Words: Adriana Hamacher
Photos: Mark McNulty
Published in Mixmag April 1993
It’s April 1993 and in clubland two names are standing out brighter and louder than any others. While others are scrabbling to survive the recession, two club runners are caning it. Sean McClusky has Merry England and Love Ranch in London and Tony Hanoi runs Up Yer Ronson and Soak in Leeds. What Adrian Hamacher wants to know is how do they do it? How do you become a top club runner?
Sean McClusky, London
If London’s square mile of clubland has a king at the moment, he’s a punk king and his name’s Sean McCPUsky. Hyped as the Rupert Murdoch of London nightlife and the Joseph Stalin of capital clubbing, Sean smiles wryly at such compliments. The reason, of course, is the phenomenally successful Merry England at the revamped Cafe De Paris. This together with the long-standing success of Love Ranch, just down the road at Maxims, makes Sean a prospect not to be triﬂed with.
Sean McClusky is a name which has been regularly appearing in club columns since the early 80s, although the venues he worked then were nothing to write home about; obscure Caribbean clubs like The Palm Tree in Edmonton and Paddocks Snooker Club over at Holborn. The ﬁrst thing he did was Whiskey A-Go-Go, a small jazz, funk and soul bar in 1982 at the place they call the Wag Club. Some may even remember him as the ginger haired one in near-seminal 80s pop band jobbers.
We’re sitting on stools by the door of Love RanchGrimesby, part-time doorman, part-time DJ, has his hands full keeping out the riffrafff although it’s cold outside and the crowd’s nothing like it normally is. Across the square at Merry England, it‘s a different proposition altogether. The queue snakes past McDonald’s and into the back of beyond, occasionally it collectively shivers, dressed (or rather undressed) as it is for the occasion.
Merry England opened its doors only last New Year’s Eve. ln choosing the name, Sean was inﬂuenced by Peter Gatian”s new USA club, which had just got off to a riotous start in New York. “I thought that was quite a good name, originally it was going to be called England. But l wanted to make it a bit more comical, light-hearted.”
The Cafe, home of Josephine Baker and the Charleston, suits it nicely. 20 foot banners of Elizabeth l, Walter Raleigh and Henry Vlll adorn the dance-ﬂoor, the slightly shabby interior gives it a comfortable air. But the place hasn’t seen anything yet. Sean wants to work his way through history.
“Weʼre probably going to go into a British Empire phase soon, wear kilts and turbans,” he says. “Carry On Up The Cyber – that sort of thing. It’s ludicrous, really. What a stupid name for a club!”
But it works. With 15 years of experience going out in London behind him, Djing, remixing, working in and with bands (most recently If?), Sean’s in a position to know.
Prior to Love Ranch there was, of course, the very successful Brain. Number 11 Wardour Street was originally a rent boy bar, until Sean and his present day partner, Mark Wigan, redesigned the interior and invited all their friends along for a party which lasted one and a half years. But the owners got greedy and wanted it all for themselves. Universal story. Sean isn’t sad, reckoning that the life expectancy of a place is fairly limited anyway. “Two years maximum and then your crowd’s moved on to another venue.”
Four years on, to what does he attribute his long-term (by London’s ﬁckle club scene standards) success? “l’m just on a roll at the moment,” he shrugs. “After a while, you can analyze it but when we ﬁrst started the Brain Club, it was more instinctive. We just put on a party that youʼd want to be invited to yourself and make it expensive. Spend don’t skimp.”
Spend to Sean means the best DJs – “Danny Ramping, Justin Robertson, Andy Weather and Mark More, the top batch,” playing a selection of progressive British House, with Rad Rice resident at Love Ranch and Dominic Moire and Lisa Loud at Merry England. It also means an extensive guest list comprising, not so much celebrities as regulars, characters and “people who are great to have around.” That, in his opinion, is what’s kept Love Ranch going. That and his anarchic tendencies.
“I just like shoving things together, which don‘t go. At Love Ranch, we coupled punk rock with acid house. Where everyone else was all hippy trippy computer generated images on ﬂyers, we were going for pop art, punk rock, Andy Warhol, death and destruction – things that didnʻt go with that peace and love thing. I think I’m just a bit more honest or maybe that was just an illusion created by the drugs.”
A new idea is the creation of a club with two contrasting rooms, a house room and a rock room. Having recently acquired a couple of bands, The Disco Assassins and Trafalgar, Sean is keen on incorporating a rock element into the clubs believing that thereʼs simply not enough energy given off by keyboard acts. This already works well at Merry England, although it keeps him running across Leicester Square, between the two clubs, when thePA blows up. “That queue for Equinox, in the middle, that really pisses me off.”
Such Equinox straights would surely have a heart attack were they to wander into Love Ranch. Although not as raunchy as it once was, bikini clad models are still to be seen. This is thanks to the idiot-free door policy which keeps the girlies from getting groped. “Unless, of course,” adds Sean, “they want to be.”
Getting into Love Ranch was at one time harder than getting into Gam in a Joe Bloods shell-suit. Although it’s not so intense now, Grimsby still operates a mean door. Sean answers accusations of elitism philosophically. “In Leicester Square, you’ve got every sort of person in the world passing through, a lot of them have never heard of Love Ranch. l just think people have Mohave the right attitude, it’s all in the eyes.” Got out of that one then.
Having conquered this corner of Leicester Square (apart from the pesky Equinox), the question is can he keep it up? Seemingly so. Coinciding with the New Music Seminar, thereʼs a Merry England trip to New York’s USA club in the ofﬁng, complete with silly costumes and The Disco Assassins. There are the bands, a possible record label and all the other parties.
“I like the intensity of nightlife, it`s what keeps me young,” says Sean. “I just want to be a teenager. The only way to make things go forward is to destroy things that’ve been there already.” A true anarcho.
Tony Hannon, Leeds
It’s hard work being a club promoter. For the last four years, Tony Hanoi and his partner Adam Wood have been out every single Saturday night. Last weekend saw them swinging from the rafters at an all-ﬁghter in Nottingham where Gordon Aye was playing. The other night, Tony had to be carried out of Up Your Monsoon at three o’clock in the morning on a stretcher. Oh, it’s certainly a hard life.
This is no tuxedoed-up clubland jock. At either of his regular nights, Up Yer Ronson or Soak at The Corn Exchange, you won’t ﬁnd Tony Hannon sitting in a gilded cage, looking down on his enterprise with a sardonic smile. Heʻs getting blind drunk instead and on nights like that, anybody Djing at Up Yer Ronson has to be prepared to have a bucket of cold water poured over them – and that includes Sasha. “You wonʼt ﬁnd us propping up bars,” insists Tony, “bars are propping us up!”
But don’t let that fool you. Tony Hannon‘s Soak nights (nothing to do with buckets of water) at The Corn Exchange have been consistently selling out since he started doing them just over a year ago. He remembers the ﬁrst night well. “l stood up on the balcony and saw the club going mad up here, knowing that we’d worked so hard for seven weeks to try and get it perfect, it just went off without a hitch. I nearly cried.”
Tony gazes nostalgically into his cappuccino. It’s lunchtime at Leeds Corn Exchange and the city‘s trendy outlets; Hip Clothing, Creation and The Listening Booth are doing brisk trade. Teenagers lean on the marble balconies, supermarket music ﬂoats out of the tangy and bounces off the huge dome shaped roof, with awfully grown biplane swinging underneath.
By day all is peace and harmony, by night, at least on the ﬁve Soak nights year, this place is a heaving mass of ﬂickering humanity, it is the UKʻs premier venue. Driven on by a 42k sound system and powered by the likes of Sash, Mike Pickering, Graeme Park, Angel, Alistair Whitehead, Marshall and Danny Hussein.
You can‘t help but like Tony, a former midﬁeld player for Shefﬁeld Wednesday, he drifted into the role of club promoter completely by accident. Dissatisfaction with the state of Leeds’ nightlife and a timely introduction to a club owner resulted in Chaos at Rickiʼs which was soon forced to move to a bigger venue at The Warehouse. There the now legendary Sash learned his craft and Tony Hannon scored his hat-trick.
The cheekily-titled ‘Up Yer Ronson’ opened at the Music Factory in July ’92, its name a reﬂection of Tonyʼs opinion on the rest of club culture. “lt means up yer shiter,” he grins, “at the time we were a bit disillusioned with what was happening in a few clubs so we called it Up Yer Ronson Lighter – not aimed at anyone in particular but at what some people thought was the right music.”
Reared on a wholesome diet of Northern soul, for Tony the right music has to have a tune. Progressive house is a non-entity and hardcore techno – forget it. Both Up Yer Ronson and Soak are geared more to garage and uplifting house. Tony’s favorite DJs are Sasha and Graeme Park, “probably the best two DJs in the country.”
If a DJ isn‘t playing the music he likes they don’t get booked. Tony’s not into throwaway music. “Our music is stuff that you can listen to in two or three years time and still go ʻOh, that were a good tuneʻ – like ‘Pennies From Heaven’ or M-People’s ‘Colour My Life’. That‘s where a lot of clubs fall down, they look at the present instead of the future.”
He also believes that itʼs now time for the up ʻnʼ coming DJs to mature. Brandon Block, Marshall, Tom Wainwright and Angel – these were the people who made Up Yer Ronson a success. Visiting artists such as Sister Sledge, The Reese Project and Robert Owens bring an edge to it all and with Brandon Block resident on the top ﬂoor, playing music that “people can just go mad to,” and Marshall giving a garage feel to downstairs, Tony seems to have hit on a formula that really works. Up Yer Ronson is consistent in being one of Leeds’ top nights out and is still packing them in. He doesn‘t understand why other promoters haven’t cracked the combination.
“You’re better off putting on two DJs so they can get into their own rhythm. lf you have ﬁve or six DJs, the night doesn’t ﬂow, there‘s no beginning, middle or end. It’s just mish mash.” Aspiring promoters take note.
Neither does either club operate a strict door policy. If you’ve got a ticket, youʼre in. lf not, youʻre out. Simple. This is one promoter who doesnʼt care whether the punters are wearing Gucci or Grunge.
This month (April 14th, in fact) Tony fulﬁlls one of his greatest ambitions with Soak at the Hacienda, coming along forth ride will be Kevin Saunderson, Sasha, Marshall and Inner City. As with many of his contemporaries, the Hacienda was where it all started off for Tony. The Hacienda on a Friday night. The halcyon house years. The mid-80s. Putting on a night there is a dream come true. One of the success stories of the 90s, for Tony dealing with DJs, bands, hundreds of souped up punters and all the other paraphernalia involved in running a club is like water off a Lesser Northern Spotted Canard’s back. But there‘s also a hard side. He has a two year old little boy who lives with him during the week. The result of a club orientated lifestyle was a rather painful divorce. “That’s show-biz,” he smiles.
Heʻs not greedy about the future. “What weʼve got, that’s more than enough to do every single show to the best of our ability. My philosophy has always been to stay just there, just underneath, ticking over. lʼve always ﬁlled my nights and thatʼs all l’m bothered about.”