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90s House Month #3 - The Cry, Cornwallis and Carnage

Mal takes us through his time in The Cry on Barrow's infamous Cornwallis Street.

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90s House Month #3 - The Cry, Cornwallis and Carnage
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The war that had waged from 1997 to 2000 between the establishment and house and dance music was finally over. We won, by the way; you can’t suppress love, no matter how many police truncheons and legislation you throw at it. So, house music just exploded. The charts were full of really passable crossover tracks. Jason Nevins’ ‘It’s tricky’ and Spiller’s ‘Groovejet (If this ain’t love)’ to name but two. The back street, underground clubs gave way to the super clubs. The likes of Cream, God’s Kitchen, Sankeys were now international powerhouses leading the way and getting the world’s best DJs. Radio 1 had Friday and Saturday nights fully dedicated to it. This was absolutely unheard of; just years earlier pirate radio stations were the only way you could hear dance music on the radio. But now DJ Mag was a staple, and average DJs became global super stars. The real superstars such as Sasha and Carl Cox became untouchable gods. 

Dance music was now woven into the zeitgeist. Complete world-wide domination. It was fantastic in many respects. Nuclear bombs wouldn’t have stopped the North raving. There is a local legend (which is true, I was there) which tells the tale of the time a huge Barrow contingent didn’t get into Club Kinetic. No problem. In the driving snow they started a huge impromptu rave in the side street next to the club. Unbelievable scenes with the police happy and chatting with us all. But then came huge door fees and massive security crackdowns. They pay off, of course, being safe in the club and insane, unbelievable sound systems and light shows.

The mood was one of triumph and joy. It wasn’t protest music anymore, with the collective anger of the population driving producers to majestic, fearsome heights in techno and hardcore. We didn’t have to be angry and disenfranchised anymore. We could celebrate, and everyone was up for it. So the theme of dance music from 1996 – 2002 was joy. Huge, sweeping trance songs, met very clever and funky house records. All positive, all upbeat. It was a collective triumph. 

I was recently chatting with my good friend Mel (she was frightened she had missed The Cry session, only a day early!) and we spoke about how The Cry epitomised everything that was great about dance music in the late nineties/early noughties. No brawling; if you wanted to go out looking for a fight, some of the hardest lads in the town gathered there, so good luck with that – you’d have been sparked out long before the bouncers got there. Sounds like some sort of weird, posturing boast, that. Not one bit. These lads weren’t there for trouble. Christ, we had all been there and got the T-shirt. It was all handshakes, ‘how the fuck are you, mate?’, and tongue-in-cheek, sultry dancing with your mates’ birds. It was just fucking superb. If you were sorted, polite and up for a laugh then you were going to have a belter. Leave all the animosity to the dickheads that went straight downstairs.

In fact, I remember a good personal story to illustrate the Ying and Yang between downstairs and upstairs in The Cry. There was one lad who didn’t like me. Hard to believe, I know. I am not going to go into detail. He’s probably a spot on guy now, and can I fuck remember what we had fallen out over. But, word was he was a handy lad, and I was as skinny as a rake; all curtains, smiles and sinew. Anyway, I had a wander downstairs when Justin was on and there he was, eyeballing me. Now, to me, getting smacked in the head wasn’t really a concern when you had the outlaw, wild-man, insane motherfuckers I had the honour of calling my friends. Again, sounds like a boast but it isn’t. What I mean is that I had been smacked in the head that much in various brawls down the years, it simply lost its fear factor. I mean, it definitely hurts but adrenaline protects you. It’s the next morning that’s the killer when you feel like you have been run over by a steam roller. So, I wasn’t intimated. In fact I went over and said ‘You alright, mate?’ basically stoking it. But, he was trying to be an aggressive bully and I don’t like that. However, I didn’t actually know where I was going with this either - one side of my brain going ‘Yeah Mal, fuck that bullying prick!’ and the other going, ‘What the hell are you doing here, man?!’

‘Do you want a fucking go?’ Yawn. I said ‘Yeah. Alright then, let’s get this straightened out.’ So he’s ripping his jacket off, snorting like a wild bull now. ‘Come on then! Come on then!!’ Absolutely raging he was. Now if you remember The Cry you get in through the right hand side door and out through the left. So he’s shouting away and getting himself into a right old state. So I think to myself - I can alert my mates and they will make absolute mincemeat out of him. But, that wouldn’t be fair on them, they get in enough trouble on their own. Or I can deal with it myself. Then I had the brain wave of all brainwaves.

“Come on then mate. Outside.”

So the bouncer lets this steaming, raging animal, who had by this point took off his jacket and left it with his mates, into the night and into the absolute pouring rain. I mean it was tipping down; that horrible rain only Barrow can produce. He’s stood there snorting, screaming, at this stage just waiting to punch me into oblivion. 

The bouncer holding the door open for me said ‘You going out then mate or what?’

‘No mate you’re alright. Look at the state of it.”

‘No problem, mate’ says the bouncer and promptly shut the door leaving him coatless, getting soaked to the bone and waiting for the easiest fight of the year that never came. And for those of you who don’t know, if you went out that side door on the left you were not getting back in that night. 

Moments like that don’t often happen to me. Let me enjoy it.

Anyway, back to upstairs, which was to become like a second home to me and my mate Justin Whitehouse. Justin and I were disciples of music and he is actually my oldest friend; unbelievably our friendship has lasted over 30 years strong. We were two young kids, dragged up on the streets of Barrow Island. And we just loved mixing. All day at my house or his, spent with his girlfriend of the time (and still a really good friend of mine) Diane, who loved the music as much as we did. I remember mixing and his baby Corbin Whitehouse smiling and clapping along. Just great days, immersed in music. And at the weekends I played the music I loved, with all my friends and that friendship base was growing by the week.

But man, upstairs in The Cry was lawless. I remember two people openly having sex and it was cool. People just gave them a thumbs up. Smoking was allowed back then of course, and the waft of weed would often come through. Absolutely impossible to zero in on the culprit when 97 per cent of the population in there smoked. Can pipes were left discarded in the bogs, which seems absolutely wacky now and it drove the bouncers mad, understandably, but there was no fighting. I never really got that. We were clearly doing their nut in, but it was the most placid, chilled, friendly vibe you could ask for. But still, open sexual intercourse and drug taking was probably pushing it.

But there were only flashes of such carnage. The majority were just in there to get down and have a boogie. It was superb. All the best people went, not the aggressive idiots. So, to me and Justin, it was heaven. But, when you hand the reins to two idiots like us expect there to be repercussions, the worst of which was all me. Smoking. In a wooden nightclub. And I threw my fag stump down the side of the all wooden DJ booth into the perfect kindling of the various crisp packets, fag packets and other really flammable material. After about 10 minutes, smoke started coming up. At first we were laughing. Sort of ‘Aye aye...we are all going to die!’ type of laughing, which turned to grave concern when the smoke started getting thicker and blacker. Now we were absolutely shitting ourselves. A packed dancefloor of a 100 per cent wooden surface area club; it started to hit home where this could feasibly go. Cue us ordering pint after pint, rushing back and just twanging it down the side and would it fuck go out! After we threw a small pond’s worth of Budweiser down there, eventually it got with the programme. It really feels good knowing you aren’t going to be burnt alive. Also, there was the time was I was chatting away, probably to a girl, thinking I was Johnny Big Balls. Justin came over and said ‘Mate, what are you doing?’ I had left a record playing in the same perfect 16 bar pattern because it was scratched for a good 15 minutes. Good times.

The staff there are still firmest of friends all these years later - Tony Davies, Paul Lowdon and my guy Stuart Eccles. All of us ended up absolutely slaughtered every Saturday and sharing a few drinks and a few laughs when it closed for the night was always a spot on way to close out the evening. Well, when I say ‘close out the evening’, I really mean ‘get myself into the most insane situations’. It’s social engineering that is absolutely fucking mental. Every club threw out at 2am. Every club. So around 1500 people just thrown onto the pavement - 1500 Barrow people who do not mind a scrap at the best of times. Also, the police saw fit to stand over the other side of the road so these 1500 pissed Barrow people had one pavement to manoeuvre in. I think my record was being within 5 metres of 7 different fights. In that perfect storm you had to quickly gather your mates up, get the details or where we were off to and jump in a taxi; the whole team rolling out in Acacia taxis like choppers leaving a DZ in Vietnam. 

The parties you went to were maybe the best part. No one wants to cut off at 2am and there was always some mad fucker that said, ‘Right yeah...fuck it...back to mine’. Cue 40 people turning up. Class. I met so many different people and never had one ounce of bother. Saw some crazy shit, but not bother. It’s funny how the sort of times in your life you just assume as normal, now on reflection were amazing times. Never, ever, to be repeated.

Malcolm Lingard

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

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This blog post was brilliantly (and importantly) proof read by a very close friend of The Lock In's, Carla Blaney.