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 McGee. 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 will tell the story of how it all started, the ups and downs of promoting live music and the final countdown.
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 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 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 McGee 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.
We 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. We never saw any bar receipts just took them on their word. 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 Ruts DC gig in March 2013. We finished on a high with two sell out gigs featuring 999 and Theatre of Hate in December that same year.
Having just promoted my 60th gig in May 2016 I would like to point out that the only ambition I had after the reunion was held was to get Punishment of Luxury back together and Dave was good friends with Pauline Murray & Robert Blamire so he wanted to put Penetration on. We managed to get Punilux pretty quickly. They had reformed and played a comeback gig at a small pub in Gateshead and there was a review of the gig in The Independent. I had tried and failed miserably to get Punilux back together in the mid-nineties when I lived in Darlington. I was told it would never happen but time is a great healer and the band had played the Rock Garden on at least four separate occasions as well as a support slot at the Coatham Bowl in Redcar. Brian Bond, the band's singer was sold on my idea to have them come and play their first gig on Teesside for 30 years. It was a shocking night weather wise as heavy snow had fallen overnight and Neville Luxury was driving up to Stockton from Great Yarmouth where he taught carpentry to kids at a local college. We had folk from as far afield as East Germany just to be there on the night - we had 165 on the night - 15 from a sellout. It was a job well done and a personal triumph for me.
Dave suggested we do Vic Godard & Subway Sect. I only knew of a couple of singles from back in the day but he played the Rock Garden supporting The Clash in March 1977. We hosted him a couple of times and he was a lovely man to deal with and his band were really good people. The first gig we did with him Richard Sanderson, a Middlesbrough ex-pat now domiciled in London, asked if he could reform Drop and support them as he he knew Vic really well. We pulled in just under 100 people the first time he played. Vic was never going to appeal to the punk audience. He had released a jazz album in the early eighties and was influenced by Northern Soul. It was a good night spoiled at the end by Dave's actions. He had been given three CDS by Vic , 'We Oppose All Rock and Roll' it was called and in a group of a few folk he gave one to Gary, one to a chap called Paul Stainsby who had absolutely nothing to do with the gig and then kept one for himself. When I enquired if one was for me Dave said sarcastically in front of everyone: 'If you want one, you will have to ask Vic yourself.". I thought it was a bit of a cunt's trick to be honest and although I didn't realise it at the time from that moment on there was always an undercurrent of tension.
We used to get people contacting us to take photographs and review gigs. Every single time anyone asked us, Dave, for reasons I never ever found out ,always refused to co-operate and said no.