Joe Strong (Manager at Dingwalls, Ministry of Sound and Home Nightclub) Q&A

Tell us about how you got into music growing up and some of the sounds/ artists that helped shape your love of records?

I was brought up on the outskirts of Wigan where there was an active and varied music scene that offered everything from Northern Soul to Pop and heavy rock, Wigan was actually a buzzing town back then compared to the dilapidated wasteland it has become. For live music we had to travel to the Free Trade Hall in Manchester to see people like Lou Reed, John Cale and Mott the Hoople. In 1976 I absconded to Israel to live on a Kibbutz for a year just as punk exploded and the Pistols were creating havoc, this is when I started DJing and singing Bowie songs with Israeli musicians. I was also playing Football in the Israeli second division.

Before moving to London tell us about your experiences of DJ’ing at various venues across the city (the types of music you were playing) and being part of a band?

By the time I returned to England the whole economic landscape had changed, suddenly there were no jobs which prompted me to seek out accommodation in Manchester. I moved into the Crescents in Hulme in 1978, in fact one floor below we had Big Flame and below them the Inca Babies, in the next Crescent we had The Passage and Frantic Elevators. Hulme, at this time, was a hive of creativity and music supplemented by free rent, electricity and dole money. Plus, the original Factory was just about to open right on our doorstep and we had the best independent Cinema in the Country at the Aaben Multiplex.

My first DJ job was at The Cyprus Tavern, very near to what we now call Fac 51, it was opposite Legends Club, one of Manchester’s first high glitz clubs with lasers and the works. The Cyprus was an old Greek Tavern type place with a dance floor and overcooked Greek food. These were the days before mixing and the music I played was a strange combination between bands like The Fall and Iggy, Reggae and Soul Disco.

In 1981 I was voted in by Manchester Polytechnic Students Union to become the Social Secretary for one year which just coincided with the move into the new building on Oxford Road. Elliot Rashman was my partner in crime and Mick Hucknall would perform and DJ.

(Care of Manchester Digital Music Archive)

At this time The Hacienda was being built just around the corner. The big night at The Poly was on Friday night, sold out every week with over 1,000 proper Manchester people. Dance music was beginning to come to the fore around this time- Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Valentine Brothers and the Peech Brothers. Believe it or not, we also had quite a Goth following, Ha Ha. I would also play old punk records along with Glen Miller.

Bands we had on that year were The Fall, Culture Club, John Martyn, Aztec Camera, REM, Killing Joke, etc.
I had also just been bought by Southport Football Club and was playing football twice a week, I suppose my Football career is another story.

The Hacienda meanwhile, was empty, and was actually losing vast amounts of money each week by opening every night. Saturday would be busy but other nights depended upon bands. It was also a cavernous sound that took years to rectify due to the vast ceiling and acoustic echo.

(care of Manchester Digital Music Archive)

In 1984 I met a man named Roger Eagle who offered me a resident DJ job at a new Manchester venue called The International. Roger was already a music legend having begun Manchester’s Twisted Wheel and Liverpool’s iconic Eric’s. The International barely gets a mention in the Manchester music history but it was incredibly influential in regenerating live music in Manchester; Roger’s booking policy was so eclectic and so successful he made a fortune for other people – as was always the way with Roger. Bill Drummond will tell you all you need to know about the legendary Roger Eagle.

Early 1988 and I’m suddenly offered a job in London for no other reason than Roger Eagle’s insistence, how he pulled this off I will never know. My mate Bill Sykes wrote a book about Roger and his legacy (Sit Down! Listen To This! – The Roger Eagle Story), here is a review from The Liverpool Echo that sums Roger up better than I ever could.

What drew you to London and Dingwalls in 1988? And what are your recollections of Talking Loud and Saying Something and the Jazz scene in the capitol?

Taking over Dingwalls in early 1988 was quite a task, at this time the club was losing a lot of money and their motto was THE HOME OF RHYTHM AND BOOZE. The only thing that was happening was on a Sunday afternoon at this remarkable small gathering of dancers and hipsters all freaking out to really fast Jazz. The first thing I did was take him out for lunch the next day and give him a big pay rise.

Saturday afternoons were also fabulous, local Rockabilly Legend Mouse spinning Rock n Roll with all these young girls dressed to the nines flying around the dancefloor.

Monday night we had PANIC STATION which was a launchpad for so many indie bands such as Pulp, Blur, Shamen, Mondays, etc.

Apart from this, the whole club needed a clear out, a bit of a re- brand and new blood in the shape of local Pirate KISS FM. We soon attracted the likes of Trevor Nelson, Norman Jay, Paul Anderson and many more from Kiss but the 2 sessions that re- launched the club were Talking Loud and High On Hope- which may have been one of London’s first garage nights. After this we brought in Joey Jay to do Sunday nights which were dark and heavy dub style – Jah Shaka was a regular guest.

Dingwalls was never really suited to the Acid Scene, we were just a tiny 400 venue with a low ceiling so our options were limited. Our favourite DJs were Tony Humphries, Norman Jay, Gilles, Andy Weatherall, Paul Anderson, Mouse, Frankie Foncett, Joey Jay, Jah Shaka, Judge Jules, Trevor Nelson and many I’ve forgotten for the time being.

We also had some quality live acts at Dingwalls- Curtis Mayfield, Gil Scott Heron, Stone Roses, Mongo Santamaria were 4 nights in particular that stand out for me during this period. At a recent Dingwalls re- union, that are still taking place twice yearly, a journalist from back in the day informed me that Dingwalls was the only Club in central London that didn’t have a racist door policy back in the late 80’s London- that thought had never occurred to me until that moment and I realised it was true, the mix between people at Dingwalls during this period was the best I’ve ever experienced.

Culturally, I think Dingwalls represented a brave approach that opened the door for so many of London’s aspiring DJ’s: it was also well known as a venue that was co- operative, supportive and always ready to take a gamble on promotions.

All great things come to an end and in 1991 a major refurbishment of Camden Lock saw our rent quadruple so we had to call it a day. By this time Kiss FM had gained a license and was suddenly run by loads of white professionals; it was time to move on.

How did you become involved with The Ministry Of Sound? And how would you describe its legacy from your time there between 1991- 93?

I’d heard that a new club was developing in the Elephant and Castle, a big 2,000 capacity operation with no alcohol. I took over at the Ministry of Sound in April 1991, around 5 months before we opened. Everything done a shoe string really except for the giant sound system contained within an isolated dance floor where the bass would dis- assemble your core.

To begin with no one could find it but very soon the queues would develop and give the location away, it was all very mysterious. As at Dingwalls we had a superb security outfit who were on the ball and I remember one night only when there was even a hint of trouble.

The Ministry was built as we went along and the building, an old Bus garage, was freezing in the winter. Opening at Midnight and closing the next day at Noon is the kind of thing that takes its toll eventually.
To see how the brand has developed over the years doesn’t impress me in any way, just another well-oiled Company making money out of trawling back catalogues. Clubbing back in the day was so much more improvised, spontaneous and also involved lots of real money- now everything seems to be owned by 02 and run by University graduates.

I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience at The Ministry, somehow after Dingwalls it seemed impersonal, disjointed and somehow insincere. An opportunity to get involved in a brand new club already being built in Manchester proved too enticing and the thought of opening up a new club back home seemed like a dream.

You returned northwards in 1993 to run Home in Manchester until 1996. How would you describe the city during that period and the club’s rightful place in the cities club culture?

The club at this time was named Juicy and would open in September 1993 to coincide with the Manchester In The City Festival, here was an opportunity that could not be resisted. We kept the opening low key but immediately we opened we were swamped and totally unprepared. The Security “operation” was to be run by a combination of a Liverpool and Salford team that were appointed months before I got the job. While I had been away in London it seemed as though every door of any Club, Bar or Restaurant had been taken over by either Cheetham Hill, Salford or Moss Side and therefore every outlet was compromised in one way or another.

I had heard of the Manchester gangs and the disruption they were causing for Manchester’s Club scene but I had no idea as to the extent of the troubles and it’s indiscriminate nature. Within 2 weeks a Doorman from the Hacienda was shot inside the Club and within a month we had surveillance cameras stationed on the roof of a nearby high rise, filming everything that was going on. There is a book by Peter Walsh detailing this period in his book on the history of Manchester gangs (Gang War: The Inside Story of the Manchester Gangs) and this period between 1993 and 1995 was one of the most violent and unstable period in the history of Manchester gangland. The 2 major outfits were at each other’s throats and there was betrayal in the wind, some members were switching sides and paranoia was all around.

The Club should have been a wonderful hub for Manchester music to develop with a very varied menu based on a diverse experimental programme that explored everything from Luv Dup to Rare Groove and Acid Jazz, but within 3 months our reputation was in tatters and the club wasn’t safe- even the Police were shit scared and refused to help us. The vibrancy of the Manchester music community seemed to have disappeared and replaced with a fear of jeopardy. Madchester indeed!

Following 2 years trying to contain and survive I had to abandon my dream Home, in retrospect maybe I should have called it JAIL.

I was pretty traumatised by the time I resigned and headed back to London to lick my wounds. It was at this point that I decided to explore working with vulnerable Teenagers and retire from the music world. I enjoyed a 25 year career working with some of the most vulnerable young people in North London- far better than running a Club.

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