HIGH ON HOPE, Piers Sanderson’s documentary about the Hardcore Uproar parties in Blackburn in the late Eighties and early Nineties has already won acclaim at film festivals in Barcelona and Leeds, and with a bit of luck it will be touring around the UK next year. Keep an eye on the High on Hope off-yer-Facebook for more details.
In the meantime, here’s an exclusive interview with the film’s wobbly cinematographer, the visionary social historian and painfully shy local raver known at the time as Preston Bob – his real name is actually David Rostron – without whom High on Hope would simply not have been possible.
Nice one, David.
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What kind of music were you into before you started going to warehouse parties?
David Rostron: “I was bang into loads of old punk stuff, I even saw Crass live in Nelson, Lancs .. not bad for a 13 year old! I loved The Smiths, The The, Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, and Thomas Dolby. I listened to lots of other music, but these were the ones at the front of the box.
“I hated the mainstream music at that time (I still do), so I was very dismissive of this acid music. I liked the scene though, very edgy but even more interesting for it. The first party I went to was in a guy’s cellar, he’d stuck egg trays to the ceiling to dampen the noise!
“It was mad, I’d never seen anything like it, really loud music and one strobe light. I kept bumping into people. I couldn’t see a thing. After about an hour I wanted to go home, but the guy who’d invited me was in charge of the strobe light so I had to stay.
“I was whining like a baby so to shut me up, I was given a chemical rebalance. That was it, I was in love!”
How did you first hear about the parties?
DR: “It was a total accident that I ended up at my first party. I had been fishing all day on the Saturday and I needed some herbs, so I went to my mates for some. There was another guy there called Klak and he asked me if I wanted to come to a private party – it could have been a wedding do for all I knew. It wasn’t!
“It did remind a lot of the punk DIY vibe. Everybody at those early parties was thoroughly pissed off with what the Blackburn night scene had to offer. There was a great need for somewhere safe to get on one.
“So that’s where the DIY vibe came in – loads of different people with different talents all making a small contribution which came together in a very powerful way.
“Even the music was made in the punk way, quickly, cheaply, not by accomplished musicians a lot of the time. That’s where the similarities end though. There was none of the anger and violence associated with the punk scene, this was love! By the bucketload!
“In the words of the late Rory, ‘every week, mate. Every week is right!’ That’s how often I went.”
Why did you decide to start filming the parties? Did they feel like something that needed recording for posterity? And how did people react to you filming them?
DR: “Another accident! At the time I lived and worked with my parents in a busy corner shop in Preston, Lancs. This salesman came in one day and gave me this spiel about hiring out video cameras to punters for weddings etc. I wasn’t really interested until he told me it was fully guaranteed – forever!
“This meant whenever it got broke or whatever, I called them and they sent a brand new replacement .. whooo! I signed up immediately. All that for 30 quid a month.
“I’d been to quite a few parties by this time, but as much as I enjoyed them, I was crippled by a shyness that was criminally vulgar.
“It was all so different from the way I was brought up. My father was a real chauvinist and it rubbed off on me. I didn’t know how to talk to women or many people to be honest, so I was very comfortable behind the camera.
“The first time I filmed a party, I played it back when I got home. I could hear myself whinging and moaning and I hated the sound of my voice. I promised myself never to talk until spoken to and then only in monosyllables.
“After a few weeks I started to get fairly good with the camera and I knew these parties were going to be very important for people to look back on. I started to relax a bit and became Preston Bob the cameraman.
“I never got any hassle from anyone in the early days – I was part of the Hardcore Uproar. Most people loved being filmed, a few didn’t. The only person I never got on camera was Tony Creft (the ginger protagonist from the documentary). I tried and tried but he always managed to avoid me. I have to say I was very impressed.
“Everything changed after Live the Dream. I got a lot of hassle from one person every week, so I made it my mission to film him as much as I could. We had security (bouncers) then, so when he started with his crap I told him to see security. I loved it. He was dodgy and it seemed like he was used to getting his own way. Not in my town, matey boy!”
How easy was it keeping it together enough to film?
DR: “All I can say is, it’s a good job I had that guarantee! I was so off my head sometimes I forgot I was filming. I would just drop the camera and start dancing. I slipped on a bit of plastic from the camera once and smacked my head on the floor.
“I used to see shelves that didn’t exist. I tried to use one of these shelves and I watched my camera fall 100 ft and smash to pieces .. I started a very close relationship with Gaffer tape.
“The two main problems were condensation and keeping the batteries charged up. The condensation was so bad near the end that it was like it was raining. I tried everything, so I resorted to the tried and tested ‘a million and one uses for a hairdryer’. I’d been using hairdryers for years to warm my bed up and dry my socks. It dried the camera out perfectly. Trying to find power was a nightmare. I unplugged the PA system once – that didn’t go down too well. I always seemed to find a way though.
“Spending Monday mornings on the phone to the video camera company became a very regular occurrence. After the tenth time they sent a new camera with a sales rep who was going to teach me who not to rent the camera out to.
“This particular time, the camera was in a really bad way. The tape was stuck in it, and he got it out and played it. His face was a picture. He was saying, whoever’s renting this is taking it to illegal raves! As he watched the footage it clicked and he’s like, it’s you! You’re a raver! You’re a raver! I’m telling my boss!
“I was on the floor. He turned out to be a good lad though. I took him t’pub and he never said a word to his boss!”
DR: “My feeling was that no one really knew for sure if there was going to be another one after the last, so with that in mind anyone involved developed ingenious methods to get the next one off. It was staggering, a sight to behold. I fucking loved it!
“The whole thing completely took over my life, it became a way of life – my way of life. I would have done anything asked of me to make it happen and I did. There are hundreds of examples, here’s some of my favourites:
“The technical boys Jules and Joe used to build the PAs every week so we could take out the speakers easily and pass them to everybody to take out under their hooded tops – and just leave the plod with empty boxes.
“We’d ring the police and tell them there was an elephant on the loose! They had to check it out and when they went, we all did one. When they came back it was deserted! All in five minutes!
“A very well known children’s surgeon driving his Land Rover over a traffic island with a bass bin in the back, dropping it off for us. What a guy!
“These kind of things happened all the time. You just got used to it.
“Everyone involved got more and more professional and people found a place for themselves, played to their strengths. The whole town came together, forgot their differences and marched on .. My scalp’s tingling just thinking about it.
“There was a saying going round at the time which was ‘as safe as a Blackburn party’ and it was true. For the first year, we never had any kind of security whatsoever. We didn’t need it, and besides, them balloons were too busy slapping up lager louts in the town centre.
“It was a truly amazing thing, everyone dancing and smiling and monging and dancing and smiling. First timers used to comment ‘who’s running this party? It seems to be running itself’. That’s how it looked, it was pure evolution! I think everyone I knew felt the same way, so it stayed friendly and trouble free, until the last few weeks.”
What are your happiest memories of those times?
DR: “EASY! Watching it all happen, the corporate arse-raped so-called fuck ups, sticking it to ‘em (the establishment), fucking big time. They just didn’t know what to do. They tried everything – newspaper headlines, threats, scare tactics, they even consulted the RUC on dealing with terrorists! Can you believe that?
“I’m sure if you asked any of my customers at my little corner shop if I was a terrorist, they’d have laughed in your face! The thing was, it was all common sense. If there is no one on the road at two in a morning, you didn’t have to stop at red lights, did you? It’s like parking on a double yellow.
“Just for Saturday nights, we didn’t have to follow the rules. Where we were going there were no rules! To be fair, the police in Blackburn were very cool about it all, they just let it happen. They stopped me one early morning after. What’s that camera, sir? Is it yours? Did you film the rave?
“I got talking to them and had a real good laugh. They thought it was good for Blackburn, energising the economy and such like, loads of overtime and they loved the banter with the ravers. They said they got scared when the real gangsters got involved and they had to act!”
And what are your memories of how it all fell apart?
DR: “Well, like I said earlier, before the Live the Dream party there wasn’t any security. This party took it up a few notches – quite a few notches. It was big news all over the North West of England. Some bloke put up 30 grand to pay for it. Three of the biggest PAs in the country were booked, three marquees, two huge generators, the best DJs and light shows. It was fucking awesome!
“It was about this time I started to really get into the music. Them London DJs were real class acts. Could them guys mix!
“A very valuable goat was stolen and provided a wholesome royal goat curry, courtesy of the coolest man in Blackburn. There was mushroom tea available to wash it down. It was one of the best nights I’ve ever had, even though I said fuck all to anyone! It must have been the tea.
“At and after this party, the fucking balloons got involved. They didn’t have a clue about ‘the hardcore uproar’, for them it was about earning some steroid money. I went to film them and ask their opinions and they all bent over and showed me their arses. Enough said really.
“Even in their tiny minds – I’m not saying all bouncers are tinkles, just the ones I’ve met! – they could smell something .. lucre! It just wasn’t the same after that, throwing their weight around all over the place, name-dropping and such like.
“The funny thing was, we all got used to them idiots (am I bitter?) and tried to carry on as normal. It was just more laboured and stressful. They were a real pain in the arse.
“The balloons eventually tried to set up their own parties .. I ask you! Needless to say that was really the beginning of the end. It caused a chain reaction and gangsters from all over turned up, anxiety levels were sky high and paranoia prevailed. It was truly awful.”
How much footage did you end up with? Did you ever plan to do anything with it yourself? Did anyone ever ask if they could use it?
DR: “Probably 30 three-hour VHS tapes. What’s that? Ninety hours. I started to realise I had a photographic memory where the tapes where concerned. It wasn’t just the parties I filmed, it was my whole life for two, maybe three years. It was a very intense diary. I could pick out any event at any time. It was weird, very weird.
“It got to the point were I felt naked if I didn’t have a video camera with me. I showed the footage to some of the Hardcore Uproar boys and they said it was fucking crap. You should do some more talking and interviews. My fucking crack! Try doing an interview when your face is on full wobble with a 10k rig pounding your chest!
“So I decided to try and edit something together. I managed to get a couple of VHS machines (stereo of course) and joined them together and did an edit. It went down really well. I was proper chuffed.
“One of the boys said they would have given me a budget if they’d have known. Okay then. That’s when the tapes started to interest a few people. I really wanted to do something myself and show what really happened. I did try, but I was too exhausted ..
“I used to get friendly arms round my shoulder, go on Bob, sort us out with a copy. A copy of what? My life? Yeah, right. I did another edit and left it at that. People approached me many times with various offers, but they all just wanted to make some walking around money.
“The BBC phoned me up and told me – yeah, told me! – that a driver would be there post haste to pick up the tapes and not to worry as I would be paid the going rate. Oh, will he now! Me and my bird at the time waited for him and he got super soaked!
“Drew Hemment – he’s in the film – tried to get something going about ten years ago. Close but no cigar.
“And then along came the lovely Piers!”
Why did you decide to allow Piers access to the footage?
DR: “Many reasons! He was the only person I’d met who saw the true value of the footage, not monetarily but creatively, just like I did. He hadn’t been tainted by all the politics that went on at the parties, he only had fond memories, a true reveller!
“For years I wanted to use the footage to tell my story. Listening to Piers made me realise that wasn’t the way to go. He was a man of integrity, very rare these days. I swallowed my pride and gave him the footage.
“To be honest, I was relieved. All the Hardcore Uproar (from where I was sitting) seemed to hate the fact I had the footage. I got untold grief – to the point where I was punched in the face in a Blackburn nightclub because there was a rumour I’d sold the footage! It was a proper hot potato. The one thing I did know was that I wanted a true representation, that’s all.
“I still can’t work out why so many people wanted to kill me. I have a theory that they all thought I was in it for the money. That was never the case, it was the MESSAGE!
“After I’d handed over the footage, Piers did a small edit. I didn’t like it very much but it had potential. Things went quiet for a couple of years while Piers was at film school. I was desperate for money at the time so I asked him for 100 quid .. I got a phonecall from a millionaire property developer who I thought was a friend. She had been at all the parties and she told me in no uncertain terms what a cunt I was for asking for money. I nearly asked her if I could move into one of her houses free of charge!
“I eventually moved to London and met up with Piers. He told me what he had in mind, I still wasn’t convinced but I really trusted and liked him. And the rest is history.
“I haven’t seen the film yet. I got an invite to the Leeds film festival but at the last minute I had to cancel. Gutted! Everyone I know who’s seen the film loves it. It’s winning awards and critical acclaim. I’m really pleased for Piers. It’s been a real labour of love for him.
“I’m very proud that something I shot 20 years ago is being used in such a way. I wish Piers every success and if I was a religious man, I would be on my knees praying that he gets the investment he needs. I think this film could and should be cult viewing.
“People need to know about this, it’s still relevant today!”
DR: “Personally, the journey from being 50 people in an old bike shop to 30,000 in massive disused warehouses, the ingenuity and sacrifice many people made for the cause. Just for those few hours on a Saturday night people felt truly free – not the illusion of freedom, true unadulterated freedom. It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?
“It inspired many people to look at life differently and carve out a proper future for themselves – some did, many didn’t, but win or lose we all have the memories. Ask anyone who was there, they wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
“A certain attitude was born which as been passed on to their children – problem solving, always try to see both sides of the argument, don’t believe the hype and just keep trying! Maybe I’m being a little romantic but they had to pass laws in parliament to stop us!
“Not bad for a load of so-called bottom feeders from a super-depressed northern town! It was intoxicating, very, very intoxicating!”
“The whole thing was headline news. It was a breath of fresh air ..
“It was pure!”
I asked David how life had been treating him since his time filming the Hardcore Uproar parties.
“After the parties I hung around the scene for a couple of years. It started off pretty well, the Revenge boys got some half decent parties off but it just wasn’t the same. Quadrant Park was downright dangerous! Legends, Carlos 2, Back to Basics, all the Blackpool clubs, Hacienda etc etc from my point of view turned into knocking shops and drug dens, ecstasy junkies everywhere (me included) and to top it off, the balloons with their tops off hugging people, sweating out the testosterone..
“I started to hate it! I met some great people,who are still friends to this day but the scene became a parody of itself.
“I got the chance to make a record – a dream from childhood – which was fairly successful. They played it in a club I was in one night, everyone went mad. I was well pleased!
“I then retired, recuperated for a couple of years and settled down. I moved south to a warmer climate and now I work voluntary for a very effective charity and do a lot of fishing. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find decent new music these days so I’ve gone back to the Sixties and Seventies, full circle.
“I learned a great deal from the Blackburn parties which gave me opportunities I would have never had. I grin when I think back. Fucking Brilliant!”