Le Bateau on Duke Street – home to hundreds of Liverpool revellers every week for the last 20 years – has closed. Here Getintothis talks to many of the key players remembering the boat that truly rocked Liverpool.
Late night fun at Le Bateau
For hundreds of people in Liverpool, Friday and Saturday night out meant one thing – a night out in Le Bateau.
No matter how tough a week you’d had, no matter what was going on in your life, no matter where you planned on going at the weekend – the circle of life wasn’t complete until you’d danced your socks off on the boards of Le Bateau.
Down the years, Le Bat hosted a number of seminal live bands, from Le Tigre, Make Up, Silver Apples and Arab Strap while colourful DJs added their brand of cool to the sweat-stained ceiling of The Boat, including Tjinder and Ben from Cornershop, St Etienne‘s Bob Stanley, Add N to X‘s Barry 7, Chris Geddes and Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian and Ash‘s Charlotte Hatherley.
Those boards on Duke Street hosted almost 20 years worth of cheap lager, even cheaper spirits, unrequited love and of course superb music.
Last Friday, the news filtered through that Le Bateau was closing – and as Getintothis contributor Jamie Bowman put it, the news that Liquidation had spun its last copy of The Stone Roses‘ She Bangs The Drums provoked a Proustian rush up and down the country’
‘Generations of ex-students took to twitter and facebook lamenting the scuzzy venue on Duke Street that has hosted almost 20 years worth of cheap lager, unrequited love and of course brilliant music.
‘There was a genuine outpouring of grief as people, many of whom no longer lived in the city, relived their youth, posted favourite tracks and remembred the characters that frequented Le Bateau’s sweaty corners.‘
Andrew Weatherall DJ-ing at Voodoo at Le Bateau
Here key Le Bateau players and fans of the club recount their lost nights down the boat which truly rocked Liverpool.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts we’ve been unable to track down Victor – he’s probably still dancing away, in his own inimitable manner (watch out for those elbows!), in a darkened room lamenting the good old days.
Le Bateau was the place to be for many Liverpool party-goers each weekend
Julian ‘Jules’ Bennett was the Godfather of the decks for Le Bateau‘s most popular night – Liquidation – since 1996, but manned the decks as far back as ’93.
Jules said: ‘We got funny looks back in Summer 1993 when we suggested a Saturday night that didn’t want to play bland house beats all night long, in a city that was sinking under a deluge of shit bar after shit bar doing just that.
‘We envisaged somewhere the mistakes, mis-shapes and misfits could go and listen to a multi-genre mix of great tunes in a friendly environment. We think time has proved us right. In the words of the mighty KLF: Justified and Ancient.
‘After almost three years at our first home, Hardy’s, ending with a memorable night where punters danced on fire engines in the street, Liquidation moved to Le Bateau in September 1996, where it has been running weekly until last week.
‘Many have tried to copy the Liquidation blueprint. We take that as a compliment, but no one else gets it quite right, and everyone comes back to the Liquidation dancefloor in the end, where what we don’t play is just as important as what we do.‘
‘Let’s groove on, ‘cos it’s time to move on.‘
Jules‘ all-time Le Bateau playlist:
Harry J Allstars: The Liquidator
Al Wilson: The Snake
Pavement: Cut Your Hair
LCD Soundsystem: All My Friends
Best Coast: When I’m With You
Arcade Fire: Wake Up
Manic Street Preachers: Motorcycle Emptiness
DJ Shadow: Organ Donor
The Knife: Heartbeats
Walkmen: The Rat
Sonic Youth: 100%
Belle and Sebastian: The Boy With The Arab Strap
Hot Chip: Over And Over
The Horrors: Sea Within A Sea
Tricky: Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos
Vaccines: Wreckin’ Bar
Barrington Levy: Under Mi Sensi
The Jam: That’s Entertainment
Yeasayer: Ambling Alp
Kinks: Waterloo Sunset
Liverpool photographer Mark McNulty spent four years during the 1990s playing a mixture of northern soul and old school classics – times which he says were some of the best days of his life.
Mark recounts his time down in the Le Bateau dungeon: ‘If I actually sat down and made a rough estimate of how much time I spent in Le Bateau in the 1990’s, I’d probably depress myself to think that I spent a rather large part of the decade in one of Liverpool’s dingiest clubs. Nocturnally anyway.
Liquidation, Le Bateau’s longest running night, saw me play northern soul and 60’s beat records for four years alongside Danny Hunt from Ladytron and Scooter Paul before handing in me cards when I got asked to play Simon & Garfunkel by a man dressed as Superman.
‘Though the previous four years did throw up some of the best nights of my life in Liverpool’s greatest weekly club.
‘Aside from that I lost my mind in the bass bins of Voodoo and Fuk Dup Ravers, learnt how not to be a club promoter with the brilliant but short lived Under The Influence, now know what goes on behind the closed doors of a fetish club (no, I didn’t get involved) and spent some of the messiest, bestest and funniest nights out ever in a battered old boat on Duke Street.‘
Mark’s top five tunes:
Betty Everett: I Can’t Hear You No More
Len Wade: Boss Beat
The Standells: Dirty Water
The Monkees: Mary Mary
Joy Lovejoy: In Orbit
Many friendships were formed at Le Bateau
Getintothis contributor and Liverpool Post music columnist, Jamie Bowman: ‘Le Bateau was a moving reminder of how the club had permeated through so many peoples’ lives.
‘I know of at least three married couples who met their partners while frugging on the dance floor and the status of the club’s DJs as unwitting and slightly less shrill Cilla Blacks was sealed last year when they soundtracked my wedding reception.
‘Perhaps I should ask Jules, the club’s resident DJ to be godfather later this year when my first child is born. For me Le Bateau was all about being part of a community of like minded individuals – meeting people I could relate to and girls. It was definitely about girls.’
Sam Trafford, former DJ for Liquidation, said: ‘My first Le Bateau experience was when The Garage moved there from the Geeta restaurant in 1994. That night was where I first experienced young Liverpudlians dressed in 60s period costume, and heard sounds like The Seeds, Al Wilson, and The Modern Lovers played in a club.
‘It’s hard to describe how amazing it felt to hear sounds like this; music just wasn’t as democratic back then.
‘After a year working on the bar, I started DJing every Saturday at Liquidation, approximately 1997. At this time I was DJing with Welsh Lee Owen, we inherited the old set from the previous DJs and tried to modernise it with some dance crossover stuff, if you remember Britpop had disengaged with the dancefloor completely at the stage. This music worked well with the 60s stuff going on upstairs.
‘The manager at the time was Beth Cutler, she was moaning about something, and I remarked that she was doing well in life; she replied “what, being the manager of a smelly shithole?‘.
‘Jules took over from Lee around 2000, and the club went into a second renaissance when The Strokes hit. They were hedonistic days, especially when electro took off, and we could play the two styles together, great times.‘
Sam’s top five Le Bateau tunes:
1) Air: Sexy Boy
2) Le Tigre: Deceptacon
3) Belle and Sebastian: Dog on Wheels
4) Bloc Party: Banquet
5) Maccabees: First Love
Goldie takes to the decks at Le Bateau
Chris Ward hosted the club night Adult Books for years at Le Bateau – it’s art-school ethos was perfect for Le Bat mixing cool with cooky – it became home for Liverpool’s multitude of colourful cats.
‘Le Bateau was a club with real character, so it always attracted characters. I met some of my favourite Liverpool people there, so I owe it countless fab nights of friendship, dancing and laughs!
‘When it came to doing Adult Books, staging it at Le Bateau was really important to us. It already felt like home from all the fun we’d had at Liquidation and Uptight; and, like so many of us, I knew its dance floors held a special something. Being up there on the decks each week, seeing ace people having a blast to our favourite tunes was an experience hard to replicate elsewhere.
‘But I guess all the best places have their era, and we should just be glad of the good times and sore heads we got from it. I raise a glass to you, old boat, and turn the volume up to max in yer honour.‘
Chris’ top 5 Adult Books tunes:
1) David Bowie: Heroes
2) Roxy Music: Virginia Plain
3) Donna Summer: I Feel Love
4) The Slits: Typical Girls
5) Cabaret Voltaire: Nag Nag Nag
Elizabeth McKernan, super fan of Adult Books, said: ‘The news that Le Bateau and Adult Books were no longer felt like we are being slowly divorced from our youth.
‘When we were but children my husband took me on our very first dates to Adult Books – through punk rock beats and vodka and diet cola we moved in together, got engaged, then announced our marriage. We were hoping to announce the birth of a very own punk rock child there. But alas it is over – the club that is!.
‘To such a narcissistic couple Adult Books was bliss. We’d only been regulars three weeks when we won a prize for being the October rock n roll couple. We pretended to be Debbie Harry and Joey Ramone.
‘Adult Books was our corner of Liverpool. The clientele was part of the entertainment. Our favourite moment in Adult Books folklore has to be the Love Cats Disco every Valentine’s Day. In short, a perfect slice of night out entertainment has been lost for an eternity.‘
Joe Mckechnie takes to the decks at Le Bateau
Guitarist with The Passage, Joe Mckechnie, DJ-ed at clubnight Voodoo at Le Bateau, he added: ‘I think I was probably the first DJ in Le Bateau – I used to spin next to a chef in the kitchen!
‘The place didn’t have a club licence. This meant that on occasion I’d find myself serving burger and chips in the mix.‘
Christina McDermott, freelance journalist said: ‘Each time I went it was glorious – a dark, dank odyssey of Indie tunes, cheap drinks and bad dancing. I remember the stairs usually smelt of vomit, and there was always at least one group of girls who had come over from the Isle of Man who intended to spend the night there as they couldn’t afford a hotel, and the first ferry back home wasn’t until 6am.
‘The last time I went there, a bloke repeatedly asked me if he could come home with me, and – after the third time of me telling him ‘No’, he promptly proceeded to vomit on my shoes. It was a great place, and it will be sorely missed. Where will the student youth of Liverpool go to pull on a Saturday night now?‘
Typifying all things Le Bateau, Jack Prince, drummer for the Lightning Seeds, Diana Vickers and the Hot Melts said: ‘I can’t remember a thing!‘
Thankfully the sad news of Le Bateau’s closure was swiftly followed by the news that Liquidation will move to Magnet.
It’ll be a nostalgic return to Hardman Street as the club first launched in the old Hardy’s venue. So don your dancing shoes and let’s get our groove on…
Heady days were beer goggles were issued as standard at Le Bateau.
All pictures, (save for main and last image which portrays a couple that met at le Bateau and announced their engagement on the day the club closed its doors), by Mark McNulty.