As a special treat, we have here some images left over from the article on Gavin Watson's new book, Raving '89. This was the bit of raving that happened before it got all smiley faces and glowsticks. We had a chat with a man called Gary Ellis, who was instrumental in setting up the raves that Gavin was attending in warehouses, fields and the homes of unfortunate kids in 1989. Gary Ellis was the business minded end of the rave scene, and also had a thing for really big mobile phones.
Vice: So how did you end up setting up these raves?
Gary Ellis: We started going to Ibiza back in 1984 and started partying and all that, but it wasn’t until 1988 when it really started hitting England. People like Paul Oakenfold, Trevor Fun, those people were working in Ibiza and started bringing what was going on over there, the party scene, back to London. And it kicked off. The early part of '88, the club scene was just dying on its feet really; High Wycombe, as a town, was down to one club.There was nothing to do. We started off going to this night called Land of Oz, there were three and a half thousand people going metal. The club scene in England had never seen anything like it. We knew the owners, and we took the concept and repeated it in our local town. That was it.
How did it get going?
It started off in marquees and fields, old barns, warehouses. Anywhere we could set up our sound systems, lighting, all that. We used old bangers of cars – we would use the roof, bonnets and boots of the cars as stages, and have smoke machines and strobes inside them. It was always secret locations, and the raves were in the newspapers – all the nationals were covering the scene, the whole acid house era. All of that added to the excitement at the events. It all kicked off because there was nothing else to do.
What was the next step?
We had done like five or six outside parties, dance music was taking over the country, it was in the charts and it was all going well, but it got to the stage where the police were getting the powers to confiscate stuff. So we thought we would look for somewhere permanent to do the parties. We met Rod Needham – his father owned the old bowling alley in High Wycombe – and he joined in with us and we spent eight months making it into a club. We opened Club X about 1990. It was the first real rave club in High Wycombe. We were the only club in 1990 with a 7 AM licence, everyone else closed at 2.
Was the scene involved a lot with the big cars and that?
Well, no, before the dance thing gripped me, I was a property developer, driving BMWs, Porsches, Mercedes and all that, but I got them from that part of my life. When I got really involved in dance, I actually lost a lot of money, funnily enough, but I was following my heart not my head – that happened a lot in the dance scene. It wasn’t long before I went from driving a Porsche to driving a Sherpa van. The council got involved and decided to give us licensing, but as soon as we had that, everything needed to change, we needed proper toilets, more of them, bigger entrances, we were broke. We sold the cars and put the money into the club. If it wasn’t for Rob Needham helping us out we would have been stuck. By the time it opened we had already had enough.
What was the logistics of sorting the early raves out?
We used to spend a lot of time driving about, the lot of us. We would find a place, say one time in Flackwell Heath, for example, we rented a field from this guy, spent the whole day clearing it out, got cabling going up into the lighting rigs, got speakers hanging from trees, smoke machines, confetti canons, pyrotechnics, burger vans, ice cream vans – it was a lot to organise, especially while trying to keep it all secret. We would have people selling tickets down in the pubs, and then the time would come and I would get out my big old phone and call them, tell them all where it was, and the word would spread. There would be convoys of hundreds of cars coming towards us, and at the back of the line the police would be following. We had so much hassle from the police.
So you kept it secret to keep the police in the dark, or to limit numbers?
Both. The secrecy of it was the buzz for all the ravers too, and it meant they had to buy tickets. If you are doing an event outdoors, it is very hard to stop people just strolling in. We didn’t have the money for fences or whatever, so keeping it secret forced people to buy tickets to get the location details. It was hard work. Say it was on a Saturday, we would spend all day Friday and Saturday setting up. The party started at about 11 o'clock and went right the way through to Sunday. Then Sunday afternoon was breakdown, deliver the lighting gear and sound stuff back to the rental places, deliver the staging back to the studios, take down the marquee and maybe fall asleep some time on Monday or Tuesday morning.
Did you ever enjoy any of your parties?
It was difficult really. We used to come away to Ibiza if we wanted to enjoy ourselves. It was the buzz of doing it we liked, the chase of the police. We had 40 people turn up at court one time because of all the noise complaints. It never could have gone on like that for long, noise travels too far. The outdoor parties were great, but they were doomed. We were just lucky at the time that when we started out the police didn’t have the powers to cut our electricity, or confiscate our equipment. But the criminal justice appeal put an end to that. It all changed when the big nightclubs started playing dance, got top dance DJs and late licenses, we couldn’t compete.
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