Ska, Woodwork and Chickenwire Mannequins: The Friendships that Sowed the Seeds of East London Rave
Ska, Woodwork and Chickenwire Mannequins: The Friendships that Sowed the Seeds of East London Rave
Unearthing the story of friends whose love of music and parties saw them create some of the defining moments of the acid house scene.
The “second summer of love” is the much-vaunted cliché commonly used to describe the acid house movement of the late eighties, summoning images of hedonistic teens clad in smiley t-shirts, however, these cliché’s don’t do justice to what was an incredibly significant British cultural moment. The roots of rave can be traced from a diverse range of cultures and influences with the East London borough of Waltham Forest and neighbouring Redbridge, providing the perfect conditions for the scene to ignite.
Alice Clapperton traces the impact that key local figures including Derek Boland, Linden Cambridge and Tim Strudwick, had in defining and shaping the national scene as artists, DJs, producers, promoters and businesses. All there were born in the early 1960s; Linden grew up in Leytonstone and Wanstead, Derek in Woodford and Tim in Wanstead.
Tim grew up in a middle-class household where both parents worked in banking. A keen music fan with an entrepreneurial attitude, the punk scene of the late seventies saw his first steps toward becoming a promoter when, at 16, he began putting on gigs in local church halls. Among his peers was one Derek Boland, a soul boy at the time, and better known now by his stage name Derek B. Derek would go on to a very successful musical career, breaking new ground as a black British DJ, rapper and producer in the mid-eighties. Derek was friends with Linden and introduced him to Tim. Linden remembered that he, “Met Derek at youth centre discos. We would hang around, skateboarding and stuff… and then I met Tim… we all really came together probably at Ilford Town Hall on Monday nights” (at DJ Froggy’s soul nights).
Derek and Linden provided not only a different musical influence to punk, but also an introduction to a more diverse group of people beyond suburban South Woodford in Leytonstone. “[Derek] was quite an outgoing kind of character and he also knew a lot of kids from down in Leytonstone and Leytonstone’s a bit more of a diverse area. It was more exciting and you know the music was better” recalled Tim. The friends would go to soul nights at the Plough & Harrow in Leytonstone High Road and further afield to Ilford Town Hall, often following DJ Froggy, another pioneer who paved the way for the rave scene by bringing American soul and the art of mixing on two turntables to a local audience. The teenagers would often end up walking home after a night out as funds were scarce but these experiences and their shared passion for music created a lasting bond between them.
Drifting apart when Derek went back to Trinidad for a time, Tim continued to discover new music, getting into bands like The Selecter and The Specials. In the late seventies and early eighties there was a tribalism to music, with fans of specific bands sharing similar political beliefs and ideas. Punk had emerged to challenge the establishment and 2Tone took those punk sensibilities and blended them with Jamaican ska, promoting a message of unity at a time when racial tensions were running high in the UK. Both movements were sowing the seeds for the inclusive, DIY culture of rave a decade later. Sure enough, walking down the road one day, himself decked out in his two-tone suit and trilby, who should Tim encounter but Derek, returned from Trinidad and walking towards him in a Crombie coat. Despite not having seen one another for a couple of years, each had found their own way to ska, reaffirming their friendship.
Haunted House & Hypnosis
With local influencers such as Jamaican sound systems and blues parties, the teenagers’ ambitions grew and in the early to mid-eighties they began to put on after-hours parties playing hip hop and rare groove, catering for a crowd who wanted to stay out beyond midnight, when most licensed premises had to close. At that time it was not too difficult to locate an empty house, get inside, turn on the electric, buy some booze from a wholesaler and start a party. These began small, with a low cover charge of £3 and maybe 100 people turning up but quickly grew in both size and popularity until 1985, when the pair threw a couple of events called The Haunted House parties in huge, derelict mansions which attracted around 6,000 people. Tim said, “Me and Linden, we were the guys that were scouring the streets trying to find locations … climbing over the fences to get into empty buildings and trying to work out how to get the power on. Derek was a sort of superstar DJ”. Some of these properties had been sitting derelict for a long time and there was something wonderful about taking over these spaces – sometimes through a window or door at the back of the property (no CCTV in those days) or from an estate agent who would lend the key for a night for a fee. As Tim describes it, “We’d make these empty properties come alive again… it was a celebration of… music and dance and having fun and… meeting new people.
Their approach to parties was creative and the skills that they had acquired at school meant there were few limitations on their ideas. School lessons in woodwork and metalwork gave a generation who had been raised by post-war make-do-and-mend parents further practical skills which were put to good use in the service of the nascent party scene. Cutting and sticking cassette tapes with razor blades and Sellotape to make mixes, getting access to the electricity in a derelict building and decorating the rooms with banners and spray paint were all part of a highly creative entrepreneurial spirit which laid the groundwork for rave. They even staged a party on the Circle Line; starting at Mile End station where ghetto blasters were wired into the light fittings of a tube carriage with partygoers completing a circuit and a half of the line before being booted off. Commuters were alternately bemused and delighted to be confronted with an impromptu afternoon party.
The press quickly jumped on the Haunted House parties, writing stories which sensationalised the youth culture, literally demonising the organisers and party-goers, failing to check facts and causing fear amongst readers.
It was a bank holiday weekend, we found this big mansion up in Hampstead and it was the time when we were doing a pirate radio station as well as. We put a transmitter on the roof of this building. Hampstead is a very high part of London. We were just inviting people down over the air waves. The whole of Hampstead sort of got a bit road blocked really, just people just turning up and just parking their car in the middle of the road…Tim Strudwick
By 1988, Derek had already achieved chart success and international recognition, Linden had been DJing for Derek and touring with him as well as establishing himself with a regular night at Bentley’s, Canning Town which had built his profile. Tim was effectively living a double life, with a day job working in the dealing room of a bank in the city and evenings spent putting on their parties of ever-increasing size. Linden and Derek’s partnership ended and this coincided with Linden’s introduction to acid house via another friend, Steve Proctor. Linden and Tim’s musical interest embraced this new scene, and their first acid house party took place in the Old Town Hall on Orford Road in Walthamstow. The venue had previously been an art college, where Sir Peter Blake taught and was still full of huge mannequin-type sculptures made of chicken wire and plaster. They painted everything with fluorescent paint and filled the place with UV lights, smoke machines and strobes. Linden and DJ friend, Rob Acteson, took to the decks alongside the Rhythm Doctor, and a memorable night unfolded, “As the whole place was heated up with all this smoke and sweat and thousands of people this paint started running off the walls and everybody in there was just covered from head to foot in fluorescent paint.” The party drew the attention of the Sunday Sport who wrote a typically sensational article which nonetheless details the high production values of the rave; “Pulsating strobe lights”, “A dry ice smokescreen” and “ultraviolet lights (that) added an eerie glow to the painted faces of more than 500 kids.
From then on the parties were known as Hypnosis and progressed to The Dungeons beneath The Greyhound pub on Lea Bridge Road, thanks to an intro from Rob Acteson. Tim recalled, “I went down there with Linden and the owner… he told us… that we’d never fill this space and me and Linden just looked at each other like, yeah, ok…. It was just a brilliant, brilliant space”. Needless to say, they filled the venue from the very first night. The low ceiling of what was effectively a pub cellar was no obstacle to them and they dug the tunnels out during the week to increase the headroom. Hypnosis duly expanded, with thousands of people attending the regular Friday nights, gradually taking over the ground floor of The Greyhound, then the second and third floors. By this time, their parties were organised by Linden, Tim and Rob with friends Perry Quy and Fitzroy Liverpool. Linden and Rob remained on the line-up alongside Rhythm Doctor, Steve Proctor and DJ Louise. Their professional approach ensured things were properly run with fire exits, security and first aiders on hand. According to Linden, “I got to know a couple of the police in Leyton station and they used to say they didn’t mind these parties were happening, because, one, they knew where everyone was, two, the crime had gone down in the area.
First Sound System at Glastonbury
1989 saw Hypnosis grow even further. In June they took a huge sound system to Glastonbury Festival illegally, setting it up in the car park and running a party for four days that rivalled the festival stages for volume and popularity. “I’ve always thought (it was) one of the best things that we ever did” said Linden, “It’s still probably my favourite day out I’ve ever had in my life”. At this time Glastonbury was very much a rock festival and the event ended with the organisers (and party-goers) being beaten up by the police and Glastonbury security, outraged at their audacity. It was something of a turning point as the following year saw the festival embrace dance music for the first time with acts including Adamski and Underworld on the line-up.
Canvey Island & Court
Probably the most significant party of 1989 was a huge affair planned to take place on August 12th 1989 in Canvey Island. Once again, this was incredibly well-organised: three circus tents, emergency lighting, generators, back-up generators, barriers, portaloos and paramedics on-site, with the whole event insured by Lloyds of London. By this point, the mood had changed and the police were actively trying to prevent parties from taking place so were out in a helicopter, circling the M25 to locate the rave. Tim was on site the night before the event and, wise to the liberties the law were taking in regard to shutting these events down, he also had Amnesty International lawyers at hand for backup. An unofficial meeting with police quickly revealed that all the relevant documents and permits were in place and with 3000 advance tickets sold, there was no legitimate reason to stop the event going ahead. Despite this, as the organisers led hundreds of cars filled with revellers from the meeting point along the A127 they were met with a police roadblock. A stand-off with police saw that block removed but others set up on surrounding roads meant ravers had to walk through streams and clamber over barbed wire fences to gain access.
The police brought criminal charges against the Hypnosis organisers citing an archaic law concerning smoke and noise pollution last used during the industrial revolution. The hot, cloudless night of August 12th meant that the sound of the music travelled and could be heard as far as 10 miles away, especially when everyone had gone to bed with their windows open. The charges could have meant a prison sentence and although eventually, they got off on a technicality, for Tim, the stress of the trial saw an end to his career as a promoter. “It used to be a laugh… sometimes we’d make money, sometimes we’d break even, sometimes we’d lose money, it was mainly about beating the system and having fun.
Openness, fun and a lack of pretentiousness defined the Hypnosis parties; the crowd accepted anyone and everyone. Acid house wrought the end of heavily tribal factions of young people, uniting diverse groups together in a love of music, dance, meeting new people and sharing an experience which developed into strong and lasting friendships, in Linden’s words, “This acid house thing was just… it was me. It was just like black, white people, Chinese, gay, rich, poor…”. Music was not clearly defined or limited by genre – or by geography, with Hypnosis flying in Little Louie Vega from New York to play at the Canvey Island event. It was quite a culture shock for the DJ to come to the UK for the first time and find himself in the middle of an Essex field witnessing his first rave. As Tim recalls, he just kept saying, “How’d you do this?”, over and over. The crowd would happily embrace a pop record at the end of the night if it worked in the mix. There was something pretty special about, “Playing Phil Collins to a few thousand drugged-up people in a derelict warehouse in the middle of nowhere.
The 1990s & Bannerama
As the eighties ended the scene changed, with a criminal element moving in, the music changing and fragmenting, and the scene becoming more commercial. Linden was producing and DJing at Ministry of Sound, Camden Palace, Bar Rumba; him and Rob hosted Strictly Rhythm at Soundshaft from 1991 – 1994, then Linden put on Feel the Rhythm, in Holborn with Warren Sharifi and Rob was putting on a night with the Rhythm Doctor, Feel Real at The Gardening Club. For Tim, the fun had gone out of putting on parties, so he moved on, setting up a new business, Bannerama with his friend Sam Christie creating rave banners. At this time Linden and Rob ran a record shop, Dance Factory, in Leytonstone High Road and Bannerama was based in the back of the shop. When the business grew, they moved to a studio on Greenleaf Road in Walthamstow. In time Tim gave up his job in the city and ran Bannerama full time. The business played an important part in contributing to the look of raves up and down the country. One of their artists, Scott Walker, created the iconic ‘kissy monster’ which was used on the Erotica flyers, a night they ran at Grange Farm, Chigwell in the early 1990s and they were commissioned to create and install huge backdrops at parties all over the UK. As one of the main artists, Tim would create psychedelic images with fluorescent paint on fireproof canvas and then spend weekends travelling to different locations to install the banners. The business was very successful, transcending the rave scene to create banners for other big events like Glastonbury and the Notting Hill Carnival and also for brands like Holsten Pils and Cockspur Rum who liked the unique nature of a hand-painted piece of advertising to use in their campaigns.
By 1993 Tim was ready to leave the rave scene behind for good, selling his share of Bannerama and setting up a float tank business, Floatworks, which he runs to this day. This seeming change of direction shares surprising similarities with his raving days. The altered state of consciousness which flotation induces has parallels with his experiences of ecstasy and raving. He sees this period as a time when people from all different places and backgrounds had their minds expanded as they opened themselves up to different possibilities in a way which the government found extremely threatening. Many of his friends from the scene went on to pursue similar mind-expanding activities such as yoga or meditation as a result of their rave experiences. He says, “That small period of time really did change people’s lives and… they’re still continuing to live this… more open, expansive kind of lifestyle.