THE BLACKBURN WAREHOUSE PARTIES 1989-1990 – EWOOD MILLJune 27, 2020
BY SUDDI RAVAL | ONE FOOT IN THE RAVE – BOOMTOWN 1989-1990
There were no rules and this was Blackburn, affectionately nicknamed Boomtown after the reputation it had earned as the party capital of the North of England
Ewood Mill. That’s a name I am not going to forget easily. I am pretty sure it is the biggest indoor space I have ever seen in my life. To hold a party in the place would have been the boldest, brashest move anyone could make especially in late 1989 when the Police were very raw about a riot that had taken place only a few weeks before – they tried to stop a party after it had just started but it backfired. Instead, they got a bit of a hammering from a few thousand angry, normally peace-loving ravers – so to hold a party in this place was something I was never going to forget. Ever!
Something massive, something historic was happening before our very eyes
I had been to quite a lot of the Blackburn raves by the time this one came round. It’s mental how quickly anyone who went to the raves became a convert. For so many people, it only took a few good parties before it turned into a bit of a religion. But this night, this was something completely different. Nothing could have prepared any of us for what we were about to see. It started with not being able to see or hear the warehouse that the party was in, which itself was bizarre because at every one of the other raves you could hear the music pounding for miles away down the street due to the volume of the music. Then there was the crazy walk towards it then when you actually got there you were blown away by the sheer size of this.
To be honest, I don’t know what to call it because I’d seen a million warehouses and that word does this place no justice at all. The average warehouse might have snugly fit 4 or 5 thousand people in before it started to feel a bit cramped and when they got busy, these venues often did start to get a bit rammed. I dread to think what might have happened if there ever was a disaster of any kind, such as a fire but thankfully there were no such nightmares. To give you an idea of just how big this massive huge venue was if you entered the warehouse at one end and there was loud club music playing at the other end you wouldn’t be able to hear it properly. At best a distant murmur.
Everything seemed to change after this party. This was the big one that everyone talked about
Everything seemed to change after this party. This was the big one that everyone talked about and at the time, which they continued to talk about for months. No one could believe it. It was like something from a sci-fi story. It reminded me of something out of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama novels. It was so out of this world, it felt like we were having a party in that huge spaceship for a night. The parties genuinely seemed to get bigger every week but it was going to be tricky to get any bigger than this.
These parties were not to go on like this for long as the government was desperately trying to stop them using any means necessary. Seeing the Police violence first hand was massively troubling as it transpired the lies that were peddled in the press were pure fiction in an attempt to turn public opinion against the raves. Seeing the unnecessary friction between the Police and the party-goers was very sad and as teenage kids who just wanted to dance, I found the aggression a little excessive, to say the least.
Seeing the Police violence first hand was massively troubling as it transpired the lies that were peddled in the press were pure fiction in an attempt to turn public opinion against the raves
It’s more than a little disheartening to finding out the truth behind why these parties “had to be stopped” years later because as a kid I had no idea that any Government might deliberately tell you something dishonest for an ulterior motive but I wasn’t that concerned about politics at that time. Expressions like propaganda meant nothing to me.
It would take over 25 years for the truth to finally surface and it was from the most unlikely of sources and even more shocking was why. The backlash began when an old man was woken in the night by a party who happened to have a nephew who was a Member of Parliament so he asked his nephew to intervene as it “kept him up all night”. That was the start of it. That was the truth behind how the war against the raves began. Because of the noise they caused! I believed that we could have found a middle ground, a compromise where we could all have been happy and we could have resolved the issues that the local authorities and government were facing but no.
The war against the raves began
Instead, they decided to go down the route of violence and aggression. Lies and manipulation. I didn’t know about things like media spin at the time. The principle of it makes me sick. It is just lying to get your own way, with no regard whatsoever for the people who it might affect. Okay, this might seem like just a party is being stopped but for us, it was much more than that. It didn’t just mean a lot. It meant everything. It became our lives and where we found kindred spirits who became lifelong friends. Not to mention the music and the atmosphere. Many of my best and dearest friends today are people I met at the Blackburn raves 3 decades ago.
Even as one of the hardcore party faithful’s at the time, I partly believed there must be some truth to what the tabloids were saying. I didn’t know you could lie like this and get away with it, but I also didn’t appreciate the extent of how close the Government was to these same corrupt organisations.
Surprisingly, it was UK’s Sky News who broke the story about what the Tory Government were up to back then which, to be honest, I found really ironic as it was Rupert Murdoch’s papers which flaunted the lies back then and I am pretty sure Sky News has links to his multimedia organisation. I was quite surprised at the wording of the headline which appeared on Sky New’s website fairly recently on the 30th December 2016. If you search for this expression on the internet you can find it easily: “Real reason Thatcher tried to ban Acid House parties revealed.”
Using “Drugs” as a scare-story was the Governments and Media’s most powerful weapon
It was only recently with the freedom of information act, that it has finally been revealed why the Government of the time did all this. We always knew lies were being said but why and how they did this was beyond me. There are official Government documents that have recently surfaced with hand-written annotations saying “this is not about drugs”. Using “Drugs” as a scare-story was the Governments and Media’s most powerful weapon. No one wants a drug-den in their neighbourhood which was the main and most aggressive claim the media and news reports were pushing.
Exactly how it began was as follows: a Tory MP called Archie Hamilton forwarded the Prime Minister at the time Margaret Thatcher, a letter from his uncle, a magistrate called Gerald Coke. Mr. Coke said he was “very disturbed” by a party in Bentley Hampshire in August 1989. He said he was kept awake all night so he used his nephew’s influence in parliament to try to put a stop to it. For the Member of Parliament to address this as a serious issue in the House of Commons would probably have been brushed aside. Let’s be realistic now. An old man was kept awake for a night. Yes, it was probably very annoying for him but to stand up in parliament and make this a national issue? Come on! That’s ridiculous. They probably knew they’d have been laughed at if the truth was told so they created the most malicious lies imaginable, literally anything they could concoct to sway public opinion and even brought in new laws to put a stop the “craze” before it became too much of a problem.
There was also a legitimate concern about event organisers not paying tax on the events as money being made at the events were largely cash-based, so it would be difficult to track the large amounts of money that were being made by the parties. The authorities and government were completely overwhelmed so they went with a knee-jerk reaction which they probably thought they’d succeed with. It only promoted the parties!
They created fictional headlines such as “Acid Party organised by Evil Acid Barons” and “Sex and drugs Party sweeps nation
The Prime Minister was asked to be briefed on what powers the police had to control the parties and months later legislation was introduced to tackle the raves but was warned by the Scotland secretary at the time, Malcolm Rifkind to ensure that the proposed laws did not affect “innocent events” such as barn dances.
Being just a teenager, at that young age, I didn’t fully appreciate that political parties had extremely close relations with the press and I certainly didn’t understand how they can help sway public opinion. So when the government clamped down on these parties, the papers worked with them. In order to absolutely guarantee they would grab the public attention they created fictional headlines such as “Acid Party organised by Evil Acid Barons” and “Sex and drugs Party sweeps nation.” Sensationalist headlines such as these were the norm. I assumed this type of thing must be going on somewhere.
I knew for sure this type of thing wasn’t going on at our parties but I had no reason to think they might not be happening like this somewhere else. Somewhere far away. London maybe? I don’t know but not here because I go to these parties and whilst I didn’t initially know the organisers personally I knew of them and they appeared to be lovely and down to earth people. People you’d quite like to have as friends. People you’d invite back to your house to a party if there was one going on and as for the people who attended these events?
Violence and aggression are the last things on my mind. Music and good times were all it was about
They were us. People don’t get much more passive than me. Violence and aggression are the last things on my mind. Music and good times were all it was about but the news reports perpetuated the idea that there was organised evil going on by bad people who only wanted to harm you. It never occurred to me to stop and ask, exactly who these bad people were. The papers could get away with printing anything they wanted to. I had no idea that kind of thing went on. It is incredible for me now to think that there were quite a few fictitious stories about me and Jonathan in many different papers from the Scum, the Mirror, Smash Hits, and the Manchester Evening News. It may come as no surprise at all that the former (so-called) newspaper told 2 complete out and out lies about us, things that I found very hurtful at the time and be honest, I was more confused than anything how someone could get something so wrong – it honestly hadn’t occurred to me that it might be purely malicious.
I did not know the concept of lawsuits and it would probably be years before I’d even heard the word libel so they got away with their rancid bleats. Believe me, I wish I did know how the law worked back then because there is no way in the world they would get away with anything like that now. There is no way I would just sit back and let them get away with it now. The Mirror was hilarious. They had heard a rumour that I could talk backward. This was partly down to me doing impressions of someone speaking backward.
I had heard the idea that Acid House’s success was helped by Margaret Thatcher but I felt that was too bizarre a theory to have any truth to it. So I pretty much shrugged off any seriousness in it but as I have researched Acid House extensively for many years now, I am amazed to discover that it would not have been half as big as it was if it wasn’t for Margaret Thatcher’s actions. For a start, these huge venues perfect to house thousands of people to dance in were only empty because she killed many of the industries that were designed for these spaces as she pushed forward an every-man-for-himself attitude.
Acid House’s success [in the UK]was helped by Margaret Thatcher
Then there are Acid House dossiers listing how Police can deal with Acid revellers – which is now freely available for anyone to see on the National Archive website – which massively backfired as news reports showed parties which consisted of all-night dancing and thousands of young people enjoying themselves only served as television and national newspaper adverts for the events. The organisers couldn’t have been happier for this to be plastered all over the news and media as it only made kids more interested in what they were about so more people attempted to attend the events that would ever have done previously. I, despite being a huge fan of the music would not have known about them if it wasn’t for these television and newspaper “advert” So, thanks, Maggie. You did us all a favour there.
So back to the gigantic warehouse, I was talking about. I want to describe this experience in detail as it was one of the most surreal and incredible moments of my life. After travelling for miles in the convoy we arrived at our destination, but there was something different about tonight. You could usually always hear the loud thumping kick of the bass drum from the music inside spilling out the warehouse party from miles away so when I arrived at the warehouse on this occasion, I was a little puzzled. In fact, I was fairly sure someone had made a mistake and we had somehow accidentally come to the wrong place.
I’m not kidding when I say you could usually hear the music many streets away and to make matters even odder, we were not in some industrial wastelands like we usually were. We were in a town centre. Blackburn town centre. I didn’t know what was going on because I know lots of people parked up near where we parked up and seemed to walk the same way that we did but like the invisible man, when we turned the corner they were gone. Someone had the bright idea of trying to listen to the music. It was actually the most obvious idea because that is all you normally need to do. So we tried but worryingly there no distant pounding bass drum thumping away inviting us to dance with it. There was nothing. Almost silence in fact as this was the early hours of the morning. So we kept walking around the building until we came to a doorway, we looked in and there they were. People. Lots of people queuing and climbing sets of very dangerous looking stairs.
Despite it being nearly 3 decades later I remember it like it was yesterday because in addition to the usual resident’s John J and Shack they had some heavyweights on to play the New Year’s Eve party like DJ Sasha and The Jam MC’s
The organisers seemed to be taking precautions as this was pretty much a health and safety free-zone. The zig-zagging stairs reminded me of something from Donkey Kong. The way you might have different layers of floors in a platform video game. That is a little misleading actually. That makes it sound multi-coloured and bright. It wasn’t. It was more like the colour schemes from Bladerunner. Everything was muted and hazy and that was before entering the main area where the music and the action was happening.
There were people on every level, people who’d clearly managed to work out the way to get in well before us but there was still no signs of music. No throbbing walls and no muted rhythms seeping in from anywhere as there usually are. But we knew we were in the right place now so it was all very confusing. Have they just not started the music yet? That had never happened before in the many months I’d been going to these parties but who knows? There were no rules and this was Blackburn, affectionately nicknamed Boomtown after the reputation it had earned as the party capital of the North of England. There was a famous chevron sign on a roundabout with the words “Boomtown” sprayed on it. I saw that the first weekend I came to the party in Blackburn and it was there at the last. The B-side of the ‘Raid At Dawn’ remix of ‘Hardcore Uproar’ was called ‘Boomtown’ after this.
10,000 people would attend
We waited patiently to get up the layers of factory walkways kept in line by flimsy handrails. We got to another doorway, where we paid our £3 to get in. This was one of the best things about Blackburn. It was 3 quid at first. 3 quid! Even though I never had much money I still could feel the bargain we were getting for £3. They were often life-changing experiences and the guys putting them on could have charged what they wanted to. We’d have all come anyway, but they charged as little as possible so everyone could afford it and I guess they must have had some overheads.
In the distance, I could finally see the lights. In the largest single room you’ve ever seen in your life you could just about see some movement and wait for it! Yes, that was the distant sound of club speakers! I am not kidding. This vast space was so big you could only just hear the music and see the lights from the other end of it. As I began to walk towards to the action someone I was with asked me to be careful as there was a massive hole in the ground. I don’t mean a pothole, I am talking a really deep pit, 6 foot down or something, maybe more.
The organisers should have been knighted for their immaculate planning and impeccable organisational skills!
It was as dangerous as it sounds and unfortunately, rumours abounded about some kid dancing on his own and falling in and having some nasty injuries. I see no reason why anyone would make that up, so as far as I know, that happened. It was the only injury that I had ever heard of happen in Blackburn after a couple of years of parties which were weekly and occasionally 10,000 people would attend so as far as numbers go, casualties were very few and far between but one is too many and I cannot begin to imagine the injuries the poor kid endured if it was true.
I still can’t believe some guys somehow broke into these places in secret, set up speakers, decks, party lights then somehow got up to 10,000 of us in before the Police even knew about its location! Still makes my head frazzle when I think about the logistics of it all, the magnitude of the operation. It was bonkers and I am nowhere near coming to terms with any of it. The organisers should have been knighted for their immaculate planning and impeccable organisational skills! I never fully got over that night and it would be fair to say when I think about it, I still get excited about it. After that night, after literally having the greatest night of my life I prayed that they would do another one there and just a few weeks later the New Year’s Eve party was held there!
Despite it being nearly 3 decades later I remember it like it was yesterday because in addition to the usual resident’s John J and Shack they had some heavyweights on to play the New Year’s Eve party like DJ Sasha and The Jam MC’s. And when the latter performed it was a very rare moment of someone speaking on the mic at the Blackburn Raves. They not only spoke over the music, they swore! It felt rebellious to me as a teenager. I had seen them at a club in Manchester just a few months before called The Konspiracy and they were legends in Manchester holding “blues” parties at an illegal club called The Kitchen, which was just 2 flats knocked through to make one big room. I’d been there after the Hacienda a few times as it was very close by but my memories of it are very hazy as it was so dark in there.
We had no idea just how influential all this was going to become
Blackburn was no longer the little secret with unknown DJs. These were the big names. These parties had obviously taken a step up into a bigger league. It was pretty exciting to be there and watch it all happen. To witness the growth from a few of us dancing in a tiny warehouse to knowing something massive, something historic was happening before our very eyes. At least we suspected it was. We had no idea just how influential all this was going to become.
BY SUDDI RAVAL | ONE FOOT IN THE RAVE – BOOMTOWN 1989-1990