It’s a familiar journey, but one I’ve not made for a while. I get off the 75 bus at High Street, then walk up Church Street with the cathedral on my right. To my left is The Stone House pub, busy with thirsty Sheffield go-getters making a head start on the weekend. The doors swing open and I briefly catch the aspirational scent of Nina Ricci and a waft of Level 42. On then past the printers where we are having our wedding invitations made, and then across Leopold Street and up onto the gentle incline of West Street. Past the sweet shop, the chippy and the iron-gated entrance to the Little Mesters yard where DVA and The Box used to rehearse. Finally, I arrive at the big wooden double doors that mark the entrance to The Limit.
I go down the steep steps, the cloak room is at the bottom on my right. I can already hear the muffled digital thud of ‘Blue Monday’ over the venue PA.
“Hiya, I’m on the guest list. Roger, Roger Quail.”
“Who put you on it luv?”
“Er. Chas, Chas Banks, he’s Death Cult’s tour manager.”
“Hang on. Yeah, here you are. Alright luv, in you go.”
I go through the fire doors and into the club. New Order’s indie dance floor anthem - just six months old but already unavoidable in voguish pubs, clubs and shops - bursts into instant focus.
“Tell me now, how should I feel?”
Well, I feel odd. The last time I was down here was to see Bill Nelson sixteen months ago, crammed in with all the other old Be Bop Deluxe fans, on one of those squashed Limit nights when health and safety are forgotten about. But, before that, there was a time I was doing a slithery shimmy on the booze-coated dance floor on what felt like a weekly basis. I’m just two weeks from my twenty-third birthday, but I feel old.
Right now, my fiancée Ava and I are saving. There’s a day planned for next spring when we are going to exchange vows and rings. You’ve got to have a nest egg if you want to buy your own nest, right? So nights out together these days tend to revolve around trips to the cinema, the newly-opened Anvil or The Gaumont, to see ‘War Games’, ‘Blue Thunder’ or Bowie in ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’. Before or after the film we might well be in Bartons’ on Glossop Road or at Henry’s Wine Bar. In the summer of 1983 it’d be fair to suggest that I know more about the films of John Badham than the drum fills of Pete de Freitas. Slowly, my world is starting to shift from Cabaret Voltaire to Cabernet Sauvignon. It seems that I too am susceptible to the scent of aspiration.
Indeed, I probably wouldn’t be in The Limit this evening if it wasn’t for a chance to meet up with Chas Banks.
Chas is a sound engineer and tour manager, who has looked after our band, The Box at some of our gigs around the UK. I interviewed him for the job, Chas at home in Whalley Range, Manchester, listening to me feeding 2p coins into a phone box around the corner from Mum and Dad’s house in Sheffield. Between the beeps demanding more money, I managed to ascertain that Chas had been out on tour with Chuck Berry and Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. The latter, according to Chas, insisted on travelling in separate cars between gigs. Wow, I thought, if he can handle that then five young lads in the back of a Ford Transit will be no bother at all.
Chas has a self-assured confidence, a Lancastrian swagger he shares with other Mancunians I know: the genial Martin Fry and the handsome Eric Random. Even Oz and Dian, who do live sound for New Order and the Cabs, come with the same can-do, chop-chop, get-it-sorted assertiveness. It must, I decide, be something to do with growing up with Salford-born Albert Finney and adopted-son Tom Courtenay as on-screen role models. Sure of themselves in a way that Sheffield folk simply are not.
Chas has been steering Death Cult around Europe and the UK in support of their debut EP, their first dates since singer Ian Lindsey left Southern Death Cult, taking a truncated band name with him. In between times recruiting yet another self-reliant young Manc in the shape of guitarist Billy Duffy, recently departed from London-based post-punk adventurers Theatre Of Hate. With a new rhythm section comprising Ray Smith (aka Ray Mondo) and Jamie Stewart from the band Ritual, they are already signed to Situation Two, a sub-label of Beggars Banquet, home to Bauhaus and Gary Numan.
It’s fair to say that Death Cult are going places, and fast. They nominally headlined the second day of the recent Pandora’s Music Box festival in Rotterdam, The Box having played on the opening day on a bill topped by Siouxsie and The Banshees. This Sheffield gig is the last one before Death Cult play their first big London headliner at The Ace in Brixton two days from now. They are already scheduled to return to Sheffield University in November, in the much larger Octagon Centre up the road from here. It’s hard not to be a little bit jealous of their momentum.
There’s a good crowd in at The Limit. What’s immediately apparent since I was last here over a year ago is that the young boys and girls of South Yorkshire have been busy growing their hair. The rudimentary spiky crops and buzz cuts of 1980 have been grown out to luxuriant lengths which appear to fan out at all angles: cockscombs, peacock fans and a striking, shaved at-the-side, long-at-the-back cut, which, to my eyes, makes the wearer look like a Disney cartoon vulture. Shares in Silvikrin hairspray and crimping irons must have rocketed in value.
Aside from this quite literal explosion in all matters tonsorial, the other memo I seem to have missed is dress code. Which, put simply, is black. Black leather, black denim, black tee-shirts, black boots, black make-up. Any complementary visual motifs to this sea of oily darkness seem to vaguely revolve around Native American themes: tomahawks, eagles, animal skull bootlace ties. Kids who grew up liking Adam & The Ants in their Kings Of The Wild Frontier era but fled the happy hunting ground when Adam went all “da diddley qua qua.”
NME and The Face have bundled Death Cult in with the Positive Punk scene, alongside bands like Sex Gang Children, Blood and Roses and Brigandage. Early Adam and The Ants, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Bauhaus and Joy Division are the conspicuous influences, with a rock theatricality that dates back further still to the likes of The Doors and Led Zeppelin at their most Byronic. What’s immediately apparent is that frontman Ian and guitarist Billy have the same charismatic bond as the best pairings in rock, be that Plant and Page, Ozzy and Iommi or Bowie and Ronson. The singer projects a skinny Last Of The Mohicans sweep, while the guitar player, who looks like he’s just flown a mission on an Apocalypse Now chopper, tears off great chunks of twang from a big Gretsch White Falcon. Over-sized, retro-looking guitars are all the rage at the moment; Geordie from Killing Joke plays a similar looking beast. Add Bernard from New Order, Kirk Brandon from Theatre Of Hate, Brian Setzer from Stray Cats and Marco Pirroni from the Ants, all of whom favour bulky but photogenic semi-solids with f-holes. It’s as if no-one wants to be caught dead with a Strat, ‘cos that’s what boring Mark Knopfler plays.
The rhythm section is effective, they know their place. Lots of busy tribal drumming for Ian Lindsey to holler his still embryonic wolf-child bawl over. I’m watching from the back of the club, next to Chas at the mixing desk. In front of us, at least half The Limit dance floor is a murky lurch of lads and lasses lost in their own personal rituals. The boys do a peculiar, interspecies macho boogie which somehow recalls both strutting roosters and rutting stags, while the girls favour a swaying sashay. I’m in awe of the girls’ gyroscopic wrist balance, which somehow prevents their pints of lager and black from spilling while they dance.
It’s a stirring racket, even if the band currently lacks a killer signature song, a ‘Happy House’ or a ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’. Or even, dare I say, an ‘Antmusic’. As Death Cult get to their climactic last song, Chas moves his expert hands across the knobs and faders at lightning speed, like a magician working the three cups trick. There’s the seed of a big band in there.
To wild approval, the musicians leave the small Limit stage for the cupboard-sized dressing room off to one side.
“What do you think Rog?” asks Chas.
“Not bad” I reply, “they just need a little bit more Led in their pencil!”
We say our goodbyes, and Chas goes off to organise packing up the band’s gear. I stop for a minute and think about some of those many, memorable nights I’ve spent in this little sweaty basement. Giddy teenage nights bopping away to already forgotten bands like The Smirks, Snips, Zaine Griff and The Plastics. Unforgettable gigs like the first time I saw Cabaret Voltaire in the summer of 1978 and John Cooper Clarke on the day I left school a year later.
Or perhaps some random Monday night, when last orders have been called further up West Street but the thirst for a couple more pints won’t be denied; so you end up down here, the DJ cues up Department S’s unbeatable ‘Is Vic There?’ and you tear around the dance floor, howling along to the song with a bunch of friendly strangers. But Vic isn’t here any more. As I head for the exit, I spot a flyer advertising some forthcoming Limit gigs: Roman Holiday, The Truth, The Meteors. I couldn’t give a monkeys for any of these bands. There is a time and place for everything, and I reckon my time in this place is over.
Just four months after this gig, the band, with a laser-focused eye on the bigger prize, dropped “Death” to become simply The Cult. Ian Lindsey stopped using his mother’s maiden name and became known to all as Ian Astbury. Their 1984 debut album, ‘Dreamtime’ sold 60,000 copies in the UK. The follow-up, ‘Love’, released in 1985, includes the classic single ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ and has sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide. In 2023, Astbury and Duffy revisited some of their earliest songs and toured as Death Cult for the first time in forty years.
It was twelve years before I crossed paths with the redoubtable Chas Banks again, in 1995. He was managing Teenage Fanclub with his fabulous wife Shirley; I was doing retail sales and marketing for the Fannies’ label Creation Records.
In 2022, as secretary of Manchester United Disabled Supporters’ Association (MUDSA), Chas was awarded an MBE for services to people with disabilities in Greater Manchester and North West England.
With thanks to Simon Knott and my editor Nigel Floyd.
I made a Spotify playlist of the new bands coming through under the Positive Punk / Post Punk / Goth scenes in 1983: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6qZFQMzaVRcXzziqLSzzzm?si=7fa964ada6b142db