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90s House Month #1 - The Zone Blackpool

Going back to a time where Blackpool was the centre of a house revolution

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90s House Month #1 - The Zone Blackpool
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Its weird how impotent you feel at about the age of maybe14-17. You feel old enough to get out clubbing or whatever But your face and demeanour are like that or a frightened baby deer, confidence wilting under some aggressive questioning of a bouncer at the front of a nightclub queue.  No one likes you. Your opinion means nothing to anyone. Imagine being that age at the turn of the 90’s? Where, suddenly, Manchester became the mecca of everything that was superb music wise. Our neighbours just up the road. But to me it felt like fruit that was always just out of touch. So you had to listen brooding in your room to your sony walkmen. Stone Roses on full, thinking, only Ian Brown understands me.

But what was denied me was so deliciously cruel. The sets coming out of Hacienda were like music sent directly from god for me. The images of people, blissed out on dancefloors, adoring the music and hugging each other. Illegal raves and the fight against the criminal justice bill .Happy Mondays blending beats and indie rythyms together effortlessly.  It felt like the most exciting time in the world. And I was sat reading NME feverishly with my nose pressed against the window, everyone else having the best time in the world.

Actually the coolest men in the world 1988 -1995

But then all of a sudden you are old enough. And the question isn’t if I can. It’s where the fuck do I start?

I had started college then and all the inter school rivalry melted away when you actually spoke to the people you had despised for the colour of their tie and realised. Actually you are alright. And I made new friends and was reunited with one of my oldest in Andy Mathieson. But JonnyHill, Stephen Leech, Mark Hughes, Pete Graham Paul Latham Canadian toe, Ben Fisher, Ste the Ped and others that names escape me now. They represented a bunch of wild men to me. So far advanced, cool clothes, rode about on motorbikes, partied like Oliver Reed and Pete Doherty rolled into one and could actually talk to women. Being amongst them made my head spin. I wanted in.

But they one thing that really got my interest was. That they... And this was a huge phrase back in the day,..... WENT AWAY.

Going away meant you went away to raves. Which to me at the time was, all I wanted to do. To hear them talk about them made me jealous to the pit of my bones. And one thing came up above everything else. The Zone in Blackpool.

It was actually Nadine Monteghami that got me into it first, I was seeing her sister the lovely Antonia Monteghami at the time and she played a tape of Matt Bell and MC Irie 1992 Christmas Eve. And it was love at first listen. The music was so different. It had a higher tempo to anything I had heard. It absolutely cracked along but every song was so joyful and positive too. Three main themes peppered the songs. You ain't no good for me anymore, I want to love you to the end of time or come with me to the dancefloor and we will fall in love - probably. Absolutely Intoxicating. So different. So vibrant.

And they had this mad guy shouting stuff over the music. But his rapping and floating enigmatic statements somehow made the music even better. It's the first time I heard an MC actually enhance the music. Make it better. Still not heard one better. MC Irie.

Mc Irie

So I went in boxing day with Jonny and Maffo and everyone. And this time because I was amongst friends. I wasn't scared like I was when I had sneaked into clubs and I just let myself go. And it was utterly amazing, I remember Jonny looking at me at one stage, like what the fuck are doing? But I didn't give a fuck. I actually was having the best time of my life. All the time listening to music. To actually be amongst it, amongst friends punching the air in triumph together  tune after glorious tune. There is no way to describe it. Hairs are standing up on the back of my neck thinking about it, as I write this now.

Our Mand and Some Shirtless Hunk

I did think I was going to die though on the way home. Taking all medical advice at the time was to keep hydrated. No problem. I made regular trips to the bar. But in the car I started throwing up this horrible black sick. I thought oh well Malcolm, you are going to die. Nice one, at least you had a good innings. Then in dawned on me, my innards hadn’t turned into slime. I was just regurgitating the 13 litres of coke I had drunk. Absolute fucking newb.

So aside from my carbonated self induced near death experience. I was absolutely hooked. Hook Line and absolute sinker.

The beauty of the zone was because so many from Barrow made the trip. The club was that exalted, that people brought back a constant source of new tapes from there. And because high speed dubbing on twin cassette decks was en vogue they spread like wildfire. Nothing better than going to my mate Johnnys, Maffos or Paul Lathams and playing Pro Evo with a new Andy D tape or Chris Baker set banging from the stereo.  

I mean the music was absolutely class. So bold. So melodic.I mean tune to tune the difference was vast. But it somehow managed to reach in and punch you right in the heart. I am still not sure how it does that. But my daughter obviously not a veteran of a sweaty Blackpool nightclub dancefloor loves it, at the age of 14. It has a special charisma. And if it bites you, it bites you for life.

And all these tapes did, was feed the legend of the DJs. Which I am sure were just regular guys. Not to us they weren’t. They were gods .But those tapes had another output, they also fed the hunger to go back.

And go back I would. On coaches that put me face to face with all these zany and mental people. Again I wasn’t that gregarious back then. It sort of scared me in a way to see people that really just didn’t care. Outlaws. Larger than life. Shouting at each other openly passing joints around but crucially all really lovely. And you know, that was it then. You see people acting like that. Unburdened with the mental shackles of life at least for a weekend, it was intoxicating. Too strong of a pull for most, certainly for me.

I met so many friends there: Mandy Chubb, Diane Parkinson, James Fitch, Des Kyte, Mark Heron, John Chatburn, Lee Johnson so many others. Friendships to this, day that are just as firm as the first time we shared a chat and a Regal king size. There was a lot of people that went from Barrow that I was actively scared of. Huge guys or people that had fierce reputations, people I would cross the road to get away from. There were hard as nails lads from Salford there, you knew they were hard because they looked like they were made from concrete.

Des Kyte and Dj Fitch at a recent reunion gig

But this period taught me a really important life lesson. If you stick your hand out in friendship and are polite and friendly. 99.73 percent of the population reciprocate. And the fear that I had carried around for years as a teenager graduating to a young adult, just went. I didn't feel scared as I did by everyone I didn't know. Which was almost as good a feeling as that first night in the zone. I was free.

What an utter joy as well to meet now a good friend in Claudine Ratcliffe, 20 years after and share experiences. As she is from Fleetwood and it was her regular haunt. I think she was a big deal in the zone community. But she plays it down graciously.

The Venue

I always laugh at the bands and producers from Italy that made these records. Firstly the production from tune to tune is absolutely unbelievable. You have to work like a safe cracker to mix them. They stop and start in weird places fucking horrible to mix. But secondly you know, they wore very nineties, very Italian clothes. So like a black guy in hot pants and cowboy boots and women with extreme curves should we say wearing next to nothing standing next to a guy with massive triangles made out of foil trousers with a Lime grey silky shirt and handlebar moustache called themselves things like Anticapella, Del la Desh and Cartouche and all the songs were about the heart pretty much, either making or breaking it.

So these made people on a different planet almost. They certainly weren’t making records with the north of England clubs in mind. I wonder if they ever knew how much joy they brought and how the power of their music would make even the hardest of Salford Vagabond, jump up and down with a smile on their face putting there arms round the shoulders of anyone around them, singing word for word songs, that didn’t make much sense in cold dark analysis now. Put back then. On that zone dancefloor, made the most perfect sense in the world.

Malcolm Lingard

Malcolm is part of the Fudstock event team, and co-director of The Lock In.

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