Wilde Club celebrates 20th anniversary

Emma LeeSome of them went on to become music legends. Others disappeared without a trace. The Wilde Club, run by Barry Newman and Ollie Redmayne, was responsible for bringing bands including Nirvana, Oasis and Coldplay to Norwich. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, a special gig is being held at Norwich Arts Centre on Saturday night. EMMA LEE finds out more.Emma Lee

'My autobiography would have to be called I Never Met Kurt Cobain,' says Barry Newman with a smile.

When the music promoter booked the up and coming grunge bands Nirvana and Tad to play a Wilde Club show at Norwich Arts Centre in October 1989, he had no inkling that one of them would go on to become a music legend.

'Kurt Cobain was just another singer in another band,' he says of the group's tragic frontman.

Indeed, despite putting on the show Barry didn't even see Nirvana in action.

'On that evening I didn't get to see them because they were supporting Tad. They were on tour together and would alternate who headlined. I was running the box office, which was open until just before the headline band came on, so I would have heard them through the door.

'The thing I remember about that gig is that I'd booked a band called Brain Drain 69 - they were Norwich's first grunge band - as support, but they didn't turn up. Two of the band paid to come in and it turned out they had split up - I do wonder what they think about that now. I hope they think it was just one of those things and don't regret it,' he says.

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The first Wilde Club gig was held on January 17, 1989. On Saturday night, 20 years to the day and hundreds of gigs later, a special show at Norwich Arts Centre will mark the milestone anniversary.

Headlined by the hotly tipped trio The Joy Formidable, the show features Norwich band the Bardots, who played the very first Wilde Club, and who are re-forming especially for the occasion. Two more city bands, F-Dress and Fever Fever, complete the line-up.

The Wilde Club's music policy was simple - Barry and fellow promoter Ollie Redmayne, who joined the Wilde Club in 1992, would only book the bands they liked, resulting in an eclectic and exciting mix of talent on the bill. Some bands who played, such as Oasis, Coldplay, Snow Patrol and Muse, went on to top the charts. Others disappeared without a trace - such as the Ludicrous Lollipops, who played the first Wilde Club show Ollie was involved in ('we pulled in 200 people,' says Ollie. 'It was the biggest gig I had done').

And then there were the ones which got away - the Wilde Club turned down the Stone Roses and the Manic Street Preachers. But Barry has no regrets.

'We only booked bands we were fans of. And I still think the Stone Roses only have one good song,' he says.

Barry started putting on gigs to enable him to see the bands he had heard on John Peel's radio show play live. 'Without Peel's impact on my life, there would have been no Wilde Club,' he says of the much-missed DJ.

'In 1987 I went to be a volunteer at Norwich Arts Centre. There were no indie bands getting booked at that point,' Barry recalls.

'I heard a band called King of the Slums on John Peel's show. It was a single called the Pennie Spitter and it was brilliant - there was something very different about the band. I really wanted to see them, and I thought to myself that it couldn't be that difficult to put on a gig.

'I spoke to Pam Reekie, the then director of Norwich Arts Centre, and she encouraged me. I got in touch with the band through the record label and they were the first band I booked. At that point it was known as Baz McHat Promotions - that's what I called the gigs in 1988. The first two gigs got about 60 people in, which wasn't bad and it gave me the confidence to continue. In the autumn of that year I spoke to Pam about doing weekly gigs.'

And early in 1989, the Wilde Club (the name is in deference to Barry's hero Morrissey and the Smiths), launched, with 14 Iced Bears, Catapult and Shine playing alongside the Bardots.

For three years the Wilde Club was a one-man show, with Barry booking the bands - it was no mean feat to track bands down and book them pre-internet and MySpace, wading through demo tapes to decide which local acts to put on and making the publicity posters himself.

But for Barry, who has battled severe depression for more than 20 years, including a two-year stay at Hellesdon hospital, music is his 'lifeline'.

'We were always keen to put on good local bands, appropriate to the main bands. It helped us because often we were booking bands who were not really big enough for the arts centre, but the support bands would bring their friends with them,' Barry says.

And any money that the Wilde Club gigs made was put into record releases, which helped local bands reach a wider audience.

The Bardots caused NME scribe Simon Williams to coin the phrase 'janglier in Anglia', after appearing on a Baz McHat flexi-disc and a 12-inch single on Wilde Club Records and went on to sign to the Che label.

('It's really terrific of them to put all this time and effort in for this one gig, and I'm absolutely delighted that 20 years on they're back on a Wilde Club bill,' Barry says.)

Wilde Club Records also put out the first two EPs by Yarmouth band Catherine Wheel, who went on to international recognition.

'I got this demo tape from a Yarmouth band. I listened to it, thought it was good. A lot of the time I didn't have time to listen to a demo tape twice. But the second time I listened to it I found myself nodding along. I rang the band up to offer them a gig, which turned out to be their first ever gig - a support slot to the Bardots. I released two EPs by them, then they attracted a lot of interest from the majors and then went to Fontana,' Barry says.

Ollie kept the Wilde Club running during Barry's stay in hospital in the mid 1990s. It was around that time that the Britpop scene gathered momentum, with the likes of Echobelly, Ash and a certain band called Oasis playing Wilde Club shows.

'Oasis were remarkably polite young men,' Ollie remembers. 'But it was a chaotic night. It was rather sad, really. I remember putting up the sold out sign, and having to turn one poor soul away.

'Even then Oasis knew how to put on a good show. Things did get a bit rock and roll at the end of the night,' he says.

Other memorable gigs over the years have included My Bloody Valentine, Ash, Inspiral Carpets and the Lemonheads.

'It was amazing to hear a band on the radio and think 'we'll put them on',' Ollie says.

'I used to help out bands by letting them kip on my floor after the show - one of the bands which stayed at mine was called Smash. It was weird to see them on Top of the Pops a couple of weeks later.'

And while the name Terris might not mean much to you, you'll definitely recognise their support band - Coldplay.

'Terris had been tipped by the NME to be the next big thing,' Barry remembers. 'And then Coldplay were announced as tour support. By the time they played they had had their first top 40 single and it was obvious they were going to go on to be pretty huge. Chris Martin came up to me and specially thanked me for putting them on. He was so humble. It was something I will never forget,' he says.

Tickets for Saturday's Wilde Club 20th anniversary gig at Norwich Arts Centre cost �5 in advance from the box office (01603 660352) or Soundclash Records in St Benedict's Street and �6 on the night. Doors open at 8pm.

THE BARDOTS

EDP columnist Simon Dunford's band, The Bardots, were on the bill at the very first Wilde Club gig 20 years ago and are reforming especially for Saturday night's anniversary gig. He tells us why the Wilde Club was so important to Norwich's music scene -

The Wilde Club was what we had all been waiting for.

If you are in a band, you want to be part of a 'scene'.

Camaraderie, healthy competition (okay, backbiting), somewhere to meet on a wet Tuesday night - a scene brings all of these things.

It also brings the one thing every musician craves: record company interest.

Without Barry Newman's Wilde Club, my old band The Bardots would never have left our bedrooms. Barry had a talent for spotting talent and gave promising local bands the chance to hone their craft by supporting the tsunami of national acts he lured to Norwich.

We were one of those promising local bands and, with Barry's invaluable support, we were to become a national act.

From Wilde Club the club grew Wilde Club the label, and this became the vehicle for our first couple of releases. John Peel picked them up and played them on his cult Radio 1 show. The blue touch paper was lit…

Norwich might as well have been the moon as far as London-based A&R men were concerned, but sure enough they started turning up at our Wilde Club gigs. And eventually we signed a record deal.

The Bardots never quite hit the big time, but we got to make a bunch of records, performed in every dive from Newcastle to New York, and had an unreasonable amount of fun. One of my happiest memories of Barry's Wilde nights at Norwich Arts Centre was being waved in for free once we had reached a certain level of success. This made us feel like big-shots. We knew that our star - never the brightest in the galaxy - had waned when we had to start paying the �3 entrance fee again.