In the pantheon of great club venues, there are the obvious candidates: The Goldmine, The Haçienda, Legends, The Ministry Of Sound, Heaven, Cream.
But there’s another, less well known, but no less deserving candidate: The Leeds Warehouse. It’s not one that readily trips off the tongue, because it’s one of Britain’s best kept secrets. Yet it was among the first clubs in Britain to introduce mixing DJs to its programming and the first outside London to install a proper New York-style sound system – a full three years before the Haçienda opened. It was also one of the places a young DJ Sasha learned his trade. Over the years, it’s hosted innumerable great nights, from its legendary self-promoted Fridays and Saturdays in the 1980s, right through to Vague, Speedqueen, Technique and Asylum over the subsequent 20 years. Recently, in a fittingly circular move, Back II Basics moved to the Warehouse, after 20 years elsewhere. Leeds’ best venue and best club united, at last.
The couple behind the Warehouse was Mike and Denise Wiand who, prior to opening the club, had owned a successful string of hamburger joints in Yorkshire (the Warehouse was originally intended to be a Hard Rock-style café). Despite Mike Wiand’s American passport, the inspiration for the club came not from the Paradise Garage or Studio 54, but Marbella where the pair frequently holidayed in the ’70s. “We had friends that had apartments there and it was the hot place to go,” recalls Mike Wiand. “There was a club that we’d go to every night. It had a great dancefloor, a really good JBL system and they had really good Fibhorns. They also had mixing DJs which in Englad we didn’t. There were none. At that stage it was all talking DJs and 45s.”
Shortly before they opened the club, they met Greg James on a fact-fiding mission in London, through their lighting engineer Tony Gottelier. An American DJ and friend of Studio 54 resident Richie Kaczor, Greg James was the man who introduced mixing to the British Isles, importing the music and revolutionary style that had ignited the clubs of New York. He hit it off with Mike and Denise and headed up to West Yorkshire for the opening night. “It was just like the Embassy Club all over again,” chuckles James, recalling his first gig in England. “Same enthusiasm, people queuing down the street. You could do anything and they would love it. They had a ball up there. I DJed for about a year, playing four nights a week.”
Wiand imported another American jock, Danny Pucciarelli, after hearing him play at a Billboard convention in LA. Pucciarelli, who was reisdent at Brooklyn’s Nite Gallery, was astonished by his reception: “They had an unbelievable sound system, fabulous lights and the crowds… just awesome! They treated me like a star. They were so unused to mixing, the resident DJ had to tell them they can dance the first time I played. The response was overwhelming. I was the one in awe. I had to play twice a night like a band and the lines outside were around the block just to hear the Yankee play.”
Those early years were characterised by the club’s innovative approach which drew clubbers from all over Yorkshire, as well as Manchester, Teesside and beyond. Soft Cell’s Marc Almond manned the cloakroom (and also promoted some of the midweek nights). On the dancefloor were characters like Roxy, a Warehouse regular. “He had a plastic clear dress on, a hat and a cape,” explains James. “He had nothing on underneath so you could see straight through to his body. He looked like a fairy godmother. He used to turn up on a Saturday and do some really strange things. Smoke used to emit from under the stage and Roxy would squat over the hole where the smoke was coming from so it would look like it was coming from between his legs. And he would flap his wings so the smoke would swoosh around. We brought out all the eccentrics of west Yorkshire!”
Ian Dewhirst’s arrival at the club from his previous residency at the Central across town signalled the beginning of another era at the Warehouse, as disco crashed and a myriad styles vied to take its place. Dewhirst was a northern soul fan who’d DJed at Cleethorpes Winter Gardens and it was this connection that led to one of the biggest singles of the early ’80s. “We booked Q Tips to play so I thought I’d pull some soul stuff out,” recalls Dewhirst. “I brought the more accessible northern stuff out, so I could play it as people came in. I put on ‘Tainted Love’ and Marc Almond came rushing up. ‘What’s this record? I’ve got to know what this record is!’
‘It’s Gloria Jones’ ‘Tainted Love’.’
‘I’ve got to have a tape of it!’.” A few months later Almond’s group Soft Cell, had recorded their version.
Reflecting on its importance, Dewhirst is adamant that it easily held its own against the competition, even in the capital. “The nearest club that London had which compared to the Warehouse was probably the Embassy. Camden Palace was touted as a contender but never really did it for me; it was too cavernous and echoey. Whenever we got the London promotion guys visiting Leeds they were always blown away and you couldn’t keep some of ’em out of the DJ box. We prided ourselves on being upfront and bold with the music, so quite often the biggest records at the Warehouse were virtually unknown elsewhere, such as the SOS Band’s ‘Just Be Good To Me’, which was an immediate Warehouse No.1 on import but which slipped through the net just about everywhere else. I remember one night I put it on and there was a stampede of promo guys clamouring to know what it was. It got re-issued a few months later and became a UK hit. I honestly think that the Warehouse was instrumental in changing attitudes in Leeds and very influential in its time.”
The influence that the Warehouse had went far beyond the snaking queues down Somers Street of a weekend evening. Each successful club in a new area becomes a planet around which other businesses orbit. When Fabric first opened in 1999, the Smithfield area was barren. Now it’s jam-packed with bars, small clubs and restaurants. Thus it was in Leeds. Record shops sprang up, clothes stores opened and bars and restaurants catered for this newly found constituency. The knock-on effect was palpable. “The Warehouse already had the audience that the Haçienda was hoping to get when it opened but which never really materialised in its early years,” claims Dewhirst.
Its pre-eminence continued all the way through the 1980s, as hip hop made it on to wax and electro and house checked in. This time, its new young stars were a pair of local DJs: EASE and Boy Wonder, whose party, the Downbeat, became the focal point for a lot of the city’s best music and whose single, ‘Dextrous’ – under the name Nightmares On Wax – became one of the founding stones of the UK acid house explosion. “Saturday at the Warehouse was a hip crowd,” remembers clubber turned DJ Jolyon Green. “Lots of cool black kids, dressier white kids; a bit older and harder to get in. They played a broad range of black music, more hip hop, funk and disco but lots of US and some European house. Plus they used the mic a fair bit! It’s hard to believe now but they used to hype up the crowd using DJ patter. If you want to know what the Warehouse was like then listen to the first Nightmares On Wax LP; the grooves and samples are all very reminiscent of what got played.” The Warehouse was key to the genesis of the first album. There’s even a shot of the duo outside the club on the back of the album sleeve.
Although they eventually left, the club became a fortress for house music and the changes that occurred there also mirrored in other clubs around the north like the Haçienda. As the club became more chemically driven, so the number of black dancers declined. The atmosphere though, according to Green, was “amazing. Everyone off their tits. It was like being at a football match. Packed by 10.30pm. When a big tune came on the place would just erupt and hands would go in the air.”
The Warehouse was one of the places in which a young DJ called Sasha served his apprenticeship and built his reputation as a regular guest at Tony Hannon’s Soak, alongside Marshall and The Haçienda’s Mike Pickering. Musically different to its bigger brother KAOS (which often took place at the Corn Exchange), which was ravier. When Vague arrived in 1993, the house scene had splintered but its promoters brought with them a new sensibility that helped establish Leeds as one of the clubbing capitals of the UK.
It swiftly grew into one of the most talked about nights, its antics a regular fixture of the gossip pages in DJ and Mixmag. Although some were dimissive of the music, its approach was pure art school. “Vera’s Garden Party was a memorable one,” Paul Fryer told the 90s Dance Music blog. “We erected a marquee above the dancefloor and astroturfed the inside of the club. Vera Duckworth came and sang a medley of Stevie Wonder songs from a small cardboard boat whilst Nick and I moved waves on sticks. We were dressed as flies.” Tom Thorpe, whose own party Asylum moved there in the noughties remembers it as, “being really hard to get into. JoJo on the door would vet you and make you do weird things to prove you were worthy enough to enter. But once in, it was amazing. What i can only describe as a the Loveliest Freak Show Ever.” In Mixmag’s January 1995 issue, they declared, “the outrageous Vague helped make Leeds the clubbing destination of the year.” And they weren’t wrong.
The Vague baton was handed over impeccably to Speedqueen, another gay-friendly party, this time hosted by Kas Shaw and Vague’s Suzy Mason, which sailed into the noughties as one of the best clubs in the country, before ceasing (temporarily) in 2006. Despite the many memorable evenings, one of the residents Liam Frisco claims the re-opening in 2011 was the best night they’d ever had there. “We’d moved venues a few times, but I think it was the fact that the Warehouse had reopened and had a quality refurb that made the night really special. The regulars flooded back in force and the crowd was quality. The night sold out within a few hours something it’s continued to do since the re-launch.”
Although the Warehouse suffered at the turn of the noughties, as did many clubs, they still managed to pull some gems out of the bag. In 2007, Technique and Asylum moved there and began jointly promoting parties that captured something of the Ibizan atmosphere that was being generated on the White Isle by the likes of Circoloco and co. “We once put on Luciano and Magda which was amazing,” says Asylum’s Tom Thorpe. “I remember being in the DJ booth, particularly drunk, wrestling with Magda and drawing on one another with maker pens whilst Luciano was playing. He dropped some big record and the entire club sat on the floor DC 10-style. I’d never seen that in a British club before. It still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up thinking about it now.” Technique’s Jason Kilka recalls similar scenes at another Ibiza-related shindig. “The best night I had there was when we hosted a Circoloco party there with Clive Henry, Raresh and Pedro. It was one of first times they had playing in Leeds and Circoloco was huge so the place was packed. They played back to back and kept the venue full to the end of their set and then I had the honour – and challenge – of following them. Luckily though it was one of those sets where everything just works and the crowd were still jumping till the end. The highight was dropping Depeche Mode’s ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’ as last track to a worthy reception.”
Sadly, the Warehouse closed in 200???. It was reopened in May 2010. Today it is run by Jim Albentosa from Taking Liberties. Its longevity is due to a few factors, notably the fact that its original owner, Mike Wiand, got everything so right in the beginning. He provided a blank canvas through which people were able to express themselves. “It’s like if you build a church,” says Wiand. “You put pews in it, you put a pulpit in, you put a piano in, you have a choir, you have musicians, and you have a place to come and worship. It’s not about the building, minister or the choir. It’s about the people who come to worship. This is what the Warehouse became. I built a place with a great soundsystem, a great dancefloor, the first robotic lighting but it was about my customers. It was they, the kids of Leeds, that made it. It wasn’t me. It was a venue that people could come and express themselves.” And they did.
Greg’s greatest mix was the Bee Gee’s “Tragedy” into Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”. A work of art undoubtably in musical terms (same key in the transition which is brilliant by the way)
And that was considered a bit risque then 😳 To give the crowd their due they would enjoy Humanoid or Black Science Orchestra too. Vague (for me) didn’t have a particular ‘policy’ but was sometimes amazing, sometimes less so. The crowd were great though. It was one of those clubs that was less about music and more about party.
I actually preferred playing upstairs, which was very eclectic. I remember The Idjut Boys being very well received.
There was the one where they astroturfed the warehouse. The one with palm trees and Vera Duckworth (fact) as the guest and the last one was legendary.
I did play the Warehouse on a few occasions from the mid to late 80`s and vividly remember playing the very early house tracks in mid `85 which came in quickly and completely submerged Go Go which had a three to four month blossoming. I had some great nights at the Warehouse working for a promoter called Reece. And it was at the Warehouse a very young George Evelyn (a.k.a Nightmares On Wax) and I struck up our long friendship.