A Memory of the Catacombs.
By Nige Carter
please read the other stories at the bottom of the page
The beat can be heard, faintly throught the summer night air, even from 'The Pied Bull pub on the corner of temple street.
On A Wave of excitement barely contained, we hurry towards a sign of purple & white which juts out from a buildinghalfway down the road,"CATACOMBS CLUB" it reads, (the perspex broken in its metal frame). Through the wooden outer doors with their grimy glass panels, and up two flights of stairs we go, passing graffiti homage to "The Torch"
(complete with crudely drawn logo). At the first floor the beat gets louder still as we pass through another door into the club itself.To the right is an area to quickly deposit coats, then paying admission at the kiosk (my pink membership card newly encased in plastic after discoveryof it's predecessor's sweaty demise!), we enter Wolverhampton's own heaven of Rare Soul.
The eerie sound of SAXIE RUSSELL'S intro to Psychedelic Soul echoing down the long corridors of The Catacomb's will stay in my memory for a long time. A Hot sticky summer night in 1973 will find us here again, home from home. Along painted black walls. on high backed, black wooden benches the exhausted sit a while to recover and, perhaps chat about 'Sounds' - the common denominator of the North - swapping tales of rare disc's heard and dreamt of.throught he arches and nearer to the dancefloor, a larger crowd gathers,for 'The Cats is first and foremost a place to dance, and here, under low, dark rafters frosted with condensation, dimly lit by the glow from the DJ booth, and a few coloured lightbulbs, they dance well.
"The DJ played Psycedelic Soul.He hit the floor and lost control......."
To either side, fire exits are propped open with house bricks and allow in a welcome breeze. Couples sit outside on the fire escape stairs, made (bizarrly) from timber, while a few characters down in the yard dance 'al fresco', clapping and yelling along with the music.Back at the bar, guys buying pint pots of orange squash abandon them on the nearest flat surface as another favorite record is spun -- SUPERLATIVES, BOB RELF, MOSES SMITH, NOLAN CHANCE, GLORIES, CINDY SCOTT, SWEET THINGS... lost Soul for lost souls.PEP, MAX, GRAHAM WARR, and BASIL have it covered.The sounds come on sttrong & fast -- DOTTIE CAMBRIDGE, OTIS SMITH, HESITATIONS, LOU JOHNSON, VELOURS ... all are received by whoops of recogition and outbreaks of communal clapping in just the right places!
Who cares what time it is? - the windows are painted over and the outside world is forgotten. Time to dance is all that's needed here.Words seem inadequate to discribe the mood. ther'es a happy feeling afoot - an atmosphere of determined " good times " and one hell of a soulful vibe crackles around the corridors like a banshee.
Later, when it's over, I Wring out my cotton shirt onto the pavement outside and the sounds of soul vibrate in my ears all the way home. I can still hear them thirty years later, cause 'The Cats' was a great scene and an unforgettable part of my own Soul experience. My own Cat's experience.
Saturday would always start with an afternoon drink in Wolverhampton's 'The Tavern in the Town' the pub by the famous man on the horse. A few years later we would go to the 'Octopus' by the Civic Hall where we could hear the sounds at saturday lunchtime.We would stay for A while (til 3 pm), when we would proceed to Lipton's Cafe where the giant escalator needed to be negotiated before tea, cakes, & deals could be done.
A quick tour of the shops for a new pair of shoes, shirt, trousers, or a bottle of brut, then catch the bus home for a quick bath, and change. Full of butterflies in anticipation of the night ahead. I would leave home at about 8.30 pm with my mates on the 98 bus from Low Hill to town. 'Our Group' headed down to Temple Street, notorious in itself for the 'Gang' on the other side of the street popular site 'The Rollerdrome'. Into the small doorway under the broken purple & white sign, a short wait on the two flights of stone stairs, to the enterance at the top. First past the cloakroom, then past the doorman to pay in.
The music, echoing down the corridors in the early , more emptier time of the evening. We pick up some drinks from the bar, and make our way down the low arched brick tunnels to the dancefloor. the area was already full of people dancing in their favorite spots. we put our drinks onto a table and hit the floor. There were guy's cartwheeling,
another ran up the wall and then flipped backwards onto the floor,
all the others doing thier own thing, spinning, kicking, all very individual, but all with a common beating rhythm.
There were guy's backdropping, girls spinning, and some couples doing thier own set dances to thier best tracks. The floor area was skirted by an 'L shaped stage', an which some dancers would bob and dance in unision making sure they did'nt jump too high by the even lower roof. It was simply out of this world, in a word 'MINDBLOWING'.
This is where I wanted to be, the whole place and atmosphere gave out such a buzz, and the 'crowd would introduce themselves and you would become a great friend (thier Brother) who they trusted whatever.
There was a second tunnel running parallel to the first from the dancefloor to the 'gents' and the two tunnels were joined by narrow archways, the archway nearest the dancefloor housed the DJ's.
By the time 11pm had arrived the place was a hot teeming mass of high energy - so hot and crowded the exit door would be opened, and some would head down the wooden stairs to dance in the courtyard to try to cool down! The place would become so hot condensation would drip down the black washed walls as if the 'Cat's itself was sweatin'. I remember on the final All-nighter the heat and condensation was so bad the paint would peel off the walls if you touched them, and the bouncing from the floor caused the water droplets formed on the ceiling would be shook off and it was like dancing in the rain. As the club filled up and due to the lack of space on the floor the dance routines became a bit more simple. Sometimes when we went when it was quiet (wed nights) we would all try to dance like sombody who had a dance we admired and try to do things to modify our own style of dance, something I still enjoy today.
But alas this is all now a distant memory, but I hope these words (although impossible) go some way to explaining what a thrill, and exciteing experience it was, and how unforgettable, and a brilliant place The Catacombs was when it was Buzzing..
Never to be forgotten Nige.
History of the Cat's.
It was July 13th 1974 that saw the closing of the Catacombs.
Situated in a semi-derelict building in Temple street Wolverhampton the venue became a focal point for lovers of the Rhythm'n'soul sound. The place was unforgettable, the most amazing atmospheric and ideal location imaginable.
Powerful beats echoing down bare brick tunnels like trains rushing down a mineshaft, the home of underground dance.
The music of young black America, ignored or copied by british artists on first release, was finally getting the recognition it deserved. Made for dancing, it quickly became the choice for another 60's innovation 'the discotheque.
Night clubs installed record turntables and young entrepreneurs brought portable equipment and took the show on the road. The Disc Jockey's of the day quickly realized that a great number of dance tunes had already been released in the UK, in the hope of repeating their stateside success. The search had begun, in earnest for yesterdays commercial flops, to play alongside the best new releases. We who found and 'played it first' was king.
A club owner with the insight decided in 1967 to get a few such 'kings' together under one roof.. that roof covered the Catacombs. Virtually always the first to play the dance hits of the day, it became a magnet for the followers nationwide.
There were several successions to the DJ throne over the years, but the object was always the same: quality soul music that makes you want to move …. Slow or fast, sweet or gritty, vocal or instrumental. Unreleased imports and studio masters and studio masters of immense rarity and value inevitably became necessary to keep the venue in front - a place it stayed until closure in 1974.
The legacy left to music and dance by the Catacombs should not be forgotten. It was not tainted by the commercialism of the record industry and led a scene devoted to the promotion of obscure artists, songwriters and musicians who produced musical works of merit and originality. Many such artists have gone on to become major stars, following this initial exposure.
The first DJ of note to play at the venue was on Alan 'S' Smith, whowas prompted usurped by the area's then biggest name 'Farmer' Carl Dene. Alan 'S' was soon joined by 'Major' Robert Crocker - a combination which soon proved too powerful for the management to resist. The boundless enthusiasm and energy of this pair traveling far and wide in search of 'the sound' kept the venue well ahead. It was on such a foray that 'Bob Crocker met his untimely death, leaving a shaken Alan 'S' to continue on his alone. He was subsequently joined by 'Blue Max' and (for a short spell) Froggy.
The Catacombs closed briefly in 1972 for refitting by new owners Astra Entertainment and it emerged with a lick of paint, and an extended dance floor, but the same inimitable atmosphere. Resident DJ's were Alan 'S', and Blue Max, with support from 'Pep', and Graham Warr. By this time, unreleased American imports were the order of the day and the tempo was heartbeat. A specific format, albeit with broad parameters, had now been created and the tag 'Northern' dubiously added.
This specialision led to a split from the burgeoning nightclub scene, whilst remaining popular in hotels and youth clubs. Pep was formally added to the Dj roster in 1973, and Alan 'S' was replaced by Alan Day (from Burton on Trent) for a short while, leaving just Pep & Blue Max on the grid to the final lap. The club closed on a high note with the hottest All-Nighter on record and an attendance with double the legal limit.
There were many live artists and celebrity appearances, including - Jackie Lee, Fontella Bass, and Mike Raven. The Catacombs achieved a surprising level of success, stature and notoriety considering it's modest size and earlyclosing time of 12.30 am. This, in the main contributed to it's downfall by rendering it vulnerable to competition from All-night dances like at the Wheel, Torch, and Wigan, to which it finally succumbed.
Ian Gibbons emailed with this info to add to the article...mant thanks Ian
DAVE CAN I PUT YOU RIGHT ON A FEW POINTS FIRST OF ALL THE 67 CLUB WAS IN PIPERS ROW ABOUT A MILE AWAY FROM TEMPLE ST , I SHOULD KNOW I WAS THE RESIDENT JOCK THERE ( THE BARRON) FOR YOUR INFO THE CLUBS IN TEMPLE ST WERE THE CATACOMBS ( UPSTAIRS RES JOCKS PEP AND BLUE MAX )THE PINK ELEPHANT OPPOSITE THE ROLLERDROME ( RES JOCK MYSELF ( THE BARRON) I AGREE WITH YOU THE CATS WAS A DUMP BUT THAT DARKNESS GAVE THE PLACE ATMOSPHERE .JUST TO GIVE YOU THE LOW-DOWN ON THE 67 IT WAS OWNED BY CLIFF SPENCE ( DAUGHTER WENDY REAL LOOKER !!)MOST OF THE CLIENTELE WERE WEST INDIAN AS IT WAS PRIMARILY A REGGAE VENUE I TOOK OVER TO INCREASE THE CROWDS AND THAT'S WHEN WE OPENED TUESDAYS TO BRING IN NAME GROUPS AND BIG CROWDS . MY BEST MEMORY WAS THE NIGHT I MET THE FOUR TOPS . THEY HAD BEEN PLAYING AT THE GAUMONT I HAD JUST RECEIVED A WHITE LABEL OF THAT'S THE WAY NATURE PLANNED IT , THEY WALKED IN FRONT OF THE STAGE AND DID AN IMPROMPTU VERSION CROWD WENT BALLISTIC ! . HAD A GREAT MEAL WITH THEM AFTERWARDS IN THE RESTAURANT ( GREAT CHEF CALLED PASCAL DID A CHILLI FRY BEEF YOU WOULD KILL FOR)THERE WAS ALSO A CLUB ACROSS THE ROAD FROM THE 67 WHERE I WORKED FROM TIME TO TIME CALLED DOWNSTAIRS AT FRASERS ( GOOD ATMOSPHERE SOUL JAZZ REGGAE)IF YOU NEED ANY INFO PLEASE MAIL ME ALWAYS GLAD TO KEEP THE FAITH
IAN (SCOTTY (THE BARRON) )GIBBONS
"Cats" was/is probably my all-time ever
second most favorite N/S venue.When you were inside it was hard to remember that you had actually gone
upstairs to get there rather than down. The atmosphere was what did it
for me, very "personal" was Cats, stuffy, sweaty and in summer unbearably hot but always a brilliant night.
Ten "Bluies" and dance till it closed, Christ! no wonder I only weighed 9st wet through!!!
On several occasions we needed to "borrow" a motor to get there, this was done via a very accommodating car hire company in Hitchin. The door to their office had a large glass panel and a letter box at low level.
Punters returning cars/vans would simply post the keys through the letterbox for collection by the staff on Monday mornings. On Saturday nights there were plenty to choose from. Using a length of wire we would "fish" for keys through the letterbox
and then go in search of the motors bearing the reg number on the key tag, these were parked in a secluded car park at the rear of the shop. We'd usually take two or three sets of keys and pick the most inauspicious motor so as not to arouse too much suspicion from the Old Bill, and post the others back. Memorise the details on the hire docs in
case we were stopped and orff we jolly well went :)) We usually got the motor back on Sunday afternoons with an extra 200 or
so extra miles on the clock I guess there must have been loads of real heated arguments about
finishing mileage between hirer and staff in the office later in the week that served to cause the hire company to review their return arrangements. That and the speeding ticket we picked up outside Brum one Sunday morning when my mate gave the legit hirers name and address then left the "producer" and the ticket in with the hire docs in the glove
I'm delighted I found your site as I'm researching for a book that a friend is writing concerning Wolverhampton. In particular the emergence of the music scene and club scene from late 60's on. My friends father owned Dix night club on temple street back in the early seventies along with people like cliff Spence etc.
In particular I would like to contact Ian Gibbons as I now know from your site that he was the res Dj at club 67 which I'm interested in because Bob Marley etc played there and he could help with background info.
Please could you pass this email on to Ian for me and ask him if it would be possible to contact me. Also if you have any stories of those clubs in particular I would love to hear them.
Many thanks for your website was a real find!!
Leigh conners firstname.lastname@example.org