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3am Interview





TURNING REBELLION INTO MONEY



"So the likes of the NME , Sounds and Melody Maker gave everything we did rave reviews. Before we knew it we had all kinds of people saying "We're a punk band -- let us play!". By that point managing Generation X had become too much to handle, the club had taken over my life and that was that."

Andrew Stevens interviews Andy Czezowski and Susan Carrington

COPYRIGHT © 2003, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Early evening, 5 December 2002 and I am sat in the offices of semi-legendary (give it a few years) Brixton club the Fridge, with co-conspirators Andy Czezowski and Susan Carrington. Both are well-heeled in London's club scene from their experiences running punk clubs in the 1970s (including the overwhelmingly legendary Roxy) and their lengthy stint at the Fridge itself, taking it from the fag-end of the 1980s New Romantic scene through the acid house days and into the 1990s trance techno scene. Their certificate as runners up for the Londoners of the Year contest in 1996 beams down on us from the mantelpiece as I sip my complimentary Evian ("Well it is a nightclub," Susan remarks)…

3AM: Partnerships in clubland are reputed for people falling out at the drop of a hat, how did yours start?

AC: I think it all started when I began managing the The Damned.

SC: Yes, I think it did.

AC: Not that that lasted long. I departed company from them after Mont de Marsan, which could be described as the first 'punk festival' I suppose, although given it was 1976 people weren't really calling it "punk" then. Something had come along, but we weren't sure what it was, it all just fell into place and we just enjoyed it. However, at Mont de Marsan there was hardly any punk bands other than the Damned - it was all pub rock acts, Brinsley Schwarz type stuff, not punk at all.

SC: Don't forget Acme Attractions on the Kings Road, that's quite important. That was Steph Raynor and John Krevine, it sold retro stuff, old jukeboxes and the like. In terms of the Kings Road it was as important as Sex, more so perhaps…

AC: At the time Gene October was being managed by Steph (Raynor) but I took over that and began managing Chelsea. Anyhow they decided on a name change and became Generation X, as well as kicking out Gene October and putting Billy Idol on vocals into the bargain, which made sense as Billy was better looking and couldn't really play the guitar. It all happened so quickly. Gene was a rent boy and knew this club on Neal Street which was known as Shageramas then, but became the Roxy soon after. It was owned by two queens, it being an early gay club, one of these was a barrister type just trying to make a quick buck. When he was in Chelsea, Gene had booked them to play at Shageramas and had mentioned this to me. The owners at the time were skint and the club was on its last legs so anything that could possibly bring in money was of interest to them. The booking changed to Generation X and I suggested to them that I put on a few nights as the Roxy and they agreed to me hiring the place as they thought it might prolong its life a bit longer. So Generation X was the first gig we put on at the Roxy, performing on the opening night…

SC: That was December 15 1976.

AC: I think it was December 21, you'll have to check…

3AM: So how did this all coalesce into a scene?

AC: You have to remember that this all happened at around the time of the Sex Pistols' 'Anarchy' tour, or just after it anyhow. I bumped into Leee Black Childers in the Ship on Wardour Street, who was managing Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers at the time. They had just done a tour of the States with the Sex Pistols and Malcolm McLaren hadn't paid them or anything so they were literally penniless and sleeping on friends' floors. I offered them a gig at the Roxy, £30 - done, they said! This was only a few days beforehand as well.

SC: The Clash had just played on New Year's Day, that was phenomenal, the place was packed!

AC: After that you had a rapid succession of acts. It was an overnight success as they say. Oh, we were the first club to have colour xerox flyers - that was quite a novelty at the time! Of course, the music press latched on to it from day one, they were never out of there, which I think makes some people think it ran for longer than it actually did.

SC: We only lasted 100 nights, but if you see what we put on during those nights you realise that it's more than that really…

AC: So the likes of the NME , Sounds and Melody Maker gave everything we did rave reviews. Before we knew it we had all kinds of people saying "We're a punk band -- let us play!". By that point managing Generation X had become too much to handle, the club had taken over my life and that was that.

3AM: Who was championing the club in the music press at the time?

AC: Mainly the likes of John Ingham from Sounds , Caroline Coon from Melody Maker, Julie Burchill from the NME, they were all fans of what we were doing really. They used to come along and suck up to the bands, make them feel important. We tried putting on two bands a week and I worked out a deal with the owners whereby I would have three or four days a week instead -- this cost me £300 a week, which was quite a lot of money considering we didn't quite know what we were doing yet. The Damned owed me money from the period when I used to manage them, so I cut a deal with them and Jake Riviera, their manager: play four Mondays for free and the debt would be forgotten about. And they did. This was a huge success -- you had 300 people in a venue only designed for 150, a place packed to the rafters in an age when we didn't take fire safety as seriously as we do now. The Buzzcocks played a lot too -- they also played the Fridge in 1986, or was it 1987? I seem to remember a young Noel Gallagher being one of their roadies at that gig -- bet he doesn't mention that these days though. But a lot of bands played The Roxy, considering it was only going for 100 nights, all them inspirational. You had bands attending gigs that met other punks and formed other bands, it really lent itself towards creating more energy.

SC: Don't forget Donovan Letts, he was quite important in all of this. He was originally another member of staff at Acme Attractions.

AC: Yeah, I'd been round his house and seen how many records he owned --he had hundreds, if not thousands, of them. So I suggested he become a DJ and play at the club, and he agreed. But at that time, and remember this was still relatively early days, there wasn't that many punk records on vinyl for him to play -- so he had to make do with MC5 and the kind of stuff he listened to at home, reggae and dub. But it worked.

3AM: How did Cherry Vanilla end up playing at the club?

SC: Miles Copeland basically. Miles had just finished managing that god-awful group… what was their name? Curved Air, that was it!

AC: Miles turned up at the club a few times and I'd run into him elsewhere. His brother Stewart and Sting were in what would become The Police, but at the time they were just her backing band. Basically he wanted to resurrect his management career and he saw Punk as his meal-ticket, like any bandwagon-jumper would. Anyhow, he was ear-bending me like an idiot and pumping me for information, and me being younger and naïve I gave it to him. He kept asking me if things would work -- such as putting Jayne County

SC: Or Wayne County, as he then was…

AC: … on at the Global Village under some ludicrous title like 'The US Package of Punk' or something like that, a cash-in basically. He kept saying "Do you think it'll work?", "Do you think it'll work?"! and I said I thought it would, yeah. In the end the Global Village, which is now Heaven by the way, cancelled the gig as they didn't want to be associated with punk, you have to remember all the stuff in the press at the time. So we put them on at The Roxy -- 'America Week' we called it.

SC: Yes, that was when Johnny Thunders refused to stop playing. They were so out of it!

AC: The Jam also played, the second or third gig we put on I think, but there was no-one there at all. Paul Weller is still aggrieved by this to this day, you can trace his disdain for the punk scene to that gig and the fact that no-one showed up.

SC: Even the Jam themselves claimed never to have been part of punk, they always thought they were above the other bands.

3AM: Before all of this you were a Mod, weren't you? How did you become a Mod and do you think there's any connection between the two?

AC: It's simple, for every generation there's a point where most 15 and 16 year olds flower in terms of getting into music. Every generation. So that's where Mod came in. All the people who later became active in the punk scene, in whatever capacity, were Mods when they were growing up. Mod, hippy, glam, punk, it doesn't matter. Every generation. You see it even now with the new bands that are out at the moment, regardless of whoever it is.

3AM: In that case, were you into the hippy scene at all between Mod and Punk?

AC: Yeah, I dabbled in it, but only as a punter. We all did.

SC: It passed me by, especially Led Zeppelin. Although I still have their albums on vinyl I think…

AC: It's all sections of history, strata. Look at Bowie and all the phases he's been through. It's all energy and light, regardless. We see it in the youth of today with house and trance. It all carries on.

3AM: How did you get to become Vivienne Westwood's accountant? Is that how you became involved in punk?

AC: By accident really, and I'd be lying if I said otherwise. Lots of people try and paint history as if it was all planned the way they wanted it and everything fell into place naturally. It doesn't and it wasn't planned. It was just the circle we moved in at the time -- all a matter of being there, at Acme Attractions. I was good at book-keeping, Vivienne said she needed someone to do it and I thought "I can do that". This was 1974 or 1975. McLaren was in the states, touring with the New York Dolls at the time.

SC: There was so much excitement involved in it though, the clothes were great. I was working as a make-up artist at the time, working for bands. It was a really fun thing to do, we were enabling other people to do stuff that they wanted to do.

AC: Like I said, none of this was planned. It was, and still is, all about seeing opportunities and having fun. Making money was secondary. For some people that's their sole focus, their primary reason for going into it. Usually they don't come to anything though. But eventually you have to start making money somehow, even then though, you always need that element of fun and chance.

3AM: How did this translate into the atmosphere in the club itself?

AC: The atmosphere was superb. It attracted people and made them interested in punk -- actually it made them want to be a punk or in a punk band. There was so much energy, the place was regularly overflowing.

SC: Not everyone was a punk at that point though.

AC: Well you did get those people who wore the detachable safety pins through their noses.

3AM: Weekend punks?

AC: Yeah. But the Roxy wasn't about that, you had people there in office gear after work, shop girls, that kind of thing. There was no snobbery involved, or at least there shouldn't have been. They were all just punters at the end of the day, there to see bands.

SC: You did have a hardcore of course…

AC: You also had what I call the 'Malcolm element' as well. By that I mean the intellectual types who were trying to intellectualise what was going on. These were older people though, stood at the back. McLaren himself thought it was all beneath him, he didn't really care about punks, just making money.

SC: He was one of these people who constantly talked about anarchy, but was counting the pounds at the same time.

3AM: Did the 'Live at the Roxy' album sell many copies?

AC: Apparently it was EMI's second best selling compilation, after one that John Lennon put out.

SC: It got to #17 in the charts, so yes.

AC: I sold the rights to Revolver a few years ago though.

3AM: Jon Savage in England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex... said: "The Roxy had an instant self-consciousness: it was obvious to everyone that the space would not last long and that history was up for grabs." - is this a fair account? How far do you agree with it?

AC: As a statement I agree with it 100%, although as I said earlier, nothing was planned, it was just excitement and opportunity. But Jon Savage… the guy's a total wanker, constantly re-writing history to suit his own purposes.

SC: I remember seeing him at the Roxy one night. He'd been sacked as a solicitor that day and was crying his eyes out completely.

AC: That says it all really. At the end of the day he was one of the 'McLarens', or at least tried to be anyhow. Just a shallow journalist really.

SC: He was always on the periphery, never part of the action, that's for sure.

AC: A few years ago he came out of the woodwork and sought me out for his book. I co-operated as he was a face from the past and I thought nothing of him really, I wish I hadn't now as he just wrote a bunch of crap. As we said, totally peripheral guy. Always intellectualising.

SC: Completely disingenuous guy, just rewrites history to suit his own purposes. If you want a true account of what went on in that era then get hold of 100 Nights at The Roxy - it's all there in pictures, no intellectualising or rewriting of history.

AC: Mark Perry of Sniffin Glue I've a lot of time for though.

SC: The guy was just an office clerk, he worked for the government or the council, or something, it's good that he got out of that. But he was definitely part of the scene through Sniffin Glue.

3AM: Were you involved with the Farewell to the Roxy album?

AC: Not at all, it was all people like Bob Geldof on there. Basically what happened was the Roxy became a victim of its own success -- the two old queens that owned it saw it making money for the first time in ages and cashed in by selling it. So they sold it and the first I knew was when the new owners, some dodgy East End villain types, told me to get out. They booked bands like the Boomtown Rats and the place collapsed -- they didn't have a clue or any love for the music, they were just trying to buy into something they saw as successful. So no, I wasn't involved, they just got someone to put it together as a cynical cash-in kind of thing.

3AM: What did you do after the Roxy, before the Fridge?

AC: I managed Adam Ant for a week or two but that didn't work out. All kinds of dodgy shortlived clubs really!

SC: We were forever looking for somewhere new to set up a club at this point.

AC: I found one, again in the West End, it was called 'Crackers' or 'Bananas', or something. But it became the Vortex.

SC: I think it was 'Crackers' - 'Bananas' was what it became after we left it. I remember when Elvis died though, Steve Strange went on stage and announced it and everyone started clapping and cheering. But he said "No, Elvis was really important, you're all wrong".

AC: Steve was a cloakroom attendant at the Roxy but by this point the scene was getting bigger. It was properly 1977.

SC: People were getting attacked in the streets for being punks, it was quite controversial by now.

AC: The Roxy actually got turned over by an armed gang one night, they locked us in the cupboard. They knocked on the door, claiming to be the Vice Squad and like fools we just let them in.

SC: But the Vortex didn't last.

AC: I got out of clubs, for a while at least. I went to Covent Garden again and set up space for band management in an old warehouse at 29 James Street, having done a deal with the GLC to get it for cheaper rent. What you have to realise is back then, Covent Garden was an absolute hovel, all disused property, not like it is today. I was managing Gene October again by that point.

SC: It was a hubbub of musical activity though, lots of band managers and PR people at the time were using it. Princess Julia, Julie Totten who worked for Status Quo…

AC: Steve (Strange) and Chrissie Hynde were in a band together called the Moors Murderers, completely designed to shock and the rest of it. And I'm sure you can imagine how much it did -- ranting editorials in the News of the World branding them as sick etc. Anyhow, Steve Strange was the nucleus of a band I was putting together called The Photons -- but we disagreed over style, they wanted to dress like pirates. At this point I could see the scene was changing…

SC: Steve also wanted to put together a new club, based on Bowie, who was becoming fashionable again, and Kraftwerk.

AC: He came to me and said he had an idea for this new night. I said forget it, I'm not interested in doing that kind of thing anymore. Own and control it, yes. Hire and be given the run around, forget it. I put him in touch with this big black guy who owned Gossips on Meard Street in Soho and he put on a night, Billies. Three weeks later he was out on his ear, like I predicted.

SC: They moved across to the Blitz in Covent Garden, which was some kind of WW2 theme place, all propellers and that. But through Bowie and Kraftwerk they gave birth to the New Romantic movement…

AC: But I knew I wanted to own and run a club, not just hire one and fall flat on my face after flogging my guts out.

SC: So we went from Covent Garden, south of the river, to Borough Market. Back then you couldn't give away those big old disused warehouses there.

AC: It was a really useful creative space that we had there, providing studio space for likeminded people.

3AM: So, south of the river brought you closer to where you are now in Brixton?

AC: Of course. We found this place in 1979, Clouds, really tacky dive type of place. We'd known it as The Ram Jam in the 60s, in the Mod days. It played Otis Redding, Cream that kind of thing. So we took that and decided to turn it into a proper club, we used the rents from the studios to fund the project. And this became the first Fridge. Also, EMI had given me £20 000 for a compilation for me to find new bands, there was no contract involved so I just sunk it into the new venture as an investment.

SC: We wanted somewhere different where we could try new things.

AC: This was, by now, the tail-end of New Romantic.

SC: The place only had one floor and we made it resemble an actual fridge in terms of décor. We even kitted the place out with these modern Swedish fridges to take it one step further. I designed the outfits for the staff, deliberately futuristic.

AC: At the time people thought it was too much but what we were doing then in terms of design would pass for contemporary new design now! And this was how many years ago?

SC: But it wasn't to be the new Roxy though, as some people labelled it. Initially we'd got the backing from building societies and the like but that crumbled as soon as the Brixton Riots happened in 1981, they didn't want to know. When we opened in December that year, lots of people were negative about it -- "a no-go area", too edgy, no money there.

AC: We made up for this with the design and décor though. We had a video lounge, a rubber bar, the first chill-out room in a club, ever. And this was 20 years ago. We put on the first gigs by people like the Pet Shop Boys and Bronski Beat. We quickly got a reputation. At one of King Kurt's shows, people pelted him with flour -- but this was fine as we had a lino floor at the time. People like Sade and King, who were coming through at the time, did their first shows there.

3AM: When did you move to your present premises?

AC: 1984. We took over a rollerdisco called the Ace, the people running it didn't know what they were doing. It needed some work doing on it but we had an enthusiastic team of people helping us - bar staff from the Roxy did building work for us, we had people on £1 an hour working for the love of building a new club, though we paid them the money we owed them once it was up and running. Joe Strummer invested £5000 as he was pretty rich by that point -- although I'd rung up all kinds of people beforehand who had refused to help. The Bishop of Liverpool's daughter even lent us £5000 after hearing about our plight, she was just a friend of a friend and agreed with what we trying to do. But look what the club's achieved since then -- its visuals laid the template for the rave scene, it's a look that's being copied across the world. There's been no recognition of course -- if a record is influential it's on vinyl for all to hear throughout history, but you can't really encapsulate a visual in the same way, people just take it for granted. Basically the look of modern-day clubs was started here in 1986.

SC: It all goes back to the Roundhouse in the 60s of course, Middle Earth and that kind of thing. Everything just goes round and round in cycles…

AC: I think the trance era has gone on too long though, it may have started out here and in Shoom and the Hacienda but it's way beyond its natural shelf-life. People have been artificially trying to preserve the whole Ibiza thing for so long now, but a lot of people are starting to get bored as it's stale -- it's a mix of people who want to keep on enjoying the good times and promoters who want to keep on receiving their money. The punters aren't wearing it though - attendances are down, Cream's gone and Gatecrasher's only on monthly now. I can't see the Ministry of Sound lasting much longer either. The scene's condensing, people want new and different ideas.

3AM: Such as?

AC: The cult of the DJ is over. People want live music but they don't get the same excitement from a gig where they just watch a band and have a few beers. So on one hand the cult of the DJ is over, but on the other a gig is also stale. People are bored of both - so why not have a night where you have live entertainment, but you have the extras you'd associate with clubbing - cages, dancers etc?

SC: I think people are just bored of spending all night out of their box and are entitled to a little more than the same old thing served up week in, week out.

3AM: Perhaps you're right…





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