BETWEEN Sept 2010 and Dec 2013 I was fortunate to be involved in promoting 20 gigs with two other lads who used to frequent the Rock Garden in Middlesbrough. The Rock Garden situated in Newport Road was the regular venue for anyone remotely interested in what became known as 'alternative music' - punk, heavy metal, ska & blues, and any sort of music that was outside the mainstream. It opened around Nov 1976 and carried on until August 1981. It had previously been the Pavilion Theatre and then a german bierkellar. The new owners split it into two venues with the other side becoming The Marimba - a down at heel nightclub. The Acklam pub was situated just across the road from it.
Originally when I set up the Facebook group dedicated to Middlesbrough Rock Garden there was never any intention of promoting live music, little did I know a year later I would be hosting a sell-out Rock Garden Reunion with Dave Griffiths and Gary McGhie. None of us had any previous promoting experiences and only Gary had been in a band before, so we were novices in that department. This page is just a brief sypnosis of the whole experience.
There had always been suggestions that someone would set-up a website dedicated to the memories of Middlesbrough Rock Garden. Eventually it was myself that came up with the idea of putting together a Facebook page - nobody else had done it and plenty of others had talked about it but nothing ever came of it. At first it was knowing where to start and figuring out how Facebook actually worked. Once that was established I asked Jock of The Straps punk band-fame who ran a similar site on the internet called 'Punks Reunited' if I could have his permission to use a couple of photographs of some punks taken outside of the Rock Garden to get started. It just snowballed from there.
After a few months it became obvious that a reunion should take place. I'd like to take the credit for it but I never originally set the group up to promote live music and both Gill Hawes and Fiona Robb, both of whom were regulars, suggested we should get everyone back together. At the same time local musician Johnny Baines had mentioned that one of his former bands Robot Youth were looking at doing a 30-year reunion. It was pure co-incidence we went to see a band called Funhouse playing The Cleveland pub next to Thornaby Railway Station. I had no idea at that time the band were all former Rock Garden regulars and the same Johnny Baines was on guitar. Around the same time I had literally bumped into Kev Henderson (Endo) whilst working in Redcar. Endo was originally the vocalist in The Filth who were from Thornaby and I had not seen him for almost 30 years but recognised him straight away. He had been a big UK Subs fan, followed them all over the world and was featured on the cover of the their live album - 'Crash Course'. Fate played a big part and perhaps it was just meant to happen?
So a reunion was mentioned but who to feature and where were we going to have it? I suggested on the Facebook group that I was willing to give it a go but I couldn't do it on my own and fair play to him but a lad called Dave Griffiths contacted me to say he was interested in helping. I didn't recognise the name but back in those days I knew most people by sight or nickname. When I realised who Dave was I remembered his face - he used to knock about with the likes of Mick Hunt and Duncan Baird - again these were just faces I saw at the Rock Garden. I don't recollect ever speaking to them though 'Big Dunc' ended up working in a department store in Stockton a few years later and I instantly recognised him.
So myself and Dave corresponded with one another. I came up with the idea to call it 'Rock Garden Revisited'. I had a plan to have a few bands playing 30-minute sets but where? Originally I had contacted the people who ran The Arena which was the old Rock Garden but it had become a dance club with a fairly ropey reputation. I had contacted a chap called Neil Winterbottom he ran the place but he never once replied to my phone calls or e-mails and Dave suggested we look further afield. It was my suggestion to contact Paul Burns of Tees Music Alliance who ran the Georgian Theatre in nearby Stockton. I knew the venue well as I had been there for gigs over the years and being a Stockton lad also knew of its chequered history. We agreed to meet Paul and discuss our plans and at that point a lad called Gary McGhie from Great Ayton contacted us saying he wouldn't mind coming on board. Gary had been the original vocalist in Frenzy Battalion who later appeared on one of those CRASS compilations 'Bullshit Detector' but he left the band early on; Gary was in.
Me and Dave met Paul Burns and he thought our plans were worth going ahead - we had originally drawn up a list of local bands from that era but seven into six would never work out and we had to trim the line-up down to: The Amazing Space Frogs, No Way, Shoot The Lights Out, Robot Youth, The Filth & Funhouse. John Hodgson's Blitzkrieg Bop were the ones to miss out and at that point me and Dave were unaware of his past history but we soon found out and it was unfortunate but we wouldn't have been unable to include them anyway for reasons we won't go into here. On a positive note we got some free publicity in the local paper as it was decided to go for a date in September.
Gary set-up a website for us whilst Dave had access to print flyers, etc. It made things easier when people were wanting to contact us. The original deal with the Georgian was if we made £1,250 at the bar they wavered the hire fee. I can't speak for the others but this eventually changed to £1,500 and believe me it was brought up at regular intervals buy Paul Burns. We never saw any bar receipts just took them on their word and trusted them but Dave did say I think we are going to have to start paying a hire fee for the venue. We always had an agreement to charge as little as possible for advance tickets maybe to our own detriment but we had to start and become more business-like.
We brought a new audience to the venue but this counted for very little towards the end of our run there but it was a huge relief to finally cut ties with Dave after Gary called it a day after the sell-out Ruts DC gig in March 2013. Gary left on good terms with a cheque for a decent amount for his work. I knew once Gary departed me and Dave wouldn't last much longer as we were like chalk and cheese. We finished on a high with two sell out gigs featuring 999 and Theatre of Hate in December that same year. We promoted one last time together in April 2014 with those indie faves The House of Love and that was it. I genuinely believed once we finished promoting together all the contacts we had built up over the three years we worked together Dave would be willing to give them to me but incredibly he refused to co-operate. He also refused to co-operate over a Facebook page we both ran along with Martin Mathers called 'Middlesbrough Rock Garden'. At that time you could post your posters direct on to the page and they would stay at the top of the page so that anyone logging on that's the first thing they would see. Dave was only posting his own stuff and refused to include anything I was doing myself, so a collective decision was made by myself and Martin to ban him from the page - we had given him a week's notice if he didn't fall into line then action would be taken. He actually had ten days and there had been no response. As soon as he realised he had been banned he sent me a brief message almost immediately saying 'thanks a lot for that'.
The irony is that it was Dave's decision to end Rock Garden Revisited - since then he has put Penetration and Theatre of Hate on another twice, Wire and he is doing A Certain Ratio - all bands that played the Rock Garden back in the day! We had discussed Wire ourselves but a decision was made that a midweek gig on a Thursday might not be enough to cover the costs which were quite considerable. Somewhat ironically Wire announced they were playing The Cluny in Newcastle about a month later. It was sold out on a Wednesday evening, a gig we both attended together.
It's been almost six years since we worked together and I've moved on and worked with various other promoters and had many ups and downs along the way as you do when you promote live music. I'm about to promote my 100th concert in May 2019 something I could never imagine when I first started doing this but it becomes addictive and I have a very understanding partner who co-promotes with me now.
To be continued.....