In the 13th Lost Liverpool column, Getintothis’ Paul Fitzgerald picks up where he left off and revisits the beat of Bold Street, the Mardi Gras club, and the wild, wonderful world of G-Love.
Heathfield Street, just off Bold Street, leads to the pedestrian bridge across the railway tracks and onward to Renshaw Street. Another anonymous and unremarkable doorway sits in the corner. Through this doorway and up a couple of flights of stairs would find you in The Mardi Gras, or the Mardi. Owned by Stuart Davenport and Lenny MacMillan, the Mardi was laid out over two floors. There was a bar downstairs, and a food bar, with a small raised area at the back. Up the side of this first large room ran a staircase to the dancefloor and another bar upstairs. The world’s tiniest DJ booth sat in the corner, just big enough for a small, thin DJ. And the Mardi had a knack of finding them.
With an older, slightly ‘cooler’ crowd than MacMillan’s, and a more eclectic choice of music due its ‘open door’ policy with event and gig promoters, the Mardi had a special vibe of its own. Unlike Mac’s, there was no one single DJ at the Mardi, and they actively encouraged other promoters to get involved. As was proved later, Stuart Davenport was an open ear to anyone with an idea, and willing to take a chance on people just starting out. Ever the shrewd businessman with well tuned eyes on the bar take, and keen to keep the trade Bold Street-centred, instead of in the darkened warehouses around Dale Street, he and MacMillan would later go on to do their greatest and biggest deal round in Wolstenholme Square.
Structurally, the building was not what you’d call ‘sound’. There was always the underlying worry that the place would fall down at any minute. On a busy night upstairs with a full dancefloor, you could be forgiven for feeling vulnerable, or that the dancefloor could collapse beneath you. Of course, this feeling only enhanced the good times had across its floor. And there was a wide variety of good times to be had.
Hugh Bryder, the Mardi‘s most regular DJ, played on Saturdays, a heady mix of pre-acid grooves, soul classics, early hip hop and funk. Pre-balearic Balearic really. Bryder also ran Torremolinos, a regular night targeted at the student market, it was all palm trees, Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses and the absolute cheesiest of cheesy disco fodder on the dancefloor. And it was ridiculously successful, partly with the students for whom it was intended, and partly for those who were happy to balance the quality of the playlist alongside it being one of only a small handful of places you could get a beer until 2am.
Andrew Erskine, who managed Shack at the time, ran another wildly busy series of nights called The Fan Club, themed nights of one artist or label only. Motown, Two Tone, Prince, Madonna, The Smiths/New Order all filled the place from 10pm until 2am on Thursday nights. There were hip hop nights, guest DJ sets from upcoming DJs such as The Dust Brothers, who later went from Dust to Chemical in name. Acid Jazz nights with Gilles Peterson, African nights, gigs by Merseyside bands as well as people such as Primal Scream, Jonathan Richman and the Velvet Underground‘s Maureen Tucker.
It also played host to the Koff Comedy Club, which saw, among others, Harry Hill, Mark Steel, Chris Langham, and Henry Normal cut their comedic teeth in the Bold Street venue. World Earthbeat, based next door in Bold Street, put on a series of eclectic and inspired events known as The Sun At Night, which brought African drumming, industrial beats, performance art and an inspired choice of live music.
Such a wide spread of different events, different nights and different vibes was a direct result of the many creative communities that were based in the area. Musicians, promoters, DJs, photographers and artists all looking for a welcoming space and the open ear of a welcoming club owner. Collaboration was key, and creativity was king. Ideas flowed and visions were born over many a cup of coffee in Cafe Berlin, Tabac, or Trading Places cafe in Holmes Buildings.
On this sound and inspiring footing, Bold Street sat as the very heart of its own creative community, and places such as the Mardi and Macmillan’s welcomed the business. And in the latter part of the 1980s, things were changing in ways that nobody could’ve predicted or perceived as the wave of Ecstasy, rave culture and acid house began to sweep over us. A new beginning was in the air, new ideas, and the reimagining of the rule book.
At this time, Peter Coyle and his label Eight Records wanted an outlet, a place they could create something new, fresh, and vibrant. A place where they could pool their collective talents with others of a similar mindset. A place to realise their shared visions. Not just a club night, but more than that, a bigger view than that. Somewhere to break the mould and rewrite the rule book. This would be the next natural step forward from the 8 Orgasms nights, and an organic step for the label as well.
Within a very short space of time, the freedom and beauty expressed in the early part of the dance revolution started to dissipate and the scene began to feel self-important and hierarchical. Early believers in the power of change that this new culture possessed were beginning to wonder. Peter Coyle believed it needed a fresh approach, with a stronger focus on people, on the spirit of friendship, shared experience, and natural human connections. A focus on Love.
And so, in the Mardi Gras, G-Love was born. An incredible series of happenings, delivered with such foresight and imagination that the mere mention of the name to any of its regulars brings warm, fond, emotive smiles, and many, many happy memories. With DJ John Kelly installed as resident, and in the pre-Cream world, G-Love brought the very best DJs, the biggest names, to the city. Taking its lead from 8 Orgasms, and Mark Jenkins‘ Bigmouth nights round in Wolstenholme Square, the club was unrecognisable; the entire space decorated, dressed for the occasion, hedonist trannies and football fans mixed, laughed, hugged and danced together, each monthly event bringing new faces, new G-Lovers, new music, and creating new memories. With performances from the Eight Records catalogue, including Jennifer John, Marina Van Rooy, Connie Lush, Jayne Casey and Coyle himself thrown into the mix. It was pure imagination, upscaled, outrageous, flamboyant, honest and brilliant.
Peter Coyle remembers “It was feral, we weren’t normal, we were freaks, we weren’t players, we were skint. Most importantly, we were open. Absolutely open. We weren’t closed to anything. When you’re a businessman or whatever, you need to be closed, you have to, but we didn’t give a flying fuck, we just did what we did. It was knackering, really knackering, but we just did what we did.
“We were cutting edge, we doing things that were breaking the rules, they were happenings. Ok, G-Love was a dance club, but we did it different. We were giving out flowers. We were hugging each other and giving out fruit to people on the dancefloor. Even though we had nothing, we were skint, it was important to us to keep it as an event, keep it monthly, cos it was never about money. Never.”
With the focus on the people, and their hearts and minds open, the vibe around G-Love spoke of community, of family, and belonging. Kindred spirits seeking solace from shared experience.
“The thing with G-Love was, there was no such thing as a stage, so every single person in there was the performer, it was about that equality of ‘you count’, ‘you matter’. I’d seen the beginning of the E thing, I’d watched people dancing, watched them be together, but without any connection at all, they weren’t engaging. It made me sad, that, really did.
“I don’t wanna sound like Cilla, but there’s a lot of love out there, and in there, and that’s what we wanted, that’s what we wanted to harness. It’s why we finished every night with We Are Family. We were just a big gang of fuck ups, who wanted to make it ok for everyone to join in, to play their part. It was all about just being new, and keeping it fresh.” Coyle says.
G-Love regular Jane Scott, who, with photographer Mark McNulty owned Prime Examples art and card shop in Trading Places, remembers those days with a fondness only something like G-Love could muster:
“Oh where does one start? The first time I ever really ‘got dance music. Fresh flowers. Giving out fresh fruit to people on the dance floor and not understanding how so very grateful people were – I did eventually. An atmosphere in a club I’ve never seen before or since. Fabulousness beyond words. Also, sharing an office with Eight Records and the buzzer going constantly all day with people looking to go on the gezzy. Best club night ever – I’m proud to be involved in a small way – I was a proper G-lover“
DJ and presenter of The Sound Of Music, Bernie Connor occasionally recalls moments from those days, such as his 30th birthday. He remembers “Andrew Weatherall and an endless volley of timbales. I can vaguely remember it well“
G-Love had a huge impact on the times, on the city’s cultural heritage, on British dance music, and on what followed in its incredible wake. Coyle remembers “It was a very special time. I saw people at G-Love crying with joy. It was exciting and beautiful, a beautiful time, its often hard to explain to people who weren’t there, but they wouldn’t get the fact that without us, and people like us, Cream wouldn’t have happened.”
Much discussion takes place of the need, in a cultural landscape like Liverpool, for a common ground, a shared vision of what the arts mean to the city. If this vision was shared by those with commercial interests, those with the ability to secure viable and cheap spaces in which new art can be created, there is a future worthy and absolutely capable of equalling the city’s rich cultural past.
As well as inspiring the future, the next generation, the cultural impact and legacy of events deep in our heritage such as G-Love, cannot and should not be denied. Those events happened when cultural met corporate in an attempt to create new beginnings and new chapters.
Driven by the raw energy of those involved, the ideas passed on. Mark Jenkins, who recently passed away, was a central part of the G-Love family, and he took those influences into his next role, his next persona, Marky J, and made Garlands what we know it is today. Again, a legacy and impact undeniable.
LOST LIVERPOOL SONG
New for Lost Liverpool. As well as all these lost slices of history, these tales of heady times gone by, there is a wealth of ‘lost’ Liverpool music out there. So from now on, each month, Paul Fitzgerald will bring us a lost Liverpool song with his column. At times the song will relate to the article, at times it won’t. It’s like that. This one does.
Released by Eight Records in 1990, Marina Van Rooy‘s Sly One gained momentum in clubs up and down the country, was a favoured track of the music press and eventually got signed by Deconstruction. It really should’ve been much bigger than it became. Sparse acid beats, deep bass, and Marina‘s luscious vocal over the top, this record lit up the dancefloor at the time.