The Dortmunder Bier Keller, Leeds
Part One: A Big Venue At Last!
By far my biggest venue yet, The Bier Keller was well-positioned in The Merrion Centre which was at the heart of the city and easily accessed by public transport.
December 1984 had kicked off as normal with a Wednesday-night gig at Brannigans on 7th. It was after this gig – an impressive one featuring The Defects, Skeletal Family and Anti-System – that I was told Brannigans was no longer available. Thus I has to start an already hectic month by moving venues. This meant quickly producing and distributing a brand new flyer. Somehow I got this done and, one week later (on 14th) a good crowd turned up at The Bier Keller for Disorder, Amebix, Antisect and Famous Names. Attendance was much helped by the willingness of Brannigans to display posters re-directing everyone who turned up to the nearby Bier Keller.
On the Monday (19th), I’d got King Kurt and Popeye’s Dick at The Palm Cove in Bradford. On the Tuesday, I was putting them on in Manchester at Jilly’s. On the Wednesday I was back at The Bier Keller for my first big gig there, The Negativz’ Xmas Party at which I headlined this ace Bradford outfit supported by five further bands: The Toy Dolls, Icon A.D., The Xpozez, The Instigators and Criminal Justice. One week later (28th), The Bier Keller hosted a second six-band package. It was billed as The Underdogs’ New Year Party. They headlined, supported by The Fits, Major Accident, Uproar, The Convulsions and Civilised Society.
And the month’s mayhem ended two days later with that gig at Queens Hall in which The Damned were supported by thirteen other bands, twelve of which I’d booked. Amazingly, all of these gigs were well attended! Despite all the ups and downs, I was getting it right.
January saw a return to regular once-a-week Wednesday night gigs, giving me a chance to really establish my new venue and start planning how to properly use it. I kicked off 1984 with a cheap pure punk gig for everyone who’d spent up over Xmas in which The Varukers were ably supported by The Expelled and Devoid... two quid in if you were employed, one-fifty if not.
Next up were The Vibrators supported by the wonderfully-named Sid Presley Experience, later to evolve into The Godfathers, a band still going and still producing truly innovative music. This was followed more pure punk from The Skeptix, English Dogs (curiously not yet, but soon to be headliners), The Insane and ranting poet Ginger John The Doomsday Commando (ace name again!). Now living in Manchester, Ginger remains one of my best friends, great guy and someone whose Facebook posts are the funniest. Find him under his real name, John Lunn.
The last gig of January was a left-wing northeast working-class classic featuring Angelic Upstarts, Red Alert and Red London, a punk-skin cross-over bill that simultaneously spat on skinhead racism and pushed punks into active opposition to Thatcherism, not least her treatment of miners and her wholehearted neglect of the North.
February saw me expanding operations, primarily to take advantage of having a considerably larger venue. While the regular Wednesday nights continued, I began adding occasional weekend gigs, starting with one of the best gigs I ever promoted, headlined by a band from Canada. Before that, however, the month’s first Wednesday gig featured The Subhumans supported by The Instigators, Naked and a fourth band not recorded on the flyer. Anyone remember who they were?
One week later, The Newtown Neurotics were back, supported by a much-requested band, Chron Gen, along with Bandits At 4 O’Clock whose line-up included former members of Chelsea, The Business and The Partisans. For the third Wednesday (15th) I’d planned to book either The Blood or The Case. When neither proved able to come, I still secured an interesting line-up with The Defects supported by Destructors V and Reality.
Two days later, on Friday 17 February, came that first extra gig. My Wednesday nights went under the name Natural Disasters. For my new fortnightly Friday night events, I wanted to put on more than just punk and so decided to give that night a new name. I dubbed it The Assassination Club. Headliners on that opening night were D.O.A., an excellent and highly-political Canadian band fronted by Joey Keighley.
Keen to make this a really special event, I first approached Mensi. As an ex-miner and the frontman of north-east band Angelic Upstarts, he’d written some fine left-wing and anti-establishment lyrics and had even written and recorded a memorable dialect poem, ‘Heath’s Lament’, which was about strike-breaking. However, he’d never done a solo poetry reading.
I persuaded him to come along and do just that. Knowing that The Upstarts had a strong skinhead following who’d turn up on the night, some of them firmly racist, I wanted to confront that prejudice.
I’d previously gigged with and befriended an Afro-Caribbean busker and one-man-band called Spartacus R who was one of the few people I knew of with the confidence to do a gig like this. In the past he’d been in a pioneering and very successful African rock outfit called Osibisa.
Since then, he’d toured supporting various reggae bands including Aswad and Burning Spear, both of which were popular with punks. Telling him that he’d have and all-white punk and skinhead audience, some of whom might be hostile, I asked him to do the gig. He not only agreed to do it, but courageously decided to do a wholly African set.
At the last minute, Bradford skinhead ranting poet and NME journalist, Seething Wells, volunteered to compere the gig. Both Spartacus and Mensi were nervous before going on, with Mensi deciding to take a guitarist onstage with him for token musical support. In fact, the two went down brilliantly and got on really well with one another. And D.O.A. were phenomenal. The whole gig was filmed and released on video and later on CD. You can find extracts on YouTube.
I’d now got a second club night up and running, with a first gig under my belt that had drawn my biggest Bier Keller audience yet. What’s more, I was planning something even bigger. This was to be a Saturday night monthly punk all-dayer.
Nick Toczek, October 2018