15. Bigbird – Edinburgh 1989 & the Sister Sledge Moment
In 1989, things were going well, so we got cocky & thought we knew everything. However, we didn’t really know what we were doing & were therefore perfectly poised, to bite off a bit more than we could chew…
We were now playing clubs 6 nights a week all over the North & we pushed our expansion into Bonnie Scotland.
We teamed up with our friend Rowan, who was guesting in Thursday Rockshots with us at the time.
After taking a long time to case out venues, we took over a great big old building called Wilkie House, in Edinburgh’s Cowgate.
Wilkie House was owned by the church next door & was run by some mad Nuns.
Initially they weren’t keen on us at all, but we donated money to their charity, did them a few posters for their kids glee club & generally charmed them, in to eventually renting us the place.
It took a while, but we nailed them. We took it on for Saturday nights in Autumn 1989 & basically did a version of Thursday Rockshots there, we called Bigbird.
It was an outrageously bold move…
This proved to be the steepest learning curve of all, as we had no power base up there whatsoever.
We didn’t even know a single person who lived there. This meant us having to start from absolute scratch & drive teams of kids up from Newcastle, usually after we had just finished playing a Club. Armed with pots of glue & posters, we flyposted Edinburgh overnight.
We ran a proper guerilla advertising campaign & we covered (& we do mean totally covered) Edinburgh in our publicity.
We then took a big & very, very young team up in a bus, to try & run all aspects of the Club each Saturday night. We were a proper little crew of hardcore grafters.
We kept crashing cars on the way up there though & it was lucky someone wasn’t killed.
Rowan especially, had particularly bad luck in that department – He was the ultimate crashmeister. You name it – Rowan crashed it.
The geezer was like a one man demolition derby, honestly, it was nuts.
After an very shaky start it all folded, we parted company with Rowan & then went back & tried a second big push…
Somehow, to our complete surprise & against all odds, it suddenly, became an overnight, runaway success..!
This didn’t go unnoticed by the local Djs & promoters & soccer crew, who absolutely hated us.
The subtle combination of Black, with an apparently English background (which the majority of our young team were), was also more than the racist, Hibernian soccer casuals could bear…
This was the height of the whole 80s soccer casual movement, as nationwide, gangs of tooled up, coked up hoodlums would dress sharp & then roam from town to town, kicking off at Football games.
We weren’t in Newcastle any more. This wasn’t our town & we didn’t understand the power of that insanely violent movement, in Scotland at the time.
We didn’t know it, but peace & harmony were not dishes they had on the menu, or dined out on, up there.
The Hibernian casuals mob were heavily linked to big time local gangsters, who ran door security up in Edinburgh, through a (now notorious) company called ‘Westland Security’.
The deal was the casuals would go to, kick off in & totally fuck a Club up one week – Then the next week the Westland heavies would turn up, saying they could protect you from them.
All you had to do was agree to hire their doormen.
Classic protection racketeering.
A recent tv show with that Danny Dyer dude about ‘deadliest’ men covered the whole late 80’s Edinburgh casual scene & laid out the citywide scale this exact same hustle was taken to.
We don’t actually watch that type of drivel, we stumbled upon the programme as we were skipping channels, looking for Professor Brian Cox.
This ‘business’ plan (& it was a massive, high turnover business), rapidly gave Westland the security contracts & thus, total control of the vast majority of Edinburgh doors.
It also gave the casuals a nice cash kickback throughout the late 80’s & early 90’s, by which point this happy marriage of total nutcases, had flooded the entire city with class A drugs.
We need to be clear here that we didn’t realise at the time, just what we were caught up in the middle of here.
We thought we could handle it. We weren’t gonna just roll over like all other places.
They didn’t know that though & the Hibs casuals systematically targeted Bigbird, arriving in small groups, or with girls to get past our door.
Once inside they would then assemble & kick off big time, as the night wound down.
Don’t get us wrong, we are not talking simple fisticuffs here…
We are talking proper, knife carrying, highly organised, racially motivated mob violence, the like of which we have never seen anywhere else (& we’ve seen some major incidents over the years).
The enduring image of Bigbird is of one night, around one am, with a ram packed dance floor that suddenly was full of soccer casuals (about to kick off the most insane violence you can possibly imagine).
There they all stood, making Nazi salutes in unison, in time with the chorus of We Are Family by Sister Sledge – A proper fuck up.
What transpired was a level of mindless aggression that was sickening in it’s intensity. It seemed momentarily like drugs & crazy people had taken over the entire planet…
Racist, Scottish Nazis – Who would ever have guessed..?
So it was like the bad old days all over again & there we were (deja bloody vu), back to fighting for our lives, against racist imbeciles.
Tons of people were really badly injured that night. One guy in there got his jaw kicked off & it was hanging loose, virtually blowing in the breeze.
In a separate incident, a gang of about 100 casuals, all chanting ‘Kill the Nigger! Kill the Nigger!!’ – literally came within inches of dragging one of us out into the street, for a good, old fashioned lynching.
What were we to do..?
We had had a great run & there was still a ton of money to be made if we would just bow down, join the rest of the city’s terrified Club promoters & hire the Westland heavies to ‘protect’ us.
We were never gonna do that – what we were doing was about more than money. So we took the decision to ditch Bigbird, rather than ever bow down to anyone…
Hometime – Super!
So it was time to put ‘global expansion’ on hold – Go back to Newcastle & finally start to really appreciate, the friendly cool scene that we had built & was waiting for us back home…
We left, quite probably in the nick of time & it was the best decision we have ever made.
Even more importantly, we banked the entire experience & swore that when we ever finally got our own Club, we would make a point of properly understanding exactly what it was we were getting ourselves into.
We were gonna plan for the unexpected, make door security our top priority & control every single aspect of it ourselves.
Nothing would ever be allowed to slip. We knew we were really lucky – to still even be alive.
This marked the dawn of us becoming really, really professional, as up until now we had been somewhat winging it.
Certainly with Bigbird, we had totally underestimated what we were letting ourselves in for.
Edinburgh had it’s laughs, the money had rolled in & we really enjoyed working with the team we rocked – Albert, Louie, Arthur, Mickey, Abdul, Greg, Barbara, Peter & everyone else involved, but we simply couldn’t guarantee their safety anymore. What a crew we were though!
Near death, from lack of risk awareness, is a remarkably quickly understood lesson. That lasting lesson, not the money, was the real benefit of working in that mad place, at that particularly insane time.
Among the many massive tunes we span up there, from all genres, when we think back on it now, it was the really big Hip Hop tunes we broke there back then, that seem to stick most in the memory.
Strong Island by JVC Force
& Stetsasonic’s ground breaking, Talkin’ all that Jazz, with the line…
‘We wanna make this perfectly clear – we’re talented, strong & have no fear…’
We learnt a while later, Wilkie House had subsequently been set on fire & burnt to the ground.