Birmingham Leisure

City Centre Nightlife in the 1980s – An Introduction

Once upon a time in my my youth I could regularly be found gallivanting around the Birmingham pub and club scene in both various states of alcohol-induced abandon and as a member of staff of numerous clubs and bars throughout the 1980s.  It is with the hazy memories of this period in mind that I thought it may be of interest to document my recollections and hopefully add to it the memories of other readers of this website.

I will, as time goes on, add various articles on particular venues and nightlife notables I encountered over the years and also those that had long-since gone by the time I hit the City centre in 1983 but for now, I would just like to whet the appetite with an overview of the scene as I found it as a somewhat over enthusiastic, and somewhat under-aged, teen all those years ago.

My first experience of the Birmingham club scene (apart from seeing The Sweet at the Night Out sometime around 1980) revolved around waiting for the number 45 bus in the now-pedestrianised John Bright Street and seeing hordes of cavorting youth stumbling between Kaleidoscope, Sam Weller’s, The Grapes, Edward’s Number 7 and Boogies Brasserie.  Whilst the costs and benefits of alcohol consumption were yet to be known to me, seeing groups of people laughing and evidently having a good time – along with the merging of very loud music emanating from each venue into a cacophony of rhythm and mostly bass line (it’s to do with sine-waves but no need for that here) – made me instantly both curious and envious . . . I wanted to be among them.

To cut a long story short my first club experience came almost by accident after going to see a friend’s band play the The Railway in Curzon Street (also my first gig).  After the band’s equipment was packed away they decided to go clubbing and asked if I wanted to tag along, being considerably younger than the band I felt it both an exciting opportunity and felt secure in the knowledge that they’d look after me so why not?  We ended up somewhere I’d never heard of called ‘Zig Zags’ which, as I found sometime afterwards, was in essence a back room of the Hurst Street’s Powerhouse catering for the ‘Indie’ scene.

Going through the doors and down the stairs and into the club I was greeted with a completely life-changing and eye-opening experience.  At the time, the ‘Indie’ and ‘Goth’ scene were large – although unbeknown to me at that point – and the incredibly dark room was full of people in makeup, with spiked and dyed black hair and a multitude of fashions that were largely alien to me, mixed with the more traditional long-haired ‘heavy metal’ fans and punks.

My friends ushered me to the bar and offered me a drink – what would I have, I’d never had one before?  A pint of mild was ordered (for some reason) and we headed to the dance floor whereupon Bomber by Motorhead came on and the whole dance floor erupted into a rather furious bout of ‘wrecking’:  at one point, spat out of the melee came a short stocky chap who fell into me.  As he turned to apologise (they were a nice crowd) it turned out to be my history teacher who grumbled “alright Andrew, f*cking great song this” and threw himself back into the throng . . . what a fantastic experience I thought!

A week or so later my band friends invited me out again and introduced me to the delights of the Costermonger at the back of the Oasis Market and Mr Bill’s which at that time was on Needless Alley off New Street and was, once more, an incredibly eye-opening experience.

From then-on I really got the taste for exploring such places and, whilst most of my older-looking school mates were also getting to grips with the City’s nightlife, whereas they were largely caught-up in the New Romantic (aka ‘Trendies’) scene and frequenting such fine establishments as Le Pub, I was heavily into the rock and Indie scene (more the former but I did enjoy a bit of punk now and then) and so became a regular at Bill’s and the Costermonger as well as the Grapes (Hill Street) on a weekend – the latter two both DJ’d by gravel-voiced 70’s rock dinosaur Tony Craig – along with the odd trip to the Barrel Organ in Digbeth, the West End Bar, 49’ers on Smallbrook Queensway and the Outrigger at the top-end of Digbeth.

Club-wise, for a ‘rocker’ there wasn’t much to shout about until the re-launch of Edward’s No.8 as ‘Edward’s Rock Complex‘ in 1987.  Originally a ‘trendy’ club owned by club impresario Eddie Fewtrell (of whom more will be written elsewhere) this club became the focal point for my youthful nightlife experience and the hub of my social life for a number of years.  As I was now a bit older and seeking a bit of variety I also frequented the Powerhouse, the Dome (was the actual ‘Dome’ over the dance floor a bit naff , or is that just me?), the Matador, the Windsor, Peacocks, Tressines on Newhall Street and a few other odd pubs now and again.

I also ended up working at Edward’s No.8 – among others – and so spent a lot of time around Mr Fewtrell’s establishments (Goldwyn’s, Paramount, Boogies and Edward’s Nos. 7 and 8 ) and had a whale of a time and met many top bands and celebrities, along with many interesting people during my time there and it is a period I look back on with great fondness.

Anyway, above is a potted history of my halcyon pub and club period and I will be writing some articles on various venues as the site grows and would love to hear from anyone who wishes to contribute their memories and observations to the site.  There have been squillions of clubs and bars in the City over the years and I did my best to visit many of them during my youth – some were great, some not so (remember the Golden Eagle?) – but many had already gone by the wayside, were not within my particular ‘scene’ or I just hadn’t come across them so i am relying on everyone to provide as much information and comment as possible!

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One comment for “City Centre Nightlife in the 1980s – An Introduction”

  1. a wonderful distilled trip down memory lane – shame we forgot to take photos at the time! top marks Andy

    Posted by adrian carey | November 6, 2009, 9:52 pm

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