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Through The Arches: A tale of Glasgow clubland

Slam, Dave Clarke & more talk Glasgow’s essential 90s party experience - Alien War

  • Authors: Kirstin Innes and David Bratchpiece
  • 22 November 2021

When The Arches first came to fruition back in ’91, it reigned supreme over all other venues. The first of its kind, the Glasgow club, theatre, and arts venue made a colossal impact on the city’s nightlife scene, pushing it to the forefront of the dance music domain. Inaugurated by Pete Irvine and the venue’s artistic director Andy Arnold, its launch was also aided by Soma Records label head Dave Clarke, Glasgow techno duo Slam, and Mischief La-Bas’ Angie Dight. Lining the venue with club nights, Cabaret shows, and its notorious Alien War nights which was later exhibited around the UK, The Arches played a huge role in combining the worlds of art and entertainment with the help of influential DJs. Coming to its eventual closure in 2015, The Arches impact on the Glasgow electronic music and theatre scenes can still be felt today.

Read an excerpt below from Kirstin Innes and David Bratchpiece’s latest book, Brickwork: A Biography of The Arches, which documents the early days of The Arches, and offers conversations between key players involved with its launch.

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Andy Arnold: In the same month [when Alien War launched]: Pete Irvine, who was then just finishing running Regular Music, had this idea. He was fed up with all the clubbing going on in Glasgow, he thought that something a bit more interesting could happen. We’d already had a couple of club nights. The first club event was run by Angus Farquhar, who went on to run [large-scale public art organisation] NVA. I had no idea that our theatre licence was only for the theatre bit and was only till midnight… we used the whole building till six in the morning, it was thick with smoke everywhere, you couldn’t see anything.

So we’d already had a club night, and Pete Irvine had heard about it, so he came along with Dave [Clarke] and Stuart [McMillan] from Slam. They were running Slam at Sub Club in those days, and they wanted a bigger space.

Dave Clarke: I went in to see The Arches and thought, "this would be a great space." Because I’d gone in to see it, it was stuck in my head. And then there was one event that predated us persuading Andy Arnold to let us do a club in there… a one-off by Pussypower – Jason and Terry, a couple of crusty techno DJs with Castlemilk connections. We did our first night there in ’92, and I was twenty-five, Stuart [McMillan, one half of DJ duo Slam] was twenty-six, Orde [Meikle, the other half of Slam] probably twenty-seven. We had been doing clubs and events since 1988 – we probably thought we were veterans but we were pretty young! And mega enthusiastic, for sure. I don’t think Andy took a lot of convincing. I think once he met us he could see that we were enthusiastic and we knew what we were doing. We’d already done some big all-nighter events with Regular Music at Strathclyde Park and the Scottish Exhibition Centre (SEC). So much had happened in that initial acid house period in the first few years, and then the raves and stuff. We were doing the trendy Sub Club, and I think he thought we had a passion for it… and we also liked the idea of what the theatre could bring to the club as much as what the club could bring to the space. We’d got this idea to do Slam on the Friday but have something altogether more theatrical on the Saturday, with Andy having a bit of programming.

Stuart McMillan: I think the whole thing with The Arches was, because of its theatre background, this kind of nightclub thing and the theatre productions made sense together. So Pete came to us and we sat down and talked through all the ideas.

Andy Arnold: Friday night would be a proper clubbing night, run by Slam, and Saturday would be a more sort of mad theatrical thing that Pete Irvine wanted. I came up with the name Café Loco. The format would be that we had mad actors dressed up in costumes – as bouncers, or whatever… sailors, and daft things… as people came in. And there would be a piano playing in the corner, and then there would be a few cabaret things going on, and I was the maître d’ going around. And we had a mad band going on of some sort. The first band was called The Gods of Glam, we had the Scottish Sex Pistols, bands like that. And then it would be a DJ for the rest of the night, who would play a range of music, not just house music… disco classics as well.

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Angie Dight: In March ’92 Andy Arnold got in touch with Ian [the late Ian Smith – Angie Dight’s partner and the founder of anarchic performance troupe Mischief La-Bas] to ask if we were interested in doing something at his new club Café Loco which was going to be launching in a couple of weeks. We’d been working with the French circus Archaos, but they’d gone bust in ’91 and we’d returned to Glasgow with our bank account frozen due to the poll tax; we were living just then in a tiny caravan on Glasgow Green.

That very same week I had been sacked (unfairly) from my job at Blackfriars so it was a bad week that turned good, although Blackfriars also ran the bar at The Arches, which I wasn’t really okay about. I was sacked for stealing out of the till, which I hadn’t done – and giving a staff member free drink, which I had. Andy said he didn’t care, he’d nicked a jacket out of Flip recently, which I was a bit shocked about, since he was a proper grown-up.

Andy Arnold: Then, with about a month to go, Pete Irvine said, ‘I’ve been commissioned to write this book, Scotland the Best’. He said he had to travel 'round the country writing it, so he said, ‘I can’t do this.’ I said, ‘Well, I can’t do it.’ And he said, ‘Well, you’re already setting up the theatre side of things; I’ll get you the DJs, and you’re fine.’ And obviously, the Slam guys could help with that as well – they knew what they were doing.

Stuart McMillan: Pete’s vision was very ‘Berlin’ – kind of old school nightclub, curtains… quite decadent.

Dave Clarke: It was ‘shabby chic’, wasn’t it. It was looking decadent but on a shoestring budget.

Stuart McMillan: So we got all these second-hand couches…

Dave Clarke: I remember Lori trying to set them on fire to prove we’d fireproofed them properly!

Stuart McMillan: Yeah, we just did things back then that you wouldn’t have done now. With that many people, you would think about putting potentially hazardous couches in…

Dave Clarke: But they weren’t hazardous! We covered them and sprayed them, and they were definitely fireproofed, and she was like strict with the rules – although she hadn’t worked in nightlife before, it was coming from a theatre background. So she had a lighter out, trying to burn the couches, she’s like, ‘you have to show that with a naked flame, nothing will happen!’

Lori Frater: Oh crikey, yeah, Because that was a massive thing with Alien War. Alien War had been postponed because we couldn’t get it licenced because it wouldn’t meet the fire specs. They had chosen the wrong wood and it was too expensive for them to replace it with wood that the licencing would have accepted, so we had to go through a whole process. We had to send off to Germany to get some form of spray retardant. And we had to send it off, literally bits of wood, to all of these labs, to get it tested. And we had to go through all these different testings, and we had spent a fortune getting all of this flame retardant. But yeah, Dave’s right, I did go around spraying sofas! I was always very legal! And the massive curtains for Café Loco – we had to use spray retardants on all of it it. Yeah, there was definitely a lawyer in me even then…

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Andy Arnold: And so we did. We ran it ourselves, and it was massively successful. It was hugely popular – it was a mixture of young clubbers coming and this very trendy set – theatre people, film people like Robert Carlyle, you know, famous musicians… we’d get a lot of famous people coming along. And there were mad things going on all night. Mischief La-Bas were there doing installations and performance stuff.

Stuart McMillan: So the first night was us just DJing the whole night – Mischief La-Bas were peeling carrots from a…

Orde Meikle: …An Obelisk!

Dave Clarke: I think it was potatoes, Stu! And making necklaces. Ian Smith was sitting on top of this plinth, which was another theatre prop – it was probably about ten foot high – peeling potatoes and making them into necklaces. The whole night!

Angie Dight: We were really into the Circus Archaos/European street theatre performance vibe and we planned to do a weird durational performance, which we decided would be three hours long… and that we would only speak in French, which considering our French wasn’t that amazing was ambitious.

Brickwork: A Biography of The Arches is out now. Buy it here.

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