Ten years on from Love Decade

IT WASN’T so unusual that someone threw a party in Gildersome, just south of Leeds, 10 years ago. What was unusual was the fact that 836 people were arrested for attending it.

The party wasn’t for anyone’s birthday. According to flyers which had been circulating throughout the north over the previous month, it was called Love Decade. It took place in an empty warehouse on the Treefield Industrial Estate, just off Gelderd Road.

The party’s organisers didn’t actually own the warehouse – they’d had to snip through a padlock with a pair of bolt cutters before getting in. Some started to rig up a basic soundsystem while others headed for Harsthead services, just up the M62, to collect their guests.

Just after 2am they headed back at the head of a convoy of hundreds of cars and vans. The police, including the West Yorkshire force’s helicopter, followed at a discrete distance.

Hundreds of people got into the warehouse before the organisers closed the doors. Hundreds more gathered outside. Sue Hollingsworth had travelled over from Blackburn earlier in the evening.

“There were police all over the place,” she remembers. “We abandoned the car and legged it towards the party but you couldn’t get anywhere near it. All the roads around had roadblocks on them, they had dogs, searchlights, the lot.”

Helicopters, roadblocks, dogs, searchlights? All this for a party?

It’s easy to underestimate the impact house music had on this country in the final years of the Eighties, a hard, even brutal decade for many. House, and the drug culture that accompanied it, was a joyful release, dominating the weekends of millions of young Britons. Just like rock’n’roll had done for their parents.

Only this time, the kids really were going to rock around the clock.

The after-hours party scene exploded. There was plenty of space. The Tories’ slash-and-burn economic policies meant that industrial space lay dormant all over the UK.

After a spell promoting a night at a club called Crackers in 1988, a bunch of hippie idealists, music-lovers and low-level ‘entrepreneurs’ began organising illegal all nighters in and around Blackburn. Taking their name from a headline in the local press after one of their number had been stopped on his way to a rave with a car full of pornography from his day job in a sex shop, they called themselves Hardcore Uproar.

“The people who were doing the actual organising all had different motives,” says Jane Winterbottom, who – with her then partner Tommy Smith – was at the centre of things from the outset. “There were some people who were genuinely into the music, who’d been waiting for this all their lives. And there were people who were just money-grabbing bastards.”

Over the next two years they broke into dozens of empty warehouses, threw in a strobe and a makeshift soundsystem and put the word out that there was going to be a party. The small police force of rural East Lancashire couldn’t do much about it.

Ten thousand people turned up one night and yet, incredibly, the parties managed to retain the inclusive, egalitarian atmosphere of the earlier events. It was fun all the way.

Then a party at Nelson, near Burnley in early 1990 ended amid ugly scenes as police stormed the building.

love

It was thought that West Yorkshire’s police were not quite as with it as their newly on-the-ball counterparts in East Lancs. The next party would be on the other side of the Pennines, on July 21, as it turned out, barely a week after Graham Bright’s Entertainment (Increased Penalties) Act became law. Organisers of unlicensed events could now be jailed for up to six months and fined up to £20, 000.

Although few grasped the implications of the Bright Act – or even knew it existed – a muted air hung over proceedings for many of those who managed to get into the Gildersome party.

“It had all gone pear shaped by then anyway,” sighs Jane Winterbottom. “It went wrong in February, so you can imagine how mad it was by July.”

“I don’t think there was ever a question of it being a good one,” remembers one of the DJs for the night, Drew Hemment. “We knew what had happened at Nelson. The police presence was massive. Most people hadn’t even got in. It was all a bit ominous.”

“I was shitting myself,” adds Winterbottom. “I knew it were going to kick off. It was obvious.”

“A whole row of spotlights just clicked on, one after the other,” says Hemment. “They were shining through the back windows and you could see rows of helmetted heads lined up outside.”

Rob Tissera, then a young DJ excited about making his debut at a prestigious underground event, remembers: “What had started out as a fairly pleasant party atmosphere soon turned very sour.”

The police began forcing the doors wedged shut by a van inside the warehouse. People jumped onto its roof and began to thrust bits of wood and metal through the now buckled door, right into the faces of the officers behind it.

“A lot of the men went mental,” says Winterbottom. “Some of them wanted to kill the police that night. It was fucking mad.”

“I was stupid,” admits a rueful Tissera. “I got on the microphone and told everyone that if they wanted the party to carry on, we had to keep the police out. Some people got a bit carried away. It turned nasty.”

Officers in riot gear eventually forced their way into the party at around 5am and rapidly brought proceedings to a close. Those inside were taken to 26 police stations across Yorkshire. According to police figures, only 134 of those arrested were locals, with 527 coming from Lancashire, 40 from Greater Manchester, 23 from Merseyside, 14 from Scotland and 48 from elsewhere, including one from Italy. Most were released without charge later that day.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post at the time, Assistant Chief Constable Denis O’Toole said: “We have been accused by some people of being killjoys and simply stopping young people enjoying themselves… This is the last thing we want to do.”

Their main concern, he said, was the lack of fire extinguishers and exits and the danger of crushes. Obviously.

Seventeen people were charged with various offences; only three went to trial – two for drug offences (one was acquitted, the other imprisoned for 12 years) and one – Rob Tissera – who was convicted of “dishonest abstraction of electricity”. Sentenced to three months, he served two weeks in Armley jail now HMP Leeds.

The situation went downhill: Party goers’ increasing tolerance to ecstasy created a market for stronger variants. As demand outstripped supply, the market became flooded with cheap imitations of the real thing. The cliche of “What’s your name? Where are you from? What have you had?” soon became “How many have you had?”

Everything started to spin out of control. The crowds got younger. The music got faster. Less reliable ecstasy created a market for the cheap cocaine heading to Europe from the saturated US market and the period saw the earliest beginnings of the cocaine culture prevalent across clubland and beyond today.

Everything pointed in the same direction. Glasgow’s status as the European City of Culture allowed clubs in the city to open until 4am. Magistrates began to take a more ‘enlightened’ view of applications for events running after the usual cut-off time of 2am. Later that year, the Ministry of Sound was given the first 24-hour entertainment license in the country.

“It wasn’t a coincidence,” admitted Inspector Ken Tappenden of the Kent police’s Pay Party Unit. “It was a coordinated plan.”

How much of this plan was informed by a desire of the Tory government to ‘look after’ the interests of their friends isn’t clear, but the major brewing concerns were certainly major donors to the party’s coffers. The alcohol they sold was largely sidelined by a culture which revolved around illegal drugs. Profits were going down.

Whatever else it achieved, the Bright Act did precipitate a move into clubs, where Evian and Lucozade were rapidly replaced by Jack Daniels and Coke and Red Stripe.

House music was played in clubs before this – at nights like Joy and Kaos at the Warehouse in Leeds, Zumbar and Hot at the Hacienda – but generally only on dead midweek nights. Now it was played on Friday and Saturday.

Back to Basics was typical of this new direction. Established in 1991, aiming for older, more affluent and fashion-conscious clubbers, Basics wasn’t somewhere you wandered into in an old T-shirt and trainers. In stark contrast to the Blackburn parties, you had to make an effort.

“The management reserves the right to politely fuck you off,” cautioned the club’s flyers.

Other things changed too. DJs were heard but rarely seen at the warehouse parties. It’s difficult to be a superstar DJ when nobody can see you. But in regular weekly clubs, people start to put faces to names. Gradually, the DJ moves centrestage. Someone switches on a spotlight. A star is born.

The idealists behind Love Decade were hoping for a new age of love, peace and house music, of “people of all nations, dancing together.”

Whichever way you look at it, it all went a bit Pete Tong. The last 10 years may have seen a once-renegade culture brought into the bosom of mainstream society but something got lost along the way.

We can hear Carl Cox on the radio, watch Human Traffic at the cinema and buy endless Ibiza mix CDs. We can even go on a Manumission package holiday. But who knows? It might have had so much more.

“It was a huge celebration of life,” says a still-defiant Tommy Smith. “It blended and gelled and it was beautiful for a brief moment. It gave us all a glimpse of what was possible.” He corrects himself. “What is still possible. It was worthwhile, if only because it spawned the road protests and the direct action movement we’ve seen over the last few years. It was the obvious next step.”

Rob Tissera is similarly pragmatic: “I’ve managed to forge quite a business out of it all, DJing, remixing, recording. I might not have had the opportunity to do any of those things otherwise. Being in Armley, it gave me the motivation to make a go of it, if only so I would never have to go back there again.”

Indeed, dance music is good business all round. What was once an exclusive little party now has millions of people in the queue, and all of them are trying to blag the guestlist.

“It’s mutated. It’s gone global,” says Drew Hemment. “People are listening to dance music all over the world. That’s quite a cool thing.”

“That’s what happens,” says Rob Tissera. “It becomes honed into this very powerful, smoothly-run machine .. I don’t really have a problem with that.”

[This piece originally appeared in The Big Issue in the North in July 2000]

See also: Interview with High On Hope director Piers Sanderson and cinematographer Preston Bob

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24 Comments

Filed under expletive undeleted, features

24 responses to “Ten years on from Love Decade

  1. You might want to check the spelling of Rob’s surname on the link. Rob always did get a lot of variation re that surname. Didn’t we once see Bob Rissole on a flyer somewhere…years ago? Or did I dream that?

  2. undeleted

    Thanking you Rachel. Sorted.

    I sometimes find myself calling him Bob Tisserole, could it have been that? Comedy gold!

    xx

  3. I hate to think what other people call/called us…

  4. undeleted

    I’m sure they thought we were great .. and still do.

  5. Stu

    Went to Nelson, Love Decade & Brave New World, Hac – Nude (Fridays not midweek !)…they must have been life changing times, we’re still yakking on about all these days! Went to Koh Phangan this year and met lots of Blakburn / Hardcore Uproar expats…some who’ve been there 15 years!

  6. undeleted

    Thanks for stopping by Stu, I hope I did Love Decade justice.

    I think people still have life-changing experiences when they’re out dancing, but they’re not usually in warehouses these days – which is probably just as well, really.

    I’m spending more time in Nelson than is strictly healthy these days, and me and the missus were actually in Blackburn on Saturday night – it was a bit scary.

    How was everybody holding up in Koh Phangan?

  7. damian zacki

    well i came across this by acident, lets clear this up there was 23 of us if i rember who went to court in morley for that party and me philip xxxxxxxx, and lee xxxxxxxx got sentanced to 3 months each, as for rob tisera if i rember rightly he got out after 2 weeks, we allserved all our sentaces, one more lad got 3 months a week later brian xxxxxx,and just to stress we were the first 3 sentenced but hey who realy cares it was that long ago,

  8. undeleted

    Thanks for the clarification Damian. I’ll have to check that stuff out for myself but will change it if need be. Had to x out surnames, I’m afraid. Long time ago but some people might prefer if this stuff didn’t come up nearly 20 years later.

  9. damian

    hey i know exactly what you meen the type of job i do know lets just say my clients dont need to know !!!!!! it was all good stuff at the time, 20 years ago ?? god that goes quick must be more than 22 when i was last in the parrot or monroes then !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. ady

    was at Nelson, Love Decade, Pump street Blackburn and several other weekends battling with the plod to get into parties!!!!!

    the ones we did get into were bouncin’!!!!!!!

    anyone remember Revenge 3? 8,000 attendance!!

    charnock services

    birch services…the list is endless
    the times were good…still got my ‘please do not attend acid house parties in west yorks ‘ letter from love decade lol

    nice sharing memories

  11. undeleted

    Glad to be of service Ady. I’m hopeful this site will evolve into some kind of weird rave-wiki where old heads come to try to remember what the fuck they got up to when they were kids. It’s a valuable social function, I reckon. More people ought to be writing this shit down ..

  12. ady

    does anyone know if ‘High on hope’ is ever gonna be released/screened? these memories need to be aired to the people of nowadays…..the people who go ‘clubbin’ it’…without the Blackburn, M25 parties and so on…where would clubs be now? also the aurthorities -for handling it totally wrong.
    most of us must be knockin’ on ..if not over the magical age of 40 who went to the great parties….its been 20 yrs it would be well nice to see this film released …..if not just for the memories…..but to show the teenies of today how it was really done!!!!

  13. undeleted

    When I was researching the piece, both Jane and Tommy mentioned that there was “hours and hours” of footage that someone had shot at the Blackburn raves and I’m guessing that this is the stuff that eventually ended up in High on Hope. IMdb says that the film was “completed” in 2009 but doesn’t say anything about release dates or distribution, so I suppose it’s in limbo until they find someone willing to distribute it to cinemas.

    To be honest, I don’t really know how film distribution works Ady. As far as I know, most cinema chains just deal in mainstream Hollywood stuff and tend not to show independent films – and especially not documentaries about 20 year old scenes in the north of England. I’d guess the producers’ best bet is to persuade someone like Channel 4 to show it. Easier said than done, probably.

    Be good to find out for sure though. Anyone else got any ideas?

    And is there any chance you could scan that letter, stick it on Flickr and post a link (with all the relevant info Xed out)? I’d love to have a look at that.

  14. ady

    yeh mate,i checked IMdb aswell. Its a shame it might never be released,even on limited,because theres gotta be thousands that would go see it.the best bet ,like you say,would probably be a tv station like channel 4..it would deffo get good ratings. saying that we were at Birch services in 1990 when a tv crew arrived saying that they were filming for channel 4,loads of off yer face party goers (including me!!)got their views across,with some good interviews,but that was never aired.Maybe i’m being too optimistic that people would be interested? But i know for a fact ,when my kids get old enough ,they’ll be told of probably the best times that i,and many others,had in those couple of years ,of dancing an’ just trying to fookin’ enjoy ourselves!!

    i’ll have a root in the attic to see if i can find that letter,ive also got revege flyers,t-shirts an’ news cuttings somewhere….all proof to me kids that i DID live at one time!! lol

  15. undeleted

    It’s probably the kind of thing that will show up at film / arts festivals at some point – there’s a big documentary festival in Sheffield happening around now and I could imagine High on Hope being on there one day. I’ll see if I can track down Piers Sanderson and ask if he’s up for an interview.

    I think that people would be interested in the film – and not just people who were on the scene at the time. But who knows what goes through the heads of commissioning editors at Channel 4? We don’t know how the guy shot the interview bits of the film so it’s difficult to know whether it’d be suitable for a TV or theatrical release. And I’d imagine that trying to license the film’s soundtrack would be an absolute fucking nightmare.

    It would be a shame if it couldn’t get released one way or the other though. That scene changed the way loads of people thought about the world and their place in it. It was massively important.

    It’d be great if you could dig out that stuff for us. I’ll let you know if I get anywhere with Piers Sanderson.

  16. undeleted

    I managed to get in touch with Piers Sanderson and he sent me the following:

    “The film is finished and ready to be shown however I have to raise the money to clear the rights for the music. I am working with some people on how we are going to do this and hopefully have some sponsors on board soon. My aim is to have the film out by spring next year.”

    Piers has agreed to answer a few questions about the film, so if you want to know anything about High on Hope, now would be a good time to send a question in.

  17. bummer if the films finished,having been retired from society for a long time i emerge to find all this stuff bout one of our greatest creations,.always felt a twat cause i give rob t the nod to get on,so glad to see he’s got a positive view of his short stay at her madges pleasure!!!still got the remains of me t shirt the filth ripped off me tryin to capture me at lovedecade!me. klak 07794155898

  18. thats not my head either-klak

  19. Ariel

    Hi!
    HIGH ON HOPE is on facebook now!!
    If you want to be updated and support the movie, check this out and become fan:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/High-On-Hope/286661023831?ref=ts

  20. Jane!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! hiya trouble its juice here

    Hope you are well and happy and all of that sorta stuff

    836 is a number i remember well ( still use 8 36 as lottery numbers lol)

    keep it alive
    juice

  21. Big nose

    I went to bburn parties best times of my life still living the dream tommy smith top lad great nights and at Carlos. Last saw tommy in Goa hope he still well. Always used to say how’s the habit . N high on hope not dope !

  22. brian castley

    they need to do more than that I was one of the 836 and one of the 21 ttaken to morley courts and 1 also got 3 months imprisonment for it as a dear friend Damion zacki got the same my name is brian castley we servedour time in weatherby hmyoi
    that was the end of illegal partys for me

  23. Me and my friend Dion scales and Mick smith were there! As we were all being escorted out by the filth. One copper started intimidating my mate. Copper thought he was being hard!!! Until he realized he was on his own!!! Everyone just stopped He propa shit it. And did one. PS. Damion zaki is a good friend of mine aswell. Miss those days. Changed my life. Miss the new Yorkers. Peace

  24. I was still a kid at Bruntcliffe High School in Morley, ironically located less than 1/2 a mile away from the infamous Love Decade warehouse party in nearby Gildersome. Of course us young up and coming ravers heard all about it, and I’ve since read about it in George McKay’s excellent text book ‘DiY Culture’. I guess most people saw this period as being the end of most of the notorious warehouse party scene. Although I was surprised when several years later after being a regular at Basics and making yearly pilgrimages to Ibiza, that suddenly in the summer of 1996 I’m going every weekend to HUGE outdoor parties everywhere inbetween Sheffield and Northampton and from Derby to the Lincolnshire coast! Many people have heard of them, they were put on by a Nottingham / Derby / Sheffield based sound system called Smokescreen along with their ‘parent’ sound system known as DIY sound system but coming from Leeds we formed a small hardcore of maybe a dozen or so deep house music lovers out of Leeds who would all club together to rent a Salford Van Hire transit van and hammer down the A1 to places with weird names (Norton Disney?!) in Lincolnshire late on a Saturday night. What great times they were and them lads knew how to throw a party, literally just turning up in an abandoned quarry or woods with an old fire engine to use the generator off and set a tarp up around with the decks under. There would be sometimes only a few hundred or other times over 2000 people there. A few times they would have a multi-rig rave with different sound systems set up, one time they were strung out along the length of an old WW2 RAF base runway. Another time, on another old cold war military base they had the sound systems set up in hardened nuclear bunkers / hangers… The police for a time were surprisingly tolerant of these goings on, having quite a pragmatic attitude which was if the party was well underway then they wouldnt bother to stop it. Only a couple of times did they manage to shut down the party before hardly anyone arrived. But for a fantastic 5 years or so throughout the spring / summer and then at special occasions like new years eve, we went to nearly every Smokescreen rave they did. Its a shame something similar couldnt have gone on at the same time around Leeds, but I think West Yorkshire police were far too keen to clamp down as you all know. There was a small outfit from Hyde Park / Chapeltown called LS8 Soundsystem who put on a few outdoor raves to the north of Leeds beyond Otley on the banks of Fewston Reservoir, but it wasnt anything as big as the Midlands sound systems were doing. Anyway thats my lil story! Bye

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