History & Culture

The Trent House in the 80s

Life in a Tube

In 1984, thirty eight years ago, we started working in this little bar next to the football ground, collecting glasses, mainly because we were just bored & liked the variety of tunes on the jukebox.

It was a stone’s throw from the Arcade & cool people worked there, like Clive Taylor, or as he was more affectionately known – Big Clive.

Clive drops in, years later & digs our new addition on the Trent stairs.

Clive was (& still is) super charismatic, a great storyteller & he taught us how to run bars. He was a great teacher & leader – A fella who really knows how to enjoy life.

Clive knew absolutely everyone & did some stage management at the Tube.

Paula Yates and Jools Holland
Editor’s note: the 80’s TV music show that was filmed in Newcastle at the time. You know the one, with Jools Holland & the late Paula Yates.

All kinds of far out people & visiting, big-name music bods came in the Bar to hang with him & it was an amazingly exciting scene to be part of, especially as we were so young.

So the Trent was already a really happening place & over time, we worked our way up the ranks & eventually took over the management of it.

Fear of a Black Planet

There was an initial backlash to the notion of ’Bliddy Darkies…’ controlling a city centre bar in the 80s. Not just from the cops, from the general public too...

St Thomas' Crescent Street Sign
Why oh why didn't we 'borrow' that sign the day we left..?!

We were just turned 21 at the time & the youngest bar management anywhere in the city.

This drove the local (backward, leg dragging, dribbling, sleep with your own sister), racists insane & all the Bar’s many windows went out repeatedly, night after night, for weeks on end…

Broken glass
Our daily treat.

They simply couldn’t bear the idea, that if they came in the Trent & went on like racist twats, really young, mixed race people (or ‘Fucking Nigger Bastards’ as we were more commonly known) now had the power to bar them.

As challenging as things can still be today, these were very different times to the ones we live in now. They just couldn’t get their heads around the fact, that not only did we now have the power to bar them, but we were also really happy to use it.

Wakey, wakey....

They genuinely thought that because they were white, they were somehow superior to us & could threaten & use intimidation & fear to push us out.

Well, they were wrong & obviously hadn’t grown up with the influence & example of strong, brave, positive icons like Muhammad Ali, as we had as kids.

We were on a ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ tip – Fear didn’t even come into it.

A "fear scale" set to 0%
Nah mate x.

It simply didn’t exist for us in this conflict & they could never even begin to understand, how that could be possible…

No way were we backing down. We would stay late to try to catch them & then come to work early every day, to sweep the broken glass up & ring a glazier, to get the windows put back in.

You Gotta Fight for Your Right

Our only worry was that Fred, the guy who had the lease on the Bar (that we were working for at the time),  might get so pissed off with all the hassle, that he’d sack us & hire in white management instead.

The Trent House: Bar Wars..may Wadds the Glazier be with You

But we were doing great business & assured him we could handle it, so he let us get on with it & we rode it out & royally took on the twats.

They just couldn’t get their heads around the fact that no matter what they did, we stood up to them. It was as if they were witnessing water, flowing uphill & it blew their tiny minds.

We stood firm & hit back at them anyway we could, we were prepared to fight for our fledgling scene & fight is exactly what we had to do... 

Constantly, over & over & over again.

Wood with "Bobby Womack" engraved on it
Over time we made little brass discs, so that each table had the name of an artist we played on the jukebox.

You can go your own way

We had right on our side, one eye on the future & the Trent was our place now.

There was no way we were gonna give up our one shot at having somewhere good to hang out in Newcastle, because some bunch of tupp’ny 80s halfwits, chose not to respect us as proper human beings.

Grey WHQ t-shirt

Our Bar was gonna be like a cool Amsterdam Bar & if that meant battling to keep it that way, then that was what we would have to do.

You wanna come in the Trent – then you had to be friendly, you had to be tolerant. You couldn’t be a racist or sexist twat, or we would confront you & turf you out.

We didn’t care that it was the 80s, we didn’t care who you said you were, we didn’t care who your family were, we didn’t care how big you were, we didn’t care how many of you there were...

If you wanted to drink in our Bar, then you did so on our terms. That was the deal with us, we set a high bar & soon everyone knew it.

Wood engraved with "Van Morrison"
You gotta go your own way & 100% control your own art, just like Van the Man does.

This must be the place

Back then, the whole racism thing was a daily battleground for us. Over the years, we threw so many people out of the Bar it was like a standing joke.

But that was because we wanted to create the type of place we would want to go to.

A place where people were friendly & could depend on the fact that if they came in there for a drink, they wouldn’t see any racism or anything else, that made them feel threatened or uncomfortable.

So we simply drew the line…

A pencil drawing a line

We were a good team & we fought hard to hold that line. It soon started to feel like we were running a totally different country to the 'Thatcher’s Britain' on the other side of the doorstep.

Wood engraved with "Aretha Franklin"
89a on the Jukie - 'Angel.'

State of Independence

The Trent literally felt like an independent state. A work of art & musical haven with a Dutch style liberated attitude, where anyone who was in any way racist or intolerant got peddled straight away.

An artists rendition of Trent House
Early 90s Trent Xmas Card - there is an entire section on our (so OCD & ridiculous, you will question our sanity) Xmas cards over the years, further on in this 'Our History' section.

That stance was unique & light years ahead of it’s time in 80s Newcastle.

While other places just opened, closed & sold beer every day, we actually stood for something & the more switched on people in the city, quickly picked up on that & flocked to the Trent House in their droves.

Super cool Okeh 7' sleeve, top right. Tent House around 1988
Tommy in the Trent House around 1988 - Super cool 'Okeh 7' record sleeve, top right.

Competition ain't nothin'

There were other Bars around at that time that were Ok, the Strawberry used to be cool & the Free Trade was on. The Barley Mow was really good too, but it was more of a Pub than a Bar. The Broken Doll was another Pub some people liked.

But none of them were a patch on the Trent though, they weren’t half as cool & more to the point...

We weren’t in love with them.

Trent gang playing pool in the Strawberry, late 80's. L-R Anthony, Big Clive, Sophie, Sarah, Clivey C, Tom C.
Trent gang playing pool in the Strawberry, late 80's. L-R Anthony, Big Clive, Sophie, Sarah, Clivey C, Tom C.

Sweet Soul Music

A Trent House beermat from 1989

We promoted the Bar with multiracial images & now we had total control of the jukebox, we filled it with rare soul & funk from our vinyl collection. We made the jukebox free, which in the greed fest that was the 80s was unheard of, so everyone thought we were mad.

7' records were king to us, always had been & it was that free access to rare & inspirational, cult music, in a pre i-pod, pre CD, pre decent radio, pre download era, that was our secret weapon to bring people together.

Maybe you should too, as this whole story proves it clearly works.

It allowed us to get people to interact with the jukebox properly & allowed us to expand & in some small way dominate the musical remit of our little (but ever expanding) corner of the city.

We sold beer – we shared music. As far as we were concerned, music was just something we added for atmosphere, never a 'commodity.' The tunes we wanted on the Trent box most people wouldn’t have known, so they wouldn’t pay to play them anyway.

We wanted to be the opposite of the chart bars & as Soul boys, this wasn’t minority music to us, so we built our own groove.

The first Trent House Summer Reggae spectacular around 1985
The first Trent House Summer Reggae Spectacular around 1985.

So with our free & far out jukebox, we began to establish the musical legacy, that set the Trent apart, as a music & especially Soul music, connoisseurs heaven.

We then set off developing The Trent a little Amsterdam-style Bar vibe, that the City had never seen before, but was well ready for.

Our teams catchphrases at the time were ‘We can if we like’ & ‘Citizens of the Planet’.

World Famous - Really...?

Original Trent 'Fists' shirt

We took the mickey a bit, as it was so small inside & we started to refer to it as the 'World Famous Trent House.' This was just for a bit of a hustle, to give the impression to people who didn’t know it, that it was some kind of big deal.

People would come in for a look, buy a beer & then ask why it was called that..?

The simple fact was, them coming in to ask that & then spend money buying a beer – was the answer. After they had been in for a while longer, they would then comment on how good the jukebox was.

Tick, tick, gold star - hustle complete & we grew one person stronger...

It was a hustle that caught on big time & largely due to Viz Comic, people began to call it that.

WFTH Anne Summers Party flyer, hand drawn by Chris...
WFTH Anne Summers Party flyer, hand drawn by Chris in around 1987 - Cops arrested us for that party, for 'running a disorderly house' as it was 100% nuts.

The Viz Comic Connection

We always sold Viz comic in the Trent because it was really funny & we loved it. Chris Donald it’s founder & main cartoonist was a regular & chum, who came in the bar every night to play pool. He was a really great pool hustler & won the Bar's first international Pool Championship in 1984.

Old Skool Trent Flyers Chrissie hand drew for us.

As we never held a second one, to this day Chrissie remains reigning 'Trent House International Pool Champ' & along with the comic, that's (obviously) his major claim to fame.

The word 'classic' springs immediately to mind.

Chris drew Viz with his brother Simon & their chum Jim & we sold a load of them in the Bar from the early days.

Check out Simon, reminiscing recently on Sky Atlantic's 'Urban Secrets' TV show recently, about the early days of the Comic & his take on it's links to the Bar...

We always got cheap advertising in the comic for the Bar, through Chris & he also hand drew all our World Famous Trent House flyers & much of the publicity we produced. 

Mates, beer, favours... Old Skool.

Trent adverts drawn by Chrissie boy, don't come any more classic than this one. So wish we'd kept mint copies of them all, but you can clearly clock the tight groove we had going.

As the comic’s circulation suddenly exploded into a proper national, then global publishing sensation throughout the 80s, it kind of took the Bar with it to a degree.

Another classic Trent flyer from your man Chrissie from 1985.

Our publicity was always black & white, so we made a black & white, imaginary cartoon Cow our mascot & it took off so well that some people honestly, actually believed we had a real one…

Check out this ancient Trent Viz advert, to see just how full of ourselves we were back then – Bananas…!

Things were somewhat less pc back then...
Things were somewhat less pc back then & this particular ad obviously, didn't have to pass the 21st century quality control that has evolved for WHQ today.

The Trent took center stage as a location (& often last minute casting agency) for some of the photo love stories Viz ran & with every passing day (& comic sold), the Bar became more well known.

Yet another vintage Viz, near the knuckle belter ad.

Kitchenware & the '3 Amigos' vibe

Along with Viz blowing up nationally, local record label 'Kitchenware' also blew up, scoring a massive UK hit with the Kane Gang's 'Closest Thing To Heaven,' then blowing up Stateside too.

We were chatting a while back, about just how flippin' exciting that whole vibe was back then, when we ran into our Old-Skool buddy, Keith (the Kitchenware Don).

At the time they were based in the old St, Thomas stables, where in former years, the horses that pulled the wagons that delivered beer to all the S&N Brewery pubs & bars were based. These stables had now been converted to offices were a literal stones throw from the Trent.

Just down the Crescent from the boozer - handy.

So you'd see the Kitchenware Crew in & out the bar doing their thing, chatting & plotting on a lunchtime & Chris from Viz dominating the pool table upstairs every night like an utter Boss. It felt like everything cool about the alternative side of the city was happening right there & right now.

All the cool, free thinking cats, breaking down barriers & doing things on their own terms, all Soul fans & all part of the same vibe.

The Kane Gang, Martin Stephenson, Prefab Sprout & more recently The Editors - all with the graft of Keith & Co. hustling for them.

Like a three pronged attack of cool, redefining the accepted norms of what Toon folk could be expected to achieve, in terms of the music business, publishing & Bars & none of us caring what anyone thought our boundaries should be.

Truly groundbreaking times for Newcastle & all three amigos. The Viz Mob, the Kitchenware Gang & the Trent Crew - having it their way, having it large & having it now.

Birth of a Nation

Paradoxically, the Trent House, with it’s long history of violent conflict, now shone out & was known as a beacon for unity & tolerance. A Bar that welcomed outsiders & in doing so, became a place that many 'adopted geordies' & visitors to the city grew to see as a little home from home.

Exterior Trent Sign around 1986.

Led in no small part, by it’s astonishing jukebox & far out publicity, the Bar went from strength to strength, to gradually become really well known as the firm market leader, on the more credible end of the Newcastle night life scene.

Our catchphrases at this time were ‘Love & Happiness, All Across The City’ & the simple, timeless, classic - 'Be Nice To People, Don't Be A Twat.'

We knew music, we were strong, we were brave, we had it down & the people loved us for it...

 places the city has now, the Trent's 'Mother of all Bars' tagline from back in the day seems totally appropriate...
When we see the diversity of independent drinking places, the city has now in, the Trent's 'Mother of all Bars' tagline from back in the day still seems totally appropriate.

This created the beginnings of the cultural basis & platform, from which the World Headquarters you know today has evolved.

So the Club began life – as a little Bar.

Classic Amsterdam - style Trent exterior brass sign circa 1989...
Classic Amsterdam - style Trent exterior brass sign circa 1989...

Angel

In 1989, after five long years of battling, laughing, living, working & winning with the World Famous Trent House (& with a lot of help from our friend Louise), we took the first step to the next level…

We purchased the rolling, 3 year lease of the premises, altering it’s name to the Trent House Soul Bar. We weren’t just managing it for someone else any more.

From now on we rented the building directly from the S&N Brewery – Happy days.

Nah, it was even cooler than this..!
Happy days indeed...

33 years later we are still great friends. Louise is married to Tosh & they have two outstanding boys, Ruben & Ike – Proper free spirits… They live over in Australia now.

Had she not believed in us & loaned us the money to buy the Trent Lease back then, this would be the end of the story…

Proof if you needed it, that one good friend is worth a thousand whinging family members.

This is our Crew, pictured in the Trent on the day we finally gave it up in 2009. But there’s a hell of a  story to go before we get there readers, so click on…

A Family affair...
A Family affair...

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