Think of any style of music, particularly those associated with youth movements or underground cultures, and there is sure to be a venue regarded as the place where it all begun. Northern soul had the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, the Marquee Club in London is considered home to rock and somewhere in-between, flying the flag for hardcore, was The Eclipse in Coventry.
Voted seventh worst place to live in the UK last year, nowadays, it’s hard to find anything attractive about the West Midlands city which, through a Luftwaffe assault, had almost every morsel of its charm blitzed away during the second world war. Historically to be ‘sent to Coventry’ is an idiom used as an insult for people who deserve to be ostracised, because visitors of the town are rarely greeted with a warm welcome, making it difficult to believe people willingly flocked here in the 90s.
Such was the allure of The Eclipse though which slipped through a gap in the law like a naughty kid through a fence to launch the country’s first legal all night party and become the club at the epicentre of the national rave scene. Secret warehouse shindigs, farmers field and squat raves were making way for legitimate events and Coventry City Council were powerless to stop them.
International DJs like Roger Sanchez and Moby, along with homegrown musicians including Sasha, Fabio, Grooverider, Carl Cox and Boy George were invited to play at the former cinema on Lower Ford Street and Coventry was spearheading a genre which had before been scaremongered. Bands such as Leftfield used the venue to launch their careers and for a fee of 60 pounds the man behind the Eclipse, Stuart Reid, gave The Prodigy their first ever gig.
Despite countless run-ins with the local authorities who blocked every application made for a drinks license, and the police who were hard at work building up a dossier against the club, its reputation was growing and the stigma against hardcore was fading. Pete Waterman, who had previously described dance music as “blips and blops,” even asked to bring his music programme, The Hit Man and Her, to The Eclipse to give the general population a glimpse of what actually happened at a rave (probably with a bit of editing). Despite hosting a blend of ethnicities from an assortment of areas, at a time when the police were used to piss-ups and punch-ups, The Eclipse attracted zero violence. Retrospectively Stuart Reid has said: “No one cared if you were black, white, yellow or green, if you were from Manchester, London or whatever as long as there were party people.”
So how did this rave mecca go from having the market cornered to closing its doors permanently all in the space of three years? Because running and sustaining a successful bar in Coventry is like opening a brothel in a convent. Venues change management at an uneconomic rate with their nightclub version of the hokey cokey: You put your Jolly Beggars in, take your Faktory branding out, put your Blok logo back in and you shake it all about. There is no scene here, no demand for variety.
In five minutes, with the help of some friends, we remembered as many fallen clubs as we could from the last five years and the extent of the rot became apparent. To add to Jolly Beggars, Faktory and Blok there’s Escape and S7ven, which failed spark any new interest in the fire brigade’s old HQ, Browns, the bar which ultimately closed for good after a huge online backlash following their refusal to serve coffee to two pullbearers ahead of a military funeral, and who could forget Rehab, Coventry’s rip-off version of the Haçienda.
The list continues. Taylor John’s House, Varsity, Bar Eden, The Tin Angel, Rosie Malones, Dogma. Then there’s the SkyDome, our city’s imagined luxury entertainment multiplex where echoes of Coventry’s violent past, a time when people we’re being killed on the streets, still ring true. Just the other week a man was stabbed in the neck and repeatedly slashed. No wonder Chicago Rock, Old Orleans, Embargo, Mortimer’s, Diva, Lava, Ignite and Ikon have all fallen off the conveyor belt for venues attempting to exist, profitably, there.
The one that really summed it up for me though was Club LOL on Medieval Spon Street which, in a sort of self-parody, took the piss out of itself. Perhaps somebody sensed the impending doom associated with purchasing a bar here and through the venues name chose to allude to the ridiculousness of the task they had undertaken. To think that the spoof club on Coventry’s most famed road could become part of the city’s history was honestly laughable.
So where do people in Coventry go? Inspire when we’re feeling thirsty for premium lager, Scholars once a quarter to drink Lambrini and party with middle-aged people, or for cheap thrills head to Quids Inn… And then there was Colly.
For those from the city this destination needs no introduction. For those who aren’t the now Kasbah is the nightclub that Coventry revolves around. It’s the only one that’s not full of scumbags, because of its strict scumbag bouncers, and I’ve enjoyed countless nights there but the problem lies in the music. The Colly’s flagship student night, Bubbleluv, serves up “poptastic classics” according to its website which is perfect if cheese on cheese and pretending to know the words to every song is your thing and don’t get me wrong, for a laugh on a Monday, Bubbleluv is good but there’s an absence of variety. The Eclipse’s titular and busiest event booked the best DJ’s from around the world, Bubbleluv plays pop.
On layers of levels the Eclipse, the best club from back then, was decades behind physically but way more forward thinking than our current most popular venue. In a 92’ nationwide DJ Mag poll it was recognised as having the fourth best flyers along with the third best toilets, the second best sound system, the best lights and nicest door staff. The Colly could undoubtedly hold its own in most UK cities as a decent place to go drinking but it doesn’t play host to the high musical standards of the past yet, through limited choice, just like The Eclipse it has the market cornered in a monopoly. Shouldn’t we have options? A fling of house music nights at Careys in 2013 brought names like Justin Martin and Paleman to Coventry. Scotland Yard are now investigating the disappearance of these events.
Some Eclipse artwork…
My experience in Nottingham taught me that smaller nights usually ebb and flow with the students but Coventry University’s music society is a cold and desolate place. Appeals for help with projects and the odd request for people to sing at open mic events are ignored, every now and again some brave protagonist bares their soul by attempting unsuccessfully to raise debate over a genre, and the president promises further information which never arrives.
The whole mentality of the city is in a state of gridlock whereby most people don’t want to try out new music – if I was to start an underground drum and bass event here only my closest friends would attend and if I had to speculate how far Coventry was off having a successful, and importantly sustainable, d&b night I would say decades because we’re bogged down in a mainstream radio culture. Not everybody is in to music but pockets of people are, it should be about gradually expanding those pockets, whatever the genre, and growing a scene with aspirations to nurture fresh new talent.
At the end of 2011 The Enemy’s Tom Clarke stated that music was “fucking appalling at the moment” and proclaimed that it was down to him to save it. His Coventry band has done absolutely nothing worthwhile since and this typifies the city for me as a place where, musically speaking, precious little originates. In the face of hardship, however, one genre is making progress.
Footwork has been around for about a year and a half and is an event which has become the face of grime, and good music, in the city. Monthly headliners including Preditah, Marcus Nasty, Burgaboy, DJ Slimzee, EZ, P Money, Mele, DJ Q, JME, DJ Luck & MC Neat, Elijah & Skilliam and Devilman cause a stir, just last night D Double E was invited to play, and these continued high standards have ensured that everybody knows about Footwork Fridays. There’s some genuine sweat being put into the night to get the people of Coventry away from the Colly and excited about real music and following the template laid out by Footwork I hope to see more starlet events motivated about the opportunity, through a bit of hard work and dedication, to make something happen.
It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see Coventry return to the spacey heights of its party heyday when a genre which ultimately catalysed the formation of drum and bass was being celebrated, for the first time, in a rave club at the heart of the nation. Hardcore at The Eclipse did so much for our city at the time by putting us on the map in the 90s and giving Coventry a musical identity which regrettably it has been unable to maintain. As the only event which is currently making an effort to patch up the damage, Footwork is a beacon of hope.
For now, at least, Coventry’s forgotten nightlife will be immortalised in hardcore folklore as the place where it all begun.