Friday, 6 March 2009
MY ALTERNATIVE DERBY
Just finished reading Johnny Vincent's simply fab 'An Alternative Derby' paperback, which takes an informative, entertaining look at the music scene in Derby. I'll be reviewing Johnny's book a little later, and will also link to the site where copies can be obtained. 'An Alternative Derby' brought back a ton of memories, reminding me of pubs, clubs, music venues and very special events that were part of my life, back in the mists of time.
For someone who lived 'out in the sticks', Derby held a considerable fascination for me: a big city full of musical and cinematic delights, with the added attraction of a great football team. I'd been a Derby fan since I was 8 years old, and trips to The Baseball Ground with my father became a fortnightly occurrence. When the great Brian Clough walked out with Peter Taylor, dad lost interest in attending games, but I kept the faith and started going to home and away games with a group of friends. In those days, it was so easy to get caught up in the fun and games surrounding football rivalry, and gaining admission to the away fans section in the old Columbo Street end of the ground was just one of our favourite gags; an occupation which could be pretty hairy around 2.55pm when the signal went up to announce our presence. Away from the football, things were getting very interesting from a cinematic perspective. From an early age, I'd been a regular at the local cinema, thrilling to the likes of THE BIBLE and FEAR IS THE KEY, and graduating to forbidden X cert fare such as DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW. Gaining admission to some of these films was always laced with uncertainty, and dependent on who was manning the box office that particular evening, but we got in more often than not. Sadly, the cinema closed when I was 16 and I turned to Derby in search of my weekly fix. The old ABC cinema on East Street became my home for a while, and introduced me to a wonderful world of cult movies. Yet again, the cinema closed down, with Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY making for a terrific double-header on its final day. Now, Derby has a trio of multi-screen cinemas and an additional 2 screener called Quad which screens the very best in world cinema and offers so much more for those interested in the arts. Sadly, time and money has not allowed me to visit yet, but it's comforting to know it's there. Before Quad, there was the Metro cinema which had the same wide-ranging brief with regard to screening films that were often regarded as minority interest fare. THREE COLOURS RED, INFERNO, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, DIVA, SUBWAY, BIRDIE, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, RING, IN PRAISE OF LOVE, MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE, SALO, THE HOUSE OF MIRTH and THE BLACKOUT are just a few I've been lucky enough to see on the big screen there. Unfortunately, a 30 mile-round trip, coupled with lack of cash and a bus service that almost rivals trains across the Gobi desert in terms of frequency meant my visits to Derby decreased as time went on.
On the music front, 1976 onwards was a golden era with the Kings Hall, The Ajanta, The Rainbow Club and the Assembly Rooms all figuring in my musical education, together with halls country wide such as The Marquee, Brum Odeon, Sheffield Top Rank, Rock City Nottingham, Hammersmith Palais, De Montfort Hall and the uni at Leicester and a host of other venues. If London's Marquee was possibly my favourite music club, Derby's Ajanta breathed heavily down its neck. Stiff Little Fingers, The Pop Group, The Slits, The Damned, Crass, Joy Division, Honey Bane, Magazine and Chaz Harper's United Kingdom Subversives...... just seems like yesterday when we were queueing up to gain admission, with gig after gig stretching behind us and before us. In the early days, a few of us used to go from my hometown, but one evening in particular, I ended up going on my own. While downing a pint in the Ajanta, a guy came up to me and enquired whether I was on my jack. When I replied I was, he grabbed me by the arm and said, "You're with us now". So, from that evening, I hung around with the Burton punks and our friendship lasted for years. Bob, Nicky and the guys and gals: if you ever read this, cheers for some great times! Of course, all good things come to an end. The Ajanta eventually closed, and we ended up going to the Rainbow Club to see bands like UK Decay and The Subs but it wasn't quite the same. Still good fun, though. Anyone who used to frequent that club may remember an older guy with a beard, decked out in shorts, who used to pogo enthusiastically down the front. Probably dead and gone now, but he had the spirit which is what really counts. Before The Rainbow opened, a couple of us spied an ad in NME which had Discharge down to play at The Ajanta. While we knew deep down that the club couldn't possibly have re-opened, we decided to travel and hooked up with a few like minded souls who were hoping against hope that the advert was correct. Of course, it wasn't but after the small crowd had wandered off, my friend and I forced open a door and gained entry to this ruin of a building. For a few minutes, we walked around the theatre and went on the stage where the late Ian Curtis had played his penultimate gig; stood at the front where we'd sung along to God knows how many anthems for doomed youth and moved through the wrecked seats; the last of which had been totally fucking blitzed when The Damned came to town. The place was full of ghosts, but they were friendly spirits, brought back to life by memories and misspent youth. Taking a last look at the place, we climbed out into the cold night air. That was the last time I set foot in the place.
So, that's the end of my story but the events that took place live on and I guess they always will. If I could go back just for one day, I'd spend it with a morning visit to RE Cords record shop, a tear-up at the football in the afternoon and a gig in the evening with Chaz Harper's rabble-rousing troops. Johhny's book tells things so much better than I can, so I hope you check out my forthcoming review and treat yourself to a copy of 'An Alternative Derby'.