Tag Archives: Steve Swindells

All Human Beings Welcome.

10 Mar
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Party goers at The Lift Reunion Party at Queer Nation, Feb 8th 2014

Gay and straight and black and white united.

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Early in 1982, I was in New York City and spent several memorable nights at the legendary Paradise Garage, an extraordinary gay club in a former car park where 3,000 people of all ages, colours and backgrounds danced to the funkiest, loudest black music imaginable. I can remember thinking: why isn’t there a gay club  that plays music like this in London and attracts a totally mixed black, white, gay, straight, up-for-it crowd? In the early 80s, most gay clubs played anodyne and dreary so-called ‘gay disco’, or ‘high-energy’ music and were populated almost exclusively by mustachio’d white males – generally known as clones. I resolved to do something about it.

If there was one hotspot in London that year it had to be The Gargoyle Club, which had last been fashionable in the 1930s. It occupied the fifth and sixth floors of an office building in Meard Street in Soho. It was operating as a fairly seedy strip joint until 10.30pm after which it was transformed into different club nights run by various promoters. The club was only accessible by a tiny lift. Visiting the club one night, I had a light bulb moment after noticing several clutches of cool-looking (definitely not cloney) mostly black, gay men in dark corners of the room, clearly enjoying the amazing music and fantastic energy of the night.

The idea of The Lift was born.  Why shouldn’t I launch London’s first ever, underground, hip, diverse and inclusive gay club night right there?

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The Lift opening party was a huge success and the music and atmosphere was electric. The flyer encouraged people to “bring your mother” – and people did! The crowd was deliciously mixed and  even included Susan Sarandon. The Lift went on to run successfully until 1987 in various West End venues, and it was immortalized as The Shaft  by Booker Prize Winner Alan Hollinghurst in his first novel The Swimming Pool Library. Later that year, The Face magazine ran a double-page interview with me, during the time that The Lift was situated at the end of a dark alley behind Tottenham Court Road tube station.

The Face interview picture (David Johnson)

The Face interview picture (David Johnson)

The Lift had most definitely arrived – and it was hip. Next up, The Lift  hosted London’s first-ever underground, all-night, illegal rave in a four-storey warehouse in Rivington Street in Shoreditch (which was then just an industrial, working-class area) and it was a massive success. There had been no glossy flyers, just a photocopied sheet which simply read “Memorise And Destroy” with the address, date and time printed below. The dance floor was in the basement, which was accessed by a rickety, wooden staircase. By midnight, it was a sweaty, heaving mass of wildly boogieing bodies. The other floors were chill-out areas, which I’d decorated with shower curtaining that I’d spray-painted with abstract designs – all pretty low-fi. The atmosphere was buzzing, sexy and warm.  Some plain-clothed police  arrived at around 5am, but they were really polite and pleasant and simply asked me to turn the music down, then left.

Fast-forward 30-odd years to Febuary the 8th, 2014 and my Lift reunion party at the long-running, leading black-music, gay club night Queer Nation, which is held on the second Saturday of every month at Bar Code in Vauxhall. I got there early to find the front bar already busy and the original Lift DJ Mel pumping out the soulful classics.  Soon, true to the original spirit of the club, my friend Marlon arrived with his mother Angela.

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Well known Gay Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell – a regular at The Lift back in the day – arrived, followed by Vernal Scott, the handsome author and diversity, HIV and AIDS media commentator. They were later to make inspirational and heartfelt speeches about LGBT History Month and all our community has achieved over the years, before the main dance floor opened and over 600 people got their groove on until 6am.  I’m happy to say that ‘All Human Beings Welcome’ – The Lift’s original slogan – still very much applies and was celebrated with great gusto after all these years.

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I was chatting on the phone with my mum the other day and told her that I was going to be writing a couple of articles to coincide with LGBT History Month.  She then had a bit of a June Whitfield-in-Ab-Fab-moment, asking: “Is that something to do with London transport dear?” I laughed and replied, “No, it’s the rather ungainly acronym for Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender – not the greatest bit of  21st century branding really, but hey…”

I ‘came out’ to my family as bisexual in 1970, because I was. Then I decided that I preferred men when I was 21 – the year I moved to London – and they’ve always been completely fine with it. I’ve often slept with boyfriends in the room next door to my parents, with their knowledge and consent.

I’d opened The Lift after visiting  several largely black, illegal, gay, house parties (or ‘Blues’ as they were generally known), which were usually held in council flats in South London. People were charged £1 or so to enter, beers were the same price, with spirits costing maybe £2. They were unlawful because money was changing hands, in completely unlicensed premises. The music was always pumping and comprised mostly of black Amercian and Jamaican imports and the flats were always packed – with a large queue for the only toilet. My memories are of lots of beautiful men, much bumping ‘n grinding, clouds of weed smoke, really good vibes and no trouble at all. I don’t recall the police closing any down, but this was before the days of the dreaded Environmental Health Police, or whatever they’re called.

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Photo by Dave Swindells

After The Lift’s successful first warehouse rave in Shoreditch in 1983, I went on to successfully hold several more in various venues, mostly in South London. For example, my New Year’s Eve bash in a band rehearsal complex (the sound-proofing was a definite plus) on the top floor of a warehouse in Clink Street, near the now achingly fashionable Borough Market where over 500 polysexual people partied ‘til dawn and beyond. The positively Orwellian year that we were seeing in was 1984 –  so I decided to call this rave Big Brother Blues. Again, there was no trouble, no police, no worries – and all for three quid, including authentic West Indian food.

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I started a bit of a Lift tradition by holding a Bank Holiday Blues. Most people wouldn’t be working the next day, after all.  With the second one, I took a bit of a risk by holding it in what was usually the old peoples’ social and dominoes club in the middle of one of Stockwell’s most notorious sink estates with its  graffiti-covered, grey concrete walkways, abandoned shopping trollies and burnt-out cars. Well, at this night, there was a problem.  One particularly flamboyant, queen got mugged by local teenagers on BMX bikes on his way to the party. He came rushing in and recruited a vigilante ‘posse’ of about 20 party-goers (most of whom happened to have their tops off) to get his wallet back (and steal the boys’ bikes for good measure). This task was successfully accomplished by employing the shock tactic of the muggers being potentially ‘queer-bashed’… by a bunch of queers.

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They triumphantly bought the bikes back in and we bolted the doors. Was this the first instance of what might be termed ‘poof-power’?  Some of the muggers’ big brothers started banging on the doors and I got my two, very large, gay black security guards to go out and inform them: “Right, there are 400 angry batty men in here who are gonna come out and rape your asses unless you fuck off. You can have your baby bro’s bikes back when we’ve finished partying!” A bit of a hairy moment – but everyone went home happy.

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Photo by Dave Swindells

There were many more successful and trouble-free Lift all-nighters over the next few years in various unusual and left-field venues.  The only one that almost matched the potential danger and drama of the Bank Holiday Blues in Stockwell, was when a DJ on Kiss FM announced (unsolicited) that we were holding a rave in a dance studio complex in Covent Garden, resulting in us having to barricade ourselves (nearly a thousand people) in the building as a near riot erupted outside, caused by the hundreds unable to get in.  The police came and cleared the street – having been told that by me “this was supposed to be a private party.” We carried on drinking and dancing until dawn.

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Steve Swindells.

This is an amalgam of two articles which first appeared in Planet Ivy in Febuary 2014.

All photos (and flyer designs) by Steve Swindells, unless otherwise stated.

Steve Swindells’ Sleeve Notes To ‘The Lost Albums’.

19 Aug

Steve Swindells’ Sleeve Notes To The Lost Albums.

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I’m going to kick this off by saying that I’m really embarrassed. As far as I know, I’m not suffering from alzheimers, but I simply cannot remember the names of the bass player and drummer who played so well on The Invisible Man’, disc 1   one of The Lost Albums, which were recorded in 1980, then digitally remastered and reissued as a double CD on Flicknife Records in 2012.

Nor can Steve Mann, the excellent guitarist who played so brilliantly on it too  And I only identified him because of some excellent, online detective work by a fan of mine.   I am convinced that the bass player was called Charlie, but Steve Mann thinks he was called Alex.  So, if you’ll ever forgive me guys, please, get in touch!  It WAS over thirty years ago. You were an amazingly adept, vibey and soulful rhythm section, especially as we recorded all those songs  live in just one day.  Then I had another day to do overdubs, vocals and mix all the tracks. Manic!  Good energy captured though, I’d say. God only knows how my voice held-up whilst recording the vocals on so many songs so quickly; not to mention the massed backing vocals, sung note-by-note –  well before the age of the ‘copied & pasted’ computerised BVs that we can do so much more easily do these days.

The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man

As I recall, those mostly mysterious musicians on The Invisible Man were recruited via an ad in The Melody Maker and were the first three guys who showed-up to the audition. We ‘jammed’, we gelled immediately and that was IT – there was excellent chemistry. The idea was that they were going to be my band for some live gigs and TV.  It was them (plus another guitarist) who performed with me on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1980.   I was managed by Trinifold, whose main (well, really only) act was The Who.  I’d been signed to Atco records in NYC in 1979 by their CEO Doug Morris (is he still the President of Universal Music these days?)* and the result was my self-produced second solo album Fresh Blood, which was released worldwide in 1980, receiving much critical acclaim and reaching #3 on the US airplay charts in its second week of release. It was, I’m pleased to say, digitally remastered and re-issued on CD on Atomhenge/Cherry Red in 2009 and is now downloadable on Amazon/iTunes, at last.

The first thing I’d like to point out in relation to specific tracks on The Lost Albums is that ‘Stranger On A Train‘ is a true, albeit  seemingly unlikely, story.

I was nineteen at the time and it was a deeply strange and unnerving experience involving  spooky revelations from a self-proclaimed member of ‘The Brain Police’ who knew where I lived, where I hung out and lots more details about my life.  All a bit freaky. So much so that it took me ten years to write the song. He autographed my songwriting/diary notebook on the table in the carriage, having  ‘spared me from throwing me off the train’, as he’d initially threatened, after I’d apparently proved myself to be worthy of continuing to live.  Phew.  Perhaps it’s best not to mention his name, particularly if it was genuine.  He signed my notebook with ‘best wishes’ though. Yeah, I know –  you couldn’t make it up.  And I didn’t.

As a songwriter, I’ve always had a rule not to reveal what the true inspirations for songs were, should anyone ask.  So I just blew that one!  ‘Stranger On  A Train’ was, however, a special case, being based on such a scary and bizarre experience.

The reason for my inscrutability about my songs is that people who are listening should be able to form their own opinions as to what the song is about, in relation to their own reactions, and, hopefully,  have their own emotional handle on them.  Songs are in the public domain and are open to interpretation.  Long may it remain so.

It’s certainly true to recall that 1980 was an incredibly exciting, intense, emotionally- charged, roller-coaster ride of a year for me, and that is very much echoed in the songs on The Lost Albums, which just kept pouring-out, like confessional sessions on an imaginary psychiatrist’s couch.  It was all from the heart and/or experience though – no prog-rock-pompous, pretentious nonsense here, I hope, although ‘Fall Of The Empire’ on the Treachery CD might sound dangerously close.  That song grew organically from a  seemingly spurious promo tour of Europe (why? I should have been doing coast-to-coast US radio interviews on the back of Fresh Blood being #3 in the US airplay charts) which included radio interviews and meaningless back-slapping lunches and dinners with record company execs in Hilversum, Hamburg, Brussels, Milan and Madrid over a period of a few days.  Fall of the empire indeed.  Follow the narrative in the song and see where it takes you.

For some reason, I can recall exactly who played on the Treachery album. That was the Big Country rhythm section: the excellent Tony Butler (bass) and Mark Brzezicki (drums), who later went on to perform the same role in the house band at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in 1985.  Pretty good for the CV eh guys?  And on guitar on Treachery was Simon Townshend, who’s now playing with his brother Pete in The Who.

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We are talking A-list.

Both sets of musicians on these two albums were amazingly quick at picking-up my often complex musical ideas and interpreted them with great skill and soulfulness.  And I recall that the vibe at both sessions was powerful,  rushed, real, live and alive –  with great commitment from all concerned, especially my lynchpin engineer and co-producer Mike Pela  at Pete Townsend‘s Eel Pie Studios in Soho’s Broadwick street (now, sadly, no more), who was just brilliant.

My favourite tracks on The Lost Albums  are ‘I wanna Be Wild‘ (I really let the angry,  masculine gay beast out of the cage there); ‘Martyrs And Madmen‘  and ‘Treachery‘ (which were both later covered by Roger Daltrey); ‘Breaking And Entering’; ‘Writing In The Dust’;  ‘Walking On Dangerous Ground’; ‘Desolation Boulevard’, ‘Media Stars’ (very prescient); ‘Outlaw’; ‘The Invisible Man’ and ‘Dreams Of Dying’ (it was only a dream: think Hemmingway/Kennedy/Key West/Florida). Although I’m proud of all of them all,  the sometimes angry,  optimistic, melancholic, reflective and emotionally-charged energy of the songs could seem a bit intense. Even if it might have been a remembered dream occasionally, all of them were about real issues and all those emotional, intellectual and career-orientated challenges of the time, including the cynical, super-successful smug bastards who fucked-me over and hung me out to dry.

I really hope that some great singers/rappers will cover and/or use samples from these songs ; artists who like proper lyrics and melodies and an emotionally-based narrative that makes you think: ‘I can relate to that  – and perform it with feeling’.  You can’t beat a great groove and real playing and singing.

Question mark olives

Question mark olives

The Lost Albums were actually the demos for the potential follow-up to my critically-acclaimed Fresh Blood album.  But, unfortunately, at the time, the management and the record company that were allegedly marketing me and Fresh Blood had some cynically laddish pact which seemed to say: ‘if he doesn’t sell albums, we’ll both agree to drop him’. And after their complete lack of marketing and promotion in 1980,  that’s precisely what happened. The quality of the songs was irrelevant. I was toast.

To say that I was devastated was a bit of an understatement.  I had been summarily dropped by some major players in the music industry. So, as a result of that rejection, I dropped out of the evil empire of the music biz, utterly disillusioned.

However, by necessity, I soon reinvented myself as a successful club promoter and party organiser with hip, hit weekly one-night clubs like The Lift, Jungle, Bad, Babylon, Downbeat, Upbeat, Groove and many more throughout the eighties, along with organising parties for Prince, Madonna, Time Out and The Face magazines and more –  mostly with The Pure Organisation (of which I was I was a co-director), and many with just myself promoting them. Curiously, that’s what’s I’m best known for in London’s underground, cultural history of the late 20th century, it would appear.  I’m very proud of what I achieved in that zeitgeist, partlcularly for encouraging ‘gay-mixed’ (now known as polysexual) in my first club The Lift, which played streety black music in a fantastically evocative Soho club called The Gargoyle.  This was an art deco–meets -sixties strip club with really cool orange, 70s Scandinavian ‘love seat’s’ along with a mini- theatre (raked seats, a proscenium stage, loads of red velvet),  which was the scene of many ironically silly, improvised ‘tableaux‘.  There was also a fantastic chrome and brass art deco staircase linking the two floors.  The Gargoyle was also the launch-pad for many of the most iconic clubs of the 80s, including The Language Lab, The Dirt  Box, The Comedy Store,  The Mud Club and more. Those were the days.

That’s not to say I ever stopped writing and recording.  Just google me!  I have a huge body of work from the ensuing thirty-plus years, including several collaborations with the likes of DanMingo (big time – my little super-group, featuring members of Culture Club, Massive Attack and Hawkwind), Earthlab, Spirits Burning, Lady Sovereign, Joseph Junior, Gehan, Victoria Wilson James, Loretta Heyward, Shanks, Nik Turner, Hawklords, N-Won,  Zeus B Held, Dale Davis, Chris Kelly, Daniel Pearce, Mary Pearce, Melanie Browne, Joanna Yearwood,  and many more.

Thank you so much for listening.

Big-ups to Mike Pela for engineering and co-producing back in the day (and for re-discovering Treachery on his shelves); to all the fantastic musicians, named or not, who put their heart and soul into the sessions; to Jean-Raphael Dedieu who digitally remastered both albums and to Frenchy Groder of Flicknife, who had the confidence and belief to make this all happen.

And – of course there is life after death! You might just come back as a Metro-gnome!

Steve Swindells.

11 am. 11.11. 2011

* Update. 18. 8. 13.  Doug Morris, who personally signed me to ATCO records in NYC in 1979, is now the all-powerful President Of Sony Music.

* Update. 25.11.13.  Following a gig by  The Plastic Sturgeons, my all-star, ad-hoc jamming band, at the Brunswick in Brighton/Hove on 23.11.13, someone got in touch on Facebook to tell me he could solve the mystery of who the bass player on The Invisible Man was.  He was called Charlie Hamilton, and, sadly,  he’d recently passed away. I don’t know the back story.  At least I can now credit him for his excellent playing (and some backing vocals on ‘Outlaw’ as I recall).

You can listen to tracks from The Lost Albums here.  And here.

The Lost Albums are available on Flicknife Records.

Messages (the reissue, 2009). Sleeve Notes By Steve Swindells.

22 May

Messages (the reissue, 2009).

 

Sleeve Notes By Steve Swindells

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You know how so often we think that ‘life is like a movie’, whether it might be horror, fantasy, musical, action, thriller, Sci-fi, or even romantic comedy? Who claps the metaphoric clapper board, apart from our objective selves?

 It all started when I persuaded my fellow (avowedly heterosexual) members of the Bristol ‘classical rock’ band Squidd to perform for nothing at a Gay Liberation Front benefit in Fulham Town Hall in, erm, I think, 1972.  If so, I was twenty years-old.  That’s nearly thirty-seven years ago.

A Gandalf-like man approached me backstage after our performance to suggest that he’d be interested in managing and producing me – but not the band.  Maybe it was because I’d performed in a green, satin dress, afro-wig and football boots.  Or maybe it was that he fancied me.  The latter was the unfortunate truth.  His name was (or is, if he’s still alive), Mark Edwards.

He was a posh, gay hippy from Dorset with a pretentious beard that featured double plaits.

 On paper, at least,  Mark looked like a good bet: he’d produced the million-selling, debut album by Curved Air and seemed to have excellent connections.

 In 1973 I moved  from Bristol to London  to live in a squat in Camden.  I had the whole ground floor of a perfect little Georgian house all to myself.  There was, alas, no bathroom, but at least there was a large communal kitchen in the basement where everyone lived on brown rice,  home-made chapatis, lentils and carrots. There were hundreds of squatters living in this attractive enclave of several ‘blocks’ between Mornington Crescent and St Pancras. I was having a bit of a thing with a wannabe dealer who was squatting in a house a few doors down with a delightfully eccentric young red-head called Nell, amongst others.  She went on to host her fantastic,  eponymous nightclub in NYC in the 70/80s.  I went several times.  It was of the inspirations for one of my later incarnations as a club promoter in the 80s.

 My younger brother Frank, an able guitarist and violinist, came to live with me for a while, and I formed a band with him and various fellow-squatters, including Bruce Knapp, who later played guitar on Messages. It was, to be frank, all a bit hippy;  freewheeling our way around the free festivals in a large truck which I’d borrowed from my elder brother Rob, and using the roof of a giant marquee that I’d dubiously acquired, as a makeshift Bedouin tent.  I’d lived at the Glastonbury festival site at Worthy Farm for several months in the 40-foot-long marquee-roof (complete with carpets, cushions and my  own sleeping area with double lilo) for several months in 1971 and had helped build the first Pyramid stage, before being invaded by all my old friends from my short sojourn at art college in Bristol, who ‘crashed’ in the tent during the festival itself.  I really do recall it as being a fantastic, mystical and magical time, both before and after the festival.  And Lady Arabella Churchill often used to let me sleep in her four poster bed in her room at Worthy Farm when she was away.   See if you can spot me in the ‘Glastonbury Fayre’ film, ‘doing a Pied Piper’ in purple loon pants and a trilby with an ostrich feather in it, whilst playing a treble recorder.  Deliciously embarrassing!

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Me aged 19 at Glastonbury in 1971 (my brother Frank found the pic online).

 Moving to the squat in London had been somewhat influenced by the fact that I’d been ‘busted’ in Bristol, having been set-up by a jealous, homophobic wannabe ‘girlfriend’ called Lois, for possession of THREE ROACHES – and fined the astonishing sum of £150!  My lovely mum later paid this ridiculous fine for me and I was soon to be swept into the music business by Mark Edwards, who was, unfortunately,  to turn-out to be completely psychotic and sexually obsessed with me, and to become increasingly violent and abusive as he realised he couldn’t ‘have’ me.

 I was twenty-one.  It was all a curious mixture of bewildering, besotted, beguiling, baffling, bullshit and brazen.  What a horrendous way to kick-off  one’s career in the music industry!

 First-up came the King Crimson/ELP  connection.  ELP were at the height of their success and had a ‘rock-star-vanity’ record label  called Manticore.  I recall Mark Edwards taking me to meet a well-known lyricist in his large, impressively arty and funky house in Battersea Park Road in South London.  Having heard my demos, he apparently wanted to produce my album and assembled a band that was essentially Bob Dylan’s backing group to rehearse with me in Manticore’s ludicrously extravagant rehearsal space in Fulham Broadway – a huge, atmospheric  former cinema draped in floaty white parachutes.  Both the building and the band overwhelmed me, but I was decidedly underwhelmed, even deflated, by the lyricist’s production skills and the revelation, when I’d first met him in the Manticore offices,  that he was writing a song based on ‘an orange’s osmosis into a crystal’, or something along those lines. It all seemed totally surreal, pretentious and self-indulgently narcissistic to me.  And there was more nonsense to come.

 A massively successful rock-star, who shall remain nameless, invited me to his tasteless,  bland, piss-elegant. wood-panelled rock-star mansion in South Kensington for a bit of ‘male bonding’ involving a hand-tooled, antique box containing about twenty different  ‘stashes’ of premium hash in small compartments.  His trophy wife, a blond Scandinavian ex-model, naturally, who appeared to be little more than his servant, brought us drinks and then made herself scarce as my new ‘best rock-star mate’ tested my ability to get completely wrecked and not pass out.  Of course, I passed with flying colours… not that I cared.  This was just macho, rock-star bullshit.  At this stage I realised that he was so patronising and egotistical that the mooted record deal was unlikely to go through, as it was all about… him. I was soon to be proved correct.

 Meanwhile, I had to deal with Gandalf, AKA Mark Edwards, my erstwhile manager/producer (who would later violently attack me with depressing regularity in public and private and make my life hell), making sure that I was housed in his flat on Cromwell Road in Earl’s Court  (hence ‘The Earl’s Court Case’ on Messages) which in the early seventies was London’s first ‘gay village’.  He was totally obsessed with me and I was soon to discover that he was a junkie, an alcoholic and a psychopath.

 The whole fiasco with Manticore had come to nothing, but Mark did at least secure me my first publishing deal with Chappell Music.  I believe the advance was something pathetic like £100, along with a ludicrously mean 50/50 split, and my first record deal, with RCA, again with some pitiful advance, much of which found its way into his pockets.

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 Having spent all his royalties from Curved Air on drugs, eating-out, booze and rent boys; suddenly I was Mark Edwards’ only potential meal-ticket.  He moved us into a tiny, two-bed flat in Silverthorne Road, Battersea, where the he used to shout abuse at the working-class neighbours when they complained about the noise, throwing open the window in the kitchen and ranting at them about the fact that OWNED the flat.  Grotesque.  They later chased him down the street with meat cleavers, as most of them worked at Smithfield meat market.  I recall that he jumped into a cab to escape.  He also obtained a large bank loan using my record deal with RCA as collateral.   I later had to take on this loan in order to escape his evil clutches.

 On the other hand, suddenly I was actually making my first album on a major label, with fantastic, famous musicians in fabulous recording studios,  and I even had a full orchestra on some of the tracks.  It was an extraordinary mix of joy and horror; a dream-come-true and a nightmare.  Mark would sit at the mixing desk with a bottle of scotch on one side and a pile of cocaine on the other, talking complete nonsense and threatening and embarrassing me, and everyone else, with his totally-out-of-it incompetence.  Talk about a baptism of fire!  My first album was basically a tight-rope walk into insanity with him getting out of it,  whilst  I was working-out how to get out of it, without… getting out of it, if you get my drift?

On one particular Messages recording session at The Who’s Ramport Studios in Battersea (I don’t recall the particular song, but it was basically Elton John’s backing band playing with me), I was playing a beautiful Bosendorfer piano in the booth when ‘Gandalf’ drunkenly/druggily accused me of being out of time and physically threatened to hit me over the head, hovering over me with his whisky bottle, demanding that I record to the track WITHOUT HEADPHONES.  Luckily, my natural timing was excellent, and the band was able to follow.  Can you even imagine how downhearted, depressed, truamatised and betrayed I felt?

On a happier note, I was later recording in the big studio upstairs at what was Island Studios in Basing Street in Notting Hill (now Trevor Horn’s Sarm Studios): it must have been a track for Swallow in 1975, I don’t remember.  A period of extreme trauma creates selective amnesia, even when there are good bits.

 I went downstairs to get a coffee and a sandwich from the basement  cafe and heard this wonderful changa changa guitar noise coming out of the open door of the smaller Studio 2.  Then a bloke who looked strangely familiar walked into the studio carrying a guitar case.

 I poked my head around the studio door, explained that I was working in the studio upstairs,  and congratulated the first person I saw regarding the track, saying it sounded fantastic.  He had really long dreadlocks, smiled a lovely smile and shook my hand, thanked me sincerely and  handed me a big fat joint.  It was Bob Marley.   The guitarist was Eric Clapton. We later had a great game of table football too  – I recall that Eric and I won!  And the big studio upstairs was where ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ was recorded many years later, with John Moss  (and Phil Collins) on Drums.  Jon Moss and I would record a double album together, as DanMingo, in 2003. A much happier recording process altogether!

To say that the recording  of  Messages and Swallow  was challenging and difficult for me would be a gross understatement.  Edwards was a complete bastard and treated me with utter contempt, presumably due to my sexual rejection of him.  It was only when my mother came to London and met with a solicitor who declared his management contract ‘null and void’ that I was literally kidnapped from the flat where he had me virtually imprisoned in Battersea by my dear friend Caroline Guinness and her then boyfriend, the late, great Tim Clark. And I lost everything  including a piano, stereo, and an early ARP monophonic synthesizer, all of which he’d ‘blagged’, using my name.  The ARP synth, the same model that Stevie Wonder used, had featured heavily on both albums. Like Stevie, I’d multi-tracked all the parts, as polyphonic synths hadn’t yet been invented.  This is especially apparent on the track ‘I Can’t See Where The Light Switch Is’, featuring the legendary Danny Thompson on double bass, on Messages.

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Me performing my first single ‘Shake Up Your Soul’ on a TV show which was filmed in Birmingham. I forget the name of it, but I clearly remember having lunch with David Essex, who was also on the show, in the studio canteen. He was charming and funny, and his eyes were the bluest I’ve ever seen – apart from Roger Daltrey’s – who (geddit?) was to record four of my songs – with me on keyboards – many years later.

 I remember writing the lyrics of the title track of Messages in the squat in Camden straight into in a notebook in 1973, sitting by my period, open fire (the only heating, of course).  It was probably my first experience of what is known as ‘automatic writing’.  And, strangely, the lyrics are about precisely that.  Messages From Heaven. It was a total dream-come-true recording the eleven-minute track totally LIVE with a full orchestra, and King Crimson’s Mike Giles on drums, in George Martin’s Air Studio 1, high above Oxford Circus.  And, for once. Mark Edwards was almost well-behaved.  Somewhere,  there’s a somewhat arty, full-length film of the track, featuring me in a hot-air balloon in a white robe and all sorts of  other flighty stuff, scripted by me and directed by ‘Gandalf’. I certainly don’t have a copy, and I doubt whether Mark Edwards’ family or friends (if he has any) know about it either, but I hope that it still exists.  Just for the record.

 The Messages  album cover was my concept.  It was a very skillful photo-montage from a record company-sponsored shoot in a stately home in the Home Counties.  I wanted to satirise not only the concept of ‘pop image’, but also the pathetic, public perception of gay stereotypes.  Did you notice that they’re actually all me, including the metaphoric ‘judge’?  I have to point out (so many years years before Photo Shop) that my legs as ‘a drag queen’ were indeed air-brushed – they were not that thin!  And the ‘pretty boy’ picture on the back cover was RCA’s attempt to present me as some sort of pop star.  Hah!

I guess that the somewhat whimsical quality of Messages is almost as a result of me trying to convince myself that everything was okay, and that I wasn’t in some kind of nightmare with an obsessive, psychotic, junkie alcoholic who was trying to control me, not only in a business sense, but in the delusional belief that he could ‘have me’ as a boyfriend.  Yeah, I was pretty, but I was also pretty strong.  He never succeeded.  But I was still kind of scared, or indeed scarred by the experience… for a long, long time.

 We recorded the follow-up album Swallow and things were looking better.  Maybe Mark had dropped the heroin or boozing, I don’t recall.   I’m afraid the only musician I can remember playing on it was the excellent drummer Roy Dyke, who later went on to marry Hawkwind’s  notoriously naked dancer Stacia, who then changed her name to Stacia Gay to match his ‘lesbian’ moniker.  Very droll!  Little did I know that I would end-up joining Hawkwind/lords just a few years later, in 1978.

 And in the end, the clapper board clapped and no-one… clapped. I was left out in the cold after ‘Gandalf’ swept everything off the Managing Director’s desk at RCA in a drunken, druggy rage.   End of deal.  An unthinkably terrible situation for me at the time.

These two albums are a testament to that struggle and the horror of being betrayed, abused and exploited by a posh hippy with no scruples or morals… and a stupid beard.

Messages From Heaven?  You bet.  I couldn’t have made-up the bizarre tie-ins that happened subsequently in my strange and interesting life. There was only one thing missing –  and that was Mark Edwards, thank God.

 Messages:   can you Swallow it?  I just hope that when you listen, you’ll find some hope, joy and spirituality shining through.

 PS  I recently discovered, much to my surprise, that the Messages album sleeve is on display in London’s Hard Rock Cafe, back-lit on a pillar near the bar.  I can only assume it’s been there for over thirty years!

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 These two albums are dedicated to my wonderful mother Audrey, the awesome Caroline Guinness and to the memories of the late Tim Clark and my late, first proper lover (and erstwhile Hawklords roadie) Millar.  And to V.E,  D.H, S.M and A.K.A.

With special thanks to Ian Abrahams.

 Steve Swindells.  London NW10. 9.09pm.  9.9.09.

Footnote:  I only discovered that Mark Edwards had died when someone ‘in-boxed’ me on Facebook, asking if I was Steve Swindells the singer-songwriter and, if I was, could I get back to him? Curious, I did so, and he told me that his mother had bought a cottage in Corfe Castle in Dorset, from the estate an old lady who’d died; a Mrs Edwards. The loft had been full of junk and bric-a-brac, but there was also a large trunk full of reel-to-reel tapes, some quarter-inch, some one-inch and two-inch.  Mark Edwards was listed as producer on all of them – and, along with Curved Air, the main artist on them was Steve Swindells. Would I like them?  Absolutely yes, I replied, thanking him for being so thoughtful in tracking me down. Rob, my elder brother, who lives in Bristol, very kindly picked them up for me and brought them to London.  I still haven’t got around to checking whether one of the unmarked two-inch tapes is the missing film of Messages From Heaven.

http://www.reverbnation.com/steveswindells

http://www.mixcloud.com/steveswindells

http://www.youtube.com/danmingo

http://www.myspace.com/steveswindells

 My new, double compilation album New Crescent Yard, featuring home recording and demos from the late 80s until 2012, is available to download for just $10 – for a limited period – from http://steveswindells.bandcamp.com

My 2012 release, the double CD The Lost Albums is available on iTunes, online record stores and http://www.flickniferecords.co.uk

Messages is not on iTunes (thanks, R.C.A) but is available on Amazon.co.uk and Play.com, amongst others.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Color

5 Apr

Weekly Photo Challenge: Color

My photo of a detail from my painting ‘Any Way Round’

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Freedom Pass

20 Mar

Freedom Pass.

Me at 60 (Saturday Night Oldie Fever)

Me at 60 (Saturday Night Oldie Fever)

A Short, Autobiographical Story (with multimedia) By Steve Swindells.

Freedom Pass One (Computer painting). 7.5.13

Willesden Junction has been at the centre of my London travelling universe for nearly four years – since I moved to central Harlesden in 2009. This is an excellent transport hub that gets you to just about anywhere you want to go in London with relative ease, using the Bakerloo Line and three overground rail routes:  these go to Clapham Junction in the South, Stratford in the East (via the verdant acres of Hampstead Heath, which has a dedicated station), Richmond in the West, Watford in the North (not that you’d want to go there) and Euston in the centre of London.

The goods yards by Willesden Junction

The goods yards by Willesden Junction

I was in Hampstead earlier on this crispy, spring day, wandering around taking pictures (with my Canon EOS 30D and a 50mm lens) of its delicious hodgepodge of architectural styles.  Then I ambled onto Parliament Hill, with its kite-flyers, cyclists, joggers, walkers, tourists, photographers and artists and, of course, its famous panoramic views of this great sprawling metropolis, now dominated by a silvery needle soaring into the sky – The Shard – along with St Paul’s Cathedral, The ‘Gherkin’ and No.1 Canada Square, topped with its ever-flashing pyramid, in the cold heart of Canary Wharf.

A happy woman smiles as she paints on Parliament Hill

A happy woman smiles as she paints on Parliament Hill

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Having wandered in the limpid, lemony sunshine on the Heath and in the  beautiful grounds of  Kenwood House, taking pictures of the people, flora and fauna, I headed into Hampstead village, passing Boy George’s house on Well Walk (I forgot to take a pic), where a gaggle of Japanese tourists were giggling and posing for pictures in front of the wooden gate which is covered in scrawled messages from fans.

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George hasn’t lived there for years – I believe he’s a denizen of trendy, arty Shoreditch these days , and apparently rents his house-out.  People don’t generally realise that it’s not the massive, vaguely gothic mansion that it appears to be; it’s actually semi-detached; and his half, which is nearest to the Heath, boasts a mere three bedrooms.

Maybe he’s sold the house, after all those brushes with the law (alleged, industrial levels of cocaine abuse, wasting police time, chained-up rent boys… the usual frock n’ roll excess) in New York and London.

I don’t know, I haven’t bumped into him for years. I hardly go out at all these days – nothing to do with my age really, more about my financial situation. I’m totally broke (back mountain).

Walking by George’s house into Hampstead Village prompted me to muse that I hadn’t seen Jon Moss (famously George’s ex-lover and the drummer in Culture Club, one of the biggest-selling bands in the 80s) since my sixtieth birthday party in Camden last November, in 2012,  which made me wonder whether he might be at home, providing he hadn’t sold his house on the other side of the village, which is a rather wonderful, Tardis-like, Art-Deco homage to Le Corbusier and Modernism. I decided to text him after I’d had brunch in that funky old cafe on the High Street that’s been there, unchanged, forever… what’s it called? Oh yes, The Coffee Cup (a cup of twee!).  Jon occasionally goes there for brunch too –  maybe he’ll be there today, reading The Jewish Chronicle. Okay, I made the last bit-up. He is a Spurs supporter though.

Jon and me at my 60th b/day party

Jon and me at my 60th b/day party

Me… sixty? How can this be? That means that I’m supposed to act like an old person and go on Saga holidays doesn’t it? I shudder at the thought, whilst junking gruesome emails offering me special deals on Stannah Stairlifts and mobility bikes along with no-win-no-fee ‘accident claims’ and oldie insurance.

Everybody tells me that I don’t look my age at all, so that’s all good for the morale.  But I am now the proud owner of a Freedom Pass; so that’s possibly the only advantage of being sixty in London.

Ageism is, unfortunately, already rearing its ugly head; usually perpetuated by ignorant, inarticulate little shits, who generally aspire to being models, or pop/reality/soap  – delete-where-appplicable – stars and ‘famous’. Pathetic. And they evidently seem to expect all this to fall into their laps with no diligence, preparation or hard graft. Callow youth, forever presumptuous and lacking in respect for their still-struggling elders, who never had the supposed advantages of reality TV and kiss n’ tell. Sheer talent tended to do it back-in-the-day – providing you had good connections, or some fortuitous serendipity. I never, ever used my youthful, physical charms to advance my career, and this didn’t stop me landing two major record deals in my twenties. But it also didn’t help me much when I was down and out. I stuck to my guns. Never sold my body. And I was pretty hot.

Anyway,  I can now go swimming for free at Willesden Recreation Centre; somewhat motivated, perhaps, by the lifeguards,  several of whom are well fit!

The fact that I actually have a Freedom Pass is a bit of miracle, as I was under the impression that our wonderful, caring, Con-dem government had raised the proverbial glass ceiling to the clear blue skies of sixty-two. I was genuinely in the thick of of it; well, ignorant of the fact that us lucky, wrinkly old Londoners qualify for an FP, at a mere sixty-years old.

Good old, bumbling Boris eh? He’s London’s Conservative-Party Mayor, in case you didn’t know (you may remember him basking in the golden televisual glow of our rather triumphant Olympics in 2012).

The Freedom Pass information is, however,  buried beneath Byzantine clouds in cyberspace – on Transport For London’s appallingly-difficult-to-navigate (how ironic) website. It’s not like they actually publicise the fact that us doddery old Londoners can swan around the metrop with our cooly-customised Zimmer frames, for free, once we’ve passed the dreaded big Six-O milestone. I’ll bet that quite a few of my fellow 60-year olds weren’t even aware that they were eligible?  They are now.

Transport For London: why? What was wrong with London Transport? Didn’t that ludicrous rebranding cost gazillions of pounds? How very New Labour. Why New Labour? Anyway… I digress.

I only stumbled (arthritically, natch) across this info because I was researching online to see when I might actually be eligible for a FP, and whether there would be restrictions or limitations attached. I’m pleased to report that there are none – the Freedom Pass really lives up to its name (woo-hoo daddio – I used to play in beat groups don’t ya know!).

You can travel anywhere within the M25, Greater London’s orbital motorway, as far as I can gather, well, certainly to the outer reaches of Zone Six.  Does that rule out Watford?  I sincerely hope so.

Obviously, I’m not going to post a scan of my FP on here – identity theft alert!  Someone might make a fake and try to pretend to be me at Willesden Sports Centre, thereby blagging a free swim – and also possibly sneaking into the gloriously mis-titled Health Suite – a very basic sauna and steam room accessed from a swampy-floored changing area with broken showers and a wobbley cold tap –  hoping that ‘security” weren’t going to do one of their random checks for the obligatory wrist bands, as even us oldies have to pay for the privilege of visiting this alleged, higher-level amenity.

I didn’t actually get my FP until late January, because of some truly Kafka-esque, bureaucratic bungling in some back-office of TFL’s headquarters, which appears to be manned by just two people.  I don’t wish to sound ungrateful, or like a grumpy old man (tee hee); but actually getting to speak to one of the said people on the phone about why it hadn’t arrived within the supposed time-frame of two weeks, mooted to be before Christmas last year, proved to be something of a London Marathon.

I eventually discovered, after numerous phone calls, that they’d sent it to the wrong address, and it was several weeks before I  finally hobbled over the metaphorical finishing line, triumphantly waving my ‘Free Oyster  Over-60s Photo Pass’ (hows THAT for a great bit of branding eh?) before undertaking a celebratory ‘journey’ (the most over-used word of the 21st century?) involving deliciously random tube/train/tram and Docklands Light Railway-hopping, wrapped in one of those silver-foil sheets that they dole-out after marathons… the latter being entirely in my imagination. Why don’t they make them available as onesies (2013’s answer to the shell suit)? That would be fun and practical – especially if they donated them to the millions of people who are sleeping rough in the world, after the race was over, when the participants no longer had any need for them?

I can’t help wondering when I’ll be able to ride back-and-forth all day on that new cable car over the Thames for free as well, taking pictures. Perhaps when the Emirates sponsorship expires, dare I say, when I’m 64?  This makes me pause to wonder how  Paul McCartney  actually celebrated his 64th? Did he perhaps hire the Bootleg Beatles to play at the party? Was Lady Heather still in the house? Did she get legless with Vera, Chuck and Dave?

Jon Moss (who went out with Paul’s daughter Mary for a while, in the 80s, I believe) wasn’t brunching in The Coffee Cup, and when I texted him, he didn’t reply until a few days later.  It transpired that this wass because he was skiing in The French Alps with his three beautiful kids – by his ex-wife – with his relatively new girlfriend.

At my 60th birthday party in Zensai, in Camden, he’d told me that someone had made an amazingly generous offer on his house, but that, of course, he hated the idea of leaving his much-cherished home of many years, but really had no choice.  Divorce settlement etc etc. He’d have to slum it somewhere on the other side of Finchley Road, he moaned, with mock-horror, making a hopeless gesture with his hands. Then he reiterated how much he loved the mulifarious DanMingo  tracks – there are twenty-one – which we recorded in 2003, mostly in Christchurch Studios in Bristol, which made me think: grrr – why was there no success with these classy, soulful tunes? My  original name for DanMingo had been Emoticon – clever, but perhaps a little dry.  When we’d made a brief appearance as band, playing live in a rehearsal studio, on a documentary about Culture Club in 2003, when we were still going under that name.  Jon undertook an in-depth interview about Culture Cliub and Boy George, which was refreshingly frank and honest, and he was very complimentary about me in it, towards the end, when he was asked about ‘what he was doing now’.

‘Leap Of Faith – The Prequel’ was the aptly ironic name for this excellent double-album. Then, when I finally got around to mastering it in 2017, I decided that it would be called DanMingo, by Steve Swindells.

 

A rather wonderfully over-the-top artwork created by a fan

A rather wonderfully over-the-top artwork created by a fan

Jon Moss and SS @ Christchurch Studios in Bristol in 2003

Jon Moss and SS @ Christchurch Studios in Bristol in 2003

Dale Davies (who guested on bass on 3 tracks), Jon and Jerry

Dale Davies (who guested on bass on 3 tracks), Jon and Jerry

Stevesinging

The main bass player with DanMingo was the very gifted and charmingly avuncular Winston Blissett, who’s played with everyone from Massive Attack (whose studio was upstairs in Christchurch Studios in Bristol) to Phil Collins, Dizzy Rascal and Jimmy Cliff, to name just a few. The guitarist was Jerry Richards of Hawkwind (who’s now playing with the Hawklords, as did I, briefly. The touring, however, was too much for me, due to my ongoing health issues:  I was diagnosed  with pancreatitis and emphysema in 2006).

I played keyboards and sang all the songs on the DanMingo album, all of which I wrote, or co-wrote. My good mate Dale Davis, who was the great Amy Winehouse’s musical director right up until her tragic demise, also played bass on three of the tracks – when Winston couldn’t record with us as he was doing sessions in New York (with Phil Collins) – as did the excellent American session player Otto Williams.

Winston Blissett in the studio.

Winston Blissett in the studio.

 

DanMingo also recorded 3 songs in Cabin Studios in Coventry.

We also recorded three songs in the now defunct Cabin Studios in Coventry.

When I visit Jon Moss’s house, I love to play the Yamaha baby-grand piano in his capacious, beautifully proportioned, L-shaped living room, which still has its original, herring-bone-patterned parquet floor and a thirty-foot wall of sliding glass doors onto the garden.  There’s furniture by Philippe Starck, B & B Italia (bed and breakfast in Italy?) and Ligne Roset, along with retro-modern, signature pieces and interesting (and valuable) artworks.

I’d first met Jon in the mid-80s, when he regularly used to come to my club night Jungle, which was one of a portfolio of club nights run by The Pure Organisation, of which I was a co-founder and director. Good bit of branding eh? Yep, I dreamt it up.

We also organised parties for record companies and magazines such as The Face and Time Out and created the Love Sexy after-parties for Prince in ’88 and Madonna’s birthday party at the Groucho Club… was that also in ’88? The Alzheimer’s must be kicking-in. Senior moments, as I like to jest. My good friend Thom Topham – who has a parallel career to mine as a writer and singer-songwriter – was also  involved, when he wasn’t too busy being a secret agent.

The original acrylic Jungle Flyer, designed by me. If it didn't have a hole punched out, then it was free entry before midnight.

The original acrylic Jungle Flyer, designed by me. If it didn’t have a hole punched out, then it was free entry before midnight.

Me in the Pure Organisation's offices in Craven St, Charing Cross, in around 1985.  Note ye olde Amstrad!

Me in the Pure Organisation’s offices in Craven St, Charing Cross, in around 1985. Note ye olde Amstrad!

DJ Vicki Edwards and Tony Felix at Jungle.

DJ Vicki Edwards and Tony Felix at Jungle.

Paul Rutherford and friend at Jungle

Paul Rutherford (of Frankie Goes To Hollywood) and friend at Jungle

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SS, Julienne Dolphin-Wilding and Serge Sommaire at Jungle - 1985?

SS, Julienne Dolphin-Wilding and Serge Sommaire at Jungle – 1985?

Jungle was held every Monday (yes, Monday!) in what was then called Busby’s, on Charing Cross Road.  Busby’s later became Mean Fiddler 2,  before recently being demolished as part of the redevelopment of Tottenham Court Road Station, as a result of the construction of Crossrail (you see, I’m warming to my Freedom Pass theme). The  Jungle DJs were Kiss FM’s Colin Faver and the notorious Fat Tony (it was the latter’s first, regular DJing gig, I believe, and he did  the occasional brilliantly tacky ‘turn’, lip-synching as Dusty Springfield).  There were over one thousand people there every week. One thousand people on a MONDAY?

*Victor Meldrew voice* I simply don’t believe it!

The 80s really was the seminal clubbing decade. Other nights that The Pure Organisation ran included Bad (in The Sound Shaft behind Heaven, underneath Charing Cross Station) every Friday, and Babylon, on Thursdays at Heaven, along with Discotek (who could forget The Rowing Dance – pictures anyone?) and Casablanca – an oasis of cool on a Saturday night. At one point we had eight club nights running every week.

Bad was gay-mixed, and the DJs were my good friend the beautiful and talented Vicki Edwards, and the late, lamented Breeze, playing soulful, vocal house music and New York garage –  and it was packed every Friday.

The crowd was generally about seventy-percent black – mostly gay males. Regulars included The Pet Shop Boys and Jean-Paul Gaultier, along with many ‘down-low’ black singers and rappers who were mostly in the closet – at least publicly.

Bad Logo

DJ Breeze

DJ Breeze

Props to Frank Ocean after that courageous public outing of himself in 2012. Why courageous? Because it’s way more difficult to do that if you’re a brother. He’s pretty much the first, apart from Ne-Yo (ish), who recently simpered that he might be ‘vaguely bisexual’ (perhaps on Tuesdays?). He is an accomplished songwriter though. But then, so am I. And I’ve been ‘out’ for fucking years.

Babylon also featured DJ Vicki Edwards wowing the crowd on the main floor, and, for the second room in The Star Bar, I had come up with a first:  a rare-groove, acid-jazz and breakbeat dance floor with DJs Gilles Peterson (who now has a great show on BBC Radio 6) and Marco – from the excellent Young Disciples – which attracted bevies of brilliant break dancers. The crowd at Babylon – my deliberately ironic name for the night – was largely black and mostly straight-ish.

Now, before you illiberal white folks allow your innate prejudice to tempt you to think: ‘But wasn’t there lots of trouble at Bad and Babylon?’ Allow me to politely-but-firmly inform you that… no: there wasn’t.

Bad lasted for nearly five wonderful years until, one night in 1992, there was minor skirmish involving two young, black, gay men, which resulted in one of them getting a bloody ear.  It was evidently a jealousy issue regarding a third party – they were ‘an item’ –  and they were subsequently swiftly ejected.

I thought that would be the end of that, but the next day I had the manager of Heaven on the phone saying that he was very concerned ‘now that the gangs were evidently moving in’ and that we’d have to close: the final night was to be the next Friday.  End of.  I was devastated and upset. On a commercial level, Bad had been extremely successful for Heaven – and the atmosphere had always been brilliant: relaxed, upbeat and friendly. The following Friday was to be a totally unexpected wake.

Towards the end of the closing night (that was back when clubs had to close at 3am in central London) I got on the mic and wholeheartedly thanked the heaving, emotional crowd for their loyalty, support and greatness *cheers* over the years *whoops and fists-in-the-air*… then paused, somewhat theatrically, and calmly stated that: ‘I wouldn’t, however… dream of suggesting…’  A hush fell over the crowd…’I wouldn’t dream… of suggesting that Heaven was…racist.’  Then… slowly repeated my statement. The place erupted with cheers. Suddenly,  several security guards burst in and the head of security ran up to the DJ box and hissed at me: ‘What the hell are doing Steve – trying to start a riot?’.  As the cheers and whooping continued all around us,  I quietly replied that I’d clearly stated that ‘I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that Heaven was racist’ – shrugging my shoulders, tilting my head and looking suitably innocent.  The security team eventually left and we partied on without incident.

The racism didn’t stop there – we weren’t able to find a new home in the West End for Bad. This was a club night that was guaranteed to be rammed every week, as well as having a proven track record of being 99.99% trouble-free. Suddenly, sadly, badly; Bad was no more.

A similar incident had closed the hugely successful Babylon, after just one year, in 1988 – except that this time ‘the fight’ wasn’t even in the club, it had taken place outside another club night in what was Bad’s home, The Sound Shaft, around the back of Heaven, which was promoted by different people on Thursdays. It wasn’t the first time that that the tired, inherently racist and ignorant mantra: ‘the gangs are moving in’, had been evoked.

There was never any trouble at Jungle either – it lasted for well over four years in London as well, before decamping (be quiet at the back!) to Friday nights at The Rex Club in Strasbourg-St-Denis in Paris for a year or so.

We had great great fun flying to Paris and back every week and eating in a different, fabulous restaurant every week before enjoying the uplifting street-meets-celeb vibes of our very successful club night Jungle Paris,  in the Art-Deco splendour of Au Rex, which was in the basement of The Rex Cinema. The security we put in place at the entrance was achingly cool too – two handsome, hunky guys – one black, one white – dressed in biker’s leathers, sitting astride Harley Davidsons, on each side of the entrance.  Chic!

Me and friends at Jungle Paris

Me and friends at Jungle Paris

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When I was starting to develop the Jungle Paris concept, I’d come up with the idea of hiring an American-in-Paris to handle PR for it.  The guy I soon found was a painter (how enlightened; I doubt that you’d find someone employed as a PR on that basis in London or New York these days) and the PR for a group of restaurants similar to Richard Caring’s current Caprice Holdings in London (The Ivy, J Sheekey, Le Caprice etc), which included La Coupole – with its priceless pillars which had been painted by all the great impressionists when they were struggling, starving artists – ah, the absinthe-soaked romance – in return for food and drink;  and the stunning, art-nouveau gem Chez Julien, just around the corner from the Rex, on Rue St-Denis, where we were to hold a very glamorous, pre-opening, exclusive, complimentary, three-course dinner, with Champagne and fine wine, for forty people – including Rupert Everett and Bertice Dalle, prior to the opening party.

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After the extravagant pre-opening dinner,  everyone walked to the opening party around the corner; which was a huge success.  There was full-page coverage in all the best  French newspapers and magazines with lots of pictures of everyone – DJs Vicki Edwards and Colin Faver, myself and my business partner Kevin Millins,  Bertice Dalle, Rupert Everett and the creme of the  Parisien demi-monde – all looking very glamorous and branche´ (French slang for ‘cool’).

I’d negotiated a great deal with the club, which included us getting one hundred free drinks tickets every week – five tickets got you a bottle of house champagne. There was no V.I.P room – we didn’t approve of such elitism – and the club scene in Paris was quite different to London, in as much as older, rich men and women (albeit a little ‘Euro-trash’) partied with young people who were very ‘street’. It was, however, very similar to our club nights in London in as much that it was pleasingly diverse.

My heady reminiscences were eventually interrupted by a phone call. It was my mother Audrey:  she was calling to thank me for finishing editing and proof-reading ‘Mitty’s Letter’, which is the first volume (volume!) of  ‘Mitty’, her excellent historical trilogy. Forget Mary Wesley, who’s first novel was published when she was, I believe, 71. My mum Audrey is 85 this year!  She wrote the original on an Amstrad (shudder!) word processor in the mid-80s, and  recently, somehow managed to find some geek-in-a-computer-shop who could transpose the ancient floppy discs into a digital format.

No wonder she’s known by the family as Cyber-Gran. I told her that I reckon ‘Mitty’ is far more likely to be a success than my ongoing, growing collection of short stories, and my brother-in-law Kae’s epic book ‘Letters From A Curd’ (which I also edited and proof-read); simply because of  ‘Mitty’s’ innate commerciality.  It could become the next Downton Abbey, I assured her – she was chuffed to bits – then I added, with mock incredulity:  ‘I can’t believe that its very talented, late-blooming author has been the proud owner of a Freedom Pass for nearly 24 years!’.

Me and my mum at a celebratory lunch in London, with the whole family, after she was awarded the MBE in 2010.

Me and my mum at a celebratory lunch in London, with the whole family, after she was awarded the MBE in 2010.

Freedom Pass 2 (Computer painting). 7.5.13

Words, digital art and Photographs © Steve Swindells. All Rights Reserved.

 

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