The Social? The Queen Vic meets Studio 54 with Bobby Gillespie as licensee. Robin Turner provides a history of the Heavenly Sunday Social, a legend in its own (short) lifetime.
The Heavenly Sunday Social took place in the Albany, the most unassuming of London venues, a basement room in a pre-furbished pub somewhere between the West End and the rest of the world. Although the resident DJs, Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands are now world famous as The Chemical Brothers, at the time they were The Dust Brothers, just three singles into a fledgling career, living on borrowed time name-wise (the original owners asked for it back soon afterwards), recording their first album in the weekdays that preceded the club. Their supporting cast of record spinners included many of their peers - Andrew Weatherall, Justin Robertson, Tim Burgess, people who had long been inspirational to Tom & Ed. Heavenly came upon the idea for the club after hearing the Dust Brothers DJing in back rooms of clubs and at house parties - they played like their lives depended on it, week in, week out. We weren't club runners - we were a record company and a press office (I was doing press for the Dust Brothers third single, 'My Mercury Mouth', around the time of the club). In our wildest dreams none of us could have predicted what would happen to Tom & Ed. but, at that exact point in time. we just knew that they were the greatest DJs we'd ever heard.
As for rock music, the summer of 1994 was pretty much at fever pitch. Oasis were pure, untapped potential. 'Definitely Maybe' was just round the corner - it really felt like they might turn out to be the greatest band ever. Blur's 'Girls and Boys' was ubiquitous. Manic Street Preachers were somewhere between rock 'n' roll and a hard place - 'The Holy Bible' was just out to universal praise, but Richey was on a self-destructive path out of the band. The long awaited second Stone Roses album was due in the autumn; Primal Scream were headlining Reading Festival on the back of an unashamed rock album and a handful of very savvy dancefloor remixes (the best of which was - naturally - the work of the Dust Brothers). Clubwise, it was a different story. If you went out, you either had minimal techno, progressive house or glitzy super clubs playing pedestrian, uninteresting house music. Wherever you went, you were required to be part of a tribe, dressed accordingly, acting accordingly to get past the person on the door. Randomness was out.
Rather than try to recount the story of what happened in the 13 weeks that the Heavenly Sunday Social happened at the Albany, I've asked a few battle-scarred veterans for their memories of the club - people who played down there and people who just hung out and propped up the bar. A few people couldn't answer on the grounds that memory failed them. Apologies for any vagaries or factual errors; if this was Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone, we'd have had to have regression therapy to retrieve the information for fact-checking purposes.
Martin Kelly: co-founder of Heavenly Recordings/the Heavenly Sunday Social/the Social bars
Wendy Barrett: co-conspirator at the Sunday Social, mother of Sonny & Danny (Heavenly - the next generation)
Ed Simons: one half of The Chemical Brothers (nee Dust Brothers), resident DJ at the Heavenly Sunday Social
James Dean Bradfield: singer/guitarist, Manic Street Preachers
Chloe Walsh: formerly of Heavenly Press Office, founder of Press Here Publicity
Justin Robertson: legendary DJ/musician, guest DJ at the Heavenly Sunday Social
Nick Dewey: former chef, co-founder of the Social bars, now a music manager
Sean Rowley: creator of Guilty Pleasures, guest DJ at Sunday Social
Robin Turner: co-creator the Heavenly Sunday Social/co-founder the Social/co-editor Socialism magazine
Pete Wiggs: one half of Saint Etienne. Social neighbour
Stuart Bailie: freelance writer and broadcaster living in Belfast, assistant editor of NME in '94
Mark Jones: founder Wall Of Sound Records
Alexis Petridis: music writer The Guardian/GQ
JDB: We'd just finished recording The Holy Bible and I'd just moved up to London, out from my parents' house for the first time. I was feeling burnt, lonely and very Welsh. I was drinking in a pub on Westbourne Grove on my own one night when I bumped into a pissed-up Pete Wiggs and Robin Turner. They were crapping on about some guys called the Dust Brothers playing down this club they were involved in. Meeting them was kind of like reconnecting to my past with Heavenly. I thought 'Fuck it, I used to be a bar man at the Newbridge Memo, I used to get pissed there every Sunday. What could possibly go wrong?'
Pete: The Social started at a time that coincided with us being absent from the music industry for a while. I seem to remember just having fun and not doing much work for the whole time it was on. I was living in Cleveland Street in a studio flat, just one street away from the Albany. Myself and my then girlfriend had just moved into that flat when the Social started, I'd been to the pub before in the daytime but I didn't know there was a room downstairs - some kind of mental sweatbox.
Sean: I remember first hearing about the Social at a party on Kensal Road. I bumped into Jeff. Our paths had crossed previously when I was head of TV promotions at London Records and we were working Flowered Up. Jeff handed me a badly photocopied flier for the first four weeks of his new club. I went on the second week. I bumped into Paolo Hewitt, who had played the warm-up at the first one, and he said it had been a bit of a hoot and I should get down there.
Wendy: I did the door with our mates, Lou, Tash and Claire. It was three quid to get in and we had a rubber stamp with the Heavenly bird on. We had a little table at the bottom of the stairs, right behind where the DJs were. There was a big neon star there and another stairway that was fire exit out to the street.
Nick: One of the things that stood out at the Albany was the clock on the wall downstairs, permanently stuck at five to twelve. It was on the wall behind where the decks were and there wasn't anything else to look at in terms of 'visuals' so that was the focal point. It seemed to be symbolic of something important even though no one knew what that might be.
Ed: The first one was pretty quiet, there were maybe 50 people, mostly people that we knew. The second week, Bob and Pete played it was roadblocked. The third week I remember I'd had a big night and I had to pull myself together to get down there. I ended up arriving pretty late and there was a queue right round the pub, people desperate to get in. It was a pretty easy club to pack, it wasn't that big, but seeing that still felt pretty amazing. For the first few weeks, we were playing this mad party that happened every Sunday afternoon at a hairdresser's in Kentish Town. We used to play on a roof terrace before slogging down the Albany. We put together a set of records that we stuck quite closely to every week, a kind of hodge podge of instrumental hip-hop and rare groove bits we'd picked up in Eastern Bloc in Manchester off (Richard) Moonboots, a lot of our own stuff. We were playing pretty mad records, stuff like Dead Homiez by Supersuckers, mad acid stuff like Lobotomie'by Emmanuel Top Boops by Sly & Robbie, Tomorrow Never Knows. We were pretty proud of the music we were playing, it was completely different to everything else out there. We'd just started going to the States to do Dust Brothers' gigs, so we were picking up records each time. Jeff had made us a couple of tapes, it was that long ago that we were listening to Coos Every time we went away we'd try to find a lot of the stuff off them. We started pretty much every week with Strange Games And Funky Things, a Love Unlimited Orchestra record, this strange, slow burn instrumental disco track that never quite peaked. It ended up being like a call to arms.
Justin: First impressions of The Social? It was the last days of the Roman Empire! Like the Queen Vic meets Studio 54 with Bobby Gillespie as licensee. I wasn't really surprised it exploded so quickly for Tom & Ed, you knew something truly great was happening - they were an irresistible force.
Pete: The first week, someone dragged one of the chairs from the upstairs into the middle of the floor, like a kind of makeshift podium. It became a thing that had to be done every week, there was a weird determination to place the chair in the middle of' the floor, then people would get on it and dance. We'd head down there early every week, we'd all meet upstairs before the doors opened. I remember we were used to drink Flaming Drambuies before it started, which is really naff, but it seemed to start that night off pretty well. It took a while to get to the right level of drunkenness needed to be getting on a chair in the middle of a packed dancefloor in a grotty pub. The Drambuies probably helped.
Wendy: When it got really busy the queue went up the stairs and into the pub. If we had any mates we wanted to get in we'd sneak them in the fire exit. People seemed to come from everywhere. Tash eventually got sacked from the door for letting everyone in for free. We cashed up in a little room behind the bar and someone worked out how much we could pay the DJs. The warm-up DJs usually got fifty quid. We had a great spot on the door because it overlooked the dance floor. We had a never-ending supply of beer and by the end of the night we'd be up on the little table dancing.
Sean: The thing that sticks in my mind most is the amyl run (RT: at the point where there was £30 profit in the till, someone was sent in a wait and return cab to buy three bottles of amyl from Old Compton Street. This happened every week). That was genius. I remember walking in one night to a heavy stench of rotten socks, only to discover that it was amyl nitrate. I quickly learnt just how important amyl was to the night: you'd time your amyl blast to coincide with records that sounded like they d been beamed in from outer space: Tom & Ed's remix of Bug Powder Dust by Bomb The Bass - you'd really try to time your blast to coincide with that one.
Stuart: The NME student kids were all wittering on about Megatripolis and Club Dog, like it was the start of a new era. I didn't get it. But The Social was exciting in a very different way. It was happening on a night when people didn't normally go out. A lot of the emphasis was on people becoming mates. There was an interesting mix of cool faces, music fanatics and minor hooligans -bits of that Loaded culture slipping in. A lot of good haircuts, white jeans and Harrington jackets, as I remember. I imagine the '60s clubs like the Bag 0' Nails and the speakeasy were a bit like this.
Nick: One night down here, I'd een chewing this African twig called Kat, thinking this was the best thing since sliced bread. No one else seemed to be too taken with it though, which I thought was a bit picky coming from people sniffing amyl nitrate like it was going out of fashion.
JDB: I remember being there`and thinking that Chemical Beats was the best thing I'd heard since AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted or Fear Of A Black Planet. Also, Under The Influence Of Love by Love Unlimited. I'd never heard a record like that played at that volume. It made me think that they were trying to rock `n' roll-isize everything, which I thought was brilliant.
Martin: I really remember records like Live Forever and Weekender standing out, Tom & Ed, playing them alongside their own records, those were the points where you'd really stop and go 'Fuck!' I remember someone coming up to me and going 'What the fuck is this???' It was "Tomorrow Never Knows', they were convinced it was some kind of' remix, it was the original, played off the original vinyl, just out of its normal context. Tom & Ed had the ability to make all those records meld together, that was their secret.
Robin: The idea initially was that the club would only run for four weeks, every Sunday in August After three weeks, we knew we had to keep it going, we were having too much fun. We hit the phones hard the next week to try to corral anyone we could into playing. I don't think anyone we rang turned us down, no matter how far they had to come. Word must have spread pretty fast.
Stuart: The early '90s had Kurt Cobain, Richey Manic and PJ Harvey, all grim as anything. The required reading was Prozac Nation. Britpop was a bit of a holiday from that and the Social reflected some of that escape. It was also the place where people like the Dust Brothers could work out a new aesthetic.
Ed: Playing down there was always very intense, there was no booth, and the decks were on a table. You knew that if it had been a sunny day it would get a bit rowdy - the decks would jump all over the place - a total pain in the arse.
Nick: Every week Tom & Ed'd come straight down from the studio clutching some new classic to try out alongside all those great remixes they were making at the time for the Scream, Bomb The Bass, The Prodigy. They'd play those with all these mad hip-hop instrumentals, psychedelic rock tracks and stuff like the Leftfield remix of Renegade Soundwave. It got heavier and more intense as the set went on. It was more like a rock 'n' roll show in the way it exploded from one track into the next, but totally unlike like any band you'd ever seen. I just remember thinking that this was the music I had been waiting to hear all my life.
JDB: It is weird if I think about, it was just a really strange mixture of people down there, people Like Tim Burgess, Oasis, Bob & Pete, Mani, Tricky, Paul Weller. You'd look round and Beth Orton would be dancing on the bar. It seemed a new gateway out of the whole Manchester thing, the last real 'scene' that had happened. Also, it was on a Sunday, always a good piss' up day.
Robin: I remember one week finding myself at the bar, stood next to Paul Weller. A polo shirted, modish guy stood next to hips and blurted out 'Mate, 'All Mod Cons' made me the man I am today.' Without missing a beat, Weller looked him up and down and said with notable disdain, 'What, that's supposed to make me proud?' I immediately asked him what he was drinking. The answer, obviously, was Lowenbrau.
Ed: Tom's family ere a massive part of it from the first week, his wife Vanessa and brother Huw, they were mad party heads and they found some like-minded people in Heavenly and the people who made it down there every week.
Chloe: I'd grown up in Glasgow where I'd gone to a lot of clubs, but I hadn't really been to many since, I'd lived in London. The few that I'd been to in London didn't really have the same energy as places like the Sub Club and the Arches in Glasgow. Or the Hacienda in Manchester. There wasn't the same sense of shared euphoria, maybe because there wasn't such a loyal regular crowd so that lightning bolt of excitement when a longstanding club favourite was played was missing. The London clubs I went to seemed soulless by comparison. The atmosphere in The Albany was the closest thing to t e Slam DJs in their peak at the Sub Club I'd found, which was my favourite club up to that point. Did it affect the way I thought about clubs? Well, I'd never seen poppers on the dancefloor before. So it changed the way I thought about poppers.
Nick: I threw myself in with both feet. You had to really, it was all or nothing It wasn't the sort of place where you could stand at the bar trying to look cool. Once you were in, you were in and there was no escape. You went to the bog at the start of the night because there was no way you'd get all the way over the other side of the room when it was in full swing. I've been back to the Albany since and it's only about two feet from one side of the basement to the other so they must have really packed them in. There wasn't really a dancefloor, more of a pile-on. It was a bit like when you play football at primary school and you all form a big swarm that moves around the pitch with no proper passing or tackling just everyone hacking away at the ball. It wasn't really dancing. By the end it would be like the sleeve of the Pogues' Rum, Sodomy and The Lash, you'd be clinging on for dear life. And the heat was unbelievable, you'd come out soaked to the skin, like something from Tenko. I can't imagine anything worse now, but at the time I loved every second of it.
Sean: Having spent the majority of my life going to clubs, from slightly naff suburban soul boy beginnings all the way through to acid house, I'd always felt like a person on the outside looking in. I took what I wanted from those clubs. These were all nights that I went to and had my moments. Nothing came close to going into the cellar of the Albany, hearing that music and forging relationships that have shaped the way my life has gone since. It's probably worth mentioning that I ended up going out with one of the girls who did the door (Tash) for the next three years.
Chloe: I'm pretty sure I went to almost all of them but I can only remember about ten minutes of any of them. Ten minutes total, not ten consecutive minutes. My memory is murky. As was the club. It was rowdy and sweaty and frenzied. I first laid eyes on a lot of people who would soon become some of the very best friends I've ever had... all red-faced, covered in sweat, splashing beer all over themselves as they pogo'd on top of tables.
Pete: One of many reasons why the Social was great because there wasn't any of the usual crap you got at clubs: no guest list, no door policy, it was egalitarian. It did mean it was horribly packed... no one really cared as long as they were inside. I remember when I played records down there with Bob. I'd only just started DJing just around that time. It was a fairly wayward set, but people were asking what things were, there was no heckling.
Sean: Of all the DJs who played before Ed and Tom, Tricky was the one no-one who saw it will ever forget, one of the most insane sets of records I've ever heard.
Martin: When we booked Tricky, I don't think any of us realised just how mental it would be. He'd been coming down for weeks as a punter and we were all pretty in awe of his records. We offered hin a slot on the final night David Holmes was on the same night, he refused to play after Tricky, thinking he'd play some kind of messianic set that couldn't possibly be followed. Tricky played for one very bizarre, very brilliant hour I remember leaning over to tell him that the heavy metal record he had on was playing at the wrong speed. He just looked at me and said, 'I know'.
Sean: The club always got tagged as eclectic, which missed the point. I'm obviously not a snob, but I did get protective of it, very much like `If you don't get it, just fuck off". The 'anything goes' philosophy got very misinterpreted, not within that night, more with what came after and got lumped in with it. There were great life affirming moments in, the warm-ups, they really did have that magical 'all back to feel You could play a Northern record next to an acid record next to God knows what. What was really special was that constant chanting of someone's take on it, which, even if it didn't quite work, you didn't mind getting there early and being a bit disappointed cos you new you were about to get delivered the goods by Tom & Ed The guests had the feel of a support band - some are fantastic, some weren't quite right, no one cared, you got there early and hung in there.
Nick: Some people from the dance world were quite snobby about it at the time, I remember someone describing it as like a student disco but that was so off the mark. It was serious about music in the hands of people who knew their onions. I discovered some of my all-time favourite records down there and the club shaped everything musical and beyond for lots of us in a way. We went from boys to men.
Mark: To say the period when the Sunday Social ran is a bit of blur A an understatement. What I do remember is that dance culture Thad evolved into a fluffy-bra-fuck-fest and indie rock was so drab it needed a massive injection of life. Being in there, seeing people's faces as they walked down those stairs into the room for the first time was a picture. To hear two records played back to back that you wouldn't hear anywhere else or maybe have no obvious link with each other. The club had no boundaries, no barriers. Without a shadow of a doubt as influential a club on my life and thinking as Shoom, it captured everything Wall Of Sound was and would become for me. The sights, the happy queuing, the people, the smiling, the sounds, the beats, the bleeps, the soul, the smells, the amyl... I'm sure with some help I could recapture some moments in more details... problem is I can only just about remember where I live and what my name is now.
Alexis: I remember the first time I went. I'd moved to London about two weeks before. I was at journalism school, spent ages trying to get in, got in, Jeff was DJing and he was playing Friday Night August 14th by Funkadelic. which I'd never heard played in a club before. I'd only been to either indie nights or hardcore raves or techno clubs before that. It was a Sunday evening, everyone was off their faces and there were pop stars everywhere. I was like, 'Fuck me. this is what living in London's like'. I was on acid as well. What a fucking night.
Ed: At that point, it was amazing for us to be playing with the likes of Andrew Weatherall, Ashley Beedle, Justin Robertson, people who'd names we'd read in magazines, suddenly they were warming up for us. Weatherall played an incredible version of Radio Clash. I remember he put his set together so brilliantly, he played completely differently to how he would at Sabresonic, which had happened earlier that year. Justin was great. he played a lot of reggae and, I think, Tour De France. Jeff's set was inspirational, he'd play some fantastic records, mad Italian house records you'd forgotten about, then things like Sister Sledge Thinking Of You.
Nick: Andrew Weatherall was amazing. The next day we all went out and tried to find the records he played that night. It took ages to track them down, it was much harder to find music then. There weren't any blogs crapping on about it the next day.
Andrew Weatherall: It's really nice that everyone remembers that set so well. I honestly can't remember a fucking thing about it.
Robin: Every week you kept hearing these mad stories of things that people had seen down there. Some guy who was letching girls had been set on fire with a bottle of amyl and a cigarette. Someone chucked a pint over him to put him out. Then there was the guy getting a blowjob on a pile of coats behind the decks. Not sure if it was the smell of the place or the fact that it was so packed to the bloody rafters, but the one thing that place wasn't was sexy. Call me old fashioned but I'm not really sure how that one happened.
Pete: There were times when I'd pray for a night off, but I was petrified that someone would come and knock on the door and drag me down, so I would usually head down there before that happened. It was pretty addictive once you'd started going.
Wendy: Sunday night back then was early closing but no one was ready to go home at half ten. Sometimes we carried on at home, pissing our neighbours off. Once, an antique vase was bounced across a table on the floor above us by a Studio One record - it smashed on the floor. Monday mornings usually ended up hurting.
Sean: Things did take a turn for the worse for a while. Sunday nights were getting more and more sprawling and pretty soon I was missing from work on Mondays. I went through a succession of lies such as 'I went out this weekend and I got spiked and I'll never take acid again'. After a few weeks, Tuesdays started to disappear. then Wednesdays After a while of not turning up, I got confronted by the head of Planet 24 on a Thursday morning and said 'I was out of Sunday, jogging, when I got run over and I've been in a coma for 48 hours. I've had a scan and I'm alright now.'
Ed: Although looking back at it, the whole thing must seem very hedonistic, but for me it was never druggy, it was just an endless bottle of Budweiser.
Martin: The Social couldn't really have gone on much longer at the Albany, I think we were all very aware of when it needed to stop, Heavenly and Tom & Ed It was getting out of hand, numbers wise. On the last night, Brian (the landlord) estimated there were 1600 people either inside the building or outside trying to get in. The capacity of the place was about 160 comfortably. We usually got 300 in somehow. That last night, Brian was stood on the bar taking a panoramic photo of all the people locked out. probably to tell the brewery it was just another average night down the Albany.
Sean: By the end of the run, I'd questioned so much of what was going on in my life, I walked out of the job, thinking there was way more fun to be had. there was much more to give than just taking Keith Chegwin round people's houses at 7am. Pretty soon after I was pursuing the All Back To Mine idea that I'd begun to formulate while at the club. It eventually became a TV series and an album. Guilty Pleasures has evolved out of that, really.
Chloe: These days I can't make it through a bottle of wine on a Sunday night never mind a bottle of amyl. Nowadays something like that would kill me. But I'm glad I was there Even if it's the reason my memory's shot to bits.
Stuart: The Social was far more important than I realised at the time. Most of those periods probably are. And when it started to celebrate itself, the creative part was probably ending. There's that line in Complete Control by The Clash, 'We're controlled by the price of the first drugs we can find'. The Social became full of people shouting too much. It was the first place where I heard someone say `Got any beak?' Britpop was fuelled on cocaine and the Social also reflected that. But it definitely made a difference and it was a privilege to have been there.
Ed: It was an amazing time for us. It was the first time we'd had our own club, we were making Exit Planet Dust, it was a really hot summer, which seems even more incredible to me now, sat here in the worst summer ever. 1994 really was one of the greatest summers for me.
JDB: If it were to happen now, definitely it would kill me. And I wasn't even taking drugs.
Sean: One of the great gifts that life can bestow on you is to actually really have, for a brief moment, a place where you can go and literally lose yourself It's probably not recommended, but I was lucky to have that in that period of time. I'd never in a million years dream of going back, but I wouldn't swap the experience for anything.
Martin: If you go to The Albany now, spookily its the same. I remember going down there a year or two after the Sunday Social finished and it was exactly the same downstairs except for some reason they'd put a Northern Uproar poster up on the wall.