Some notorious Luton Punk venues from the 70’s and 80’s.First posted: Aug 16, 2004 – Updated Febuary 14th 2008, December 16th 2013
We thought it might be a nice idea to see the sites of some of the Punk venues that were home to the Luton Punk scene in the late 70’s early 80’s. So we sent our photographer out on his bicycle to get some pictures of what may be left of some of these venues. Here’s what we found:
In the late noughties it was the ‘Cork and Bull’ on the corner of Park street and Cumberland street. (Feb 2008; the venue was previously called Manhatten’s.) In 1979 it was called ‘The Grapevine’ and was the main Luton Town Centre ‘Punk’ meeting point.
We thought we would start here as for many this was where it all ‘happened’ in 1978/79.
With the floor covered with sawdust and furnished with large wooden beer casks and many cubbyholes for groups to sit in. It was decorated suitably in dark wooden colours and had ornamental Grapevine signs hanging on the walls. At the time there was 2 main bar areas with the odd band playing in the rear area.
The Grapevine certainly lived up to its name with many of Luton’s Punks meeting there for the first time.
Many a band was formed after a few pints ‘The Grapevine’ didn’t get away without the odd punch-up either!
We think it shut down in 1980 or perhaps early 81 and on the last day we completely De-furbished the entire pub! After rolling out the great beer casks, denuding the internal hanging signs and making away with everything that would move inside, Steve the Voice who had climbed up the Pub Sign post and was trying to ‘relieve’ the sign, was caught out by the landlord!
Halcyon Days!! Can anybody remember the landlord’s name? (was it George?)
The Cork and Bull was trading up until 2006, it was re-opened as Manhatten’s later that year. In summer 2005 many ex-Grapeviner’s visited the venue to witness ‘The Pokers’ who ‘Punk and Rolled’ the joint!
Later that year in December, UK Decay Communities held their first ‘Class of 1979 – 1989 Reunion I’ event at the Cork and Bull. An original Grapevine sign was hung up on the stage behind the bands, a symbolic gesture that many in attendance would have seen all those years ago. In the spirit of the occasion some even dug out their old bondage trousers and ‘Seditionary’ T-shirts and pogo-ed along.
As the Cork and BulL, it was much the same internally with the stairs still leading down to the toilets near the front door although they have knocked the 2 areas into one large area now.
The 33 Arts Centre (1978-2002) situated at 33 Guildford Street now sadly demolished. The 33 Arts Centre as seen in 2006!
If the Grapevine provided the early social fabric for Luton’s Punk life, then ’33’ provided the ‘nuts and bolts’ services for the Punk infrastructure. It took a few years to get the centre fully up and running but in the early days there was much work to be done. The centre was obtained and developed by the ‘Reflex’ arts group who promoted arts and music in the town.
Previously it had been a school and a Hat factory and was completely full of relics from the previous owners, which all needed sorting out before they could get going. There were little or no funds available so volunteers, many of whom happened to be Punks, carried out the early work.
With the promise of badly needed rehearsal rooms, green room and performance space, arts workshops, restaurant and bar it was an exciting time and provided a bridge between the Punk movement and the perhaps more thoughtful ‘fringe’ arts and ‘Jazz’ cultures in the town.
In about 1980 the small performance space (maximum capacity of about 70) became established as a music venue both for Jazz and Punk music events, as well as fringe theatre (The world famous ‘People show’ for instance performed there several times)
The ‘Plastic Records Audition Nights’ established 33 as a frontline Punk gig! And for the next 20 years or so the centre became a Luton institution. Swallowing up next door (no35) in about 1981, which eventually housed the 33 video collective (they produced amongst other things channel 4 ‘s ‘Death Valley Days’) and later on the 33 recording studio as well as photographic workshops.
The 33 centre had always been the place in town for the ‘alternative’ sub-culture, to meet up in the veggie cafe or later on in the bar not without its critics either however, but 33 has earned its place in the towns history with world famous producer (Dave Arnold) and film director (Danny Cannon) who used the facilities in their early days.
In the 90’s the ‘Exodus’ sound system put on a couple of Dub sessions there and ‘Hypnagogia’ would fill out every space with pounding drums and chill vibes. Over the years there was so much that came out of ’33’, too much to mention here!
In 2002/3 the remnants of ’33’ finally moved into the newly furbished ‘Hat Factory’ Art’s Centre, leaving the old building to its ghosts and memories. Around 2007 it was sadly demolished and to this day (Dec 2013) I think a derelict area. Property developers huh!
The site off Matrix records and Clothes 1979/81(now demolished!) John Street Luton
Aproximately situated near the blue doors in the middle of the ‘University Hostel’ This is the current scene of Luton’s first independent Punk and New Wave records and Clothes shop.
Set up by ‘Plastic records’ and UK Decay to provide the Punk community with all their needs here in Luton as opposed to having to go down to London to get them. At least that was the plan!
The premises had 4 floors including the basement, which had been converted to a rehearsal room. The ground floor which was taken up by the shop, the first floor being for the Plastic Records official office and the 2nd top floor being for 2 flats (Steve Harle and Spon)
The shop attracted many from far and wide but the proprietors were perhaps a little ‘over optimistic’ in their business plans! And it became increasingly difficult to maintain a steady supply of merchandise for the consumers!
In the shop there sat a table-top space invader machine that many will remember spending hours blasting away at!
The shop also became something of a meeting place in the time shortly after the Grapevine had closed and at the same time as the Baron of Beef was becoming established! UK Decay had written many of their finest tunes in the rehearsal room that also once housed a memorable after tour party with The Dead Kennedys. During the proceedings Jello Biafra from the ‘DK’s and the UK DK’s, ran amok amidst the Arndale car parks where Jello graffiti-ed his name over the place.
These scrawling’s allegedly lasted for years. A week after that event, after a torrential downpour the basement became totally flooded out. The ‘death-knell’ of Matrix!
The Baron of Beef, 1980-1982 ish, later changed to The Elephant and Tassle and then something else. Current name unknown! (up for sale again!)
After the Grapevine shut down the vacuum created was soon filled by The Baron of Beef. As a bar built into the dreadful arndale centre it seemed an unlikely venue however in a stormy atmosphere the landlord welcomed the displaced Punk community with open arms!
Although small The Baron of Beef put on many a fine Punk gig and later on perhaps after a change of management and name the early ‘Switch Club’ events were held here.
(Currently closed, as of mid Febuary, 2008)
After ‘The Baron’ days the next venue became The Blockers Arms.
The bar in those days was long and narrow with a courtyard out the back for those hot summer evenings. Punks and other punters would meet up here before moving on to the Stingray club or The Switch club or perhaps occasionally rioting, as they did in the early 80’s copycat riots in Luton!!
The Blockers Arms was regarded by the authorities as a ‘den of aniquity’ yet somehow it managed to survive throughout the eighties. Most of Luton’s alternative tribes would gather there and exchange drugs and occasional fisticuff’s, to a background of live music.
In the early 2000’s the pub was reopened as The Well , a music venue and Thia Restaurant until it shut down in 2007, it is not known what it’s future holds.
The Bricklayers Arms 1984 ish to present, Hightown Road Luton
The Blockers shut for a period in the mid eighties after one too many drug bust’s and increasing friction between the differing tribal groups. The punkier, alternative and goth types started dissipating to The Coopers Arms and The George 11 in Bute Street.
At least another section of the now changing scene moved across the Hightown Road to the newly furbished Bricklayers Arms, where DJ Crazy Fish would often spin some of his jazzier and proto house grooves.
‘The Brickies’ as it is affectionately known as, is still pretty much the same as it was some 17 or 18 years ago. Alison is still the Landlady some of the barstaff still work there and if you listen carefully you can occasionally hear some of Crazy fish’s grooves pounding away in the corner.
Wins the prize for Longevity!
The Royal Hotel, 1975 To the mid 80’s. Corner of Bridge Street/ Old Bedford Road (Later to be known as ‘Mirage’)
During the late 70’s was the home to the ‘Reflex’ events that would range from the then jazz funk scenes (Quantum Jump), to the Damned’s 10th gig!
This also could also claim to be Luton’s first introduction to punk, silly buggers left all the tables and chairs in sittu. Dave Vanium clambered all over them knocking over drinks and spitting out theatrical blood. Much to the annoyance of most of the regular clientelle, whom were not ready for Punk just yet. After the show Dave Vanium, Captain Sensible and co, ran amok in town, ended up trying to break into first an off licence and them a chemist in Farley Hill.
The Royal was Luton’s premier music venue for the late 70’s. UK Decay played a memorable gig their hosted by ‘The Mad Caps’ a local biker chapter. Later on it became a mainline nightclub Mirage whom The Switch Club would use to host their events.
The Tech College 1979. Now Luton University. Vicarage Street Luton.
(Became ‘The Sub Club’ – Now Demolished – 2013)
Many gigs here over the years, currently the Students Union are very wary of letting in non members so most of us ‘humble’ Luton folk don’t get to go to any of their ‘do’s’
Back in late 1979, the policy was different and their were several major Punk events that happened here including the legendary dual headlining gig with UK Decay and Bauhaus.
The Hall (the left part of the building in the Photo) has now been rebuilt and now is part of the University facilities.
Today (February 2008) literally underneath the building in the picture, underground, lies the ~University of Bedfordshire Student Union ‘Sub Club’, a 300 plus capacity live music venue.
The Sub Club host’s live events catering for today’s generations of Scene-kid/Emo/Goth/Metal/Indie’ kid’s.
It is apparently at times open for non-students and even dare I say, Lutonian’s!
Note: UK Decay went on to play a come-back concert there in June 2008
The Mad Hatters Mid 80’s to the late 90’s. Now known as Club M. Cheapside. (Still vacant)
Home for a period to The Stingray Club and later to The Switch Club, as well as a host of other events in its 15 years or so history.
You could rub shoulders with Luton ‘Superstar’ Paul Young as well as hosts of Luton’s ‘Music royalty’ here, at an early Stingray Club. Notorious for its brawls and seedy gangland shenanigans after many closures and re-openings it has now resurfaced as Club M.
An aesthetically pleasing looking building in the photo!
The Five-O Club Mid 80’s till 2001. Dunstable Road, Luton. (Now demolished)
An Afro-Caribbean Social club with a restaurant and late license. This clubs usual repertoire of Jamaican Sound Systems, talent contests and Dominoes contests also became home to the M.A.D. club and later The Switch Club in the 80’s with many bands and DJ’s putting on events there.
The venue hosted some really great evenings but there were also some bad incidents that marred the atmosphere for many unfortunately.
At the M.A.D. club in the late 80’s,you could see such bands as Click Click, The Cookie Crew, Mark Stewart and the Mafia, Renegade Soundwave as well as many other bands and DJ’s pounding the beats late into the night.
Later in the 90’s the club was hired by Exodus spin offs, The Eviction Sound System and other rave sound systems. The proprietors struggled through the late 90’s to keep the club going but sadly it was finally demolished last year It used to be at the back of that car park!
Library Theatre St Georges Square, Luton 1964 to present. (Now renamed ‘St Georges Theatre’)
The Library theatre, which is at the top of the library building, was hired out on numerous occasions. Many Luton bands performed there including. Karma Sutra, Corpelia Party Girlz etc, in the mid eighties.
Its still there and still available for hire.
No thanks too many rules and regs!
Luton Carnival 1979-1982. Stuart Street viaduct.
UK Decay and many other Luton Punk bands performed at the Luton Carnival. The actual venue of the stage varied from year to year. UK Decay performed three times at the world famous carnival. Twice they were banned because of trouble breaking out amidst the crowd.. The best venue for a few years was a car park under the Stuart Street viaduct.
They played at the main music stage that was situated at the bottom of this car park. Nothings changed here apart from the appearance of the office block in the background.
‘Identitiy’ Early 80’s New Romance Fashion Clothes Shop Barbers Lane, Luton.
This Bleak block brick building used to be the home to Rick and Kass’s Identity fashion clothes shop, behind the shop in the same building was the Barbers Lane recording studio Hero’s, which was run by the late Geronimo Geoff and Captain Blute.
Rick and Kass ran the shop that specialised in radical fashions for the new romantic and goth sub cultures!
Many used this shop to ‘dress-up’ for the nightclub scene. They eventually moved to Kensington market (I think?) and resurfaced years later as hosts for an upper class rave (the name escapes me at the moment!)
The studio behind the shop was run and engineered by Geromino Geoff and amongst its clients were The Friction and UK Decay. The building was left empty up until the last few years then it was bought and god only knows what it is today? The River Lea actually runs right underneath the premises!
“Lung Function” Bute Street Click Click rehearsal room and Pan club next door. (Now taken over by the expansion of the restaurant nextdoor)
Late 70’s, The 80’s The Pan Club was set up in myth as being a secret venue for the Sex Pistols (S.P.O.T.S.) early on in their history.
It was a ‘gay’ nightclub but was hired out for various events in the Eighties.
“Lung Function” was the name given to Click Clicks rehearsal rooms (scaffolded building). It became a kind of drop-in centre for post punk/early “Electronic Body Music” musical renegades, who were treated to many a fine Click Click performance.
Many other bands rehearsed there including In Excelsis, Corpalia, Passchendale Party Girls etc it was indeed an informal venue. Both venues now under new management.
Sadly no longer any musical functionality!
The Bag Shop Wellington Street, Luton. Now demolished.
This is where everyone got his or her Studded Belts! Don’t know how long its been shut down and don’t know what’s happening now but it is still there!
The Plume of Feathers, Bridge Street, Luton. 1982 1990s? Photo, 2004. Now demolished.
The ‘Plume’ Hosted Luton Punk bands such as Screaming Blue Murder, Phallic Symbols and Government Lies in 1982 and continued right up to the 90’s hosting live music although not necessarily Punk.
Oddly last year (2003), there were signs that the premise was going to open up again under the controversial name ‘The Nine Bar’!
The refurbishment continued for some time And then when it was nearly ready for opening it went quiet and has remained so ever since! (Thanks for the info Blink)
In 2013 a tattoo parlor is situated in a new building on the site
The George 2nd Bute street, Luton 1983 to Date! Still in use.
A regular Live Music venue right next to the bus and train stations. The Punk scene in the early 80’s had a slight honeymoon there a couple of times but it never really took off for one reason or another.
Nevertheless the venue which has refurbished a few times Was still hosting Live Music in late 2013.
The Edge Club Park Street, Luton. Mid Eighties to present.
Original name not known. Hosted The Stingray Club and perhaps later the Switch Club.
In 2013 the Edge Club Was still hosting some alternative musical events.
The Town Hall well we all know what that is!
Punks were under pressure from all sides in the late seventies in Luton. At the same time they quickly learnt to adapt new techniques for finding venues. Someone had a eureeka moment and remembered the large hall for rent inside Luton Town Hall.
There was a small run of anarchy at the town hall with a handfull of memorable punk gigs – but it was only a matter of time before the authorities found a legal reason to ban it.
Well thats it for the time being. this list is by no means complete but should go some way to highlight some of the main venues of some 25 years ago! Please feel free to correct us as in some of the details, we do our best but the fog of time can sometime’s blur. Further info on Luton 1978 to 1988 punk scene at the ‘Friction’ website MORE on LU PX ‘Clubbing in Luton 1984’ History is made at night.
The Black Horse
Thanks Tony, we sent our ‘cyclo-photographer’ out to get this shot of the Black Horse, as it is today. (11.11.04) The Black Horse
Looks like its been recently ‘tarted-up’. but its still there! 1984 was a funny time in the Luton Punk Scene with the closing down of many of the classic earlier mentioned venues.
It was 5 years since the ‘Grapevines’ heyday and many of that generation of Punks had moved on., or were moving from venue to venue. Meanwhile a ‘new wave’ of ‘alternative’ and ‘Post-Punk’ types were establishing a new scene in town complete with new venues, The Black Horse being one!
The Cross “God So Loved The World”!!
Although not actually a venue this just had to be included in the list of ‘notorious Luton Punk venues from the 70’s and 80’s.’
As it stands today (11.11.04) at the junction of Wellington st. and Russel st In full-on ‘Coronation st.’ land, it looks even shabbier now than it did when the picture (above) was taken for the front cover of UK Decays first single. Proof that both the Church and the UK, really are in Decay!
Apologies for the slightly-out-of-focus feel, we could really do with a new ‘didgy’ here!
Please feel free to visit the forum and post up any comments or don’t hesitate to point out any venues that are not included here!
The Nissan Hut Marsh Farm The Nissen Hut Today.
Venue of the legendary 1979 Crass, Poison Girls and UK Decay gig.
This was an extraordinary venue that was chosen for that most memorable event. The only time Crass & Poison Girls ever played in Luton.
It was set up as a benefit gig for the Cobalt Hate fanzine. Unbelievably, 250 anarcho punx squashed into the hut to witness the live action. It was at a heightened time of tension in town between Punks and Skins and everybody was expecting a visit from the ‘Bone-eds’.
When they did arrive, they were duly chased off!
At the time UK Decay were involved in the Fanzine co-operative hence the benefit gig for Cobalt Hate who’s writers were ‘unfairly victimised’ by the authorities. It is unsure how much ‘benefit’ was made for the Fanzine but the gig cemented a relationship between the 3 bands that would continue for another 3 years!
Bernard Chandler who played Bass? I think for the Poison Girls would later design the artwork for The UK Decay covers, For Madmen Only, Sexual and Rising from the Dread Crass and particularly Penny Rimbaud would later form Chorpus Christie Records on which the Rising from the Dread EP was released. Also it cemented in peoples minds the idea that these 3 bands were related to the same idiom. An idea that was later to prove a double edged sword! It is not known if there were any more gigs in the old World War Nisan Hut.
On another tip……..Cristchurch
Pete Brennan wrote:
The Church up by the labour club (now demolished i think) housed a few bands.
It’s actually still there, well kind off!
The Christchurch, Upper George st. Luton. May 24th 2006
The Christchurch at the top of Upper George, previously, yes you
guessed A Church (another disappearing institution!) Before it was converted into prime office space, for a short time it became a live music venue. Think it was run by a Mr. Madden who owned a recording studio in Brantwood road.
Local Punk band The Traitors come to mind as playing there but that’s it as far as I can remember. Can anyone fill us in with any other bands that played there?
OK so long for now, there is more to be added including the Kingsway Arms, The Pink Elephant and a church in Marsh Farm!
So the above highlighted the state of the old ‘punk venues’ in Luton during the mid 2000’s
What has become of them since?
Find out some of the answers and comments by visiting the forum posting here
Ps. A radical view of Luton’s anarchic past is good further reading