Jr,, The House of Love, The Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Pixies, and most important of all, our first gig The Wedding Present, among countless others. It was liberating and seemed dangerous, even though it was mostly pasty white kids singing about unrequited love. New Order had always been there since I was aware of pop music, but then we tried to delve into the dreaded back catalogue of their former band, only to draw blanks. Luckily, Joy Division released a compilation around this time, so New Order took on a whole new significance. I won’t just list any more bands here, you know the entry points, I’m sure they were similar for most of us, but The Cure, The Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Jesus and Mary Chain and New Order deserve special mentions as they were the gateway for us into this exciting new world.
So there we were, in each other’s bedrooms, listening to Peel or battling for control of the stereo, so we could fit as much music into our evenings as possible, and also show each other what purchases we’d made from Off-Beat Records the previous Saturday, trying to out-weird each other. And tape off each other the good stuff.
Of course, at age 14 or 15, we were hearing whispers from the kids in the year above about a place where they played our music all night. We just HAD to be there. The place, of course, was Spiders, and once we’d navigated the minefield of sartorial correctness, musical etiquette, and the almost literal minefield of getting through the city centre to the hallowed building without getting the shit kicked out of us, it became our home for a good few years. Well, for me, until I discovered Acid House through The Stone Roses
Getting into Spiders
For many of us, Spiders was our first experience of being on licenced premises. We were 15, middle class and pretty shy, even though at school, we walked around with the air of superiority usually reserved for the indie rock gods we worshipped, or perhaps even the righteous entitlement that today’s Premier League footballers swagger around with. I may have braved Nellie’s in Beverley or the rite of passage that was Queens, but I have the distinct feeling that Spiders stole my pub/club virginity, and am more than happy for it to hold that dubious accolade.
As everyone knows, the first time you venture inside a hostelry when you are underage, is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of one’s life thus far. But Spiders was even worse in our heads. First of all, you had to be a member, or signed in by a member. The dread that filled us in that queue that night was seemingly insurmountable. What were we going to say? We’d found members to sign us in from the year above at school or kids in our year whose parents were more liberal than ours. I was shit at maths (still am), even though I just needed to add 3 years onto my birth year. In my head, I’d say it wrong, and my mates would get in, and I’d be left outside, listening to the ace sounds. It was horrific. I had images in my head of some bedraggled, Dickensian youth, ears pressed up against the wall, shivering in the cold night air. And this was before we got inside and witnessed the weird and the wonderful. I don’t think anything can prepare a 15-year-old kid for his or her first Spiders experience.
(Myself in either 1989 or 1990)
Needless to say, we all got in. The bouncers were friendly yet had a ‘don’t fuck with me and you’ll be fine, kids’ air about them. I can only describe getting in Spiders for the first time as akin to when you know you’ve brought too many cigarettes in your suitcase, and you go through ‘Nothing To Declare’ at the airport; you’re trying your hardest to look nonchalant and cool, but by doing this, you make yourself even more conspicuous. The signing-in process seemed to take forever, as it was imperative we apply for our own cards so we didn’t have to go through this hell again. It was like standing on trial for a crime that you were actually committing, we were breaking the law, and the lady behind the counter was helping us gladly, it was all a bit too easy. There were two bouncers, towering over us, sensing our fear, but they must have seen this a thousand times, so they were just having their fun, enjoying our awkwardness. And that was it, signed in, membership applied for, no ID needed, now to navigate what would be our home for the next stage of our lives.
Like I said, nothing could have mentally prepared us for what was to come. Over the next three or four years, it would become as familiar as our school. And in a way, it was our school. At that age, we were sponges, eager to absorb every aspect of the scene, the scene of being ‘indie kids’. We devoured the weekly magazines: the then broadsheet NME, Melody Maker and Sounds which dwarfed us on the bus we rode to school. We listened to John Peel every Monday to Thursday as we pretended to do our homework. And, we bought the right clothes and went to Spiders every weekend. As a teacher later in life, I learned about the ‘Three Ps’: presentation, practice and production, and they were just that: reading the mags was the presentation, listening to Peel was the practice and Spiders was the production, the culmination of everything we’d been working towards. In the right clobber of course.
The only club I’d been to before Spiders was Romeo & Juliets, a twin scene, neon-lit, chrome-decorated, discotheque, the kind that only existed in the 80s. I’d been to the under-18s nights there, and this was my only comparison. Spiders was the antithesis of this. It was dark, there were spiders’ webs everywhere of course, narrow corridors, booths sealed off with web-shaped iron railings, a cobbled floor that got progressively stickier as the drinks got spilled, a bar at the back of the club so you had to walk right through the whole club to get a drink (there may have been a middle bar at first before the refurb, but the memory’s a little hazy), a dancefloor with two entrances, the web railings sealing the dancers in, a narrow, creaky staircase that led to another bar and dancefloor upstairs, and most bizarre of all, a kind of café run by the sweetest old lady you could ever meet; it didn’t faze her at all that she was serving chips and gravy to some of the most bizarre-looking people that only seemed to exist in that club. It was the most off the wall and terrifying place I’d ever seen in my whole life and I LOVED it. We were home.
Our Glory Years 1988-1991
There was always a group of us, at first a little too eager to please. Before we entered Spiders, we thought we were the MOST indie-looking people in the whole city. Of course we only had our schoolmates and the regulars in Studio 10 ½ and Offbeat Records to compare ourselves with, we all thought we were mega-individual, none of us daring to buy a shirt that a friend had, all shopping at Beasley’s though, or if we were a bit flush, Changes next-door for one-off, boutique-style indie clothes. We thought we looked like the heroes and heroines that graced the pages of our weekly bibles, the NME, MM and Sounds, my mate Geoff Harrison, being the first to get a Jim Reid-style leather biker jacket, the rest of us with basically the uniform of indie conformity, entry level stuff.
The crowd in Spiders, where the hell did they come from? Did they, like us, dress normally for school/college/work and just spend hours on a Friday or Saturday night transforming themselves into the most deviant freaks on the face of the earth? Or did they go about their daily lives like this? We never saw people like this. Only in Spiders. I remember seeing the punks in town with my mum in the late-70s and being in awe/petrified of them, but they were an anomaly, I’d never seen anything like them since. Spiders was a place for the freaks and weirdos, the punks and the goths, the hippies and the androgynous to congregate without any trouble from the dreaded ‘townies’. And they accepted us try-hards, the ones who were just dipping into their culture as tourists in our relatively conservative attire. And for that we were grateful, once we’d got over our initial shock and fear. Everyone was extremely welcoming to us young bucks, rookies in the art of weirdness.
It’s a very British trait to celebrate the eccentrics, the underdog, the anti-hero. At least it was until state-controlled media hired complete knuckle-headed morons to try and make everyone hate each other. But deep down, it’s innate; we want Del-Boy and Rodders to become millionaires, but we know they will fuck it up at every turn, even when it eventually happened. We all wanted Brighton to beat Manchester United in the 1983 FA Cup Final. We cheered Frank Bruno as he faced the most ferocious boxer of all time, Mike Tyson. If you’re not a Hull FC fan, you may have, unfathomably, wanted Featherstone Rovers to win at Wembley in 1983. We root for the hapless, the losers, the plain weird. We do this because we probably know that it rarely happens, and when it does, the sense of elation is indescribable. We crave what we deem impossible, and, although we want it, what if it actually happens? What then? It would fill us with dread that the unattainable has been attained, where do we go from here? One has to have dreams, but there’s a strange comfort in knowing something is so out of reach, NO ONE can attain it, so it’s a unifying feeling.
We had heard whispers of this magical Narnia-like place since we were young, we’d hear it was full of the scariest-looking people with an HU postcode. Punks, skins, goths, hippies, transvestites, freaks, deviants and all the kind of people we’d only see on telly or in magazines. Mary, the punk in Eastenders was quite shocking back in my early teens, I’d never seen anyone like her roaming the suburbs where I lived. As we got older, these kind of people were in our magazines, and became slightly less terrifying. And we harboured insatiable desires to go to this palace of sin, but when you’re young, seeing past the next day is a tall order. We didn’t for one second, think, we’d be rubbing shoulders with these creatures before the year was out. It was similar to the underdog thing of wanting something so badly, but knowing it would never become an actuality. But it did. And there was an initial fear. We’d got what we’d dreamed of, but were afraid of, and the first few times, we didn’t really know where to look. Was this like the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars? In some respects it was, the sights and sounds were intoxicating, but as we relaxed and became more familiar with our surroundings, we realised that this was no wretched hive of scum and villainy at all, quite the opposite: the older hands saw us walking on eggshells and took us under their wings, we’d find common ground and we became fast friends, spending all night drinking, dancing and talking music with the very people that had scared the life out of us by just their appearance a few months previously. They weren’t the monsters our imagination had built up, in fact, most were so friendly that it was quite hard to believe. So friendly, that for large chunks of the night, we didn’t even see the friends we came with, reconvening outside for the customary tray of chips and gravy at the end.
(Chris, my Stone Roses mentor)
Our new friends were probably only a couple of years older than us, which, when you’re 15 or 16 seems a huge gap, but they were our mentors, our tour guides, our entry into the elite world of, actually, a lovely bunch of people, many of them shyer than we were upon our first visit. We were introduced to other scary-looking characters, who welcomed us into their club. Before we knew it, we were kings and queens, ourselves, guiding the uninitiated through the club, making introductions to the movers and shakers and helping newcomers navigate the previously impenetrable drinks menu. We needn’t have worried, and we quickly learned valuable life lessons, such as never to judge by appearance, and that these kind of underdogs were underdogs for a reason, they lacked any fight at all, these eccentrics, these artistic, bohemian friends had no interest in fighting anything, but social injustice. Another valuable life lesson. Spiders was fast replacing school as our place of learning.
And learn we did. You could say the years spent in Spiders were where this boy became a man. Obviously we’d done our homework on the then current indie music scene, John Peel and our magazines had armed us with enough knowledge to talk with some authority about the current state of affairs, but, as I previously stated, we weren’t really clued-up on how this music came to be. In our ‘live for the present’/’the past was yours, the future’s mine’ mind-set, this music was completely original; we didn’t know or care about influences, Peel rarely played anything old, and artists such as The Velvet Underground, Neil Young, Hendrix, and The Modern Lovers remained namechecked, but largely unchecked. Spiders proved more useful than our dull history lessons at school, it opened us up to a whole new world, one where history was fascinating and furthered our obsession with music.
In an actual cage, right at the back of the club, was where the DJ resided. It was an unusual construction in which the cage was raised about six feet, seemingly placed atop an iron platform. It looked like a mini watchtower, the kind you see in prison movies, where escapees were shot down, but inside this one, the DJ was shooting darts of aural ecstasy directly onto the dancefloor.
Enter Chris Von Trapp, the man inside the cage, dispensing his own shots of the musical variety. We were bombarded with quality tunes from the moment we walked in to the last record, after which no-one wanted to leave. As a DJ, an educator, and as a man, he was simply our hero. He stood at an impressively lofty position, both in his cage and on the ground; he was (and still is) around 6’5” and looked exactly like Morrissey, and conducted the whole proceedings with authority and knowledge, and importantly, he wasn’t arrogant, but humble and approachable, just as the rest of the clientele. From his cage, he was perfectly positioned to survey what was going on on the dancefloor, just to his right, and he peppered his sets with songs we’d never heard, but would become more familiar over the weeks, a lot of these songs were from the dreaded past, and he was probably directly responsible for me checking out the likes of The Clash, Iggy Pop/ The Stooges, The Doors and countless others from the 60s, 70s and early 80s. He usurped our draconian history teacher, as Dead Kennedys were way more interesting than Metternich, and more danceable too. We would learn that history was interesting in later life, but for now, we yawned our way through history at school, and couldn’t wait for our REAL history lessons on a Friday and Saturday nights in that old building on Cleveland Street.
There were three songs I remember would make us stop what we were doing and literally run to the dancefloor. Sometimes we would even be kissing a girl, and the opening bars would make us disentangle and move as fast as we could, shoes sticking to the booze-soaked cobbles, in the direction of the dancefloor. Often we’d return to find the girl, quite rightly, with someone else, appalling behaviour on our part, but such was our enthusiasm for this new (old) music. Those records were “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash, “Mr Tambourine Man” by The Byrds, (both familiar records with unknown artists the first few times we heard them in this setting), and perhaps most impacting of all, “Add It Up” by Violent Femmes. We heard this song weekly for months before we even knew who sang it, but with its “Why can’t I just get one…?”, building up into the inevitable climax of “fuck”, we knew every word and it was just so exciting. What the hell was this? From which planet? It was exhilarating, and even when we found out the band’s name, we thought it was a girl band, Gano’s androgynous yelp coupled with the word “femmes” making it all the more confusing and exciting. We’d leg it to the dancefloor to hundreds of songs over the years, but these stick out in my memory of our early days, as evidence of songs we didn’t really know that well before, involuntarily pulling us to the dancefloor like some kind of musical tractor beam. What kind of voodoo was Chris performing up there in his cage? It was the kind of voodoo that I embraced and surrendered to wholeheartedly and totally. And yes, I did ask him who sang “Add It Up”. And for a while I thought it was by a band called File and Fence. Well, it was loud in there. But we were in the trusted hands of a true teacher. And he never failed to impress for all of the Friday’s and Saturdays we attended. And it must have been about 90% of them in that biblical period. It really was the best of times. Our school, church and Tardis. I hope it still has the same impact today.
But we have to move on.
Those few glorious years from inception to moving gradually away and into entirely different strand of nightclubbing were what made me who I am today, and I’ll be eternally grateful. What a place to grow up, and to make the usually awkward transition from youth into becoming a man. I credit Spiders, The Stone Roses and acid house with easing me through that tricky passage, for it was the latter two that signalled the culmination of that journey. It was a great time to be on the cusp of adulthood. We bemoan the lack of ‘scenes’ for young people to sink their teeth into these days, and a generation of kids on drugs, as is the rite of passage, but with no unifying focus, no youth movement. Yet here we were, with arguably the most exciting time ever for indie music, followed by the Madchester scene, and climaxing with the last great cultural watershed moment of modern times, for acid house and club culture changed EVERYTHING. We were really spoilt for choice. And then the internet happened and diluted everything.
I still visited Spiders regularly (albeit in flares and Kickers) once I’d migrated across town to The Welly Club and house music, but my interest in loud music played on guitars by shy, serious people never waned; on the contrary, after I’d had my fun on the club circuit, a band called Oasis happened, and that was just as exciting, if not more so, then The Strokes and so on until, as with most people, my tastes became more and more eclectic with all the influences that half a lifetime of being a music pervert brings. But Spiders, and to a lesser extent, The Silhouette, were the clubs that I served my apprenticeship in, the ones that whetted my appetite for the limitless possibilities of surfing the nightlife wave, the places I grew up in, where I made the transformation from shy, middle-class only child to confident young buck, and it was a better education than I received at that stuffy school I went to.
I must remember to go back there some day, to pay my respects.
If they’ll let me in.