Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

So what got us in a spin in Belfast's 80's club scene?

Ahead of a big reunion party this weekend, Belfast Telegraph writers Maureen Coleman (left) and Helen Carson recall the heady nights at The Delta and The Plaza clubs where they got their teenage kicks

Former punks Dawn and Helen back in the day

Back in the dark days of 1980s Belfast, when the city’s streets were no-go zones at night, two clubs were a haven for the disenfranchised youth.

The Delta and The Plaza, which were originally aimed at the city’s gay community, became the favourite haunt of punks, goths, mods, psychobillies and bohemian types. The members-only nightspots were a mecca for music-loving teenagers growing up in a troubled province.

From the Clash to the Cramps, The Blow Monkeys to Bauhaus, all tastes were catered for.

Now, the glory days of those much-loved venues are to be celebrated with a reunion party at the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast this weekend.

The reunion was the brainchild of Gavin Bloomer, Patricia Prosser and Lyndon Stephens. Bloomer was a nightclub promoter and DJ in the city during the 1980s and 1990s, and Stephens is still behind the decks.

>> In Video: Helen Carson reports on Belfast Delta/Plaza clubs reunion night

Bloomer’s recently launched Facebook page 'My Jeans Got Bogging at the Delta and then at the Plaza' has proved to be something of a phenomenon with over 500 members to date.

“All you needed for a good night out was a carry-out,” says Bloomer.

“Some of the best tunes in the city were played there with everything from punk to pop and northern soul. Sectarianism was left at the door as you lost yourself in a haze of cider and hairspray.

“What you've also got to remember is that back then this part of Belfast was a no-go area after dark. It was a world away from the Cathedral Quarter we're familiar with now. And it’s fair to say that many prominent figures in the city’s creative community emerged from the scene at the Delta and the Plaza.”

Tickets for the event are now sold out.

Writers Helen Carson and Maureen Coleman recall their memories of the nightclubs that moulded their youth.

Maureen Coleman - The delta: where we all were the ‘in’ crowd

Long before the skate-boarders and art students took up residence in Writer’s Square, the Delta nightclub in Lower Donegall Street was the meeting place for many of Belfast’s youth.

It may have been dark and dirty, with gum-covered sofas and beer-splashed floors, but for those who frequented it every weekend during the early and mid-1980s, it was something of a second home.

The Delta began life as a gay club but soon became a sanctaury of sorts for music fans from across the city. And it didn’t matter where you came from, or what type of music you were into, the Delta welcomed everyone with open arms.

When it sadly closed down to make way for an open space opposite St Anne’s Cathedral, those of us who hung out there decamped a short distance up Donegall Street, to the Plaza nightclub.

What both lacked in salubrious surroundings, they made up for in atmosphere and a cool underground clubbing-type vibe. Its members were fashion-forward and free-thinking and it was always, always about the music.

I first started going to the Delta as a young mod in the early 1980s. Every Saturday afternoon, we would congregate at the Delta for a few hours of good tunes from the Small Faces to Northern Soul. In the darkness, when we had packed up and gone home, the city’s punks and goths would emerge, vampire-like, for a night of drinking and dancing.

Neither club boasted a bar. Instead punters brought carry-outs to the Delta and the Plaza. And forget tables and chairs — those unfortunate, or maybe fortunate, enough to miss out on sticky sofas, stood around beer barrels, downing their cider and warm beer.

When I landed a place on a journalism course, I made the decision to leave my mod days behind and to adopt a more up-to-date approach to style. Though I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it, I looked to the likes of Swing Out Sister and Pepsi and Shirley for inspiration — wearing puff ball skirts, stripy kneesocks, and Doc Marten shoes.

It might sound ghastly now, but back then, in the mid-80s, I considered myself fairly cool, with my edgy haircut and red lipstick.

I can still remember my first foray into the Delta as a non-mod. It was a scary experience. I’d always felt comfortable with my mod squad behind me, but this was completely foreign.

There were punks with mohicans in one corner and psychobillies sporting checked shirts and quiffs in another. Goth types in long black attire and pale faces danced to the Cult and The Cure, alongside beat boys in cycling shorts and bandanas, throwing shapes to Curiosity Killed The Cat. It didn’t seem to matter how you looked or what sound you were into, everybody danced together. That was one of the great joys of both clubs — they were an education in music of all genres.

I remember the hairspray and smoke as I tentatively stepped into unknown territory that first night. But I loved it and became a regular visitor to the club.

And when it shut, we all just took ourselves up the road to the nearby Plaza — and it became the new cool hang-out.

There are certain songs I hear now that bring me right back to those days — Panic by the Smiths, The Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen, Hamilton Bohannon Let’s Start The Dance, The Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary and Rock The Casbah by the Clash.

Where else could a soul boy dance to the Sisters of Mercy or a goth to Grace Jones? When you entered the Delta or the Plaza, you left any preconceived ideas about music, religion, politics and class at the door.

Murderous terrorists may have been stalking the city’s streets outside, but inside, we felt safe when the DJ was spinning those tunes.

I have some great memories of the Plaza — yes, even those shared toilets. I remember one night when one of our crew rather drunkenly — and half naked (don’t ask) — got up to dance to King Kurt along with a group of rather bemused-looking pyscho- billies. We were sure they were going to lynch him as he flailed about, mimicking their manic moves. But of course, we needn’t have worried. They embraced him into their fold.

On another occasion the floor caved in, but everybody just kept dancing. That’s what defined the Delta and the Plaza — the music. Not surprisingly, many of those who went there ended up in the music industry — world renowned DJ and producer David Holmes, Andy Cairns from Larne rock band Therapy? and music journalist Stuart Bailie, from the Oh Yeah Centre, to name but a few.

Back then, our Property Correspondent Helen Carson — now one of my closest friends — was unknown to me. She was one of those scary punk types with big hair who I probably struck up a conversation with in the toilets one night. Who knows, we may have even shared a can of warm beer. One thing’s for certain though, we shared the music.

Yes, my jeans got bogging at the Delta and the Plaza — but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Helen Carson - The Plaza: fun with a capital ‘F’

It was 1984 when my sister Dawn and I first went to the Delta. The first-floor Donegall Street club may have looked shabby and unsophisticated at that time, but to us it was wonderland.

The cavernous cave-like room was spartan to say the least, but with a few lights swirling round the ceiling and the best music of the 80s, to me it was pure magic.

Punks, goths, rockabillies, psychobillies and mods all gathered outside the club opposite Saint Anne’s Cathedral on a Saturday night, carry-out in hand to hear their kind of music and lots of others being played until the wee small hours.

I was a punk at that time with a dyed blond, gravity-defying mohican. Dawn and I always went to the Queen’s Bar first for a pint of Tennents. Then we headed round to the Toucanwine for four tins of Royal Dutch (40p a can) and 20 Silk Cut.

It was £2 at the door and living in east Belfast, taxi fares never amounted to more than a few quid. Ah if only a night out now could be such fun for so little money?

Sometimes we even got the bus, and I have to say wearing PVC leggings, bondage top, leather jacket and spiked-up hair was definitely the best way to get a whole seat to yourself on a Citybus.

One of the best parts of the night, however, was the start of the Delta when the dancefloor was empty and everyone was arriving, usually to the strains of the Pet Shop Boys ‘West End Girls’ — one of my favourite opening tunes.

As you could imagine people-watching at the Delta was in a different league to anywhere else in downtown Belfast. And the edgy vibe and subterranean feel here were also attractions.

Boys were equally as prepped as girls with high-maintenance dos, including skyscraper quiffs and back-combed tresses.

There were (as Dawn and I called them) the Lloyd Cole-ones. They were former mods who were in the transition phase at that time, just before the rave/dance scene really hit the city.

Think immaculately coiffed hair freshly shorn from the barbers, turtle neck tops, Chinos/jeans and crepe-soled shoes for the boys, while the girls donned puffy skirts, knee-high socks, Dr Marten shoes and striped turtle-neck tops. Unbeknown to me then, my friend and Belfast Telegraph Showbiz Correspondent Maureen Coleman was a fully paid-up member of this particular tribe at that time. They were the sophisticates to our old-school rebels. The beauty of all this was it just didn’t matter. The Delta was probably the first place I ever met someone from ‘the other side of town’. Despite the political turbulence at that time the Delta was an egalitarian state where no-one was discriminated against regardless of religion, race, gender, sexuality or class. While a few of my friends came from well-heeled homes others came from sink estates. The unifying force was the music, and it was an education for us all.

At that time I loved The Smiths, Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, The Cramps, The Cult and Echo And The Bunnymen, yet when I think of the Delta the tunes I remember most fondly are Grace Jones ‘La Vie En Rose’, Simply Red’s ‘Money’s Too Tight (To Mention)’, Public Image Ltd ‘World Destruction’ and ‘Destination Zululand’ by King Kurt among others.

And when the halcyon days of the Delta became numbered, the crowd migrated en masse to neighbouring club The Plaza in Donegall Lane. It was just as dark and dingy too, but the ethos of incredible music continued. I met another set of new people here, some of whom are still my friends.

One of my most memorable nights at the Plaza, however, was the occasion when for some reason Dawn and I brought water pistols with us. Needless to say the night descended into chaos with people pouring beer over each others heads.I didn’t look too cool by the end of the night, but it was such fun.

And that about sums up The Delta and The Plaza — fun with a capital ‘F’. It was a haven for youth culture when being young didn’t make the political agenda. When Ulster was saying ‘No’ and sectarianism was raging in a shut-down city struggling against a bloody backdrop of paramilitary violence, a determined group of young people were saying ‘it’s all about the music’. And for that I am eternally grateful.

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