Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Clubbed to Death

I've posted this before at my south east London blog, Transpontine, but am reposting here as a follow up to the earlier Club UK post on crime, drugs and London clubbing.

Raving Lunacy: Clubbed to death – adventures on the rave scene (2000) is by Dave Courtney - sometime East Dulwich resident, former Southwark Council dustman (at Grove Vale depot), and celebrity villain. Must admit I’m not big on the loveable gangster genre, violence isn’t glamorous - it’s brutal, bloody and leaves behind grieving children who are damaged for life. In this book, Courtney plays up to his image and some of the stories can no doubt be taken with a pinch of salt. Still, he does a service in documenting the early days of acid house and raving in late 80s/early 90s South London.

By his own account, Courtney went to some of the first 'acid house' events in London - Shoom in Thrale Street, Southwark and the parties held in old prison museum in Clink Street by London Bridge: 'The Clink was wicked... Very druggy and very housey place, full of proper hardcore havin'-it-larger's in there. And it was good cos it had all these individual cells so it was like having loads of little VIP lounges'.

Soon he started a club of his own: 'near the Elephant and Castle, I found a viaduct arch beneath the mainline railway track running over John Ruskin Street... The Arches was the first all-night, illegal rave in London... All the other clubs in London shut at about 2 am but mine was still banging at 8 o'clock in the morning! ... Under this great big curved, black and red railway arch roof there was the scaffolding gantry holding the DJ on the decks, massive speakers either side and the lights hanging above; and below that this heaving mass of lunatics just going completely mental, arms in the air, whistles and foghorns blowing... Steam and joint smoke hung like a fucking fog, people were dancing on speakers and scaffolding... we'd have a girl walking round in a Playboy Bunny outfit with an ice-cream tray round her neck full of ready-rolled spliffs for a quid each - Get yer Joints 'ere!' And big plastic dustbins filled to the top with ice and free apples and Ice-pops... we had a mad mixture of people: from hardcore ravers, professional clubbers, black geezers, white geezers, plenty of women, football hooligan nutters going all smiley, hardnuts softened by Ecstasy... I had names DJing there before they became superstar DJs like they are now - Danny Rampling, Carl Cox, Fabio & Grooverider, Brandon Block'.

The police at the nearby Carter Street station were not happy, and eventually it was raided by 'army of 150 police, with some fuckers called No 3 Area Territorial Support Group in flameproof overalls, bulletproof body armour and steel hel­mets with radio microphones, carrying an angle grinder, a hydraulic ram, sledgehammer'. 26 people were arrested and one person was apparently later jailed for five years for his part in running the club.

Later he was involved in putting on free open-air raves - 'I bought a massive removal van with a diesel generator ·and drove in on to fields or grasslands. Tooting Common was one. Peckham Rye was another... I'd open up the back of the lorry, set up the DJs decks and put these dirty big speakers outside. We'd get eight, nine hundred people up there really going [or it. Speakers booming it all out. And cos I didn't charge no one the law had a job Slopping me doing it. It just started attracting loads of gay blokes, which is something I hadn't counted on. But then it was the Common, the well known shag-spot for gay geezers doing some fresh air cruising, so I guess it made sense'.

He also ran a club for a while at the Fitness Centre in Southwark Park Road: 'It used to be the hottest place. It was this windowless basement space made for about 30 geezers to work out in; not two hundred people to get off their tits'.

Then he put on a club called 'Crazy Mondays', at Futures on Deptford Broadway, a club owned by Harry Hayward (later as a 'retired gangster', the Chair of Deptford Action Group for the Elderly): 'It ran from 6 a.m. Monday morning till about 2 p.m. in the afternoon... there was villains, hardcore ravers, pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, lap dancers, strippers, drag queens, club owners, club promoters, club dancers, celebrities, sports stars (Nigel Benn and Gary Mason were there), doormen, bar staff, waitresses, croupiers, gamblers, cab drivers, sex club people - basically, mostly everyone that had· worked over the weekend in the nightclub trade watching other people having a good time, all came down to mine to have their own'.

Courtney was evidently in that generation of crooks who saw the money-making opportunities in the club scene but he is also obviously a true believer, extolling the wonders of ecstasy and raving in breaking down racism in London and challenging his own anti-gay prejudice.

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