Riverside - Newcastle’s Legendary Alternative Music Venue

Still, despite the book’s disarming nature, the list of memories are incredible: blazing and funny descriptions of Mudhoney’s and Nirvana’s first UK gigs, the debunking of the Oasis fight incident, and wide-eyed recollections of the Pixies and Throwing Muses double header…

Hazel Plater and Carl Taylor

http://www.tontobooks.co.uk http://www.hazelplater.bigcartel.com

What an incredible place The Riverside was. When I heard via an old pal*, and fellow habitué that there was to be a book, I went to the back bedroom and hunted for what was left of my ticket stubs. I got them out and looked at them. I rearranged them. I photographed them and you can see the pic at the top of this review**. I even found an attached note headed: “Riverside – gigs I have attended” with the gigs written out carefully – in the way only a nervous, unsure 19 year old can. I didn’t snap that as looking at that particular scrap of paper made me well up & stare out into the garden for a few minutes until my “cold” had passed.

My strongest memory of the venue is the darkness: it always felt like walking into some a warm dank cave akin to some recently used forge, it was a magical feeling. In many ways I still recall it as the place in the town you could feel totally at home in; albeit a grimy one replete with a carpet whose matted granular filth almost rose up to welcome you. Walking out dripping with sweat into the freezing night air seems to be another strong emotional memory – crazy audiences too: moshing at the Sundays? A bunch of 40 years old going absolutely ape to Gong? You’d better believe it, (at least I think you should).

It’s difficult to convey the sheer delight which you attached to a venue, shop or a routine that allowed you to be yourself back in the 1980s. Newcastle is in essence a traditional, stubborn and brave place, and some of the nicest things about the area can also be some of the most frustrating. Stepping out of line back then could be daunting. The paternal part of the Foster family seat was based in Felling, a world of working mens’ clubs, causal violence (in whatever gradation) and pubs that needed a few “5 pint plus” visits to thaw relations. A student in the late 80s was a prize exhibit there; that my family was moderately well known in the area only added a baffled, if genial acceptance to my status. So the fact you could wallow in a different routine (pints at the Barley Mow or Egypt Cottage, then saunter down to the Riverside) whilst meeting like-minded souls, was beyond grand to me.

Describing why this venue was so special is still difficult. And what made the Riverside so extraordinary to me was the context of both the times and the place, something I just can’t summon in this review, the past being another country an’ all that. But with my reviewer’s hat on I suppose I should state that the book gives a very good account of itself in this regard. The affection shown for the place is uniform throughout, and the stories it tells are less the sort of lists that pseudo academic fact-gatherers delight in than woozy reminiscences, (“I can’t remember the band but…”). This, indisputably, is a good thing and helps propel the book along at a pretty fearsome lick.

Given the matter of fact, slightly understated way that Geordies often recount things, Riverside is, in effect –a collection of the sort of slightly disarming tales you’d hear in the pub rather than concerted attempts to create a myth and get it down on paper. As such it bucks the trend of a lot of 80’s heritage-lit that bangs on about how important and era-defining it all was, (yes I suppose it was, but well, you know…),and reminds you of more easy going, maybe more confident times apropos how we valued musical legacies.

Still, despite the book’s disarming nature, the list of memories are incredible: blazing and funny descriptions of Mudhoney’s and Nirvana’s first UK gigs, the debunking of the Oasis fight incident, and wide-eyed recollections of the Pixies and Throwing Muses double header… all of this is heady stuff. The crazy, warm, celebratory club nights (I remember Bliss round 1989, lordy - the fun that was on a weekend) are remembered with a great deal of affection – if not always a great deal of detail. Other scenes, such those related by the crew running the Melbourne Diner, sound an absolute scream as do some of the later club nights such as Viva and The Bing Bong Rooms. Wisely the authors don’t loiter too long on the demise of the place, given the tangible feeling amongst all the contributors that something irreplaceable was lost with its closing.

Like many people who’d left the area, (my last gig there was in late 1992), I went back only to find the place had mysteriously dissolved into something else: it’s a gym or something nondescript now. In fact I couldn’t tell you what was where in that neck of town. Just like trying to retrace my 80s/90s footsteps in Manchester (Boardwalk, Hacienda), I get confused and stand on pavements on once familiar roads, wondering whether the new looking apartment block still has some bricks that haven’t been cleaned or repointed, ones that may hold some old memories. Tempus fugit? Tempus fuck it more like…

Oh well…

It’s no surprise that an attempt at writing a book review has just ended up as a part-confession, and not a very good one at that. Testament to the power of the venue and the enthusiasm and love it engendered: a love that has happily been captured in the pages of this book. Read it, it’s about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

*And a Puppy Fat fan to boot!

**I'm sure that 1989 Ian MacCulloch gig was at the Riverside not the Mayfair...


PPPS Best gig? A toss between the first Mercury Rev gig, and Galaxie 500, or that stunning Ride one from 1990. Or Gong 1991. Incredibly (to me, in hindsight, seeing I wasn't out of the place in late 1989) I missed Nirvana and am not ashamed to admit it. Oh, and who did Beck support? Any answers?