Club Skinny

Snogging on the dancefloor

The Story

Club Skinny was conceived on a double decker bus whilst traveling south bound over Waterloo Bridge in London on a freezing cold January afternoon in 1995. Not unlike Romo, nobody can remember where the bus was headed or why they were on board, but it felt as if they were headed somewhere at the time. Kevin and Hi-Fi were already beginning to tire of the new Britpop phenomenon and felt the need to champion glamour and pop music over workmanlike retro guitar indie conformity/conservatism. Although excited by the idea Kevin and Hi-Fi did not act at once, but let the idea gestate. Sarah Cusack who was Hi-Fi's girlfriend at the time was also a founder of Club Skinny, but soon in classic Sarah style, she tired of the mechanics of running a night club and decided to play host and exhibitionist instead where she would get far more of the attention she rightly deserved.

All of the figures who would make up the Romo scene were in London, but few of them knew each other at this point, it would be another 6 months before that began to happen.

A hunt for an appropriate venue slowly began and just by luck, Kevin knew of a guy who worked behind the bar at pub venue in Camden called the Laurel Tree, that was to be the 'in' to securing a Central London venue. After some delicate negotiation and agreement to pay the 30 pound a night venue hire fee the two budding promoters had secured Thursday nights.

Apart from the coup of securing a prime location in Camden widely regarded as the centre of the U.K.s music industry the venue had the added significance of being the same venue as the highly publicized Blow Up the mod/Britpop indie club attended by Blur and others. It felt very subversive to be launching the glamour revolution right under the noses of the Britpop establishment, the very people that Kevin and Hi-Fi set out to overthrow.

The necessary arrangements were made and the opening night took place on April 4th 1995 and about 40 people turned up to watch Bunty chunks (a zappa-eqsue female fronted avant garde pop band), Xerox Girls (Who also happened to be Hi-Fi's band) and Gouge from Wales who included Marika who was late to become a face on the scene. It was a fun enough evening, but no-one had any idea at that time of what the club would become. Every week the club was a touch and go affair due to the volatile, and not particularly friendly, landlady Ann also seemed to be on the verge of cancelling Club Skinny due to poor bar sales and her arbitrary mood swings. Somehow she never did. Numerous problems plagued the club as it tried to find its feet. P.A. sound system not turning up, double bookings, and bands that claimed they would bring coach loads of beer guzzling fans pulling three paying punters were among the setbacks that occurred. A call from Camden Council threatening closure of the Laurel Tree as the penalty for Kevin and Hi-Fi's over-zealous fly poster campaign promoting the club. Somehow the club survived these growing pains.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the club become more popular each week and by June people began turning up on a regular basis, these included:

Chesca, Becca and Liz
who were affectionately referred to as the banana bunch (much to their irritation) because they would turn up every week with huge plastic toy bananas which were used to smuggle in vodka or what ever else they wanted to drink that night without paying the exorbitant bar prices.

Viva
who after playing a gig in May struck up a friendship with Kevin Wilde (Kevin was later to become their manager). It was during June 1995 that the club began to have its own vibe, personality and energy.

Rose and Blossom
who initially came to see there boyfriends play in Soda. For some reason, they decided to keep coming back.

Jessica
who always looked great - definitely one of Romo's best dressed people and she can definately take some credit for helping create the Romo style.

Sarah
who by this point was already securing her rightful place as hell raiser and exhibitionist numero uno on the scene.

Kevin
who was later amusingly referred to later as a Yorkshire glamorpuss and Hi-Fi who was later referred to as a Heathrow Wheeler Dealer.

Both Dex and Plastics had visited the club at this point and were to become regulars in the coming weeks.

Kevin and Hi-Fi managed to book increasingly well known unsigned bands including Lick and Soda who were both going to be the next big thing at the time.

What is interesting at this point is that Kevin and Hi-Fi's initial efforts to indoctrinate people who came to the club with pop music were met with little enthusiasm so with until this point they had comprised on the play list. They were forced to play in Powder, Blur and Fluffy in order to keep the clientele happy and make sure they came back for more. Although fully paid up members of the 'learn as you go' school of club promotion, Kevin and Hi-Fi were smart enough to realize there was no point in having a manifesto if your club was empty.

It was around this time in June that Kevin and Hi-fi started to become a little more explicit with there agenda encouraged by the fact they had regulars who were more receptive one night passing trade they had had up until that point. Slowly moving on from Powder, Pulp and Fluffy the new crowd not only were happy to dance to Roxy Music and Duran Duran much to Kevin and Hi-Fi's delight they wanted more!

It was around this time that two talented and disaffected journalists seemed to who were also championing acts that went against the grain by sporting a more glamorous approach. Somehow Taylor and Simon came to the attention of Kevin and Hi-Fi and somehow Club Skinny came to the attention of them.

Stuart from Plastic Fantastic half knew Simon Price and slowly out of the vapor the scene started to weave itself together. One of those magical things that no one designs, yet is perfectly formed.

~Romo the new zeitgeist~

The next landmark event in the clubs development was August 17th 1995 widely regarded as the birth date of Romo. Few people disagree with this. Double headliner - Plastic Fantastic and DexDexTer with Melody Makers Simon Price who had agreed with Kevin a few weeks earlier to DJ. Kevin had chanced upon DexDexTer's demo tape 4 weeks earlier which was manner form from heaven and had more than captured his imagination. Hi-Fi had tracked down Brighton's Plastic Fantastic after a tip off from Polly Coomber who was working in A&R at PolyGram Island Publishing at the time.

The atmosphere was electric and the Laurel Tree was packed to the rafters, there was incredible sense of excitement and nobody who was there was unaffected by it. Most of who would become the leading figures although a few important last minute additions had yet to arrive.

Everyone would attended Club Skinny will have there own recollections of that magical summers evening. Here is mine.

Aug 17 was a hot sticky summer evening in London. crowds and crowds of people began to descend on the Laurel Tree and the small venue was nearly sold out by the time the doors opened at 9pm which was a first, normally only 20-30 people would arrive in the first hour or so. Normally Skinny not get busy until the pubs in Camden began emptying out at 11pm. From very early on it was obvious the evening was going to be a huge success. All the regular faces began turning up and I remember Chesca wearing a sensational outfit with included plastic toy medical instruments attached to her with safety pins.

It was interesting to see how everyone would dress at little more outrageously and a little more glamorously with every passing week until Aug 17 when the floodgates seemed to open and it became a free for all with everyone trying to out do each other with the most outrageous, original, unique and attention grabbing outfit.

At one point it looked as if the live performances wouldn't even take place. First the P.A. sound system was nearly two hours late arriving and then on top of that Plastic Fantastic and the soundman managed to upset each other to the extent that the soundman just walked of into the night and was never seen again. I remember Conrad Toop, the keyboard player from Plastics explaining to me what had happened. Fortunately due to the camaraderie that seems to exist between the promoters Sean (later to become the Lo-Fidelity Allstars manager) who promoted a band night called the Starfish Club at the Dublin Castle round the corner agreed to bail us out by lending us his soundman. The night was saved, and perhaps Romo itself? was saved.

By the time Dex took the stage the place was buzzing like a beehive on speed. They stunned everyone with their originality, quirkiness and animated performance. Every song got a massive reception and people were cheering and shouting with excitement, the atmosphere was electric.

I remember as everyone was filing out from the Dex show to get some air, a sweaty and flustered Adrian Webb who was Menswear's manager at the time flopped out of the venue out gasped 'Wow! DexDexTer are brilliant, we going to release a single by them through Island records. Strangely enough, although entirely unconnected, Dex ended signing to Island 6 months later via Geoff Travis's Trade Too label which was an Island subsidiary.

It was quite late by the time Plastics took to the stage, but they too rose to the occasion, people were literally hanging off the ceiling. Funnily enough, as well as recognizing some of the songs from the demo they gave me, I also remember instantly the songs I had never heard of before the next day they were very catchy. I still have they demo Stuart Plastics gave me in July 95; I'm going to MP3 it and post it up at the site here when I have chance.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who remembers Sarah's 'contribution' to the plastics show. About half way thru the set she was somehow suddenly onstage holding the microphone and bawled 'everything is boring, the only thing that isn't boring is my cunt'. Stuart, who looked fantastic in the black patent stiletto sling backs he was wearing, stood amazed along with the rest of the band and the crowd as Sarah lifted her Alice in Wonderland style dress to reveal the magic wand she had been carrying round evening which was now clearly visible sticking out from her pussy. I don't whether she attempted to cast any spells using that particular wand holding technique, but she certainly made an impression on everyone who was there.

Plastics had incredible style and on top of the catchy tunes were visually stunning; they were also uncommonly good looking with Stuart later declared the sexiest man in Romo with Del from Viva a close second.

The moment Plastics left the stage Simon Price was poised behind the turntables and launched into his first record of the evening. Rather than file out for air as they did after the Dex performance the crowd filled the dance floor swept away by the sounds of Planet Earth by Duran Duran, another defining moment in Romo.


I remember afterwards Conrad telling me that although he was an accomplished keyboard player he preferred to play with one finger because it has more panache, integrity and charm. I also remember hanging out in a tiny room (I think it was a decommissioned toilet) with Ax who was plucking on an electric bass that wasn't plugged in and Sarah asking him to fling her tampon out of the window, I don't remember whether or not he obliged.

I also remember eaves dropping on a conversation between Kevin and Taylor who were discussing the merits of different shades of lipstick. I remember Taylor was foppishly wearing a cravat was more than doing his part to help make the club look good, I was momentarily introduced to Taylor and although was the first time I had ever met him it was obvious he had no trouble attracting women, he just had that magnetism.

August 17th had been by far the most successful night Club Skinny so far and it seemed Kevin and Hi-Fi's decision to move to a larger venue had been timed perfectly. One last week at the Laurel Tree passed uneventfully due to the fact it took place the night before Reading Festival and the club reopened at its new location The H.Q. Club on Camden lock on August 31st.

The night was to be another milestone in the unfolding Romo story. Simon Price was proving his DJing services in return for a bottle of Malibu along with Stuart who while still based in Brighton was literally living in London often sleeping at Kevin's house. Elcka who were a moderately popular pulp-esque indie band were headlining for a princely sum of 400 pounds with Viva in support. Desperate for the move to a bigger venue to be a success Kevin and Hi-Fi promoted the new opening relentless with endless phone calls and an ad in Melody Maker. They also distributed 20,000 flyers in the 6 weeks leading up to the big night.

By the time, the doors were due to open at 9pm there were already 200 people queuing to get in and by 9.30pm the night was already sold out and the door staff was operating a one in - one out policy. By 11pm as well as the club being full to capacity there were still around 150 people trying to get in. It was pandemonium. Quite why the club exploded the way it did is hard too say, but from that on Club Skinny alongside Smashing was the biggest club of its kind in London until Arcadia came along.

Aug 31st also heralded the arrival of Orlando on the scene. Both Tim and Dickon had seen the Club Skinny adverts in Melody Maker and finally decided to Subsequently, Kevin received a wonderful hand written letter from Orlando saying Club Skinny was the first club where they really felt at home. Just about everybody who ever attended Club Skinny or Arcadia will tell you, the atmosphere was incredibly friendly and accepting although some people who didn't attend got the impression from the press that Romo was aloof and elitist. Every week people who came to Skinny or Arcadia for the first time would express their surprise at how friendly the atmosphere was.

To this day I still have an image of Stuart Plastics standing on stage next to the DJ decks swigging from the bottle of Malibu Simon was graciously sharing with him while Planet Earth was blaring out to a packed dance floor.

It was at that precise moment I knew Romo had arrived.

 
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