The Warehouse at 33: then and now

Words by: Kristan Caryl
Posted: 19/3/12 9:17

The Warehouse at 33: then and nowFor thirty-three years in March has The Warehouse been continuously operating under the same name, as a nightclub, from the same location in Leeds. The year it opened, to put it in context, was the year of the first million pound footballer (Trevor Francis) the year Sid Vicious died of a heroin overdose and the year Spandau Ballet formed. That The Warehouse was playing electronic music to dance to, without an MC, but instead with a DJ mixing records, then, was beyond revolutionary at that time.

As such, the club quickly established itself not only in Leeds, but as a point of interest for nocturnal types from all over the country. So you’ll learn in this interview, it was the place where Soft Cell formed; where Marc Almond got his taste for all things electronic and where headliners like Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Sugar Hill Gang played.

Moving into more recent history, it was the place you could often find Sasha, the place hedonistic nights like Vague became legendary and, in the present day, the place you can find 20 year old night Back to Basics next to a fresh and varied selection of contemporary guests and promotions.

The celebrate all this, though, The Warehouse is celebrating the history of house music itself with a very special set from Frankie Knuckles on March 31st. Before that date, we tracked down both the original and current owners of the club to get the full back-story… given that there is 33 years to talk about, it makes for a most fascinating read.

 

First Owner, Mike WiandFirst Owner, Mike Wiand
How did you first become involved in the music industry, and why did you decide to open The Warehouse?
I am a musician and it has always been in my blood plus I have always been a love of music that makes me want to shake my "booty". I was also going to Marbella quite often and loved the music they played and the sound systems they and was always coming back with 12" records that didn't seem to exist in the UK at the time. I was and have always been savvy about sound as playing in a band I have always been aware of good sound.

Actually the Warehouse started out as a Restaurant. I had two American hamburger restaurants at the time, one in Harrogate the other in Leeds. I decided to sell them and consolidate them into a large one that would also encompass a "burger" place with live and recorded music however it morphed into a night club and what I wanted to do and was in my mind there wasn't anything like it in the area or possibly in the UK. I wanted a friendly venue, great staff, a secretive dance floor and an atmosphere that gave everyone the "WOW" feeling.

Was there anything like it at the time? What scene was it born out of?
Not really...all the clubs in Leeds were still playing 45s with a talking DJ and small sound systems and a lighting system consisting of Par 38s, red, green, blue, and amber, flashing either by the DJ pressing the button as much as possible or "sound to light." It was very boring and surely didn't WOW me, however I am not saying they were bad clubs as some of them were good but just behind what was "going to happen".

I don't think the Warehouse was born out of any scene. I hadn't heard of "54" yet or at least I didn't know much about it. As I said before we were going to Marbella many times a year and I found a club there I liked which had a great sound, great DJs and I was purchasing 12" records and bringing them back to the UK where I couldn't find them... I am not sure what it was born out except I could see what I thought was a void in the industry. I came to England from a small town in Wyoming, USA and I didn't even know or ever heard of a discoteque. I knew about live venues as I performed in them but this was completely new and unknown to me. I knew that I liked the music I was hearing, new about sound systems, which I designed and placed in the Warehouse, and I loved to dance but wasn't getting that desire in the current clubs and most of them were pretty stuffy, so I wanted a place where the customers could come and express themselves and be able to do this and not feel intimidated...

The Damn YankeesSo really it came out of a "gut" feeling that I was on the correct course, however, I was told nearly everyday that it wouldn't work as the people in Leeds or England wouldn't understand this. I went through the same feelings at times and wondered if I was right and guess what… that day in 1979 and I am standing on the stairs, tired as hell as we hadn't slept for weeks, and I looked down on one the largest crowds I had ever experienced and I said under my breath "WTF have I got myself into"? As it turned out it worked and the public in Leeds was just waiting for something new and exciting to irrupt on the scene...

How much of a risk was it at the time? Was there much competition for the club?
I suppose it was quite a risk as I had sold my American Hamburger restaurants, which was my only source of income and had daily expenses to pay. My wife and I had to do the designing and overlook the building process and actually do some of the work our selves, so we put our heart and soul into the project. We were really good at working together and designing the decor and atmosphere.

All of our money went into this project, which wasn't much, and the Brewery, North Country, out of Hull backed to the tune of 25,000 pounds and we had about the same plus some hire purchase, so there wasn't much money to finish the job. There was competition as there were many clubs in the city but not "ONE" like what we had decided to build, but of course the largest competition was the unknown... Did Leeds want this??

Anything in particular inspire or influence the club in its early days in terms of décor, music, policies etc?
I believe that is was just our way of thinking... We wanted a place that wasn't stuff, inhibiting, fun, staff that understood the customers and allowed the customer to visit our club with all of their outrageous manners and dress. My theory is that the first person you meet, doorman, is your first impression and I strived to always have them take care and be polite, friendly, have fun and make them welcome immediately.  I also wanted our customers to feel the atmosphere and that "wow" feeling as soon as they opened the door and the music and sound system completed that step – a safe place and to minimize any trouble or troublemakers, great house lighting to enhance the atmosphere and how people looked. If they feel that they look good and we always made them feel that they looked good, then they would like to come back because of this feeling.

Music was completely up to me. In the beginning, Gregg James was the DJ and I still feel today that he could be one of the best DJs out there... He would bring records up from London and take back the ones I didn't think would work. Gregg was so good because he played with the basics, two turntables, and a mixer whereas today there is so much technology that help DJs do what you couldn't do in the beginning, plus the DJs today are artists, performers, and record makers where that wasn't true in the early days.

I always liked music that had energy and still today feel that way. Some records would be so weak that I wouldn't even listen to them… It is like a full bold bodied red wine to a real wimpy one… I wanted it to "kick your ass" all the way through the song. The policy was that if it made me dance it was in... I also started going to New York to some of the clubs and always purchased records. I believe we were the first to play "Ring My Bell" as I got the record on a pre-lease date and flew it back to Leeds on Concorde.

I also wanted to start bringing live music so we added Tuesdays and Thursdays as our live nights and we had nearly all of the top 80's bands play at least once if not more in the club, and of course Soft Cell started in the club and Marc Almond was the coat check person for a few years. When "Tainted Love” went to #1 we moved him to DJ on Monday  and Friday nights and it went down a bomb.

Marc AlmondMondays were our answer to the New Romantics and the 80's scene. It was absolutely a huge success and packed, plus we were getting coach loads from around the country and especially from Manchester. The Leeds crowd showed the world what it was about.

They went to alternative clothing stores that opened, Oxfam etc. and looked amazing and not spending a fortune... Leeds customers were the best and I still love everyone of them and their influence on the scene in the city. I also believe and practiced that one has to keep the venue "fresh" and try to make not get old and boring.

And what challenges did you face?
We went through some rough times in Leeds. We had the soccer hooligan problem, the Yorkshire ripper, and the IRA bombings. We had several encounters with the soccer people but soon learned how to deal with them and to recognize them… I am sure some people were turned away that shouldn't but they fit the profile and we couldn't take that chance.

We also had many bomb threats but we were very vigil on people coming and what they were bringing in plus constantly looking for possible threats... We had to learn fast. It is amazing after time how one could see a potential problem arising and stop it before it occurred.

Why do you think it outlived so many other clubs of the time? What made it special?
Possibly it outlasted the other clubs as it was original and was based on a strong foundation. As I stated before, the staff and how they joined in and also welcomed everyone with open arms was key. It had a great sound system and a special dance floor that is still not known by the general public nor people close to me.

Also, the customers always got the newest and best music. If it went top 40 or commercial we would quit playing it unless it was a classic and then not on a regular basis...

Mike WiandHow hard was it to pass ownership to someone else? Do you still keep up with its progress? What did you go on to do?
That is really an understatement. It was one of the most difficult decision that I had ever had to make, but I was getting tired and the music was so up and down at the time that our financial books looked the same... If you could snow ski on them it would have been great fun as their were many peaks and valleys. Also I had taken on many other projects connected with the club…

I started a management company, a record label, and a publishing company that took me to London most of the time. Dealing with groups on RCA and EMI, dealing with new groups that I was try to obtain record deals for, touring, recording, videos, etc and dealing with record companies was taking up most of my time but I still had to operate the club.

I also had the opportunity to have "Let the Music play" by Shannon on my label for the UK. I licensed it to Phonogram and was so happy when it finally broke through. I thought that it might be the correct time to bail if I found a punter that wanted to purchase the club. So that is what happened but I never took it lightly.

I have always tried to keep up with the club and all the different web sites and whatever I could retrieve from the internet. It is something I live with and will for eternity. Loved it I love what they are doing at the moment with the club. Can you imagine 33 years? This must be one of the longest operating club under the same name in possibly the world...

Again I want to thank Leeds for the opportunity of a lifetime and hope that the lads carry on The Warehouse tradition for another 33 years. I hope I can be there for the anniversary party. Frankie Knuckles... wow.

I will sign off now with the words from a classic song..."Thanks for the memories…

Photos from Mike Wiand Facebook & The Leeds Warehouse 80-88 Facebook Group

***

Jim Albentosa, owner, and Danny Savage, Events Manager, at The Warehouse in LeedsCurrent Owner: Jim Albentosa
How and when did you come to be involved with the club?
I first came to Leeds back in 1992 to visit a couple of mates for the weekend who were freshers at University. They’d told me about the clubs in Leeds and especially about a night called Vague at The Warehouse which l was intrigued to try... l tried it and my weekend visit turned into a ‘long weekend’ that’s lasted 20 years.

The Warehouse was the place l cut my clubbing teeth and l just loved the place and the people who went, so much so that coincidentally it was the place l put my first ever club night on playing funk and disco! Over the next few years l got into the house scene and became a resident DJ at the club.

I’d never have imagined all those years ago that l would eventually get the keys to the place and the responsibility to continue its legacy. I was abroad when l first found out the club was on the market and by the time l got to speak to the landlord he had all but signed up a corporate operator to take it over.

I jumped on a plane, flew back to Leeds and on a sunny Sunday afternoon, we met. After convincing the landlord l was the right man to take it on (mainly by my long association and passion for the place), the actual nuts and bolts of the deal were done in about half an hour and l started the refurbishment straight away.

And why? What experience did you have before it?
I started clubbing going go illegal raves in fields and abandoned warehouses, then l discovered The Hacienda in Manchester as well as clubs like The Music Factory and funnily enough The Warehouse in Leeds. I did my market research from the dance floor on what make a good party and how the people in the club are more important than anything.

People make a club. People make the atmosphere. Our crowd are everything - a Funktion One Dance Stack sound system, state of art lasers and lighting alongside the world’s best DJ’s help but ultimately anyone can buy decent kit or book a DJ… an unbelievable atmosphere is priceless and not something you can get ‘off the shelf’.

I’ve been promoting club events for the best part of 20 years and have been fortunate enough to work with many of the biggest names in the industry. My experience is in all sorts of music events from student club night’s right up to massive outdoor dance festivals and nights in Ibiza

How much day to day say do you have in running the place?
I like to get involved in as much as possible, whether it’s booking DJs, supporting local up and coming talent or making improvements to the venue. I’m supported by a fantastic team who’ve taken pride in bringing The Warehouse back to life and returning it to its former glory.

What else are you in charge of or who else do you delegate to?
I have another venue in Leeds which is somewhat different to The Warehouse... it’s a huge 3000 capacity club which caters mainly for students. I also run an event company which operates across the UK throwing weekly parties in different cities. I rarely take any time off from the clubs and nights l promote as they’re just too exciting to miss. Alongside myself at The Warehouse is Danny Savage who mainly handles the DJ bookings and promotion. Danny used to live in Ibiza for 5 years and has travelled the world clubbing. He’s involved in loads of the UK’s festivals and even has his own ice cream van converted into a travelling nightclub, you have to see it!

Between us we know a thing or two about what make a club work and judging by the interest in the venue so far and the calibre of brands and DJ’s that want to be involved, it’s looking like exciting times ahead for everyone involved.

Has the first year gone as you would have hoped? Any more developments in the pipeline?
Wow, it’s been a year already! The answer is most definitely yes for the simple reason that The Warehouse is back on the map, the sound system is pumping and the club is full every weekend with happy people, just like the good old days!

Back to Basics has made the club their new home, then there is Speed Queen which after a long break has dusted down her dancing shoes for another round of naughtiness back where it all began. The Ketoloco 5th birthday party with Solomun was unbelievable... Calvin Harris interrupting his world festival tour to play at the club... The Cadenza party was just crazy… l could go on and on. We’ve had some amazing nights over the last year and there is plenty more to come.

What was key when you took over in terms of rejuvenation? What were the key things to improve/get right did you think? Any club/period inspire you in particular?
l was inspired by the club itself and what it stood for when l was a customer there 20 years ago, these same principles apply today. The Warehouse is a unique place with so much history and good memories from thousands of people with open-minded attitudes.

Obviously these days technology plays a big part in the experience at a club so after we had completely gutted the place to reveal the original brickwork and huge oak beams we installed an incredible Funktion One dance stack sound system, full colour lasers and a awesome lighting rig. It’s impressive if l say so myself.

You just don’t get over 30 years of legendary history in a new build or club conversion. The Warehouse first opening back in 1979, this was the place that started it all, opening up even before the Hacienda. From the late 70’s, The Warehouse introduced a whole new culture and became the epicentre of music and clubbing in the North of England.

Having played host to some memorable bands and DJs over the years with everyone from Frankie Goes to Hollywood to Sugar Hill Gang, Oasis to The Stone Roses, Sasha, Greg Wilson, LFO and Mike Pickering. Whilst nights like Vague and Kaos will forever been treasured memories in the hearts of those lucky enough to go (l thankfully was one of those lucky ones!) l’ve taken it over, brought it back to life and once again, one of the oldest venues in the country is back for a whole new generation of clubbers to tell their kids about!

Saturday 31st March -  Celebrating 33 Years Of The Warehouse In Leeds
Saturday 31st March -  Celebrating 33 Years Of The Warehouse In Leeds

Main Room:

Frankie Knuckles (4 hour set), Crazy P (DJ set), Buckley
The Loft:
Ian Dewhirst, Simon Morell, Foz
The Garage: Gallery
Steve Luigi, Dean White, Russ Richardson
***
The Warehouse, 19 - 21 Somers Street, Leeds LS1 2RG
Telephone: +44 (0)113 234 3535

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