10 tunes and the story of 90s Hightimes in London by Graham Bendel

Graham Bendel is a writer and filmmaker.  Like many of us, he’s DJed, been in bands, and stayed out beyond the bedtimes of sanity.  And it’s led to some brilliant, inspired work.  Having the legend of a close family member who published Nabokov, Burroughs, Trocchi, Beckett, Henry Miller and Valerie Solanas is a good rumour to have floating around you with the dust of dawn, and in this case, brilliantly true.  Bendel’s film on the legendary punk lyricist, Vic Godard of Subway Sect is called Derailed Sense, and is a brilliant masterpiece in slamming together a good punk story.  Do seek it out.  Here, he reflects on the good old days of 90s clubland, and the tunes that marched the sounds of the underground…

1997 Smashing 4 015
Pic generously provided by the one and only Dave Swindells http://www.daveswindells.com
But I was looking for something else.

And then… Smashing stumbled drunkenly into my life. Or I into it.

Smashing was a night that took part in West End venues, such as old 60s haunt Bootleggers, The Gaslight, and most infamously, Eve’s Club on Regent St, which was home in-a-way to the Profumo Scandal. The night was run by the stylishly oddball collective of Matthew Glamorre, Martin Green, Adrian Webb and Michael Murphy; and the clientele were straight, gay, bi, drag queens, the odd mod, fashion freaks, popstars, indie kids, punks, divas, beatniks, eternal goths and glorious people who defied categorisation. The music policy was unashamedly retro but anarchic and fresh next to the customary glut of house, hip hop and funk. West End clubbers were in for a surprise – if they got in. Even Prince, as the rumour goes, was refused entry for insisting on a VIP enclosure.

My early memories of Smashing were watching excitable DJ Michael Murphy, after playing Sparks’ Beat The Clock, putting on another record only to see that people weren’t dancing with apt enthusiasm, so he’d take it off, smash it up, throw the broken record at the dancefloor and complain “You’re all cunts!” Not quite Fat Boy Slim. Dancing zealously to The Stooges – in just his underpants? –was also something of an eye-opener.

It’s fair to say that Punk had a fair amount of influence on the proceedings. One time, speaking loosely of anarchy: I lost half my tooth after a feverishly-executed game of Pass The Parcel. Or there was the time when we were all ‘Reborn’ in a bizarre ceremony hosted by flamboyant impresario Matthew Glamorre. And so many other things, half-forgotten, half-remembered.

Smashing was a high-camp, chaotic experience curated by endarkened people very familiar with the best of clubland past: The Batcave, Alice in Wonderland, Taboo, The Blitz; but it was entirely different from any of these. And yes, people did run around the club on speed, and pogo to Shirley Bassey records and throw incredible attention-seeking but unselfconscious shapes to Bowie /Moog records /X-Ray Spex, or a live performance from, say, Jayne County. Leigh Bowery – dressed as some kind of nocturnal Michelin Man – tripped the light fantastic next to Jarvis Cocker or Courtney Love; and women, unpestered by the usual club types, would be scantily clad and proudly so by the end or beginning of the night. It was decadent, bohemian, and extremely silly. No one was too cool to join the Conga (around the club or into the street) or high-kick it to the Bugsy Malone soundtrack. Martin Green, by the way, was probably one of the most influential DJs of the 90s, in my humble opinion, rating alongside more recognised pioneers such as Andrew Weatherall, Harvey or Gilles Peterson.

When he came on, your ears would be blessed with weird 60s film scores, Moog records, funky tracks off forgotten/unknown rock LPs, easy listening anthems, Roxy, Millie Jackson and punk rock. His selection was eclectic, funky and insanely lateral – in a time before the internet, general open-mindedness and random playlists.

There were other clubs too, and many of The Smashing regulars would frequent them. The weekend drill was this: Friday was Smashing (at Eve’s Club) and Saturday would be either Blow Up at the Laurel Tree pub in Camden, or maybe Magick at Wildes in Chinatown. You’d usually try and turn up to all three of them,

Blow Up was run by Paul Tunkin and featured himself, Ian Jackson and Andy Lewis (now Paul Weller’s bassist) on the decks upstairs, and often, in the midst of the jumping up down to The Who, Wire or bouncing around to a Northern soul gem – it felt like the ceiling would collapse, as it seemed to bend to the pressure of all those stomping feet. Downstairs were the Karminsky Experience who’d supply all the lounge, kitsch and exultant grooviness: Quincy Jones, Mancini, Big Jim Sullivan or maybe just some killer soul 45 no one had ever heard of. And Blur’s Graham Coxon could be found on the floor, by the bar, drunkenly writhing amongst attendees.

Magick was run by Adil and Saul, and was funkier, dirtier and rockier than Smashing or Blow Up – and on a good night, was the best club you’d EVER been to. Wildcat Will (from The Sandals/Tongue Kung Fu), Smashing’s Martin Green, Chris Sullivan, Paulo Hewitt and my good self would often guest. Music policy was anything goes: but Hendrix, Serge Gainsbourg, funk and Rare Earth were the essential, catalytic ingredients. And it was always crowded, cramped and stifling, but in a good way. Even Keanu Reeves had to queue.

1997 Smashing 4 016

Memories of that night are aptly quite hazy, though one thing always tickled me. There was a story, perhaps apocryphal, about an attractive lady who, mid-dance, suddenly but subtly ‘unloaded one’ onto the dancefloor. Not so much a gesture of criticism, I’m told, but most probably, a from-the-gut, spontaneous compliment – though I’m sure a “isn’t this a great night!” would have sufficed. But that’s drugs for you. Speaking of which, I did actually see Robert Downey and David Thewlis – not to be outdone by Coxon at Blow Up – both crashed out on the floor. And there was nudity, fights, and varying degrees of fear and loathing in the nights to follow.  [Editor of Cold Lips, Kirsty Allison, graced the decks at Smashing, one blurry, blurry teenage night…]

So there you have it, the 90s – yet another decade where you could let your hair down, your trousers down, and ultimately your self down.

SOME OF THE TUNES PLAYED

Obscene and Pornographic Art -Bongwater (as played by Martin Green, Smashing)

Moog Power – Hugo Montenegro (as played by Martin Green, Smashing)

Jumping Jack Flash – Ananda Shankar (as played by Karminsky Experience, Blow Up)

I’m Losing You – Rare Earth (as played by Adil/Saul, Magick)

5:15  – The Who (as played by Paul Tunkin, Blow Up)

E.V.A – Jean Jacques Perry (as played by Martin Green, Smashing)

To the Ends of the Earth – Tony Middleton (as played by Andy Lewis, Blow Up)

Psyche Rock – Pierre Henry (as played by Adil, Magick)

COLD LIPS BLEU

This is a version of ‘Hightimes in the Nineties’, an article by Graham Bendel published exclusively in Cold Lips II. To read the full article, support the ongoing work of Cold Lips by getting a copy now from our online store.

Cold Lips II cover

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