A Reflection On The Days Of Manchester’s Infamous Friends & Family
You have to be mad to work as an underground promoter… Mentally and physically it’s the hardest job in showbiz.
Back in 2001 I was the blue tac and sticky back plastic king of the North. Friends & Family was a weekly event at the turn of the century in which you had to reach an audience by slamming a small rainforest's worth of posters and flyers in every shop, takeaway and bar in Manchester. Doing that every week exposed me to my first schoolboy error in event management: I left an A3 poster in a bus stop outside the job centre I signed on at with my government name. I was fined a grand for working whilst claiming unemployment benefit. Lucky for me being skint all the time didn’t matter when I could see inspiring DJs and live acts play in the Roadhouse every week and drink for free. It was wild and went on for nearly ten years.
The resident DJs and regular guests were next level and many would never stop, each contributing to shaping music culture in their own ways. Fat City and GC family over the years have included Riton, Jon K, Illum Sphere, Balraj Samrai (Swing Ting) Martin Brew, Aim, Mark Rae, No Fakin, Tom Findley (Groove Amada), Andy Votel, The Nextmen, Kwasi, Darren Laws, Matt Trigg’s, the list goes on and on.
It could just seem like words on a page ( “event promoter in exaggeration shocker” ) if it wasn’t for the passion and dedication of Al Baker. He documented the many of Manchester’s underground nights at that time (and still to this day) including Friends & Family in an era when social media hadn’t infected the world.
Al Baker had to buy film, take a bulky, fragile and expensive piece of equipment to a packed humid basement, hang on to it all night, not forget to use it, drag it back home after ten warm Red Stripes, dodge getting it nicked in the subways under the Mancunian Way, pay to develop the negs and wait a week to get them back. He had to do this every time he wanted to document a night (which was a lot). Al Baker’s dogged determination to document means we can all look at it and say “Oh yeah that happened and it looks mint!” Being that mental deserves applause and so we celebrate the man through a selection of his photos from Friends & Family with some humid memories from the legendary Roadhouse basement on Newton Street.
The Unabombers / Martin Brew / Riton 2001 Pic: Luke Una
Justin Only Child and Luke Unabomber have been a driving force behind Manchester's underground clubbing for longer than most and played in the Roadhouse a lot over the years. Here we see an ever conservative Luke Una rocking a proper Northern ‘Warburton’s and Whippets’ vibe on a hot summer night in 2001 when the Electric Chair and Homoelectric residents were hell bent on having a buzz as you can see in Al’s joyous photos.
Resident DJ Riton was already experimenting with a glitchy electronic style that would eventually help him become a major force in electronic music. At the time I thought he was mental but he proved he was years ahead of most. Still the combination of Martin Brew’s jazz, funk and hip hop jams, Luke’s disco and electronic oddities and Ritons crunchy house made the night far from boring… It might have been this this night (or another i've forgotten) when the club closed and Luke managed to blag a double decker bus driver parked outside the club to take 30 of us to an after party in Whalley Range for free. The Roadhouse owner Kate gifted us a couple of crates of Red Stripe and we partied all the way with the bus driver laughing his head off at the ridiculousness of the situation.
Later that day Riton and Luke ended up dressed in frocks and high heels walking down Great Ancoats Street (this might have been another night too). In the photo of Martin Brew in action, to the far left is Dave Walker, Fat City owner and captain of the whole ship. If it wasn’t for Dave we’d of sank after a year. Al Says – I attended several early 'detonations' at Electric Chair before popularity forced a venue-change. The Roadhouse stage was always full of people clambering everywhere; the needle regularly jumped through over-enthusiastic ravers pounding the stage. Mixing was rough & the DJ's responsible were not exactly sober. It was far too hot & uncomfortable in that cellar & far too many people were crammed into it. The owners were forced to open up the backstreet loading bays as an extra room so punters could chill-out, breathe again & gaze into each others dilated eyes. You could see the steam coming off of everyone as their sweat evaporated into the night. This ram-shackle club-night should have died on its arse but instead it was truly wonderful.
The Nextmen and Woody (aka The Nudge aka Il Bosco) 2002
The Roadhouse as a club was a DJ’s dream. The stage was high enough to see the crowd all the way to the back. The roof was low and looked like it would collapse – hence the drapes we used to cover the whole club. It was dark enough to feel like you weren’t on a pedestal at the same time whilst the sound system and monitors were loud and clear. With 250 people in the room the place would turn into a pressure cooker. In Al’s shots of the stage you can see the sweat pouring off Brad Baloo of The Nextmen as he chooses his next record and in the following shot it looks like he’s stepping fully clothed out of a shower. Al Says this was the first of many return journeys up north to the Roadhouse basement club over the years for Brad Baloo & Dom Search – the pair become immediate Friends & Family favourites with their fat & funky party vibes.
Pic – L-R Woody (Il Bosco), Dave Walker (lurking), Brad Baloo & Dom Search (The Nextmen) figuring out how to keep the ice cubes from evaporating within seconds.
Mark Rae & Aim 2002
Both amazing producers and DJ's – Mark and Andy pretty much spearheaded the Grandcentral sound by producing classic LP's of the time. AIM's "Cold Water Music" sold nigh on 100,000 copies and was critically acclaimed, as was Mark Rae’s contribution to Rae & Christian’s "Northern Sulphuric Soul" LP. Both are amazing DJs.
Mark would drop a mega curveball. I’d seen the Roadhouse staff all leave their posts to dance to Madonna in the middle of a set full of jazz, funk, soul and hip hop. The breadth of genres AIM could swing to through the night meant that when they played (and usually together) the whole of Manchester and beyond would turn up.
Ross Allen, Jon K 2002
Ross Allen. A great guy who came back to play for us many times pictured with resident Jon K. All the DJ's who played would turn up and have a great time getting hammered and playing records. There wasn’t much in the way of trainspotting and chin stroking but every now and then you'd just have to go and ask for a track ID…
“What was that killa record?”
Looks like that’s what’s happening in this shot.
Al Says this guest is another DJ who will return to the Friends & Family fold many times over the years, a true long-standing friend of the Family. Ross Allen is the man behind Island Blue, Casual Records and Dorado; a regular stand-in for Gilles Petersons' BBC 'Worldwide' show and just as influential with his own award-winning 'Destination In' radio show.
Ross Allen also compiled all the tracks for the fantastic "Abstract Funk Theory" LP (Obsessive 2000).
Veba (Rae & Christian) 2003
Every now and then Bev would turn up with a bag of records and do an impromptu set, grab the mic, have a sing and hit the dancefloor. What a woman. Love her. Al Says “Photographing Veba was always a pleasure. Her soul burned brightly enough in the murky Mancunian darkness for me whenever she sang. Being fortunate to capture a few of those precariously precious moments on film is something of which I am very proud."
Joy & Pain
Serious partying will take its toll every now and then. Looking through Al's photos I found myself laughing at these belters…
Mikey Donn and Mr Thing 2002
Mr Thing could rock a knitting club. One of the best ever. He’d keep it bouncing while seamlessly mixing together the deepest leftfield jazz, funk, soul and hip hop rare grooves. An amazing turntablist. Just the right amount of trickery to keep the nerds at bay and the dancers dancing. For me the best musicians are the ones that are technically amazing at their instrument but don’t get tempted to show off – instead using that talent so subtly you could almost miss the genius. Also in Al’s photo and a regular at the club was Mikey Don of UK Hip Hop legends Krispy. For me he’s one of my favourite DJ's. His knowledge is second to none making him a unique selector.
Al Says “Before a heavy night at Rollin' Sounds (the Zoo) with Ray Keith , I popped down the Roadhouse for an hour or two with ex-Scratch Pervert & Extended Players DJ Mr Thing. An absolute masterclass in hip-hop party tunes. MC duties taken by local legend Mikey DON.
J Rocc, Madlib and Monk One 2002
Bloody hell this was good. Thankyou Al for capturing this. Madlib had already been and played the year before and smashed it. I had a mint time when I took him and Peanut Butter Wolf for a Thai meal in Manchester. Madlib didn’t like his so I took him to that Chicken Shop on Canal Street. After that he was buzzin.
Both times he came to Friends & Family he wanted to DJ so he was let loose to express his appreciation of spaced out jazz, soul and off kilter soundtracks to the delight of all the diggers and producers. J-Rocc was a party rocking fiend with eye-popping turntable mastery and pretty much brought the stage to a standstill as every backpack wearing nerd in the North West clambered to the stage trying to work out what he was doing. Friend and family member from NYC’s Together Brothers DJ Monk One (which also included Qool DJ Marv, Emskee and GMan R.I.P) finished off the night in style. Monk’s been one of the crews favourites after we used to listen to his seminal mixtape "Monks Dream" on repeat in Fat City. Monk returned on many occasion to rock the floor with his amazing selections and fantastic ability to keep the club dancing. He returns to Manchester for the 2018 F&F special.
DJ Monk One
J-Rocc & Kwasi
Al says: "I remember this night well. It was a sell-out show. Outside was a freezing February night with an added Icelandic wind. Once inside, the basement club was rammed out & hot. Camera lenses & spectacles around the small stage glazed over with condensation. It wasn't long before it began to drip from the ceiling. 'Two Red Stripes please' ; then elbow my way through the tightly-packed mass. Friends & Family regulars & hip-hop aficionados crowded around the small stage. No room for dancing down the front, tonight was going to be special. A rare visitor from overseas, bringing with them the Californian heat, Madlib (Stones Throw) whose contribution to hip-hop music, in all his many guises (Jaylib, Madlib, Madvillian, Quasimoto), is rarely surpassable. I am standing almost on top of the man, wedged in the corner by my elbows & camera, settling in for the night, claiming my spot. Later on it's time to put away my camera. I'd got some fantastic once-in-a-lifetime shots; but the uncomfortable heat had kept me drinking warm Red Stripe like water! I find myself to be rather drunk. I probably should head out, head home, but DJ Monk-1 has designs on my dancing feet. I stay right 'til the end."
Fingathing & Riton – 2000
When Fingathing would play it was like no other vibe. Elements of hip hop, jazz and punk had collided when these formed. Peter Parkers amazing turntable drumming and Sneak’s sidewinding double bass was something to be heard but to see it live was eye poppin. Their cover of Black Sabbaths "Iron Man" live had punters stage diving like it was a Nirvana gig. Unreal scenes captured in Al’s photo. You can feel the heat and humidity lust looking at it. Al Baker says:
“The surprise is that the two of them manage to generate so many ideas from such a basic premise. Grand Central obviously thought so. As a new 'live' prospect I was slightly less surprised than those who were gathered into the Roadhouse basement that November night, as I had seen their double-bass & decks combination before! The crowd at Friends & Family though were unwittingly in for a real treat! "
Jon K & Broken ‘N’ English 2003
Broke N English are Konny Konn ,DRS and Strategy. They would turn up regularly and knew they were always free to pick up mic which they often did. Each has made their mark in underground music. Konny as 50% of Children Of Zeus, DRS as a solo artist and an MC for some of the most respected Drum & Bass acts in the world and Strategy as a solo artist and in recent pairings with Dub Phizix. I always remember every regular crew had their corner of the club. Broke N English crew would head straight for the far right side by the stage and hold up all night occasionally venturing out to grip the mic and a Red Stripe. The spontaneous nature of the place meant anyone decent could get involved as they pleased and it made it never predictable or boring.
Jon K the mega selector taste injector was as good as he is now back then. A great resident bringing another level of deep to the Roadhouse nights. Al says: "Jon K, an integral part of Sub Tub & Eyes Down, both seminal club-nights in Manchester, followed on the tradition of Fat City Records shop staff moonlighting as Friends-&-Family residents. In the rest of the photos from this particular night you’ll see Northern Monkeys/Broke'n'English family in attendance. A new generation had already usurped the established order. As it does. A young-looking Strategy and Johnny ‘Chimpo’ lurk in the shadows."
More Residents – We see Jon K above now more of the residents, who to most party goers, are the most important DJs at any club night. Getting a great guest is special but having world class consistency week in week out is rare. Here’s a few great shots of some of the crew captured by Al.
Riton – 2000
Mark Rae – 2001
AIM – 2001
Woody (The Nudge / Il Bosco) 2002
Whats Friends & Family without Kwasi? Nowt. He’s the best host in the land FACT. Not many other MCs bring so much joy and a welcoming presence than Kwasi. The ability to speak when it’s right and stop when it aint. Truly a fantastic host and talented party bubbler. At a party on Pomona Island in 2017 loads of heads were coming up going “I'm a mint drum and bass MC”. We’d let them on for a few minutes (everyone deserves a chance) and tell em to get off. They would start arguing about how good they are and that they needed to keep hold of the mic. We just unplugged it at the mixer and they carried on MC'ing into it. That’s how crap they were. As as long as they had a mic in their hand and could hear the sound of their own voice they were happy even though it wasn’t even plugged in. Young MC’s learn from the master. Please.
Martin Brew 2001. 50% of J-Walk and a fine solo artist and DJ Martin continue to smash it to this day.
Chris Jam (Jam MCs) 2000
Qool DJ Marv 99
Marv is more family than friend. Resident NY guest absolutely one of the best to ever do it. No photos of him playing from any of his many times at the Roadhouse in the beginning. This is from Counter Culture the year before F&F started but we couldn’t leave him out no way.
Mark Torkington 2003
Jason – Beatfreek
Jason Turton & The elusive Dave Walker in the background holding a specialty of the Roadhouse rider – a warm Red Stripe.
Darren Laws 2001
Main face at Grandcentral and a man of exceptional taste Lawsy made a huge contribution to the Manchester scene.
Buzzin Al took loads of photos of the dancefloor. Some great pictures of the crowd here. You can feel what it was like when you see the people. We asked some residents and regulars what they felt…
Colin O Toole (2018 BAFTA award winning film maker for short film ‘Cowboy Dave)
“My main memories of Friends & Family in the early years at the Roadhouse was sense of belonging, belonging in a dark, bass heavy, sweaty basement club that you could punch the ceiling (literally) – just how a night club should be. I can’t remember what people said, or how they said it but I remember how it made me feel. Oh yeah and the toilets often leaked all over the dance floor – that was fun."
Qool Dj Marv (Giant Steps New York City)
“Being a part of Friends and Family represented the sum of beaming soul reach outs, embedded in the blends – the tone of what I’m about – universal sounds, everybody gets down. Proven true, beheld by my own eyes, records never played to stand still. I remember the pandemonium of the peak. The ecstatic incline that held through the turning on of the lights. Pure bliss, sometimes oblivion, always free in getting lost in music. And the party after the party, and the tea late the next afternoon. And the friends made during extended stays. A fellowship of DJs and music lovers that extended into welcomes into homes to meet and even spend time with families. Friends and Family is fullfillingness to the fullest.”
Bal (Swing Ting)
“It was definitely an inspiration that we still reference back to. The BBQ's were so sick! Remember Mark Pritchard throwing down at one of these & Illum Sphere & Jonny from Hoya:Hoya. A few club nights that come to mind: Stones Throw party in 2006. Kode 9 playing.. But it's the residents that kept it rocking time & time again”
Max Leader (Agency Director and has managed some of the world’s biggest commercial DJs)
“It was friends and family that created the path for my career to date. There were many great moments but most of all it was the vibe in those parties which made me fall in love with music and clubbing. It was also about a basement and music filled in a space where you would dance next to posh kids, gangsters, black kids, white kids, Asians, purples and neutrals. It showed me, and I still hold this today, that music, club music, dance music specifically is one of the few things in life that has the ability to truly bring all people together. I’ve not experienced that in any other genre and truth be told after 15 years since being involved in friends and family I've travelled the world over to all types of clubs and events and I’ve not encountered that feeling since. It all sounds cheesy to write, but the impact of that party creates a mindset that I still hold and one which I still search to find again in events globally".
AIM (ATIC Records / Grandcentral Records)
"Friends & Family took the spirit of classic nights like Headfunk and Frying The Fat and boiled it down into one small, perfectly formed weekly do. I played there loads. I was resident for a while but honestly, looking back it’s all a blur. The only actual memory I have of DJing there is getting bollocked by Dave Walker for playing a breakbeat hardcore track! It was an eclectic night but there were lines you couldn’t cross! I’ll never forget the vibe though. The party was always bigger than the DJ’s. The crowd drove it and it was one of those clubs where you knew if you got it right it was going to go off, guaranteed."
Illum Sphere (Ninja Tune)
"The first time I ever DJed in a club was at Friends & Family at The Roadhouse. At the time, I was only playing in bars, but nights like Friends & Family, Eyes Down, Mr Scruff’s Keep It Unreal, Hot Milk and Electric Chair were all planting the seeds of ideas that would eventually become Hoya:Hoya. The wide ranging music policy, the atmosphere, the mix of people in the crowd. In fact, if someone had told me that night at The Roadhouse, at my very first club gig, that one day I’d be playing at the 7th birthday of a party I co-ran, in the same club, I’d never have believed them."
“It was great to be part of it when it was in its heyday, All the people who worked at Grandcentral and Fat City were like a family to me.”
“Ha, Friends & Family, where to start…..there’s that one about the dead fish but that’s been done to death right?! One other snapshot that comes to mind was clocking a mate (who’ll remain nameless) behind the curtain getting off with someone whilst so ekkied up he got carried away & was feeling up someone else at the same time…..some silly nights. Aside of that, Kode9 in 2008 (I think) doing an across the board set was one of my all-time favourite nights out in Manchester + often gets talked about to this day.”
“Friends & Family is my favourite night in the whole country to play. Amazing vibe, people and of course that soundsystem”
Will Tramp (Homoelectric / Warehouse Project)
“I moved to Manchester from Leeds early 2000s and spent every penny I had in Oldham St record shops, went to Friends and Family every Saturday pretty much and became obsessed with the music they played. It sounded so familiar but different to music I'd been exposed to previously' it was funky and had neck snapping drums but wasn't overtly aggressive and dripped in swaggering bravado it had a Heart and soul, mellow yet assertive. I'd allocate an amount of times that I would ask Jon K, Woody and co what the song was playing. It was an amazing time and undoubtedly shaped my music career in Manchester. I soon went on to start my own club nights with friends. I miss those friends and family days a lot. Thank god for digital music so I don't have to buy two copies of US 12" hip Hop records to chop anymore. Respect to everyone involved in that scene”
“Always a pleasure to frequent Friends & Family’s Northern knees up. Undoubtedly one of the best nights around”
Luke Bainbridge, ex-Editor of City Life and Deputy Editor of Observer Music Monthly, now author and curator of Festival No.6
"Friends and Family is still one of my all-time favourite clubs, I’ve so many treasured sweaty memories from that dirty basement. People punching the ceiling in exhilaration, jumping off tables, peaking too early, falling off stage… and that’s just the DJs. The residents, with centuries of crate digging between them, backed by the mighty MC Kwasi, created an inimitable vibe that instantly made both punters and guest DJs like New York's Qool DJ Marv feel at home. It’s very rare to walk into a club and feel you’re among northern sulphuric soul mates. Under the paving stones, the beach… the turntables might wobble but they won’t fall down.”
All photos courtesy of Al Baker. Friends & Family returns with a stella line-up for one night only in 2018 on July 14th @ Hidden, Downtex Mill Salford. Event page with line-up and ticket info HERE. Tickets available HERE.