Monday, March 08, 2004

"When the world falls apart some things stay in place. Levi Stubbs' tears run down his face."

I know it's a sign that I am getting older. But I don't think I like change very much.

Certainly not the change that involved my most favourite night club in the world ever - the old World Headquarters.

For those familiar with Newcastle, who ever visited the place - you have to agree it was special.

Downstairs was a lovely room with a pool table, assorted cool posters and a pool table. Upstairs was the dance floor, the cloakroom and the toilets. On a Saturday, when DJ Tommy had the place jumping it was a wash with smiling faces and good soul tunes.

The dance floor was dark enough to be anonymous. It was also packed enough that the dancing was limited to the space you could find, above your head, for your arms. The music was pretty much faultless - one classic after another.

Tommy would mix James Brown and Nina Simone in with more modern tunes. He's even throw a bit of Latin, lounge and swing in there. I remember once he built and built the atmosphere for so long then went straight into Angel of Harlem. I don't even like the tune normally but, that night, it sounded like angels singing.

We used to get there early. On occasions our crowd would number as many as a dozen, on special occasions even more. If you got there shortly after the doors opening you could monopolize the three tables by the cloakroom. Once you were in, and settled, you were set for the night. It was the kind of place that you never felt drunk in, but by the time you made it out into the fresh air outside, your legs would start to give way and communicating with the taxi driver was next to impossible.

It became the worst-kept best-kept secret. It's popularity continued to grow over the years. But it was will small enough for you to feel like you had some ownership of it and a stake in its success. There was even a cool clunky website that you could leave messages on when you were bored at work and DJ Tommy would occasionally answer your queries.

I used to love taking people there for their first visit. Friends from out of town would ask: "Why don't we have anything like this". Locals were always incredulous that they hadn't known it existed. Without exception they made it back for a second visit, and a third and a fourth.

There was never any trouble in WHQ. They had, and still do have, the friendliest bouncers in town. If you went regularly, and they got to know you, there was always a nod, a smile and a bit of chat. You would see the owners around town too and they would always say hello.

I remember once, after a midweek trip to the comedy club, I ended up at WHQ. I was shocked. It was a drum and base night and I didn't recognise anyone there. It felt like sacrilege - all these trendy youngsters in my club listening to godawful music. I didn't stay long. Friday or Saturdays were my nights. The age group spanned 18 to 35 and the "no-charvas" door policy kept everything nicely friendly.

Then we started to hear about a move to a new venue. It transpired that the old Marlborough Crescent building was to be bulldozed in the name of progress and all things Capital of Culture. At first we were excited. New had to mean better. I envisaged a larger scale version of what was already on offer but with a cosy little corner or two that would maintain the air of intimacy that WHQ had always had. I also, for some reason, thought that the new venue would be warehousey, dilapidated and somewhat rustic.

It was shortly after this that I went on my travels. While I was away, when I felt homesick, I often thought about nights out at WHQ. I was away for nearly a year and when I returned I was surprised to find that the new WHQ was still not ready to move into.

The good news was that I managed a triumphant return to the old venue. It also meant that, when it finally came around, we were all able to attend the last ever Saturday night in the old venue.

For reasons best known to themselves the staff had decorated the old place with branches and twigs - it resembled something of a magic forest. It was a fantastic evening awash with nostalgia. Perhaps they were thinking that the resulting fire hazard might mean the old place might go up in smoke thereby cheating the demolition team out of a job.

If you managed to get tickets for that last night you also got two free tickets to the opening of the new place down in Carliol Square. So, the following Thursday we all trooped down there. We were expectant and ready to be impressed. We really wanted to like the new place. It didn't help that it being a weeknight, and with us all having to work the next day, we didn't have much to drink.

At first we all made all the right appreciative noises. Downstairs was spacious and had even more comfy chairs than the old place. Upstairs had a much bigger dancefloor, decent toilets for a change and a longer bar. There were also a few little comfy seated areas - albeit none as welcoming as that little nook by the cloakroom at the old WHQ. But, it was brighter and smarter than I thought it would be. It did remind me a little too much of that new legion of bars that were springing up that were forsaking atmosphere for that late night hotel feel.

I also had this nagging feeling that the owners had created a night club where Kieron Dyer would feel at home.

We left early, seemingly happy, but with something nagging a way at us. I think even as early as that we realised that something was missing. It was the following Saturday night we returned. Again we got there early, found a space to sit upstairs, and joined the dance floor once the music and the alcohol started to take hold.

It was only when the place started to fill up that the main problem started to become apparent. The dancefloor was located on the route between the entrance and the bar. To add to this, to use the toilets you also had to go out through the same door. That meant there was a steady procession of people walking across the floor at any one time. Every ten seconds you would have to do that palms-out-wide motion of letting people through. It soon became annoying.

I have no doubt that the sound system was ten times better than the old one - but it didn't sound it. Music didn't seem to have the bass that it used to. If you stood in the wrong spot it would actually sound tinny. Maybe it's just me too, but I'm sure the setlist altered as well. It became a little more RnB and a little less soul.

Now you might think that all of these problems may have limited its success. Far from it. The trendy crowd started taking note of this big new club. The haircuts and the hairdressers took over. Soon it was wall to wall ironic mullets. The new punters looked like the cast of The Salon.

I didn't give up on it straight away. I was probably there another seven or eight times and for the first few of those I did at least try to pretend I was enjoying myself. But my heart wasn't it. From being there every Saturday, our visits became less and less frequent. Now I haven't been back for a year.

I am honest enough to admit to myself that part of the problem was that I'm getting old. I would even have turned my back on the old WHQ eventually. And the owners deserve great credit for what they are trying to achieve with the building. It now also houses an art gallery apparently - which I must check out one day. In addition, there are plans for a skatepark (now I really feel old) and a Ronnie Scott style jazz club (that's more like it).

Also for old gimmers like me, with the relaxing of the licensing laws in Newcastle, there are more and more pubs you can drink in till one am. There is no need for night clubs anymore.

But I still wish there was a cramped, squalid, dirty little nightclub out there I could call my own.

Top tip for any promoters reading this - the upstairs room at the Egypt Cottage would be ideal.

In the meantime, I'll sink further into middle age. I'll do this without the temptation of a half decent club with a setlist that would tempt me onto a dancefloor where I would only embarrass myself.

Love, light and peace,


I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.