Rockshots & the Club scene in the 80s
15 with a Bullet
In the early 1980s a Nightclub called Scamps on Waterloo Street, was bought out & renamed as Rockshots. It was a turning point for the city.
This seminal Club, then went on to become the city’s main & best ever Gay Nightclub. Shortly before that happened, we were young kids hooked on the promise of fun, mad action & Disco delights... Scamps was where we found them.
The Immaculate Conception
As we strutted in the door of Scamps that first night, a record came on & from that one, single moment, we were straight on that dancefloor & our lives changed forever…
That tune was called 'There but for the grace of God go I' by Machine.
We didn’t know it at the time, but that moment was the 'fertilisation of the egg,' that was to hatch, years later, into the World Headquarters Club we all know today.
Please share that tune & moment, with us again now & feel those hairs on the back of your neck stand up on end..!!
Utter, liberated, sexy, political, Disco-driven audio magic..!
As always happens, right there - the minute we just heard that intro drop, we welled up with tears & we can if we like.
That is the power really great music has, to mark, map out & influence your life. Music is so, so important & that one record, in that single moment, with it’s powerful sentiment, truly changed the entire course of our time on this Planet.
‘Let’s find a place they say, somewhere far away - With no Blacks, no Jews & no Gays. There but for the grace of God - There go I…’
Perfection, utterly timeless & totally nails it. We never dreamed though, that to find the antithesis of that place Machine were singing about, we were gonna end up, quite literally - building it ourselves...
High Energy Takes Hold
We loved Disco & we bought & sold records at school & we had all the big tunes by bands like Chic & Mcfadden & Whitehead. We were totally nuts about it, mad collecting - mad dancing.
Around this time as the 80s dawned, Disco was starting to morph into a more Hi Energy kinda sound.
Scamps was great because they played all the big tunes. It probably wasn’t actually the case, but as we remember it now, looking back, the really massive Scamps records all seemed to have been recorded by someone called Patrick…
Granted, it really hasn’t dated well at all, but way back then that was a massive Scamps classic, we were just turned 15 & totally all over it.
As the High Energy thing really took hold, we began working in the Arcade & skipped to the more electronic Delby & Senate scene. But it wasn’t long before we were back in that infamous Waterloo Street building, now housing the (soon to be) legendary Rockshots Club.
Rockshots became yet another of our memorable playgrounds, a pivotal place. A Club where we grew up, promoted, saw dance music explode, led a totally liberated lifestyle, loved & made a living. All whilst playing amazing records there, for many, many years to come.
The Early Days of Rockshots
By the mid 1980s, Rockshots was the main Gay Club in the City & as we saw it, the only place tolerant enough to let people like us in without the bother of stupid racial hassle.
Colour didn’t matter here, not even slightly, the Gay Scene just embraced us.
A guy called Adrian Gadd owned it & Audrey managed it alongside him. He also owned & ran Bars down in the Gay quarter from way back then, right up to 2021, when he tragically passed away. Adrian was someone we respected greatly. A true pioneer that will be sadly missed.
Back in the 80s we often went to Rockers on a weekend, after we had been working in the Trent, as we loved the freedom & decadence of the Gay Scene.
We also went regularly to two midweek ‘straight’ nights that they hosted. One was a Black Music night called Echoes Club that was on a Thursday & originally run by a couple of our pals, Micky & Rick, who drank in the Trent. They were spinning all kinds of Black Music & it was right up our street.
Rick moved on after a while & another really big tune head called John, teamed up with Mickey to keep it going.
We went religiously every week for a more than a year & it was tremendous.
The other which was on a Tuesday, was called Rathaus. We saw it as more of a 'floppy fringe' of a job, where it seemed folk took themselves a bit too seriously, serving the New Romantic, post Punk & Indie scenes.
A lot of the music wasn’t really to our taste, but we went anyway, as they did play some stuff that was on.
These nights were the two main underground nights in town. In truth, Rockshots' overall groove was at the epicentre of everything that was cool & fun about hip Clubbing in Newcastle at that time.
The Rest of the Club Scene
On the other side of town there was one other night of note in a little basement Club called Manhattans. Here there was a Wednesday night called Fever that we really liked too.
That night was really out there, especially for the times. It was run by two guys who were both called Matt - Matt Rice & Matt Higgs. They were cool student guys & apparently pals with the young Norman Cook. They had a really good & original take on the groove, mixing Rare Groove with very early, fledgling House beats.
A really cool cat called Salsa Sean played Fever too. Sean was another proper tune head & went on to work with our crew for years doing Salsa nights, once we eventually opened WHQ.
On the quayside there was Julies Club, which also played Black Music, but was the kind of place the footballers went. We saw it as being a little ‘old geezerie’ & not really our kind of vibe.
Later on Walkers Club also eventually opened & was good for a bit, but got a bit too Geordie-boy footballer for us.
Going way back again - there were also 2 guys called Shaun & Ray who ran a night called Mr M’s on a Saturday night.
This was in the back room of Tiffany’s Club. Tiff's had Toon heritage, as it was formerly the old Oxford Galleries Ballroom, way back in your Nan's courtship days, when she wore geet silky bloomers & noshed powdered egg.
Tiffs had a really far out Electro afternoon on Saturdays, where all the under-agers went to breakdance, wear tracksuits & cop off.
Then much later it was called allsorts inc. The Studio, Liquid & then LQ, as the decades passed & it slowly got more & more awful with each new incarnation before it’s eventual demolition.
It's site is now gentrified & part of the new student, city centre hall construction epidemic.
Anyway, we digress - Back to Ray & Sean...
We had gone to the same school as Ray & though we didn’t go to Mr M’s that often, we knew it was a cool night & was pretty mad at times.
Ray was a Soul fan & he & Sean were far more entrepreneurial in their approach to Clubs than most people. You could tell they would do well & we were always well aware of & liked them.
We’re not sure what Shaun does now, but these days Ray is involved with running one of the North East’s biggest alcohol wholesalers & he'll doubtless have a tonne of other plates spinning too.
Indie music had always been strong with students, but now with Rockshots & the Trent going on, Rare groove & World music were also big in underground Newcastle. Hip Hop & really early House type beats, were just ever so slightly starting to creep in & take a bite, now too.
Friends of the Hustle
We were really friendly with the Rockshots management & staff, as we were always in there. Running the Trent, we always sent loads of people down to Echoes & Rathaus from our own little bar scene.
We were really great pals with Ian & Peter who did the lights & Sally, Rockshots Resident Dj. Ian was great, he was so funny..! He loved the tune 'Wicky Wacky' by the Fatback band & we gelled like crazy on that.
Peter was just wild, he always had the most stunning & amazing female companions. He was a popular, popular lad, a deep thinker & always really great laugh.
Sally was one of the finest mixers of vinyl we have ever met. He moved the Gay Scene in Newcastle forward light years with his skills. What a fella!
Here he is out with Ian yet again, buying tunes…
Sal also first turned us on to 'Let the Music Use you by the Nightwriters', so that says it all…
Vests & Lessons
Early morning & it was off to the flats opposite the Club on Waterloo street after Rockers closed, for insane all night parties – where the fact we were the only one not actually wearing a string vest, should have made us really out of place fashion wise…
But in terms of how we all saw life, fun, freedom, music & respecting other people, we were one.
We were really gutted, but then honoured, when Sally passed away & we were asked to be custodians of his extensive vinyl collection, on behalf of all his many friends in the Community. We said yes & it is a privilege.
We are sorry to say, but in fact all these three dear friends have passed now & we still think of them often. They were exceptional, each of them that rare blend of live wire & gentle soul…
Men who lived free. Ian, Sally & Peter – Laugh, play records & have a great time.
The ultimate Rockshots lessons, that we will never, ever forget.
Dawn of the Hustle
Over time, we gradually saw both Echoes & Rathaus start to get a little stale & then saw their numbers drop a little.
We knew the Club’s management saw that too & weren’t that happy about it. Over a long period of time they came to the conclusion (with plenty of input from us), that we could run both the Tuesday & Thursday Club nights they had on, better than the guys they already had doing them.
They knew our reputation & that of the Bar, from the parties we put on & also knew fine & well that it was a safe bet, that we could pack the place out. We’d done underground parties & we now had to get into running Clubs.
As it was the top underground Club in the city, then the place we did it had to be Rockshots. It was simple maths…
It was what the management of the Club wanted & as an opportunity such as this coming up was so rare, it was what we wanted too.
All our record collecting & Amsterdam experience meant we saw Clubs very differently to how other people in Newcastle did.
We’d hung out in a different culture & weren’t so bound by the types of music that were ‘allowed’ in any particular scene. We had a far more open musical perspective & realised that most artists, in all genres, make at least one great record.
We didn’t have a problem with breaking down the established Rockshots Club cliques & playing all those other great tunes as well.
It was simple maths indeed…
So with months of planning (yet publicly, seemingly overnight), we pulled a coup, ousting first one, then both sets of promoters & taking over both nights.
Both were such established & cool nights, surely no one could possibly have the front to take them down? Who would even think to dare..?
The answer was simple – us & it was the last thing anyone in Newcastle ever expected. People were so shocked, the gossip factor went from zero to warp speed overnight...
We couldn't help that though. We already knew that these takeovers were probably gonna be pretty acrimonious, as we knew most the guys who got the boot. But we couldn’t let that stand in our way, so just sucked it all up.
Actually running Club nights for a living, back then, was something that the guys we took out, couldn’t get their heads around us wanting to do.
We knew we could run those nights in a way that would deliver more diverse music & more success to Rockshots.
Rockshots knew that too & music was changing – If it hadn’t been us taking over these nights, in time it would eventually have been someone else. Running Clubs for a living was 100% where we were headed.
So we went for it…
Our takeover of Rockers was such massive news in the city & no one had ever pulled a hustle like this before. The initial group people who were bleating quickly grew... Before long, the entire city's grapevine rocketed into chit-chat, gossip-rumour overdrive.
Folk were just so stunned & soon everyone had an opinion on it.
We were really close to the Echoes boys which made it all somewhat uncomfortable, but Rockshots presented us with an opportunity that we just couldn’t pass up.
With the Rathaus boys it wasn't as tough. Their nights foundation wasn't in Black music. They weren't Soul Boys like us & we didn’t really know all of them that well.
With going every single week, we’d just got bored of the scene they had going & we genuinely thought we could get the Club twice as full.
At the time, they saw us as being cut throat, while we saw them as hobbyists, who had confused running Clubs with combing your fringe & playing records with jacking off.
Looking back now, this was a really harsh way to view them, as until they got a bit complacent, they ran a good night, that had added a lot to the city.
They felt their kind of post 70’s Punk scene thing was sacred – We didn’t.
We were making a move & that was that.
This was the 80s, music was expanding, Nightclub culture was developing & so we were set on expansion & development too.
We had a plan & we wanted to turn both nights, into something that would last & complement & expand on our multiracial Trent scene. This was our first big chance, to begin to radically alter the nightlife culture of the city & effectively lock Newcastle down.
A Brand New Era
Initially, we had to ride out a couple of weeks of outrage, grumbling & mini ‘fringe boycotts’ as we expanded the music policy of both nights drastically & broadened their appeal.
Then, within a month, the numbers in both Club nights had almost doubled & bingo! It was on…
With the Tuesday we commercialised it slightly, bringing in a great new young Dj called Alan Clark to give it mass student appeal.
Alan was really on point & the key to our team unlocking & then rebuilding that scene. Kid had the skills & then some & for such a young guy he read the room really well. Alan played without bringing his ego into it - A proper music head.
We also invited a guy called Ian who’d been in the Rathaus crew, to join our gang. Ian was a really cool guy, well cutting edge for the times too & had a really positive input. So we now had a little Crew & played alongside them, all feeding musically off each other.
Though it was a mainly indie student crowd, we'd drop big tunes from other emerging scenes too. Here's one we'll never forget that still sounds a dope & exciting as it did all those years ago...
In no time, we learnt the indie bands & got the groove, even though it was initially totally alien to what we were used to. A tune’s a tune, we could always dig that & once we were up to date & in synch with that whole indie scene, it was a done deal.
Thursday’s were an easier fix. We knew Black Music inside out & it only needed to be musically re-centred & it's appeal broadened, rather than torn down & rebuilt.
We played ourselves & broadened the remit of quality Black music that was played. We dropped white tunes too & took care to always play to the crowd, as well as getting boatloads of our rarer tunes across.
Using guests from our circle of cool, musically switched on pals, the musical base broadened further. We didn’t want loads of head nodding boys, so we always played to the girls (the absolute basics of being a successful Club DJ). We hyped each night to the max & instantly blew right up, to become massively successful.
We kept the majority of the regulars from both nights & delivered loads more extra people to the Club too.
So despite our detractors, we vindicated the perceived ruthlessness of the move, with the success & musical diversity we delivered to Rockshots & the fact that people were properly having it.
Overnight, underground Clubbing in Newcastle changed. This was a totally new page & no one cared about what had gone before...
Our groove was simply a lot more fun.
Thursday Rockshots shaped how we approached playing records forever & formed the blueprint for Tommy's World HQ Uplifting Groove shows, that went to be the backbone of WHQ & firmly establish the musical ethos of the Club we are today.
We now had control of the best Bar in the city, it’s two most successful cool Club nights & we were running all straight aspects, of the region’s best Gay Club. That was Newcastle locked…