Now and Then: The Brain

11 Wardour Street now:

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11 Wardour Street Then:

Brain 3Brain 5

Walking along Wardour Street yesterday I was struck by how many significant nightclubs and music venues once called this stretch of Soho home. Many of them have now disappeared in the inevitable but sad sanitisation of this vital sliver of the capital

One example is at number 11. Today there is an Oriental restaurant called Misato, while the basement housed a now-defunct karaoke club by the name of Sugar.

However, between 1989 and 1992 it was home to The Brain bar, gallery and nightclub. Part of a second wave of house clubs building on the success of pioneers such as Shoom and Future, it showcased DJs and acts such as Billy Nasty, Andrew Weatherall and A Guy Called Gerald who would go on to become familiar names. An innovation was encouraging live performance rather than just DJing, pre-empting the rise of the P.A.

The Brain was managed by Sean McLusky, a serial club owner and pop culture entrepreneur who first tasted fame as a member of early 80s new wave/ soul act JoBoxers, before going on to kickstart the regeneration of Kings Cross with the Scala and Shoreditch with nights at the 333. Alongside him was Mark ‘Wigan’ Williams, an artist responsible for the psychedelic interior.

At its peak it was what all the best nightclubs should be – intimate, cool and groundbreaking, which is a hard act to pull off. Some former colleagues of mine were regulars around 1990-91 and drew the envy of the younger me, too obviously under 18 to accompany them. What I remember was that all day Saturday the only thing they could talk about was the upcoming night out. It felt like they were part of a community, something more than just dancing to house music.

The experience was clearly a moving one for others as well – an effort to write an oral history of the club has been in the pipeline for a number of years, along with a blog.

Clubs like the Brain deserve to be remembered for the part they played in transforming London and its nightlife. I hope that this virtual blue plaque will go some way to helping.

6 forgettable Madchester bands

For some reason, Madchester is in the news. Or at least in the Observer. The Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays (again) have reformed, as have New Order (never really a Madchester band), minus Hooky.

If Madchester was a real musical movement at all, it was a pretty sorry one. Don’t get me wrong, I spent most of my youth buying anything by bands with baggy jeans and a shaggy haircut. But the only ‘Madchester’ bands that still bare repeated listening are the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays.

In case you feel like being reminded, here are 6 forgettable acts to come out of the Madchester phenomenon:

Northside

A reasonable start with the jangly ‘Shall We Take a Trip’ – dull drug reference excepted. However from there it was all downhill, despite everything going for them: Central Station designed covers, Factory label, support slots with the Mondays. The album missed the boat by a good year or so, and that was it.

The High

The hype = ‘Madchester supergroup’ containing former members of the Stone Roses and the Inspiral Carpets (of whom more later).
The High = BORING.

Paris Angels

One good track (Perfume) and a lot of crap. Saw them at the Camden Underworld in 1991, they could hardly play their instruments. Again, album missed the boat and sank without trace. Still, shamefully, in my record collection somewhere.

Inspiral Carpets

The ugliest band in christendom. Let’s be honest, despite their success relative to others on this list, they were still pretty rubbish. Early stuff was good in a Monkees-ish way, but soon the Hammond became annoying and gimmicky and Tom Hingley’s voice sounded increasingly like a foghorn. Plus, they were definitely not cool as f*ck.

My Jealous God

Londoners rather than Mancs, but very much on the baggy bandwagon. Bought their first 12″ ‘Everything about you’ in original AND remix versions. £8 and 30 minutes of my life I will not get back. Disappeared after their next single. Justifably so.

Candy Flip

Loved it at the time. ‘The time’ being before I developed taste and discernment, and thought that drum machines and ‘acid tops’ were cool. Now, I can think of little more offensive than covering one of the Beatles’ greatest moments in such an offhand and cynical fashion.