The Land That Tim Forgot
It's very easy to take for granted the current love of electronic music and culture in all it's forms but there was a time when it just didn't exist and it's rare to have people who took that journey from the pre-Acid House era to today. While today a working DJ, owner of VVWI records and something of an Ibiza name it's easy to forget Tim Sheridan is an old hand from way back. With a prominent role in the new Back to Basics documentary we thought it time to swing a shiny bauble in front of his eyes, tell him he is getting sleepy and peel back the layers to the past lives and reveal scenes of dark satanic mills and gothic nightmares that were the period just before House happened. Read and count yourself bloody lucky you soft, plump and pampered child of better times.
What was your first experience of the electronic music scene in Leeds?
There was no scene naturally at the start. It was a hideous cultural vacuum. We wore wooden underpants, ate wool butties and for fun chucked muck at Witches. Leeds went from Punk to New Wave to Goth and then New Romantic pretty seamlessly and anything electronic was always an offshoot and very very white. Those of us who were weird enough to like Black Culture in a deeply racist period had to make do with the West Indian Centre and the odd band that came to town, I mean if we wanted to hear Dub we had to cross the colour line too which to someone now will be impossible to describe but you did dice with death at the dub disco. Which sounds like a joke right up to when it isn't. That was until John Keenan, the legendary 80s Leeds promoter, started to put our great city on the map with serious gigs at The Duchess of York and The Irish Centre. I saw some amazing stuff including Soft Cell, B.A.D and a very early pre-Cracknell version of St.Etienne. Keenan also put on some mini festivals in the early and mid 80s called "Futurama" in the old Bus Terminal which is now the waste ground in front of the Hilton. I say "festival" but it was more of a gaggle of damp Goths shuffling about in a big shed.
A large wool butty please, no brown.
In those days we liked Kraftwerk, Einsturzende Neubauten and Can. "Krautrock" it became known as. It was perfectly possible to dress like a punk and like stuff like that rather than The Sisters of Mercy. It wasn't like now, there just wasn't anyone to police it and we'd have punched them in the head if they tried. It's funny… you never used the terms at the time. We never called ourselves "Goth" or labelled any music at all really . It was just stuff you liked and it was usually just new, not any kind of movement. People are never that organised, they don't all go "I've got a wizard jape, lets all dress like shit vampires and call ourselves something super!", no these things are always labelled after the event, even in today's accelerated media. Everyone was much less influenced by the media then too. Mainly 'cos there were hardly any magazines or such telling us what to do. Consequently a lot less people were 'hip'. The ratio was about 1 lonely Manc in a pith helmet and culottes per 10,000 square Squares. I mean all joking aside you could get stabbed until you died for having a beard or having eyeliner on in those days. The irony is not lost nowadays where you can't move for bearded hipsters with go-to-bed eyes but on the plus side I'll definitely know the world has ended when I see a gang of beards in jeggings and pointy clown's shoes chasing and giving a sharpened kicking to a casually dressed bricklayer for being in the wrong part of Peckham.
30 years back though I honestly believe the "look" of Goth was just us from Leeds getting everything wrong. What I mean is at the time maybe three things were cool and universal in the UK ; the back end of Punk, wearing black and the beginning of New Romantic. So Goth was just old Punks and Young Turks wearing black. I honestly believe that. It's really weird that it is huge in America now 'cos it was 99% Leeds and 1% Robert Smith I kid you not. Funny but a total factoid. Long before 'Madchester' for about ten minutes all the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds covers were about 'The Leeds Scene'.
The Whip 1982, you can still get murdered in there today you know.
Leeds happened entirely on it's own. There were no Malcolm McLaren's behind you pulling the strings it was entirely organic. So it didn't have a "scene" at all for electronic music. Some of us liked what became known as "Benelux Beat" or "Belgian New Beat" or sometimes confused with "Industrial", Front 242, Finitribe (who were actually Scottish) and even rockier electronic stuff like The Young Gods (who were Swiss) and such… Don't all those stupid labels sound mental now?! They all come from bone idle London journalists too late for the party. Still do. Anyway. Electronic music meaning music made with no traditional instruments at all was pretty rare, it was merely an element of music in general, as sequencers and drum machines became more common and more importantly more affordable. Electronics encroached slowly, replacing the drummer first and then other elements but it took a long time to put down the guitars. Obviously rockers had been trying a long time but getting it badly wrong by smashing them to bits against the amps.
In terms of music for me it was Stakker Humanoid that really made me turn from that sort of hybrid rock/electronic music to pure electronica. I always liked the cutting edge of music and still obsessively collect anything esoteric but "Humanoid" was a totally fierce and uniquely electronic sound. I mean Kraftwerk were really quite restrained, often pleasant but Stakker rocked. Which is a horrible and drastic Americanism that no sane human should ever use unless they really mean it.
The thing that was uniquely and totally "Leeds electronic" was this band called Cassandra Complex. I worked in Parkside Studios which at the time was one of maybe two proper studios in Leeds. On Stanningley Road it was just up from Mike's Carpets. Having brought over the American thing of doing your own wacky and inadvisably self-fronted telly ads everyone knew the legendary Mr Carpets, a satanic hybrid of Peter Stringfellow and Ashley from Coronation St. Anyway… we had everyone in the studios at some point. Visiting bands like The Jam used the place… every major Yorkshire band hired rooms and storage from us and I helped Swedish Mike make flight cases too out of there. There was The Mission, Sisters Of Mercy, The Wedding Present, Cud… I mean it seems funny now to say it but at the time these were international names but I digress… Cassandra Complex were in there and they had a Simmons Kit. Simmons made those hexagonal electronic drums in the 80s. I was a drummer then so it made a huge impact on me cos I was convinced we were extinct as a species thanks to drum machines. I used to sneak in and have a go on them after closing, the midnight drum-stalker. Next time I saw the band they were called "MDMA" now bear in mind this is like 1984 or something… loooong long time before MDMA the substance was even heard of, never mind available… next time I saw the band maybe a year later they were called The Utah Saints. So sat in that complex of mouldy smelling studios (and I even slept there) I saw every kind of 80s band but the journey of Cassandra Complex to MDMA to Utah Saints was the only one that was purely electronic. In a nutshell before The Utahs there was no electronic scene in Leeds. I'm not being entirely biased cos I worked with them later cos at that time I was a kid working in a studio and they were a proper band, all that was to come years later. The reason they were important was twofold ; clubs and music.
The first reason is the impact the Utahs had as promoters. Leeds didn't have clubs as such for the 1st half of the 80s. They had "Discotheques", chrome and carpet hellholes with weak lager and strong scents and a bloke shouting cheese over chart records. You had "Mr Craig's" which was Peter Stringfellows' attempt to bring "London Sophistication" to grim Leeds. Truly awful it was. It was as tragic as an old brown naked Christmas tree left by the bins in February. Still rocking the tragedy nowadays as Gatecrasher. Couldn't have been taken over by more appropriate tossers. Back in the 80s club scene on the plus side you did have "Dig!" and "The Cooker". They was upstairs at what was then called Coconut Grove which was later the upstairs of The Gallery/Pleasure Rooms and run by Gyp and his crew. Gyp's family own "Salvo's" which just won a TV award for best restaurant funnily enough and is a legendary proper Italian gaff… but the place is also a Jazz Mecca thanks to Gyp and he was and still is The Il Duce of Jazz in Yorkshire. Also on that tip "The Downbeat" was proper. Dancing music for people who did proper dancing.
Mr Craig's. Peter Stringfellow brings chrome and carpets to chrome and carpet-free Leeds.
Back then it was more of a Northern Soul thing. Rare Groove and Funk and people who were there to dance not to cop off or fight. It was awesome but you've heard all that stuff before. The Downbeat was run by George Evelyn and Kevin who became Nightmares On Wax. But I think for electronica the key players were the lads who eventually became The Utahs ; Jez Willis, Keith Langley and Tim Garbutt… they were promoters all over Yorkshire earlier on. They ran every night at "Ricky's" which later became The Gallery/The Pleasure Rooms and they promoted nearly every night there. People who later started much bigger 90s money ventures like Vague and Basics were all generously helped out by them, as indeed was I. Vague started as a back room at The Gallery, I think they called themselves "The Kit Kat Club" then.
A young Tim outside his school 1980, anarchist slogan homework completed.
Music was the second reason the Utahs were important. You can find bands that made electronic records earlier than The Utahs but not in Leeds and not from there. They are up there with some of the first electronic records in the UK in their earlier incarnations but certainly they, The KLF and The Shamen were at the forefront of the first wave of UK electronica. If you look at those three names it may be hard for you to doff your imaginary hat but sorry we owe an awful lot to them and it's natural for the kids to find the parent embarrassing but eventually you have to face up to it and take them out for a pint and discover they are human.
I'm dead proud to know and have worked with them lads and I think it's too easy to forget their heritage. Anyone who has met them will confirm they are the best of chaps… so much so that I think they get overlooked. But without them I would have no place in the industry… nor would Back to Basics as Dave Beer was their tour manager for example and helped out by them early on. Sorry I have not really answered the question cos I always chuckle at the mention of a "Leeds Electronic Music Scene". You are talking to someone who prayed on his fucking knees for something like that to exist back in the old days. I think I had left Leeds before it could really make that claim to be honest. Back then one band and one or two clubs did not a scene make. I for one felt very isolated. I can't honestly say it could be said to have a scene until much, much later. Maybe my first coming across a fully formed scene in Leeds is when we brought Kiss FM there in about 1996, by then they had something going on. Enough to warrant a Radio station certainly.
Was Leeds as much a hub for musical creativity in the 80s as it is now?
If you think of Goth as musically creative then yeah it was a fucking ant's nest of inspiration. That gave way to "Indie" and Leeds always did ok with that label. We do quirky quite well. We always do. It's like our football. We have periods of greatness and periods of drought but we are always unique and unconcerned about how the rest of the world perceives us. I think the 80s was a period of flux for the entire UK but the North/South divide was never more vivid than that time. Thatcherism you see? I mean we all knew people, families, whole towns destroyed. Not a word I use lightly. Trapper is one of my old mates since he was one the doormen at The Gallery for example. He was an ex-miner and he saw some shit I tell you. It was a deeply unpleasant time in a lot of ways. It's funny you know when you see people glamourising the 80s now. They just were not old enough or northern enough to remember how fucking shit it was. I have Loadsamoney London mates who really thought the 80s were a ball because it was ok for them. Seriously though… it was not leg warmers, Miami Vice, mullets, Armani, filofaxes and 18-30 trips to the sun. It was grim man! grim!
Musical creative hub, the city square '84. So dry even tumbleweed stays in.
I mean one thing you must remember about certainly the early 80s was the all encompassing nuclear paranoia. This may be hard to digest now but you definitely had a part of your consciousness wherein the world would end in your lifetime. Seriously. Sounds insane now. But it was for good reason because at the height of the Cold War it was considered "likely" rather than "unlikely" that there would be a WWIII. It just wasn't like now, I mean for example you were fully involved in politics. I didn't know anyone who wasn't political back then and that was a direct response to Thatcher and her cronies. I seriously think the Cold War was as much a part of igniting Acid House as Thatcherism was. You have to understand that many of us clung on to Acid House for dear life for real political reasons. It was an illegal movement. We fought physically with the Police alongside Miners at Raves. It was made very illegal to be a Raver. It was ridiculous when you think about it!
Another thing about the period ; It's a common policy of film designers and costume people in the motion pictures to use a rule of thumb whereby if you are depicting a period you tend to use things in it from the period before. Because at the time only a relative handful of london types had the money to indulge in the latest fashion. I mean a lot of the iconic 80's things didn't exist up here… smiley t shirts, day glo dungarees, bandanas etc… indeed they didn't exist much outside of the media. A lot of the 80's, both visually and musically still had one foot in the late 70s. And again don't jump to conclusions. The late 70's had stuff going for it as well as against but one of the reasons "Baggy" came along, which by the way was not invented or confined to Manc land… it happened on the Terraces and was inspired by teams of Casuals trips abroad for one, so it came off the Terraces in many towns North and South…but that thing of having a hybrid of Indie and Acid House is a very Northern thing. Not being blindly futuristic (that would be too optimistic!) but taking the new ideas and giving them a grounding in what has gone before and gone well. The thing about futurism is it nearly always looks stupid in the actual future. I mean the first 1960's series of Star Trek looks idiotic now, an iPhone has more convincing technology in it than a load of random flashing lights and doors that open by themselves and go swoosh they don't go swoosh at all now do they? only if they are broken. What I mean is musically, in maybe Germany or Chicago or London, they were trying to make future music and some of it sounds a bit weak now but a lot of the Northern 80s stuff was made imbued with that Northern vibe of being cautious and it was married to more classical elements like tunes and instruments and has stood up fairly well. Mind you there was some total web-footed barking bollocks made then too. Oh dear me yes.
Courtesy of the Leeds Tourist Board
What effect did the Acid House movement have on the city? How did it change it?
I for one was in London when it properly kicked off although I returned to Leeds maybe monthly since I left in the mid 80s to see family and friends so I was in a rare position of seeing it happen up and down the M1. I feel Leeds pre-dated it but I would because that was were I was before. For me "Acid House" was a label to cover a hysteria that was happening in London and in the tabloids. My feeling is electronic music was doing fine before people started calling it Acid House. I was bang into it though! I really though we were going to change the world. If you'd have shown me the snobby, elitist and money obsessed thing it has become now I would never have believed it.
Back up North in what was it? 1988? The raves in Blackburn were certainly more influential than the city based stuff. The hysteria and hype about Acid House was born and raised in orbital greater London and in The North we had our own thing going on. I think we looked at it as funny right up until it really went national. The Sun was screaming for the heads of these "evil killer drug barons" while on the following page selling smiley t shirts mail order. The UK tabloids disgust me. Basically the tabloid scum sold our generation's scene down the river for cash. They instigated and maintained the delirium that led to the frankly insane "Criminal Justice Act". Don't get me started! grrr!
A little known fact is a Leeds DJ called Rob Tissera was the Jesus of Acid House. He was sacrificed for our sins. No seriously he was the first person to be arrested under "The Bright Bill" which was the precursor of the laughably titled "Criminal Justice Act". It was a massive bust at one of the bigger Blackburn raves. Mind you I think Rob will admit getting on the mic and shouting "Fight the fucking Pigs!" didn't endear him to them. Cunts gave him 6 months! For playing records!
How did Acid House change Leeds? Well it drove it all indoors for starters. Discos became "Nightclubs" and legendary places like The Gallery became huge. Suddenly it went from something that was sort of a sideline for musicians… we DJ'd for laughs before and after gigs really but it wasn't 'proper'.. but suddenly stupid amounts of money were flying about. You could get thousands into a venue where at the time only a few bands could achieve those numbers and more importantly, it was kicking off every night. Certainly for students and you can't talk about Leeds and leave the students out. We hated them. However they are bread and butter for Leeds. I mean it has the largest UK hospital and as such the biggest medical teaching facilities in Europe. The Uni and Poly are massive, as is the music and art school. Leeds resembles a resort for students. When it is 'freshers' week the whole town is a mess . I mean the streets are chokka with kids. Conversely when they leave it can be a ghost town. Also you have to bear in mind Leeds is at the centre of hundreds of smaller towns and the rail station is humming with activity on a weekend. On the map Leeds looks very small and actually it is… you can walk across the town centre in ten minutes… but if you look on a map it is in the middle of a huge area of smaller towns, I think the geographical term is "hinterland". Leeds serves as a city centre for a huge area.
Skating in a hinter blunderland.
You also have to bear in mind that in the late 80s Leeds had a massive amount of money ploughed into it. Mainly after I left. They moved the DHSS there en masse into one of the largest single structures in the UK. A good barometer of Leeds' standing is the fact the Harvey Nichols chose to open the first store outside Knightsbridge in Leeds. Which is quite something when you consider how much money was involved in the building and what a significant message a high -end retailer like that is sending out. It's like Harrods deciding to open a branch in Scunthorpe. The thing about Leeds is geographically it is exactly in the centre of the UK. If you put your finger on Leeds you can spin the British Isles around like a top. Consequently all the UK haulage firms are based around Leeds. So the reason there was so much investment in Leeds in the late 80's was because the plans for the Euro-tunnel at that time included an express from Paris to Scotland via Leeds and London. Of course like so many British plans it went a bit wrong to say the least but Leeds benefitted from the concept even if it didn't come to pass in reality. The main thing I remember myself is that when I left Leeds in about 1986 you literally took your life into your hands if you went out in the city centre of a weekend. You could guarantee a fight. It was the civic pastime then. There was litter and claret everywhere. When I came back to help bring Kiss FM to Yorkshire in 1996 there was cafe' society! fucking hell! I honestly didn't recognise the place. There was no trouble to speak of on the streets, all the dereliction had been repaired and the overall vibe was really cheerful and positive. I guess Thatcher was victorious in the mining towns but when Labour got in it really did feel like a victory for the North. How things change eh?
Anyway, to attempt a more concise answer I would say for about two years Acid House was a very beautiful thing, all about the truly best things in our species. Not long after there was shitloads of money and for the first time in my experience ;cocaine in the North… and then it all went South fast, if you'll excuse the poor play on words. It was truly awful to see it fall so far so fast. I'm talking about the feeling at the time. It felt like someone had ripped the carpet out from under you. It took me a really long time to de-hippy myself and come back around properly to House again in about '95 after some awful Acid Jazz crimes. Yeah I was that traumatised by the selling out of raves that in a shock-induced trance I stepped in the Jazz-mess. I'm ok now though after counselling. I'm hoping some of this story rings some bells with anyone who came from a province to the capital via the House-train. Hope so anyway…
Part 2 soon come.
and some old stuff here